andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Rock n’ roll on a school night: Luna Webster, Wozniak and Tuff Love at the Cool Cat Club, Thursday 20th November

I love the Cool Cat Club. I actually love the fact that the name conjures up an image – late Thirties or early Fifties New York, or perhaps Paris; dames in slinky dresses and fedora-clad lounge lizards, louchely lapping up the sharp-suited saxophone – led sounds of a trio called, let’s see, Toots McCrory and the Blue Notes, band members and audience all with a back story darker than each other – that bears no resemblance at all to the reality.

The truth – a black cavern of a place in Dundee called Beat Generator Live! (don’t forget that exclamation mark!) where indie bands of various stripes ply their sometimes sweaty trade, is no less enjoyable, and thanks to the Scottish Government’s ban on smoking, probably quite a bit healthier.

Unfortunately, whether it was because it was a school night, or because there were other gigs coming up this weekend, the audience was sparse, consisting of 15 or so aficionados, mainly male, mainly, like your reviewer, at or approaching their middle years, nursing something non-alcoholic and dotted strategically about the standing area without a single fedora in sight.

This might have made things awkward for Luna Webster, but if so, she didn’t show it. Instead, she thanked us rather sweetly for turning up to see her as the opening act – although actually, no one turned up any later to see the others. Webster is probably at the stage where she’s starting to tire of the adjective ‘precocious,’ but her songwriting skills are, quite honestly, extraordinary for someone who, as she pointed out, still can’t drink anything stronger than Coke on stage.

luna_201114_161(with thanks to manicpopthrills for the photos)

With song titles like Diamonds + Psychiatrists, it’s clear our girl isn’t aiming for the bland platitudes of the mainstream lyrically. Clever, funny wordsmithery and with a charming line in patter in between songs, it would be hard not to like her; what impressed me even more than last time she was at the Cool Cat Club was her singing. She delivers some devastating material with conviction and perfect phrasing. She should be so much better known; if she’s not knocking the socks off Festival crowds at places like Latitude in a year, I’ll eat my fedora.

The next act, Wozniak, were old enough to drink, but still had a female lead – in the sense that she sang the one piece with lyrics, and did all the intervening intros. A four-piece guitars/bass/drums combo from Edinburgh with the mission statement of ‘working hard to cause terminal tinnitus,’ the only well-known band I can think of they’re like would be Mogwai, but with guitar effects replacing synths.

A question that bothered me briefly half way through their set: do indie bands have such outdated concepts as ‘lead’ and ‘rhythm’ guitarists, or have these terms gone the way of Eddie Van Halen? With the sound being so heavily guitar-driven, the main difference here seemed to be that, while the distaff side contented herself with one Mustang, the big chap switched between two guitars and had a pedal board that covered the equivalent area of several football pitches. Maybe that says more about boys and their toys and cultural gender differences (trust me, I’m only jealous) than who was lead and who was rhythm, but the combination produced a very pleasing effect.

wozniak_20114_179

Maybe it’s just this reviewer’s particular tastes, but my only criticism of the band would be that lack of lyrics: I found myself hoping there would be some sort of dark poetry shouted over the twisting, tortured guitar signal to give an added layer to the whole effect. I presume it’s a positive choice on their part: if not, chaps, apply here, because I’ve plenty of the stuff round the back.

Having said all that, this blog put its money in its pocket and bought the EP, so that should tell you something.

And so, through a non-alcoholic haze, to the final band, Tuff Love. Striking another blow for rock n’ roll gender equality, this consisted of two girls on guitar and bass and a male drummer. I say ‘girls,’ and appreciate that says more about your reviewer than anything else, along the lines of you know you’re getting on when your indie bands start looking younger etc… that said, they are a young outfit, and as such are hotly tipped to progress through the ranks, having garnered positive noises from the Guardian amongst others, and had airplay on Radio 6Music. They’re signed to Scottish indie label Lost Map Records, and plan a new EP in February next year.

tufflove_20114_313

Their sound has been described as C86 fuzz pop, or surf pop (those labels again!) but basically consists of your relatively melodic pop-rock played fast through a Telecaster with fuzz box, bass and drums coffee machine. It’s the kind of thing that will hit the mark with a broader audience than was at the Club on Thursday night, and they will improve, too. Like the other acts, Suse and Julie were charming and self-deprecating in between songs, and deserve to reach a wider audience.

Which brings me to my final plea. Students of Dundee, where were you on Thursday night? Andy and Mike put on these gigs at considerable financial risk and no little effort; the University Quarter (such as it is) is just round the corner, and you’re not telling me you’ve blown your student loan already on gigs and downloads? (If you are, you’re a legend, but still). Don’t leave the next Cool Cat Club to us middle aged blokes: for a mere seven quid (prices may vary according to product) you can come in, choose from an admittedly limited range of beverages, and listen to some quality entertainment. What’s not to like?

Really, honestly guys. Performers are vampires, and feed off your energy (trust me, I know). This was a good gig. With a hundred more and drunker people in the door, it would have been a great gig.

Bring your fedora.

If you see an advert under this, I didn’t put it there, and I can’t see it, so I’ve no idea if it’s any good or not.

Pixel people

Originally posted on heatherferguson.scot:

Don’t get me wrong I have nothing wrong with the term fan, I am myself a fan of certain things e.g halloumi cheese and not such a fan things e.g. higher mathematics. After a recent first encounter of “meeting” a band after a gig (trust me I’m usually straight in the nearest chip shop) my fascination and sheer fan bewilderment with fan culture was reignited. I’m pretty in reality the “fan” has existed since the beginning of time. There was probably a famous caveman who etched his name into a stone for an excited cave girl. But like mankind itself it has involved becoming stronger and downright stranger.

Completely obsessive “fans” (the people who own cushions with the celebrities face on it obsessed) have always scared me a little. Yet I still don’t recognize where parts of fan culture went from totally not okay to normal? Maybe in your personal…

View original 412 more words

Forthcoming Abstractions

Now that Stevenson Unbound is finally done and dusted, I plan to do a couple of pieces for this blog. First of all, a bit of chat around the preparations for the gig – I really began to think someone up there didn’t want the show to happen, to the extent I had a word with Louis one day I was in the car… provisional title Taking a Red Pen to RLS.

Tomorrow night, I slope, in a louche kind of manner, to the Cool Cat Club, to hear Luna Webster, Wozniak and Tuff Love make interesting noises, so that might lead to a review.

And the recent consignment of my cricket gear to the charity shop is slated to produce a piece called Farewell to a Flanneled Fool.

But wait! What’s this? Another cassette tape has mysteriously appeared at Kelly’s house? Featuring loads of previously-unheard Venus Carmichael songs? Keep the dial here…

Stevenson Unbound Update

The sound effects are – nearly – in the can. My faithful sound engineer, Harky, has scared up a P.A. system that’s going to give us full throttle.

The preparations for this show have been an interesting process. However, I feel I can now relax – a bit – and knuckle down to the small matter of rehearsing the reading of RLS’s great works.

Two things to update you on, though – I’ve changed the running order, so I’ll be doing Thrawn Janet first, followed by Markheim.

The other piece of news is really good news – for the final, climactic piece in the third segment, Hyde’s Last Words, I’ll be joined by my favourite axe man, Kenny Mackay. Kenny’s played on this piece before – last November, in fact – so you can look forward to some guitar-shaped fireworks when he and I play out the final sequence.

Buckle up, this is going to be quite a trip!

Facebook event here

11 Reasons why you should go to Stevenson Unbound

1. It’s in the back room of an Edinburgh pub, centrally located, with good transport links and disabled access. There will be lashings of lemonade readily available, as well as something stronger (in fact, you’re encouraged to drink more, because that way I get my deposit back).

 
2. It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s 164th birthday – sort of. RLS Day is on Thursday 13th, but it’s chock full of events already (some, or all of which you should really go to see!) but I’ve moved this event to Saturday 15th, when you might not be at work.

 
3. It’s in the afternoon – 2 till 5 – so if it’s a rubbish day weather wise and you just want a quiet night in, you still can do that.

 
4. It features readings of Thrawn Janet and Markheim, two of RLS’s best supernatural short stories. He wrote a whole load of other stuff beyond Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped, and these two chillers are up there with any of them.

 
5. This isn’t just any old pub. This is the White Horse, 266 Canongate, which is the kind of place RLS himself might well have frequented in his velvet-jacketed yoof. The back room is regularly used for Free Fringe events and is a great wee performance space.

 
6. The combination of RLS’s words, the low light, and stereo sound effects throughout will make this event something special. It’s the culmination of two years or so of my experimenting with music and sound in my spoken word shows, and with the help of my esteemed sound engineer, Harky, it’ll be unlike anything else you’ve been to.

 
7. Halstead Bernard is taking part. Need I say more?

 
8. The payment is an honesty bucket system – suggested payment if you’re fully waged is a fiver, but if you’re unwaged, or a student, or just staying for one segment, less is fine.

 
9. It’s in three parts. There will be decent breaks between the three for you to get a drink, come late, or leave early. Although I’m hoping you’ll stay for the whole thing, obvs.

 
10. I have a fuzz box (technically, a squarer pedal, assembled by the Redoubtable Mrs F, which is one of the reasons she became Mrs F) and, in the last segment, I’m gonna use it.

 
11. It’s on November 15th. Come on, what else are you going to do on the afternoon of November 15th – your Christmas shopping? I don’t think so!

Blood Indians: A Review

dark nights, cat fights, love bites…

 
By far my elder brother in the Muso, (1) manicpopthrills, is in the habit of lobbing me recent indie music to listen to, and/or inveigling me into events he’s organised in darkened rooms with guitar-wielding types making assorted noises.

 
His latest gig, put on with co-conspirator Andy Wood, is in Dundee on 3rd October. Headliners are the inimitable Randolph’s Leap, a band who have featured heavily in previous reviews on this page (and who MPT interviews on his page currently); also on the bill, though, are a newish band, Blood Indians. I expressed approval of their sound one day in the office, and sure enough, the next morning, my clerkly thoughts of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 were distracted by the appearance of the band’s eponymous EP on my desk.

 
Here’s the thing about reviews of new bands: they assume a level of knowledge of the last forty years or so of popular music in the reader that sometimes just isn’t there. In my case, it isn’t even there in the reviewer. The most obvious way to describe a new band’s sound is to compare them with another, established one. I imagine this trait began in the Seventies, as so many things did, with lines like: ‘they’re a bit like Led Zep, only heavier, man.’

 
Nowadays, of course, rock reviews are a bit more nuanced. Descriptions often go along the lines of: ‘they sound like Jesus and Mary Chain bumped into Joni Mitchell at a Velvet Underground concert, drove home listening to James Brown all in the same car, and got married the next day with Kate Bush as the vicar and Marilyn Manson playing at the reception.’ (4)

 
Another, more shorthand way, is to use labels, often in combinations, to give the confused reader a sense of what influences are most to the fore, even if the labels themselves are opaque in the extreme: see, for example, nu-folk, math rock, drip-hop. Okay, so I made that last one up, just to check you were still awake.

 
It reminds me of labelling theory, the criminological concept that, if you’re labelled as, for example, a bad-ass no-good son-of-a-gun who’d sell his grandmother, it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you behave in an anti-social, chaotic lifestylee, elderly relative retailing kind of a way.

 
Except, of course, musicians are tricksy critters, and the minute they get pigeonholed as one type of genre, they set about finding the fire escape out of the pigeonhole.

 
And so to Blood Indians. Vic Galloway has apparently described their sound as ‘goth surf folk.’ I mean, what does that even mean? Goth – yeah, well, any set of lyrics that feature the line I started with, and ‘You feel, I feel, scars heal, this won’t/hurt me…’ (both from ‘Cold Caller’) isn’t likely to be at the shiny happy poppy end of the spectrum.

 
Surf, though. Is that like, the Beach Boys? A quick listen to an online surf rock radio station suggests it’s that twangy, reverby, whammy-bar wielding, electric guitar sound that’s being referenced there. And folk – well, you can hear their lyrics, and acoustic guitars are also deployed. No hey nonny nonnys though.

 
So I guess if you unpack it a bit, that gives you an idea of Blood Indians’ sound, and to be frank, it’s a whole lot better than the namechecking of individual bands you might never have heard of outlined above. Still though, it implies a bit of muso-ish knowledge. So how do we do this? Blood Indians, oh Blood Indians, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Probably not so much – more like a dark January afternoon, with the daylight leaching out of the sky by about three o’clock, and a cold tempest of brooding guitars brewing at your heels as you head indoors, catchy riffs tugging at your coat tails.

 
Or perhaps culinary references work better for you – on ‘Cold Caller,’ the wholemeal strumming of acoustic is quickly smothered in the dark bitter chocolate of the electric, with the female, Scots-accented vocals providing the chilli bite, underpinned by a creamy bass.

 
Not quite working for you? Me neither. My favourite of the three tracks is probably the middle one, ‘I Lie,’ which again builds slowly out of a single guitar and voice, before vocal harmonies and crunching guitars are supplemented by a whumping bass and hard-driven drums.

 
The last track, ‘Winter Ghosts,’ has indeed a chilly, ethereal quality that the (literally) mordant lyrics come right out of the middle of: dogs bite, nettles sting, empty lungs are caving in. Again, the fact the girls have avoided the decades-old trap of mid-Atlantic singing accents give the vocals extra emotional depth. It kind of sounds like they mean it.

 
The cardboard cover of the EP is fairly sketchy information-wise. There’s a bozo in a Native American headdress out front, looking  moody, or perhaps broody. However, a paper insert contains a telling detail, with the biggest thanks reserved to the co-writer and producer, ‘who has worked so hard to get this record sounding exactly the way we want it to.’ It’s so easy to throw a few tracks together (well, not that easy, but you know what I mean) and say ‘that’ll do,’ before moving onto the next EP with the vow to do it right this time. This stuff is hard-crafted, and it shows.

 
Catch Blood Indians on the way up, at Beat Generator Live, Dundee on Friday, 3rd October. They might well be somewhere more expensive next time around.

 

 

 

(1) Extra points if you get the reference without the clue (2)
(2) Clue’s in the name
(3) Oh all right then! Robert Burns referred to Robert Fergusson ‘as my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the Muse.’ I thought it was funny, but I wish I hadn’t bothered now…
(4) If you pushed me, I’d say they were a bit like His Latest Flame, only heavier, man. But you probably don’t remember them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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That Post-Referendum Poetry In Full

I had to be very careful about what I said in public during the Scottish Independence Referendum, given my job (which I rather like and would like to keep!) What I said, or rather shouted at the telly, during the final days of the campaign, in the privacy of my own home, is another matter…

Here’s a poem I wrote several years ago, before the 2011 Scottish Parliament election made the Referendum a reality.  It meant certain things to me then; what it means to you now, after the No result, with our First Minister stepping down and the supposed consensus of the Westminster politicians (it is said) immediately breaking down, might be something else. That’s what poems are meant to be like, isn’t it?

Fellow Scots, whether Yes or No, peace and love. What is the next level for us?

If you see an advert below this, I didn’t put it there, WordPress did. They’re entitled to, but since I can’t see it, I’ve no idea if the I like the merchandise or not. Just in case you wondered.

Back on the Horse

A late-summer wasp, heady with its own venom, banks round for yet another bombing mission on unsuspecting giant bipeds. In external wall crevices, hunter spiders flex their chitinous legs and begin the long autumnal march indoors. The biomass plant facility tolls the knell of parting day, and leaves the world to darkness, and to me. The nights, as they say round these parts, are fair drawing in.

Those of you who know me best know why I’ve been quiet on the performance front this year so far. However, the two Tribute to Venus Carmichael gigs at the Free Fringe have revived my interest in not making a complete fool of myself in public again; and like the buses, I’ve a few things coming up rather than a single one.

The first thing isn’t actually a live performance: it’s a release on Soundcloud which, for reasons which will become obvious, I’m not releasing till 19th September. Watch this space for that one!

Then, on 2nd October, I don my spangly jacket for MC duties at Slam Factor Fife II. A stellar line up of judges – Miko Berry, Kevin Cadwallender and Rachel McCrum – will be performing as well as judging, and I might squeeze a couple of my own in. If you’re in some loose way associated with Fife, and fancy giving it a go, follow the link for an application form.

Then, I have an event to promote my Dad’s last book, A Huntly Loon Goes To War, at the Huntly Book Festival, on Saturday 4th October at 4.This event will be quite special for me, and I hope you can make it if you live locally.

On 3rd October, just before heading up to Huntly, we’re going to see Randolph’s Leap in Dundee, supported by St Kilda Mailboat and Blood Indians (for the syntactically acute, that’s Randolph’s Leap they’re supporting, not us: I don’t think we could squeeze them all in the back of the car). I plan to review Blood Indians’ excellent EP in advance, so keep the dial here for that.

Also in early October, or maybe late September, Kelly and I will be doing a session at Leith FM as Tribute to Venus Carmichael, on Ralph on the Radio. We’re really excited about this – more news soon!

Finally, on 15th November, I’m putting on a show called Stevenson Unbound. More details soon, but in the meantime, this is the spiel:

Spoken word performer Andrew C Ferguson (Writers’ Bloc, Illicit Ink) presents an atmospheric new show in back room of the White Horse, in the Canongate. On a darkening November afternoon, immerse yourself in classic RLS supernatural stories ‘Markheim,’ and ‘Thrawn Janet,’ as sound effects swirl through the half-lit space.
In the final segment, hear Ferguson’s own Stevenson-inspired poetry and prose, including Hyde’s Last Words, where Henry Jekyll’s worse half finally has his say. Do you dare to stay the afternoon?
With special guest. Part of the Edinburgh City of Literature RLS Day programme.
Stevenson Unbound, White Horse, 266 Canongate, 14:00 – 17:00 Saturday 15th November 14+
£5/contribution

Things are starting to return, slowly, as autumn advances on us, although it’s still more music-based than fiction. On the Venus Carmichael front, the old girl has been busy writing new songs; I’ve a feeling she might have more to tell us of her life story soon too. I still have high hopes of another musical project I’m collaborating on, although it has a missing component at the moment. I even started a poem the other day. There’s a fair chance I might finish it.

In the meantime, like almost every other Scot, I have strong views on a certain question needing an answer on 18th September. However, the necessities of the day job mean I’m not able to express a view, so unlike almost every other Scot, you won’t be getting the benefit of my opinions.

I’m sure the rest of them will make up for me.

The Coldplay Effect: or, When Good Bands Go Bland

I was standing looking at our late summer garden the other day (yeah, I know the title suggests this is about music, but work with me, okay? It’s a kind of multi-layering effect I’m going for here) and I was thinking that it pretty much reflected the way The Redoubtable Mrs F and I are.

 
There’s a herbaceous border (non-gardeners, read: the opposite of low-maintenance) full of spiky, interesting things with strange leaf shapes and unusual flowers, almost all of which we deliberately planted, though rarely in the same place; at the back, an oriental style gravel area above the rockery, both stuffed with non-standard, quirky stuff; whilst nearer to hand, artichokes we can never eat because they’re choked with ants rear above a patio that, due to the same organic policy, harbours in its cracks every perennial weed known to botanical science; and in the near bed on the right hand side, mint, geranium and Alchemilla Mollis enact a slow, desperate hand to hand combat for supremacy – a kind of Fight Club with added chlorophyll. We also have courgettes, if we can get to them before the slugs do.

 
In other words, a garden created by bleeding heart liberals, always seeking that elusive thing: the alternative.

 
Now, I’m not going to claim we’re anything special in that regard. If you’re reading this, you’re just as likely to be a fellow traveller along the spectrum of difference. I mean, is there anyone out there really looking for the blandest thing on the menu? Well, very possibly, but they’ll have given up reading this piece long ago, and gone off to, I dunno, find more pictures of dogs looking mildly surprised. Vive la difference, right?

 
Right. So. I was thinking about all of this recently when reading NME’s 100 most influential artists (Daughter and Heiress’s copy: I’ve never really liked NME, and even she, who has the excuse of youth, looks a bit sheepish when trying to slip it under the radar and into the trolley at Morrison’s). Leaving aside the pieces about bands I’d never heard of influencing other bands I’d never heard of, the omissions were the most striking: no Beatles, Stones, or Dylan. Or Hendrix, for that matter.

 
I mean, really? Arctic Monkeys never listened to any Jagger/Richard compositions? And young Jake Bugg never hunkered down in his tough Nottingham Council estate and listened to the street punk stylings of Subterranean Homesick Blues-era Dylan? And the Beatles – errr… Oasis, anyone?

 
I guess, being generous, what they’re saying is these guys are the bedrock of modern rock and roll, and they then influenced other people, who in turn are some of the bands I’d never heard of influencing other bands I’d never heard of. Whew! Glad that’s clear – but then, what are these other old-timers like Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac, doing in there?

 
The truth is, the NME piece is a snapshot in time of something: who it is, as a muso, you’re currently allowed to like (or if you’re a young band trying to get a music journalist’s attention, who you’re allowed to say you like). In other words, who it’s cool to be into (which is kind of like, but not the same as, the alternative).

 
I’ll tell you what else it’s like – it’s like the Cool Wall in Top Gear (which we used to watch until D & H decided it was too immature for her, when she was around about 8 years old). For those of you unaware of this slice of British televisual history, the tall, bubble-permed one, Chummily Jerkson, would debate with the floral-patterned, floppy-haired one (I can’t even remember his real name) which new cars looked ‘cool.’ He very possibly still does.

 
Once we’d got through the seemingly endless parade of Ferraris, Maseratis and Aston Martins, Floppy Hair would flourish a photo of something that looked like a fridge-freezer on wheels and head for the Uncool Wall, only for Jerkson to snatch it from his hand and stick it high up on the furthest portion of the Cool Wall, on the basis that it was so ugly it was cool. And then the one called The Hamster (for reasons probably best left unexplained) would try and fail to reach up to get it, and all us tall folks would laugh and laugh.

 
Not that Springsteen, fine singer-songwriter that he is, should be seen as the musical equivalent of a Skoda Octavia. All the same, his stock amongst the muso community would seem to have fallen steadily ever since his tub-thumping Born in the USA days; it’s interesting that he’s now being rehabilitated, as also Fleetwood Mac, who at one time were seen as part of the bloated, West Coast singer-songwritery establishment that the East Coast punks had to take down with the single thrash of a slightly distorted guitar.
Anyway, that’s only NME’s opinion, and the recent news that they’d suffered a 14.3% drop in sales might have been down to Stones, Beatles and Dylan fans voting with their feet, or just because the young ‘uns read about their rock and roll online mostly these days. Whatever, Fleetwood Mac and Springsteen are two pretty good examples of what happens when those of us who consider ourselves possessors of the legendary golden ears of impeccable musical taste find that actually, someone we really like is, well, dammit, they’ve become popular! Worse than that, they’ve started producing that ultimate evil for the golden-eared amongst us: music for people that don’t really like music.

 
Before I go on, I really must commend to you the most excellent hatchet job on U2 I’ve ever read, at riot radio. More prosaically, googling “music for people that don’t really like music” also turned up the following exchange on, of all places, Arsenal Football Club’s forum:

 
Music for people that don’t like music. So dull its untrue.
I like music and I like Cold Play. I hate people who diss what others like just because they done like it. Small minded.
I don’t get this either. Music comes down to personal taste; you can’t say definitively “They are good/bad.”
Not sure I quite agree with that. Jedward for example are undeniably shite. Tbh Coldplay aren’t so much bad as just unbelievably dull

 

 

 

And there we have it: the Coldplay effect. A good, well-respected artist or band toils away, appreciated by the Chosen Few for a few years, then is unbelievably unlucky enough to hit a rising wave of popularity that persuades their record company to promote the hell out of it; and the band, the one only you and the few discerning others truly appreciated, suddenly becomes possessed by those other people.

 
Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know who I mean. The other tribe, the ones that use music as a kind of background noise; the ones that walk along with some form of semi-melodic tinnitus playing from their smartphones with a sound quality ten times poorer than the worst sixties transistor radio; the ones in the middle of the music festival crowd talking loudly to their mates about their sexual conquests instead of ACTUALLY LISTENING TO THE MUSIC.

 
My mate Harky was down in London recently to see Neil Young. Being a creative, talented type, Harky gets paid far less than he’s worth, so he’d had to scrimp and save a bit to make it the 500 miles or so to see him, but being a real fan, he reckoned it was worth the sacrifice. Now, to be fair, this was part of a BST Festival in Hyde Park, so there were other acts on, but all the same, His Harkiness was less than impressed by your man who, wandering in fully suited and booted, having clearly just finished work and bought a ticket out of his small change, wanders up to Harky and says, ‘Who’s that up there, mate?’ indicating the man who put the Y in CSNY, on stage giving it plenty at that very moment.

 
Dire Straits, I’ve always thought, are a prime example of what I’m talking about here. I would still take the witness stand before a jury of my muso peers and argue that, actually, their first album is a truly great, John Cale influenced piece of work, full of tight observational songwriting drawn from Mark Knopfler’s pre-megastar life living in Deptford. I mean, John Peel played them, for goodness’ sake; they must’ve been cool at that stage.

 
That difficult (and, to me, underrated) second album, Communique, didn’t quite make it, but then we had Making Movies, with Romeo and Juliet, and Love over Gold, with an unlikely hit in Private Investigations. By then, They had started listening to them, those others that don’t really like music, and Knopfler’s worst riff ever became his biggest hit in the MTV birthing pain that is Money for Nothing. Fairly soon after began Knopfler’s long, and it seems deliberate, slide into semi-obscurity, allowing him to be a musician’s musician again. I predict he’s next year’s rediscovered genius. I genuinely do hope he doesn’t have to disappear in a plane near the Bermuda Triangle for that to happen.

 
I appreciate I’m not telling you much you don’t know here. All artistic reputations can go down as well as up: in another field entirely, I’m waiting for Ernest Hemingway to be rediscovered some time soon as the great writer he truly is. Back with music, Abba have evolved from guilty pop pleasures to respected Scandi noir harbingers (or something), and NME’s poll even included the long-derided Simple Minds as a key influence to The Horrors, The Killers, etc., etc. In a separate development, Uncut has recently run a couple of articles trying to rehabilitate Dylan’s Eighties albums, although I’d take a lot of convincing on that one. I really, really, tried to see Shot of Love as a comeback album. I mean, I was motivated.

 
Similarly, I’m not exactly breaking new ground suggesting that we all want to be the inner initiates of something: holders of a special skill, possessors of sacred knowledge; owners of the golden ears. That’s why books about how to write bestsellers for screen or page will tell you that your hero can be as flawed, conflicted, addicted and anti-social as you like, but s/he has to be the best damn something at something. Think Lisbeth Salander. Because that’s what we all identify with: that need to be the best damn something at something, even if it’s only cutting the grass in the most perfectly diagonal stripes in the whole estate.

 
So what am I saying that’s new, that’s the alternative? Just this, I think: if you’ve had a week of everything’s that spicy, maybe you should give in to that craving for the blandest thing on the menu. It’s okay to like vanilla from time to time as well as pistachio and salted caramel.

 
I’ll leave you with this last example. When I was in Edinburgh recenty, I bought two CDs: a Greatest Hits of Jackson Browne, and Heart Attack and Vine, by Tom Waits. Now, not even the most hard core muso can touch me for the Waits CD: your man is destined to be forever dangling louchely well out of Richard Hammond’s reach, high (in every sense) on that Cool Wall of Music. And, frankly, who cannot love a man who comes up with a lyric like ‘there ain’t no Devil, it’s just God when he’s drunk?’

 
Jackson Browne, though. Another West Coast singer-songwriter swept into the Pacific by the tidal wave of back-to-basics punk, he’s generally remembered for undemanding, AOR tracks like ‘Running on Empty.’ Too melodic and easy to listen to by far. Truth is though, he’s a damn fine songwriter, and hipsters looking for an alternative Christmas Number One to put up against whatever mush Simon Cowell’s pushing at us this year could do worse than lend their golden ears to The Rebel Jesus.

 
And if that doesn’t convince you, the fact that he sued John McCain’s Republican ass for using ‘Running on Empty’ without his consent. Plus he went out with Daryl Hannah. Okay, so that’s probably more a bloke thing. But as an environmental activist and regular critic of the US’s policies in Central America, he is your quintessential bleeding heart liberal.

 
Which reminds me. Must go and harvest some courgettes before the slugs get to them.

 

summer garden

 

 

 

 

 

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Forthcoming Incoming

I’m off to Edinburgh for a couple of days, to soak in the atmosphere through a straw. Stay tuned next week for news of upcoming projects, reviews (maybe), and my next blog entry – The Coldplay Effect: or, when good bands go bland…

 

 

 

If you see an advert below this, I didn’t put it there, WordPress did, and since I can’t see it, I can’t tell you if I endorse it or not…

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