Monday, February 19, 2018

Standing the test of time

Happy twentieth birthday to the Angel Of The North. Today, the sculpture enjoys iconic status as a symbol for the north-east, always a welcome sight when it comes into view as you approach Gateshead and Newcastle heading north on the A1 - for me, a sign that I'm almost home. Hard to believe, then, that it originally faced fierce opposition from local politicians and press, art critics and members of the public alike - as this BBC piece recalls.

Antony Gormley's vision was only approved by Gateshead Council by a quirk of fate - the fact that councillors opposed to it were absent from the deciding vote proving critical. That was only part of the battle, though. Gormley, "not wanting to force his work on a local population who did not want it", was on the verge of throwing in the towel (he had to be persuaded to persist by councillors), while there were also significant engineering headaches to deal with.

The challenges were overcome, though, and the Angel was finally erected in February 1998. Gormley has identified one particular incident as marking or effecting "a real cultural shift" as regards public perceptions of the sculpture: its temporary clothing in an Alan Shearer shirt by Newcastle fans ahead of that year's FA Cup final. Gormley claimed, rather patronisingly, that this indicated "it was all right to talk about art" in the football-mad, masculine culture of the north-east; I'd prefer to see the act in more straightforwardly symbolic terms as signalling acceptance and claiming the Angel as one of our own.

It never looked back, and Gormley's own bond and affinity with the region was further cemented through Domain Field, a project that was created in the north-east, directly involved local people and was one of the first major exhibits at the Baltic in 2003.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Park and recreation

When Rob, my fellow founder of Sounding Bored, commented on Twitter that the line-up for Common People "knocks Truck into a cocked hat this year", he wasn't wrong. The Saturday, dubbed "Disco Day", will see The Jacksons, Prince's band The New Power Generation and Sparks perform in Oxford's South Park, while on the Sunday Maximo Park and Ride have prominent places on the bill.

Thanks to the involvement of Ronan of Nightshift, the latter won't be the sole representatives of the city in which the festival will be held, either. Over the course of the two days, the cream of Oxfordshire's current crop will be on show, including The August List, Ghosts In The Photographs, Lucy Leave and Self Help.

Meanwhile, set for another appearance at the bash are my old muckers Elvana, whose summer itinerary also includes Bestival and Camp Bestival. Safe to say that Rob da Bank is a fan, then.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Guerrilla gig

A collection of photos from the punk era taken by a couple of seasoned snappers and exhibited in ... a car showroom?! I'll admit it took me a long time to get my head around the concept (in fact, I'm not sure I even have yet) but the taster I saw in the course of putting together this preview for Buzz suggested that the images displayed as part of The Fine Art Of Punk & New Wave - for one night only (20th February) - will be of sufficient quality to assuage any doubts.

Know Your Enemy

"I wasn't aware of a lot of the crazy stuff, like he supports Trump. What? The shapeshifting thing, I honestly think he may have a brain tumour. He's always been insufferable."

D'arcy Wretzky on the man now known as William Patrick Corgan. That's a reunion of the full original Smashing Pumpkins line-up scuppered, then.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Happy Ending

Some festivals appear to have been vying with each other to name the worst line-up of the summer (Truck and Kendal Calling, I'm looking at you), only for big hitter Reading/Leeds to offer some seriously stiff competition (Kendrick Lamar currently standing out like the sorest of sore thumbs). But End Of The Road's bill is as reliably good as ever, boasting St Vincent, Yo La Tengo, Hookworms, Idles, Shame, Oh Sees, Fat White Family, Julia Holter, Protomartyr and DUDS, as well as Welsh trio Gruff Rhys, Sweet Baboo and Gwenno plus Nilufer Yanya, one of the artists singled out during Episode 25 of Sounding Bored as a real prospect for 2018.

One of these days I might actually make it...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The no-shows must not go on

Ever bristled slightly at being asked for a phone number when booking a restaurant? Ever felt a bit irritated if asked to confirm a booking on the day? Consider it from the restaurant's perspective: no-shows are a costly business, in terms of wasted food, wasted labour and the disgruntlement of those who are turned away.

Spare a thought for Cardiff's Bar 44, which suffered from an incredible 16 no-shows last night on what should have been one of the busiest nights of the year. Owner Owen Morgan is understandably fuming, pointing out that the consequences can be devastating. As he notes, the city has already suffered from a spate of closures since the start of the year, and people's thoughtless attitude is hardly helping.

How hard is it to pick up the phone or send a quick email if you can't make it? No harder than it was to make the booking in the first place. No one wants to see restaurants starting to take deposits for all types of booking, whatever the size - but sadly that looks to be inevitable.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Know Your Enemy

"In sum, the lyrics at issue ... are too brief, unoriginal and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act."

US judge Michael W Fitzgerald's dismissal of the claim that the phrase "Haters gonna hate" is plagiarised is something of a double-edged sword for Taylor Swift.

Reading week(end)

As a regular contributor to Buzz, it was only right that I took the opportunity to give a plug to Cardiff's inaugural poetry festival, given that it's being organised by my old chums Seren, the publisher for which I worked for the best part of a year. Fingers crossed it proves to be a success and follows the Cardiff Book Festival in managing to establish itself as an annual event.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Quote of the day

"What this crisis must not be allowed to do is undermine the case for generous aid spending as both a moral obligation and as pragmatic policy. The Oxfam case involves fewer men than can be counted on two hands. The courageous and dedicated efforts of thousands of its employees have saved millions of lives in the most gruelling and dangerous circumstances. They and their peers in other charities deserve the best defence. That means honesty and transparency, and a conspicuous determination to root out anyone who threatens their reputation for it."

The Guardian's editorial comment on the Haiti sex parties strikes exactly the right note: it acknowledges the severity of the allegations and the seriousness of the failings in the way those allegations were handled, while stressing that the situation shouldn't be used as ammunition for those on the right of the political spectrum who relish any opportunity to attack foreign aid policy. Put simply, it's vitally important that not everyone is tarred with the same brush.

That said, the Guardian have also published a piece by Shaista Aziz, a former aid worker, who claims that the allegations aren't all that surprising and that bullying, racism and discrimination are endemic within NGOs like Oxfam. Nevertheless, even she stresses that cutting off government funding "is clearly not the answer" - whereas an independent regulator armed with the appropriate powers to be able to properly investigate such allegations certainly is.

"Equidistant between chitchat and analysis"

As if the prospect of Alan Partridge returning to the BBC wasn't already exciting enough, the revelation that he'll be doing so as the presenter of a One Show parody is even better. The randomness of the magazine show format, the bizarre mixture of the serious and the silly, and the enforced and often awkward bonhomie between the presenters and their guests (and between the presenters themselves) couldn't suit Alan's character better. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, and filming has only just begun - but you have to feel it's another inspired decision on the part of Neil and Rob Gibbons (and Steve Coogan too).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Prizes: no surprises

Are the Grammys an irrelevant anachronism, rewarding the undeserving and ignoring the award-worthy? Do they perpetuate gender and racial inequalities within the music industry and reflect traditionalist, rockist tendencies? According to Rob, David and Amy, who discuss the issues in Episode 26 of Sounding Bored, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. To be honest, they're remarkably restrained in their criticisms of those behind the Grammys (who, for instance, saw fit to invite Sting and Shaggy to perform, but not Lorde, an actual nominee) and far too polite about this year's big winner, Bruno Mars.

In a break from the regular format, there's no featured album of the month, with the second half of the show dedicated to a discussion of music podcasts, which touches on personal favourites and recommendations, the motivations behind recording them and the tricky issue of economics.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Marital bliss

I've already enthused about Dream Wife's self-titled debut LP on Episode 25 of Sounding Bored, but that wasn't going to stop me doing so again in print, for Buzz. It's an easy album to enthuse about, really - being full to the brim of enthusiasm itself. Nice to see a band that I first saw at the Dials festival in Southsea in 2015 and again at Southsea Fest the following year have been able to successfully translate what they do live into recorded form.

Other new releases reviewed in this month's issue include those by Bardo Pond, Franz Ferdinand, The Lovely Eggs, John Mouse, Wild Beasts and Lawrence Hayward's Go-Kart Mozart. I've not heard any of them - but would politely suggest that the two-star rating of Hookworms' Microshift, and the suggestion that "it feels too controlled and contrived" are well wide of the mark.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Rowche Prestwich rumble

"Some strange people", a bottle-throwing brawl and "total disrespect" at Mark E Smith's wake? Safe to say it's what he would have wanted.

Given it took place in Prestwich, I wonder if all of the nibbles came from the Pound Bakery. More likely that than M&S.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Delights on the doorstep

I've said it before and will no doubt say it again: living in Canton, we're incredibly fortunate to have so many great places to eat, drink and generally be merry. This We Are Cardiff post from last August does a good job of featuring several that I'd heartily recommend (Crafty Devil Brewing, St Canna's Ale House, Park View Cafe, Thompson's Park, Viva Latino, Clwb Iechyd Da, La Creperie De Claudie) and several others about which I've heard good things but am yet to visit (Pettigrew Bakery, The Dough Thrower, Dusty Knuckle).

That said, there are plenty more places you could justifiably add to that list: Chapter, Brod, Chai Street, the Lansdowne, Bangkok Thai, Time & Beef, Stefanos, Sen BBQ, Calabrisella, Janata Palace, the Purple Poppadom. My mouth's watering at the mere thought. Why, we sometimes find ourselves wondering, would anyone bother making the 20-minute trek into the city centre?

And to think we were seriously contemplating living out in the suburbs...

Know Your Enemy

"They were the worst musicians in the world. They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don't even talk about it."

Unlike many others, Quincy Jones has actually earned the right to be scathing about fellow musicians, and he did actually work with Ringo Starr - but to dismiss The Beatles like that?! I'm not having it - and that's not just because 1 is the latest kid-friendly album to get a caning in our car.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Pure Gold

Since it was purchased from a charity shop in Formby in the summer of 2016, our copy of ABBA's Gold has only very rarely left the car stereo, having swiftly become a firm favourite with our backseat passenger. Not that I'm complaining - I bloody love them and continue to harbour hopes of being able to get to the ABBA: Super Troupers exhibition at the Southbank Centre this spring. The exhibition, which is narrated by none other than Jarvis Cocker, was the inspiration for this piece by my old Nottingham blogging chum Mike Atkinson celebrating everything that made them (on the whole) so bloody marvellous.

You won't get me watching Mamma Mia, mind...

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Quote of the day

"I must be frank, it is complicated because if you're going to give a legal pardon for things like arson and violence it's not as straightforward as people think it might be."

Well done Amber Rudd for once again proving how anachronistic and out of touch the Tories are by suggesting, on the 100th anniversary of women finally getting the vote, that imprisoned suffragettes shouldn't be pardoned.

As the BBC's Amelia Butterly has reminded us, though, the suffragettes were no strangers to resistance and opposition from other women.

Monday, February 05, 2018

"You ought to do a story about me"

Last night's Super Bowl was, by most accounts, a remarkable encounter - not that I would know personally, not being a fan of a sport that only seems to break out in ten-second bursts in between adverts. But it's safe to say the game wasn't as remarkable as the story of Jackie Wallace, a two-time Super Bowl participant, whose painful post-professional life has been narrated with tenderness and warmth by photographer Ted Jackson, the man who found Wallace at his lowest ebb and became a long-term friend.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The banality of evil

Families often have secrets - subjects that are taboo and, if raised, swiftly lead to silence. Few such secrets can be as devastating as the fact that your grandfather used to be a Nazi officer who was directly responsible for the suffering of thousands. That was the horrific discovery made by British nature author Derek Niemann - an experience with which he attempts to come to terms in his book A Nazi In The Family. It must have been an extremely difficult (if necessary) book to write - with the hardest thing to accept surely being his grandfather's lack of contrition and blatant denial of the reality of what was happening in the concentration camps.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Odd future (and past and present)

Given that we had roped Trev McCabe into contributing to Episode 25 and were already sitting in his marvellous craft beer and vinyl emporium Pop'n'Hops in Cardiff, it would have been rude not to have also invited him to be the subject of our third Sounding Bored interview podcast.

Over the course of a little more than half an hour, Trev talked to Rob and I about the motivations, joys and challenges of running a record label (Odd Box Records), where the idea behind Pop'n'Hops came from and his new(ish) punk/lo-fi/DIY club night at Tiny Rebel, Asking For A Friend.

Needless to say, as a huge fan of The Jesus & Mary Chain who had no time for Britpop, I was delighted to chat to a kindred spirit.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Divine intervention


The band name Pastel put one in mind of fey Glaswegian tweepoppers The Pastels, and of delicate, subtle tints, rather than big, bold colours. It doesn't put one in mind of boorish, smirking Britpop that worships at the altar of Definitely Maybe and Happy Mondays. The final song is a token gesture in the direction of sensitivity and depth, a bedraggled bunch of garage forecourt flowers proffered optimistically by a swaying, Stella'd-up oaf. We should, I suppose, be thankful for the small mercy that Kasabian's egregious influence hasn't yet filtered through.

Swansea outfit HalfBlind are only marginally better, largely on account of the fact that their parents' record collections (what a quaint concept) seem to be more diverse, incorporating 60s power pop, The Coral and early Talking Heads. Not that they make particularly effective use of any of those resources, mind.

Meanwhile, the Shins cover that makes an appearance four songs into Risorius' set gives us a much-needed clue as to what they've been aiming at (and missing by some distance) with the previous three. The second even comes perilously close (i.e. within a 500-mile radius) to Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Californication'. They do, however, have the commendable nerve to take on the hubbub of general disinterest with a quieter song that briefly quells the chatter and suggests that the keyboard player isn't redundant after all.

Which leaves me clinging to the faint hope that Holy Bouncer might be able to salvage the evening - a possibility that seems even more remote when it transpires that a treasured effects pedal has been pinched. But, against the odds, salvage the evening the Barcelona-based headliners do.

You would assume that years of Primavera festivals would have rubbed off on the locals, and certainly Holy Bouncer's members boast the high-waisted trousers and moustaches that have practically become the uniform. But there is nothing remotely hipster about the bands they most frequently appropriate, to rejuvenating effect: The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Hearing the likes of 'Anticipation' and 'Hippie Girl Lover', Mojo Man would be inclined to feel approval rather than a sense of alienation, while anyone dismayed by Tame Impala's lapse from the psych-indie bliss of Lonerism into the glossy mediocrity of Currents would lap up 'Mightly Mad'.

The quintet's performance becomes a blur of high kicking, bongo bashing and muscly riffs. We're coaxed into crouching down for a drum solo and later asked to supply weed in exchange for an encore. For the first time this evening, we really do want more.

(An edited version of this review first appeared on the Buzz website.)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Rick: just the trick for Billy

So Smashing Pumpkins are working with Rick Rubin on a comeback album. It figures: given that the producer has already been instrumental in rescuing the careers of apparently spent-force, washed-up legends like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, Billy Corgan - sorry, William Corgan - is presumably hoping he can work the old magic again...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Vocal chords

Well, I didn't see that coming. The second annual Festival Of Voice, which bills itself as "Cardiff's international arts festival", will see Patti Smith performing her Words And Music show about five minutes' walk from my house, at St John's Church in Canton. Wonder if she'll pop into the Corporation for a swift loosener or two beforehand?

Smith will also be playing a musical show at the Millennium Centre down at the Bay, as will Gruff Rhys, in collaboration with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Meanwhile, the festival will kick off with Billy Bragg and support act Nadine Shah, who thoroughly deserves the opportunity to reach a wider audience in light of her terrific show at the Globe back in October.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Know Your Enemy

"The art of the political interview, Piers, is to push your interviewee hard - not let them spout self-evident tosh. That's just showbiz."

Eminent BBC journalist John Simpson on Piers Morgan's laughable interview with Donald Trump. Morgan, inevitably, immediately resorted to name-calling, branding Simpson an "egotistical charlatan" and a "pompous old prune".

One of them is a veteran of numerous war zones, while the other should be sent to one, and with a massive target painted on his chest.

Monday, January 29, 2018

No.'s up (for an award)

I've been saving up episodes of the fourth series of Inside No. 9 as a treat - so it seems fitting to have finally decided to indulge myself on the day that, unbeknownst to me, the series was named Comedy Of The Year 2017. That's despite the fact that it's been screened entirely in 2018, and that not all of the episodes have even aired yet  - but, to be honest, if the whole series is as good as 'Zanzibar', then it's on course to be Comedy Of The Century.

Congratulations to the show's creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, who you might have feared would be out of inspiration after masterminding the long-awaited pre-Christmas return of The League Of Gentlemen. We needn't have worried.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Itchy and scratchy

For a first gig of the new year, I couldn't have done much better than post-punk/avant-funk Manc weirdos DUDS' appearance at the Moon on Tuesday as part of the venue's Free For All festival running throughout January - not least because the local support acts Gindrinker and Silent Forum were also on tremendous form.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The hills will be alive with the sound of Japanese psych psychos

The first tranche of acts for this summer's Green Man have been announced, and there's plenty of interest, including Jane Weaver, Bo Ningen, DUDS, Public Service Broadcasting, Grizzly Bear and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Nothing yet really sets the pulses racing, though - but I've learned not to write the festival off, with the organisers having a habit of pulling some serious rabbits out of the hat for subsequent updates to the bill. Maybe this year might be the one we go back?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Quote of the day

"Two bands changed my life. Joy Division introduced me to the power of music and the possibilities of sound, and demonstrated that pop songs could be far more – and come from somewhere far deeper and darker – than entertainment. But the Fall changed everything I felt about words and language. From the moment I heard 'Totally Wired' in a friend’s cellar at an impressionable age, Smith’s lyrics had a seismic effect on me. To listen to my first Fall album, Grotesque (After the Gramme) was to enter an unknowable netherworld of “hydrochloric shaved weirds”, “new faces in hell”, hideous replicas of much-loathed dog breeders and a worldview that sneered at Englishmen, councils, rapists, northerners, southerners, students, tourists, dogs and, well, pretty much everyone and everything. This was not the language I knew from pop. It was more like musical science fiction."

Dave Simpson, author of The Fallen: Life In And Out Of Britain's Most Insane Group, writing in the Guardian on the profound impact Mark E Smith and The Fall had on him.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


So I guess your granny and her bongos are just going to have to go solo now.

I won't pretend to be a massive fan of The Fall, but I've very much enjoyed every time I've seen them live - most recently in February last year, my first gig since moving back to Cardiff. There was, I gather, a sizeable portion of hardcore aficionados who felt that recent tours should be boycotted on the grounds that they were endangering Mark E Smith's health - but I don't regret seizing one of the last opportunities to catch him performing.

In any case, he's not looked like a remotely well man for a long time now and he was perfectly capable of endangering his health himself - he'd been doing it for years, often in illustrious company. One anecdote I've read tonight told of how his rider for one gig in Oxford not untypically listed two bottles of quality white wine and a wrap of speed; when presented with the speed, he promptly tipped it into a pint glass, filled it to the brim with wine and then took it onstage for the show.

Smith had a trademark slur and vocal delivery, and a deserved reputation for being cantankerous and difficult; even someone who would go on to love him, Stewart Lee, initially found him "annoying and incomprehensible". And yet Smith could also often be very funny. More than any specific song, to be honest, my abiding memory will be of him reading the classified football results in November 2005 and sparring with Ray Stubbs.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

From stage to page

You'd assume that any article on the best and worst attempts at novels by famous musicians would feature Morrissey's execrable List Of The Lost - and, in the case of this piece by the BBC's Jeremy Allen, you'd be right. It's pleasing just to be able to savour those deliciously savage reviews once again.

Elsewhere, Nick Cave makes not one but two appearances, for his debut And The Ass Saw The Angel (an extraordinary book, by all accounts) and The Death Of Bunny Munro (which was, shall we say, rather less well received).

Of those featured, only Leonard Cohen came to music from the world of literature rather than the other way around. I've got one of his books sitting on my shelves waiting to be read, so it's good to know that I probably won't be wasting my time.

That said, I refuse to believe that former Sleeper vocalist Louise Wener can write, and, despite the comments from Allen and its contemporary critics, Serge Gainsbourg's Evguenie Sokolov sounds to be at very least an amusing oddity: "a 90-page narrative about a man who used his uncontrollable flatulence to create works of fine art before taking his own life"...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We need to talk about Alan

Despite being warned by a fellow Partridge aficionado not to bother, I finally got round to watching Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How And Whom? at the weekend - and I'm glad I did. OK, so the opportunity was there for a spoof documentary, but the straight narrative of his career (and of his passage towards becoming a more fully rounded character) was perfectly illustrated with some of his "best" (i.e. funniest) moments and did a fine job of whetting the appetite ahead of his return to the Beeb this year.

The clips were embellished and interspersed with commentary from those who have been crucial to the creation of Alan's rightfully legendary comic status: Steve Coogan, of course, but also the likes of Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber (who, Coogan suggested, was the first to see the character's real potential), David Schneider, Rebecca Front, Peter Baynham and Simon Greenall. It was good to also hear from Neil and Rob Gibbons, as the duo who can be credited for reinvigorating the Partridge brand with the books and Alpha Papa. Needless to say, though, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring were notable absentees.

The behind-the-scenes rehearsal/improv footage was all too brief, but the various insights offered into Alan's character were often illuminating - none more so than Marber's claim that the "fundamental given" is "desperation". It was revealed that Marber felt that the script for the first series of I'm Alan Partridge was too sitcom-y, but that Coogan, Iannucci and company sensed that he was wrong and ignored his complaint - with the results overwhelmingly justifying that decision. If the new series is even half as good, we'll be in for a treat.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bear necessity

It sounds like a potential quiz question for years to come: what is the best reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes? Few, I suspect, would guess at Paddington 2, were it not for the slew of articles like this one announcing the fact.

I'm not ashamed to say I saw the movie twice in December - most unusual, for someone who barely goes to the cinema more than three times a year - and the high praise doesn't surprise me. While it's set in a quaintly sanitised version of London apparently designed by the people behind John Lewis' Christmas adverts, it's a warm-hearted, often laugh-out-loud, occasionally touching film that appealed almost as much to me as to Stanley. Brendan Gleeson is terrific in the role of prison chef Knuckles McGinty, but the real star of the show is Hugh Grant, given free licence to ham it up as the comic villain of the piece, Phoenix Buchanan.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tough talk

It's not just rock acts whose sales are giving cause for alarm. On the contrary, some of pop's biggest players are suffering too. Capital Records head Steve Barnett admitted this week that he's had to have "tough conversations" with Katy Perry and her management team following disappointing sales figures for her latest album Witness.

That said, Barnett didn't put the album's poor performance down to a general seachange in tastes - or, for that matter, to any deficiencies in the songs themselves. Instead, he pinned the blame on the four-year gap between albums, which he said had had a damaging effect on fans' "engagement" with the singer. Very much a case of out of sight, out of mind, then. It can work the other way around, though - just ask the likes of My Bloody Valentine and At The Drive-In, both of whom found to their benefit that (prolonged) absence only made the heart grow fonder.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Don't look back in anger - look forward in anticipation

You might have thought that recording Episode 25 of Sounding Bored in a Cardiff bottle shop while sampling some of its wares would have resulted in our ramblings becoming even more incoherent than usual, but I think Rob and I just about held it together in the company of our guest Trev McCabe, the shop's proprietor and also the founder of Odd Box Records.

In time-honoured tradition, we kicked off the new year by looking ahead to what lies in store for 2018. Each of us picked a band or artist to focus on (Rainbow Reservoir, Dream Wife and Nilufa Yanya) before going on to discuss other new acts with debuts just out, imminent or expected (The Baby Seals, Corporation Pop, Shame, Superorganism and a trio of Welsh outfits, Wylderness, Boy Azooga and Adwaith). Of the established bands with LPs due in 2018, the panel were particularly excited about the prospect of new material from My Bloody Valentine, Hookworms, The Spook School and No Age.

We also talked trends and listening habits/means of discovering new music, before rounding off with verdicts on Shopping's third record The Official Body, which hits the shelves today.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A dying art?

According to Nielsen's latest Year-End Report, in 2017 hip-hop trumped rock 'n' roll in terms of total consumption (album sales, streaming, etc) for the first time ever - though, to be honest, I'm a little surprised it hasn't happened sooner.

The results also seem to indicate a close connection between genre and modes of consumption, with nine of the ten most streamed artists coming from the hip-hop side of the tracks. Evidently, us rock/indie types can blather on about the vinyl boom all we like, but that very much pales into insignificance in the grand scheme of things. As Consequence Of Sound's Alex Young points out, the figures for rock look even worse if you take "legacy acts" like The Beatles and Metallica out of the equation.

Does all this really matter, though? For those of us who are generally disdainful of the mainstream and of the concept of measuring value purely in terms of profitability and popularity, and who enjoy championing the underdog, it's tempting to embrace the situation.

But if younger generations are indeed turning their backs on rock, then we have to accept that its long-term health looks less than assured. The last thing we need is reason for record companies of all sizes to become even more risk-averse and to focus their attention even more narrowly on acts that offer a near-guaranteed return on investment. That way, legions of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Kasabian clones lie.

In Episode 25 of Sounding Bored - recorded last night here in Cardiff and due to appear online in the next few days - the panel picked out some top tips for the year ahead. Great prospects, all of them - but none, I suspect, the saviours that the Nielsen report suggests rock needs.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jamie's Kitchen nightmares

Not being the biggest fan of either the man himself or chain restaurants generally, I'll admit that my initial reaction to the news that Jamie Oliver is to close his Cardiff eaterie was one of amusement. But the sad reality, of course, is that this is about much more than simply the wide-tongued one getting a bloody nose.

For a start, the restaurant employs local people who have mouths to feed themselves (as well as mortgages or rent to pay), so it makes for a particularly miserable beginning to the new year.

Second, as several people have pointed out, if a place that was located in a prime location in the city centre, never seemed to be empty and had the clout/kudos of a TV chef's name behind it can't survive, then what hope for anyone else? Certainly, any notion that it might be replaced by an independent restaurant are fanciful, owing to the exorbitant business rates that have already forced the closure of other places nearby.

The issue isn't specific to Cardiff, though: the decision has been taken as part of a wider programme of cutbacks around the country. The suggestion in some quarters is that more people are now choosing to go out to small restaurants on their doorstep. In that respect those of us in Canton are fortunate to have such an array of choice, including Chapter, Sen BBQ, Calabrisella, Janata Palace, Viva Latino, Time & Beef and Chai Street, as well as more upmarket places like the Purple Poppadom, Bully's and Milkwood. Even here, though, all is not entirely rosy - as evidenced by the closure of the second branch of Got Beef after only a matter of months. We ate there soon after it opened its doors and thoroughly enjoyed our meal, so it's not as though there's much justice in which places are feeling the heat and going to the wall.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Staying on track

Since I last wrote about the pernicious message of Thomas The Tank Engine, nearly three years ago, Stanley has thankfully largely grown out of the series. Nevertheless, I can still very much appreciate the value of this critique from the New Yorker's Jia Tolentino, who refers to the programme's "repressive, authoritarian soul" and, surveying the evidence, concludes quite justifiably that the Rev W Audry "disliked change, venerated order and craved the administration of punishment".

On the one hand, Tolentino notes that as a child she was too distracted by what seemed like a "beautiful daydream" to perceive the message - but, on the other, that message is so relentlessly reiterated and reinforced that it surely sinks in subconsciously.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Know Your Enemy

"The question presupposed by the title of the Maverick Toadmeister's bestselling book How To Lose Friends and Alienate People has been fairly comprehensively answered."

The pithiest comment in Stewart Lee's Guardian piece on Toby Young, which finds him on superb form. Young is variously described as a "grindingly algorithmic controversialist", "a shit Clarkson" and, for his attempts to distance himself from his socialist father, "a raging zoo monkey" who "has wasted his life spitting cold mucus at a ghost and throwing clumps of his own hot excrement at a [shadow]".

This being Stewart Lee, there's also room for a dig at Queen (and, by implication, Ben Elton) and a reference to Amanda Holden's endorsement of Alpen, "the colonic cleansing breakfast dust".

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Soothing sounds

Much music couldn't be described as conventionally "soothing", but there's no doubt that songs can have a significant impact on the moods and psyche. Pitchfork contributing editor Jayson Greene has written a powerful piece about the way that music is being used to treat trauma - whether of premature babies who cannot have contact with their mothers, or refugees in war-torn countries - by, in the words of music therapist Katie Down, helping to "create a sense of normalcy, joy, expression".

As part of the research for his piece, Greene underwent a series of music therapy sessions himself. It would probably be easy to be cynical and to scoff at the content of these sessions, were it not for the fact that Greene's extraordinary description underlines quite how profound an impact the sessions had on him.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Quote of the day

"The obvious truth can no longer be avoided or sugarcoated: we have a racist in the Oval Office."

New Yorker columnist John Cassidy reacts to Donald Trump's alleged "shithole" comment, which hasn't been denied. Cassidy's been a bit slow in reaching this conclusion - many of us would suggest that this has been the truth since the moment Trump took office.

Dividing lines

All of the pictures in photographer Lee Friedlander's new book have one thing in common: they feature a chain-link fence. Such fences indicate a desire to divide up and separate, but are also permeable or at least non-opaque, allowing us to see through to the other side. The subjects Friedlander has shot through the fences range from a crowd at the World Trade Center to a broken-down car and a pair of randy rhinos, but what's fascinating is the way that the viewer's perspective shifts: sometimes you feel as though you're looking in, and sometimes you feel as though you're looking out.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Stimulating stageshows

A list of "ten gigs that launched a thousand bands" that doesn't feature the Sex Pistols' show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in June 1976? Only because that particular gig is the whole inspiration for the list.

Fraser McAlpine's selection is potentially contentious, but it's good to see the inclusion of Black Flag's 1981 gig at the Peppermint Lounge in New York, as well as Bikini Kill's 1991 show with Bratmobile in Olympia, which effectively gave birth to riot grrrl. The Stone Roses' Spike Island gig gets the nod over Oasis' Knebworth shows - rightly so (much as I despise the Roses), for what it represented and what it inspired.

Meanwhile, it's fascinating to read about the New York Dolls' Mercer Arts Center residency in 1972, which seems to have energised the US punk scene in the same way that the Sex Pistols' Lesser Free Trade Hall gig did for the UK.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The end of the Line

The last I heard of The Icarus Line, it was 2015 and they had put out All Things Under Heaven - an attempt to repeat the trick of 2013's savage LP Slave Vows that was always doomed to failure. If Slave Vows appeared to herald a rebirth after a couple of so-so albums (Black Lives At The Golden Coast and Wildlife), and harked back to the in-the-red intensity of their magnum opus, 2004's Penance Soiree, then All Things Under Heaven saw Joe Cardamone's bunch of LA outlaws sadly stall again.

It turns out that singer Cardamone dissolved the band at the end of 2015, after a disillusioning tour in support of former Stone Temple Pilots man Scott Weiland that was overshadowed by the absence of guitarist and founding member Alvin DeGuzman through cancer. DeGuzman died in October, with Cardamone - whose lyrics are often bitter, vicious, sleazy and cynical - moved to write a heartfelt tribute to his friend.

After splitting up The Icarus Line, Cardamone decided to go it alone, and spent much of 2016 working on tracks for a project he's called Holy War. 'New Cross' appeared last year, and is quite something: its in-your-face, aggressive nature is familiar, but the embrace of electronics, the butchering of pop and the use of rap (yes, really) is entirely new, like EMA on PCP. I'm not necessarily sure I actually like it - but it certainly forces you into a reaction of some kind.

Cardamone spent the autumn touring with Mark Lanegan, which must have made for an interesting bill: as an elder statesman of alt-rock, the gravel-throated ex-Screaming Trees man has a much less confrontational approach, and while he too has shown signs of becoming increasingly comfortable with electronics, the results showcased on Gargoyle are infinitely more mild mannered than 'New Cross'.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Quote of the day

"I am a passionate supporter of inclusion and helping the most disadvantaged, as I hope my track record of setting up and supporting new schools demonstrates. But some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong - and I unreservedly apologise."

Toby Young, who has bowed to pressure and resigned from his position on the board of the Office for Students (hurrah!), finds a new grandiloquent euphemism for "wanker".

Speak no evil

Andre Spicer's recent book Business Bullshit - published by my former employers - is a deep dive (sorry, Andre) into the world of meaningless management-speak and empty buzzwords, and his article on the subject for the Guardian serves as a concise appetiser. In it, he traces the historical evolution of such language in conjunction with the rise of the corporate manager and the various management trends that have taken hold. As his chronology reveals, modern-day management-speak has its roots in the hippie language of self-realisation and spiritual growth, which has been perverted for corporate and political ends.

Searching for the reason why business bullshit has taken over, Spicer mentions two of the most "familiar and credible explanations": that it allows its users to radiate an air of expertise and that it enables them to be deliberately vague. However, he goes further and connects the phenomenon to David Graeber's observations about "bullshit jobs", claiming that - contrary to the opinions of even those who do them - such jobs are indeed productive, if only of more bullshit. Both bureaucracy and the continual pressure for change (whether necessary or not) are to blame, Spicer concludes - both preventing people from doing their actual work.

There is a bitter irony in the fact that the never-ending pursuit, development and implementation of efficiencies actually causes the whole system to be chronically inefficient. Spicer argues that, far from being something simply to scoff at, business bullshit is in fact worryingly symptomatic of this problem and thus should be dissected, challenged and binned at every opportunity.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Punk portraits

CBGBs is often mythologised in histories of punk, but Julia Gorton's Polaroid pictures of the musicians who helped to make the club famous - which she's gradually publishing on Instagram - take you right there, to the heart of things in late 70s New York.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Saturday, January 06, 2018


Nirvana may refer to the final transcendent state to be attained in Buddhism, when the individual is free from suffering and death, but the band of the same name are (rightly or wrongly) synonymous with angst and anger. However, Nirvana's first (and possibly only) fan newsletter - written in October 1991, shortly after the release of Nevermind - shows a very different side to Kurt Cobain and company, jovial in tone and full of goofy jokes and fabrications (about former drummer Chad Channing, Sub Pop "head honcho" Jonathan Poneman and others).

As Dangerous Minds' Martin Schneider notes, to read the letter "is to enter a pre-internet realm in which access to an Apple IIe and a copy shop provided the chance for countless struggling musicians to forge connections with their peers and fans". The letter is also a fascinating snapshot of a band on the cusp of enormous success, still having a blast and excited about reaching out to their audience - rather than the sardonic, jaded cynics they were (arguably) soon to become.

On a related note, Open Culture have taken Kurt Cobain's 50 favourite albums, as listed in his journals, and created a 38-hour playlist so you can really immerse yourself in the albums that shaped the band's sound.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Decline and fall

The festive period proved to be kind to Newcastle Utd, but prior to the win at West Ham we were on a dismal run of form. It was against that backdrop that I read Martin Hardy's Tunnel Of Love, my review of which is now up on The Two Unfortunates. The book, which chronicles the club's declining fortunes from the summer of 1996 to relegation in 2009, isn't as good as its predecessor Touching Distance, probably inevitably, but is still well worth picking up if you're a fan of either Newcastle or (in)glorious tragicomedy.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Causes for concern

Today's music festivals have their roots in the hippie gatherings of the 60s: liberal, countercultural oases synonymous (at least in the popular imagination) with peace, love and understanding. So it's particularly depressing to discover that the man behind Coachella, AEG's Philip Anschutz, has a record of donating money to right-wing causes including anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion organisations.

In truth, the story originally broke this time last year, but it passed me. Anschutz dismissed it as "fake news", presumably fully aware that echoing Trump would be red rag to a bull as regards his critics on the left and within the music community. Twelve months on and the story has resurfaced - time will tell as to whether he'll issue a similar dismissal, but in the meantime it's likely to give some of those on the 2018 bill pause for thought, not least St Vincent and Perfume Genius. Perhaps they'll follow the lead of Show Me The Body, the punk band who last year reacted to the news by vowing to play the festival but donate their "blood money" to precisely the sort of causes that Anschutz opposes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Nothing to be ashamed of?

As its author Sam Richards suggests, if this BBC article about songs that subsequently cause their creators acute embarrassment had been pulled together only a few years ago, you could have guaranteed the featured Radiohead track would be 'Creep'. But, against all the odds, they've recently chosen to embrace their past and start playing it live. Instead, Richards picks 'Pop Is Dead' - a standalone single, thankfully, in that it doesn't spoil any of their albums.

Also (inevitably) mentioned in the article are David Bowie's 'The Laughing Gnome' and Beastie Boys' 'Fight For Your Right To Party', though Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is a notable exclusion. There's a Stone Roses song too - though, personally speaking, I would have felt embarrassed to be associated with anything they did...

Los Campesinos!, not mentioned by Richards, are a band who have disowned much of their earlier material, including 'International Tweexcore Underground' and 'You! Me! Dancing!'. The latter was their 'Creep', an unexpected hit that propelled them to popularity (albeit not quite the same level) and ultimately proved a meal ticket when they sold it to Budweiser. For me, it's disappointing that they were so soon heartily sick of a song I loved (and continue to love), but I guess that's the artist's prerogative. It'll be interesting to see if they ever do a Radiohead and come back round to playing it - though I suspect that's unlikely, not least because only three of the seven original members remain.