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News, Plans & General Prattle, 2014

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12 January 2014

I'm not going to try to explain another long absence from these pages. Suffice to say that other things happened. Things like a long reading list for my "British eccentrics" event in the English Seminar at Zurich University. This included Anna Kavan's "Ice" which I hadn't read in a long time and which proved as spooky and disorientating as I'd remembered it. Edith Sitwell's "English Eccentrics", on the other hand, turned out to be almost unreadable in its convoluted archness. And then there was William Beckford's "Vathek" the debauchery of which would make Led Zeppelin blanch. And it seems Beckford lived his life just as he wrote it.

27 January 2014

Time for cats: on the left, Pingu, and on the right the young one, Chicken. Chicken has managed to drive out the dog from his basket for good.

10 February 2014

Off to Rough Trade East for an in-store gig by the great Temples. It really is remarkable how this band manages to import a couple of "sounds" from the 60s - Byrds, say, Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane - and make something so fresh and vital o it. I thoroughly enjoyed the short show, and lots of others did, too. I've never seen this place so packed before. And everyone was clutching the vinyl album version with the sleeve that mirrors the real-life triangular architectural folly on the cover.

The event was not short of hair. Plus, in the background, a real insight into how Temples get their gorgeously echo-laden and quicksilver clear guitar sound. Orange - what a colour, what a name!

A roundup of my activities since the last time follows below. First, however, a quick report of what happened to me today. As always, the Monday began at midnight at the Prince of Wales, Willesden Lane, NW6, where the Sunday Band continue to lay on fabulous music on a weekly, free basis. Incidentally, one of the members of the band, saxophonist Mick Eve, is pictured in this month's issue of Mojo as one of the members of Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, circa 1965!

My main task on Monday was to organise my next "Sound of Football" column for the FIFA-Weekly magazine (available free from the FIFA website, by the way). This led me to fire off an e-mail to the "contact" address on the home page of Adrian Sherwood. I wanted to ask him a couple of questions about his monumental Barmy Army album from 1989, some serious Tackhead-related music melded together with terrace chants from West Ham's Upton Park stadium. Before I knew it the telephone rang - it was Bobby Marshall, Adrian Sherwood's and the Asian Dub Foundation's manager, testing the ground if it was safe to pass me on to Adrian. 45 minutes later I have a whole santa bag full of anecdotal goodies, including the one linking the Italian football club Sampdoria with African Head Charge and David Platt, and another one about the famous English football commentator Brian Moore, £ 500 and Tackhead.

Before answering the telephone, I had to gallop across the room to switch the music off. I was listening to one very strange record, delivered to me by the postman a couple of days ago. The band's called Ages and Ages and comes from Portland, Oregon. A seven-piece with all members singing harmonies, they sound a bit like a small church gathering, complete with euphoric choruses and banging tambourines. Most of all, they have pleasingly peculiar melodies and matching lyrics. Not at all to my liking is the new one from Joan as Police Woman, a shrill - to my ears - and ill-fitting assemblage of brass riffs and in-your-face vocals. Come to think of it, I have never actually liked any JAPW record, so I'm baffled at my own surprise at just how bad the rash is I broke out with when I tried to listen to this one.

18 February 2014

Paolo Nutini showcase at the Dome upstairs at the Boston Arms Pub in Tufnell Park to celebrate the soon-come release of his third album, 4 1/2 years after his last. Surrounded by 499 hugely enthusiastic friends (Nutini's, not mine), family (ditto, all flown in from Glasgow, by the sound of it), and record company people, I felt more and more disheartened and angry as the night went on. The venue was jam-packed,  the atmosphere great (as is always the case with fans and friends, though not always with record company). So why my sour reaction? Well, I'd seen Paolo at another showcase years ago, live in his rehearsal room in Shepherd's Bush in front of maybe a dozen strangers. He was hugely enjoyable then, charming, fresh, unfettered by pretensions. I quite liked his first two albums, too - there was an unusual quality to his voice,and the songs were pleasantly light and undeniably catchy.

What I found so dispiriting in the performance tonight was that he seemed to put on different guises for each song. Here he was "channelling" Marvin Gaye, next he "was" Otis Redding, and then all of a sudden he morphed into Echo & the Bunnymen. The band - three brass, two backing vocalists etc. - was lacking neither oomph nor chops. But it was all a bit like the Commitments gone professional. In an interview with one of the Sunday papers he explained that the album had taken him four-odd years because he wouldn't be rushed, that his muse needed to be able to breathe. And yet, tonight he and his new songs sounded like a record company executive's idea of a new "classic" soul revue. Also, was Paolo ever so slightly tipsy, I wondered? Was he slurring his words a little bit? Either way, he also seems to have acquired Liam Gallagher's technique of producing "groove" by singing just the slightest tad behind the beat. Anyway, I hadn't been in this venue for quite some time. And it still looked exactly like the 1980s. I saw bands here like Blue Aeroplanes, That Petrol Emotion and Microdisney.

I see other peoples' blogs and I go green with envy. How do they do it? Write insane amounts of words every day, research the odd fact, find the pictures to illustrate them, and respond to comments - and still hold down a day job. Is it ego that drives them? The need to see themselves in "print"? The dim memory of a past when the "printed" word was the voice of authority if not "God"? Which begs the uncomfortable question: what exactly is it about them that I envy?

19 February 2014

By the way - have I mentioned yet that I had a hand in the selection of music for Sabine Boss's film version of the Pedro Lenz novel "Dr Goalie bin ig", newly arrived in the cinemas of Switzerland? It was a job I enjoyed very much and would be very happy to do again...

22 February 2014

To the backroom of The Islington, a small wine/beer bar with not so small bar prices in the back of The Angel to witness the first UK performance of Ages and Ages, a sextett (this time) from Portland, Oregon. What Ages and Ages do is completely simple, and yet utterly unusual for these times. The ingredients are nothing more than guitar, bass, drums, a miniature keyboard (played in a miniature sort of way), lots of rattles and shakers, plus the six voices. Sunny vocal harmonies abound, and the band made a fundamental decision at the start not to resort to any kind of irony in their songs. There is a sharp intelligence at work, however, which prevents the brew from turning too sickly sweet. Not to mention their ear for a hymnic melody. Plus, their interviews aren't just a sequence of platitudes. Yes, I enjoyed my evening in their company immensely. Once again, my pictures came out rubbish - at least the colours are right. It was an expensive evening, especially as I couldn't resist buying the special European tour vinyl version of their first album, "Alright You Restless" on Knitting Factory Records; mine is number 69/76.

Thursday was double-interview time. First came Mark Oliver Everett, aka Eels. Mark's new album sounds sparser than previous works. The songs are for the most part very personal ruminations about regret. I'd interviewed Mark before and remembered it as a somewhat difficult encounter. It wasn't easy this time round either. Mark never says more than what is strictly needed, and then leaves out half of it. For someone whose life is built on story-telling, he is a remarkably reluctant story-teller. Having said that, he was neither evasive nor unfriendly - just very, very much "to the point and no more". Very occasionally his sense of humour shone through, though. For instance, when I asked him for musical recommendations he mentioned a "little known song-writer called Kanye West" whom he wanted to bring to our attention because "underground music makers" had to stick together.

From Mark Oliver Everett at the K-West in Shepherd's Bush it was a short train ride to Royal Oak where Peter Hammill and Gary Lucas were ensconded in a classically dingy 1970s-style rehearsal studio in the basement of a block of council flats to prepare for their first show together to present the songs and soundscapes of their album "Other World". Sitting opposite Peter and Gary it's difficult not to think the words "chalk and cheese". Here, the thin and angular so very English songwriter, a man who chooses his words carefully and has always furrowed his own musical path, with the band Van der Graaf Generator or without. There the urbane New Yorker, fedora never leaving his head, bursting with communicative fervour. Lucas is an astonishing guitar player who has always sought the company of a variety of other players across a wide spectrum of styles, from Captain Beefheart (of whose last band he was a regular member) to Najma Akhtar, from Jon Langford and the Mekons to Jeff Buckley (he has recently published a book about his frought relationship with Jeff who was for a while part of Lucas's band Gods and Monsters).

Lucas, it seemed, instigated this musical get together, and it has produced some remarkable results. "Other World" somehow manages to bring together pedal-driven guitar-soundscapes with some serious riffing and Hammill's unusual vocal melodies. It was a fascinating conversation with these two - both were eager to explain their end of the deal and did so eloquently and with passion. Equally fascinating was their performance on Friday at the Union Chapel. I found the more conventional songs a bit more to my taste than the soundscapes. Perhaps it was wrong of me to look for signposts to hold on to in these, perhaps I should have just let myself go and drift along with the sounds. All in all, it was a fruitfully challenging evening. Oh, but the bar prices were even steeper than the night before at the Islington. Chrissie Hynde was there as well, by the way, and the legendary pedal steel player B.J. Cole whose more experimental work is not a million miles away from Gary Lucas's pedals and loops.

17 April 2014

I had the great pleasure to be invited to the University of Krems in Austria to spend a day talking to music business students about "writing about music". This was not just fun but also interesting, at least for me as I was forced to think about my work in a way that I had never analysed it before. Once again, as in the eccentrics seminar in Zurich, the whole event was a steep learning experience for me.

The night before I took part in a panel discussion at the Klaviergallerie in Vienna about the state of "music journalism" today. This was much more difficult, as panel discussions don't generally allow anyone enough space and time to do justice to the nuances of any given subject. So it was here. My general contention that music journalism was much more difficult to pursue on a freelance basis today than twenty years ago for the simple facts that the space in well-paying print outlets for this kind of writing has shrunk considerably, that the number of publications itself has shrunk, and therefore that it was difficult to make a living in this manner, was condensed by the MC and, seemingly, everyone else, to the view that music journalism had died in the early 90s. Hmmm. The most memorable - for me - statement of the evening came from the representative of the Austrian branch of Vice magazine's television venture. Today, he said, the whole world is listening to the same music, regional differences are a thing of the past. How wrong can you be, thank God! The wishful thinking of a "brand" with global domination aspirations. Stay well clear of this particular tentacle of the World Stupification Movement.

I was fascinated in Vienna by the unusual - to the Swiss and British eye, at least -  colour schemes in the streets. A lot of dark and yet garish yellows, greens and reds. And then there were the graffiti alongside River Danube. I took photos.

I also had a chestnut cupcake in a bizarre café belonging to the modern art museum next to the Klimt and Schiele gallery. The whole menu consisted of cupcakes and nothing else.

25 April 2014

One of those wonderful days yesterday where events take an utterly unexpected turn and set you down in an entirely different place then you had anticipated. My appointment with Ian McCulloch from Echo & the Bunnymen was at 2:15 in a hotel in Battersea. Things began to take a surreal turn when the taxi driver had never heard of the place, but we found it eventually - next to the Heliport, literally: a steady stream of helicopters flew in and out of a kind of courtyard between the hotel lobby and the control tower all afternoon.

"All afternoon", because I turned out to be there all afternoon. Ian got on so well with the interviewer before me, Paul Lester from the Guardian, that they overran their time considerably. I finally sat down with Ian shortly before 4 o'clock, supposedly for 45 minutes. But then the same thing happened as before: Ian was unstoppable with his anecdotes, musings, theories, football stories etc, extremely friendly with it, too, and he appeared to enjoy himself so thoroughly that not even Chris from Swell Publicity who was supposed to take care of the schedule had the heart to stop us - instead, he cancelled everything afterwards apart from the NME interview. I came out just after half past five.

My task with Ian was to show Ian a number of photographs and let him tell me the stories he associated with these. The feature will appear in German Musik Express. What's more, the new album by Echo & the Bunnymen is genuinely good, especially the wonderful cold turkey song "Constantinople".

From the Heliport Hotel I raced into the West End. I needed to get a couple of Jazz CDs, and for that kind of thing there's Harold Moore's Records in Great Marlborough Street. Closing time at 6:30, it said on the door. I arrived at 6:29, I swear. But the door was already locked. I managed to attract the attention of the chap behind the till. He just grinned and made a slit-throat gesture. It would have taken him half a minute to unlock the door and asking me what I wanted, another two minutes getting me what I wanted (or telling me he couldn't get me what I wanted), and he'd have made at least a tenner profit. But the fool wasn't to be budged. And here's me, thinking that indie record stores survived on knowledge, charm and customer service!

Harold Moores Records, a West End institution, but not currently in my good books.

Neither Sister Ray nor Souljazz Records had what I needed, so, thanks to Mr. Moores, I had to sprint up to New Bond Street in peak hour traffic to get to HMV. This meant that I got to the Vortex in Dalston just in time for the doors opening for the evening's entertainment, Swiss trio Vein with special guest Greg Osby. A very fine gig indeed, much enjoyed by a highly appreciative crowd and recorded for broadcast by BBC3. The perfect preparation for me for next week. An odd sequence of coincidences has landed me a "gig" as a member of the jury in the Jazz competition of Zürcher Kantonalbank. For the whole week I will be in Zurich, enjoying two live bands each night at one of the best venues I know, Moods. One of my co-jurors is Bugge Wesseltoft whom I'm very much looking forward to meet.

24 May 2014
The cruel moment when Derby County's Richard Keogh (on the floor) fails to hoof the ball into the stands and falls on his bottom.

The winnner: Matthias Tschopp (minus Quartett, unfortunately).
The great but counter-productively named near-winners, Weird Beard

For eighty-nine minutes and fifty-one seconds, Derby County were clearly the better team in the play-off against Queens Park Rangers (my local team) to decide the third club to be promoted with Leicester and Burnley into the Premier League. For thirty-one of these eight-nine minutes and fifty-one seconds, Derby played with eleven against ten players, after QPR's Gary O'Neil had been sent off for a cynical last-ditch foul. Everyone was expecting extra time, maybe penalties, when QPR somehow got the ball to the corner flag at the opposite end of the Wembley pitch.

Junior Hoilett miraculously forced it past two panicking defenders and hit it towards the middle. The  central defender fluffed his lines and veteran substitute Bobby Zamora scored with an unstoppable volley. 1 : 0 to QPR - this means QPR are back in the Premier League. This will guarantee them a paltry pay-out of £ 134 million over the next five years. Barely worth getting out of bed for, surely. It really was a cruel end to the game. Oh how the cameras enjoyed zooming in on the tear-streaked faces of the Derby supporters and players!

Three weeks have already passed since the final of the Jazzwettbewerb der Zürcher Kantonalbank @ Moods in Zurich. What a great experience that was! Two live bands on the first three nights, on Thursday the fabulous - separate - performances of jury members Reto Suhner (with his band) and Bugge Wesseltoft (solo), and then on Friday the play-off between the Matthias Tschopp Quartett and Weird Beard. The winners - after a spirited discussion in the jury - were the Matthias Tschopp Quartett.

Being usually alone in my office when I think and write about music, or attending a concert where I'm surrounded by people who will in most cases make sure they enjoy what they see, it was fascinating for me to be able to discuss my reaction to music with others who didn't necessarily share my opinions. Apart from Bugge, Reto and I, the jury consisted of another journalist, Michael Laages, and a regular Moods gig goer, Peter Sonderegger. I was very surprised, for instance, when one band I disliked intensely elicited high praise from several others, whereas one band I liked a lot received no support at all from the rest.

Personally, I was very happy with the two finalists. Both bands played great sets on the last night. Whilst Matthias Tschopp's outfit quite closely follows the classic blueprint of a jazz group with ace instrumentalists trading riffs, Weird Beard to my ears seemed to be closer to the British jazz tradition of bands like Mike Westbrook's Solid Gold Cadillac, or Nucleus, where jazz edges into the outer reaches of rock music (without ever descending into hellish realms of "jazz rock").

I must add a word of fairly fundamental criticism about Weird Beard here, however. And it is a piece of criticism I feel many other bands not just in Switzerland would do well to heed right from the start of their endeavours. It's about the name. Even a cursory "tour de google" will demonstrate how common this name is. There's already a bunch of Weird Beards operating in Australia and in the USA, plus, there's all sorts of other "weird beards" that turn up with a search. So many, in fact, that I probably would have given up had I not known that the band leader's name was Florian Egli. Surely in this internet age it is of prime importance to find a band name that's both memorable and singular. Oh, and then, to feature as the main picture on your website an image of the band left over from before a change of personel that happened months ago - inexcusable.

In other recent activities, I was back in Switzerland last week, partly because it was time again for one of my Sounds! shows on Radio SRF, partly because I was invited to the Commercia Wirtschaftsdebatte in Schaffhausen where Roberto Di Matteo and Rolf Fringer were talking about the "behind the scenes" of football management. No great secrets were divulged but it was an entertaining and enjoyable evening, especially as it was followed by a splendid meal.

In the past week I've done three interviews. First up was Judas Priest's guitarist Glenn Tipton (didn't take his sunglasses off), very happy about the new Priest album, of course. Next was Fatboy Slim, talking about his Brasilian album, released in time for the World Cup (he was in splendid mood, funny and enthusiastic). Finally, on Thursday, it was beer with the fabulous Archie Bronson Outfit'Mark "Arp" Cleveland before their in-store gig at Rough Trade East. Brilliant new album, brilliant gig - and that really is me speaking, not the band.


The great Archie Bronson Outfit
I can't end without a word about the omni-present Sleaford Mods. This duo of po-faced Nottingham anything-but-mods is creating quite a stir amongst my Swiss friends with their minimalist-electro-punk-rant-hop. This completely baffles me. The music is dire, the lyrics are barely more than a series of pub bore rants about how awful everything is. It seems a few trigger words implying a "critical" attitude are enough - like Pavlov's dog's buttons - to make an audience still hankering after the politically meaningful lyrics of people like the Gang of FourMekons or Float Up CP lap up their toxic anti-everything-bilge as if it were the second coming of John Cooper Clarke.

17 July 2014
In one of the more outlandish - for me - assignments of recent years, Beobachter Natur sent me on the Pennine Way walk! This walk leads North from Derbyshire and along the spine of England all the way up to Scotland. Generally, the walk takes three weeks, some maniac fell runner did in not quite three days a few years back, and the poet Simon Armitage did it the wrong way round, against the weather, from North to South. Unfortunately, the magazine couldn't afford to pay me for the full program. But the three days they - and I - managed to extend themselves to was enough to get a sense of the beauty of this sparsely populated part of the country as well as a sense of what it means to leave time, mobiles and deadlines drift away into the middle of the Great Lake of Indifference.

The first day, from Gargrave to Malham, was a day of idyllic soft green hills, flowering rhododendrons and gently gurgling brooks and rivers. A gigantic old mill by River Aires was now luxury flats, and next to it a small house, the home of an artist, Beverley Ann Hicks, who happened to have an "open day". She seemed just a touch wary of another urban backpacker with a silly hat stumbling into her abode with no intention to buy, only to take a break from an overdose of nature.

The second day was a proper hike, eight hours or so, up three peaks in the driving rain. Rather wonderful, actually. Meeting no one for hours on end, just the moors, the shake holes and drop holes and the sheep. the rain and the soggy sandwiches. "Long-dreaded ascent looks gruelling but only takes 15 mins of panting" says the guide about Pen-y-ghent. Well, it took me 40 minutes and several minor heart attacks, what with the wet rocks you have to pull yourself up on and along, and the complete disappearance of anything resembling a path.

Day three was a six-hour ramble along endless, beautiful dry stone walls high up in the empty hills, through marshes and bogs down into a village called Hawes. Everything was ready for the Tour de France that would pass through here a few days later.  

Here's a few of my pictures from the Pennine Way.

In other recent activities, I had a lunchtime chat with the great Mark Lanegan who has a new album coming out in the autumn. He was still jet-lagged and not so fresh from the previous night's solo performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The show was great, of course, just Lanegan and a phenomenal guitarist accompanying him.

Spent a couple of weeks in Zurich, the usual work stuff, plus a visit to the amazing Fotomuseum Winterthur to see the vast Robert Adams retrospective. Everything black and white, one section of it pictures of the fascinatingly bleak flatness of Colorado, another the forests of the United States and how they have been destroyed by human progress, and yet another section the people and their buildings within the wide open and empty spaces of the flatlands. The photos of the forests especially and the stumps of the "slaughtered" wilderness of no more than a hundred years ago are almost unbearably sad to view.

Earlier this week I was back to Zurich, thanks to the great chaps of Grand Cannon. Everyone in Switzerland of a certain age (and some others) remember Pfuri, Gorps & Kniri, a band that took its cue from the jug band era of music and used all sorts of household objects - washboard, watering cans, garden scissors, hosepipe, film canisters, etc - to write Woody Guthrie-inspired folk songs with a bit of (slapstick) humour and an ecology message thrown in. They were a much-loved presence at most Swiss folk festivals before, thanks to their irresistbly catchy songs as well as their spectacular shows, they crossed over into the mainstream. The band broke up in the early 80s, and just when they were about to embark on a reunion, Gorps died.

A few years ago, Pfuri ran into blues guitarist Zach Prather who recorded his first album for Curtis Mayfield's label Curtom and worked with Luther Allison, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Etta James and many more. The two got on like a house on fire, so Pfuri contacted Kniri, who at this stage was playing all over Europe with a variety of Trad. Jazz bands, with a view of performing their old P, G & K repertoire. Soon, however, new ideas began to flow, and a new band was born, Grand Cannon. Their debut album will be released in late summer - and I was asked to write a few lines for the CD booklet as well as the record company biog (the album is released by Universal). In order to do my job properly, I had to meet up with all of them, of course - and what a pleasure that turned out to be! After the interview in the Great Garbo studio - the fabulous roof-top studio where Pfuri's sons Lionel and Diego record their film soundtracks -  we all drank quite a few beers before repairing to a nearby garden restaurant for a loud and liquid supper in the company of Universal's grand hosts, Roland and Astrid. Without a doubt one of my most enjoyable interviews ever.


left to right: Lionel Baldenweg, hpk, Diego Baldenweg, Zach Prather, Pfuri & Kniri. Photo: Roland Fischer

21 July 2014
I'm extremely lucky with my interviews at the moment! I haven't had a difficult one in ages. The latest example: Stuart Price, aka Jacques Lu ContLes Rhythmes DigitalesZoot Woman etc., producer of MadonnaKillers and - their great last album - the Pet Shop Boys. I was sent by German Musik Express who supplied me with a dozen photos - the idea was to get Stuart to tell a story or two to go with them. Funnily enough, we met in the same room in the same Covent Garden boutique hotel where I had such a struggle with Norah Jones a while back (she was grumpy, the interviewer before me had asked her about politics...). Stuart was the exact opposite - more than happy to talk, always open, articulate, and - most importantly - he really had something to say. And he was incredibly generous: instead of the planned 35 - 45 minutes, he stayed 75 minutes.

Went to see the Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective at the Barbican on Sunday. Stunning stuff, especially the mannequins that followed you with their eyes, winked at you and spoke to you. The quality of craftsmanship was astonishing, and so was the wealth of ideas on display in every single garment. Fashion as a construct to reflect on the times! The diversity of materials in itself was breathtaking, never mind the shapes and images. However, when I came out I felt oddly hollow, as if I'd dined on too many doughnuts. Like having spent too much time in a Madonna video. Or like watching a magpie picking bits and pieces from everywhere in the world and, with infinite care, build a nest that's so bizarre it's practically a planet of its own.

This is it, I'm giving up. I've been a great fan of Julian Cope's music, I love his Krautrock book and his two volumes of autobiography, I'm sure I'd like his book about Japanese underground rock music, too, if I actually dared to read it (it remains unread simply because I fear it would cost me too much money to get hold of all the records he would undoubtedly make me feel I absolutely needed to hear), and I'm sure I'd also love the books he wrote about ancient dolmens and stuff in Britain if I was that way inclined.

Alas, his novel has defeated me. I can't go on. It's just too much hard work and not enough enjoyment. I don't care that DBC Pierre apparently said it was "like running with Shakespeare on drugs". Most likely that just means I won't like DBC Pierre's novels either. 
Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Weatherall and Nicky Wire also like it. Well, I still don't. Why did I dislike the paltry 79 pages of "One Three One - A Time-Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel" I've managed to struggle through so badly? For starters, I don't care for the absurd story: it seems that during Italia 1990, an English band was kidnapped in Italy, an experience so traumatic hardly any of them recovered fully from it, even if they didn't commit suicide. Now, one of the survivors, the degenerate ex-star Rock Section, flies back to Sardinia to find out what had really happened and sort out the guilty. The book starts with Rock Section shitting himself on an airplane due to loss of bowel control after a cocktail of drugs and getting locked in the loo where he falls asleep in the middle of the mess. I'm not squeamish, at least not on paper. But I find this character with his 60s-cum-80s hipster language just not funny. I have no interest whatsoever to turn the page to find out what happens to him next, just as I wouldn't hang around to listen to more of this kind of babble if it was dished up for me by the pub bore. Anyway, here's the details: Julian Cope, "One Three One", faber & faber, £ 12.99 (and website: www.131doorway.com.

23 July 2014

I didn't like this book even though I wanted to.

The unacceptable side of youthful arrogance: Monday night at trendy Stoke Newington venue Birthday (ground floor: supercool bar; downstairs: toilet venue). PIAS-signed Support band Y.O.U. is supposed to be on stage at 8:30. Everything's ready for them. They arrive well-nigh twenty minutes late, sauntering nonchalantly through the crowd towards the backstage area, one of them even clasping a mobile to his ear. Total disregard for anyone else, including the audience. By the time they start playing, they have riled me beyond repair. My "critique" of their performance - second-rate Wild Beasts and third rate Erasure married to an aura of toxic tosserdom - might thus not be entirely objective. 

What made Y.O.U.'s behaviour still more irritating was the fact that the brunt of the consequences had to be suffered by the main act, Belgian band Oscar & the Wolf. Because Y.O.U. had started so late, they finished still later. This meant that the Oscars had to rush the change-over, which in turn meant that certain details got lost in the rush. As a result, they had to fight against a host of technical complications. Which wasn't actually all that bad because the audience was mostly Belgian already-fans who didn't mind. Today I managed to get lost once again trying to find the ridiculously well hidden offices of PIAS Records to interview Oscar's Max Colombie. Astonishingly, he too wasn't upset: "If a band wants to play for a long time, I don't mind." he said. Oscar & the Wolf - an intriguing combination of dreamy synth-washes with a hint of North Africa, and 80s dance beats, by the way.

Max Colombie aka Oscar & the Wolf; for football fans only: Max is the stepson of Belgian ex-international Frank Vercouteren, at present the manager of Russian club Krylja Sovetov Samara
Just for the fun of it I tried to find a photo of this band online. Alas, impossible! I'm sure they thought they were hugely witty and original when they chose the name. Turns out, there's countless other witty and original "yous" jostling for space on Google. Impossible to tell which is which. Ha!

3 November 2014
Sad to read the other day (September 28th)  that Danny Abse has died, aged 91. He's one of my favourite contemporary British poets. There is a complex simplicity to his style which I have always admired, and never a hint of pretention. The obituary in the Guardian ends with a quote from him: "I hope to go into a poel sober and come out a little drunk. And if I do, then that's a real poem." 

picture nicked from the Guardian

Other things that happened in the summer: a week's holiday near Spoleto; the launch of another fine and funny Leonard Cohen album, this time at the Canadian High Commission; a really enjoyable encounter with Rachel Joyce in a gastro pub in Stroud (she knows her Nick Drake); an excellent evening with Sam Pillay and Alice Merida Richards from the brilliant Virginia Wings and a fat cat in their flat in Denmark Hill; a lovely encounter with a chattBryan Ferry in his and Roxy Music's offices near the Olympia (where he happily showed me his original Richard Hamilton works and also confirmed that he really did know our friend Farroukh who's now back in Zanzibar); and another twelve days in Zurich (including another great walk to be written up for Beobachter Natur).

My favourite bands of the moment: Virginia Wing (above) and Doomenfels (right)