Saturday, December 31, 2011

The message is in the movies...

No matter what film historians, movie magazine editors, ordinary Joe's and Jolene's may say about 2011 and its movies, there is a tacitly accepted truism that, every year, about five films are released - usually quietly, often unassumingly - that will stand the test of celluloid time.

2011 is no different.

This year's LA Confidential award goes to Nicholas Winding Refn for his less than subtle re-working (and all the better for it) of 80's Noirishness in 'Drive.' Ryan Gosling, despite some slightly deluded critical comparisons to Steve McQueen, holds the film together nicely.

For those of us more solipsistically inclined, Michel Hazanivicius's 'The Artist,' may well be the film of 2011 - despite it's release date being, um, yesterday... Disney matter. Fans of cinema have been waiting for a film like this for years and, in its unsentimental melodramatic depiction of 1920's Hollywood, the unchecked hubris of its stars and the system they were so in thrall to, the movie compellingly convinces - with an authenticity seldom seen in film-making today.

In terms of sheer spectacle, little came close to startling the senses more than Werner Herzog's 'Cave of forgotten dreams.' It's a film which, quite literally, stops you in your tracks, quietly, yet insistently, caressing your heart with its inspiring message of wonder...

Similarly, from South Korea...

And, from one of the great American movie makers...

Penultimately, another film about the transmigration of the soul...with goats...

In 2011, film fans were also treated to that rarest of things - a television programme about films that was as good as the films that it celebrated. 'The Story of Film,' written and directed by Mark Cousins, was an unbridled joy from start to finish - taking us across time and vividly transacted space, across genres and continents, into the hearts, the minds and the mouths of directors, cinematographers, actors, visionaries.

It is worth spending some of your life watching it.

Here's to 2012...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

502. Bad gateway..

'If it's all the same to you, I'll stay indifferent.'

2011 has seen a return to musical form for artists new and vehemently old. Some of the best new music was cultivated from some old people - over 25 - some, such as the mightily angry Iceage, made Howard Devoto seem a bit Johnny Mathis. Christmas Johnny Mathis.

I listened to more records this year than I have done in many years. All sizes and shapes, it's been a great year for pushing boundaries downstairs, for pressing Play-Doh into pigeon holes and for artists generally fucking about with genres and the levels of expectation associated with them.

Bill Orcutt and About Group showed that the oldies can still (re)mix it with the best of them - making, then breaking, some marvellous music.

Kate Bush. Fuck me.

Without a doubt, '50 Words for Snow,' is the finest record Kate has ever made - and bookends seamlessly, perfectly, with her earlier 2011 offering - the exquisite 'Director's Cut,' where previously released recordings were reworked and made impossibly more beautiful.

In many ways, Kate is the star of 2011...

But she ain't. This woman is...

'Let England shake,' in all its glory, was reviewed earlier this year on this blog. It's magic, will ennoble your soul. Listen to it. Buy it.

More records shone like pissballs in a hallowless sky...hey, hey, hey...

Beach Fossils John Maus
Boston Spaceships Mark McGuire
Chelsea Wolfe St Vincent
Nicolas Jarr Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Leyland Kirby Oneohtrix Point Never
Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells Roots Manuva

Teebs, like Toro Y Moi, Beastie Boys, Frank Ocean, Death Grips, Thundercat, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and The Roots also made wonderful records that took established music forms and injected new throbbing, spilling, life and light into them, creating a zoetrope of sound, revolving beats and spinning energy.

So they did.

And, of course, Jim O'Rourke had a new record out...

Career retrospectives abounded. John Fahey's earlier Fonotone recordings were collected, rather wonderfully, rather idiosyncratically, by those autodidacts at Dust to Digital. The 40th anniversary edition of Can's 'Tago Mago,' was released through Mute and Edsel felched 1985 alloveragain with the sweetest honey in any rock - 'Psychocandy,' by a band from East Killbride...(sick).

However...these were the best archive releases of 2011:

El Rego through Daptone Records, 'El Rego.'

Tav Falco's Panther Burns reissued through Stag-O-Lee records, 'Behind the Magnolia Curtain.'

and, Mickey Newbury's marvellous 'American Trilogy album reissued through Saint Cecelia Knows records.

An incredible year. More records?

Richmond Fontaine Richard Swift
Twin Sister Tim Hecker
Willy Tea Taylor The Spaceape
Bon Iver Carbon Based Lifeforms
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Colin Stetson
Girls M83
I D A H O Tom Waits

The list, I'm sure you're all beginning to think, is bloody endless. But, it isn't. Good years and shit years spew forth the same number of records as each other. Artists, writers, painters, poets, film makers, cinematographers, photographers, pornographers - all work their collective arses to the nub of the bone to make this world a better place, a more gnarly place, certainly more bitter and twisted, calculating, sometimes, cynical, more full of love, loveliness and lovelessness.

Thank fuck for them all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Books of 2011 - Part 1 (yes, really...)

2011 has been, in many ways, a seminal year for books. It's been a tougher than the rest year - full of shouts of disquiet, increasingly loud and discombobulated grumblings about the futures of book-selling, and the remnants of the publishing industry, amid protestations about writing, new and old, being shit and shiteful.

None of this is true - 2011 has seen some marvellous books published.

I've been a fan of Jeanette Winterson since the publication of her semi-autobiographical debut novel 'Oranges are not the only fruit.' A truly terrifying tale of religious fanaticism and emotional sublimation, its horrifyingly personal exigencies are examined and explained further in Winterson's actual recently published autobiography 'Why be happy when you could be normal?'

The mighty Dalkey Archive published the most criminally unsung novel of the year. 'The faster I walk, the smaller I am,' by Kjersti Skomsvold, translated by Kerri A Pierce, is a beautifully unforced gem - 140 pages of unrelenting misery, loneliness and despair. Of course I loved it. (Nothing, in 2011, came barely close - although Patrick DeWitt's glorious, and gorily anarchic, 'The Sisters Brothers,' almost, tantalisingly, very near stole this particular show).

There has been some remarkable fiction published this year - much of it by writers who continue NOT to know better...

Alice Munro continues not to know better. Her recent collection of selected short stories, published by Chatto and Windus, confirms her as a short story practitioner of the first rank - forget about the often and reedy comparisons to Chekhov.

Alice Munro is Alice Munro. Read everything she has written.

Others, whether alive or dead, also continued not to know better....Saramago, DeLillo, Nabokov, Murakami, Foster Wallace and, gloriously so, as per the re-issue of his western themed novella, the young(er) Denis Johnson, in his 'Train dreams;' a wonderful, and wonderfully human, elegy to an America unrecognisable today.

Lynne Tillman's new collection is available to read in its entirety here - 'Someday this will be funny.' It's her first new writing in ages and belies her reputation as a dour and rather rigid post-modernist. It is funny. And it's funny now.

There are three more fiction titles that have destroyed the heart this year...

Yannick Murphy's, 'The Call,' is a magical story. In many ways reminiscent of the 1990's TV show, 'Northern Exposure,' Murphy's novel of ordinary characters drawn into intoxicatingly extraordinary situations, is a readily readable treat.

Donald Ray Pollock's first novel continues the same themes as those contained in his 2008 short story collection, 'Knockemstiff.' 'The Devil all the time,' is very much in the five minute hard boiled bracket of crime fiction - populated by outsiders, freaks and the mightily disposessed...eager to introduce a whole new world of suffering with a shrug and a twisted smile.

This twisted smile becomes an all too profound grimace in the hands of one of the great writers working today. Daniel Woodrell's latest collection of short stories 'The Outlaw Album,' is, at turns, a conflicting and confounding read. Containing all the hallmarks associated with his stark, intense prose, each of the stories jars incessantly, confusingly, with the other, the pieces don't seem to fit. Or fit together. It is this apparent disjointedness, apparent desire for disunity, that makes each of these blazing stories; in all their height and breadth and depth and languorousness of soul, a separate sweet entity in themselves.

And what makes all these books a profound pleasure to read.

Part 2 to come...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Knock, knock...

So. 2011? A poor year for comedy? Discuss. No calculators, no books allowed.......

Of course everyone has their own opinions. They are of course entitled to them but, not on my watch. Write your own bloody thing. Jesus, this IS Twat Bubble y'know...........

I digress, because I feel I have to. 2011 has been something of a frustrating year for those of us obsessed with the gilded, slightly deflated balloon, the clown face with the dagger teeth, the captivatingly haunted smile.

I digress again, because, I'm stuck. I don't know what to write.

One post. All year. On comedy.

Oh, dear.

And yet, salvation did come, in painfully small dribs and speckly coated drabs. Although patchy, 'Limmy's Show' pulsed the way in quietly sinister mayhem. In particular, the 'Dee Dee' sketches - some of which were sublime in their unexpected sophistication, in their ability to induce helpless laughter...

Ian Pattison resurrected his finest creation in a new series of 'Rab C Nesbitt.' By turns, good and excruciatingly bad, it was nice to see Gregor Fisher back - if a little older, a lot fatter and a whole lot more stupid.

'Rab C Nesbitt, Series 10, Episode 1'

Vic and Bob returned. Not to terrestrial screens - 'Shooting Stars,' despite stellar (pun intended) ratings, was cancelled due to, well, why was it cancelled?

Anyway, easily the comedy moment of 2011 was this paeon to war, bollards and environmental damage.

For the first time in a long time, The Fringe at Edinburgh offered little of interest. Stand-Up comedy generally seems to be currently plagued by an innate ordariness of late, where tenth rate comics stand behind eleventh rate material. We seem to have returned to the smug, self-congratulating comedic aggrandisement of the 1980's and, especially worrying, to a comedy landscape where questionable commentary and thinly veiled scapegoatism has replaced real insight and courageous words.

I'm not saying comedy should be the new social commentary - maybe I fucking am.

What I am saying, and what I truly believe, is that in a world where war and terrible injustice is everywhere, when the poor and the disenfranchised are more cruelly marginalised than ever before, and where accountability, integrity and basic human decency is dismissed as being trivial and unimportant, comedy, with all its nuances and in all its guises, can help bring people and more people closer together through the unimpeachable, irreducible gift of laughter.

I digress. One last time.

'Stewart v Armando - Television'

Monday, November 14, 2011

My, my, my DeLillo...

Donny DeLillo.

I say 'Donny' because, possibly for the first time, in his most recent and first collection of short stories, DeLillo has let his hair down. And let it run excitedly, youthfully almost, inhuming the cautionary excesses of his most recent work.

'The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories' is tentatively marvellous. There is a master at work here - as there always has been. With this striking collection however, DeLillo seems to be enjoying himself, swaddling himself in the stickily exotic (and erotic) paraphernalia of living and life.

His characters sing. And each song is starrily alive.

In a recent review of 'The Angel...' for The New Yorker, Martin Amis confessed his admiration for this apparently strident change in DeLillo's direction. I disagree. I think fun and extrospection has always been a part of 'the Don's' work. It's just that underneath all the grimy grimness and importuned propheteering finding the sootily camouflaged mirth has been a tough act indeed.

And 'The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories' will be a tough act for Donny to follow. Or anyone else for that matter.

'The Angel Esmerelda'

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Black and Blue Velvet

Many writers, musicians and film-makers, of a certain age, or as they get older, are often content to produce work that reinforces the views that their already audience has of them. It's an easy way out, and it pays the bills.

David Lynch and Tom Waits are near contemporaries of one another. They each have a rich legacy of work - both commercially and highly critically accalaimed, complex and startlingly involving, which asks, which demands, that you stop whatever unremarkably inconsequential thing it is that you're doing and begin to listen.

Both David and Tom - my very good friends - have released brand new albums.

In Lynch's case, it's really his first full album of songs (in collaboration with engineer and sonic fraudster, Dean Hurley), and it's a fun packed and packaged ride into doom, murder and voyeuristic despair.

Which, of course, makes it a typical David Lynch joint; the inescapable nuances, jarring juxtapositions and bloody-minded 'awkwardness,' seamlessly and searingly equating with his very best film work.

It's marvellous and you must have it.

Tom - one of my very, very good friends - has, in 'Bad As Me,' produced his best album in over a decade, one of his finest in truth.

Waits has often been accused of overrehearsing his rebelliousness and ootsiderishness - and of making music that sounds as though it was propagandised by a poorly paid impersonator; the snarls, grunts and grimaces, mere affectation.

Here though, Waits has returned to the bruised blues for his inspiration - and it has paid off. Big time (ahem).

So, two more albums to get over excited about. Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The first night of the fair...

Of course, everyone has their favourite...

Today is the release date of the definitive collection of the recordings of The Smiths - from Rhino records.

Rhino make a more than compelling case for the swift purchase of this colossal box-set; undoubtedly it will be a huge success, will quickly sell-out, leaving hundreds of Smiths' completists crying into their luke-warm milk - no doubt allowing some unwell meaning, enterprising young capitalists the opportunity to extort these devotees with alarming alacrity...

Never mind.

The music is all that should ever matter, the format not.

I remember, when I was a clear broth of a boy, poorly limbed, eccentrically excessive - a box-bedroom rebel (Copyright, The South bank Show/Ray Galton and Alan Simpson). The Smiths very quickly became all the music I ever wanted/needed to have.

Here was a big galoot, with flowers in his hands and up his arse, surrounded by more vaguely dangerous boys from the South. I loved them - it was my music, nobody elses, written for me and only for me; I digested it with unreluctant abandon, wiggling my own culpable arse.

It will be John Peel's anniversary tomorrow. Without him, we would probably never have heard The Smiths or the legions of other bands his shows championed. I heard them on his show, head tucked dutifully under the blankets, breathlessly waiting to hear the next wondrous track from these most 'handsome,' of devils.

Thanks John and thanks to The Smiths.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let's Get Lost...

This year has been something of a red letter one for fans of Emeralds' near the front man Mark McGuire.

Following on from last year's marvellous 'Does it look like I'm here;' which fans of this site will know was nominated for a Hairy, Mark McGuire's new record is a thing of shabbily glittering beauty - part Frippertronics, part dirty Durutti Column - drone with amplesome attitude.

This attitude conveys itself perfectly in the music, and in its darkly twisted inherent beauty.

Available now from the wonderful Editions Mego label.

'Get Lost'
'A Young Person's Guide'

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rock Hard...

Def Jam has been the defining record label in Hip hop music for over 27 years.

Much has happened in that time - including, as early as 1988, the departure of co-founder Rick Rubin to set up Def American leaving Run DMC impresario, Lyor Cohen in charge.

The label is synonyomous with many of the great names in rap music. Everyone will have their own favourites - whether dancing to LL Cool J, marvelling at the lipchronicity of Beastie Boys or being moved to anger or action by the turntabling terrorism of the, then, nascent Public Enemy.

The definitive history of Def Jam is packed with anecdotes and recollections from the main players in the story of a record label that, quite literally, from LL to Jay-Z, revolutionised our musical listening...

This blog entry has chosen to focus on the early years of Def Jam. This is not to
detract from the work that followed - marvellous, genre-defying and creating
records from artists as diverse as Redman, Method Man, Warren G, Jay-Z, Rihanna and....

Return to server...

Marcus Gray has been writing about The Clash for an awful long time - since 1997 in fact, when the publication of his seminal, 'Last gang in town,' recalibrated the myth and the method for a newer, less tousled generation.

In 'Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling' Gray has revised the 2009 version of his book, further contextualising, for today's stridently, politically apathetic ageneration, the importance of music and art in changing our inner and outer lives.

Opinionated, political, polemical - much like the record it so unequivocally champions, Gray's book is a marvellous read for fans of music and its heralded abilities to inspire and uplift.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When the night has come, and the land is dark...

Nicholas Ashford, along with his wife, Valerie Simpson, wrote a string of hit records that defined the soul musical landscape of the 1960's, '70's and '80's.

That landscape was no more epitomised than in perhaps, the greatest, certainly the most joyous, performance of one of their songs - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's magisterial 1967 hit, 'Ain't no mountain high enough,' undoubtedly one of the great pop moments of that halcyon decade.

Everyone will have their own favourites - whether as a writer or as a performer, Ashford set the benchmark for effortlessly crafted, instantly memorable music. A particular favourite is Aretha's marvellous 1964 recording of 'Cry like a baby,' sweet, pure soul music, expertly and sympathetically created, that brought out the very best in the very best.

It is difficult to imagine a world without the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. They are unquestionably one of the great songwriting teams in musical history - able to break our hearts and, in a vital second, rescue us from our too private despair with the marriage of their unassailably beautiful words and music.

And marriage it most certainly was - Leiber's sharper than sharp lyrics dovetailing perfectly with Stoller's insistent staccato rhythms and similarly hectic counterpoint. Their groove was infectious and it caught the ears and lungs and legs of young America, who listened to and danced to and sang their music, venerating the bands who so fastidiously recorded and performed it.

For this writer, Jerry Leiber co-wrote two of the greatest songs of the Rock and Roll era.

And, courtesy of Youtube, we get to hear those songs, their songs, one more time.

For all time.

For Nicholas Ashford and Jerry Leiber.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our way to fall

Crewdson has been mesmerising us with his highly sensitised photorealistic images for the past 25 years. His work shares convincing similarities to that of film-makers, David Lynch and Todd Solondz - unsettling, claustrophobic, hyperreal - and artists, Edward Hopper and Diane Arbus - both of whom contributed their own highly stylised, occasionally nightmarish, versions of an intrinsically American landscape.

Abrams is publishing a new volume of his pictures.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A million more reasons...

It's been six years since Idaho last released a record. Long years.

In that time, musical fashions have changed, some artists have come and gone. Yet Idaho, and their strangely sculpted musical landscapes, remain.


Their new record, 'You Were A Dick,' is available, both to listen to and to buy, from bandcamp.

Do your ears and, perhaps, your torn heart a favour and listen to one of the most beautiful bands around...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

You didn't understand a word, but you said you did...

Pauline Black's autobiography has been a long time in the writing.

Lead singer with seminal 2 Tone band The Selecter, it's an entertaining read full of anecdotes about the nature of the music industry and the combustible near contemptibles who inhabit it.

Where the book really comes into its own - and where it so differs from other offerings - is when Black describes her childhood. Growing up mixed race, and adopted to a not entirely empathetic middle-aged white couple, the book describes how she finally came to terms with being who she was, even at so comparatively an early age; a young black girl desperately striving to understand herself and the many cultures she was intrinsically part of and culpably attracted to.

It's a marvellous read.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sign of the times...

It was my intention to do a fabulous blog posting on Prince for my 174th piece. You know the kind of thing - lots of links, video, music downloads, the works, right?
After all, it's 30 years since 'Controversy,' 25 since 'Parade,' and 20 since 'Diamonds and Pearls,' musical milestones one and all; the man deserves all over again to be recognised as the genius he undoubtedly is...

Instead, this post is all about the hideously untimely death of the young singer, Amy Winehouse. I never knew Amy Winehouse. However, I was genuinely, emotionally affected by her unerring ability to write great pop songs and her compelling talent in performing them in a way that was both breathlessly intimate and startlingly forthright - my suspicions are that she found it difficult to suffer foods gladly; witness her self-deprecating, bullshit detecting video performances.

We are, all of us, culpable, in small ways and large, in Amy Winehouse's death - the media, and our complicitness in accepting what they say as fact, stridently 'encourages' us to accept the unacceptable about people and celebrity - in Amy's case, the blackly choreographed images of the crack smoking, vodka binge drinking, consistently amoral rock star...

Of course, Amy was no angel. More than a passing familiarity with her lyrics will demonstrate that she co-inhabited a dark side, was hugely attracted to it and the casual gratification it could so mesmerisingly offer. Like Blake, Coleridge and Curtis before her, Amy had an undoubted fascination with dissolution, the 'active evil better than passive good,' that so informed her art whilst so misinforming others' conspired opinions of her.

More than anything else, the other real victims in this are her family and friends. Their pain is real and always will be. Her fans, and there are many, have lost not only the object of their love, affection and, often, infatuation, they have lost a part of what it feels like to be young and alive and to love someone who could articulate their most private of feelings in a way no one else could or dared to.

Some magic is now missing from their lives, and from mine.

I never knew Amy Winehouse. By many accounts, she was a shy, fiercely intelligent woman just beginning to mine the first seams of her talents, to show just what, as an artist, she was capable of - it's a tragedy and a travesty that we will never have the opportunity of seeing these talents flourish...

RIP Amy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Two of a rare kind...

Mickey Newbury is one of those unique artists who changes your life with every song of his you hear. He is famous for his arrangement of 'An American Trilogy,' recorded by him for his 1971 release 'Frisco Mabel Joy,' even though it's Elvis Presley's 1972 version that everyone remembers...

Newbury's style is almost impossible to categorise - 'An American Trilogy,' is hardly indicative of his, overwhelmingly, devastatingly beautiful, heartbreaking songs of the inevitable losing of love.

More than a thousand artists have covered Newbury songs and his influence on near contemporaries such as Gene Clark, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine, as well as current songwriters of the calibre of Will Oldham, Ryan Adams and Steve Earle is near immeasurable.

A retrospective of his early albums has recently been reissued on St Cecelia Knows Records. If you're a fan of Townes Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen or David Ackles - and, yes, he more than deserves to be in their company - then treat yourself to the criminally underrated songbook of Mickey Newbury...

Flannery O'Connor is, quite simply, one of America's greatest writers. Later this year, some of her early drawings are to be published in book form - details of the publisher remain unclear at the moment.

The one or two teaser illustrations that have found their way on-line show similarities with her prose - highly evocative, resolutely individualistic, tenderly tragi-comic.

Here's to their publication.

Flannery O'Connor - Guardian 05/07/11

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yes, it IS Giro day...

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have been tickling our skeletons for over 20 years now (can it be?).

In a comedy landscape curently devoid of anything but tired cliche, crass 70's style observational stand-up and mawkish shite, shite, more shite shit-com, Vic and Bob stand out like a very large beacon, thrice painted, with fluorescent yellow paint.

Then painted again.

Vic and Bob represent one of the last bastions of comedy - a truthful, truly unique and highly sophisticated comedy of non-sense. Like the Marx Brothers before them - surely their rightful comedic antecedents - their work exudes a childlike joyfulness/wantonness which, wide open-mouthed, marvels at the silliness-of-it-all.

We look forward to more of their Afternoon Delights.

Friday, July 1, 2011

'...too lascivious for 11 year olds, too sophisticated for BBC2'

**CLICK on the above picture for something entertaining**

Delia Derbyshire is, unquestionably, one of the great figures in post-war British music. From the very early 1960's; after successfully securing an attachment with the fledgling BBC Radiophonic Workshop, her prodigious talent, coupled with her unbridled enthusiasm for emerging music, was obvious.

Shortly before Delia died, she wrote the following: "Working with people like Sonic Boom on pure electronic music has re-invigorated me. He is from a later generation but has always had an affinity with the music of the 60s. One of our first points of contact - the visionary work of Peter Zinovieff, has touched us both, and has been an inspiration. Now without the constraints of doing 'applied music', my mind can fly free and pick-up where I left off."

For giving us all the opportunity to let our minds fly free, thanks Delia.

Delia Debyshire & Barry Bermange - 'Falling'

Delia, Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus 'Your Hidden Dreams' from 'An Electric Storm' by White Noise

Minor 1960's TV show theme music...

Interview with John Cavanagh for Boazine 7

Friday, June 24, 2011

For Peter Falk.

The Angel by William Blake

I Dreamt a Dream! what can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen:
Guarded by an Angel mild;
Witless woe, was neer beguil'd!

And I wept both night and day
And he wip'd my tears away
And I wept both day and night
And hid from him my hearts delight

So he took his wings and fled:
Then the morn blush'd rosy red:
I dried my tears & armd my fears,
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was arm'd, he came in vain:
For the time of youth was fled
And grey hairs were on my head.

Thanks, Peter.

'...sensitive breeding, rich bouquet...'

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life with a star

Outsiders, especially in literature, are rarely accorded the recognition their work deserves during their lifetime.

The Czech writer, Jiri Weil was vilified for his 'cosmopolitan' narrative and characterisation; a common feature of his work, and a common criticism of writers and artists writing and being artistic in those countries formerly ideological satellites of the Soviet Union.

Weil's best work - to date only two of his works have been translated into English - concerns itself with the Nazi occupation of Prague and the unspeakable effect it has on the cities Jewish inhabitants.

'Mendelssohn is on the roof,' his last published work, was made available again earlier this month (Daunt Books). It's a marvellous read - similar to Kafka, in many ways, it quietly summarises the lives of ordinary people attempting to live through extraordinary times.

Weil's novels are about the essential dignity of humanity and about the dehumanising extents to which some people will go to extinguish it. Despite his 'outsider' status, his themes are universal: understanding, compassion and love.

Read all of his books.

Friday, June 17, 2011

She sang like she feel...

It was Ella Fitzgerald's anniversary on the 15th of June. She accomplished much of musical note (pun hugely intended) in her lifetime: as singer with Chick Webb, similarly, later with Dizzy Gillespie and throughout her rightly lauded solo career.

Her musicality showed itself at its most convivial and convincing best in the landmark Verve recordings of the 1950's. Marking a turning point in her own performing life, which she herself recognised, these 1956/7 Norman Granz produced recordings: 'Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook,' and, '...the Duke Ellington Songbook,' were enormously successful both commercially and artistically.

Ella's astonishing legacy will remain because she was able to; more than any of her contemporaries, certainly far more than anyone performing today, create an otherworld where words and music seamlessly melded into an unimpeachable, and incomparably melodious whole.

As Bing Crosby so succinctly rejoindered, 'Man, woman or child, Ella is the greatest of them all.'

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Durham town

Kitty, Daisy and Lewis recently played in Glasgow to a sell-out, hugely appreciative audience. Ably supported musically by their parents, on guitars and bass fiddle, their music is a highly addictive amalgam of Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll and almost every other musical genre you'd care to mention - hell, they may even have invented some...

Still incredibly young, they wear these diaparate musical influences on their beautifuly tailored sleeves immaculately well, without ever slipping into pastiche or irreverence. Their latest record (that's record) is a fine example of music making at its ferociously primal and incandescent best.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dog bites Man

Guardian article - Human Centipede 2

Guardian article - Teen fiction accused of being 'rife with depravity.'

Much has already been written about the BBFC's decision to ban director Tom Six's sequel to his 2010 film, 'The Human Centipede.' The adjudication aside, the decision has reignited the debates surrounding the subject of censorship in the Arts - a welcome thing as it allows complex ideas and conflicting views about gender, sex, race, violence and aspects of morality generally to be discussed openly and, and this is the hope, intelligently and in context.

The prohibition of anything certainly accomplishes one thing. It makes it news. It confers temporary, sometimes longer lasting, notoriety on the film, book, play, whatever - irrespective of how vile, trivial, banal, poorly executed it is.

Crucially, often unfortunately, the same criteria applies to works of importance -
Cronenberg's film of J G Ballard's 'Crash,' Wes Craven's 1972 'Last House on the Left,' and Russell Mulcahy's docupic 'Derek and Clive get the horn,' which was banned on its original theatrical release.

There are many more examples, across all genres, not just films, encompassing all of the means of artistic expression - see the second of the above very recent Guardian articles for more.

TB has not seen Tom Six's film. Based on reports of it it is unlikely that a review of it, good, bad or tantalisingly indifferent will ever appear on these pages - its subject matter just does not appeal. What remains crucially important however, is that if the writer of this blog WANTED to see it, WANTED to review it, WANTED to give his/her own opinion of it, however biased or (ill)informed, then they could.

The BBFC should reconsider their blanket banning decision - at the very least to allow the films flaws, virtues and more to be discussed and to foster genuine dialogue between film fans, commentators and makers.

Film4 - Banned movies

Friday, June 3, 2011

Klutz is the secret password

Miranda July's films occupy a very strange territory indeed.

'Me and You and Everyone We know,' was the best movie of 2005. Yet, encouragingly, not everyone felt this way. Some critics hated it. Some praised it just the wrong side of idolatry.

And that's what makes art - in all its disguises - fascinating, infuriating, wonderful.

Her new film 'The Future,' will be available to see/avoid from the end of July onwards.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The revolution will be televised...

The Bob Thiele produced 1970 album, 'A new black poet - Small talk at 125th and Lenox,' was the debut album of one of the most influential recording artists/poets of the last 40 years - an explosive mix of sparse instrumentation alloyed to scathing social criticism.

Gil Scott-Heron, despite his many and often protestations to the contrary, was, like contemporaries Kool Herc and The Last Poets, one of the founding fathers of Hip-Hop.

Of course, he was so much more than an inspiring originator. With Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron made wonderful music that reflected the narrative traditions of blues story-telling and inner-city living, melding this poetic, satirical, lyrical with the existing soul and jazz musical stylings that was completely theirs.

In 2010, he released his first album in over 15 years. 'I'm new here,' showed that he had lost none of his talents for musical and lyrical invention. His influence will remain immeasurable.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Harder, better, faster, stronger...

Charlie Brooker's article in today's Guardian makes worryingly interesting reading for those interested in movies. In it he argues, correctly to this writer, that Hollywood's current climate of artistic complacency is broadly mitigated by the more wholesome diet (no pun intended) on offer from the television/games industry - witness, in the latter case, LA Noire: intrinsically, as if James Ellroy had penned a Mad Men episode then directed by Sam Fuller.

What is most striking about these recent offerings is their non-patronising attempts to engage and involve those who view/participate (in) them - they are not a replacement for A.N.Other reality but entertaining, challenging, commercially successful vehicles for artists of all persuasions who love what they do and who are bloody good at it - Hollywood should take note.

Congratulations to Terrence Malick on winning the Palme D'Or - which, like all good art, has split critics down the middle (no bad thing there then...).

Monday, May 16, 2011

The God-like genius that is...

Jonathan Richman is 60 today - can it really be?

Well, it really be so we at Twat Bubble Towers - although no Peel Acres I grant you - feel that the least that can be done is:

1. A picture
2. A record
2. A salutation

Happy birthday, Jonathan.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Rush are playing tomorrow night at the SECC in Glasgow and....hey, wait a minute....RUSH?

Yes, Rush. Rush. Rush.


What the hell...?

Well, this writer believes - after having been a lapsed, recovering, in-the-closet Rush fan for many (too many) years - that it's about time Rush received something like their due. Forty years in the business. Over twenty albums. Never part of any scene. Demonised, trivialised, marginalised...

And yet, Rush ENDURE. They're still going strong, despite their many trials and tribulations, stronger than ever in fact - still selling records, still selling out theatres and stadiums all around the world, continuing to influence bands as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Tool and Primus amongst many, many others.

If you get the chance, go and see them. Tomorrow night, would be a start (however, it's unlikely there'll be any tickets left)....bloody Rush.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

as we, advancing in the sun sing "Death to all and everyone."

In, 'Let England Shake,' Polly Jean Harvey has recorded her defining album. It's a great record full of memorable music and unforgettable lyricism. What separates it from all other releases, however, is the bitter sweet bitter embracing extent of its subject matter - ostensibly war, specifically the First World War. The album delivers a unique, and uniquely compelling, female perspective on those most generous of killing fields; an uplifting and extraordinary balance between raging invective, staring disbelief, communal gentleness in brutality and matter of factness reportage -

On Battleship Hill's caved in trenches,
a hateful feeling still lingers,
even now, 80 years later.
Cruel nature.
Cruel, cruel nature.

Above all, a helplessness but equally resounding hopefulness explodes from these grooves. It is PJ's magnum opus.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To the man who saw the angel

The 23rd of May sees, for the first time, a comprehensive DVD release of Andrei Tarkovsky's films. In December, it will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of his untimely death - if you haven't seen his films, do yourself a favour and invest in the collective works of one of cinema's true geniuses...

Artificial Eye

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

little girls should be seen and very definitely heard...

With the sad news of Poly Styrene's early passing it's important to note her not insignificant contribution to punk music - both Poly and Ari Up challenged the many staid and static musical conventions of the 1970's with their attitude, their enthusiasm and, don't ever forget this, their talent.

X-Ray Spex first album, 'Germ Free Adolescents,' is a small classic, packed full of great tunes, enormous amounts of reverberated sass and a keen understanding of what it was like to be part of a disenfranchised underclass - Poly was all three things the overwhelmingly white, male and middle class music establishment was not and could (and would) never be.

We will not forget her or her music. In some small unobtrusive corner of our hearts, today, will always be Day-Glo.

Thanks, Poly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

'We never asked for miracles...'

Today is 'record stores day.' What strated out as a bit of fun has metamorphosed into something not entirely unimportant - a way of celebrating music and music emporiums. Emporia. Doesn't matter. What does matter, however, is that small and slightly larger, independent and independently minded record stores are given a platform to say, 'hey, we're still here, how are you today? Buy some records.'

And so we should.

Mono Records
Avalanche Records
Rubadub Records
Volcanic Tongue Records
MixedUp Records
BlackVinyl Records

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thank Christ the 1981 Show...

Stewart Lee is curating a show aimed at capturing the spirit of the early years of alternative comedy. At Last the 1981 Show will feature Arthur Smith, Norman Lovett, Nigel Planer and Chris Lynam - South Bank Centre, 29 May 2011

And Arnold Brown....

And here he is!

And more. Probably.

Also, the second series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle has been given a BBC2 slot on Wednesdays at 11.20pm, starting May 4.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Houses on the Hill..

Edward Docx's deranged characters in fiction

This is a nice article written by Edward Docx (writer of 'The Calligrapher') in The Guradian.

I suspect many would agree with the characters Docx has chosen as his favourites - they're all wonderful examples. Any of the three marvellous novels written by the late, greatest Edward Wallant feature protagonists whose own descent into madness accompanies an equally strong desire to save others from their own, 'fate worse than life.'

And, of course, there's Robert Wringhim........................

Colin McLaren's adaptation of Gogol's 'Diary of a Madman.'
'Part 2'
'Part 3'

the wonderful Skip Spence - himself tortured/equally inspired by his own personal demons...

Monday, April 4, 2011

This might be a party, this is a DISCO!

Forget all about 'The Last Waltz,' or 'Gimme Shelter,' or even the '68 Comeback Special,' Jonathan Demme's marvellous 1984 concert movie featuring Talking Heads', 'Stop Making Sense,' is the finest example of the genre - saving of course a certain 1978 grainy recording of a certain bands performance at a certain state mental hospital...

That aside, 'Stop Making Sense,' is concert biographies, and David Byrne's, finest moment. Forget all about the big suit, the bigger suit and the suit that's three sizes too big, the songs, the energy of the performances, the way the whole thing comes enticingly, deliciously together - it's the perfect example of three unforgettable, unassailable nights, sussed images and beyond magical music blended seamlessly together by Demme, cinemtaographer, Jordan Cronenweth and the band, playing more magnificently than they've ever done.

It may be twenty years ago but it seems like never before...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Love is the cure for every evil...

Farley Granger's career remains synonymous with the two films he made for Hitchcock in 1948 and 1951 - 'Rope,' and, 'Strangers on a Train;' films which, both subtly and unequivocally, reflected Hollywood's increasing anatagonism towards Communism and homosexuality - commom subtexts in many films of this period.

Granger's best performance however, was in Nicholas Ray's marvellous 1949 debut, 'They Lived by Night.' Granger plays the part of, 'Bowie' Bowers who, along with his accomplice, 'Keechie' Mobley, later embark on a crime spree that ends, unsurprisingly, in tragedy.

The film was a huge influence on directors as diverse as Arthur Penn, Terrence Malick and Robert Altman (who directed the remake, 'Thieves Like us,' in 1974).

Farley Granger - star of stage, screen and television for over 40 years.

RIP - Sidney Lumet 1924-2011

Sydney Lumet - Guardian Obituary

Thursday, March 24, 2011

There are some boys that never go out...

Hailing, quite literally, from Melbourne, Australia, The Lucksmiths were part of a larger conurbation of 'Jangly' pop bands that emerged in the early 1990's. They share similar musical persuasions to The Smiths, fellow Australians, The Go-Betweens and Trashcan Sinatras - esteemed company indeed.

Lyrically, The Lucksmiths remind this, sometimes weary, sometimes jaded, always handsome (copyright Dave McCullough, 1983) writer of early Billy Bragg, early Wedding Present - they comfortably share the same poetic sensibilities, the same obsession with the gloriously ordinary.

Buy all their records.

'Get-To-Bed Birds

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ask me no question...I play music...

Osbourne, 'King Tubby,' Ruddock is rightly regarded for his overriding presence on the development of dub music. His influence on much of contemporary music is incalculable - from reggae to soul, dance to electronic music, current pop to future rap, the legacy of his genius is there for all to hear.

King Tubby, if he had lived, would have been 70 on January. Engineer, erstwhile DJ, producer par excellence, we are fortunate to still hear his silent yet mighty voice in the myriad available recordings of his work.

Dillinger 'Dub Organiser'
Upsetters 'Freak Out Skank'
Lee Perry 'Blackboard Jungle Dub'
Observers 'Rema Dub'
God Sons 'Merry Up'

Monday, March 14, 2011

'What are we doing in there?'

Grove Press has been around for over 60 years now, publishing all kinds of books. Ostensibly a hardcover and paperback imprint of Grove Atlantic, its history of championing groundbreaking writing is an illustrious one - Grove's owner, Barney Rosset Jnr, famously challenged and changed temporarily forever the American literary landscape when, in the 1950's and early 1960's, he published Henry Miller's, 'Tropic of Cancer,' and D H Lawrence's, 'Lady Chatterley's Lover.'

Grove continues its iconoclastic tradition of publishing today - witness recent books by such diverse writers as Dubravka Ugresic, Karl Marlantes, Michael Knight and Bryan Charles - whose latest memoir (see above) is often eerily reminiscent of James Brown's marvellous 2005, 'LA Diaries.'

LA Diaries download


Thursday, March 10, 2011


To play the new video by the best band in the wurld...

Trashcan Sinatras

Sunday, March 6, 2011

'...By hand and by brain to earn your pay...'

Thirty years ago, Dick Gaughan released his defining album, 'Handful of Earth.' Gaughan's career and personal life were at something of a crossroads when this album was recorded - it's release was contemporaneous with the early, and many would contend, most divisive policies of the then recently elected Conservative Government.

'Handful of Earth,' was a call to small arms. It was Gaughan's attempt to musically articulate his frustrations and despair at what he saw was the systematic erosion and destruction of the rights of working people - the working people he so intensely emotionally identified with.

It is an album of heartbreak, but also an album of shared solidarity for a newly and increasingly lost and disenfranchised generation of young and old, men and women of every colour, creed and none, in the face of callousness, indifference and no little brutality.

It's a darkly celebratory record and is as painfully resonant and relevant today as it was on its original release.

Musicians' Union
Z Space

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Our kind of woman...

Jane Russell was, in many ways, the female equivalent of Robert Mitchum; the male lead in two of her fabulously over the top RKO Radio Pictures distributed films from the early 1950's - 'Macao,' and 'His Kind of Woman.'

The latter especially is a marvellous film - featuring Russell, Mitch and Vincent Price (in one of the most hyperbolic performances committed to film).

Russell was more than just a glamour girl. She demonstrated genuine comedic ability in a number of films, and should be remembered for her talent in transforming mundane movies into watchable, entertaining ones.

Thanks, Jane.

Also, Jill Clayburgh RIP

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let the mysteries be..

This is a post celebrating the old-ish and the new-ish in Country music. Belated happy 50th birthday, first of all, to Iris Dement. It's almost twenty years since Philo records released her debut album, 'Infamous Angel,' and it is yet to be equalled by old or young 'uns.

Caitlin Rose reminds this writer of Lucinda Williams - but she is very much Caitlin Rose. Her latest album, 'Own Side Now,' was released to critical acclaim last year. If you're a fan of the aformentioned Miss Williams and Iris herself, then it's a surest thing Caitlin Rose will be for you.

Try some.

Caitlin Rose - Shanghai Cigarettes from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Caitlin Rose@Stereo
Rough Trade Records/Caitlin Rose

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The landscape of love...

In the commentary to 'Wings of Desire,' Wim Wenders speaks about his then desire to return to Germany, to Berlin, to make a movie about the city, explaining further the duality of his feelings for a rapidly changing, commercially and socio-politically, urban unreality. In the 25 years since Wenders decided to make his masterpiece much, and perhaps, in many respects, little, has changed. What has remained however, is Wenders' singularly unique cinematic vision.

'Wings of Desire,' is one of the great films. It owes some debt to Wenders' first film, 'Summer in the City,' and, especially so, to the films of the great Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky - to whom the film is partly dedicated. What makes the film great, however, is its convincing ability to make us, the viewers, feel compellingly lost in our own all too human inadequacies, our individual, yet shared tragedies, whilst offering hope and counsel and a collective understanding of our grief, our happiness, our joy at being no more, no less, than alive.

It is magic on film. Watch it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The burden of love is so strange...

Fresh from the mightily canine, 'Alsatian records,' the debut album from Norman Blake and Euros Childs - or, 'Jonny,' as they're now rather convivially known.

Laden with the kind of hooks we've grown to expect from two tunesmiths of the first hors d'oeuvre, it's a nice departure and a welcome return.

Jonny Jonny Ooh...

Teenage Fanclub
Gorky Dispenser

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cool outside...

Toro Y Moi/Chaz Bundick has been writing music for almost ten years - which means he's been writing music since he was 15. His output is eclectic to say the least - a mixture of, amongst others, Sonic Youth and Daft Punk - but he's very much his own thing.

This own thing extends itself to various musical reworkings and collaborations - Les Sins being by far, so far, the most interesting.

Toro Y Moi's new album, 'Underneath the pine,' is available from Carpark records on February 22nd. Try some.

' album that weaves into reality and stitches the easy letters of wonder...'

Toro Y Moi- Talamak from bryan bush on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Barry town...

The John Barry sound was established as early as the 1950's - witness the marvellous, 'Watch your step,' instrumental of 1957 - credited to the John Barry 7.

Since 1960, Barry had been involved in film music, writing, sometimes performing and conducting the scores/incidental music to two British thrillers starring Adam Faith; an artist whose early career, in some ways, he paralleled.

Barry's abilities came to the attention of film producers Saltzman and Broccoli whilst working for EMI records, producing and arranging material for their roster of recording artists. They were impressed. So much so, that they decided to give the 29 year old a chance to work on one of their upcoming EON projects...the rest is history.

John Barry was a musical genius. Notable, not only for his immeasurable contribution to the James Bond series of films, but for his talent in transforming base elements into cinematic silver and gold - often, solely, because of his contribution. It's also impossible to watch memorable films such as, 'Midnight Cowboy,' and, 'Walkabout,' without being affected emotionally by their images and their musical counterpoint.

Thanks John, for your gift of beautiful music.

'Watch Your Step'
'Beat Girl'
'Florida Fantasy'

***The above contains spoilers***

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brooklyn and ting...

Three minutes or less...

Japanther - not to be confused with the equally mighty Japandroids - are playing at a small, overcrowded venue near you soon. Their music is typical of the noisy schmoisy fuzz currently emanating from New York; although in Japanther's case they've been plying their nefarious trade for nigh on 10 years.

'Tut, Tut, Now shake ya Butt.' Indeed.

'Radical Businessman'

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bluest velvet..

Although slighly late and slightly early - Lynch was 65 on January 20th and Blue Velvet celebrates its 25th birthday later this year, no blog devoted to film-making and great movies could ignore two such significant landmarks.

Blue Velvet was, and is, one of the great films. It continues to appall, infuriate, mesmerise and reduce to helpless laughter - even after numerous viewings, even after the pause and slow motion buttons have broken after over repeated use.

It's magic. And, a quarter of a century later, still is.

David Lynch is completely unique amongst American film-makers. He shares some sensibilities with contemporary Hollywood but his remains a uniquely personal vision and voice. And that's what makes his work so compelling, so eminently watchable. So Lynchian.

The anniversary re-issue of Blue Velvet, it is rumoured, will contain some scenes that producer Dino de Laurentiis considered not integral to the film - Lynch's understandable acquiescence meant that these scenes have earned semi-legendary status among fans of the movie; it will be interesting to see these scenes in context, and to see how they impact on the narrative as a whole.

If you haven't seen the film, JG Ballard's one line description of it cannot be bettered...

Happy belated birthday, David.

'Blue Velvet'
'Straight Story'
'Good day today'

“like The Wizard of Oz reshot with a script by Franz Kafka and d├ęcor by Francis Bacon.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It's been thirty years since the formation of seminal American rock band, Throwing Muses. One of the hallmarks of this most original of bands is the lyrical starkness and unaffected candour of one of its main songwriters, Kristin Hersh.

Hersh, early diagnosed with schizophrenia, uses her experiences as a sufferer of mental illness to comment on, amongst many things, stereotypical attitudes towards mental health. These conflicting and contrasting attitudes, and her own familiarity with them, are clarified and enlarged upon in her latest memoir, 'Paradoxical Undressing,'

Evocative, brave and impressively well written, Hersh has written one of the most startling, most impassioned books of early 2011.

'Me and my charms'

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Every day isn't like sunday...

From the 16th to the 30th of January, the GFT in Glasgow is showing three wonderful films as part of its Cinematic Americana series.

'Wise Blood,' based on the 1952 novel by Flannery O'Connor, is an unheralded classic - featuring magnificent performances from Brad Dourif and Harry Dean (Stanton). Peter Bogdanovich's breakthrough film, 'The Last Picture Show,' released in 1971, deserves its considerable reputation as one of the benchmark films of the New Hollywood era whilst, 'Heartworn Highways,' the third in the trilogy, shows documentary film-making at its most challenging and intimate.

All three films are marvellous examples of the film industry at its most creative and are well worth seeing either individually or as a genre embracing whole.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Alfred the great...

'Seeing things;' the autobiography of the late Oliver Postgate, was released to unanimous critical acclaim (and unconcealed delight) in 2009. Two years later sees the publication of the biography of Alfred Bestall - the illustrator of the children's perennial classic, Rupert Bear.

Bestall's life is chronicled by his goddaughter Caroline Bott and it's a life full of unexpected surprises - Bestall fought in the first World War, and had a more auxiliary role in the second, however, his belief in the unequivocal goodness of humanity shines through, in this generously written, wholly unsentimental account.

Bestall's art, like Postgate's, seems to have a timeless wonder about it. It belongs firmly to the tradition of great children's storytelling - where amazing worlds are inhabited by beautiful princesses, talking animals, and strange, often frightening creatures...

Included in this post is Jackie Lee's wonderful performance of the theme music from the early 70's claymation series.

'Life and works of Alfred Bestall,' by Caroline Bott

Rupert the Bear