Clint Eastwood

September 30, 2009

This is a review of the Dirty Harry boxset set I did for  the excellent ‘The Quietus’ ( website last year…

Dirty Harry

I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’

Perhaps one of the most iconic film quotes of all time, that thirty seconds of spiel from Clint Eastwood playing maverick cop Detective ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan from the first Dirty Harry film defined the character instantly.

He had a gun. A big gun. And he was prepared to use it. He was operating beyond the law and he wasn’t afraid who got shot. He was wiping the scum from the streets without a rule book and he was darkly funny as well.

Dirty Harry was the scowling anti hero- the misanthropic misfit, the monosyllabic outlaw cop,.Dirty Harry was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was irreverent, gritty, rude and witty in a granite jawed kind of way. He would shoot criminals in the back, beat the shit out of them and antagonize everyone, and so what! He got the job done!

His gratuitously un-PC personae would make 21st century filmmakers twitch uncomfortably and there is something uncomfortably conservative about his personae.

These days there are few actors left as good as Eastwood. They would also find the ugly side to his characters hard to deal with in goody two shoes modern Hollywood. Dirty Harry seems to celebrate the macho gun law of America and at the same time also parody the cowboy myth updating it to modern USA.

What would Dirty Harry make of those cowardly chavs who kicked the Goth girl, Sophie Lancaster to death in a Colne Park last year? You can only imagine that famous lip twitching into a curl of disgust when he learned of the appeals from the bullies who battered a defenceless girl and then smirk at their response when he turns up to chat to them about their kick to kill night in the park.

Dirty Harry was certainly the anti-hero but there was something there that registers with everybody. He was a mean motherfucker but he was fighting for the good guys and that’s why his personae resonates strongly through the decades. This is why this timely box set of 5 DVDs has never dated. As tough as Eastwood himself these films also easily transcend the decades.

The first film was made in 1971 and directed by Eastwood buddie Don Siegel. It saw Clint Eastwood’s debut as the iconic cop – although Frank Sinatra was originally mooted for the role!     Callahan was the San Francisco cop who was tired of the rules and regulations. He would seethe at the too soft judges and the office bound bosses who had no idea what things were like on the streets. They wanted things done by the book and they would throw that book at Callahan when he stepped too far out of line.

Like Judge Dread who was basically a carton strip rip off of the character Dirty Harry quite happily took the law into his own hands as he dealt with the real crime in a real way. Like a biblical crime and punishment mercenary the Dirty Harry series was the western come to town. This was the man with no name on the streets of modern San Francisco. He didn’t speak much but one squint spoke a thousand lines. He cared more about justice than the rules; a few terse and witty one-liners spat from his chisel jaw were enough.

Eastwood’s sheer presence dominated the films. At the time people derided his acting- claiming that Eastwood didn’t do anything, that it was all one-liners. The acting, though, was superb- it was what was not said combined with sheer presence that made the films. To have that kind of presence is an X factor- a real x factor- not some puppy dog, baby fat, flat singing sappy karaoke goon but a genuine charisma that conveyed all the dark hearted qualities of a crime fighter going too far to get results. Results that those who live on the streets and put up with the shit, the knives and the crack heads crave.

The first Dirty Harry film saw Callahan track down a serial killer called Scorpio in a tense and gripping plot . It also found time for the maverick cop to take part in foiling a bank raid with a spaghetti western style shoot out, fallout with his fat and lazy bosses and offend just about everyone from the Mayor to his colleagues in the process. When he finally shoots Scorpio and unflinchingly watches the serial killers’ corpse drop in the water he chucks his badge in to the murky lake in disgust with the law. It looks like the end but with a character as darkly compelling as this there had to be more films.

Infact there were four more. 1973’s ‘Magnum Force’ saw Callahan take on organised crime and corrupt bike cops whilst spitting out the classic ‘a mans got to know his limitations’ line. There was lots of gritty violence and some more deadpan sneering from the anti hero as well as more shoot outs. 1976’s ‘The Enforcer’ sees Callahan saving the Mayor and loads more shootouts. 1983’s Sudden Impact’ sees Eastwood himself direct the dirtiest and most violent film of the series which comes with yet another classic line ‘Go Ahead make my day’ in a roadside café stand off. There was lots of shootouts again whilst Callahan is on the trail of a rape revenge serial killer who he lets off at the end with a mutual respect and a typically weird hint at the maverick loner cops respect for women’s lib especially if the women are just like him! 1988’s ‘the Dead Pool’ saw Callahan now a celebrity cop embroiled in a film that looked at the power and the vulnerability of fame with added love interest as the gritty old cop falls for a woman reporter. There are plenty of digs at the media and critics with a movie reviewer one of the victims. There are also plenty of shootouts and deeply dark violence.

The reviewers may have hated the series but Dirty Harry resonates in popular culture. He cuts through the bullshit. He goes from A to B whilst shooting C. He was the man of action, a loose canon who had had enough. Dirty Harry is the great American outsider. The lone gunman on the high plains of modern America.

Dirty Harry is so imbued in American culture that he is almost become its foreign policy. When George Bush does his funny macho walk he thinks he’s Dirty Harry taking its magnum to far-flung oil rich lands looking for ‘bad guys’. Dirty Harry would have hated Bush though- a smooth handed office boy coward with rich parents who made him the president- Bush is more like one of Dirty Harry’s detested bosses.

In America gritty good guys defy the law and tough talking cowboys haunt the psyche. Arnie made millions reworking this role under several different guises and whole host of other lesser action heroes have milked it dry but these DVDS remind you of where the power really lies.

No wonder the general public love Dirty Harry. He doest trust the authorities. He’s tough, he’s cynical and he doesn’t like those ‘lily livered liberals’ who are giving the bad guys too much space. He not only struck a chord with the gun loving Americans but also the city dwellers who see fear and crime in every shadow. The man with no name had come to town in the urban unrest of the seventies like some kind of superhero in a cheap suit and found a solution to all the problems of the world with his steely stare and .44 magnum. And while in the real world violence only makes everything worse, Dirty harry plays out the urban fantasy over and over whilst deconstructing the myth of the lone saviour and the male archtype.

Nirvana interview Sounds October 1989

September 29, 2009

This was the second time I interviewed Nirvana for the sadly defunct Sounds music paper. Famously the time before was the band’s first ever interview and was conducted over the phone. This time we were flown out to New York to interview the band- who were playing the last dates of their first American tour. Being Sounds there was no budget which played into our hands as we had to share floor space at Janet Billig’s Lower East Side flat where the band were staying. It was a really hot summer few days as me, Ian Tilton the photographer, Nirvana and Tad crammed into the apartment. At the end of the trip Ian Tilton got run over by a bus and broke his leg!

We saw the band play at Maxwells in Hoboken to a near empty room but they tore the place apart in one of the best ever gigs I’ve seen. their raw power was intense and the songs were already amazing. At the time they were a four piece but within days of the interview guitarist Jason Everman was no longer in the band and drummer Chad Channing was soon ousted.

I’ve still got the tape of the interview somewhere and one day will transcribe the whole thing. The article was edited to fit into Sounds so there is quite a bit missing from the actual interview itself…

Nirvana interview SOUNDS – October 21, 1989. By John Robb.

Chewing on some of the keenest noise baccy in the biz, the Sub Pop bastards are spittin’ it back out as some of this year’s finest platters. The label which has become the key operator in rock has turned up another slice of genius.

And the latest contenders in the vinyl Midas story that Mudhoney’s grungenomic success are Tad and Nirvana.

The pair are touring the UK next week in a hefty double bill that fattens up to a mighty trio at the occasional dates where they collide with the mighty Mudhoney.

Nirvana are the natural descendants of Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. with that knack of writing great melodies and combining them with the love of post hardcore noise.

Their debut mini album, ‘Bleach’, which scorched the tail end of the summer, collected some salivating press commentary and fixed a few vinyl junkies’ habits for the interim. Stuffed full of powerful songs compete with great melodies, sung with that scorching powerful voice, it’s both melancholic and euphoric- a powerful combination.

And now they’re on tour with a helluva chance of making up some spectacular ground. For, while Mascis’ legendary lazyitis could blot the lank-haired guitar fiend from the landscape and with Mudhoney’s splendid thrashiness in danger of cul de sacking their mainstream putsch, Nirvana have the teen beat at their feet. And their overt pop ethic is married to mad dog guitar antics; a rowdy burn-out that’s featured on the band’s new four-track 12-inch, ‘Blew’, released in the UK on the Tupelo label.

Too young to be nailed to the spot by a beergutted energy sap, the now three, formerly four piece (guiatrist Jason Everman leaving the band days after I interviewed them) literally explode onstage, their enthusiastic energy burns resulting in a trail of smashed gear and highly charged beat anthems.

Offstage, the small town muthas are quiet and affable, with only what seems like seven-foot bass pulper, Chris Novoselic, and former guitar vandal Jason Everman chewing the social cud with any vengeance. The other two members opt for the Lennon/Ono approved, ‘bed in’ method.

Nirvana did their teenage thang in the wilds of smalltown USA in the Washington state backwater town of Aberdeen. Kurdt Kobain, the band’s songwritter, vocalist and guitar player, scratches the moudly bumfluff on his pixie skull and picks up the tale.

“Chris and me are from Aberdeen, which is a really dead logging town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The nearest town was Olympia, about 50 miles away, which is where we’ve moved to.”

Chris, the bass beanpole, cuts in. “It’s a logging town – they want to cut all the trees down that are left in the state, you know. You could say that they are at loggerheads with the environmentalists…”

Touring has provided Nirvana with a welcome escape from the smalltown hell. Kurdt is animated with road fever.

“I’m seeing America for, like, free and only having to work for two hours a day.It’s weird though, I’m not homesick yet.

“If we hadn’t done this band thing, we would have been doing what everyone else does back home, which is chopping down trees, drinking, having sex and drinking, talking about sex and drinking some more…”

A lifestyle not totally at odds with the band’s slogan, “Fudge Packing, crack smoking, satan worshipping, mother fuckers”, which is sprawled rather rudely across their t-shirts.

This small town suffocation inspired the first bunch of songs Kobain ever came up with and still fires the mood.

“The early songs were really angry,” explains Kobain. “But as time goes on the songs are getting poppier and poppier as I get happier and happier. The songs are now about conflicts in relationships, emotional things with other human beings.”

“When I write a song the lyrics are the least important subject. I can go through two or three different subjects in a song and the title can mean absolutely nothing at all.”

Kurdt’s still not totally comfortable with his new upbeat mood though.

Sometimes I try to make things harder for myself, just to try to make myself a bit more angry. I try out a few subconscious things I suppose, like conflicts with other people. Most of the lyrics on the ‘Bleach’ album are about life in Aberdeen.”

Kurdt had been writing songs in his bedroom for years until finally deciding to lay down some demos with the help of Novoselic, a first generation Yugoslav. The drummer on these sessions was Del Crover, who’s also stixman for the only other band in town, The Melvins, a seminal outfit on the development of Nirvana. The demo was laid down in a studio belonging to Jack Endino, an old chum of the dudes at Sub Pop Records and a guitar player with the crucial Skinyard outfit.

One phone call later and Sub Pop were marvelling at the “beautiful yet horrifying voice” of the kid that looked like a garage attendant: Kurdt Kobain.

The final connection with the rest of the world must have been a relief.

“We’d been revolving around in bands for years,” explains Kurdt. “I’d been writing songs since I was about 13. I’d never heard of Sub Pop before, although I suppose we didn’t exist in a total backwater, we had the Melvins in our town and we used to go and listen to them rehearse all the time.”

The resulting debut single was a classic 7-inch; the seesaw-riff, garage punk cover of the Screaming Blues’ late ’60s slice of psychodrama, ‘Love Buzz’ which I made into single of the week in Sounds. The future looked promising and was fulfilled by the ‘Bleach’ album, a 12-inch platter which saw Nirvana taking the opportunity to cover several bases at once.

From the lighter pop dynamics of ‘About A Girl’, an uptempo almost poppist grove – and an indication of the band’s future development? – through to the heavier post-Killing Joke grind of the intense ‘Paper Guts’, the album thrives on gristly hooks onto which Kobain grapples his scarred, world weary howl, a thousand years of life trapped in his young larynx.

The live destruct and the album’s full bodied sound was enhanced by the heroic, hair-throwing antics of the band’s fourth member, Jason Everman. Having seemingly been ditched by the remaing three, he’s now taken up the bass in the gloriously asscendant Seattle rockers, Soundgarden.

Even at the time of the interview, Jason seemed to be orbiting on some kind of inner core, a key yet somehow peripheral component. His wicked onstage demeanour and ass splattering six-string made him a crucial cornerstone on the band’s love buzz. It would be interesting to see how they fare as a three-piece, although label boss Jonathan claims that the already gigged trio are rocking harder then ever.

Nirvana’s live action is a dangerous burn out. At one of the gigs in New York at maxwells Hobokon about 12 people watch the band play one of the most exciting sets I have ever witnessed. Their intesnity in power is unquestionable and the songs explode into life. It’s already excing enough when Chris Novoselic, in a rush of Balkar blood, threw himself into the ground, seconds later the whole band hit auto destructand emulated The Who’s early ’60s guitar antics trashing all their gear with Kobain crashing backwards through Chad Channing’s drum kit. Guitars are piushed through the venue’s roof and destruction is everywhere. It’s a thrilling pop art destructo moment made even more convincing by the fact that there is no-one there to watch it.

Bit of a Townshend vibe going on here, Chris?

“Yeah, it’s a nice feeling, it’s something that needs to be done at least twice a week. It seems to becoming more common at our gigs. The more people screaming at you the more you are into smashing everything up. It’s definitely not a contrived thing . We don’t smash the gear up on purpose, we’re not trying to impress or anything.”

Scrawny bar-chord operatives, Nirvana are the small town kids let loose in the middle-aged music biz grind. Their onstage, guerilla insurrections and scuzzed pop poonk anthems are just about heroic enough to push through the Nirvana-as-Sub-Pop’s-trump card prediction made by some old fool a couple months back.

Generation X

September 28, 2009

Perhaps the most underrated of the punk generation bands Generation X deserve another visit.

I guess at the time they looked to perfect, too pretty, too pop and were dismissed as lightweights (oddly enough they were loved by the early Dischord scene in Washington DC where they and the non Billy Idol post Gen X band Empire were a key influence on Minor Threat and the emerging hardcore scene in the city). Rock historians never like bands that girls want to fuck- only comfortable with bands that resemble themselves rock historians have conveniently removed whole swathes of groups from the narrative. This is unfortunate because Generation X cut some great records- classic punk rock pop from the early 45’s like ‘Ready Steady Go’, ‘Youth Youth Youth’ and ‘Wild Youth’ which are easily as exciting as some of their more esteemed peers like the Pistols or the Clash. In many ways I always felt that they were related to the Clash, bassist Tony James had cut his teeth playing with Mick Jones in London SS a non-gigging 1975 proto punk crew. They had the same sort of love of rock n roll but with an intelligent twist- Billy Idol (what a great punk name to give to yourself) may have liked to have played dumb but he was always a smart operator. Both him and James understood pop art- Tony James had his crash course from the Clash manager Bernie Rhodes and the pair of them we brimming with ideas from their initial days in the early Chelsea or Billy hanging out with the Bromley contingent. Even the name of the band generation X was knowing- being copped from a youth culture book from the early sixties.

‘Wild Youth’ remains one of my favourite punk singles- it sounds a raucous and exciting and anthemic as a classic punk record should and it sounds massive. Generation X always made really powerful sounding singles and their production was certainly better than the early Clash- maybe that’s not punk rock but damn these records sounded great.

The dub version of ‘Wild Youth’ is stunning, it has all the yearning and excitement of punk in a stripped down punky dub mix- a highly effective utilising of the dub style that was wafting around the punk scene- Gen X should get more credit for this but somehow they have been edited out yet again by the snobs in the new linear narrative of punk rock that seems to crush the movement down to a handful of approved bands.

All the way through their career its Billy idol’s vocals that really stand out- he’s such a great singer- with the sneer intact he’s got a pure rock n roll voice, rasping, powerful and convincing on every track.

The band’s romp through the punk era is signposted with really great songs, ‘King Rocker’ is a glam punk anthem, really funny lyrics and those amazing drums and that zig zagging riffs- an awesome tune it seemed to herald a big comeback for them becoming a mini hit when it was released but by the time they got to their next album, Kiss me Deadly’ the band was limping along but the criminally overlooked album is stuffed full of top tunes like ‘Dancing With Myself’ a powerful dark rock n roll tune which proved the band was still full on right to the end.

They collapsed after the UK tour for the album and Billy went to America and fully lived up to his name becoming the biggest selling artist from the punk generation whilst Tony James put together Sigue Sigue Sputnik- a brilliant pop art concept whose demos for the first album should be seeked out- rough and ready and full of great ideas this is their true moment.


September 25, 2009

I fell in live with Rembetika- the so called Greek Blues in 1987 when the Membranes toured Greece. It’s haunting melodies and croaky vocals and rebellious lyrics struck a chord…

Sharp suits, opium dens, exotic instruments; singing songs of the gutter, drugs and women… the very word ‘Rembet’ means from the gutter- the Greek equivalent of jazz or the blues in the underbelly of the USA.

Running through the music is the same dark hearted outsider blood, the surly, almost macho, defiance of authority. A travelling hobo music for the dispossessed- that a government hated so much that the troubadours could be arrested on sight for carrying the bazouki, the six stringed instrument that was the key to the lilting gorgeous melodies.

Like the smoke of their beloved opium pipe, the Nargile, the Greek Rembetika music charms its subtle and deadly way into your soul. This is a rebel music, songs of the gutter, sung by crack throated, mad eyed troubadours; Rembetika is the beautiful, melodic, roughshod combination of east and west. A mid twentieth century rabble rousing music that celebrated the best things in life like sex, drugs and dandy clothes.

With its roots in an oral tradition, improvisation was always the key. The songs would kick off with a Taximi , giving the players a chance to show off and stretch out setting the mood of the song, a mood that would more often than not be a sad lament. As often as not there was no set song, lyrics would be ad libbed, about whatever was going down at the time.

First appearing after the collapse of the Ottoman empire in the early twentieth as a mix of Greek, Byzantine, Balkan and more obvious eastern styles, the form was cranked up by Greek immigrants who got displaced in 1923 from Turkey and Asia Minor at the end of the war between Turkey and Greece.

They had lived along the Smyran coast and Constantinople now Istanbul in the fading Ottoman Empire for years, until the Greek v. Turkey war of 1922/23 had resulted in a population exchange. The war was fought as the newly emergent Greece attempted to grab more land from the receding Ottoman empire. Dreaming of its old empire days it saw the most treasured prize of all, Constantinople, as a city it must regain. They lost the war as a newly confident Turkey under the leadership of Ataturk saw them off.

As part of the peace agreement, the two countries agreed to swop a million civilians, a painful process that robbed the two nations of the some of their unique multi-cultural heritage and also completely disrupted the lives of each intransigent population.

The formally fairly well off Greeks moved back to their original homeland. Outsiders in their own land and newly poor, they clustered in ghetto communities around the port town of Piraeus and in new sprawling suburbs of Athens.

They brought with them their traditional instruments and melodies and sang of their plight with rembetika.

This is the music of the dispossessed and the damned. They sang songs scoured with the pain of their transformation from relatively well off citizens of Turkey to their new found poverty on the streets of the Athens and Piraeus. That they also sang songs of sex, revolution and death and made up lyrics laughing at the police force, hardly endearing them to the authorities. It also cemented them with an underground status that the music was never to really shake off.

A meeting between the traditional, almost lament like, minor key sadness of middle eastern folk styles with modern urban lyrics, Rembetika was their hauling of an ancient form by the bootstraps and making it a soundtrack to the harsh urban reality of the early twentieth century. A time of population explosion, war, poverty and displacement, a time when some sort of traditional value and culture was the key in holding a society together.

To hear Rembetika you are wafted back decades, back to the late twenties when the term was first used in the hashish dens and cafes of Piraeus. with the players trying to remember the songs in their stoned and deranged minds.

The lyrics are thrown on top, mostly laments and husky throated howls, most of the time they are not even words just howling at the moon wailing from the Rembetes.

Your heart swells, as proud rebel songs waft out from the gutters, stirring melodies dashed with an eastern melodic sadness,  sung with throat’s hoarse from opium dens (tekedhes) and the pipe. This is the music of the outlaws and the manges (Greek wide boys) sung in smoke filled dens, whilst toking on the narghiles (opium pipes) over a raucous din, mainly by singers keen on the pipe themselves, meant that most of the musicians would eventually die of throat cancer. You can hear their gruff bleeding throats, howl out the cack stained melodies on the recordings, throats packed with a passion for hard living and deadly lust for life.

The names of these rebel, lust for lifestyle, outlaws linger on in Greek society. Some are dead, some turned to crime, some turned to politics, some checked out the country’s jails, whilst others died young, it’s a fascinating and mixed roll call of names, some of whom became household names in their native Greece.

Batis, Artemis and Stratos were the three great figures of the scene, along with Markos Vamvakaris, they played in the greatest of all Rembetika groups., the Piraeus quartet.

You can see their starched faces in the grubby photos on the back of the battered records, holding their bazoukies aloft looking arrogant and deadly, musical gunslingers with a fistful of great tunes.

Batis was the clown, who despite not being as musically adept as the others was a hit with his quick wit and wide boy edge which saw him raise money for the outfit by flogging second hand cars. Sartos, the singer, went onto later mainstream success singing with Tsitsanis and Papaionou Artemis who came from Smyrna was the only qualified musician 1943 and at only 29 he was dead worn out by a massive drug intake, he was found collapsed outside a tekedhes with his bazouki in his hand.

He certainly died with his boots on.

Meanwhile Vamvakaris went onto become known as the ‘grandfather of rembetika’  writing many classic tracks, when he played in the Piraeus quartet he often let Stratos sing in his sweet voice but when he eventually persuaded to sing on his own cuts-his leathery tuff gnarl growl became the vocal that the standard vocal style of the form and was much copied over the years.

After the war Vamvakris had a brief revival in his fortunes but the world had moved on and the form had new heroes as it moved on with the times, becoming less rough, less dangerous sounding. There was Vassilis Tsitisanis who had written subtle, thinly veiled laments for his homeland over run by the right wing military in the sixties which became rallying tunes for the oppressed population. After the war he became a star in his own right or teamed up with Sotiria Bellou.

The Billie Halliday of the scene,  Bellou, battled against the authorities and the inherent macho of the scene, there are whispered tails of a wild life that occasionally saw her in jail, a wild and carefree life that should have snuffed her out years ago, today she sing in garish night-clubs.

With a voice less harsh  than Bellou, another female vocalist Ninou also worked with Tsitanis.

The fifties saw the rembetika break out from its underground bolthole and go mainstream making big bucks the players were often amplified losing the very subtlety that were the key to the music. revivals became the key as Rembetika became a rallying call for the dispossessed and the revolutionary, never losing the rebel status that had once seen the police raiding the nikhales . The fascist colonels in the sixties saw the music banned and it became a fitting soundtrack for the underground, intellectual resistance to the nazi buffoons, after the colonels were run out of town  rembetika flourished in the bars and clubs and it remains a late night workout now boosted by its defiant status- clebrated as the music the hated colonols had tried to ban-during the fascist colonels inglorious rule in the late sixties and the early seventies the form came back into fashion. In the bars and cafes of the Greek cities and towns the newly banned form of music became a rallying call; the anti authoritarian stance, the hatred of the police and the pro hash stance of the rebel songs stirred the hearts of the Greeks against the fascist buffoons. When the cynical old men were joyously over thrown, rembetika enjoyed a massive revival.

To watch the dancing to the music (Zembekiko)is in itself a education, very male oriented (infact the whole scene is of course pretty macho) the dancers would stand as if in a trance slowly moving in a circle, an introverted, compelling strangeness, that looks like the confused pirouette of a drunk complete with toothpicks in surly gobs. Everyone in the bar starts to sing along to the well worn words as if in celebration of the very soul of Greece itself, it may sound like a drunken rabble but it is the joyful celebration of the very soul of a modern nation.

Beautiful tunes and haunting bazouki lines that lie at the often very uncomfortable point where the east meets the west.

Youth Gang

September 24, 2009

Youth Gang

So young they have barely even got going, Youth Gang ooze an incredible potential. Just listen to these two demos on their myspace site…… and become enchanted by Ki’s vocals, She’s got an amazing, powerful voice that cuts ice and glass with its dark, emotive power. In Manchester there have been so few female singers- its always been a bit of a lads scene and the lads have made some great music over the years- some of the best but its great to hear a female voice in this sea of laddism.

The songs don’t fit in anywhere- they are so original- there is a hint of Johnny’ Marr’s effortless arpeggios in Nick’s guitar but with a harder edge. There is a flavour of indie before it became a byword for stadium landfill- that sense of making your own space and your own sound instead of following the herd. There is a sniff of northerness about them but it’s hard to place.

They also come with a great name fitting firmly into that tradition of great bands with Youth in there monicker like, of course, Sonic Youth, and Youth Of Today and Chimp Youth. They are working hard as I type writing loads more songs which should be up on their myspace soon. I am trying to sign them to my new Modern English label if I can convince the rest of the team of the band’s innate greatness.

I would keep tabs on this situation if I was you- this band are going to rule.

Youth Gang

September 24, 2009

Youth Gang

So young they have barely even got going, Youth Gang ooze an incredible potential. Just listen to these two demos on their myspace site… … and become enchanted by Ki’s vocals, She’s got an amazing, powerful voice that cuts ice and glass with its dark, emotive power. In Manchester there have been so few female singers- its always been a bit of a lads scene and the lads have made some great music over the years- some of the best but its great to hear a female voice in this sea of laddism.

The songs don’t fit in anywhere- they are so original- there is a hint of Johnny’ Marr’s effortless arpeggios in Nick’s guitar but with a harder edge. There is a flavour of indie before it became a byword for stadium landfill- that sense of making your own space and your own sound instead of following the herd. There is a sniff of northerness about them but it’s hard to place.

They also come with a great name fitting firmly into that tradition of great bands with Youth in there monicker like, of course, Sonic Youth, and Youth Of Today and Chimp Youth. They are working hard as I type writing loads more songs which should be up on their myspace soon. I am trying to sign them to my new Modern English label if I can convince the rest of the team of the band’s innate greatness.

I would keep tabs on this situation if I was you- this band are going to rule.

A Day In The Life Of A Music Journalist

September 23, 2009

This is a recent column I did for Drowned In Sound website which caused loads of controversy with some of their more pious readers…

Wake up early.

8 o’clock.

Electric rock n roll is going through my head.

Decide not to have a wank so I wont lose my edge and walk to the other room in the flat and start typing. Got a mish mash of columns and articles to tap out. Got a headfull of ideas, a  zig zagging machine gun of stuff- gotta get it typed up before it disappears into the ether.

Plenty of work got done last night when I got back in from watching couple of great local bands, one, Dirty North play a mash up of ska, hip hop and razor sharp lyrics like Antic Monkeys are rattling my cage. They were supported by Mike Garry a fantastic poet whose Mancunian street poems will make him the poet laureate of Manchester within months. When I’m writing about stuff like this words come easy and I still operate under the age-old rule of never write the first paragraph till last. Never sweat over that first sentence- just get on with it, a few words in and the word spew comes and you can be sat in a daze with words pouring out till someone phones. Or you feel hungry. Oh shit I feel hungry. I then do about 15 minutes of yoga to keep these trusty old limbs springy and then I eat. I eat like a horse! Writing is hungry work.

I return to the laptop and continue writing and then editing. Gotta get these words down before the phone starts ringing or the Internet starts buzzing. When you are one they are many and you have to organise your life! DIY is the greatest idea but it means often booking band tours for my band Goldblade on your own, sorting out deals and doing loads of meetings as well as writing and extra curricular stuff like helping Blackpool council with projects to make the town look, well, different than the clichéd idea of it.

I rattle out a couple of columns with the music now cranked up to full. I love rock n roll and I’m putting another dime in the jukebox baby. Also loving these dubstep collections you can find on the net and loving the occasional new demo but also wanna hear some good time adrenalin punk rock, Black Flag’s Damaged’…mmm…lets put that on again- the infernal energy and righteous racket matches the mood perfectly, will relatively  chill out with the dubstep later.

Midday go for a meeting with some heads who want to start a record label with me, it goes well, then have to record some T V stuff, not long after that I have to rehearse Goldblade for a couple of festivals at the weekend. Then late afternoon I will get down the gym and pump some iron- it’s a couple of hours to switch off and do something truly D.U.M.B Dumb. Fantastic. Leave the gym with that insane endorphin rush and sit on a chair in the sun and catch up on a lot of phone calls on my mobile. Cycle home and cook my vegan soul power tea, do some more writing and then thunder off into town and check out some music and then hang out a bit before going home and trying to get through more emails before popping out to do a radio interview on 5 live. Then home and to bed.

Tomorrow, though, I will be proper busy!

How Margaret Thatcher changed the face of eighties pop culture

September 22, 2009

For someone whose favourite song is apparently and, rather bizarrely, ‘How Much Is That Doggy In the Window’ Margaret Thatcher’s influence on music was pretty big.

Can there ever have been a British politician that inspired so many people! The right wing tyrant who believed that there no such thing as society Margaret Thatcher was, for many artists, a muse and an inspirational force in the  mid eighties music scene.

Many musicians were up in arms by the swing to the right, some even organised a movement to try and influence ’the kids’ into voting against her and whilst Red Wedge was, on paper, a great idea- in practise it sent more people scurrying away from the ballot box than even the Labour leadership’s disastrous fumbling attempts to combat the Tory Reich.

Far more effective were the never ending series of songs from many of the punk and post punk generation who now really had something to sing about.

In the late seventies the 2-Tone movement combined ska and punk with a celebration of left wing ideology that culminated in The Beat’s ‘Stand Down Margaret’, a song that was hilariously misunderstood by top Tory Ed Vaizey who could not believe that anyone would diss his idol and thought that the song was about princess Margaret- and these people want to run our country!

Whilst the mainstream popstars ponced around on yachts or in their new romantic finery in videos the underground seethed to the vehement anti Thatcher anger of Crass, Angelic Upstarts, the poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson, Half Man Half Biscuit’s sardonic wit, or the ‘coal not dole’ miners benefits that we all played in the mid eighties. The Specials cover of Dylan’s  ’Maggie’s Farm’ twisted the song with a new updated meaning, Heaven 17’s ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing’  touched on the same sort of  dissatisfaction and as if to show the ‘international’ venom reserved for the dislikeable leader was just as strong there was Welsh language band Daffyd Iwan a’r Band song ’Magi Thatcher.’

And the songs have kept coming with  ’Thatcher F*cked the Kids’  from Frank Turner, and the Forlorn Hope’s rather mean  ’Gonna Laugh When Margaret Thatcher Dies’.

There was also bigger names like Billy Bragg, the Redskins, Elvis Costello, the Housemartins bringing their lyrical pop politics to the charts. Meanwhile Richard Thompson was agitating along with a whole bunch of English folk singers adding to a huge list of songs that mention Margaret Thatcher from the last quarter of a century including Terry Edward’s ‘Margaret Thatcher, We Still Hate Her’, Robert Wyatt’s classic ’Shipbuilding’, the sardonic Hard Skin’s recent  ’Still Fighting Thatcher’ and an endless list of names including the angriest band ever, Conflict, loveable indie duo Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, poet and troubadour Attila the Stockbroker and of course Morrissey’s succinct  ’Margaret On The Guillotine’

Finally how could we forget the Not Sensibles sneering and hilarious ‘I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher’ a DIY punk classic of the early eighties that played dumb whilst making its sarcastic, singalong point.

Whilst many doubt the effectiveness of all this pop polemic- especially in the light of David Cameron’s much mooted love of the Smiths and also the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’- a love that somehow made an astonishing oversight on the lyrical front proving how easy it is to avoid the social commentary if you want to.

So whilst Thatcher and her cronies danced around her handbag the eighties agit pop crews tapped into the very strong feeling of the UK streets and celebrated  a rearguard reaction by the non Tory rump in those bleak times changing the face of eighties pop culture…

Dead Skeletons

September 21, 2009

I don’t have any truck with those who say music was ‘better in my day’.

All the time the glory of the Internet throws up another great tune and another band you can get immersed in. Music doesn’t stop when you get to 25 and there are endless twists and turns in this dirty river to come.

Dead Skeletons are from Iceland and ply a neo gothic, dark, psychedelic groove. They sound unique but to make things easier for you I will look up the journo dictionary and throw a few words around like…neo Suicide- capturing the New York duo’s dark, pulsing keyboards and ghost rider vocals, there is a tinge of gothic darkness with the sort of genuine darkness that most bands can never seem to achieve, a touch of punk rock attitude, plenty of esoteric references and some genuine archaic weirdness– and a 21st century psychedelia like the UK’s Androgynous Anonymous where they marry mind melting weirdness with modern technology and the internet and reach out beyond the suffocating crushing of the market by the Ballad of Peter and Jordan obsessed media (isn’t that the dullest celeb story of all time?) …somehow they mash these together and have made one of the great freak power pop records of the autumn.

Dead Skeletons come armed with a philosophy and talk of death and darkness and life. Staring death in the eye they make great tunes like the one below. It’s another example of great Goth tinged rock- the scene that never existed and yet has managed to cast such a great dark shadow (ha!) over music for decades. Maybe its time to wake up to its innate power.

Dead Skeletons, of course, are not a Goth band but they share a lot of the same obsessions- the same dark imagery and pulsing minor key musics. The video is great as well and shows a pair of keen minds immersed in all the fascinating counter culture, esoteric stuff from Tibetan dancers, to surrealism to the death trip- it’s like a scrapbook of Magik and weirdness.

Reading up on the band on the internet they live in Reykjavik and they own a shop called Death and they started this trip because one of them was found to be HIV positive in the nineties and instead of shrinking away from this they started earth in the face and fought back fascinated by the darkness, embracing it and paradoxically celebrating life. Their myspace ( is covered in great pieces of DIY artwork and quotations from obscure philosophers and psychedelic junk and explanations about the ‘spiritual secrets of the Carbon Atom’ and what the Swastika symbol really means before it was hijacked by a load of freaks and bully boys last century.

There are also two tunes on there for you to gobble up…

My advice is gobble up now!

Post Punk

September 18, 2009

Last week I was doing a talk at a conference at Leeds University about Post Punk.

It was an interesting event and made more interesting by the fact that post punk has become a thing, a scene, and a definable set of rules to be picked over years later by academics.

I guess it was Simon Reynolds excellent book that started this. It was great that he pushed the spotlight onto the insane activity that poured out of the breach created by punk rock- the DIY labels, fanzines and bands that were re-writing music on their own terms.

The only problem is that it has made a scene that had no rules and no boundaries become very linear. Post punk has become fashionable in the past few years but it has become narrowed down to the Gang Of Four and The Fall and maybe A Certain Ratio when someone feels a little but funky. I don’t remember it that way. I remember a blurring of boundaries after punk with a simultaneous leap into the future and a re-affirmation of the past as the shackles of the punk rock Year Zero were thrown away. And whilst the aforementioned bands were key bands of the period there was also great music getting made by Killing Joke and Bauhaus and other bands who have been lumped in with the Goth scene.

It may not fit into the newly neat narrative but the so called Goth scene was equally innovative with both Killing Joke and Bauhaus incorporating dub into glam and tribal musics and creating whole new soundscapes.

The early Adam And the Ants were also making some strange and unsettling music and I’ve often wondered if these bands were a bit too strange and in some cases a bit too pretty with a touch or eye liner (or in the case of Killing Joke – dark and ugly with manic face paint) to be taken seriously by the lumpy academic brigade.

It’s a curious fact of rock history that the journalists will always put the bands that look like them on the pedestal and write the other ones out of history. At the time most people I knew seemed to be thrilled by both types of bands and few saw it as separate scenes- the battle lines were drawn up later and the so called Goth bands were annoyingly written out of history even though their influence has been far bigger.

Personally I don’t care that much I have all the records but I often wonder when I look out at the students learning about this fantastic musical time when there were no rules and hope that they are not being short changed by the revised histories of those times.

%d bloggers like this: