How NOT to write about music – 17. Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono - Warzone

First. read this most excellent and comprehensive review by Alexis Petridis.

“Warzone is not an album built to convince Ono’s naysayers that they’re wrong: it’s too messy and uneven, and its high points are intimidating and difficult. But what it does is prove that at 85, its creator is still capable of raging away with an undimmed intensity. A slip into genteel retirement looks unlikely.”

Now, have a listen.

Now, you tell me. Was I wrong to put my faith in Yoko all these years?

—————————————-

“We have to round it up now so if there’s anything else you want to talk about. It’s great. Where were you … where were you when I needed you?”
At any given time, the people in power are always the wrong people, as I’m sure you know. The only thing that keeps me going is the fact I know everyone else is wrong.
“It’s like those fish that go upstream.”
Salmon.
“Right, salmon. It’s the energy of going upstream.”
Maybe if people had been supporting you throughout your career, you wouldn’t have felt that energy.
“It’s OK the way that most of my work has circulated. What is in this album, even if it’s hidden, will have some impact in the world. The fact that I made it and finished it and it’s there is important.”
(A conversation with Yoko Ono)

—————————————-

She has also produced what must be the first half-listenable version of The Song I Hate More Than Any Song Ever:

How NOT to write about music – 16: Porridge Radio

prrodge radio

Three exhibits today. Three examples of an old man railing at clouds.

Three shows of weakness, of the reason why music criticism can be such a futile occupation sometimes. (Are Porridge Radio Adele? Are Porridge Radio Sam Smith? Are Porridge Radio Jess Glynne? Am I Piers Morgan?) This is self-evident, except the final exhibit got repeated at several different points in time (named “the greatest band in the world” by Everett True on the strength of half a song) in Brighton and London and Amsterdam to help keep a few bedraggled punters away doubtless.

Apologies for the rerun device, but I have been watching the entire run of Bewitched with a mania doubtless driven by my single parent status, and early as series 2, they’re making with the reruns. The entire programme, but with a different title and calling it a ‘new’ episode. 

I have seen Porridge Radio on several occasions since the initial 30 seconds: last time around with Aus sweethearts Terry at the Green Door, where I had just performed myself (as ever) to a dwindling crowd of sorts (as ever). Dana is constantly changing, constantly creating – again, in her mania, she reminds me of (a far more talented) myself. In Brisbane, I recorded over 300 songs with The Deadnotes. Her solo music is frequently very insular, softened on cassette tape: sad, melancholy, bittersweet but WOW! she can be abrasive and punk with her full-on fucking greatest band in the world. Last time I saw them, I was waylaid, beaten down and did not have a chance to watch them even though they were inches away, god fucking damn it but life is not consistent or fair and I know I can always return to this music, to this special place that Dana and her friends have created for me.

This is a strange bewitchment indeed.

 

EXHIBIT A
Does Jerry Thackray like porridge radio. That is the question. If he does then that opens a whole new level of music to exploration and dissection. I never was good at analysis. I just want to share some porridge radio with you on behalf of my old mate Everett True. He would have liked them for sure. They are startling: florid, open, given to exhaustive repetition and a determination to see the thing through whatever that might entail. The song titles give the game away. The four tracks on the new shared cassette say more to me about my(?) life than the entire back catalogues of The Flaming Lips, R.E.M. and Sebadoh combined. This is partly context and mostly content. Or perhaps the other way around.

If this band were from Brisbane they might be called Bent, or Scrabbled. <-<- man, what a crap thing to write.

I am not exhausted of this sound. I will never be exhausted of this sound. I want this sound clogging up the nation’s airwaves next to Jenny and Kanye and the rest of the rotten bunch. This is my own personal Taylor Swift, my own backstreet Wire.  The reason the singer sounds out of breath and near comatose by the end is because she is pouring all of herself into the moment. And if you think that is not more than enough for me, then you ain’t been reading me, sister.

EXHIBIT B 
On tape, Porridge Radio are all intense this and intense that: acoustic and frail and fragile and presumably suffering from the same sore bear-head that many sore bears have suffered from already. On tape – brashly and sadly (not in the pejorative use) and female – they remind me of a traumatised Sentridoh (Porridge Radio actually cover ‘Gimme Indie Rock’), so beautiful and fresh and unrepentant. Songs about loneliness and hope and scary clowns encountered one too many times. Dana uses repetition and silence like she understands the concepts. So fragile, so worried, so strong. So beautiful.

Live, Porridge Radio (as a band, as a loose-knit collective of friends and dreamers and misfits) are having way too much fun to sound like that. Instead, they mutate into a full-on rock Sebadoh circa 1998 (I do not want to labour this point). More to the point, considering where I saw them first, they remind me and the fellow standing next to me, gently swaying in the mood and maladies, of Blank Realm: the way there is a warped, woozy, drunken beat backing them, the way Dana stretches out her vowels and consonants and whatever else tricksy devices she uses. Live, this is dance music for fucking the world to, dislocated delirium to dangerously dig around the past and present in.  The music in the studio is Marine Girls special: the music on stage is like a full-throttle cunt-out Television or Happy Mondays.

Go figure.

I think perhaps Dana and colleagues – and man, a shout-out to that lady cutting a rug and smiling for no apparent reason beyond the fact she clearly loves to cut a rug and smile; and man, a shout-out to the psychedelic guitarist; and man, a shout-out to that astonishing bass-player and the loose-limbed, too-awesome drum god; and man, especially a shout-out to Dana levelling all her colleagues’ antics and abilities with a tough-eyed vulnerable stare, a shiver of stardust on guitar – I think perhaps that they may be playing a trick on me. I mean, up the road are The Ethical Debating Society and pals, fermenting feminist punk righteousness and here is this band, this inexplicable punctuation mark of a band ploughing their furrow and sounding all hopeless and melodically stunning on tape, out-feministing and out-punking EVERYONE. I have not seen such intensity and honed shouting on stage since… god, I do not know… Ian Mackaye perhaps (and I never even liked Fugazi).

And she/they is/are having fun.

It occurs to me that perhaps Dana changed the entire tone of the set seconds after seeing my miserable performance and then I slap myself across the face for being so presumptuous.  But I reckon she has the ability to do that.

Such Mary Poppins magic. Such an embarrassment of embarrassments. A cosmic love-bomb. On no level do Porridge Radio disappoint. On every level, they exceed any pallid expectation and drivel imagination I may have had about them before tonight. I had only seen 30 seconds of their music before. (I lied about the extra 10 seconds.) Tonight was like being let in on the greatest secret in the world, so great because there is no way – NO FUCKING WAY – that anything I type comes close to capturing the essence of Porridge Radio, and they will probably have mutated and changelinged and turned into something even more separate and other in the time it takes me to type this thought.

If only this was Adele.

If only this was Sam Smith.

If only this was David Cameron.

EXHIBIT C
I watched 40 seconds of the greatest band. I pretended I had watched 40 minutes when I spoke to them later because hell it’s embarrassing to have watched 40 seconds of the greatest band just as the “thank you’s” kick in and then enthuse to the band how wonderful you think they are and can they play a show with you in Worthing in November, please please please. I asked the promoter too. It is my new way of mating. See 40 seconds of the greatest band and then turn on the 54-year-old charm. Someone had whispered “Raincoats” downstairs and I scorned and they looked embarrassed too, because they were downstairs and so if it was true why were they there and if it was not true why were they saying it, and so I took the steps three at a bound only to discover 40 seconds of the greatest band, and not only was it both true and not true but it was wonderment, magic, sparky nervous magic. Whispering as if it was an orchestra, and so special. I am a git, frankly. 40 seconds I watched, and 40 minutes was there for the taking like a manifesto: the key to the newest treasure chest was in my hands and I failed to turn the lock until just so close to being so late. WHAT ELSE HAVE I MISSED IN MY MANIA?

Read not my words. Read my words and weep for my future. Read not my words, and listen. Five or six of them on stage (I did not have time to count) and they were in the groove, lost in music. Caught in trap. More intimate than the sexual act (not that that is saying too much, really). A call to hugs for the lost and flighty. Ivor Cutler distilled through an alternative lens and alternative reality. Marine Girls re-imagined by a generation that has their own beachcombers. A cosmic love-bomb. Psychedelic whispering. I took all of this from 40 seconds, easy. I have that ability. So lonesome, so awkward. So beautiful. I relived the 40 seconds over and over in my head for weeks afterwards. It feels like weeks since I last felt their touch. (It is days.) You will not understand. You will understand.

Love.

This is yours, if you just stop talking and listen.

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Note to the stragglers: Do not write about music this way. Never write about music this way. Do not invest yourself personally in the music, do not make the emotional connection, do not tread in the crunchy brown leaves, do not fall in love, do not ever wear your worry shoes. Do not turn up late to class, do not question the ticket collector. Do not fall for the bewitchment, for the magic, for the power of music. Do not hold too close, do not let go. Do not face the crowd. Stand down.

Don’t stand me down.

How NOT to write about music – 15: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran is shit

Two people walked out the venue on Thursday night during my reading of ‘Ed Sheeran Is Shit’ (in support of Tracyanne & Danny). My performance at The Haunt, Brighton (read more about it here) went almost precisely but nothing like the following:

There was music behind it, chilling and spooky. I used pauses, timing. The emptiness of the room fed into the futility of my performance in a way that if you had been there to see it , it would not have worked as well. I prefaced the reading by explaining that the piece was not so much about my own personal interpretation of Ed Sheeran’s music – although I do indeed find him anodyne and irritating, offensive in his lacklustre boy-neat-door persona – as it is about the fact that, in 2018, the idea of raising criticism about popular recording stars is to be frowned upon, something to be discouraged. In other words, the piece is not so much about Ed Sheeran’s alarming mediocre faux-blues/folk/pop that takes the place of romance and charm in the lives of many folk who have no idea what alternatives lie out there (perhaps they do, in which case, fine) as it is about the Right To Be Heard.

In this, I suppose, I am mirroring a similar dialogue taking place among the more disaffected sections of society – the #McJobs protests, disgust at the corporate greed and bullying embedded in so many Western cultures.

I guess.

Two people walked out anyway. They too were exercising their Right To Protest, although I would have preferred it if they’d stuck around to argue with me afterwards, or heckle the set. Somehow, their actions felt vaguely misguided – as if they were proving my very point through their refusal to listen.

It isn’t so much that Ed Sheeran is shit, when it comes down to it – but the culture that enables him, and through constant use of repetition and reinforcement encourages the general population to believe that his music has some worth or value …

You can still buy the book if you want. I have plenty of copies left.

Paypal £!3 (UK)/£16 (EU)/£20 (rotw) to ramonesfan79@yahoo.co.uk and you’ll discover the argument runs a lot deeper and is way more important than the attention-grabbing title.

Something that I guess those two people will never find out.

How NOT to write about music – 14. The Legend!

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The difficult part is getting the gig.

If I have ever possessed any magic it is in my ability to sidestep the usual barriers thrown up in the way of aspiring performers and writers, and get straight on to the stage. For little or no money usually (not tonight), but whatever. The difficult part is getting there, being offered the opportunity. Once offered the opportunity, you take advantage of it – you try and make that moment in the spotlight as special as possible, for yourself and those watching. Why wouldn’t you try and make that moment as special as possible? I really do not understand bands sometimes.

Totally empty and deserted but I pulled the emptiness into my set and made it another instrument

Last night at the Haunt, the room was empty, desolate. Totally empty and deserted but I pulled the emptiness into my set and made it another instrument. I embraced the awkward spaces and silences, and built upon them: used them for atmosphere, tone. It absolutely informed my performance. I chose songs about death and isolation and muted desire (are there any others?). A spoken word piece about the day Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered was followed by an old gospel lament, segued into my tale about the day I woke up to discover my girlfriend had changed into Courtney Love, segued into a near-silent (off-mic) reading of Television Personalities’ ‘Happy All The Time’. I knew what the fuck I was doing and finally – 20 years late – do not feel bad about who I am. Two punters walked out the venue during my reading of Ed Sheeran Is Shit. I finished up with a monotone, deeply sarcastic version of Patrik Fitzgerald’s monotone, deeply sarcastic ‘When I Get Famous’. I even threw in my old monologue about Daniel Johnston (and found I had forgotten most of the content). Commonly, I feel like a fraud if I perform the same song twice, but I did not feel like that last night.

I owned that stage, for what it’s worth. I had a backing tape of desolate beautiful disturbing violin music supplied to me by Maria because she could not make the show, and that fed into the isolation and sense of bereavement too. As did my divorce, and the fact I could not find a single friend to accompany me to the show.

I had been offered an opportunity by Tracyanne & Danny (the main band) and damn I wanted to take it. Don’t ever take these opportunities for granted. Tracyanne & Danny later dedicated their version of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ played in the style of the East Street Band to me, and it was very appreciated.

This song was one of the stand-outs of their warm, encompassing, magical set for me.

Amazon Prime had fucked up on the delivery of the cable I needed to hook the music straight into the PA system. so me and Andy the sound person rigged up a system whereby my portable Bluetooth speaker was mic-ed up and fed into the room, chilling. The soundcheck as ever took 5 minutes. I stopped the music when I wanted to, which was never.

How NOT to write about music – 13. Kate Nash (part two)

Yesterday Was Forever

The process. This is what we are here to talk about today. The process.

If  I was to write a review of the 2018 Kate Nash album Yesterday Was Forever – and it seems unlikely at this stage, I mean why would I? – this is what I would do. Brainstorm, take notes. Collect my scattered impressions of the music and its surrounding context into some form of list which I would then check off as I start to write the piece. Usually I do not even do this as the list forms and takes shape as I am writing… but I am trying to document the process here.

(Remember the first rule of writing? If you don’t feel like writing, write anyway.)

  • Personal. I like it. A lot. It’s chipper, it’s buoyant, it is shot through with a pleasing streak of self-loathing, She (knowingly?) references Jonathan Richman (on ‘My Little Alien’), and Orange Juice and Courtney Love (on ‘Life In Pink’), the song during which her voice has been sped up a bpm or 10, having the unnerving effect of making her sound a little Chipmunk-esque. Like all the best singers, now I think about it.
  • Observation, detail. It’s her fourth. It feels like she (quite deliberately?) is turning her back on her Award-winning, pop chart storming, past and is returning back to the fanzine cut-and-paste feel-the-joins culture that has inspired her. She is the fanzine pop queen. Kickstarter-funded (for real).
  • Note to self: find out other facts and details to help score my authority from press release/Guardian review and so forth.
  • Theme.  Erratic, but delightfully so. Veers between many different palettes, pop and otherwise, although right now the inclusion of ‘My Little Alien’ justifies everything. Lightweight, but not as an insult. She is herself, like Drew Barrymore (to quote a Bis lyric). She instinctively understands her audience because she is her own audience (list examples from ‘Today’ and perhaps one other song).
  • Special mention, to the self-descriptive panic attack outing on ‘Musical Theatre’. Her voice plaintive, calling. Challenging. Demonstrative. Fearful. These are my own observations but I just checked on Wikipedia (the first refuge of the scoundrel) and it states, “Nash openly confirmed that she has obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety and is an advocate for raising awareness for the importance of mental health. ‘Musical Theatre’ is Nash’s personal interpretation of struggling with mental health”. Good to have verification. (Sample lyric: “I can’t remember ‘A-B-C’ correctly.”)
  • Note to self. Find a source that is not Wikipedia to back up this focal point.
  • She is herself. I know I have used this line before, but this is one of the many reasons I like Kate Nash so much. She is not afraid to take chances and fall flat on her face, if need be.
  • Reception. The Guardian (see above) calls her pop music “slightly stale” but perhaps I enjoy slightly stale. Jesus. We can’t all be Father John Misty. As Drowned In Sound puts it (I will rephrase this), “whimsical, playful, experimental and wildly fun”. I would shy away from calling this honest or authentic, because I am not a great believer of either within performance, but…

And then I would grab a couple of mugs of coffee and write the review.

But, like I said earlier, who the fuck is going to be interested?

How NOT to write about music – 12. Kate Nash (part one)

Kate Nash Thin Kids

When I was living in Brisbane, I formed a band with Ed G, Triple J DJ Maggie Collins and Scotty Regan called The Thin Kids. We were amazing. We had two types of songs – don’t hate us because we’re thin, and don’t hate us because we’re from Queensland. We gave interviews that were works of art.

For example. 

Within a couple of months of forming, we had supported Kate Nash on a national tour of Australia, released a four-track CD which sold out of its 2,000 pressing within days*, became the sweethearts of bouncers the city over with our punk rant ‘You’re Not On The Guest List (You’re Not Coming In)’ and deserved to be on the cover of every music publication in Australia… because (yes) we were better than you. Our opening show was supporting The Cribs at the Brisbane Zoo.

The following clip is from Sydney, where I promised to perform a song that Isaac (then aged around 6) had written entitled ‘Poppycock Is Rubbish’.

I am still waiting for a savvy label to contact us, and release our debut album under the aegis of “the great lost pop band of Brisbane”.

This is the song you can lead with.

We were dynamite. Seriously.

In Sydney, faced with a crowd of 1,500 plus baying Kate Nash fans and a drummer who refused to play on the rather tenuous grounds that he hated Sydney, I asked Kate if she would play on stage with us. She was hungover but game. “OK, just one song,” she replied.

I made sure the song lasted for 10 minutes.

From The AU Review:

It was a laughable, uncoordinated mess – and that’s exactly what True wants from it. “Don’t hate us ‘cause we’re thin!” he shouted at a mostly bemused audience that didn’t seem to be in on the joke, before inviting up the lady we all came to see to play a bit of piano. It must have been her touch that did it, but suddenly everyone was interested and even cheering. Atop a simple chord progression, True read out a slew of beat poetry, dedicating each line to a different past self – from his seventeen year old self right up to now. And how was that time spent? “FUCKED UP ON ALCOHOL!” Right on, said we. Watch your sincere form of flattery there, though, Everett – if you record that track you just might end up in the Hottest 100.

Kate returned to the UK or LA , and we went on to record two split seven-inch singles with her. In a fit of postmodernist pique, we wrote a new song entitled, ‘She Never Wrote Back’ that opened with the lines “We sent Kate Nash an email/SHE NEVER WROTE BACK”, a wry commentary on the fickle and fleeting nature of record industry friendships or so we thought, only slightly undermined by the fact Kate invited us to play with her again in Brisbane the following year.

I live in Britain now. Kate hasn’t responded to my emails for years.

(to be continued)

Note to aspiring blog writers: for fuck’s sake. Do not EVER write about music this way. Note the fact I have not even once attempted to address the reason for this blog entry, Kate Nash’s music (and by implication her last album, 2018’s Yesterday Was Forever). I am so concerned with telling my own story I completely omit to tell hers. Do not EVER do this. No one gives a fuck.

*Slight typo here.

How NOT to write about music – 11. Tracyanne & Danny

tracyanne & danny

I am supporting Tracyanne & Danny in Brighton next week.

Yes, I’m excited. Man, Tracyanne & Danny are coming to town!

Yes, I’m nervous. I might not have any musicians to play with, I may need to use a backing tape of violin loops and distortion behind my spoken word travelogues and music hall slippage. I may need to lay myself bare, throw myself upon the mercy of the crowd. I may need to tell the story of Daniel Johnston, of nights spent wandering between ashtrays in Chicago and Detroit, of too many days avoiding the sun and the weekend. I may need to recite poetry. I may need to sing.

I will almost certainly need to try hard, harder than I have tried in a lifetime of never trying hard enough. Now you tell me. Why shouldn’t I be nervous?

Yes, I’m concerned. Tracyanne’s old band Camera Obscura were special for me and Charlotte alone, a band that we could – and did – listen to together a lot, as we both loved their pathos and romantic sweep and sun-kissed string section and love for classic 1960s B-sides and Mrs Beeton’s everyday cooking. Charlotte and I have been divorced for six months now. I am concerned that hearing Tracyanne’s voice (in particular) live might prickle tears where right now I try to pretend tears do not exist. Obviously Tracyanne & Danny are way different to Camera Obscura, but this possibility remains, very real.

Yes, I’m a little awed. The Tracyanne & Danny album is one of my most played this year and it has soundtracked many a solitary train journey and rushed car ride, many an empty afternoon spent wasting away in the depths of loneliness in Haywards Heath, the overwhelming emotion being one of shock. Not awe. Just shock, delayed reaction. Other people have their Ed Sheerans and Red House Painters and that is fine. Bless them. This is not what I look for in music, not when I seek solace and reassurance and some form of comfort. I am looking for voices that can transport me out of this mess, this delayed shock – pure and open and laden with understanding. Voices that understand the secret history of The Pastels. I am looking for Tracyanne & Danny. Both singers, all their songs.

Why the hell wouldn’t I be awed, at the prospect of being the support act for all this? You tell me.

Gotta love a bit of slide guitar, of melancholy blues, an easy way around a vocal.

Note for aspiring blog writers: write, not because you have to, but because you want to. Just write. Not feeling up to writing? Write anyway. Write every second of the day, if you can. Just write.