Monthly Archives: February 2009

Portrait… of the sleep-deprived

I’m back from a flying visit to Oxford to play a gig to about six people. It went quite well. I’m here to tell you, though, that this man is the best. Watch, as he dispassionately proves Liberals right with Hard Science! That’s not his deal of course, but he is exquisitely wonderful and I advise you to become an enormous fan of his as quickly as possible, whatever your politics.

Okay bedtime for Will.

Edit: Fortunately, there are enough Anti-Daily Mail blogs out there that I can keep a tolerable distance from the thing on this one. Sometimes, however, I just can’t resist. Through my clickfest I have ended up looking at this. I really do think that if everyone in the country read this summary, things would improve slightly. “I’m not mocking you, I’m just quoting you” – sometimes the best argument is no argument at all.

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Tales from The ABBA Confusion

Since the last ABBA Confusion blog update was over two months ago, and I wrote it, I think it’s natural to assume that despite only just getting started in every meaningful sense, this project has bumped to a close. I therefore feel at liberty to independently release some of my New York experiences, and since we’re outside the project’s academic purview now I’m going to cater to the interest of the three people who are actually interested in ‘the band’ rather than ‘the idea’. Here, then, are some pictures and words from my winter experience with Oliver ‘The Flake’ Pyper…

An Internet Barber’s where we watched Spanish Survival Horror TV whilst waiting for an unlicensed cab to take us to a pizza place because we couldn’t find a gig venue in someone’s house. This is one of many tales I will not be telling you today.

The tenor of The ABBA Confusion was always ‘missed opportunities’. Opportunities missed so spectacularly that in a country less success-oriented than America it might have been genuinely impressive. Whilst in the States, we missed a range of opportunities – from simple eating options through to hollywood megabucks – on a daily basis. But anyone can miss opportunities. Our specialty was to miss them so very closely that to an untrained eye, it might seem as if we didn’t miss them at all.

I hasten to add that almost invariably, we missed the opportunities through no fault of our own (the memorable exception to that, for me, was when I elected to spend our last night in the USA at the world’s worst open mic instead of with these guys, but that’s another of many tales I won’t be telling you today). Where we were more obviously culpable, I defer the blame to the American inability to provide a decent cup of tea, which meant that Ollie and I were rarely mentally active before 1pm, and usually grumpy until about 6.

I’m genuinely convinced that the events depicted in this picture happened well over thirty times.

About halfway through the trip we were at our lowest ebb when the antifolk dudes at Sidewalk did a hilarious spontaneous join-in whilst we were playing ‘Not Subway Material’ (you can see bits of that performance cut into this video). There were two problems with their spontaneous join-in: Ollie’s writing style doesn’t lend itself to improvisation (he puts in half bars with no warning and doesn’t really write in a key unless you hold him down and rape him into it), and the people who were trying to join in (bless them) didn’t really ‘get it’. The only resoundingly good input was from somebody who was playing a trumpet out in the crowd (you can hear it on the video) which actually sounded quite nice, but everyone else was just making things worse.

After the performance, someone nodded at me politely in the corridor, but I was feeling pretty dreadful (if you watched that video in full you’ll know what I mean) so I just sort of smiled, walked past, and continued with my artistic crisis.

On our penultimate night in town, we found ourselves back on the Lower East Side and, through a delicious set of coincidences, in a very small venue with The New York Howl. I’ve supported The Howl in England and I’m a huge fan of their work – iTunes reports that they wrote five of my top twenty most played songs. A key member of The Howl is Brer Brian, who wrote ‘Harlem ’99’, an AFNY song which has become a jamming favourite in the Hectic Eclectic. So as you can imagine, I was pretty stoked to see them on their home turf – despite the fact that I’d sent them an e-mail asking for New York advice prior to coming out, and they hadn’t replied.

After the show (an excellent show, incidentally), I got chatting with Brian. “Good to see you out here”, he said. “You should have told me you were coming!” I explained that I had tried, that the e-mail must have gone missing. “That’s a shame”, he replied, nervously. “I wondered why you ignored me the other week. You must have thought I had deliberately not replied to you”.

I raised an eyebrow. When had I ignored Brian the other week? Why, he was the trumpet player, of course. And he was the guy who had nodded to me in the corridor, but who I had totally failed to recognise. After he explained this, I made grovelling apologies and then retreated to my table to mull over the facts – as part of the ABBA Confusion, I had managed to collaborate with somebody who it would be no exaggeration to describe as one of my musical heroes… without noticing. This is a small tale, but it entirely sums up the ABBA Confusion experience.

Ollie hangs five in the ‘wreck room’, see what I did there, of our first hostel.

Speaking of musical heroes, it occurs to me to tell you the story of Chris Butler’s thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t know about Chris Butler – as far as I was concerned, he was an authority on post-modernism – but it turns out that this is also the name of the songwriter from The Waitresses, a New Wave band which Ollie loves as much as I love the New York Howl. And like I did with the Howl, he sent off an e-mail before we embarked just to see what would happen. This time the results were much more encouraging – Chris came down to the Sidewalk gig mentioned above and ended up participating in one of our best videos, as well as supplying us with some really nice interview footage. He showed himself to be, in all respects, a thoroughly excellent man, and getting to meet him was definitely a highlight of the trip for me, despite my prior ignorance.

The poignant ABBA Confusion tale takes place on the morning after Thanksgiving, when we’d just finished editing our Thanksgiving Dinner video. This was a tour de force about how totally we were failing in New York, but in fact we didn’t know the half of it. Ollie isn’t very good at maintaining credit on his phone, and it turns out that a peculiarity of American pay-as-you-go is that you can’t recieve calls when you’re out of juice. So when Ollie topped up in the morning, he was finally able to recieve an answerphone message from Chris – one in which he warmly suggested we join him, his family, and a few of his music friends, for thanksgiving dinner. That’s right – whilst we’d been making our stupid videos in a closet on the upper west side, Chris Butler had been tucking in to a delicious meal with a large number of industry contacts, and we had been invited.

This was not Oliver’s reaction to the above.

Looking back, it’s easy to dismiss the ABBA Confusion as an ill-concieved, poorly-executed, pretentious failure. And that’
s because it was.



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Proper updates pending when I don’t have myriad jobs pouring at me from all sides, but two things in the mean time:

Firstly, those of you who think I’m playing at the wheatsheaf on the 28th of this month have been fooled by my cunning myspace tricks!!!!!!111 It’s actually the 27th.

Secondly, I’m delighted to be able to report that Local Girl Saves Planet now has a myspace presence. This is Caroline, a delightful Hacknerian who we ran into at Biddle Bros (site of future gig with triple rosie plug plug read myspace). Max and I had a thoroughly great evening in her vicinity and I can’t but advise you to check out her songs and also her gig at Biddle Bros IN ABOUT TWO HOURS

Check her out, anyway – especially the live recording of Poundland. “It’s the land of a pound”.

This concludes the myspace bollocks. For now.

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The Sword of Damocles

It’s half-term friday on friday the thirteenth, the day before valentine’s day, so naturally I’ll be cowering in bed for the next 48 hours trying to weather out the horrible brutality of the… what’s that, PR agent-person? I’m actually going on a weird awkward adventure for the entire weekend? Starting now, you say? Oh, fabulous!

I have absolute confidence that nothing will go wrong.

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Why I love Canals

Much has been written about the pastoral idyll of the canal experience, and whilst I too find this a compelling image, one of the things I’ve really been enjoying about the last week has been the opportunity to walk extensively along parts of Birmingham’s inner city canal network. It’s a fact well known (to brummies) that there are more miles of canal here than in Venice, and following a decade of urban renewal, every midlander now has the god-given right to descend from the roads and enter another world.

Although I’m secretly glad that so many people choose to waive this right, I do find myself wondering why – one obvious answer I’ve come up with is that clash between the bowels of the second city and the ‘country pub’ image which canals have built for themselves. There’s no denying that when I was little, certain parts of the city canal were no-go areas, loaded to the brim with shopping trolleys and heroin addicts – and that image persists long after it has ceased to be generally representative, a microcosm of Birmingham’s reputation within England. Of course, there may well be places where it’s still iffy, for Britain’s canals have been variably maintained – given how completely pointless they are, it’s a miracle they’ve been maintained at all.

But now we’re verging on why I love them so much: their grandiloquent, mesmerising pointlessness. I love that one of the consequences of the energy of the Industrial Revolution was this placid, easy solitude. I love that out of the Iron heart of England came Rosie and Jim. I love that hundreds of nineteenth-century factories and ‘the country amble’ were both made possible by the same invention.

It’s worth remembering that canals are an invention, because it’s easy to forget that, especially if you grew up with them. Figure to yourself for a second the feat of engineering that a single lock represents – the enormous mechanical breakthroughs necessary before such an idea can even be contemplated. Imagine them with Enlightenment science, before computer modelling or any of that shit. Imagine actually building a country-wide network of them, the logistics of it. Imagine pulling it off so that it still worked two hundred years later.

Now imagine the railways being invented and the whole thing becoming basically pointless after just a few decades. The shift from almost incredible technological derring-do to almost incredibly useless technological derring-do. Sure, the horse-and-gravity-powered river would continue to have its industrial role right into the twentieth-century, but never on the scale which its architects envisaged.

I love inner Birmingham’s canals because they put your face in that industrial, almost-was side of the whole idea without detracting in any way from the amiable stillness for which the canals are famous. Strolling past those old Aston warehouses which back directly onto the water, or past the basement of the Telecom Tower, evokes an echo of prewar, artisan Brum – bricks, gears and craftsmanship. Moreover though, from the knowledge that this is but a distinct corner of a country-wide network comes a sense of the soothing ubiquitousness of banal England; England which, striving for industry, created an ecosystem; England which, never quite recovering from her mistake, continues to spend her last pennies to keep it in good repair.

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I think i’m developing a vague crush on Lily Allen

Well everyone, this reminds me of the good old Hoopern Street days where I’d go offline for a bit and then triumphantly return to report on the latest visit of the Jones. We rendezvoused in Oxford for a fun evening down at the Catweazle Club, and after a variety of appalling adventures in the covered market, we returned to the land of our forefathers. That’s right, kids… BIRMINGHAM:

Yes, I am not immune from blogging about the snow, like everyone else. Come on, kids, it’s been magic. The snow raised up our new best friend, Reginald De Winter. He tells only the most corking anecdotes:

We also cooked pheasants, played Nintendo, had snowball fights, went to a kid’s concert, re-wrote ‘Filling in the Blanks’, watched Firefly whilst restringing guitars, visited the Birmingham Accordion Centre, and had a curry. Any questions? Good.

Coming soon on blogspace: Why I love Canals, Tales from the ABBA Confusion, Famous People I Have Met (okay not the last one)

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