Monday, November 02, 2009

signals on the wire/2151/ transmission one

signals on the wire/2151/ transmission one

go outside for a fag. spiteful weather. raining cats and dogs. dogs and cats. cats, suspicious. dogs, don't understand. cats and dogs. pakis and wogs. pakis and wogs the taxi driver said, like my dad's mate frank used to say back in London in the eighties. not now. not round here. not in the centre of bristol. maybe on the inside but no-one's saying it. martin cabbied in Bangor for a bit after driving and managing the last tour. shit money; forty per cent to the company, the other sixty covers the hire of the cab, the diesel, the cleaning off the saturday night puke from the plastic seat covers, the windows and the sign that warns them about the fifty quid charge for puking on the plastic seat covers, the windows and the sign that warns them about the fifty quid you'll never get from them unless you call the police and spend the rest of the night wrestling over the fucking principle because you would have made more money if you'd cleaned it off yourself and carried on earning what's left of the sixty after rental, diesel, puke and casual racism from the cab office that isn't worth getting involved with but it costs you something to keep it on the inside, you just can't say how much it's worth but it's more than your job's worth to get involved. on a good night fourteen hours could take you home a hundred quid plus the tip- a bad penny thrown at the base of your spine creeping up to your neck sat down for fourteen hours, creeping up to your clenched teeth in the cab office on a break where someone's ranting at the news Enoch Powell said it! He said it fucking fifty years ago, rivers of blood, blood in the rivers, blood in your blood, blood in your clenched teeth in the cab office on a break where you don't break, you keep it on the inside, like you always do but it's chipping away at you, this bad penny tipped into the base of your spine, they build up these tips, creeping up to your neck creeping up to your clenched teeth in the cab office where someone's ranting at the news Enoch Powell said it! He said it fucking fifty years ago! Rivers of blood, blood in the streets, blood in your blood, their blood in your blood, their blood in your daughter's blood, poisoning the blood line, blood in your clenched teeth in the cab office where you finally break and punch the fucking racist cunt in his stupid fucking Welsh face.

but no martin didn't do that of course, he's older and wiser which basically means he's got his shit together, unlike me. and i wouldn't be cabbying in Bangor for as many reasons as there are rain drops caning down all around me as I smoke outside the flat that has been the most stable feature of my life for the last three years. the smoke is vile; I'm feeling it nowadays. Something changed when I turned thirty just like everyone tells you it does. It was a physical change; I had no mid-life crisis; there was no change in the profound chaos of my existence. fourteenth of may two thousand and fucked if I can remember was different only in that I reserved the bit by the fire at the Hillgrove pub in Kingsdown and I didn't have to pay for the drink.


Distance - My Demons
Distance - Repurcussions
Boxcutter - Oneiric
Boxcutter - Glyphic
The Bug - London Zoo
Steppa's Delight 2 (Comp)
Hatcha's Ten Tons Heavy Mix (Planet Mu) - VA
Excision's Darkside Dubstep Mix - VA
Ikonica's Vice Magazine mix - VA
Broadcast and the Focus Group investigate Witch cults of the Radio Age
9 Bach - 9 Bach
2562 - Unbalance
2562 - Aerial
Tang - Another Thousand Days Out oF This World
Recession Vol. 1 - VA Mixed by October - (Caravan Recordings)
emptyset - emptyset - (Caravan Recordings)
Techtonic Plates vols 1 & 2 - VA mixed by Pinch (Techtonic)
Warp 20 Chosen - VA
Warp 20 Recreated - VA (Warp Artists cover Warp Artists)*

*includes Gravenhurst cover of Broadcast's 'I Found The F'


Tom McCarthy - Remainder

Monday, September 07, 2009

Just The Weight Of The Water

Blasting out Slowdive's 'Machine Gun' really fucking loud while on gruelling, unremitting hold to the National Insurance Contributions Helpline For The Self-Employed, I looked up the numerous and touchingly pollyannaish interpretations of the song's impenetrable, delay and flanger-soaked lyrics. I once interviewed Neil Halstead; he couldn't remember them. (I have now had the pleasure of playing shows with him; naturally, he still can't remember). I briefly met Rachel Goswell while interviewing Mr. Halstead; she couldn't remember. And if 'Machine Gun' is a challenge, try 'Souvlaki Space Station'. Slowdive are clearly very strong candidates for Band Holding The Most Unequal UK Music Press Villification To Enduring Fan-Adoration Ratio, awarding them a perversely righteous honour. They deserve more. Director Greg Araki is a massive fan; he has used their music on his films throughout two decades, from his underground days pioneering the New Queer Cinema to his mature work such as the astonishing 'Mysterious Skin'. The excellent Morr Music released 'Blue Skied an' Clear', an interpretative tribute album of Slowdive 'covers'. Writer and promoter Nat Cramp champions them; his Sonic Cathedral is subtitled 'The Night That Celebrates Itself', knowingly co-opting a tired old press criticism of the shoegazing 'scene'. And obviously, for what it's worth, I love them too. Slowdive were treated so unfairly and viciously by the UK music press that it hurts. But the young generation of fans have grown up and are settling old scores on the band's behalf. And we will win you know.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

RIP Gordon Burn January 16, 1948 - July 17, 2009

The finest living English writer is now among the dead, which ups the competition considerably. Somehow I only just found out.

He rendered true crime as fiction; his novels read like brilliant reportage. His work trounced any easy distinctions between the real and the imagined. Google for obits. They mostly read the same, paragraphs quickly garnered from his publisher's press release. His work: fiction -start with 'Alma Cogan'; true crime - if you can go there- 'Happy Like Murderers', his startling account of Fred and Rosemary West. His sport writing- 'Pocket Money' and 'Best and Edwards' got me interested in Snooker and Football respectively; I previously had no interest in sport. I only read them because they were the work of England's finest living writer.


This blog has been neglected because I've managed to scrape together some, largely pseudonymous, paid writing work. The Police Diver: Commercial Division. Once I have established a rhythm the Notebook will return to form, I promise.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Listen to me, Butterfly

Here's a piece for Venue magazine, previewing a Handsome Family show at the Bath Fringe Festival on May 28th.

"Listen to me, Butterfly. There's only so much wine you can drink in one life and it will never be enough to save you from the bottom of your glass.."
That’s a Handsome Family lyric from their 2000 album “In The Air”. It’s enough to make any fellow song writer wonder whether there is any point bothering. The succinct wisdom and effortless romance makes me feel like banging my head repeatedly into the table top and cracking open a bottle of red. The Handsome Family are Albuquerque-based husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks. She writes the words, he writes the music, and with her peerless lyrical gifts and his staggering ability to sing four part harmonies over several scales one can be forgiven for thinking they really are an extended family. Like the Carter Family, or something. Or even earlier. Before anything was recorded. When songs evolved and existed only for themselves. In the old days, when Folk music was replete with depressing lyrics about famine, suicide and murder. The duo’s early single “Arlene” was banned from the radio for that very reason. As ever, our self-appointed moral guardians are ignorant of their own history.

The Handsome Family's All Music Guide entry reads like someone grasping at straws in a monstrous stack of needles. “Neo-traditional alternative country-folk” it says. This absurd fixation with genres is the recondite preserve of the journalist and is rarely shared by your average, sane music lover. Normal people just file their albums A to Z or not at all. Couldn’t it be that so many hyphens in a description be the sign of something, dare we say it, original? But there is something to the “Neo-traditional” bit. The Handsome Family sound like they missed out the last century, and arrived straight from the American Gothic. That’s where sallow, grizzled pitchfork-wielding farmers stare glassy-eyed into the lens bearing the silent burden of countless cot deaths, failed harvests and a fire and brimstone God who hates everyone’s guts. A picture which, in the graceful and supremely talented hands of the Sparks, is rendered both darkly sublime and very funny.

Venue - Bristol and Bath's weekly magazine
The Big Gig Feature
Issue number V869


Magazine publishing is an industry that is quickly affected by economic downturns. The perception of magazines as luxury items may lead people to stop buying them, but more crucially, reliance on advertising revenue means they suffer the knock-on effect of other concerns tightening the purse strings or folding altogether. Sadly, Plan B magazine is no longer with us. Each month, hundreds of left-field artists will get even less coverage than they already do. Plan B was a magazine you could buy in a regular newsagent and read passionate articles about bands you would otherwise have never heard of. "Why I Hate Rock 'n' Roll', reprinted here not long ago, was commissioned by Louis, the editor of Plan B, and I consider it to be my best piece of writing.

At least we still have John Doran's the Quietus.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bi-Frontal Stereotactic Sub-Caudate Trachtotomy And The Infinite Sadness

Here's a piece I wrote for the February issue of Plan B magazine.

"If All Goes Wrong" - Smashing Pumpkins Documentary and Concert DVD

"I want my band back. I want my dreams back" said Billy Corgan, on his decision to reform Smashing Pumpkins, and booked a nine night residency at a small venue in Asheville, North Carolina. "I don't know if he picked Asheville or Asheville picked him, because Billy's all about chance" gushes his personal assistant, and I almost spit a mouthful of rum at the screen. If Corgan is 'about' anything at all, it is contrivance; a meticulously planned career, micro-managed down to the finest detail and executed with despotic narcissism. Teutonic blonde on bass - nice, check. Japanese-looking dude -very cool, check. And in order to make records, Jimmy Chamberlain, one of the finest drummers of his era. Corgan recently stated that "97%" of the recordings were the work of him and Chamberlain, confirming what everyone already knew- that the other two were mainly there for show. Corgan's finest song, 'Rhinoceros', appeared on the debut album 'Gish', and such purity of emotion would never be heard again. 'Gish' was overshadowed by Nirvana's 'Nevermind', and there was no way Corgan was about to let that happen again. From 'Siamese Dream' onwards, Corgan's arguable songwriting skills were smothered by desperate egomania. And so in 2007, Corgan sits in his hotel room writing songs in a white dressing gown that makes him look like a lobotomised mental patient. Each night he plays yesterday's new song to the fans. In a scene so jaw-droppingly onanistic it is difficult to accurately describe, Corgan stands out on a balcony strumming his guitar, and a fan arrives with the gift of a plaster model of Corgan's head. Her friend died, and she found her body, and the only thing that pulled her through was the fact that Smashing Pumpkins were reforming. And then she made a replica of Corgan's head. And then she gave it to him. "It helped centre you, yeah, yeah" says Corgan, struggling to pay attention. Corgan meeting the fans -check. Back at the hotel, he writes a song about Nazi Germany, and bitches on about the pressure to play audience favourites, instead of putting them through a punishing three hour set of new material. "Why won't you play songs like 'Soma' anymore?". "Why do you ask?" Corgan spits back, recalling the natural grace with which he dismissed former bassist D'arcy Wretsky as a "mean-spirited drug addict" and blamed guitarist James Iha for the breakup of Smashing Pumpkins. Considering Jimmy Chamberlain's heroin addiction, sacking, rehabilitation and rejoining of the band, one might think Corgan would steer away from pathetic slurs regarding drug abuse. Never mind the fact that spending more than a few moments in the company of this man would have most normal people pulling their kitchen and bathroom to pieces for something to inject. Corgan then admits that he won't play 'Soma' or 'Mayonnaise' any more because they are songs he "identifies strongly with James". Basking in wealth and success, he cannot cope with the fact that Iha got a songwriting credit for some of the chord structures. "But I wrote the songs" he pleads. 'Zero', a single from the painfully constipated double album 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' contains a moment of truth. Propelled by an undeniably muscular guitar riff, Corgan sings "God is empty/just like me". Checkmate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why I Hate Rock 'n' Roll

I have been writing the odd piece for the excellent Plan B Magazine. In the next issue I shoot a very bloated fish in a very small barrel by reviewing a hateful Smashing Pumpkins documentary. Here's a more focused piece from last year.

Why I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll.

A few years ago my band played a gig at a venue in Nottingham. After loading in we were shown the ‘dressing room’. It was effectively a toilet cubicle without a toilet. It smelt like a crime scene. Suspicious yellow liquid dripped from a split pipe. The walls were richly spattered with the usual territorial pissings of long-gone or long-dead bands. Triumphant notches in bed posts or the chalk slashes of convicts marking their time, the real sentiments behind the symbols were unclear. But with the charm of a second-hand butt plug, the venue manager chuckled to himself that this was all “Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

And then everything clicked into place. I understood. Jaded promoters, parasitical booking agents, decaying P.A. systems, toxic dressing rooms, non-existent riders, imaginary contracts, indifferent sound engineers and the continuing existence of the flyer-deal: Rock ‘n’ Roll has nothing to do with music. Rock ‘n’ Roll is a masquerade that is used to justify and sustain a deep-rooted culture of complacency, cynicism and ineptitude.

In a classic example of the British habit of celebrating all the very worst things about our country, we call a certain network of small venues around the UK the ‘Toilet Circuit’. Touring it is akin to a homoerotic frat-boy hazing ritual, but instead of ending up with a tattoo of your mother's face on your balls, you accrue masses of debt and lose a couple of band members to madness and suicide.

Like the street cleaner who loathes but depends upon litter for his job, Toilet Venues need you but would really prefer it if you just didn’t exist. You will earn your stripes, you will pay for the privilege and you will promptly fuck off so they can put on a club night after your set.

Every node in the Rock ‘n’ Roll paradigm is self-perpetuating. Take the example of performance fees. Most bands assume they won’t be paid, so they don’t ask for anything. Promoters know this, so they don’t offer them anything. As a result, most bands don’t get paid. Booking agents are supposed to remedy this, but even ‘signed’ bands can have difficulty getting a booking agent. Agents can wheedle money out of people, but they can also neglect to tell you about a long-since cancelled show and leave you stranded and penniless in Saint Malo, lie till they are blue in the face and flatly refuse to remunerate you for their massive administrative error. This then becomes An Hilarious Rock ‘n’ Roll Anecdote, a well-worn propaganda tool that plays a crucial role in sustaining Rock ‘n’ Roll’s image of romance and roguish credibility. Agents can be useful in securing you support slots. Support fees are a standard £50, but no-one actually knows why. Ask anyone why it is standard, and in the fantastically circular logic of all ignoble traditions, they’ll tell you that it just is. But whose standard is it? Ah. I see. Of course. It is Rock ‘n’ Roll’s standard.

Rock ‘n’ Roll says that I am an indie bed-wetter spoilt by fancy jaunts to government-subsidised civic art spaces in poncey Benelux. Whatever. Superb commercial UK venues like The Luminaire in Kilburn are the exceptions that prove the rule: You Are Still Getting Fucked. Old toilets will survive as long as people continue to shit in them. Masochistic musicians will continue to get bogwashed into thinking they are stoics. The enemy hides in plain sight. It calls itself Rock ‘n’ Roll.