Monthly Archives: November 2011

Another Delicacy

It’s been over a year since the last fOld, but this is the occassional short-video series that just keeps refusing to quite die! This time, it’s a fish broth The Dapper Swindler and I made in Alderney:

The Swindler caught a whole bunch of fish out there, including a bass which fed ten people! He was pretty happy about that one.

So all hail the Swindler, anyway. And all hail fOld – we have a couple of others on the chalkboard so expect more low-octane food-related bollocks in the near-distant future!

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The Good, the Bad and the Queen

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Together with an old friend, I trotted down to the Coronet
theatre last Thursday to see what turned out to be the absolute opposite of a
reunion gig. When big bands get back together after a protracted separation,
it’s always difficult to banish the (cynical) suspicion that there’s some
cynicism involved. But The Good, the Bad and the Queen – a supergroup
containing members of The Verve, The Clash and Blur as well as one of the
fathers of afrobeat on the drums – aren’t a ‘big band’, although they do have
all the positive qualities of one. They jam-packed the venue, it’s true, but
the name remains, so far as I can tell, far less famous on the whole than those
of its individual members. For me, this is a crucial point.

They only have one album, which you should buy immediately
if you don’t already have it. It came out in 2007, and since then the band hadn’t
played together until a special occasion – Greenpeace’s 40th birthday
– brought them out of the woodwork. What followed was perhaps surprisingly
modest. Onstage they trouped, to huge applause; they played the whole album, in
order, and off they went again. There was no new material, and Damon Albarn
responded to a few heckles requesting another album with an ambiguous roll of
the eyes.

Given the price of the tickets (at my top end, although
cheap compared to what I imagine it would cost to see Blur) and the 1hr15 DJ
set which everyone was confusingly required to stand through in patient silence
before the band came onstage (the music was too loud for conversation, and this
was not a dancing crowd), was it worth it? Absolutely. Not only was the sound
surprisingly good for a venue of the Coronet’s status, and (thinking about it
from the other direction) not only was it a very real treat to see any of these four
superstar musicians in a venue so small – it was also a good moral lesson in
what playing popular music needs to be about. Which is why I’m writing about it
on here.

It was magical from the start, but to explain why I want to
focus on a moment later in the set – the start of the song ‘A Soldier’s Tale’. Do you
know it? It’s this understated little thing, on the album really more of a
transition to the last three tracks than a song you particularly remember in
itself. Picking up a guitar to play the opening riff, Albarn seated himself on
a foldable chair and, adjusting the mic, said apologetically, “I learned too
late that I’m slightly less bad at the guitar sitting down”. Totally on his
side, the crowd chuckled away dutifully. He then proceeded to muck up the first
few notes, opening the song in the wrong key. This mishap psyched him out, and
he started laughing halfway through his second attempt at the introduction. The
whole band were grinning at each other by now. “This is embarrassing”, said
Albarn. He started again, and, of course, played the whole thing beautifully.

The cheers at the end testified to the fact that it was the
human factor of the performance which everybody really appreciated – phenomenal
though the bowed saw player who came on to join them for ‘A Soldier’s Tale’
was, and I don’t think I’ve heard better, you felt that the main reason he was
there was because he was buddies with someone in the band. “Forty years of
Greenpeace, a full moon, and I’m here with my mates”, said Albarn, at another
point, smiling to himself. You believed him. He’s genuinely happy on stage –
not as a superstar, although he undoubtedly is one, but as someone who is still
far from cynical about live performances and reunions even after eighteen years
at the top of the British music scene. He’s not just good at his job, he also
loves it. What I got from the show was that in music, even more so perhaps than
in other occupations, those two things are very far from disconnected.

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Spooky Recollections (and others)

I admit to something of a crash in the week following the Spooky launch, but I’m now thoroughly able to re-hash some of the highlights for you!

  • The day after the Catweazle launch (described in a previous entry) was largely spent assembling the physical EPs. Max and I invented a game called ‘EP Assembly’ (in which one of you interviews the other, but only the interviewer knows what the interviewee’s job is – try it, it’s a winner).
  • We convoyed to Pangbourne in a brace of cars, heading through shrub-sided country lanes at daring speeds to make the show. Mostly I was worried about losing my co-consipirators in the car behind, and spent a lot of junctions gesticulating out of windows.
  • In Pangbourne, our extension lead limited us to upstage right for most of the numbers, although we paraded over to the left for non-piano songs to compensate.
  • A late night drive through Reading’s confusing road system and a total failure to find a Burger King characterised our return to London on the Friday night. Sam, meanwhile, sped back to his own bed.
  • Saturday saw us playing covers of our own stuff outside the venue in a (failed) attempt to attract local punters. The weather was superb throughout.
  • As the show heated up, Sam, Jessi and I grabbed a pizza with ally Leo, who sang an intense guitar number as the food was being cooked and then agreed to be Gautier in our ‘Irritating Maze’ performance.
  • At the end of the Saturday show, Max snuck up onto the big balcony at the back of the church to be Klaus Diemler from afar. Sam then bought approximately 1 billion snacks for the ride home – our route inadvertantly took us past Max’s house just as he was arriving back, so we sprang out, suprised him, and enjoyed more quality time together. Awww isn’t that nice?
  • Our bonus gig at Cecil Sharp House went surprisingly well, with our small (“intimate”) room quickly filling up as Sam’s brand new Korg keyboard (‘My Uncle Stanley’) proved itself worth the money. Over-enthused by the proceedings, Sam advanced from the Monkey-Horse song to the Spine Chilling Skeleton Express rather quickly, with the result that I almost lost consciousness.

I’ve certainly seen a lot of the Euston Road lately – for the next Saturday (or last Saturday, if you will), I was back in Oxford again. No EP launch this time, just a very pleasant bonfire night celebration at the Isis tavern organised by the excellent James Bell. It was an ideal bill, incorporating James, Sam, myself and the wonderful Roxy Brennan! It was loads of fun playing that stage and sharing it with such incredible artists – also, there were free sparklers! After it was over, Roxy and I returned to Sam’s house to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (I figure any gig which ends with 75% of the acts watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is surely a winner). Sam and I had blown the day up to the gig with the Telegraph‘s General Knowledge crossword, so there was a pleasing sense of narrative resolution when the answer to a clue we hadn’t got turned up on a street sign in the background of the film!  

In conclusion: a high octane but intensely satisfying series of shows and times! A slightly more serious Spooky EP video is on its way (if you missed the hilarious one, it’s here), and of course you can still see (and buy) the thing over here. Next targets are more London shows and the remainer of Vibe, Drill, and “It”. Boom.

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