Friday, April 29, 2016

Botticelli Reimagined At The V&A

I took Offsprog Two to this to celebrate her birthday. What I liked best were the paintings by Botticelli's student assistants, because you could see which bits they liked painting the most.
One Madonna had an intricate gold halo; some had lovely hands and feet and the rest of the painting was a bit humdrum. Many had disproportionate arms, heads or odd perspective.
The charm of imperfection wins hands down.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Working in a Press Office

Many moons (and many suns) ago, I worked in an independent music press office, and one of the clients was Billy Ocean. He was a tremendously nice man who used to wear shirts with microscopic prints on them and enormous rounded collars. I learned today that he used to be a tailor, which probably explains his unique style.
His hit song Go And Get Stuffed was one of the most memorable songs of the time- a proper pop song with it's own sound, a great groove (how did they make that funny grindy noise?) and a memorable motto, even if you remembered it wrongly.
We also did press for Depeche Mode (or Depressed Mood as they were known) and later, Yazoo, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Associates, The Stray Cats (yes, reader, I kissed Brian Setzer), The Birthday Party (yes, reader, I scratched Nick Cave's back), Misty in Roots, Gaspar Lawal and Hugh Masakela.
And Samantha Fox; I still have the Sam Fox picture disc with her photographed in studded leather, across a fold-out wallet with three discs in it.

Other jobs I have done include typesetting and printing tablet envelopes for veterinary surgeons in Lewes, Sussex; processing x-ray films in a hospital darkroom at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne; working for the Labour Party in Walworth Road circa John Smith (bless him, he was a sweetheart); and of course the usual pub jobs (bum nipped by clients), hotel and guest house jobs (disposing of used condoms tucked behind the dressing table: ugh), washing up in a restaurant in Brighton (garlic butter all the way up the arms), working in a shop (therein lie many stories), cleaning old people's homes (lost two diamonds from my old engagement ring), being a youth worker in Peckham (no-one would sit next to me on the bus of the way home after I picked up a chicken at the city farm), and assorted other mad occupations.

It always amuses me when students speak to me as though I have always been a musician/academic and somehow led a charmed life. Many parts of my life have been rough-and-ready to say the least, and I always have a nagging fear that the big claws attached to the scary bits of my life will come up and grab me and take me back there.
I am sure there are many people who feel like this; often, I completely forget, but this week I met someone who didn't believe that I used to live in a squat. I felt like going to look in the mirror, because I thought you could read the whole of people's lives in their faces, but obviously I am wrong.

From the Cinema Museum, Southwark. Scary Place.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Grainger Market, Newcastle

The Grainger Market in Newcastle is an amazing place. I feel in my bones the it's going to be gentrified and Costa, Next, Monsoon and all that lot will soon take over. Until then, enjoy a proper Italian ice cream from Mark Toney's, buy some coffee at Pumphrey's, get a hi-vis vest from the workwear shop, be disappointed at the rubbish that the Marks and Spencer outlet sells, and top up your knitting supplies with as much nylon wool as you possibly can. There is a peculiar shoe shop that sells Dr Martens, a health food shop, lots of fish- and bakers-shops and a patisserie called Pet Lamb (you have to be a Geordie to get that one).

Friday, April 22, 2016

Thanks Adbusters

I was contacted by Adbusters a while ago because they wanted permission to use a photo from this blog in their latest issue. I said yes, and they have given me a year's subscription to say thank you. Hats off to them for (1) asking and (2) paying in kind, and (3) being an absorbing and well-designed magazine!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Academic Book Review: 'Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission', Deborah Withers

Deborah Withers is a catalyst; she is a veteran Ladyfest organizer (Cardiff branch), musician (guitarist in the punk band Drunk Granny), archivist (she was the driving force behind the archive and writer. Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission (Rowman and Littlefield) is an important stage in the development of her thinking, as she develops what could be described as Feminist Postmodernism approach to the process of archiving. I have found this to be an intriguing book; after romping through Postmodernism in the 1990s, like many women I screeched to a halt when I realized that to a large extent it functioned a little bit like Lynton Crosby’s dead rabbit on the table: while claiming to be visionary, it was actually looking backwards and not forwards, largely because what was in view in front of us all was Feminism.
As an archivist, Deborah pulls the past straight into the future with an understanding that the present is experienced so subjectively that to dwell on it is fruitless. Digital technology has given us all the opportunity to collapse history and make lateral links that would have been near-invisible in a traditional archive. All she asks is that we are aware enough of our own gender history as music makers, to understand that we are part of a constant radical flow.

This is an enjoyable book, and I have a feeling that there will be more from Withers’ virtual pen as she continues her exploration of the archiving  of forgotten lives and activities.

Cheese Stratocasters

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Legend at The Lexington Last Night

Life has been a maelstrom recently, so when I saw that Jerry Thackray a.k.a. Everett True was playing at The Lexington, I dropped him a line and drifted through the rain till I found myself there at 8.30.
It was Scout Niblett's gig really, but The Legend Band (Jerry, Scout and Steven Gullick) were the support act and I couldn't miss the opportunity to see them.
Effects pedals were laid out on the floor like technological children's train sets. I mused on Fuzzboxes, and wondered if it was time we had one called the Dickhead. I thought about the band Fuzzbox, and wondered if Kenickie were a sly response to them.
I wondered if people apart from Geordies knew what kenickies actually are.

Jerry strolled on to the stage with three bottles of water and chatted to Steven; soon Scout joined them, and the twin guitars started up as Jerry verbally riffed on the song Bye and Bye. 'I wish someone had told me that pigs could fly', he sang, intoned and muttered, ideas spilling from his brain direct to the microphone and out to the crowd who soaked them up thirstily.
'The next song will sound just like that one, and so will the one after that. Reinforcement: that's how children learn', announced Jerry.
But he was fibbing; the next song, Sleep School, was entirely different. 'Why go to night school when you can live through the day?'. I'd never thought of that. Damn.
A dark lullaby, the guitar backing built up to a drone with the use of an eBow held over Steven's guitar strings, taking over from the iPhone that had been processing the signal for the first song. Scout held the song together with sliding, rhythmic bar chord work; the two Fender Jaguars complemented each other perfectly by providing a tangled backing for Jerry's unravelling, dystopian narrative.
The next song incited Vincent Gallo to f*ck Jerry's mother, Jerry's sister... Jerry wants to BE Vincent Gallo! The Pablo-Picasso riff thundered in the background and I puzzled over Vincent Gallo's mysterious appeal. Hmmm.
The set came in to land with a reprise of Bye and Bye and the audience gave them a rousing round of applause.
I can't think of a better way to have spent Friday evening. The emotional pendulum swung between despair and humour; the bond between the three performers was obvious and touching. I loved the informality.
Oddly, Ivor Cutler turned up on my randomised iPlayer this afternoon when I was making Fender Telecaster shaped cheese straws (disastrous exercise: don't ask). It was followed by Ding Dong Merrily On High sung by some choir or other, and the juxtaposition took me straight back to the gig.

Friday, April 15, 2016

I Am The World's Worst Ukulele Player

After an afternoon's recording, the uke part in my head has refused to connect itself to my fingers. I can get a great sound, but regrettably that means nothing. It's not a matter of not playing in time; it's a matter of 'feel'. I have not had enough experience of playing to do the little instrument justice.
Sitting here after completing a rough demo of the track, though, I have realised that I excel in one major area: that of eating crisps.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

George Galloway's Double-Decker Bus

'Yar, yar, yar!' said a megapone-enhanced voice as I tunnelled through the hoardings at Tottenham Court Road, trying to find out where I was.
It was a turquoise bus that nearly ran me over. Respect! George Galloway's mayoral bus, complete with the Respect party, all four of them. A woman in pink earmuffs waved sadly from the top deck, but I didn't wave back.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Kitchen Table Recording

So I sat and worked out that it would be a three-hour round trip to get to work in Stratford and record in my office; I might get all the way there, and by some miracle someone might be working in the office, and I might disturb them.
So I set up the M-Audio in the kitchen, with an ancient version of Logic on an ancient computer that threatens latency all the time (but there's nothing like that for making you economical with your music, and good at trimming samples).
The guitar sound's not quite right: the vocal could be better but I was quite happy with the song, and believe it or not, tomorrow morning the ukulele is coming out and possibly an acoustic guitar.
Best of all, the accidentally-deleted pre-set vocal (Female Creamy Lead Vocal) was on an old hard drive so I just loaded that up, opened an old song and pasted the new vocal into the existing track and saved it as the new song.
I think the trick is not to rush. I definitely can't do that with a computer that grinds along reluctantly and I am happy to pace myself to the outdated technology, because it's all listening time and with listening comes learning.

My Review of Penelope Spheeris' 'Decline of Western Civilization' Documentaries in JISC

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sound Wave Brainwave

I was mentally harrumphing about a recording session tomorrow being postponed; nobody's fault, but I had 'psyched myself up' (pretentious musician-speak for being ready to do it) and had more or less decided to do it at home. It's so bloody noisy here though- monstrous building out the front (thank you Older Women's Housing Co-operative for ruining the street, the peace, my health, other people's health and God only knows what else, with your 'good neighbours' housing estate).
And building out the back (thank you back neighbours for the building-planning-regs-busting floor-to-ceiling window in a loft extension that looks straight into my formerly private kitchen and back yard, plus an enormous ground floor extension that must be making their terrace neighbours furious, because it looks as though it excludes all the light from the back of their house).
Oh, it's grim Down South as well as Up North!
My brainwave though.... they have put a group of us academics into a big cupboard and called it an office. The students don't know we are there  because it's got a cupboard door, not an office door, and nor do the cleaners, actually, so it's a bit grubby.
But I've got Logic on my work computer, and sometimes faff about with it in the lunch hour. I could easily take a little interface, some headphones and my guitar in with me tomorrow and use the gloomy peace to try a little recording at work. And because it would be an improvised solution to my problem with my own impatience (naughty autocorrect trying to make that say impotence!), whether it works or not is a moot point.
As for vocals: well, I doubt very much that the room has a sweet spot but you never know. Just beside the tin shelves, perhaps, or next to the stainless steel sink, and everybody will be asking me how I got 'that sound'!
That would be a strange thing- an entire album recorded on the office computer. Almost trumps the guy who recorded his on the computers in the Apple Store in New York, albeit in a deeply uncool way.
But you heard it here first- the new cool is the deeply uncool, and I have known and practiced that all my life.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ghosts in Wylam

Was it a mistake to visit the village where I was brought up?
What did I expect to find and who did I expect to see?
The village shop, run by Mrs Gilroy with her bent-over back, green overall and kind smile, who sold us Penny Arrows and Sherbet Fountains and whose daughter sliced bacon on a lethal-looking steel machine, is now a bistro. The greengrocer's is a café, and the pub seems to have been turned into flats. The Post Office is still there, and so is the Freemason's Hall opposite the Methodist Chapel.
The school (where headmaster Mr Hazen used to charge around with a cane quivering in his angry hand), is a library and a museum to celebrate George Stephenson, who invented the Rocket railway engine.
As a child, I knew at least one person who lived in every street; I knew their cats and dogs, sisters and brothers, and Grandpas. I knew whose Mum did hairdressing in their living room, and I fed Mr Sleightholme's bantams when he was away on holiday to escape the attentions of Mrs Hibbert, who sang in the Village Institute choir.
I walked down the street where a young man from the estate up the road had chatted to me as I crouched down to look at a toad that was squatting in the middle of the pavement one dark, misty night.
The tree in the middle of the field- the huge, indestructible, endless tree- has been blighted with a disease that has led to its shedding most of its branches and presenting hollowed stumps to the sky in protest.
I felt a sense of loss; the ghosts of childhood sucked the energy out of the day.
I decided to phone McMum's friend, one hundred years old and counting, preparing myself to tell her that McMum died a year and a half ago. The number was unobtainable.