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.

How NOT to write about music – 10. Sugar Minott

Sugar Minott

Don’t.

Leave it to the music.

Leave it to the crowd.

Leave it to the balconies.

This song has made me so happy so many times over the years. Something to do with the voice’s easy way around the vowels and consonants. Something to do with the mellow minimal organ. Something to do with the ricochet of percussion playing back and forth. Something to do with the brief sweet harmonies. Something to do with the walking restless bass almost hidden beneath the percussion and imagination. Something to do with the choppy guitar, the bluebeat rhythms. Something to do with the casual brilliance of the lyrics, the way the lyrics come to life. Something to do with the way all this makes me feel so very happy every time I hear it every few years.

it’s not like the song is tied to any particular event, although I was enjoying music thoroughly in 1981. It’s more to do with capturing a certain feeling, one that I knew was almost untouchable even back then, a lie – but a beautiful lie.

The B-side is almost even more wonderful, not least because it reminds me of all those bits about the New Age Steppers I love(d) so much…. and that leads us into a whole ‘nother parallel universe.

It could only have been on a 12″.

This is my comfort music.

Note to aspiring blog writers: do NOT write about music this way. Your audience is not interested, no one will click through – not on a semi-obscure track from 36 years ago in an entirely different genre and age to the ones you are most associated with.

ADDENDA: A Facebook friend has recommended the Browne Bunch’s 1974 version, “which is both more ‘yard’ in flavour and betrays a Philly Soul influence”.