Goodbye, Goodbye…

Well, this all feels a bit strange. After sixteen-and-a-half years it’s time to say farewell. It’s been a fairly long goodbye, though, knowing fully three months ago that this day would come, but now it has arrived it’s all feeling a bit, well, you know…”real”.

I’ve been working in Scarborough for about as long as I spent in continuous full-time education. It’s big slab of my life. This job has caused me to buy my first house, get married, have a daughter and then get divorced.  I’ve started and abandoned one PhD, and am ploughing away through a second. This time I might even finish it.

And from Monday, I’ll be somewhere else.

However, this has all been coming for a while. I’ve had periods where I’ve thought of moving on for a number of years, but I’ve either thought against it, or not been able to when I’ve tried. This time, though, it had to happen, because if it didn’t I might have gone mad.

One of the things that attracted me when I came to Scarborough was the closeness: the feel of a small college, which I’d loved back when I was a student myself.  But then it has been systematically dismantled by  what can only be described as some of the most clueless institutional management you could ever have inflicted upon you. I could write a book about how useless they’ve been (particularly the spectacular arse-headed ineptitude off our dear leader, Pistorius), but it would be written off as being unbelievable. And so I had to plan my escape. Of course, I wasn’t the only one, especially in light of what gone on down here in Scarborough in the last two years, but my escape tunnel seemed to break daylight pretty bloody quickly once I started digging in earnest.

So I won’t miss the brain-deadening corporatism of our senior managers. What I will miss are the people; the faces you see every day; the lives you become invested and interested in; the friendships that have built over years, in many cases. I’ll miss the minutiae of the everyday. I’ll be leaving a comfort zone. But maybe that’s no bad thing after so long in one place. So to everyone I’m waving goodbye to, best of luck.

But from Monday, for me I’ll be turning the other way to go to work in the mornings, and experiencing the “fun” of negotiating the Tees Flyover at rush hour. But, as George Harrison once sang, All Things Must Pass. Onward.

Electronica vol 2: The Heart of Noise

Eight months after volume 1 hits the shelves (and download sites), here comes volume2. If the earlier work was a surprise to some in its variety, then the somewhat eclectic mix of things on show here might be less of a shock. The list of artists is, in some ways, probably even more of a surprise than first time around. Who’d have imagined Cyndi Lauper or the Pet Shop Boys, eh?

As with vol 1, I’ll describe individual track briefly to illustrate exactly who the collaborators are, but bear in mind that there are mostly on fist listen. My faves, as with vol 1, are likely to change over time.

The Heart of Noise (Rone)
I wasn’t really aware of Rone, but this is great. Very much in the same vein as Vol 1’s Automatic with Vince Clarke. Atmospheric. Nice bass line. And an insistent melody, building from a more ruminative first part to a thumping second. Good start, M Jarre, good start.

Brick England (Pet Shop Boys).
Neil Tennant says this song has echoes of Dickensian imagery, especially of the industrial, brick-built landscapes of the big cites, like London. I think this is why there are callbacks all over this song from the Industrial Revolution suite. It also makes me think of the 2012 Olympics Opening Cermony and its Underworld-written section with the dark satanic mills rising out of the green pastoral idyll. It works, beautifully. A truly barnstorming song.

These Creatures (Julia Holter).
A beautiful, floating and ethereal piece of music. But if you’ve heard any of her stuff before (go on, listen to Silhouette, it’s fantastic) that shouldn’t be too much of a shock. When I first heard Silhouette, her voice and the arrangements, with the sort of phased quality of the melody, made me think of Liz Frazer and the Cocteau Twins. And it’s more of the same here. This is no bad thing.

As One (Primal Scream)
Pretty much a reworking of The Scream’s Come Together. Solid, reliable, hooky. But not quite hitting the heights of some of the other stuff on here.

Here For You (Gary Numan). Very much in the style of early 80s-era Gary. An undertow of throbbing stabby menace in those big meaty chords, and then those quintessentially semi-detached Numan vocals. Love it.

Electrees (Hans Zimmer). Lovely. Wide, sweeping, cinematic. All those things. And little snatches that remind you of Wooloomooloo and Oxygène 2 at the start.

Exit (E.S): who by now, you will probably know, is none other than Edward Snowden. Ed’s contribution is a spoken word discourse on privacy and its defence. It is intersperse with a banging dance bed, and even brings the beat down (which rather reversely reminded me of Lil Louis’ French Kiss – one for the teenagers there), before bring it back again.

What you Want (Peaches)
The one misfire on the album for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not…bad. It’s just that I just really struggled to engage with it. Others have described it as assertive; I veered towards strident. My problem, not the song’s.

Gisele (Sébastien Tellier)
I think Seb was having some fun here. It almost feels like he’s playing with elements of pastiche of Kraftwerk. It has a very 80s sound, and the vocal treatment sounds a lot like Kraftwerk songs like We Are The Robots. I love it, but given how much I like Tellier’s own stuff, I’m biased.

Switch On Leon (The Orb). Ooh. Very Orb-y. Nice slightly doomy sounding chords. Snatches of Russian and English dialogue. Clearly about Leon Theremin. Nice!

Circus (Siriusmo). A pleasant surprise. Actually very baroque in feel, with the faintest whiff of Wendy Carlos flitting about in amongst everything. Rather spiffy, truth be told.

Why This, Why That, Why (Yello).
It’s Yello. It’s nuttier than monkey poo. It’s hatstand. You get the picture. But it s rather good too, with it’s Dieter Meier’s delivery intoning about swimming like a trout, and snatches of children’s choir.

The Architect (Jeff Mills).
Echoes of Revolutions with the intro and the fairly middle eastern strings. But little string stabs throw you off kilter before the beat kicks in. Definitely the potential to be the theme music to some noirish crime/gangster thriller

Swipe to the Right (Cyndi Lauper)
Now this is good. The clip I’d heard previously suggested this was going to be a bit of a peach. Not mistake, this is fabulous. Her voice sounds perfect for this song, and the vibe definitely carries an suggestions o the dark. Actually, in places, Cyndi’s delivery reminds me of Debbie Harry on Rapture.

Walking The Mile (Christophe)
Like a pimped up chanson, in the grand style. Christopher’s voice has been treated in an interesting way, which gives it a reedy, slightly spectral quality. I like this, but it’s probably going to take a couple of listens to fully appreciate this one.

Falling Down, The Heart of Noise (The Origin).
Just Jarre alone here. Falling Down pulses dramatically, and has a fairly surprising vocoded vocal, before some rather dainty arpeggios kick in and nestle among burbling chip-tune sounds. It’s pretty cool.

The final track is a variant on the start of the album, feeling a bit more ‘stripped’ than the start, like it’s the demo for what came after. Maybe it’s subtitle is an indicator that. Interesting

If the first album were an indicator that JMJ had got some of his musical mojo back, this album shows that the project was indeed as wide-ranging as he wanted, and demonstrates his assertion that electronic music, “has a history, a family, and a future” more than he could possibly envisaged when he first planned it. Even though he’s never really been away, it’s great to have him back again.

…and he was funky

I’ll be honest here. At school, I had mates who were rabid Prince fans. But I wasn’t one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike him, I just didn’t hang on everything he did. I think that’s because, in my teens at least, I had a strangely scattergun approach to musical preference and didn’t fit in with any of the sub-cultures like the Duranies, or the indie kids busy with C86. But that, I suppose, was the great wonder of Prince: you didn’t have to like everything, but you couldn’t NOT like something. And that’s how it was with me.

The first Prince thing thing I ever heard was 1999. And I loved it. I thought he was utterly batshit, but in a great way. I didn’t buy the albums but, from time to time another killer song would hit you. So it was with songs like Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, Purple Rain and the wonders of Let’s Go Crazy.  And that’s before you even consider stuff like I Feel For You, and hi pseudonymous moonlighting for the Bangles

By the time mates were waxing lei so about Sign O The Times and Lovesexy, I was still agnostic, liking some but not all. But again, you find that over time there’s more and more stuff to like, simply because he’s been around and done so much (like that killer Batman soundtrack). You cannot help absorb the work of a man who has rewritten a lot of the so-called rules about being a star in the modern age.

As you get older, you start to look back and realise how lucky you are to have lived through a time of such explosive creativity and virtuosity. The 80s has been lambasted as a decade abandoned by taste, but amongst the dross, so much great stuff came out of it. And that he was in the right place that we could all see it. The body of work is almost beyond belief. There’s a stunning clip of Prince at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame show, playing on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It’s amazing, not least because he is doing this on a stage packed with some pretty stellar talent (and they ain’t slackin’) . And he just shreds it. I’ll remember him this way: the consummate musician’s musician, and a man from another place entirely, who we only got on loan for a while

“Oh no, not again”

It’s not a shock there’s such an outpouring of love for Victoria Wood this afternoon. Hearing of her death comes as something of a surprise, and a nasty one at that. But it’s entirely in keeping with her desire for privacy, and a life away from being famous that few people knew, and she didn’t make a big thing of it.  That part of her personality struck me really powerfully when I heard her second appearance on Desert Island Discs, back in 2011.

Like many comedians, at heart, Victoria seemed to be something of an introvert. She certainly didn’t mind her own company. Thing I remember most from that interview was her answer to the question, “Do you think you’d be fine on a desert island”. Her response really resonated with me. “Yes, I would be. I’d be too fine, actually.” The interview generally shows an unsurprisingly nuanced person, who in spite of all of their undoubted gifts, still had a particulate reticence about sharing them.

But share them she did. I first remember seeing her doing the Wood & Walters shows on ITV when I was a kid. Even then there was a sense that partnership had something very special. There was a definite spark there. And of course on it went to the BBC. Those As Seen on TV shows were a high point of 80s comedy, chiming with me every bit as much as The Young Ones or the goings on at Channel 4. Those shows had a particular cadence and music of their own, and a cast to kill for : Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie, Kenny Ireland &  Susie Blake. They played the score that she wrote, and which sounded just right.

And then there were the songs, of course, of which this is probably the most famous:

But then of course, afterwards, there was other stuff. Lots of it, and none of it less than wonderful. Dinnerladies. Pat & Margaret. Housewife, 49 was a tour de force that showed just a talented actress she was, and writer. God, was she ever a good writer! And then there was Eric and Ernie, which was her idea. And even with the fantastic lead performances, and the cast stuffed with talent, there she was again, playing Eric’s mum, and smashing it out of the park.

Sixty-two is no age at all and, as others have said already, she still had so much left to say and give; her loss sad not just for the ones she leaves behind, but the rest of us, who just loved the work she did.

No, really. What IS the point of Europe?

Barely a week into the never-ending crash that is the official EU referendum campaign, and my will to live is being slowly, inexorably squeezed out of me, like a small, defenceless rodent being gradually crushed by a hungry boa constrictor.

As you might expect, the “big guns” are starting to make their pitches now. And that includes this morning’s comic turn, the chin-free, charm-vacuum that is Michael Gove.

As ever, the tone of the “debate”, with the help of an ever complaisant media,  has turned to the twin horrors of “Project Fear Scaremongering” (translation: I don’t agree with this, but don’t have a response so I’ll just accuse you of scaremongering because I can) and the peevish wailing about so-called bottom line: economically, what has Europe Ever Done For Us? Fine, if that’s all you want to talk about, because (to use the old phrase), you know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I find myself in a different position. I find me asking myself more and more: what is the point of Europe, and what am I in relation to it?

So, let’s take a step back.  The thing I most notice is the parade of people who are embracing an EU exit most fervently. This list includes Boris Johnson (though we know that’s more about the mop-headed ambition engine’s personal agenda than any particular deep-seated conviction); Michael Gove; Iain Duncan Smith;  George Galloway; John Redwood; Chris Grayling. In other words: a procession of uniquely charmless barrel-scrapings. In all fairness, the choice open to anyone looking at the Remain side isn’t any more edifying, including as it does, our dear leader and his chancellor. Galloway aside, the connecting theme amongst the secessionists seems to be a deep-linked connection into neoliberal economics. Anything resembling “social democracy” or worse yet “socialism” is seen as the most pernicious of evils, to be fought off with the political equivalent of a bell, book and candle. So people like Redwood and Gove, who several years ago were enthusiastically talking about junking the NHS and moving to a private health insurance system make me deeply suspicious in their enthusiasm for a Britain outside of the apparatus of EU social structures.  My immediate feeling is that perhaps their antipathy is not towards Europe, but towards any opposition to the balls-to-the-poor economics of asset-stripping that seems to pervade that stream of thinking.

But this also raises questions in my head about wider social organisation. I look at the mostly neoliberal values of those who are so keen on exit, and I see the eminence grise of an essentially Darwinian social model, operating for the benefit of only a very few. The poorest, the most vulnerable, even most of those in the supposed middle are left behind.  This is an essentially American model, with the extra patina of is a special (Anglophone) bond that binds us. All of the moves that a so-called Brexit (and I hate that word) are pushing us towards are predicated on those values.   The neoliberal mentality seems to eschew all of that, and want s to leave so much to the predations of the free market (the one that worked so well in the run-up to 2008, and afterwards)

But they are not the values I stand for.

Europe as a project does stand for something. And I see myself as a European for exactly those reasons. Yes, the EU is  bureaucratic morass, but it is still built on the idea of collaboration, and a sense that to steal a phrase, “we are all in it together”. Social health care is just one of those ideas, or co-ordinating industrial and employment policy, or agriculture, or transport, or research and academic activity.  The social values of a European Union are values I can buy into: the rule of law; protection of the weak; shared values of human decency; individual responsibility; freedom of speech, movement and expression; rationalism and the values of enlightenment that have bound us together as a continent over the last centuries. I believe in the Europe of Voltaire, Mill and Kant.

At a time when the world is even more uncertain and perilous than it has been for many years, the idea that we should be backing away from the very people with whom we share those common values and aims is both terrifying and perplexing to me.  It strikes me that many of those who seek to do it are intent on generating this schism for what are essentially cheap political reasons (yes, I am definitely looking at you, Johnson). Europe, in its current form, was assembled by those who had gone through the horrors of the most disgusting war in human history, and had no desire to repeat those horrors again.  Too many now have forgotten those aims, and are seeking to tear down those foundations without having even the slightest clue about how they will replace what we will lose when they do. Or perhaps they do know, and they just dare not share it publicly with those of us who have most to lose from dismantling this enterprise.

So when I vote, I won’t be making a choice based on the flat tyranny of the “economic numbers”, because I think that there will be some short-term financial uplift. My choice will be made on the basis that I am a European, and both emotionally and philosophically, I believe Europe is where we should be,  and at its heart at that.

 

ELO: Newcastle (14.4.2016)

IMG_1404

It’s hard to remember when I first heard ELO. What I do remember as a kid was the stunning gatefold double album sleeve from the classic Out Of The Blue. At first it was the visuals that hooked me, and still fro, even to this day.  But I do certainly have memories of lots of those songs in my early years, before I really started getting into the music in my teens.

So, here I am, thirty-odd years after getting into them, finally getting a chance to see the Brummie Bearded wonder, Jeff Lynne, playing all this stuff live.  Perhaps the first thing to notice when you look at the set list is the really obvious one: looks at the hits. Very very few bands can have a back catalogue as stuffed to the gunwales with quality as this.  Even for the casual listener, it’s a pretty decent bet that you would know at least a dozen of these songs well.  And you are likely to have heard most of the rest, even if you didn’t know the artist.

For a fan though, there is more of a conundrum: with a back catalogue THAT good, what do you leave out? Well, for a start, there is not a sausage from 1981’s rather brilliant Time album (so, no Twilight, Hold On Tight or Here Is The News. All of them were hits).  No fan faves like the under-regarded Four Little Diamonds. Tonight, there’s no Do Ya, though Jeff tells us that we are getting the band’s first ever single, 10538 Overture, for the first time on the tour, so that will just have to do!.

No matter. The show starts in the best possible style, with Tightrope, for 1976’s A New World Record. This just happens to be my favourite ELO song ever, so I’m already in an advanced state of fan nerdgasm by the time the projections, fanfare and swirling strings have kicked into the number itself. It also says something when songs as strong as Evil Woman and Showdown can sit at the start of the show.  From the outset the audience (me included) are cheering and singing every word. Every song is received with unrestrained glee, and this even included new songs from the latest album Alone In The Universe (of which there are only two: the achingly beautiful When I was Boy, and the fun chug of Ain’t It A Drag).

There’s really no let up: it’s all killer and no filler. Hit after hit, delivered with verve and more than a little twinkle in the eye. Jeff isn’t one for dazzling stage repartee, but does the odd link sounding happy and more than little genuinely surprised at the undoubted pouring of genuine warmth and love the band are getting. This seems to be a them of this tour.

Just as important, some of these songs have been chosen because he knows that fans love them, and because they haven’t had much of an airing. so the gorgeous Steppin’ Out and Secret Messages get a great reception, for example.

As you’d expect from the line up, the quality of the playing is top notch, but the other impressive dimension is the staging. The sound isn’t bad at all for an arena gig, and the projections, lights and lasers are top division stuff. The whole package is simply irresistible.

Even though the energy levels are high (from audience and band alike), the last half dozen numbers are difficult to top as a conclusion to an arena show by anyone. By this stage we’re all singing at the top of our voices, loving every minute.  The roar that greets Mr Blue Sky is even more deafening that what has gone before.  It’s a joyous experience.

The final act is the encore, the usual drill for an ELO show – Roll Over Beethoven, before the lights go up and the show is over. It’s not a cheap night out, but boy was it ever worth it, because it truly doesn’t get much better than this.

Set List

  1. Tightrope
  2. Evil Woman
  3. Showdown
  4. All Over The World
  5. When I Was A Boy
  6. Livin’ Thing
  7. Ain’t It A Drag
  8. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
  9. Rockaria!
  10. 10538 Overture
  11. Secret Messages
  12. Steppin’ Out
  13. Shine A Little Love
  14. Wild West Hero
  15. Telephone Line
  16. Turn To Stone
  17. Don’t Bring Me Down
  18. Sweet Talkin’ Woman
  19. Mr Blue Sky
  20. Encore: Roll Over Beethoven (youtube link)

 

Frankie Boyle

I’ll be honest, walking into Middlesbrough Town Hall on Friday evening after picking up the tickets, the omens weren’t that great. We were told to read the notices, pinned to the entrance doors, which had a fairly matter-of-fact tone telling us that the show would last around 65 minutes and that people were not allowed to leave during the performance. 

But finally, after getting to the seats (row Z, right at the back), the lights dimmed and on came the support act.  And it was a pleasant surprise to see that it was the self-proclaimed “wobbly”, Francesca Martinez, who I’ve heard a couple of times on Radio 4 on the Now Show and News Quiz. She did about twenty minutes, and was nicely sparky with some good material and a couple of great pay-off lines which I’ll not spoil by repeating here.

After a short interval, on came the man himself. He was greeted by some unknown bloke singing at him near the front of the hall. As you might guess, the put-down (involving his mum and a dangerous dog) was pretty withering.  It was also faintly appropriate to me that, part way through his set, I got the BBC News alert announcing Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation. It’s just that no one dared tell him. Which was a pity, as I think he might have had more than a bit of fun with it. As it was, there was a fair amount of material aimed at exactly those targets. However, possibly more surprising to some was some of the material touching on the nature of subjectivity and offence in comedy, and even ideas like phenomenology, which he specifically discussed during the show. Anyone who thinks that Frankie is pitching to the lowest common denominator with his material needs to do some reappraisal.  Some of the tone reminded me of a nicely insightful interview he did a year or so ago with Richard Osman at the Efinburgh Television Festival. 

And then, just like that, he was gone. Lights up, Frankie has left the building. A couple in front of me were lamenting that they didn’t think he had quite hit the levels of last tour. I can’t compare, but I didn’t mind, for three reasons: first, he’s funny, of that there is no doubt; second, he might offend some, but sometimes people need to be offended; third, we need comedians like Frankie Boyle, especially in times like this . Thank God we have him now.