Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The T Is For Texas

London Fields # 99
published Inpress (Issue # 1204), Melbourne on 14 December 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1090), Sydney on 13 December 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

I’m not sure if it’s just people I know, but at this time of year the interest in Top Ten lists feels like something that’s escaped from the pages of High Fidelity. These tend to make me reflect on the fact that music was a big factor in abandoning my native
Melbourne for the comparative anonymity of London, and further realise that I haven’t really written much about it since returning from Primavera Sound back in May. This year it did feel that the festival was beginning to be a victim of its own success, but PJ Harvey still provided a captivating 75 minutes making the large expanses feel intimate, while the first public performance of the return of Pulp met and exceeded all reasonable expectations. Here also The National finally achieved what they’ve been on the verge of on so many occasions I’ve seen them over the years – finally capturing that heartbreaking melancholy and delivering a powerful and sustained emotional punch throughout their early evening set. A secret highlight was eschewing both The Walkmen and Grinderman to see Smoke Fairies deliver what could have been the performance of the festival to a small but gripped crowd.

The most enjoyable performances of this year’s Camden Crawl could be found in the front lounge of the Spread Eagle, where Andy Ross curated a wonderful two days of performances. The larger shows there were more of a mixed bag with S.C.U.M (supporting Killing Joke) a particular lowlight (strange as they’ve gone on to produce one of the best albums of the year), but my overall highlight was Mat Motte’s deranged take on pop. I caught the new expanded line-up of Spotlight Kid on various occasions, as the year progressed they became an ever-more cohesive live outfit. Seeing Veronica Falls play their upbeat pop on a Dalston rooftop made the August riots seem very far away while Still Corners only seemed to gain by losing a member as they became a more striking live proposition as a four piece. Elsewhere Esben & The Witch were remarkable for refusing to pander to the conventions of live performance. However my pub gig of the year would have to be The Horrors at The 100 Club; their star has now risen so high that shows of this small a scale are virtually unknown, and this night was allowed the rare pleasure of a close-up insight into how Skying was created. 2011 was a certainly a year for veterans, especially from Manchester. James toured the country with an orchestra, their set mostly kept away from the hits and concentrated on rarer album tracks and early numbers. Thankfully WU LYF showed that not everything in Manchester was about the past, which was just as well as The Stone Roses announced their reformation and most of New Order reassembled for live dates. Their contemporaries The Cure certainly had all made friends again as Lol Tolhurst joined them as they played their first three albums in their entirety at the Royal Albert Hall. I even saw Blancmange and Modern English this year, so it certainly sometimes felt like another decade. That said, Scritti Politti’s Christmas shows in Dalston proved that some sounds are indeed timeless.

But there’s been one artist who both live and on record has been the key player of 2011 and his name is Josh T Pearson. It saw him begin the year in the tiny environs of The Slaughtered Lamb and end at the prestigious Barbican Hall in November. His album Last Of The Country Gentlemen brought about this remarkable change in his fortunes, but its success was also a bind, as it saw him having to relive the disintegration of his marriage on stage night after night. Sometimes the shows felt like an elaborate game, as he challenged his audiences to be quiet enough to hear his near-whisper on stage, while the terrible jokes he told between songs served as some respite from the soul-baring examinations of his compositions. My hope for 2012 is that he will be able to put this elongated catharsis to rest and bring his new-found audience with him. Finally any discussion of live music in
London this year must also mention the loss of its best live venue when The Luminaire closed its doors forever in March. Vale – you are still very much missed and I fear we shall not see your like again.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 54
Drum: Published on page 52

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

England Prevails

London Fields # 98
published Inpress (Issue # 1200), Melbourne on 16 November 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1086), Sydney on 15 November 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

Recent events made the scheduling of the film adaptation of V For Vendetta on the evening of 5th November feel like a quiet political statement by state broadcaster BBC Two The film was originally due to have its UK release on the eve of the 400th anniversary of the foiling of The Gunpowder Plot, yet in the period since 2005 the stylised Guy Fawkes mask worn by the central character of V has become a common sight at protests, from student marches to the current Occupy London camp in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral. While the film may differ from Alan Moore’s original vision, the picture of an isolated nation in crisis, presided over by an authoritarian government, with the people as that 99% rang some bells. There was another protest by students against fees and cuts in central London last Wednesday, but this passed without serious incident. The number of marchers was much reduced, perhaps dissuaded by the advance police warning that baton rounds (rubber bullets) could be employed if any trouble erupted; those that went were met by 4000 police officers. This week has also seen a furore over the reported relaxation of the border controls over the summer months - sackings and resignations are sure to follow. Behind the wheels of government, following changes to the Act of Settlement 1701 at the recent CHOGM in Perth, royal heirs will soon have equal rights to the throne regardless of gender, and be able to marry a Roman Catholic. Meanwhile the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (which received the Royal Assent on 15 September 2011) removed the Royal Prerogative which allowed the monarch to dissolve parliament, so there won’t be any Remembrance Day 1975s here.

Guy Fawkes Night traditionally means bonfires and fireworks but it’s been a few years now since I’ve heard anyone asking for “a penny for the Guy”. These days it’s more commonly referred to Bonfire Night and cross-pollinated with Halloween, but Southwark Council got into all kinds of hoo-hah when they attempted to re-brand their event as The Colour Thief: A Winter Extravaganza Celebrating the Change of the Seasons. One place where the old traditions hold true is in Lewes in East Sussex where for 200 years they have marked the prevention of the Gunpowder Plot and remembered the Marian Martyrs burned in the town in the mid 16th century. Last year they blew up an effigy of the Pope as part of the celebrations, but this year there were bigger villains to pillory. The Waterloo parade featured an effigy of Rupert Murdoch as a dragon being ridden by Rebekah Brooks which was later sacrificed to the flames

The clocks may have gone back at the end of October, but temperatures are still in double figures and the leaves only just falling from trees en masse, meaning autumn’s arrived very late this year. The mild days bright have made the return to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) harsher than ever; suddenly it’s dark before 4.30pm and by the solstice it will be pitch black before 4pm. For years there have discussions about changing the UK time zone, but a Private Members Bill tabled by MP Rebecca Harris may actually make this possible. This Thursday the money resolution of her Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11 will be debated in the House of Commons. If agreed, it will lead to a three year trial, yet it hinges on getting agreement from Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. The change would mean England was on GMT+1 (aka CET) in winter and Central European Summer Time (GMT+2) in summer. It would result in the carbon savings on lighting, a reduction in the road toll (as drivers are more tired in the evenings), and a boost for tourism. Additionally, the latest findings show it would also help to curb childhood obesity as light is a key factor on decisions to play outside. Despite this, The Mail On Sunday is insisting a move to what they call “Berlin Time” would be a disaster, particularly for Scotland where sunrise would be very late. But surely it has to be good for businesses to synchronise with Europe (even if the economies are in crisis)? The solution would be for Scotland to keep its current time zone. That said it would be strange to think that nowhere in England would ever be on Greenwich Mean Time again, even in Greenwich. Maybe if all this comes to pass, GMT
will end up nicknamed “Glasgow Mean Time”?

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 56
Drum: Published on page 54

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Essex Education

London Fields # 97
published Inpress (Issue # 1196), Melbourne on 19 October 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1082), Sydney on 18 October 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

It was hard to not notice her, but it proved somewhat harder to remember how or why we all recognised her. We were in a park-side local after work taking advantage of one of the recent strangely warm autumnal evenings when we noticed someone doing the whole ‘don’t look at me, I’m here incognito’ thingy; the one that just makes you tend to take more notice while affecting not to at all. Finally it twigged – she had been one of the housemates in the very first series of the UK version of Big Brother over a decade earlier. When it began here back in 2000 it was an interesting social experiment; by the third year it had degraded into a platform for nobodies who were only involved as they wished to become somebodies (or just had a personality disorder). It could be argued that the decline of the television documentary began with two offerings from the BBC – Airport in 1996 and
Driving School in 1997. From these a new phenomenon was born – the reality star; an ordinary person living their normal life who now attained some kind of celebrity status merely by doing what they did (followed by a film crew). This was like some sort of dystopian imaginings from science fiction, and the phenomenon became full entrenched once Big Brother arrived.

The staged reality soap can be seen as the latest incarnation in the blurring of the lines from documentary via reality television to pure soap. What began with MTV’s The Real World de-evolved into Jersey Shore and The Hills, which in turn led to UK equivalents which were something else entirely. Last year ITV2 had a surprise hit (and winner of the BAFTA audience vote) when The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) arrived and brought vajazzle into the lexicon. This year it was followed by Channel 4’s entry into the genre, the godawful Made In Chelsea, and last week Vice recently reported that auditions are underway for a Shoreditch-based one (which if they had any sense of humour they’d name Hoxton Twats but not tell the participants until it aired). All these bear possibly even less resemblance to real life than EastEnders does to living in East London or Neighbours does to suburban Melbourne. What these staged-reality shows do have in common with the latest version of Big Brother (now on Channel 5) is how the names of the “characters” are embossed on screen each time they appear. Is this just to help first-time viewers, or is it a sad indication of what the makers consider to be the average viewers’ attention span, or merely an honest admission that the people portrayed are so forgettable that you need to be reminded who they are every time they appear?

But a documentary series currently screening on Channel 4 showing real people in their ordinary lives moves away from many of these recent conventions and simply allows the actions to tell the story. That show is Educating Essex and was filmed with real Year 11 and 12 students and their teachers at
Passmores School in Harlow, Essex. Placing 65 cameras all over the school meant they were able to film without the intrusion of a film crew (although one was used for interviews after) which meant that people acted more normally. Yes of course the students were aware of the cameras and so subject to the Hawthorne effect, and of course the filmmakers selected the footage and highlighted stories for effect and narrative drive. Yet despite all this, what emerges is a cabal of caring, dedicated individuals with seemingly incredible patience spending a great deal of time on a small percentage of pupils with behavioural problems or personal crises. While series like TOWIE seek to reinforce the opinions, prejudices and stereotypes that we might expect for the subjects that they portray, Educating Essex instead challenges them and does all it can to rewire them. Media coverage of modern schooling in the UK is almost uniformly negative and the continual improvement in examination results is linked to a supposed dumbing down of the tests themselves, while the press if full of stories about the “youth” are out of control, and the cause of so many of ‘Broken’ Britain’s woes. What Educating Essex shares in common with its comic predecessor Summer Heights High, is that the stories of these people are initially funny and finally deeply moving, just as Chris Lilley’s series was.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 61
Drum: Published on page 62

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Sound Of The Crowd

London Fields # 96
published Inpress (Issue # 1192), Melbourne on 21 September 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1078), Sydney on
20 September 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

The tagline of the original Alien film was 'In space no one can hear you scream'. In London it often feels that there’s no place you can get far enough away from people to scream. While you may have difficulty finding a private space to vent your bottled-up frustrations without being overheard, the flip to this is the worry that if you did cry out for assistance, seemingly no-one would heed your call. The capital is so densely populated that it’s hard to find respite, and recent studies show that it will only get worse in the future. The Royal Institute of British Architects found that many newly built or converted properties are too small for comfortable living, with one bedroom properties being 4 square metres smaller than the recommended minimum, barely leaving room to navigate around a single bed.

The shared walls of terraced housing mean you hear the neighbour’s washing machine rumbling late into the night, and even the sounds of their toilet roll spinning in its holder. Yet the great advantage of terraces is the quiet solitude created by the square itself to be enjoyed in back rooms (except when your neighbour decides that
8am on a Saturday morning is the ideal time to mow that lawn). Outside the home it’s harder to find peace, especially now that public transport has decided to talk to us. Being informed that “This is a number 38 bus to Victorian” (sic) at every stop makes bus journeys seem longer than ever, something that can only be made worse by the near unavoidable low-fi sodcasting from mobile phones. The only solution is to plug in your own headphones to drown out the background, so your brain only has one distraction to ignore.

One of the pleasant side effects of the volcanic eruptions in
Iceland was the silence that that fell over the country as a result of the closure of UK airspace. In south east London, residents who lived under the Heathrow flight path could hear themselves think for first time in many years, the absence of modern sounds proving to be a rare treat. Something that is more common on the medieval byways of car-free Italian cities such as Venice or more especially Siena, where it’s still possible to be lost in time, the quiet streets allowing the sounds of history to seep through. In the City of London you can sometimes experience similar feelings on weekends, walking the narrow lanes off Cheapside within the sound of Bow Bells, but these prove fleeting.

This past weekend has seen the 19th annual Open House event, wherein various usually inaccessible buildings open to the general public for a few hours providing a rare opportunity to see both new architecture and glimpse into a hidden past. It’s often said that smell is the sense that is most deeply tied into memory, but there are many times that a song or a piece of music takes you back to a particular time or place, or maybe just the memory of a person, perhaps now lost. But a group of scientists are currently delving into the world of archaeoacoustics, so it may soon be possible to hear how things used to be, as well as see and smell them. This was the subject of a fascinating documentary broadcast on
BBC Radio 4 last week. In Hearing the Past Professor Jim Al-Khalili looked at the pioneering work by a diverse group of scientists, engineers and artists, led by staff of the Department of Electronics at the University of York. Dr Damian Murphy sought to recreate what the sound of choral music would have been in Coventry Cathedral before it was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940. Using an anechoic chamber and some advanced computing, the results were astounding.

Now others have taken this technology and used it to replicate how ceremonies may have sounded at Stonehenge 4000 years ago, without the rumble of traffic from a nearby A road. The documentary reported that the site develops a resonant bass rumble that it compared to a Depeche Mode synth sound. Using studios to create certain acoustic environments is nothing new, nor is electronically altering sounds once they are recorded. When Peter Gabriel released Plays Live in 1983, the liner notes made clear that the original live recordings had been tinkered with before release, honestly admitting that “
the generic term of this process is ‘cheating’." I wonder how long before this new technology is used by artists to create ‘live’ recordings in locations they’ve never even visited?

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 52
Drum: Published on page 54

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Life's A Riot

London Fields # 95
published Inpress (Issue # 1188), Melbourne on 24 August 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1074), Sydney on
23 August 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

Last week I found myself on a rooftop in Dalston, a literal stone’s throw away from where a myriad of Turkish shopkeepers successfully defended their livelihoods from the approaching horde during the recent riots. On stage were Veronica Falls, and their C86-styled Dunedin-ish surf pop was an uplifting and welcome respite from the troubles of the inner city over the past few weeks. I’ve nearly always lived in the (better parts of the) poorer areas of London. When I had a visit from my brother some years ago, he said that it reminded him of an old psychology experiment. He explained that when you confined too many rats in too small a space their established rules of order broke down. Talking to the family this week, the conversation moved onto causes and responses. While I conceded the very valid point that the last government hadn’t really done too much to address the issues, I considered that it was one thing keeping a beast in terrible conditions, and quite another to poke it with a stick through the bars of the cage.

Part of me is wary of discussing the troubles that hit nearby streets, then the media, then areas across
England over the past few weeks but feel I can’t really ignore the events for which the London of 2011 is likely to be remembered. In the online world, some were romanticising the violence, finding joy in the titles of songs by The Clash. Let’s be clear about one thing: being in the centre of a riot is NOT fun; it is terrifying. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this whole thing was how quickly this city changed into a place that felt unsafe, as helicopters hung in the sky indicating places where it was best not to go. As soon as the working day ended, there was an impetus to rush home; fearing that dallying to visit the supermarket on the way might lead to you being caught up in new trouble. Watching the rolling news from the relative safety of the home, it seemed that the media were fanning the flames and a mixture of the bored, the disenfranchised and sheer thugs were leading the charge that spread to other urban areas.

There has been a literal deluge of information, and it’s been near impossible to keep up with it all. No-one seems to be able to agree on what led to this, but asides from the original outbreak of trouble in Tottenham, what followed has seemed to have had very little to do with the shooting of Mark Duggan. Neither was it a direct response to the austerity measures and cuts that are hitting the poorest of this country hard(est); targeting sports shops and electrical goods retailers seems to have much more in common with criminality than civil disobedience, and as small stores suffered alongside the large chains there was no political agenda in play. It may well have been an expression of discontent, much like the office worker who pisses on the floor of the company toilet to express displeasure at how he feels he is treated.

Then there are the politicians. We’re told that this is not the impression we want to give of the city less than a year away from the opening of the 2012 Olympics. I wonder if London Mayor Boris Johnson would have cut his holidays short earlier if it was the Olympics site rather than people's homes and livelihoods that were burning to the ground? Then came arguments over the causes, how the police handled the disturbances, and the sentencing of those convicted in court. On the eve of the last general election addressing a final rally in
Bristol, the then opposition leader David Cameron beseeched “don’t let fear triumph over hope”. There have been stories of hope, from the brigades who came out with brooms to tidy their communities, to the community who raised £20,000 to help Hackney shopkeeper Siva Kandiah to reopen his shop mere days after it was completely cleared by looters. Over at the Royal Albert Hall, the annual BBC Proms are continuing apace. The key moment on The Last Night Of The Proms comes with the performance of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 - a raucous flag-waving and patriotic moment. But instead of uniting the kingdom, our leaders seem intent on spreading messages of fear, making the days of Land Of Hope And Glory seem very distant indeed.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 55
Drum: Published on page 50

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

News Of The World

London Fields # 94
published Inpress (Issue # 1184), Melbourne on 27 July 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1070), Sydney on
26 July 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

A Sunday morning stroll through the News Of The World
s website to see what celebrity muck had been freshly raked used to seem like a bit of fun. Many of the stories were seemingly so ludicrous that they were amusing, and it could be done with a clear conscience didnt involve actually buying the rag. But the fairly ambivalent attitude of the British public to the phone hacking saga changed dramatically about three weeks ago when it was revealed that News Of The World had not only hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, but had deleted messages as well, leading relatives believe that the then only missing family member was perhaps still alive. Targeting those who had at some point actively sought the limelight didnt seem so bad, but this was another thing entirely. As Billy Bragg sings in his new song Never Buy The Sun: the means justify the ends because we only hunt celebrities and it's all a bit of fun.. But this reprehensible act shocked a nation and (contrary to what I read in a piece in The Australian) quickly became a hot topic of conversation across all classes and beliefs.

As this saga unfolded I kept recalling the central motif of HBO
s Game Of Thrones: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." For decades newspapers have played at king making - Murdoch papers supported Labour Party in the elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005, and then at the last election reverted to their formal loyalties to stand firmly behind David Cameron and the Conservative Party. So perhaps its not unexpected that Ed Miliband, the current leader of the British Labour Party, has seemed to finally gain some teeth when discussing this issue. While it seems this present government is determined to substantially weaken the BBC, some papers have tried to claim that the whole Hackgate sage was a beat-up of a private leftist cabal between The Guardian and the BBC, with a Daily Mail headline asking why won't he [Miliband] tackle the REAL threat to our way of life - the BBC” in response.

While attention was focussed on this, there wasn
t much room for other stories. So the announcement that the NHS, which were continually reassured isnt going to be privatised, will have £1billion of services opened up to private competition passed almost unmarked, as did Education Secretary Michael Goves report to the Commons that the rebuilding project for 58 schools which he axed would remain scrapped (despite the opinions of the High Court). Meanwhile on television late night current affairs show Newsnight saw a surge in rating as day-by-day new revelations came to light, and hosted great live interviews such as one where Steve Coogan eviscerated a NotW journo. Over on Question Time, another celebrity who had found himself the subject of tabloid stories fought back, with Hugh Grant proving himself mightily impressive.

The shining knight in this whole sorry affair has been the pioneering and persistent investigative work by The Guardian that has brought this into the light. Yet its continued future is a cause of concern. Although The Guardian has the second largest online readership of any English language paper in the world, there is no paywall (Comment Is Free) but last month it revealed an annual loss of £33 million and stated that the Guardian Media Group could run out of cash within five years
if the business operations did not change”.

This weekend showed nothing much had really changed. While that the closure of the News Of The World may have put some people out of work and adversely affected newsagents Sunday takings, the act has done relatively little to address serious issues in certain sections of the Fourth Estate. One tabloid led with what was apparently Amy Winehouse
s final drug deal, while others were happy to quote the story and show photos of the late singers blanket covered corpse being removed from her home. While in (Murdoch owned) The Times last Friday cartoonist Peter Brookes depicted three staving Africans, one of whom opined Ive had a bellyful of phone-hacking”. But perhaps the most telling comment on the whole affair was automatically generated by a machine. When I tried to access the NotW website from my work PC, I found it had been blocked by my employer. The reason given was that it was categorized as: Tasteless & Offensive”.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 57
Drum: Published on page 60

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Maths of Rock

London Fields # 93
published Inpress (Issue # 1180), Melbourne on 29 June 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1066), Sydney on
28 June 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

My first thought upon seeing that Jesus Jones and The Wonder Stuff (or Miles Hunt and friends play the songs of the Stuffies) were embarking on a joint Australian tour was of the great bands of that era that have never played in Australia, particularly James and The Blue Aeroplanes. Following a six year hiatus, James reformed in 2007 (with the classic line-up that had recorded their career best album Laid) and while most attention was focused on the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm over the last weekend, in London James played a giant show in Hyde Park supporting The Killers.

It was at Glastonbury in 1992 that I saw art-rockers The Blue Aeroplanes amass a dozen guitarists on stage for their traditional closing cover of Breaking In My Heart. There
s been two constants throughout The Blue Aeroplanes history: frontman Gerard Langley and a multitude of guitars. Like The Fall, the non-playing vocalist has been the constant in myriad line-ups, and over 40 musicians have been members of the band at some point. But unlike the tyranny Mark E Smith exerts, The planes are more like a collective, a team where members come on and off the bench according to need and availability. To celebrate the release of their new album Anti-Gravity, they played a one-off show at The Borderline in central London the other week. Here the football analogy was even stronger as around eleven players went off and off stage according to the demands of the songs. Gerard hardly seems to have changed over the years; although his hair is now dyed and he carries a book of lyrics as an aide-mémoire, under stage lights in his ever-present dark glasses he looks almost identical to 21 years ago. Its hard to explain how joyous it all is, but much like how dancer Wojtek Dmochowski weaves around the small stage, trying not to trip in guitar leads in the process, so the different melody lines of each guitar intertwine as they ring true and clear. Tonight sees Angelo Bruschini (now usually in Massive Attack) return for a rare appearance, and while I miss the Rickenbacker chime of Rodney Allen, when all these guitars mesh, as on Warhols 15 tonight, it truly is a thing of beauty.

Before the show, I spotted Marty Willson-Piper of The Church in the audience, and troubled him to ask if there was any chance of seeing the 30th anniversary show that recently toured Australia. At The Church
s last London show a few years back, Steve Kilbey said it was likely to be the last time wed see them play in London. Marty was kind enough to give me a long and detailed description of just what the costs and difficulties are in organising a tour, and then talked in refreshingly candid terms about the size of crowd the band can expect to pull in London these days. All in all it painted a fairly bleak picture for bands playing medium sized venues.

Last Thursday I ventured into the wilds of South Wimbledon to see Colchester veterans Modern English playing in London for the first time since the eighties, in an expanded line-up with all but one of the original members. These days they
re now mostly known for that song - Melt With You - which was kept back to the end of their set. What is best about this show is that theres no feeling as though its to prove anything, but theyre playing merely just because they want to do it. The music is both naïve and organic, as one intro explains this was before we knew about bridges and choruses - we just called them sections. But these sections slot together in a way that current acts trying to recreate this period miss altogether. In their heyday they were a key act on 4AD and were an essential part of the This Mortal Coil project. For me the highlight comes in the encore with 16 Days, one of their songs that also was on the first TMC album.

Having spent this weekend doing an Armchair Glastonbury via the BBCs coverage, I kept thinking what a poor reflection the televised version was of the music being played on smaller stages throughout the UK. I also recalled how every time Ive chatted to David Gedge hes asked if I know an Australian promoter who might want to bring The Wedding Present out. You see, some English bands from the late eighties and early nineties are still making music worth hearing; perhaps one day youll get to discover this live in your town.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 46
: Published on page 52

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Is This The Way The Future's Meant To Feel?

London Fields # 92
published Inpress (Issue # 1176), Melbourne on 1 June 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1062), Sydney on
31 May 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

d walked within a hundred feet of Placa de Catalunya only the day before. From a distance Id seen banners flying and heard the sounds of speeches being made and murmurings of discontent. Not long before sunrise on Saturday morning I walked through the tent village set up in this square at the centre of Barcelona, trying to interpret the signs and placards. Elections are nigh and unemployment, particularly among the youth, is phenomenally high. What I hadnt realised that an attempt to clear the area by police ahead of the weekends final between Manchester United and Barcelona had resulted in a reported 99 casualties requiring hospital treatment.

When travelling, you want to feel that you
re on holiday. Maybe a few days away from the misery of world news events can be a holiday in itself? So once the volcanic ash cloud had cleared, I was happy to blissfully spend a few days without radio, TV or rolling news. Yet this meant that it was only by the way Jarvis Cockers introduction to Common People at the end of Pulps first official reformation gig as part of Primavera Sound 2011 that I was aware of what had taken place earlier in the day minutes from where I was staying. With music happening on site for around 12 hours of the day, by the time youve commuted, eaten, slept and recuperated from the previous day, youre heading back to the festival grounds again, leaving little time to partake of the host city. No one would think twice if you went to Reading and only saw the bands; but in Barcelona such an act seems almost criminal.

Primavera Sound takes place at the end of each May in Parc de Forum, a huge seaside construction of concrete bridges and piers - massive architecture that dwarves people that is sure to feature in dreams to come. Its location often brings a cooling breeze and even though it
s doubled in capacity since I was last here four years ago, the layout of the site means its pretty easy to get around most of the time. While the overall site has also expanded considerably, the area around the main stage can now barely cope with the sheer weight of numbers, so to get a decent vantage point (or at least one where you can see the stage and not just the screens) now means arriving considerably early for the biggest names. Despite all this the thing that marked it apart of UK festivals of a similar size was how aggro-free it was.

With stages programmed by ATP, Pitchfork and Vice, there was a wide variety of acts on show and a series of speakers placed at audience level in the pits on every stage meant that a stage-side view no longer involved sacrificing decent sound. But the biggest innovation this year was one which may change the face of festivals - the smart card and Portal system. This was effectively a way of making the festival cash-free; you transferred money electronically or in cash at paypoints at the festival and this was to be the only way you could buy drinks on site. To encourage you to transfer money in advance, the card was also to be used to pay for reserved spaces at size-restricted stages. The aim of this audacious plan to replace the previous system where you bought raffle tickets (that expired at the end of each day) to be used in lieu of cash at the bars. Any money put on the cards was non-refundable, so that which was unspent went into the organisers
coffers. Yet many food places took cash only and the collapse of the entire wireless system on the first day meant the system had to be scrapped and bars started accepting cash. Yet despite the teething problems I can see that this will be the way that festivals will progress.

This week hasn
t just been about the bands. Ill take home memories of the masses of men standing around outside the site running a cottage industry of beer reselling, the city-wide celebrations at Barcelonas football victory, 15 foot marionettes negotiating the citys narrow streets, crowds of leather men crowded into a small smoking area outside a gay club, a toy shop which had a train set running through the entire premises, and mostly what a wonderfully liveable city Barcelona appears to be (as long as you dont partake in peaceful protest). And now when I should be out enjoying this brilliant Sunday afternoon, instead Im inside writing this, listening to the citys beating heart through my open window.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 52
Drum: Published on page 58

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Disinformation Campaign

London Fields # 91
published Inpress
(Issue # 1172), Melbourne on 4 May 2011, and Drum Media (Issue # 1058), Sydney on 3 May 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

Were you aware than six out of ten Australians want to change their current electoral voting system to the one used in the UK? Neither was I, but this has been a key claim of the “No” campaign for the upcoming UK referendum. Saturation media coverage of a certain London event may have overshadowed it, but this has the potential to have far greater and longer-reaching effects on the future of the United Kingdom than the wedding of a possible future monarch. May 5th marks only the second national referendum in British history, on a potential change to the voting system. Currently British elections use First Past The Post (FPTP), a system where the candidate who receives the highest number of primary votes is elected, regardless of how few votes they receive. After the last indecisive UK election, the Tories and Liberal Democrats spent days trying to reach a compromise to form a coalition government, and voting reform was a key discussion. The LibDems wanted Proportional Representation (PR), but had to settle for a referendum to change from FPTP to AV (Alternative Vote). AV, also known as preferential voting, is very similar to what is used in Australia, except under AV you don’t have to rank all the candidates (single transferable vote).

It’s been a nasty campaign, full of disinformation. The “six out of ten Australians” figure came from a leading question put to 1202 people in a single survey conducted over three days last October. The “No” side points out only Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia use preferential voting and seem to imply that perhaps it is not quite democratic. They claim that AV will led to every government being a coalition, and that the change from FPTP would mean the end of “one person, one vote”. In truth AV allows you to vote for who you want to win the seat (rather than tactically vote against who you might want to keep out) so it’s closer to “one person, one meaningful vote“. The “No” campaign have also claimed AV would make it easier for the ultra right (and ultra white) BNP (British National Party) to gain seats, when the converse in actually true. The votes for any party other than the BNP would weigh more heavily under AV meaning they’d have to win 50% of the primary vote to get in. No wonder BNP supremo Nick Griffin has come out in favour of the “No” campaign, but they’re not trumpeting that.

There’s another Nick who’s not really wanted by either side - that’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the LibDems Nick Clegg. Clegg’s record of broken promises on issues such as tuition fees has seen him used as a reason against a “Yes” vote by the “No” side. The strangest thing in the campaign has been the weird cross-party partnerships it has set up - former Labour Home Secretary John Reid with the PM on one side, and the government’s Business Secretary Vince Cable with the leader of the opposition on the other. Yet as an Australian I find it galling to see aspersions cast on a democratic system that has only failed once (when the monarch’s representative interfered in 1975), as though it was a rigged system of a backward and corrupt banana republic. In the UK David Cameron has created an unprecedented 117 new peers for the House of Lords in his first year in office (Tony Blair averaged out at 37 a year, and Gordon Brown a mere 12), which amounts to gerrymandering on a grand scale. Instead of criticising the Australian system, they should instead be learning from it; a system where the upper house is elected by the people, and elections take place on weekends, rather than during the week, to make it easier for working people to vote.

David Cameron has variously described AV as undemocratic, obscure, unfair and crazy. We’re told that it’s too complicated and expensive, and a bit hard for us to understand. In one speech he quoted Winston Churchill who saw it as a system where “the most worthless votes go to the most worthless candidate”. Yet it’s how he became party leader! David Davis received the largest number of votes in the first round of the last Conservative Party leadership contest in 2005, so under FPTP he might be the PM now. What the “No” campaign has failed to tell us is that they want us to keep a system which the parties don’t want or use themselves. Sadly the largest vote next Thursday is likely to be apathy, and then the possibility of positive change will disappear for many years to come.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 44
Drum: Published on page 48

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Stars In Their Eyes

London Fields # 91
published Inpress (Issue # 1168), Melbourne on 6 April 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1054), Sydney on
5 April 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

Is science the new rock
n roll? Over the past few years there seems to have been an ongoing and deliberate move to sex-up science on television. Numbers of those studying sciences at schools were dropping dramatically and it was clear something had to be done. While some may claim programme makers have dumbed-down, its clear that the real aim was to attract large audiences while making complex ideas more comprehensible. The most game changing was Wonders Of The Solar System which finally reached Australian screens recently via on SBS. It successfully used locations around the world to illustrate surfaces of other worlds, the glorious cinematography and clear explanations drew large audiences, making it the most significant series on astronomy since Carl Sagans landmark Cosmos.

Here in the UK, its four-part follow-up Wonders Of The Universe has just completed its terrestrial broadcast run. It proved to be a much more controversial programme than its predecessor, for a few reasons. It didn
t have as clear reasons for the Bond-like world travelogue, which cause a kerfuffle amongst some licence payers. The volume of incidental music on television programmes has long been an area of contention, and it appears as if Universe was the first casualty of a recent BBC Report into the issue. The sound mix was radically altered after the first episode, pleasing a vocal few but equally infuriating others, including presenter Professor Brian Cox who stated, "It should be a cinematic experience it's a piece of film on television, not a lecture." When the carefully planned sound mix was replaced with a last minute one with the background score faded down, the show definitely lost some of its majesty and impact.

Last month, The Sky at Night celebrated its landmark 700th programme. Since it began in 1957, presenter Sir Patrick Moore has only missed one monthly broadcast (in 2004 due to illness) making it the longest running show in the history of television. Sadly these days Sir Patrick Moore seems to be suffering the same fate that befell John Peel in his later years. The BBC cant axe the show, but they can show disrespect by screening so late at night that only insomniacs catch it (although an extended repeat is shown at a reasonable time on the digital only BBC Four). Moore recently celebrated his 88th birthday, and (also like Peel) the show now comes from his home, rather than a BBC studio. These days he appears on screen less often; Dr Chris Lintott effectively anchors the show. The anniversary edition featured Dead Ringers Jon Culshaw as a younger Patrick Moore meeting his older self. And the near-ubiquitous Brian Cox. January saw Cox joined by Dara O Briain early on three consecutive weeknights for Stargazing Live, while on BBC Radio 4 The Infinite Monkey Cage saw (you guessed it) Cox teamed up with comedian Robin Ince and guests including Alexei Sayle and Tim Minchin. This is now on a national tour of music venues (as Uncaged Monkeys).

So is science the new rock n roll? Well Kate Bush did sing Pi to 150 places on her last album Aerial, and Cox is actually a former rock star (if playing keyboards for D:Ream counts), and hes also been building his indie kudos with a regular guest spot on BBC 6Musics breakfast show. He is part of a new generation of younger walk-and-talk scientific experts, alongside Neil Oliver and Alice Roberts (who helped Coast to be a hit) and Scottish geologist Iain Stewart (whose Men Of Rock was actually about Scottish geologists), attempting to appeal to a wider (and younger) demographic. Back on BBC Four Professor Jim Al-Khalili is about the same age (but looking older) and his Everything and Nothing took a different take on some of the topics covered in Universe. After comedian Harry Hill pointed out the huge budgetary differences between his show and Universe, he was happy enough to don a wig and perform Helter Skelter live on TV Burp.

Yet all of this newfound interest in the skies seems of little use in London as high levels of light pollution mean its rare to see any more a handful of stars, and only things like the recent supermoon having much of a chance of being sighted at all . To fully appreciate these Wonders, I may need to journey to Sark in the Channel Islands which as just been officially recognised as a "dark sky island".

© James McGalliard 2011

: Published on page 56
Drum: Published on page 56

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Heard It Through The Grapevine

London Fields # 90
published Inpress (Issue # 1164), Melbourne on 9 March 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1050), Sydney on
8 March 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

Trying to get other people to listen to music you recommend can be fraught, particularly in a live setting. Get it right, and all is sweet; but friendships can strain if you get things wrong too often. So, having talked them up to a mate, I was a little trepidatious when Chips For The Poor began their set in the Brixton Windmill. Frontman Scott doesn’t really believe in microphones, or stages for that matter, as he walks in circles through the audience, hollering over the band’s assembled racket, in a slightly disturbing, unhinged yet wonderful way. Songs run continuously, the changes indicated only by a tempo shift in the drum machine until we’re all swept into the maelstrom, culminating in the monster groove that is I Am A Warrior. Returning the favour, I finally catch Blindness at the Buffalo Bar in Islington, and based on this performance, I shouldn’t have procrastinated so long. Strong basslines are key here as well, particularly on the showstopping track Broken, where the hypnotic tattoo spirals over and over while vocalist Beth Rettig writhes on the floor. Over at The Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell, Josh T Pearson is playing his first London headline show in ages, featuring songs from his brilliant forthcoming album Last of the Country Gentlemen. This material is much more delicate than some of his older songs, and a quiet environment is needed to fully appreciate them. The more rapt the audience become, the quieter he sings, till it’s barely a whisper, and the loudest sound in the room is the intrusive click of an SLR lens.

None of these acts appeared on any of those ‘Sound of 2011’ lists; as sadly these are often more indicative of a marketing department budget than what they should be - a list of acts that should succeed and so deserve recognition and support. This year’s longlist did have Anna Calvi, whose self-titled debut album was not without some distinctively impressive tracks, while Brighton’s Esben And The Witch were remarkable in sounding nothing like anything else on the list. Regrettably for them in the eighteen months between their self-released EP and debut album Violet Cries, other artists have come along with similar ideas. Seeing EATW play recently in Nottingham, I was struck at how all embracing their sound is. Songs tend to blend into each other a little, but the whole effect is mesmerising. But there’s so much more going on at the moment than these lists indicate.

While Brighton’s Mirrors may be this year’s Hurts (or another OMD), on the harder side of electronica there’s Factory Floor, who sound like they could have appeared in Dogs In Space. Talking old school, next month sees a pioneer go back to analogue equipment with Interplay by John Foxx and the Maths, while Credo is the first album of original material from The Human League in a decade, while Blanc Burn marks 25 years since the last studio album from Blancmange (and there’s a UK tour as well). When some acts will never reform, it is a problem if Still Corners evoke the spirit of Slowdive, or if the genuinely uplifting Veronica Falls sound like a lost release from 20 years ago? Texans Ringo Deathstarr were barely old enough to be aware of music when the music that now inspires them was being released, but Colour Trip fairly rattles along in a way few contemporary albums do. Through the vagaries of international releases, you may also have missed Through Low Light And Trees by Smoke Fairies, a nu-folk duo whose haunting melodies fulfil the promised they displayed when I first saw play in a small Hackney bar some years back. Meanwhile Life! Death! Prizes!, the second album from Shrag (an acronym of Sussex Heights Roving Artists Group) has a much stronger song structure than their debut, as illustrated by the moving duet Coda and Rabbit Kids, one of the catchiest singles of the past 12 months.

I suppose my point is that there’s much more going on that you can get from any one source. I’ve discovered most of the above acts almost by chance - hearing a live session on the radio, seeing them as a support act, or from friends’ recommendations. So even though we’re told that blogs have supposedly replaced printed music papers and the internet makes us all critics now, I think that word-of-mouth is still a powerful tool, and that there’s still a validity in reading about music that may inspire you to seek out the sounds afterwards.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 56
Drum: Published on page 54

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

London Fields # 89
First published Inpress (Issue # 1160), Melbourne on 9 February 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1046), Sydney on 8 February 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here

We are live; please do not swear. The axing of Big Brother may have seen this catchphrase pass into the annals of TV history, but it also seems as if taboos are shifting also. On three occasions recently BBC presenters have inadvertently dropped the c-bomb whilst taking about the current government. Meanwhile Channel 4 advertised their scrapping of the 10 broadcast delay for the 21st British Comedy Awards, ensuing all the naughty words would be unable to be expurgated. The ceremony this year was fairly tame; Miranda Hart was the nights big winner; and the most significant comedy story began when members of Top Gear made comments about the sexism row concerning Sky Sports presenters backstage.

In the following weeks Top Gear ended up in the news again after some questionable racial stereotype jibes aimed at Mexicans and their ambassador to the UK featured in a recent edition. Now Ambassador Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza didnt take too kindly to this; far from being indolent, he had put his life in peril leading a major campaign against drug gangs prior to his London posting. Last Saturday Jeremy Clarkson used his column in The Sun to apologise, claiming that offence is necessary in humour; the column ended with another ethnic joke about Mexico. So what are the taboos in comedy nowadays - terrorism, racism, political incorrectness, disability? Over the weekend, Steve Coogan, clearly incensed by the situation, wrote in The Guardian that “…you can get away with saying unsayable things if it's done with some sense of culpability, believing that that comedy should have a moral standpoint targeting hypocrisy, human frailty, narrow-mindedness.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the audience for the filming of four episodes of the second series of Stewart Lees Comedy Vehicle. By far the most edgy section was an appreciation of the IRA - gentlemen bombers with achievable aims, whose street art was a natural precursor to Banksy. Lees skilled in irony, but sailing so close to the wind makes misinterpretation ever more likely. His 2009 Edinburgh show If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One had a lengthy section on Top Gear, wishing all sorts of terrible calamities to befall their presenters, and their families. His get-out phrase there was the same one they use on Top Gear, that its just a joke. It may seem like a long time ago, but the repercussions of the phone messages Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross left on Andrew Sachs answering machine are still being felt. Sachsgate was the 5th most complained about incident that broadcasting watchdog Ofcom have received in the last decade (with Lees own Jerry Springer The Opera at #3), and the BBC has only just aired an episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks filmed two years earlier as Brand had been a panellist in it. What you can do on stage, or on DVD ,is very different to what you can do as a state broadcaster, so itll be interesting to see if the BBC, still smarting from Sachsgate, allow all of Lees material to go to air.

Over on Channel 4, Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights also made headlines. After the initial fuss about a joke involving disability and incest had subsided, his use of the racist P-bomb and n-bomb in the fourth episode raised shackles again. In context the joke was a variation of the ethnicities of the fatalities were, in order of importance…”, but here using evocative terminology for those at the bottom. Boyle displays a mean intelligence. Mean is a particularly apposite description; his comedy is a cross between the vitriolic rantings of a misanthrope and a carefully planned assault pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. While sometimes very funny, its also spiteful and vindictive with a nastiness that can leave a distinctly unpleasant taste.

Speaking in Germany last Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed the words spoken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel last October when he said that multiculturalism was an experiment that had failed. On the same day in Luton, the EDL mounted a massive demonstration against Islam. Meanwhile last Thursday, the BBC decided not to film a certain section of an upcoming Stephen Fry programme in Japan after the backlash over a section on QI where jokes were made about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only official survivor of both nuclear blasts in Japan in 1945. Taboos can be challenged, as Chris Morris did last year with Four Lions. But maybe its time for some to stop hiding behind the safety curtain of political correctness gone mad. and be seen for what they are - the classroom stirrer deliberately making provocative statements just to get attention.

© James McGalliard 2011

Inpress: Published on page 58
: Published on page 54