May 19, 2009
They may have no sun, no trees and now no money or food either, but those Icelanders are just so darned talented. In May 2004 I spent a wild wild weekend in Reykjavik celebrating (?) my 40th birthday. By some weird synchronicity exactly five years later to the day I was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank last Friday night enjoying an evening of “Icelandic Music Through Unconventional Means”. The Icelandic music was provided by the gorgeous Amiina – part time Sigur Ros collaborators, but a talented ensemble in their own right, and the brilliant Valgeir Sigurdsson. The unconventional means was provided by beatboxer and Southbank artist in residence Shlomo. Now I really wanted to dislike Shlomo – I still have a jaundiced view of beatboxing being done by little kids slapping their cheeks. But the art has obviously moved on bit and Shlomo was a mix of lovable gawkiness and awesome beats.
The night consisted of various collaborations – Amiina and Valgeir; Amiina and Shlomo; Valgeir and Shlomo climaxing with everyone playing together – a bit like a musical swinger’s party . Every combination worked perfectly, the ambient beats complimented perfectly by Shlo’s vocal pyrotechnics. The innovation was amazing, especially Amiina, who seem to have a Roy Castle-esque talent of being able to play any household object – saws and glasses of water featured heavily. I guess there has always been a make do and mend ethos in Iceland.
This was one of the memorable things I remember about Reykjavik’s clubs and bars. There was none of the elitism and tribal nature of the UK music scene. An obscure dance record would be followed by the Eurovision song contest winner, which would be followed by Britney, which would be followed by Bohemian Rhapsody. It was like a box of assorted tunes had been washed up on the island, and they didn’t know (or care) what was ‘cool’ and what wasn’t. This unpretentiousness is so apparent in Amiina. They look to be really enjoying themselves, like awkward teenagers performing at a school concert, but at the same time making beautiful beautiful music.
The only cloud on an otherwise perfect evening was cast by the clip from the film Dreamland detailing the destruction of a huge area of natural beauty in Iceland by the creation of a huge dam servicing the aluminium smelting plants that are popping up all over the country. The now deposed Icelandic government sold their souls to the US and got financial armageddon in return.
I hope the creativity and resourcefulness shown by this remarkable nation’s talented musicians will inspire and convince all Icelanders that they are capable of getting themselves out of the unholy mess created by the greed of their bankers and politicians.
May 14, 2009
Hair is really important. My hair, your hair, anybody’s hair. Pop stars’ hair. Especially pop stars’ hair. The role of good hair in pop has been underestimated.
I’m a hair neurotic. It started young. I think it’s because my first ‘proper’ hairstyle – a fashionable 70’s middle parting – coincided with me getting my first girlfriend. That was it – hair cut equaled girls.
Then punk happened and hair became even more of an obsession. Tragically my hair was crap for punk – thick and wavy. So it had to be cropped really short and lathered in Vaseline to get it to spike (this was pre-products – wax was something candles were made of).
I had plenty of follicular role models. Sid was the first – another hair neuro who used to get his spike by drying it in the oven. Paul Simenon from the Clash too. Poor Strummer & Jones – they may had written the songs but they had really BAD hair.
Call me shallow, but if a band didn’t have at least one member with a good haircut then forget it. I loved SLF for the tunes, but it’s a good job the bass player has a good barnet as the rest of the band had hair like my dad.
Punk morphed into post-punk and haircuts became a signifier of cool. Phil Oakey led the way. I tried growing the long fringe but it just got too curly and I’d have gotten the shit kicked out of me – this was Barnsley not cosmopolitan Sheffield.
Luckily the Bunnymen came along. Mac’s hair was post punk perfection. I tried but never quite managed to match it (apparently he spent hours drying it by hanging his head upside down over the edge of the bed).
Suddenly there were so many iconic haircuts. Kirk Brandon; Brian Setzer – if you wanted to go down that road; Steve Rawlings from The Danse Society – Barnsley’s finest; Morressey (then and now). And the Factory look. ACR’s Simon Topping was ahead of the game: short at the back – very short- and longer on top. Barney soon followed and that was it. Best band in the world, best haircut in the world. I had a ‘Barney’ for about ten years – well no-one’s original – even Elvis copied Tony Curtis.
Today I’m just glad I’ve still got hair. But the hair envy doesn’t go away. I recently saw Twilight with my daughters and the actor in that has great hair. Really great hair
and the what the f*** is that
I have a good excuse for missing this one. I was 11 in 1975 when Torch of Freedom by Keith Hudson came out. Jamaican Dub wasn’t really on my pre-teen radar.
New Order brought the song into my world when they covered it for their first Peel session (Barney typically getting the words wrong). I managed to get a boot-leg version of that and played the grooves off it. It took me years to track down the original version (it still doesn’t seem to be available on any CDs or downloads). It was worth the wait. It really is awesome. Just listen
Now I have a better idea why I missed this fabulous fabulous song from the Field Mice. It came out three years too late for me. 1986 would have been the perfect time for this song – it would have been a shoe-gazing anthem. But for me 1989 was all about Happy Monday, Stone Roses, Technique and shoom. Out with the old – this was a new revolution.
So I missed the Field Mice. My loss. I love this song now – 20 years (yes really – 20 years) too late.
It’s a complete mystery to me how this passed me by in 1982 as I spent most of my angst filled evenings with my ear to the radio. I wasn’t the only one though – it didn’t appear in John Peel’s Festive 50 either. 1982 was a vintage year mind you – just look at the top 10 (ignoring Tears For Fears)
- New Order – Temptation
- Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding
- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 – The Message
- Echo and the Bunnymen – The Back of Love
- Tears for Fears – Mad World
- The Clash – Straight to Hell
- Wah! – The Story of the Blues
- Theatre of Hate – Do You Believe in the West World
- Artery – Into the Garden
- Wild Swans – Revolutionary Spirit
In Shreds by the Chameleons – a classic if ever there was one – only managed to scrape in at number 42.
I’d heard of Modern English but never heard anything by them – maybe it’s because they came from Colchester and not Manchester. It was only last year (to my shame) that I heard the Nouvelle Vague bossa- nova-ish version of I Melt With You. Intrigued I tracked down the original and it’s hardly been off my i-pod since. The 17 year old me would have loved this song.
May 7, 2009
My list of 10 music books worth reading had a couple of notable omissions. Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. Fine tomes both, I’m sure. Truth be told, I haven’t read either of them. Maybe it’s because the punk story seems to have been told, retold, mythologised and re-mythologised so many times that I just can’t be bothered. Watching the first Sex Pistols appearance on So It Goes on You Tube is worth a million printed words.
But then this pops through the letter box (not literally – at nearly 750 pages my letter box would have to be the size of a cat-flap). The nice people at Faber and Faber have sent me a copy of The England’s Dreaming Tapes by Jon Savage. The book is a transcript of the interviews Savage did with all the major (and minor) players of the original punk scene when he was researching England’s Dreaming in 1988. Now this I did want to read. I love oral history. I find it can be far more revealing about an era than any number of academic interpretations. (Studs Terkel’s oral histories are, in my opinion, the best chronicles of American 20th century life. A pity more Wall Street bankers didn’t read Work before plunging their country into a new dark age.)
Anyway, I digress. I’ve been dipping into The England’s Dreaming Tapes and it is fascinating stuff. 1988 was only a dozen years after the musical year zero so memories were fresh and untainted by another 20 years of reunions and reinventions.
Most of it centres around the boutique (SEX), the band (the Pistols) and the boys (Lydon, Cook, Jones, Matlock and Sid). What is fascinating is how this “whole generation of eternal misfits” (Jah Wobble) not only changed the music scene, but caused the biggest cultural shift of the 20th century. McLaren may claim to have had a master plan but the truth is more likely to be Lydon’s version “there was no master plan on my part or theirs that we got together” – in fact there is a lot of Lydon and McLaren contradicting each other’s version of events.
What is clear though is that all of the early players were natural misfits and rebels:
“I would go to great effort, picking the badge off the (school) blazer and sewing it back on upside down in perfect position” McLaren,
“I was the freak of the neighbourhood.” Lydon
The ripples from the London scene eventually reached like minded soul in the suburbs:
” I longed for the exotic things in life” Linder.
There are a few disappointments – the interview with McClaren is too brief, the one with Jordan(who according to the ‘where are they now’ section at the back is now a veterinary nurse – in leather?) too long. And there is no contribution from Vivienne Westwood. But these are minor quibbles.
The England’s Dreaming Tapes is probably the most comprehensive first hand document of the English cultural revolution.