Friday, December 30, 2005
Back in London after Christmas in Scotland with the folks. Yesterday was the first day back, and there's apparently been a 'big scandal' about Bob Kiley and parties or something, but most of us probably ignored the story behind the headline as we laughed at the Standard's headline writers' inability to spell!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Sufjan Stevens has bagged the coveted #1 slot in Pitchfork's top 50 albums of 2005. It's hardly surprising, but still great to see him there. That follows his No.3 in the Observer Music Monthly list. It's been a good year for the boy! And even better, No.1 in my (forthcoming) chart too!
Monday, December 19, 2005
Down at the more crowded Regent Street end, annoying stilt walkers were harassing small children and bad jugglers were trying to avoid knocking passersby out with their clubs. One regular feature of Oxford Street however was conspicuous by his absence. Where was Phil the evangelist? Surely Xmas shopping is the perfect time to harangue shoppers who are glorying in all that mammon can offer. Maybe he was doing his own shopping. So instead of Phil, we got other megaphone-wielding zealots at Oxford Circus who instead of warning us to repent, were dressed in yellow stewards’ tabards and warning us about moving beyond barriers and crossing the road. And there were megaphone clowns (literally) pleading with us to enter Debenhams too. There’s just too much competition these days.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
I'm looking forward to some new tunes from my homeland in early 2006! OK, there were some Scottish bands doing some OK stuff in 2005, but honestly, my life favourites Teenage Fanclub's return after 5 years left me just a wee bit disappointed, and although Franz Ferdinand's new album was good, it didn't quite have the appeal of the first, and it quite wasn't enough to get into my top ten (or even 15) of 2005.
So I'm excited particularly about new releases from old faves Belle & Sebastian and Mogwai. B&S's The Life Pursuit is out on 6 Feb and Mogwai's new album Mr Beast is out on 6 March. However, tracks from both albums are already all over the internet. You can get tracks from the likes of here and here. Or just type the bands' names into Hype Machine.
Interestingly B&S seem to be experimenting with glam rock and some of the trendy spiky guitar sounds. The first Mogwai tracks I heard were 'Glasgow Mega-Snake' and 'We're No Here' which indicated a much heavier sound to their previous albums, but since then I've come across tracks that even feature slide guitars! Mind you the meaty rock of these two named tunes kept me sane and blocked away from inane Xmas music in the madness that is Oxford Street last night...
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Hey! It's Golden Globe nominations time again! Don't you just love these Globes? It's like the Oscars, except everyone gets an award! If your film doesn't get nominated in one category - hey - it can get nominated in another. There are so many categories, that actors and directors who aren't nominated must be feeling pretty low just now...
I think my favourite one is "Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television". They'll have to get Morgan Freeman to read that one at the ceremony, to give it enough gravitas to stop the tittering in the aisles.
And look! Just to show that no-one gets left out, there are nominations for the entire cast of Desperate Housewives! That's obviously the top show then. Not so many nominations for Lost, and the only actor from that series who gets a nod is Matthew Fox, who plays probably the most boring character in the entire show!
Still, it seems like a bit of a triumph for Ang Lee and Brokeback Mountain. Mind you this news probably won't have them packing multiplexes in Utah. Looking forward to it coming out over here though. As with a load of these films which haven't graced our shores yet.
Good to see Cronenberg getting in there with the fine History of Violence and Philip Seymour Hoffman getting recognised in a leading role. After all, he is one of the finest actors around at the moment. And despite Woody Allen's uneasy relationship with Holloywood, the moment he moves from 'rubbish mode' into 'OK' mode, out come the plaudits!
Monday, December 12, 2005
The difference between LWL and other film magazines, is that apart from the lack of big-star interviews and slavish focus on the latest Hollywood blockbuster, a lot of the articles in the mag aren't actually about films at all. So why's it a film title then? Well, I think the theory behind it is that in real life, decent films throw up a whole load of issues that are worth discussing. Like if you've been to see a good movie and are down the pub afterwards, you're discussing the film and the conversation veers towards things that the movie raises.
Like the current issue for instance. In keeping with previous editions, LWL has a 'feature' film that gives the headline article, in this case Sam Mendes' new picture Jarhead. So, the other articles riff on the theme of war. There are articles like: real life stories from soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fun piece about boys' military toys, a feature on radio station in the Bosnian war, a look at Hollywood's obsession with futrustic weapons , and some war soundtacks. All good stuff.
In keeping with other film mags however, they also review movies. But there's also an interesting little twist that I totally approve of. They give the usual marks outr of 5, but they do three sets of marks. One set for anticipation (e.g. a new film from Jim Jarmusch is highly anticpated, so may get 4, and on recent form, a new Woody Allen film doesn't carry high expectations, so may get 2 or 3). Another mark is for enjoyment, which takes account of the experience for the 2 hours or so watching the film, and the last score is in retrospect, given that great movies stay with us, or something that may have been thrilling at the time may leave no lasting impression, or that we may even change our minds after some thought or discussion. Is that not a great way of reviewing films? They're right, it's not just about the experience of literally watching the thing! Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?
Anyway, if you want a copy, you can get them from Borders, Fopp (although I was in there last week and they didn't have any in) and other select vendors. Or you can subscribe.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
So farewell Routemaster. You were a London icon. You will be missed. As the last bus headed down Kennington Road, I saw one of the the new generation of 159s heading up towards me. Shame, I thought, bought my custard tarts and headed back to work...
Friday, December 09, 2005
OK, so the end of year best-of lists are pretty much all in now. I love lists, and I'm a real sucker for the best of ones. Is it just me, or they seem to get earlier each year? Uncut published its one in the December issue - which came out at the beginning of November! Still, it's probably the one I like the most, or maybe that should be the Rough Trade one?. Uncut's top two are mine in reverse, notably Arcade Fire's 'Funeral' and Sufjan Stevens' 'Illinoise'. But as usual, a few surprises - what are the Rolling Stones doing in there? And who is Black Mountain?
Mojo's is out now too, with Antony at numero uno. There's a certain consistency across the lists, with Arcade Fire well up there in most, but so far only #1 in Uncut. Nice to see Sufjan so high up in NME's poll - I'd have thought that a mag that's such a slave to the music of 14-year old boys wouldn't have had the slightly non-mainstream folk of 'Illinoise' so high, but who am I to guage what the kids are into these days?
Mind you, that NME poll's been marked by controversy, and the lawyers have been involved. If you're interested in the article that so enraged the nation's wannabe tastmakers (for 14-year old boys), someone has preserved a copy here.
The one I usually pay most attention to is the Rough Trade list. There's always something surprising there, and this year is no exception. Two years ago they put a total unknown called Sufjan Stevens at number 3, and look where is is now. This year Brakes come from nowhere (in other people's charts) straight into No.1! And there's Black Mountain again! And The Boy Least Likely To? Maybe there's something in that name, or who knows, they could be the next Sufjan.
Mine? Well, I'm still working on the list. I think I've got time. I remember in the old days when I used to read NME, their list came out the week before Christmas. What's wrong with that? It's closer to the end of the year, after all.
However, I have had a couple of drafts for competitions I've entered recently. So it definitely has Sufjan at the top, followed by Arcade Fire. Then it includes: Jamie Lidell: Multiply, Antony & The Johnsons: I am a Bird Now, Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow, Magic Numbers, MIA: Aurular, Low: The Great Destroyer, King Creosote: KC Rules OK (not necessarily in that order)and one more. I can't decide - LCD Soundsystem? Saint Etienne? Richard Hawley? Super Furry Animals? The Shortwave Set? All will be revealed...
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Or should that be a flash? Well there was a lot of flashing going on today from the massed ranks of bus-spotters gathered at the junction of Kennington Road and Westminster Bridge Road, outside Lambeth North station today. It's the penultimate day of the 159 Routemaster, and the penultimate day of the Routemaster- period! London Transport seem to want to make it a special kinda passing by putting on some other old buses. Heck, I saw one earlier that looked like it was the forerunner of the Routemaster. And there was an old green RM, like the one on the left.
So I expect that tomorrow, there will be even more hopeless nostalgists out to mourn the passing of that great London insitution. And take even more photos. This lot will doubtless be there. And this lot. And who knows, I may join them for a photo or two...
Despite complaints by some about the venue, I thought it was perfect. I had a great view from my lofty posisiton, with only the slight complaint about the legroom on the old seats (I am 6"4' / 1.90m after all). The sound was perfect, the performance impeccable. You'll rarely hear a gig audience so quiet, especially at SBE. I'll jump at the chance of seeing him again.
Full review over at Collective.
Photo courtesy of stevec77. Wish I'd taken some now...
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
But what's worse, is that this is making kids across America light up! Oh yes. Apparently the researchers make the quantum leap from the 'event increase' to claim that nearly half teenage smokers in the US try fags because of films.
Well, make of that what you will. You can probably sense my scepticism, but I will add one caveat. Try watching the scene in 'To Have and Have Not' where Lauren Bacall first appears in the doorway of Humphrey Bogart's room, asks for a cigarette and lights up. Then tell me that smoking isn't cool...
Friday, December 02, 2005
So despite claiming to have a blog about music films and London, this post's a bit different - it's about Forth Worth, Texas. What? Well, just because I'm there right now, on a work-related trip. It's my first time in Texas too. Being a work trip, I've not had that much time to check out the area properly, and despite Gorilla vs Bear kindly giving me info on gigs and venues in Dallas, I've not been able to make it over there. Actually, most of what I've done is work and eat. And a bit of shopping.
Eating's the thing. In all the time I've been here, I've not felt hungry. Not even once. I've heard all the stuff about how Texans are the fattest Americans and all that, but now I can begin to understand how that's true. My colleagues and I had a bit of a laugh on Monday night at the local steakhouse to where we're staying, aboutthe 72oz steak, that you get free if you can eat it in one hour. After working out what 72oz of meat actually is (about 2kg!) we'd have liked to have seen it. It must be big, becuase the waiting staff told us that onyl 3 people have ever done it in their establishment! So even by Texas standards, that's big eating.
The other funny thing for me is seeing a lot of people wearing cowboy hats with no sense of irony. We don't see that in the UK. I didn't even see it in Tennessee this summer. But I guess I'm in Texas, and in a town that's proud to be called a 'Cow Town'.
It's been good. I even got to put my hands in the hands of Johnny Cash at 'Billy Bob's' big bar (the world's biggest honky-tonk - apparently).
In other news, the exciting music news of the day is that the legendary Arcade Fire Christmas EP is back up for downloading
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
This was the gig of tuning problems. First up, Mark Kozelek, who had a little mid-set difficulty in tuning his guitar. But unlike most gigs, there wasn't the impatient shuffling and outbreak of loud chatter, just a reverent hush from the true believers who were there, I guess, as much to see the 'support act' as the ostensible headliners. I have to admit, I was really there to see Mojave 3. I'm a bit of a Mark Kozelek novice. OK, I'd heard of the Red House Painters, way back in my student indie days, but that's about it. But I was pretty impressed. None of the songs have stuck in my head, but they were lovely to experience - more a musical texture of acoustic guitars and vocals than something with immediate hooks or melody. But very fine all the same, particularly the last two songs before he went off (and then unexpectedly came back on for an encore). I'll definitely check out more of his stuff.
Kozelek's tuning difficulties were nothing compared with Neil Halstead's. The Mojave 3 main man, sporting a beard which should make us take him seriously as a country music singer, had a bit of a nightmare time, and just couldn't seem to get his tuning right. I'm not sure what was wrong with Neil on Friday, but he seemed a bit flaky, and couldn't seem to get it together (I’m not a musican, but how hard can it be?). On one occasion, the band filled in Neil's 'tuning gap' by enlisting some would-be ‘funny man’ from the audience to tell a dodgy joke. Then, two songs from the end, he gave up and went offstage to retune the guitar in private, leaving Rachel Goswell and the rest of the band to awkwardly apologise for not having rehearsed properly and take what seemed an unplanned exit. But despite sounding a wee bit rough at the start, (and after all they hadn't played a live gig for a couple of years) they sounded fine together, and made a wonderful noise. It was just erratic old Neil and his tuning. One blogger recently claimed that Halstead “will be praised in 20 years as one of the greatest English songwriters of all-time”. Well, maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but he does write a mean tune, and at this gig, the songs brilliantly shone through any irregularities in the performance. So in the end, Thames Valley's finest alt-country band triumphed against adversity and we went home happy.
Friday, November 25, 2005
The Guardian yesterday told us that:
Lovers of the old-fashioned record shop should think about going into mourning - an online music store has outsold two of its high street rivals for the first time.
But then we find out that the 'old-fashioned record shops' are Tower and Borders! I think lovers of music, and old-fashioned record shops will actually be quite heartened to see iTunes overtake a souless emporium that doesn't sell records anyway, and a bloody bookshop!
Old-fashioned record shops are more like this, and there'll always be a place for them, as long as there are music lovers. We'll continue to buy our records and CDs from shops like this, and buy songs from iTunes and the like. I don't really mind if Borders concentrates on selling books - that's what they're good at. Who buys CDs from there anyway?
Thursday, November 24, 2005
There's an article in Time Out magazine this week about how marketing for films can be misleading. Really? It's a real shame for the poor fools who go to see a film based solely on the poster. Take for instance the person who went to see Dark Water expecting a 'supernatural frightfest' and got "a load of sickening twoddle about a mother and daughters relationship" [sic]. Well, if you don't bother to look further than the wall, you shouldn't get too upset mate.
However, the best thing about the article is the reference to some people who have taken this misleading advertising to the next level and created 'cheekily reconstituted trailer(s) in which moments from the original movie are cunningly slotted into a new an decidedly contrary context'. Unfortunately TO didn't say where these were, but a quick Google found them. Check out The Tattered Coat for a good set of posts with links to most of these.
There's 'The Shining' (or rather 'Shining') as a nice family film - maybe as redone by Nora Ephron. There's Psycho as a rom-com ('meet Marion' and 'meet Norman', two people brought happily together in a rainstorm), and 'Titanic' as a teen slasher flick. Lots of fun to be had there. I'd be happy to see some more of these from elsewhere too...
PS. There's a great mock-up of a 'Taxi Driver' poster above the TO magazine article, which shows the smiling faces of Foster, De Niro and Shepherd, with the line 'sometimes it pays to go that extra mile for someone you love'. Very nice. Wonder if there's a scan of it anywhere?
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Way back in October, I had a choice of two gigs this week. One was Kristin Hersh at the Scala and the other was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at ULU. What to do? Wallow in nostalgia for a music that (for me) represents another age, or go with the hipsters to check out the latest word-of-mouth sensation straight outta Brooklyn. While I dithered, the choice was made for me. Due to the bloghype (and the bandwagon-jumping hype from the UK music press) CYHSY sold out quite quickly, so Kristin it was. She was playing two shows at the Scala – one on Monday where she was doing the songs of Throwing Muses, and Tuesday where she was performing her own solo stuff.
Throwing Muses were never my favourite band, but they were a pretty important group for me. Way back at the very start of my obsession with music, in early ’91 I got turned onto ‘The Real Ramona’ by a late-night indie programme on BBC Radio Scotland. It was a formative time for me – the Charlatans ‘Over Rising’ EP, Primal Scream’s ‘Higher Than The Sun’, and Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Starsign’ along with ‘Ramona’ were making an impression on me and shaping my musical tastes for the next 14 years or so. I hadn’t heard anything quite like them before – there was something discordant, dirty and exciting about them, compared with the chart fodder and Madchester goonery I had been listening to.
My Throwing Muses obsession pretty much remained there too. I never bought any more of their albums, though I came across various tracks over the years. So it wasn’t so much an exercise of wallowing in nostalgia, as discovering a whole heap of songs I had never known.
But what of the gig? Well, I kinda enjoyed it. My qualification comes because it seemed to me that a combination of her rasping vocals, lots of loud strumming and a lack of tunes in some songs made the transition from rock to acoustic a bit boring in places. Some songs really soared and benefited from an acoustic re-interpretation (like ‘Counting Backwards) but others, like the delicate ‘Two Step’ felt like it had been bludgeoned.
One of the great things about solo shows like this is that there feels like there’s much more of a direct link between the artist and the audience. I really liked the few occasions when she’d tell the story behind the song she was about to play. But given the setting, it would have been better if she could have done it more, since she was so assured and charming as she ‘chatted’ with us.
Overall, there were enough good tunes to keep me into her performance, particularly when she brought on cello and violin backup for her encore, which really enhanced the last four numbers. Her second 'encore' was a quick look out to wave holding her son who looked a bit bemused by it all. Rock 'n' roll eh?
So in the end, I’d probably have preferred to have been with the hipsters at ULU, but to be hip, you’ve got to be quick. Instead, I was left with my slightly over-inflated nostalgia, which on balance was no bad thing.
Picture from OldKing on flickr. It’s from a gig in NC, USA. Couldn’t find any of the Scala show yet (despite the amount of digital cameras in evidence), but this is pretty much what she looked like on Monday. Except with slightly shorter hair.