andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: February 2016

Foals v Kula Shaker – the result

So, to pick up the story: Daughter and Heiress and I had a Glaswegian rock n’ roll weekend, with Foals at the SSE Hydro on Friday 12th, and Kula Shaker on Monday 15th at the 02 ABC (D & H then went on to see Cage the Elephant at the Queen Margaret Union the night after that, but I’ll leave her to tell you about that – ah, the stamina of youth! Mind, she was like a damp dishrag the next day…)

Foals and Kula Shaker are both, in the Venn diagram that makes up our joint musical tastes, firmly in the middle. She introduced me to Foals: I introduced her to the Kulas. So comparisons, to be honest, are invidious – both were great gigs, but we each will have brought our own past listening history to them.

Foals are currently in what proper music critics these days call their ‘imperial phase:’ in other words, that period of a band’s career (often all too brief) where they’ve built up a substantial following; each album has been better received than the last; the venues just keep getting bigger; and if the drummer drives a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, it’s seen as just a bit of youthful high jinks rather than the harbinger of the inevitable descent into addictions, dwindling audiences, musical differences and legal wrangles complex enough to make Jarndyce v Jarndyce seem like an accelarated small claims action at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court.

As such, Foals can pretty much do no wrong at the moment, and after a cracking Spanish meal in the West End at Rioja, we found the SSE suitably well packed and appreciative as they reeled through a well thought out set drawing mainly from their last two albums, ‘Holy Fire’ and ‘What Went Down,’ but not neglecting early classics like ‘Spanish Sahara.’

Kula Shaker’s trajectory, on the other hand, is a little more bipolar than imperial. I suppose you could say their main moment in the sun was in the late 90s; thereafter, they disappeared till the mid-Noughties, when a brief comeback spawned two albums; and then, little, until the latest album and tour. They’ve suffered not so much from a critical mauling as perpetual critical sniffiness: they’re derivative of Beatles-era blending of eastern music and mysticism with western rock tropes (like most bands aren’t derivative of something); their front man, Crispian Mills, comes from a famous family and has the temerity to delve into ‘alternative’ stuff, from sanskrit texts to Rosslyn Chapel; their sound hasn’t evolved much.

Yeah, well. I could say a lot about that but I’m not going to. Well, all right, a bit. If you don’t like your rock stars to come from middle class backgrounds, you can throw out three quarters of your record collection because it’s a sad fact that, like university entrance, your chances of success in the privileged world of rock stardom greatly increase if your parents are a bit more M & S than Poundland. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

As for the whole mysticism/sticking to the same style of music throughout your career, so what? It’s not as if the world is currently overburdened with that particular style or, indeed, mystical searching: I admire Mills partly because he’s ploughing his own, unfashionable furrow. At least he’s not doing albums of Sinatra standards or throwing away his banjo and sounding a lot like Coldplay instead. So there.

I’d last seen Kula Shaker with my nephew, Dave, at the University Union in the mid-Noughties incarnation, so I knew how good they could be live. However, initially on Monday night, the signs and portents weren’t overwhelmingly good: Mills is far too good a guitarist to fluff his riffs, exactly, but there were a couple that, shall we say, he caught just in time; ‘Mountain Lifter,’ being played live for the first time, had to be restarted. One of the most pleasing elements of the gig, actually, was that he admitted to being nervous, just before going into the other excellent track from the new album, ‘Infinite Sun.’ Rock star vulnerability: a rare thing.

Part of this was down to your man having a broken rib to contend with: ‘You should’ve seen the other duck pond,’ he joked, before proceeding to disprove all claims of ‘decrepitude’ by  giving a 24-carat-gold plated, full on, turned up to 11, performance of guitar heroics throughout that included leaping (it seemed) ten feet in the air mid-solo, chucking the Strat up in the air and catching it, and finishing half the songs flat on his back, blasting the final notes from a perilously prone position. I mean, any of you who’ve never actually strapped on an electric and tried to play it, borrow a friend’s and feel how hefty a block of solid wood the bugger is: it bangs against your ribs at the best of times, so to put on the show for us he did was actually pretty physically brave.

Aside from the two new songs mentioned above, the crowd got the hits they were looking for, with a heavy reliance on ‘K’ (6 songs) and ‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts’ (5). There was the inevitable cover of ‘Hush’ to great acclaim (Incidentally, Gavin Allen of the Mirror, Hush was originally written by Joe South for Billy Joe Royal (Wikipedia tells me) and Deep Purple did the most famous cover, when Husker Du were still at the rusks stage. Just saying.) One of your blog’s personal favourites, ‘Shower Your Love,’ got a new treatment, the rolling sus-4 chord intro making me think for a moment there was a cover of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ on the way (next time, Crispy, if I can call you Crispy).

It was one of those gigs that just built and built, from the aforementioned early-tour rustiness. Mills does carry it all on his shoulders – keyboards, drums and bass are there to back his single guitar, and there were times when you wondered if another guitarist playing off him would have lightened the load, at least (consider this my job application, Crispers…). On the other hand, the one time the keyboard player picked up an acoustic, for ‘Ophelia,’ Mills spent half the song gesturing at the sound guy to turn him down, so maybe he’s best just doing it all himself.

As the band unrolled classic after classic, leaving the stage after a climactic ‘Tattva,’ you wondered what they had left in the tank. Any doubting Thomases were soon quietened by a three-number encore of ‘Hey Dude,’ ‘Great Hosanna’ (my personal favourite) and ‘Govinda,’ the crowd participation in the last one so thunderous that a smiling Mills told us we’d ‘just taken the roof off’ at the end.

So. Foals v Kula Shaker? Comparisons are, or course, invidious. Foals were just great, and at the top of their game. But it’s ‘Shower Your Love’ I’ve been picking out the chords for on acoustic since (the old fashioned way by ear, mind, not just looking up guitar tab sites) and ‘Peasants Pigs and Astronauts’ on the car CD player all week.

For I have seen the One True Rock and Roll Way. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I played harmonica as a child, and became a dedicated follower of His Bobness. Then I encountered the cult of Springsteen, and was Born to Run Again, yea, truly Blinded by the Light; since then I have hearkened unto the Cave People, and studied the wisdom of their Dark Lord, Nick; and more recently spent time (and performed) with the Cohen-ites, and learned the words of their Prophet, Leonard. But consider the signs and portents: did Saint Crispian not break a rib before the tour? And did the Jewish God not remove one of Adam’s ribs? Okay, so He made a woman out of it, and I’m not sure where the duck pond fits into the whole thing – maybe Crispers was walking across it at the time?

No matter. All will be revealed to the Inner Initiates of Shakerism. It is indeed like the world has lost its head, and like all the prophets said. I have been to the gig and seen the Holy Peacock Stratocaster flung to the heavens; I have bought the t-shirt, and, as soon as I post this nonsense up, I’m having the new album as well. May the acolytes on the rest of the European tour raise The Great Hosanna and then, maybe then, we will arise to a new dawn, and set course for the heart of the Infinite Sun!

Right. Now to find those incense sticks – I’m sure they’re in the back of a drawer somewhere…

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Daughter and Heiress’s shrine-like cork board of gig tickets. Once her reviews of Foals, Kula Shaker and Cage the Elephant are up, they’ll show up as links in this sentence. In the meantime, a more sensible review than mine of the Kulas’ Glasgow gig can be found at the Independent.

For those of you coming at this site for the first time, hi! Go to my About page to learn who puts this kind of rambling farrago up, and to get music and spoken word-related downloads and other free stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Billion Rising

For those of you who don’t know, One Billion Rising is an 8 day creative campaign, based mainly in South London, to raise awareness about sexual violence against women. It ends tonight, midnight on Valentine’s Day.

Key shocking statistic: world-wide, one in three women will be beaten or raped during their life time. Well, I was brought up  to believe that violence was wrong, and that it was particularly wrong for a man to raise his hand to a woman. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s the way I’m wired.

The marvellous Rose Fraser Ritchie has organised an online event for people who support this cause to post a poem before midnight in support. Unfortunately, I’ve kind of dried up on poetry these days, and a recent song lyric might have fitted in but needs some more work.  Instead, I’m going to publish a spoken word story I did a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

The Lupercalia Code

Everyone knows that we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine, on 14th February. You might even know that 13th to 15th February was originally the Roman feast of Lupercalia, where semi-naked men chased virgins around with strips of leather.

But few of you will know the full, shameful history of the man we commemorate with hearts and flowers.

For only now, ladies and gentlemen, I can reveal for the first time the ultimate fate of the real St Valentine’s relics. I will tell you the strange tale of how, having stolen a fertility rite from the Romans, Valentine was the victim in turn of the earliest – and most bizarre – example of identity theft.

Our story begins at the fag end of the Roman Empire, during the reign of Claudius the Second, also known as Claudius the Goth. Valentine – an early priest who secretly married couples illegally, and wrote love letters to his jailer’s daughter – was stoned, and not in a good way. We’ll gloss over him sending steamy texts to young, pouting jailer’s daughters, because what is most interesting about Valentine is what happened to his body after death.

Not unusually, a few close friends and relic hunters got in at the ground floor of a potential canonisation. They bought Valentine’s body back from the Romans and put it in a charnel house to rot down. It was what you might call a medium term investment: after ten years or so, the bones would be clean enough to divvy up and sell on, on the fast growing market in bits of martyred Christians.

In due course, Valentine’s sainthood went through, and the conspirators went to collect on their investment. It was then that our story took its first twist, for whilst the Romans may have been great at the acqueduct and other major infrastructural projects, their classification methodology for rotting corpses was, frankly, rubbish.

The conspirators had a bit of a poke around and came up with a body that seemed about the right vintage. After a lengthy series of mishaps, the bones they took away with them that day ended up in churches in Ireland, Italy and, most bizarrely, the Gorbals of Glasgow.

Modern DNA testing, and other research techniques, have led me to the conclusion that these bones did not in fact belong to Valentine at all, but to a Roman who died around the same time but who had followed a very different career path.

This man, Libidinus Maximus, was in his day the top leather worker for the Lupercalian rites. He had died – aged 95 – of a heart attack during a bout of vigorous lovemaking with a gorgeous, pouting jailer’s daughter who’d kind of gotten over that other Christian guy pretty quickly. ‘Max the Lusty,’ as he was known, had been married five times but was strictly pagan, and a big fan of Claudius the Goth.

This might have been the end of our tale had a bizarre document from the thirteenth century, entitled Il Incidiente Curioso di il perro en la nozze had not recently come to light. This tells us that the charnel house, with the hapless Valentine’s bones still in it, was finally cleared out one evening in 1247 by a local landowner, whose dog, a crossbreed named Lupo, made off with a thigh bone and was never seen again. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time concludes with an unconfirmed report that the dog, with the bone still in its mouth, was last seen being tempted aboard a ship by a group of Knights Templar who were just setting sail for Rosslyn Chapel.

Unlike late Roman charnel house records, those of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh are meticulous and exhaustive. After literally decades of research, I had finally persuaded the authorities there to carry out carbon dating tests on the solitary thigh bone labelled in 1831 by Doctor Robert Knox as ‘Solitary Thigh Bone, partially chewed, donation from Earl of Rosslyn,’ – the tests showing conclusively that the bone dated from the time of Valentine’s death – when disaster struck.

In the dead of night, a drunken medical student whom I can now name and shame as one Cameron McShoogle, stole the bone under the mistaken impression it was part of the skeleton of William Burke, the West Port murderer. When I tracked McShoogle down to his student flat, he told me that the bone had spent some time under his bed next to several Keep Left signs before mysteriously disappearing yet again.

It is, ladies and gentlemen, a tale of two cities. Glasgow thinks it has the original St Valentine but instead has Claudius the Goth fan, Max the Lusty. Edinburgh, on the other hand, may have had the original saint’s bone, but being Edinburgh, put it to commercial use.

For under close questioning, MacShoogle confessed to me that he was lying and that, in fact, he had ground the bone down in his coffee blender to sell to a herbalist as powdered rhino horn.

‘I wish I hadnae done it,’ MacShoogle said to me, tearfully. ‘If I’d known what it was worth, I could’ve paid off ma student loan.’

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate fate of St Valentine’s last earthly remains. A shop I cannot name for legal reasons currently purveys the powder on an under the counter basis as an aphrodisiac. Although I can’t name the shop for legal reasons, I’m sure you know the one I mean: it’s the one with a steady stream of men and women of a certain age emerging from it and looking shifty. It appears that the word is out that the powder works, and works big time.

That’s why I had to publish my findings. I couldn’t keep the lid on this any longer. My working title is:

THE LUPERCALIA CODE

or

THE STONE BONER OF ST VALENTINE.

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Foals v Kula Shaker – the new battle of the bands!

Beatles v Stones. Oasis v Blur. Foals v Kula Shaker…

All right already: the last one exists probably solely in my head. There’s nothing, really, linking late 90’s thinking persons’ Britpop psychedelic sensations Kula Shaker with mid-Noughties indie rock sensations Foals. Except I like them both, and I’m seeing them both live in action within the next few days.

First up: Foals, tonight, at the SSE Hydro. Daughter and Heiress and I saw them back in 2014 at the 02 Academy, in the Gorbals, and they may well have delivered The Greatest Rock Gig Ever. So they’ve got a lot to live up to, although they have of course, since then, produced the mighty album ‘What Went Down,’ which I’ve already described as having an adverse impact on my driving behaviour.

I have a longer history with the Kulas, who first came to my notice, if I recall, when my mate Alan put one of their albums on a cassette for me (the other side, if I recall, was Oasis, so he doesn’t have perfect taste). Named after King Kulashekhara, who I thought came in at number four for Sri Lanka but was also a ninth century Indian emperor and holy man, the band is fronted by Crispian Mills, who, it’s fair to say, likes a bit of Indian influence in the musical mix. Wikipedia describe their sound thusly:

‘in addition, many of the band’s songs feature traditional Indian musical instruments, such as the sitar, tanpura, and tabla, juxtaposed with guitar-heavy, Western rock instrumentation.’ Yes indeedy, and a pleasing juxtaposition it is too! They’re on at the 02ABC in Glasgow on Monday.

Anyhoo, time is short, so I’ll leave you with, firstly, Daughter and Heiress’s favourite Foals track, and my favourite from the Kulas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the (Virtual) Turntable Now…

There can only be one explanation for all of this. My real name is Andrew Van Winkle, and I’ve spent the last thirty or so years asleep in some form of catatonic trance in which I’ve somehow managed to sustain a legal career, father a child, and write some stuff, but nonetheless miss a whole lot of important music.

That can be the only explanation: for, dear reader, the Music I’ve Not Listened To Yet outweighs the Music I Definitely Have Listened To Before in the same way that a black hole outweighs the rest of the surrounding universe (apologies to any physicists amongst you). And that’s even taking in Music That, Yeah, I’m Sure I’ve Heard That Once.

It’s not like I haven’t tried, albeit sporadically. Back in my student days, like any serious young thing of that era I had a proper turntable, amp and speakers, studiously assembled from different manufacturers off my grant monies (1). The amp was an Aiwa, I think, but the speakers were definitely Wharfedale, and each about the overall size of a small light goods vehicle. Seriously. There was a family of Vietnamese Boat People living in one of them for a while. (2)

Still, though: even then, far too much turntable time was devoted to the lesser works of Robert Zimmerman, and the stuff that passed me by is shocking. Where, for example, was Patti Smith (of whom more later)? Even though every single advert in the music shops looking for a band member referenced the Velvet Underground as an influence, my actual hearing of them was limited to the more obvious tracks. I did tune in to the Sainted John Peel (Blessed Be His Eclecticism) but lacked the follow through, sadly, to purchase many of his recommendations.

It’s all very disappointing and, obviously, most of all I’ve let myself down. There have been sporadic attempts since my student days to stay current: my nephew, Dave, shared my enthusiasm for Kula Shaker (3) and dragged me over to Glasgow to see them last time they resurfaced; more importantly still, he not only got us tickets for Nick Cave at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh a few years ago, but burned a whole load of his stuff onto CD for me to listen to in advance. Of course, this is the man who had The Ship Song as part of his wedding service…

Similarly, Daughter and Heiress is doing her best to drag me into the 21st century music-wise, and recent introductions have included Foals, (4) Courtney Barnett, and Ezra Furman. I’ve previously gone on about the gig a couple of years ago featuring the first of these and Cage the Elephant, (5) which probably still qualifies as The Greatest Rock Gig Ever.

My colleague, Manic Pop Thrills, is also doing  sterling work in bringing recent and/or still performing bands to my attention, such as Supermoon and De Rosa (see last review). The undermentioned Harky, too, is also striving to introduce me to such delights as Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat.

So I’m sorted, for the forseeable future, with current material.  Still though: what about all that stuff I’ve missed along the way? Where on earth to start? I mean, it’s not as if I have limitless time (as I imagine a proper music reviewer has) to sit back, have some lackey reverently lay a record on the turntable for me, cue the needle with the precision of molecular biologist, and then leave me to absorb fifty (or more) years’ worth of the best music ever. Apart from anything else, I don’t even have a turntable now, far less a lackey: my listening time is strictly limited to the bits in between all the other stuff I do, and like most people, has to be done at the same time as doing something else. In fact, my listening to music time, like Gaul, can be divided into three parts:

a) While washing the dishes, or cooking. This involves a CD player which has its own quirks, like switching itself on when it feels like it, and a kitchen with acoustics that, probably, aren’t ideal. Still better than the SECC right enough.

b) Driving in my car. This carries its own compromises if other family members are present; its own risks if the music’s just too damn good – Jimi Hendrix has been banned from the passenger seat for that reason and, as my recent review of the new Foals album indicates, it’s not just Mr James that makes me drive too fast. Another issue is the CD player in the car, which, if you play it too long, spits the CD out at temperatures so hot you could fry an egg on it.

c) Long bus journeys. Listening to mp3s on your phone via big Skullcandy headphones not only passes the time very agreeably: it also often guarantees you a double seat on the express bus, as people avoid you and then go and sit next to someone with earphones bleeding house music like tinnitus instead. Smiling at them and saying ‘Good Morning’ often works well too. Especially if it’s afternoon.

Which is all a very long winded way of getting to the music on my virtual turntable at the moment. Following the three means of listening described, then:

Music To Wash The Dishes By: currently getting the most play, partly by dint of lurking close to the CD player and not get properly tidied away yet, are two CDs I bought cheap at Fopp in Glasgow over the New Year: Guy Garvey’s ‘Courting the Squall,’ and Florence and the Machine’s ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.’

Turning to Garvey’s album first, the Elbow front man’s solo project will have been reviewed by every serious music journo by now, so I’ll limit myself to saying it’s great, really: kind of what you would expect from a solo project by the front man of Elbow. In other words, a bit like Elbow, but a bit more out there.

I first came upon their work, incidentally, by way of a documentary about them on a flight to Oz in about 2009, and I’ve loved them ever since then. I don’t think GG is likely to branch out on his own full time on the basis of this – it’s not like he’s gone and recorded Ballingristani nose flute music and turned his back on conventional rock influences, or anything. But it’s good, and one of these ones that’s a grower, I think, as I’ve liked it more every time I’ve played it.

Florence and the Machine, on the other hand, has kind of gone the other way. There’s a danger, of course, with a band as full-on successful as this, for muso types (however fractured their musical knowledge) to go all superior about someone like Flo. But I love her, I really do, thought she was knockout at Glasto last year, and all that. It’s just… that phrase, actually, full on? Plus a little formulaic – there’s the quiet bit, her singing low, significant lyrics, then it crashes into top gear and the horns start blaring and Flo gets a bit, well, shouty? Actually, my favourite, apart from ‘Ship to Wreck,’ was ‘St Jude,’ which stays low, with lots of woodwind. Although I also like the last track, ‘Mother,’ because the guitarist finally gets a proper wig-out solo at the end.

Music whilst driving: Top pick at the moment for the egg-frying car CD player is ‘Easter Rising,’ an incendiary live performance from Patti Smith. Many Smith fans would probably say this is the worst possible album for me to start my education with, and that I should instead listen to the classic studio canon of ‘Horses’ and ‘Easter.’ Well, they may be right, but I think this is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. Recorded for a radio station one rowdy night in Eugene, Oregon, it captures a rock gig in the raw, fluffed lines, banter with the audience, guitars running too hot, and all. Starting with a piece of performance poetry, The Salvation of Rock, Smith never gives the audience a moment to settle, bringing in the band with a roar, throwing unexpected covers at them, and, of course, delivering a blazing rendition of ‘Because the Night.’ Feisty.

Bus journeys, can on occasion, give the longest uninterrupted listening time – particularly if, as was the case on Friday, the Forth Road Bridge closes because of wind, and a scheduled one hour trip turns into a three and a half hour epic, more of a quest, really, to find the mythical destination of Dun Eidinn: I half expected we’d diverted through Mordor, but actually it was Kincardine.

In trying circumstances like these, a hardy perennial (bet no one’s used this pun before) is Wildflowers, whose debut album, ‘On the Inside,’ I’ve mentioned before. I was thinking when I listened to them on Friday that they’re about the first group since Del Amitri who can incorporate accordion into their overall sound without either sounding twee, or giving me flashbacks to my childhood mental scarring at the hands of Jimmy Shand And His Bloody Awful Accordion Band, playing what passed for ‘Scottish music,’ in those dark days.

Another album getting a lot of play at the moment is a free download of a Bruce Springsteen gig recorded in Tempe, AZ, in 1980. A lot more doucely engineered than Patti Smith’s gig, it nevertheless captures The Boss at an early peak: mainly songs from ‘The River,’ but also featuring the title track from ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ and ‘Racing in the Street.’ My favourites, though, are ‘Candy’s Room,’ and, especially, a blindingly brilliant version of ‘Point Blank,’ led by Roy Bittan’s stunning piano lines. If you like Springsteen, honestly, go and download this from his site – it’s billed as a giveaway for ‘the holidays,’ so might go down soon. (6)

Of course, back in the day, I had ‘Born to Run,’ ‘Darkness…’ ‘The River,’ (an illegal cassette of that, if I remember,) the early 75 – 85 live box set, and even ‘Born to Run,’ where he went all a bit shouty. So it’s not really homework, as such.

Still, though.

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(1) Semi-mythical system of supporting students where the Government gave you a bunch of money at the start of term, and never asked you to pay it back. Really.

(2) Note for younger readers: previous refugee crisis. The country of origin changes, but the inability of the First World to cope with it in a humane manner, and tendency for some to froth at the mouth in a xenophobic frenzy, tends to stay the same.

(3) Weird synchronicity point: I started drafting this yesterday morning, and left off just before starting this paragraph, in which I mention Kula Shaker. Do I not get a PM on Facebook from my mate Harky just a few hours later, drawing my attention for the first time to the new album and tour? Tickets for 15th February at the O2 ABC Glasgow are now sooo booked!

(4) Tickets also purchased for Foals at the SSE Hydro on 12th February. We’ve agreed that I’ll do the preview, and D & H the review.

(5) She’s also going to Cage the Elephant on 16th February – three gigs in 5 days. The 17th might be a quiet day for her.

(6) Thanks to Ralph MacGillivray for the tip.

 

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