Sixty for 60: 13. Gravel Samwidge

To celebrate my 60th birthday, I asked my social media friends to nominate a favourite song from 2021 – 60 to commemorate the fact I am 60.

Today. Again, today I am breaking my own rules. I do not believe this was a nomination but certainly a) I have been aware of this for some time now, and b) these are some of my old homeboys from Brisbane and as such take precedence. It has only been in recent months that I no longer miss Brisbane and its sun and isolation and massive lawns every day – this, more than five years since I moved back to the UK. Haywards Heath is similar: but as yet, I have not discovered the space or underground music scene that made Brisbane so bearable and indeed desirable. And the grunge! Sometimes, it feels like Brisbane’s Gravel Samwidge – and the much-missed, sadly departed Bek Moore – are the only people left this side of the Arm himself to understand what was meant by “the grunge”.

Today, we have Gravel Samwidge – ‘Wrong Way’ (Swashbuckling Hobo Records).

Mess. Noise. Freedom. Beer. Sprawling comatose under share houses. Loudness. Camaraderie. Loving the loud rock and most all that goes with it. Loving the weird little scuttling creatures that lurk beneath the abandoned car in the garage under your share house.

Or, as Robert Brokenmouth says about their newest vinyl Complaints:

It’s quite unpleasant, and I may never listen to it again. But if I do, it will be very loud, and I will end up in jail. I like Gravel Samwidge. They’re out of kilter with everything else around right now. The songs put the listener right in the singer’s place, their intense, irritated narrative. The Gravels write songs as natural to Australia as the King Brown Snake, and just about as cuddly.

Agreed. He goes on to mention a fair bit about The Birthday Party and The Scientists – but bearing in mind I have been cited on numerous occasions as saying Kim Salmon invented grunge in Australia years ahead of schedule, I think we can safely say me and the Brokenmouth are spewing forth syllables from the same dusty semen-impregnated hymn book here. He also adds this most excellent disclaimer:

Don’t get “Complaints” if you want to dance (get the Revillos’ Cherry Red box, “Stratoplay” instead). Don’t get “Complaints” if you think that Nirvana were stoner rock, nor if you think Mudhoney stole Nirvana’s glory. This ain’t Seattle-nostalgia. This is something very nasty out of Brisbane. Get “Complaints” if you’re a grumpy old git like me who wants the world to pay a bit more attention to itself, and you fancy a turn inside yourself. Down a wrong way street, naturally.

So true. Ain’t Seattle nostalgia at all: this is specifically Aussie RULES and more specifically Brisbane and also nasty and cuddly and twisted (though, much as I love the new Revillos box, gotta say that it’s mostly irrelevant after the first disc). So that’s that. Gravel Samwidge: two MASSIVE fucking thumbs up from ME! This is like Fontaines DC or Idles or someone, but really fucking good. (NOTE: I like Fontaines DC and Idles and someone.) THEY KICK SOME FUCKEN ASS.

As I wrote before:

I really appreciate any music that sounds this sludgy and acerbic and sarcastic. Music that captures a moment in time, and doesn’t move forwards, only sideways. I really appreciate any music that makes me feel a little less alone. I really appreciate any music that can remind me of music that’s actually near-impossible to duplicate but tries anyway and gloriously, deliriously fails. Music that makes me shuffle backwards and forwards, rooted on the spot, waving my non-hair in abandon. In my head, I’m dancing. Always dancing. In my head, I’m surrounded by music like this and I’m leaning out of a third-flight window throwing whiskey bottles at the dullards below. In my head, this is the sound to aim for: drawn-out and lingering and not a little woozy. Everything is a failed climax. Everything is anchovies.

If there were from Birmingham UK, they’d be called The Nightingales, and Stewart Lee would be making gloriously brilliant documentaries about their sadly never-realised glory years.

Sixty for 60: 12. The Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost

To celebrate my 60th birthday, I asked my social media friends to nominate a favourite song from 2021 – 60 to commemorate the fact I am 60.

Today. Wait. Today, I am breaking my own rules once more. This recommendation is my own: yesterday, my dear friend Crayola Lectern passed along a beautifully-packaged slab of clear 8″ vinyl to me, with a gorgeous painting of a many-coloured parrot on its front cover. Now, I can only play 8″ on my straight-to-MP3 record player, sounded out through mono speakers, so… (Wait. I have some stereo speakers now. Whatever.) So, I did the sensible thing. And read the (physical, hand-typed) press release for The Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost‘s brand-new (released May 20) 8″ single, Slow Down c/w Not The End Of. Found the link to the website with the lashings of charm and information.

And I quote:

The Helicopter of The Holy Ghost are Billy Reeves, Crayola Lectern, Mark Morriss and, on guitar, Mark Peters. To to buy our eight inch single please join our socials: insta /thehothg – fb / thehothg – twitter /helicopterholy where, on May 21st the store URL will appear at 9am. as the record is very limited. It will also be released on May 21st on all streaming platforms and iTunes.

Billy Reeves formed theaudience for a bet, fortunately meeting the fabulous Sophie Ellis-Bextor two days later at The Garage, Islington. (He won the bet seven months later). The band reached the dizzy heights of 12 in the LP charts. In 2000 he signed to Sony with the group ‘Yours’ but this project was violently curtailed by joy-riders that hit his Morris Minor at 99 mph (on the way home from promoting the first ever gig by the popular heavy metal band, The Darkness). A long coma, many operations and a housebound year ensued. In 2017 his brother gave him two mini-discs that had been saved from the wreckage, including demos of songs he had forgotten – due to crash-related amnesia. These songs were recently moulded into an album, ‘Afters’ by Reeves, Mark Morriss, (solo artist and singer with the chart-topping guitar-janglers The Bluetones), Mark Peters (of Engineers – Rough Trade included his solo LP ‘Innerland’ in their best albums list of 2018), and Crayola Lectern (from Crayola Lectern/Zofff/la Momo/Departure Lounge and Damo Suzuki’s band up the Con Club in Lewes). ​

What are these songs about? No-one knows. They are, however, very pretty.

I need to insert myself back into this dialogue here and point out two things: first, I was the person on the other end of that bet (the losing side). Second, earlier that day I was shown the exact spot (in “boring” Goring) where the video to the original version of ‘Slow Down’ was filmed. (Coincidence? I think not.) I already love this song – as indicated when I first wrote the following several years ago while living in Brisbane.

I know and I love this song so well, though – ever since I saw him perform it on a grand piano in the Quakers Meeting Hall in Brighton a few years back. Or perhaps it was in his and Sadie’s flat in Worthing. (I say a few years. It has to be over six, because that’s how long I’ve been living here in Brisbane. This video was released 18 months ago. So long ago, I’ve seen Chris perform with Crayola Lectern on a beach in Worthing since then. On pebbles, and with random revellers snared in and entranced by the hypnotic loveliness of the Lectern keyboards.) I know what the song is about, loosely: he’s told me. So I’m not going to tell you. Interpretation, remember? Always leave it up to the listener. It’s haunting, mournful, beautiful. It’s like something drawn from that wonderful 1974 album Rock Bottom, but I don’t mean that to sound like it’s copyist. It ain’t. It’s so fucking good, it should be closing out the end credits of three dozen TV serials about surrealist loneliness and isolation and long-distance worry.  Such a graceful way of making the silence linger. Such a beautiful sonorous trumpet. Such a lovely dance. Such wonderful double-layering of the vocal line. Makes me miss my dear friend’s companionship and caring so much.

(My eyes are closed right now, enjoying the music. I cannot see the keyboard for my two-fingered type. I just love being able to lose myself; in the process like this.)

So now there is a new version of the song out, vocals from the singer with my former Britpop sweethearts The Bluetones, car crashes and bets and love included, new video with some fetching stop-motion line animation, and a beautiful painting of a parrot. Damn, I feel spoiled today. And now I wonder what the song is about, bearing in mind all this back story and added connotations. (Have I mentioned that trumpet… oh my God. Trumpet to die for. Not literally. Please, not literally.) This is as gorgeous as your arse is flatulent. No. This. This is as gorgeous as Sophie Dahl waltzing through fields of ballet dancing men, as melancholy as spending your entire life never listening to Robert Wyatt, as evocative and poignant as a child kicking a stone alone on the way home, as refreshing as Spring Rain. As gorgeous as the arse of Donald Trump is flatulent. Oh god. No. This. This is succour and beauty and redemption and pain and laughter. This is…

Slow down lad. Please, slow down.

Treat yourself. Go to their website, and order yourself a slice of… oh god. I don’t know. Poignancy. Poetry. Love.

Name from a Microdisney song, I assume.

Car Seat Headrest: a dialogue

“This is something you can listen to and know it’s good, and you can sing along with the two lines you know and then wait five minutes while you do something else and sing those two lines again. Like two days ago, I was walking from mum’s house in Brighton to the sea via the station and back again, and I was listening to this song, singing along every five minutes.”

Teaching, I have long since argued that love for a particular piece of music, a song, has little to do with the song itself but the context you hear the song within. The reason you might dislike Car Seat Headrest and love Pavement, say, or Autohaze or one of those glorious independent bands we used to write about on Collapse Board during the early 2000s but whose name escapes me, has little to do with the music or production values. How could it? It’s much more down to the cut of the singer’s suit, his geek glasses. Or your age, say. The build up is the build up remains the same.

“While doing art, I normally leave Car Seat Headrest on quite a long time. I have a playlist of their songs on Spotify that I work my way through. It’s an acrylic painting of two clocks layered over each other which is taking quite a long time to do. Probably the best couple of examples are ‘Cosmic Hero’ and ‘Fill In The Blank’ (I’m going to check that’s right), there are a couple of notable lines – the chorus ‘I won’t go to heaven/You won’t go to heaven’, and “Can you kick his ass for me?’. which is really annoying to get on time when you’re singing along.”

Thing is, part of me is revulsed by my reaction to this: that I am so easy to predict: while another part of me is pleased that I can overcome my repulsion (cue Dinosaur song) and once again enjoy music that I’ve enjoyed for so long. Something to do with the way the guitars are being shaken, and blurred. BUT: I’ve mislaid my friends, the people who made this music mean so much to me. Where have my friends gone? Without my friends, what is the point of this one-sided dialogue. Shorn of context and shared connotations, I am guessing the main reason I like this is because I layer my own associations over the top which may well have nothing to do with either the band or the piece of music in question. Does this matter?

Darling, won’t you cut my hair?

“I was talking to someone on line and music came up, and we both recommended each other some bands we liked – they recommended me a few specific songs from Car Seat Headrest. I don’t think I recommended any bands in particular, just a couple of Nirvana songs I liked at the time – like ‘Dumb’ – and ‘Bisexual’ by GRLwood. I’d recently started listening to music a lot more again, and discovered GRLwood. This is the first music I’ve heard in the individual genre they’re in, indie rock. It’s somehow laidback, but with quite loud guitars as well.”

Do you know anything about the band? Like, where they’re from?

“No. I read something about a band being from Seattle, and it might be about them.”

How NOT to write about music – 147. Vira Talisa Dharmawan

Vira Talisa Dharmawan

Well. I have had cause to comment on my delight on the way YouTube algorithms can work in my favour, but man. This is a delight. Laid back Indonesian pop with a slight jazz inflection that goes for a walk on the beach and turns its shoulder just when you think you might say hello and some gorgeous restrained harmonies that make you want to simply slip the whole thing on again and wallow in subdued sunken delight. It ain’t nothin’ but an easy listen’ jag to be fair – cocktail lounge dimmed lights party music, the sort of which was briefly in flavour 25 years or so ago – but done with such a charm and easy grace, I would be a fool to deny its pull and I ain’t nothin’ but a fool for yr singing babe, nothin’ but a fool.

Breezy retro pop, Vice calls it – or, as they say on YouTube, “Parah kalian yg kesini gara2 fur :v wkwkwk” and I can only triple that.

Reminds me of that review we ran on Collapse Board seven years ago that attracted so much hatred and derision.

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The comment, not the music.

How NOT to write about music – 139. Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl

I have cracked. I have grown to like Foo Fighters through osmosis.

Osmosis: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc. “By some strange political osmosis, private reputations became public”

It happened yesterday morning, on the way back from Brighton after dropping the children off at school. Idly flicking the radio on, turning down the country roads of Sussex, 10 Minute Takeover at 9 am, someone’s choice was this, from the 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.

I found myself furious, emboldened, thumping the dashboard and throatily singing along with the chorus and meaning every word.

What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
You’re the pretender
What if I say I will never surrender?
What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
You’re the pretender

Worn down by exposure over the years, trapped by compartmentalisation and the routine of The Daily Commute (approaching 18 months now), no way out, no way forward; I could relate to Dave Grohl’s words absolutely. I had become precisely just like the others, trapped in an Orwellian nightmare present, the social media dystonia, the online bubble we never break free of… converse to what Dave is bawling here, I have said I will surrender, I have said I am just another play. His voice is fake, I can hear that. A little kid still trying on big sister’s shoes. Doesn’t matter.  My interpretation is enough. The song represents an outlet, a way out from an intolerable situation that I see no way out of. Hence my discharge of anger, my empathy.

My interpretation, not his intention.

I could never feel this with Foo Fighters before, not past the first two albums anyway when me and Dave were angry about everything post-Kurt’s death and we hadn’t sorted shit out. Then, his music made sense to me… but he started becoming more and more powerful and me less and less so and so I stopped relating. (Why would I? Surely I do not despise myself so much, to consider myself just like the others.) Two reasons: his band have always been paint-by-numbers – a little from Column A (Wings) here, a little from Column B (Led Zeppelin) there – and while that is sometimes fine for me, our shared history makes it hard for me to take. Also, Dave himself – he ain’t part of the common herd, he doesn’t suffer The Daily Commute, he is a fucking rock star. That is him. That is what he does. He is not us. These lyrics mean shit.

But but BUT!, the critic screams to himself, rock music has never been about truth but trust – the interpretation, always. I wouldn’t level the same criticism at Gorillaz. Why would I? It’d be meaningless.

The song makes a lot less sense away from my car: it is not designed to be listened to on headphones but live and LOUD.

At least they’re not the fucking Smashing Pumpkins.

I was asked by The Guardian in 2015 to cover the Foo Fighters’ Suncorp Stadium show: I warned my editor there was a possibility my report could be unfavourable. My editor replied she was aware of it. I took a professional approach to the assignment that belied my years of being Everett “not” True, and listened to the Foos’ Greatest Hits compilation several times… and realised there are indeed a handful of Foo Fighters songs that I do not find mediocre. (Including in all likelihood this one, as it is very McCartney-esque and that is an aspect I like about Grohl’s songwriting). The review was not to be, though.

Foo Fighters’ management heard I was down to review the show and banned me from the arena. This set in play a hilarious sequence of events which unfolded like this…

What I did tonight instead of seeing Foo Fighters play live

Sometimes forgettable, always horrible… Foo Fighters live in Brisbane

When nice people make horrible music | the collected Facebook Foo Fighters vitriol

Well done knob gobbler | The homophobic wit and wisdom of Foo Fighters fans

Do not mess with the critic, deutschbags. The critic is always right


How NOT to write about music – 132. Kylie Minogue

How to review Kylie | a beginner’s guide

How to review Kylie | a beginner’s guide

This is reprinted from five years ago. I continue to surprise myself, rediscovering my attempted deconstructions of the simplest of art forms.


Isaac (age 9) accompanied me to the Kylie show last night. I thought it might be a good idea to talk him through the stages of reviewing the show. Let’s see, shall we?

We have two main threads here: reviewing the show, and explaining how to review a show

  • First, have an idea what you’re going to write. (Isaac: “That’s a bit obvious, have an idea what you’re going to write.” Me: No, no it’s not. Plenty of writers sit down without an idea of what they’re going to say.)
  • Worried about how it will read? Be direct in your language. Say what you need to say, try to make it interesting, move on. (Isaac: “You probably should make it interesting, or no one will read it.”)
  • Don’t worry about or pUnctuation mistakes while you’re typing. You can correct those later. (Isaac: “Oh, OK.”) Get on with it.

Make yourself a giant cup of coffee.
Isaac: “I don’t like coffee.”
OK then. Fake yourself a giant cup of coffee.
Isaac: “Is that because you saw the wrong typing?”
Yes. Yes. Take inspiration from wherever you can grab it.
Look online for the set list from the show.
Isaac: “What does that mean?”
The set list is the running order of the songs she played. The bigger the show, the more likely it is to be there. Kylie? For sure. This will allow you to fake authority – give the illusion that you’re familiar with all the material, and also allow you to talk about stuff you might have missed if you left early. Like we did. Here’s the set list. I’ll put it at the bottom, so it doesn’t get in the way.

OK. So we need to figure out a way how to a) describe the concert, b) offer up some points of difference so the experience of reading this review feels unique, and c) offer some critical overview (perhaps). Immediate notes to oneself… Isaac, don’t interrupt here!

a. BIG
Isaac: “Control B automatically does bold, if you highlight it first.”

Isaac: “Loud, bright, and you get very thirsty during it because the venue doesn’t allow you to take water in.”
Sumptuous, nostalgic.
Isaac: “I have no idea what these words mean.”
Sumptuous = splendid, expensive-looking.
Nostalgic = experiencing or exhibiting nostalgia, a sentimental or wistful yearning for the happiness felt in a former place, time, or situation.)

Gleefully tacky (cheesy) and down-to-earth in places.
Isaac: “What’s down-to-earth?
Ah, jeez…

Very Australian, inasmuch as Kylie sounded very Australian and embodies Australia for many. Dancers, many strobe and laser lights.
Isaac: “You could sort of see the laser light beams as they went on to the wall. Like you could see a line going towards the wall, a very straight line.”

Did we say LOUD yet? Upbeat, never downcast. A giant party in a make-believe disco. Kylie referred to the fact we’d all been invited to her backstage area, then to the fact it was Saturday night and we were all at a disco, and then it became MORE.
Isaac: “It wasn’t a make-believe disco. It was a real disco. If it was make-believe it wouldn’t have been real.”
Emphasis on Giorgio Moroder (producer on ‘Right Here Right Now’, and the rather disappointingly cheesy support act – still what can one expect?) and the good times.

Kylie looks sexier the older she gets. Just an observation that has no relation to the music, but every relation to some of the music’s core appeal. One can still aspire to be her, in her over-knee boots and finely toned abs. Sexy, not in a… alright, let’s get back to this.

What else?
Isaac: “There were loads of big sticks that changed colour in the audience. There were also things that went up and down a lot.”
You mean the stage trap doors – the scenery?
Isaac: “They’re not really trap doors because trap doors just open and close. These went up and down, like an elevator.”

The show confirmed what I’d always suspected:
Kylie Minogue is a being entirely made of light.
The unbearable lightness of being (Kylie).


b. Points of Difference
She allowed one fan bearing a KISS ME ONCE PLEASE, KYLIE sign up on stage to fulfil his dreams. She performed (impromptu?) cheeky versions of ‘I Feel Love’ and (Natalie Imbruglia’s) ‘Torn’. (Mentioning impromptu cheeky cover versions is a good way of helping the reader feel like they might have been there.) She seemed thoroughly engaged and delighted to be with us.
The final night of a tour (which Brisbane often seems to be) usually brings out the sentimental beast (and beats) in an artist.
Isaac: “Sentimental?”
As of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia.

Four costume changes that we saw.
Isaac: “One was red. One was black. And one was blue. And I can’t remember anything else. There were too many costumes.”
Several interludes.
Isaac: “Interludes?”
Yeah, when she’s not on stage.

She performed ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ dressed in a blue love heart and little else, from a bath full of feathers.
During ‘Slow’, she stalked her fans in her six-inch platform boots while a dancer balanced on one hand.
The crowd were dressed up but not in a Lady Gaga fans way, more in a night out down the Valley with our forty-something pals way.
Isaac: “There were more than 40 people there.”

Isaac: “Can we go on to point C now?”
No, because we haven’t really said anything here yet.
Isaac: “We haven’t? Oh, OK.”

On our way in, I took a photograph at the entrance to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre compound, and pointed out to Isaac you wouldn’t be likely to see similar signs at similar British arenas.


What did you think of your first arena pop show?
Isaac: “I liked it.”
What did you like about it?
Was it the crowd, the noise, the songs, the singer, the venue…?
Isaac: “I really liked the lights because they were interesting.”
Interesting isn’t a very descriptive word. Can you think of a different word?
Isaac: “Well, it looked complicated.”
Did you like Kylie herself?
Isaac: “Yeah… well, she’s a good singer, and she also made up good songs because there’s no point being a good singer if you make up bad songs.”

From my perspective, the first section seemed to drag a little, the second section dazzled as we fed off Kylie’s energy and spunk and she fed off ours (she seemed notably relaxed, which worked well) and the 80s disco medley was wonderful… made me yearn for Pet Shop Boys, and anyone who can make me yearn for Pet Shop Boys is A-OK in my book.

Basically, during the first section I was thinking, “Why the HELL didn’t I get myself on the list for Miley and Katy Perry?” but by the time ‘Spinning Around’ delighted I was lost, caught in a trance. Lost in music.

And by the time the ‘Dizzy’ section came round I was ruing Isaac being with me cos I WANTED TO SEE THE REST OF THE SHOW. But he’s nine, and it was 10.30pm by then, with a 45-minute drive back – and so we missed the ‘Lick’ section and the ‘Aussie’ section and doubtless a tumultuous and tear-streaked encore.

I saw Kylie on my 30th birthday, and she was a massive disappointment. Tonight? The only disappointment remains me.

First Kiss
Breathe (intro)
Les Sex
In My Arms

Secret Kiss
Bauhau Disco (interlude)
Step Back in Time
Spinning Around
Your Disco Needs You
On a Night Like This
Right Here, Right Now (Giorgio Moroder cover) (with Giorgio Moroder)
I Feel Love (Donna Summer cover) (with Giorgio Moroder)

Dizzy Kiss
Chasing Ghosts (video interlude)
Enjoy Yourself (intro)
Hand on Your Heart / Never Too Late / Got to Be Certain / I Should Be So Lucky

Lick Kiss
Skirt (interlude)
Need You Tonight (INXS cover)
Nu-di-ty (interlude)
Can’t Get You Out of My Head
Kids (Robbie Williams cover)

Aussie Kiss
Kiss Me Once
Get Outta My Way
Love at First Sight
The Loco-Motion
All the Lovers

Into the Blue

Everett True’s 10 favourite albums of all time* … and one that changed his life


This is reprinted from my Brisbane website Collapse Board, originally written for an Australian publication that never ran with the article. My original intro pretty much covers it – to this list of omissions I would now add most obviously Beyoncé (Lemonade, duh), but also St Vincent, some gospel (this, for instance), Blind Blake, Metal Box (PiL), more ska and bluebeat for sure, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and dub reggae circa late 1970s, Talking Heads, Undertones, Tunabunny, Little Mix, some female grime (this, for instance – or this), my own stuff, Miley Cyrus (seriously), The Cramps, The Saints, The Go-Betweens (but also this!), The Roches’ first two, Daniel Johnston and so forth.

Here’s a list of some records that have influenced me. For the sake of simplicity and driving a handful of Arcade Fire fans towards some decent music, I’ve called them my “10 favourite albums of all time”.

Also, as I cannot get my head around the concept of narrowing down my life to a list of 10 records, I’ve kept the parameters narrow: what I’d term “Rough Trade circa 1979” music, the sort of stuff Simon Reynolds covers in his book Rip It Up. Even so, it’s absurd The Specials aren’t in there – or This Heat. Or Elvis Costello. Nina Simone. Irma Thomas. The Shangri-La’s. Throbbing Gristle. The Residents. Saturday Night Fever. There’s not even any Buzzcocks, for Bangs’ sake! (Slaps head.) Plus around about 10,000 others.

For reference, I sometimes listen to Sixties bluebeat when I’m at home; and Christmas songs.

The Fall
Live At The Witch Trials (1979)

I never joined The Fall.

I’ve never wanted to join The Fall. Mark E Smith’s reputation as a cantankerous, belligerent ringmaster precedes him – thoroughly entertaining and a scoundrel, yes, but far too demanding, way above and beyond the call of duty. I’m a Fall fan, not an obsessive – I fall into the right categories: male, white, over 40. (Critics, in particular, love this band: there’s so much they can pick apart.) I felt The Fall peaked round about 1983 (coincidentally, when manager Kay Carroll ran out on them) – same as David Bowie believes – but there again, acknowledge a couple of storming returns to form at the start of the Nineties (see 1992’s scathing Code: Selfish), and also in 2005 with Fall Heads Roll. I’m not particularly familiar with band-members – um, off the top of my head, Scanlon, Karl Burns, Riley, Blue Orchids founder Martin Bramah of course, Una Baines, alt fashion icon Brix Smith of course, Hanley, Yvonne Pawlett, Julia Nagle perhaps…certainly not all the 44-plus ‘musicians’ that have served time with The Fall during their 30-year history.

For, as Mark E Smith once put it, “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s The Fall” – and who cares who’s creating the music, long as it’s there? I mean, really.

The Fall are a band I return to time and time again (a cursory glance at my iTunes reveals 554 songs – and that’s not including the vinyl), but not very often in female company. Females, curiously, don’t usually seem to appreciate the entire Making Top 10 Lists/Football Fan/Pitchfork reader side of being a Fall fan. Yet I’ve never wanted to discover more about the personalities behind the sound, not even the vocalist’s. My curiosity is sated by the music – the music alone, brilliantly spasmodic and grating and anti-melodic and sometimes outright pop. I hardly ever listen to lyrics, even when they created by the most lyrical of iconoclasts. I hook on to the odd line, like I do with Ramones and The Shangri-La’s and The Spice Girls. I appreciate the timbre and rhythm of Mark E’s voice.

“What is intelligence?” Who cares?

I met Mark E Smith once – he turned up uninvited at a Melody Maker debate with Peter Hook, and there’s a great photo somewhere of the two Mancunian heavyweights, each resting a hand on my shoulder. Never wanted to know him: never wanted to be so obvious: don’t his fans take heed the warning of the lyrics and musical adventurism and want to move on soon as they can? Stasis is death, and while 1979’s Live At The Witch Trials may well be the first album I purchased (I was so naïve I believed it must have taken years to achieve such a fluid, rich sound), why would I want to shake the hand of the man that can bite me? (I still reckon Witch Trials to be of my favourite three albums … um, when I want to grade music like a Pitchfork nerd, which is rare.)

Never wanted to see The Fall play live too much – saw them a handful of times, start of the Eighties, but only because mighty American female trio UT played support – scared they could only disappoint, same way I can’t watch penalty shootouts even when I don’t care for the teams (which is always). Heard Mark E Smith likes a drink. Heard he likes a fight. Heard he likes to unsettle. All of these are mighty great things to like, of course, but why the need to live vicariously? I have my own secret identity.
(The Guardian)

Dexys Midnight Runners
Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

I once punched a fellow music critic for telling me how much he liked Dexys.

I’m not proud of myself. It was due more to drink than passion. It was at one of those interminable mid-Nineties ‘grunge’ Reading Festivals, late at night, in a hotel bar. We’d both been raving about Dexys’ first album, 1980’s life-changing Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, how it spoke to us – naive, impassioned youngsters fruitlessly trying to make sense of the adult world – with a clarity and confidence we’d never experienced before (or since). How it was our first introduction to Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Foundations – all those ancient soul men. How it was the first time we’d come close to understanding the night time delights and romance of Dexys’ Irish precursor Van Morrison. How it was an album to die for.

We loved its crystal-bright horn sound, the way it spoke directly to us with words that left no room for doubters with songs like ‘There, There, My Dear’ (a letter to wannabe hipsters set to music), ‘Keep It’, and triumphant ‘Dance Stance’. “I’ve been searching for the young soul rebels,” frontman Kevin Rowland spoke over mellow brass during the middle-section to ‘There, There, My Dear’: “I’ve been searching for them everywhere. I can’t find them anywhere! Where have you hidden them?” We’re here, Kevin! We’re here. The album’s Number One single, ‘Geno’ – a shout-out to the UK Sixties journeyman soul man Geno Washington – was pure inspiration. When Dexys appeared on Top Of The Pops to celebrate its ascent, they were all Mod sharpness and mirror-bright brass.

It was like being born again.

But I digress. Myself and my fellow critic were locked in bitter combat, calling on Dexys’ lines and songs to prove our devotion. I’d quote a line from Searching‘s rampant hate song ‘Tell Me When My Light Turns Green’ – “Seen quite a bit in my 23 years/I’ve been manic depressive and I’ve shed a few tears” – and he’d throw back something from the torched, doomed paean ‘Old’, or inspirational ‘Plan B’. (Both the latter songs came from Dexys’ second album, the violin-led Too Rye Aye, the record which spawned the monster novelty hit ‘Come On Eileen’ – one of the weaker songs Dexys recorded.) At every turn, he would match me – line for line, love for love, passion for passion. So I punched him. It was the only recourse left to me to prove my devotion.

“Don’t tell me how much you love Dexys Midnight Runners,” I screamed at him, as our Editor hurried over to separate us, “You have no right! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!”
(Domino Records website)

The Slits
Cut (1979)

I moved to London because of The Slits.

More specifically, I moved to London because of a song on The Slits’ debut album Cut called ‘Shoplifting’. It sounded as though the four girl musicians were having such a great, great time – all the squeals and giggles of glee as they ran shrieking away from the besieged store. The bass looped, pounded, and panted in sympathy behind them, the guitar played all shrill discord and exclamation marks. The vocals were… dirty. “Ten quid for the lot/We paid FUCK-ALL,” they boasted, out of breath. Never had I heard girls sound so natural and unafraid and mischievous, so comfortable with their own naughtiness. (Years later, the same qualities attracted me to Olympia’s contradictory Bikini Kill and London’s turbulent Huggy Bear.) Never had I heard anyone – male or female – sound so free, so in love with the limitless possibilities of life.

Sure, I used to steal from shops – but to me, it was more of a necessity. (I could never afford the vinyl I craved.) The risk usually outweighed the thrill and adrenaline rush. I was – to put it frankly – a wuss. The Slits sounded like anything but, as they moved unchecked through their West London streets. “Is this what the big city is like?” I wondered. “A place where girls like The Slits run rampant on the underground and down dark alleyways, a place where punk gigs happen in dark, dub-heavy Ladbroke Grove clubs – playing music like that created by Cut producer Dennis Bovell – not in a fucking Chelmsford community centre?” Listening to ‘Shoplifting’ made me want in, so bad.

Cut yielded one astonishing single, ‘Typical Girls’. Its subject matter was, of course, about anything but. Typical girls wore white stilettos and short skirts with no stockings in the height of winter, and drank Babycham in cheesy disco clubs in Romford called the Pink Flamingo, hanging on the arms of only the most obnoxious brutes. Typical girls populated Sham 69 songs, or played the part of the brassy, bossy blonde in Seventies English sitcoms – they weren’t sassy and fun and boasting about leaving ‘smells’ the way The Slits wanted – but perhaps they were. I had no way of judging. And I loved The Slits for making me realise that there was more to girls than the patronising English Public School archetype.

The Slits introduced me to the ‘female gang’, a concept hitherto confined to Russ Meyer tittie-fests and cheap Fifties sexploitation flicks. The Slits introduced me to the concept of ‘sex’ with all its attendant glorious smells and tumbles and squeals of jealousy and open-air liaisons. The Slits taught me the concept of freedom, showed me that life didn’t begin and end with the cradle-to-grave route of school-university-office-job-marriage-retirement, that there were illicit pleasures to be gained and wrongful pacts to be made, that life wasn’t as serious as I had imagined.

I never shoplifted when I moved up to London, though. I was too scared.
(Collapse Board)

Young Marble Giants
Colossal Youth (1980)

The sleeve to Colossal Youth – Young Marble Giants first and only album – shows three faces, shadowed against the light, faces seemingly hewn out of granite. Two angular boys flank an equally mysterious girl. It’s a black and grey, almost brutal, minimal picture that gives no sense of the beauty hidden inside the cover.

I was 19 when I first heard Colossal Youth in 1980. To say it tore my world apart is an understatement. Never before had I heard such unsettling, eerie, wonderful music. (And rarely have I since.) The trio’s formula was outrageously simple. Over drum machine tapes, the odd throb of bass and occasional keyboard, Alison Statton would sing in a curiously disconnected, melodic style. The bare bones of music, fleshed out by brothers Stuart and Philip Moxham’s considered, mannered arrangements. The beat never sounded out heavier than a faint click, guitars were kept to an absolute minimum. You could draw parallels between Young Marble Giants’ hurt alienation and the spooked, dark sound of Joy Division, but I never did. The latter were clearly almost crazed. The former were endearing precisely because they were so ordinary. Lyrics spoke directly of disaffection and despair: the mundane made extraordinary by the focus applied. “It’s nice to hear you’re having a good time,” sang Alison, almost supernaturally dispassionate, on ‘N.I.T.A’, “But it still hurts ‘cos you used to be mine.”

Who couldn’t relate to a stiff upper lyric like that?

There was an all-consuming darkness surrounding Young Marble Giants – not just on the album sleeve, but in the music itself. Strange how something so frail, so fragile and solemn, so commonplace can give off such an aura of bleakness. You could almost hear the emptying pits of Wales’ mining villages as Alison sang about a girl painting her nails on the chilling ‘Eating Noddemix’, as Alison denied all charges of being neurotic on ‘Music For Evenings’. It’s not a claustrophobic darkness like Joy Division and all the bands that followed (right down to Marilyn Manson) engendered, however. There’s too much beauty shining through – like a lighthouse beam in a storm, Alison’s voice was always there to guide us home. And when it wasn’t (as on the instrumental ‘The Taxi’) there was an upbeat, Casio keyboard sound, a burst of static radio.
(Plan B Magazine)

Live Through This (1994)
Courtney never thanked me on the sleeve to Live Through This.

She was upset because I’d told her what I thought of the album after it was recorded in September 1993. She’d asked me my opinion, and so I told her the truth. I thought she was asking me as a friend. This was crucial. I’m a critic. I usually pass when asked for my opinion because it hurts. I thought the production sucked. The songs were too refined, and you couldn’t hear enough of Eric’s guitars. I felt the structures were dull, traditional – a far cry from the passion of the debut album. The tracks I liked more were the minimal ones: the wicked and hilarious putdown of the Riot Grrrls from Kurt’s former hometown, ‘Olympia’; also ‘Doll Parts’, retained in a similar form to when Courtney played it to me acoustic down the phone, ‘Jennifer’s Body’, too, has an evil resonance that reaches to me down through the years,especially when Courtney screams the lines, “I’m your brother, I’m your friend/I’m purity, hit me again/With a bullet, number one/Kill the family, save the son”.

Sure, I liked the lyrics. But I also thought the single ‘Miss World’ (the first moment where I realised the extent of Courtney’s vanity) was weak, thin.

I’ve never liked rock bands that don’t rock.

Courtney didn’t appreciate my candour. We rowed, not for the first time. Eric tentatively backed me up – he appreciated the comments about the guitars – but Courtney had become convinced the only way forward for her was to create an all-female rock band that came from the underground and sold as many records as her husband’s. I disagreed violently. Friends sometimes ask me what I think of the rumours that Kurt co-wrote some of the songs on Live Through This. If he did, he did a bloody awful job.

Maybe I was disappointed that Hole had stopped being Babes In Toyland.

Maybe I didn’t like all the references to myself on songs such as ‘Asking For It’. That seems unlikely, though. I’m as vain as the next critic, as narcissistic as the next person that leaps up on stage.

Maybe I was being too harsh, expected too much.

Hole were an incredible live band, fronted by a singer whose only equals in onstage charisma and passion were Calvin Johnson and Birthday Party-era Nick Cave. (I rated Courtney above Kurt as a front person initially.) I’d been disappointed by Birthday Party and bloody Nirvana albums too. Perhaps it was only compared to their live performances that Live Through This was a disappointment.
(taken from Live Through This: American Rock Music In The Nineties)

Beat Happening
Beat Happening (1985)

It was Heather’s voice on ‘Foggy Eyes’ that originally drew me to Beat Happening. I’ve always preferred female singers. That, and the graphics – that cat on the spaceship! But also, I responded to the minimal backing. I’ve always hated extraneous noise, especially unnecessary drumming. I was a very big fan of the first Marine Girls album, too – something ‘Foggy Eyes’ reminded me of. I used to sing on stage either a cappella or with the most minimal of backings myself and was made to feel somewhat of a freak by doing so. It was nice to hear this deep-throated boy doing the same in some city I’d never heard of before. Calvin’s singing and the production on the album reminded me a little of early Cramps (stripped back to the bone). I loved the directness of it, the sense of fun, the fact that with a few sparse notes and carefully chosen words, this trio had managed to create a whole aura and mystique about themselves.

So I wrote about them in my fanzine. Pages. What else could I do? All I ever wanted to communicate by writing about music was the love I felt for certain records.

I’m not sure what I thought of Beat Happening in the context of the then-English music scene. It sounded refreshing, exciting to me – anything I love on first hearing always sounds refreshing to me. It made me feel less alone, made me feel that perhaps there were other people who had the same core values as me. I’m not sure if I heard it the same time as I heard Talulah Gosh (a band I loved) but if I did, I wouldn’t have connected the two bands together. They seemed on opposite sides of the world. Perhaps, though, a certain naivety and joy for music for its own sake, connected the two bands – them, and The Wedding Present, Razorcuts, Wolfhounds, (very early) Soup Dragons, Shop Assistants, Pastels, Shrubs, Bogshed, Membranes et al. Yeah, naivety is the word I’d choose. Innocence – without any of the pejoratives usually associated with the description. I’ve always wanted music that reflects the humanity of the people who make it (not in a boring way).

I saw Beat Happening live on a number of occasions. I felt – and still feel – that Calvin Johnson is one of the most powerful performers I’ve had the privilege to see. On his first visit to London (where he was staying on my floor: I met him with my then-girlfriend after work, playing with a yoyo) he reminded me of Johnny Rotten. Definitely. He had the same manic, intense stare in his eyes. The same way of intimidating an audience, the way he’d go up so close to them. I loved Beat Happening so badly when they played in England. It would make me so mad they weren’t the most massive band in the world, they were so incredible, how couldn’t they be? My favourite show was when I supported them and the McTells in a tiny village hall in Hertfordshire. I felt that life doesn’t get any better than to see three such intelligent, passionate, witty and soulful people on stage.

I still kinda preferred Heather’s vocals, though.

Beat Happening didn’t influence enough bands. That is so sadly clear, it hurts.

The Jam
The Jam
Setting Sons (1979)

Trios are perfect. Live, and on record. There’s no refuting the fact. When they get the balance right, there’s no stopping them. Think of The Jam, Young Marble Giants, Dinosaur Jr, Hüsker Dü, Cream, The Slits … Nirvana. Trios strip music down to its basics and then, having worked out what it is that makes it work, build it up again with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of effect. Four’s unnecessary. Five is unwieldy. Three is just about perfection.
(opening paragraph from my review of Nevermind, Melody Maker 1991)

The Raincoats
Odyshape (1981)

Listen to the drums. ‘Odyshape’. They’re febrile, smart, stuttering, a living beast, not there to fill the silence or the spaces for breathing, but alert and fluent to the music and story unfolding around them. A tumble on the floor toms. A hissing fit on the cymbals. A race around the snare.

How different, how oppositional to the dull thud thud thud of their competent male peers. Most drumming, you can predict it from beginning to end. Not on Odyshape, and rarely anywhere within the initial brace of Raincoats albums. No one will ever be able to convince me that Phil Collins is a good drummer , the way he sucks the life out of the instruments around him with his barrage of fills and cross-handed technique.

Bad drumming is the reason I’m unable to listen to most rock bands, more so then even the singing. I say ‘bad’, but clearly that’s a core subjective judgment. Yet who is anyone to tell me to think different? Listen to the drums on ‘Odyshape’ and tell me I’m wrong to feel this way…

And then listen to the downright wrong bass runs on ‘The Body’ (from The Raincoats’ 1983 album The Kitchen Tapes) and tell me that I was wrong to hate this band – for the way they betrayed me, the way they betrayed their own music – before they first split up, round about 1984. What’s this cod-funk got to do with intimacy? They knew it themselves, too. Take a listen too ‘Don’t Be Mean’, that incredible damaged-spiteful song of Gina’s released in 1996, a delayed reaction to a certain acquaintance’s interest in their music. It could be from a missing period between the first and second albums, such is the paranoia in the voice and violin.

Whatever. There’s often a reason bands split in the first place, y’know. What is far rarer is that they reform, and are still as vital. The Raincoats briefly proved to be the exception. Except that I saw them at the Concorde in Brighton in 1996 and they were horrible. I walked out. I can’t deny, however, that I might have been suffering from very mixed emotions that may well have prejudiced me that evening.
(Music That I Like blog)

It’s Alive! (1979)

Willesden 1984. I saved up for weeks to buy Too Tough To Die on import, and was so excited when I took it back home. The first time I took it out of its sleeve to play on my Dansette mono record player, my tiny white kitten – who was also excited – jumped up onto the vinyl as it spun round on the turntable. The cat and I then embarked on an exciting game of hide and seek round the house while Joey’s voice sounded out, poignant and raw and scratched.

That same year, I formed a New Wave a cappella group, The Legend! And His Swinging Soul Sisters, with my brother and Dave Smith from work, for the sole purpose of singing Ramones and Sixties soul covers in front of a live audience. We’d learnt the first rule of punk: that it didn’t matter how proficient you were at playing guitar – indeed, we’d taken the ‘less is more’ maxim of the Ramones to its logical conclusion. We’d dispensed with instruments altogether.
(introduction to Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story Of The Ramones)

Orange Juice
You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (1982)

This is where it starts: fumbled glances in doorways, fringes worn proudly like Roger McGuinn, guitars a rush of blood through the heart and out onto the streets, mistakes and laughter mixed in with crush-worthy melodies and the undeniable rush of falling in love for the 113th time. Orange Juice were Glasgow boys manly enough to admit their feminine side was at least twice as enticing as their male. Before Stephen Pastel and Morrissey and all the lesser lights that followed (them), there was Edwyn Collins. Cavalier, gay (in the old-fashioned sense), flashing a coy smile while simultaneously flicking his fringe back and falling over drunk: championing a proletarian pop music that took punk’s first and most important lesson to heart – do it yourself, the others are probably boring old farts anyway – and applied it to the music of Motown, Stax, disco, Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, life itself.

The first Orange Juice singles are peerless – 1980’s debut ‘Falling And Laughing’ with its riotous instrumental B-side, ‘Simple Thrilled Honey’ (oh MY GOD!) with its infectious stuttered denouement of peer pressure, the tinny, delirious ‘Blue Boy’, the unstoppable ‘Poor Old Soul’…These were the rampant, barely formulated, refrains that launched a thousand independent bands (most of whom promptly missed the point of what they were aping) and helped define one of the Greatest Indie Labels of our time – Postcard Records (Orange Juice, Josef K, The Go-Betweens, early Aztec Camera), the Sound Of Young Scotland indeed. And then the band (Edwyn, much overlooked songwriting partner James Kirk, Steven Daly, David McClymont) got even better…
(Plan B Magazine)

And The One That Changed My Life…

Nevermind (1991)

This record changed my life, literally. For nearly three years, people wanted to know me.

Meme: Mike Turner

How NOT to write about music – 24: Morrissey

British singer Morrissey performs during

This is reprinted from Collapse Board, 2012 – wherein I was merely trying to prove that there is  more than one way to review a show. Of course, there are more than 17 ways to review a show as well – interpretative dance, political, unseeing, seductive, podcast, ranting, haiku, whistled, choppy, sculpted, dress-making, self-centered… the list goes on and on. And on. Can all these be counted as music criticism? Depends on how narrow you like to set your parameters.

Couple of notes:

  1. Since this was written I find my 2018 self in violent disagreement with my 2012 self and section 15, particularly in regard to Morrissey and racism. So much so, I have thrown in a bonus rant (drawn from Ed Sheeran Is Shit) at the end, to counter the goodwill. The idea of reprinting this blog entry and the rant is not to draw attention to Morrissey however, but to try and alert people to the endless possibilities contained within music criticism – especially in the wake of Dave Simpson’s well-meaning but perhaps misleading Guardian article about the health of the music journalism that chose as its visual a magazine rack full of covers that only featured white male musicians over the age of 35.
  2. In section 14 (comparative) I cannot find links to all the music originally played so I have had to guess a couple. Unfortunate, but a good reminder of the transient nature of the Internet.
  3. I have added comments where I have deemed them necessary. Frankly, this shit should be shared and taught across every country where folk consider music journalism to hold any worth – but of course it won’t be. The folk most vested in music journalism’s value also have the biggest stake in music journalism not changing. Plus ça change.
  4. I still fucking LOVE that clip of ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’.

17 reviews of Morrissey @ Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, 17.12.12

The show took place on the 17 December. So I thought I’d print 17 versions of the review.

Version 1: Literal

1. Shoplifters Of The World Unite (The Smiths single, 1987)
2. You Have Killed Me (single from the 2006 Morrissey album Ringleader Of The Tormentors)
3. You’re The One For Me, Fatty (1992 solo single, later released on Your Arsenal)
4. Alma Matters (single from the 1997 Morrissey album Maladjusted)
5. Everyday Is Like Sunday (second single from Morrissey’s debut solo album Viva Hate, 1988)
6. Speedway (final song on 1994 solo album Vauxhall And I)
7. Ouija Board, Ouija Board (1989 solo single)
8. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell (eighth song on the 2009 solo album Years Of Refusal)
9. How Soon Is Now? (B-side of The Smiths 1984 single ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’)
10. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris (first single from the 2009 solo album Years Of Refusal)
11. To Give (The Reason I Live) (Frankie Valli cover)
12. Meat Is Murder (title track from The Smiths’ second album, 1985)
13. Let Me Kiss You (single from the 2004 solo album You Are The Quarry)
14. Still Ill (sixth song from the first Smiths album The Smiths, 1984)
15. Irish Blood, English Heart (single from the 2004 solo album You Are The Quarry)
16. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (B-side of The Smiths 1984 single ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’)
17. I Know It’s Over (third song on the third Smiths album The Queen Is Dead, 1986)
18. November Spawned A Monster (1990 solo single)
19. The Youngest Was The Most Loved (second single from the 2006 Morrissey album Ringleader Of The Tormentors)
20. Sweet And Tender Hooligan ( B-side to ‘Sheila Take a Bow’, 1987)
Encore: 21. First Of The Gang To Die (second single from the 2004 solo album You Are The Quarry)

Version 2: Abstract

Invoice for u/c
Exercise 5: Towel exercise
Sally Breen



Version 3: Pedantic

I can take or leave Morrissey. I’m ambivalent way more than obsessed. Never liked The Smiths or (it would be more accurate to say) never liked the idea of being seen to be liking The Smiths. Indie? Pah. Sometimes, I think he’s a one-trick pony. Sometimes? I mean, often. On Monday night at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre I find myself bored 32.1 per cent of the time, charmed 5.3 per cent, thrilled 3.87 per cent, spirits thoroughly uplifted 8.2 per cent, and entertained 64.9 per cent. I believe that adds up, and if it doesn’t that’s because it shouldn’t. I don’t like rock bands that think like rock bands. I like rock bands that rock. On Monday night, the only time Morrissey’s band really get into their stride – from my perspective, high in the stalls – is when they’re whipping up a howling vortex of noise during the PETA film, leading on from ‘Meat Is Murder’. I write, howling. I write, vortex. These words aren’t to be taken literally. You should never take anything literally, especially Morrissey and reviews of Morrissey. Unless, of course, it’s more entertaining to behave that way.

I’m not sure how I split on the songs. I’ve created my own “Morrissey, live in Brisbane 2012″ playlist and some of the songs on that are already more memorable than they were on Monday night, particularly the blousy ‘You Have Killed Me’.

And some aren’t.

Version 4: Irrational (fan-lust)

I love Morrissey. I’ve only seen him live once, but that’s more than most people. It was the most amazing experience in my life. Why? Not only because seeing him live just made me feel so euphoric, but because he took off his shirt and tossed it into the crowd. I was lucky enough to get a piece and I swear to you, it smelled so sweet. Drinking my favorite beer, Blue Moon, on this lovely Wednesday night while listening to him has reminded me how much i love him. This is a special frame with the piece of his shirt. I have it hanging in my house ever so proudly. (SolarV, Tumblr)

Version 5: Visual






the clash

Version 6: Imaginary

by Jake Cleland

Out trudges Moz, his face the picture of graven sadness – or at least, I think so. I can’t really see from a hundred rows back. But let’s just say that the aura of this sadsack LEGO man stomping around half a football field away is one of gloom. “The Queen, bad,” he says. “Capitalism bad. Marxism bad. This heat bad. Our impending collective deaths, good.” Each statement is punctured with a round of cheers. “This is not going to be a typical show. You’re going to get much more than your money’s worth and I hope you’ll appreciate it although I think for some it might be too much. That’s OK. What’s important is we’re all here now and we’ll all go through it together. OK.” I didn’t know it then – I couldn’t have – but what Morrissey had in store was a trip to hell and back. Travel time: 16 hours.

The First Quarter
“I’d like to introduce a special guest tonight…” he motions stage left. The curtain parts to make way for whichever sap was pulled in to be his gimmick tonight. No doubt some member of the Australian rock vanguard. Timmy Rogers? Paul Kelly? No, this guy’s got dark hair. The excitement ripples through the crowd from the front row like the vacuum preceding a nuclear explosion. “I believe you know my mate Richey.” The fandom detonates. By some miracle, Morrissey’s revived the Britpop prophet of blank, emotional exhibitionism. He’s brought out Richey Manic. I start pushing my way through the crowd to get a better look. “A few guests, actually…” The curtain parts again and onto the stage shuffles Damon Albarn and a typically dapper Jarvis Cocker. A lot’s been made in the past year about 90s pop revivalism and the cynicism of reunion tours in Australia – it felt especially inevitable following the popularity of Simon Reynolds’s Retromania last year – and yet how could anyone be cynical about this? Sure, it was backwards-looking navel-gazing like all nostalgic tripping but shit, for the kids who weren’t there the first time, this simulacrum of a historical moment is just as good as the original. The set begins strongly, sprinkling covers of the guests’ songs between two decades of hits and treasured deep cuts.

The Second Quarter
The hits and covers done away with, Morrissey and his mottled crew hand off their instruments and come down off the stage. “It’s time for a break. Flex the muscles a bit.” Security staff begin circulating through the crowd, carrying an assortment of sporting equipment. Tennis gear, cricket bats, footballs of every kind. Even a ping pong table, set up in front of the stage, although this quickly turns into a round robin tournament of beer pong. Despite the sensitivity, Moz still draws the lad crowd. The band begin mingling. “Fancy a kick, Moz?” I ask him. For an old feller, he’s pretty spry, dodging and weaving like the ball’s glued to his legs. We set up a small area, maybe 5×5 metres, fans vs band. Moz’s a deadly midfielder but Richey’s cadaverous goalkeeping nudge the fans ahead.

The Third Quarter
Requests and crowd favourites. Security gathers up all the gear – even the ping pong table, which some had had the bright idea of using as a stage of their own [actually, in its original incarnation, my old regular venue in Brighton UK, the Free Butt, would set up the pool table as the stage – Ed] – and furrows it away as the band take their original positions. “So, what shall we play next, my darlings?” asks our fearless leader/lover. “Khe Sanh!” one shouts. They play it. “Cattle And Cane!” another shouts. They play it. “The Wild Ones!” yet another shouts. They play it. “Wonderwall!” The crowd goes silent. Morrissey’s stare freezes the culprit to the spot. “You’ve asked for it now.” Richey, standing in for Noel Gallagher, begins strumming the opening chords. And he strums. And he strums. And he keeps strumming for what feels like half an hour as the rest of the band stands poised as if they’re about to come in but it seems like they never will. Finally Morrissey enters. “Tooooooooooooooo-” it drags on. He slides up the scale and back down again. Then he starts syncopating. All on this one “oooh” sound. He drags it out, twisting and contorting it in every way imaginable, and just when it’s sunk so deep into the psyche it seems as natural as the sound of the breeze on a spring morning or the cars along the highway at night, he switches into “Dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-” and on and on. Finally it dawns on me, but the realisation makes it no easier to bear. A three-and-a-half hour long version of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’. By the end there are folks huddled on the ground, while some just stare blankly ahead, thoughtless, except for a kind of existential stillness, an emotional paralysis. He’s hurt us. Like any abusive lover, at this point it seems the only hope he offers is to make the cruelty that much more satisfying.

The Fourth Quarter
That hellish nightmare endured, Morrissey gives one more surprise. “This is the final one, I swear, but please welcome to the stage my dear friends, the original members of S Club 7.” The crowd muster a feeble moan of approval but can’t even get it up enough to appreciate the spectacle of Albarn and Cocker mimicking their choreography with rehearsed precision. The hits go by with rote energy. ‘S Club Party’, ‘Don’t Stop Movin”, ‘Bring It All Back’. It doesn’t matter. Who cares? I’m defeated. The entire world seems grey. Wait, is that it? Oh Morrissey. Morrissey, you sly dog. I finally get it. The last sliver of my conscious mind grasps Morrissey’s genius. “We’re all here now. We’ll all go through it together.” My god, he didn’t mean the show, he meant life! The optimism followed by the crushing pessimism which evolves into jadedness. I doubt many here could understand but Morrissey’s just replicated the experience of human emotional growth, from the boundless curiosity and hope of children through to the bleak limit of reality one discovers as an adult. Torture, yes. Fairly sure everyone here could be considered prisoners at this point. And yet, we’d all been offered the most real glimpse into Morrissey’s psyche as any one man could ever provide. In that moment I understood exactly what made Morrissey who he was, and exactly what I could do to stay the fuck away from it.


LOVED: The complete deconstruction of Morrissey’s metaphysical nature.
HATED: The beer was a bit watered down. For $8 a cup, I expected better.

Version 7: Street press

The following is taken from The Australian:

Back on the road with no new album to support, the Mancunian front man took to the stage looking like a well-aged matador. Opening with The Smiths’ Shoplifters Of The World Unite, Morrissey’s five-piece band swung in to action behind him.

You Have Killed Me was next and the troupe had a full head of steam by the time You’re The One For Me, Fatty came around. Morrissey’s voice sounded, for the most part, as good as it ever has, although there were moments when the quaver wavered. Speedway was rough around the edges but that was part of the appeal.

John Lennon, towards the end of his life, referred to David Bowie as rock’s last great original. A few years later, Morrissey came along

Version 8: Poetic

Oh Morrissey.
You mean little when you’re separated but sometimes you mean
The night to me

Version 9: Note form

We were in the seated section to the right hand side of the stage, as you look at it.

Charlotte asks me what I take notes about at a concert (it’s very rare that I do). Usually, it’s just the song titles (although strictly speaking this isn’t necessary in the age of set-lists being available on the Internet the following day – e.g. here) and some general observations: the stage banter, as that’s what is unique to this night alone. (Some artists repeat themselves night to night, but I can’t imagine for one second that Morrissey, who prides himself on his capriciousness, does.) Lighting arrangements, number of musicians. Whether I enjoy a particular song or not. The mundane stuff. Stuff I forget. Also:

Did the crowd chant his name? (Yes.) Were fans pulled on stage? (Yes.) How many shirt changes? (Three.) Were the lights blinding us in the stalls? (Yes.) Was a giant image of Himself projected onto the screen behind the stage so we could see nose hairs in detail? (No.)

The following are my notes, word-for-word, typed into my mobile phone during (and before) Morrissey’s set. Quotes signify Morrissey speaking (or a lyric).

Jean Genie
Salford Boys Club
football chant of “Morrissey”
never turn your back on mother Sparks 1974
new york dolls looking for a kiss

“let me spit it out”
“well, look at it this way, this bottom therapy”
You’re the one for me Fatty
always was a Clash fan (and that’s a difference between us)
mic lead
security monitor every move as he touches hands
“this is my life to destroy my own way”… I like this one (song 4)
big gong behind drums
“you’ll be horrified to hear we had a fantastic time in New Zealand and whether Australia can compete, I don’t know”
Every day is like Sunday (“It couldn’t be much further from Queensland, this song” – Charlotte)
bows (mention way the band looks when they come out)
“in my own strange way I’ve always been true to you” – with ‘Funeral Pyre’ drums (song 6)
guitarist with his arm in a sling
Ouija Board has vague carnival signifiers, gong at end
“I had a shocking experience last night…. Rock Kwiz…’name a singer whose name begins with “m”… someone said the obvious one, someone another obvious one…six down the line, I wasn’t even mentioned…”
no costume changes yet
“I’m human and I need to be loved/just like everyone else does” – theatrical end with Morrissey in foetal position, and banging on major drum (song 9)
“You’re feeling weary now, you’re thinking about tomorrow, there isn’t one… prozac, prozac”
next song like ‘Eloise’ singer Barry Ryan (song 11)
“I’m very pleased to see such a movement in this country against factory farming… until it’s gone, humans aren’t humane”
footage of chickens and turkeys
“and the turkey you festively slice/it’s murder” – band almost coming into their own (song 12)
“Will and Kate. Bag. Of. Shit”
“close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire”
strips off shirt and lobs it into the audience, returns in green Johnny Cash top (costume change!)
into Smiths song, very messy. ‘Still Ill’, voice cracking a little
Meat is moider, “brave English heart”
A plant in the audience… “thank you for your great courage and compassion”
stands still, encourages audience participation
Please Please Please… done subtle with keyboards (song 16)
ties shoelace
Also gentle, ‘I know it’s Over’

“Oh, you’re bored stiff, I can tell”
Shouting on “etcetera  etcetera” lyric repeated (song 20)
same venue as citizenship ceremony, seemed big then
another costume change, and a bow
“You have never been in love… first of the gang with a gun in his hand” – pulling fans up on stage

Version 10: Musical

The songs I enjoyed particularly are as follows:

  • Alma Matters – score! I don’t believe I’ve heard the song before, but it has a lovely circular guitar motif that cuts in every so often across, enhancing Morrissey’s deliciously playful croon
  • Everyday Is Like Sunday – score! Charlotte memorably remarks halfway through, “It couldn’t be much further from Queensland, this song” and later revealed she would listen to the song in the car on the way to Southend, on a Sunday. Utterly charming. Couldn’t believe it wasn’t a Smiths song, when C informed me of the fact. I thought only Smiths songs possessed this lightness of touch – as opposed to bludgeoning force. Wrong.
  • Speedway – it’s muscular, sure. But it’s pleasingly muscular.
  • Ouija Ouija Board – what sets the great Morrissey songs aside from the merely ordinary or mundane is the choice of phrase, often. For example, this song here. (‘One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell’ rocked reasonably hard, what with those tempestuous drums but didn’t have a phrase. Or a melody.)
  • How Soon Is Now? – oh yes. I mean, really. This is the song the entire early mythology of Morrissey and The Smiths is built upon, right? The one The Stone Roses hark back to (which is why they could be MASSIVE while Suede only ever aspired to ordinariness as they took ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’ as their template). Lyrics lyrics lyrics… but of course not only. The band aren’t Johnny Marr. Only Johnny Marr is. It didn’t matter. And it was sweet to see Morrissey stray away from his standard dance move of twirling the microphone lead around to curl up in a foetal position in front of the drum kit as the noise droned on and eerily on. Lyrics lyrics lyrics.
  • Meat Is Murder – memorable, certainly. Awful song, but memorable.
  • Irish Blood English Heart –  yeah of course.
  • Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – oh, it’s such a relief when he drops the volume for a couple of songs, and lets us all breath again. This always was a wafer-thin delight of a song (thrown away with the other great Smiths song on the same B-side), recognised long ago for its sensitive touch, and it’s always a pleasure to be reacquainted with any version that doesn’t feature bland indifferent female vocals.
  • I Know It’s Over – see above, and triplicate. Score! A Smiths song I really wasn’t on speaking terms with, reclaimed – subtle and playful and wistful.
  • First Of The Gang To Die – the only encore. (The crowd can’t say Morrissey didn’t warn them. He kept warning them!) Absolutely the stand-out of the night. Storming chorus, storming phrasing, storming storming. Loved the way he played up to the idol worship, pulling outstretched hands up onto the stage, security all crouched and vigilant in case the play-acting became too real. (Which of course it was.) Wonderful way to end the night. I could forgive him any number of faults for this one song alone, and indeed do.

This doesn’t mean I hated the others, more that I was indifferent.

Version 11: Conversational

Conversation One:

“Went to see Morrissey play at the Exhibition Centre the other night…”
Oh yeah? How was it?
“Well, I wouldn’t classify myself as a fan…”
“No. It was pretty good actually. I objected to the way he semi-shouted several of the numbers, and I didn’t really like the band, but there were enough moments to make it worth the trip…”
Oh yeah? Did he play any old Smiths songs?
“Seven, actually.’How Soon Is Now?’, the one Smiths song I’ve always had a soft spot for. And ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, which everyone thinks is a Smiths song anyway.”
Yeah? Good, was it?
“Yeah, great. And he closed the show with an absolute belter, ‘First Of The Gang To Die’. Absolute stormer.”
Yeah? I haven’t heard that one.
“No, neither had I. Remind me to play it to you some time.”
So. Did you speak to him afterwards?
“Morrissey? Are you kidding me?”

Conversation Two:

“He was a lot more jovial than I expected” – Charlotte, on the way back to the car

Conversation Three:

“We consider ourselves the Morrissey and Johnny Marr of Brisbane. There are fights over who gets to be Johnny Marr, because no one wants to be Morrissey” – Gentle Ben Corbett, on the songwriting process between him and Dylan McCormack, 2008 (interview by Shan Welham)

Version 12: Cynical

He’s no David Bowie.

Version 13: Lyrical

I am the son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die

When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

(‘How Soon Is Now?’, The Smiths, 1984)

Trudging slowly over wet sand
Back to the bench where your clothes were stolen
This is the coastal town
That they forgot to close down
Armageddon – come armageddon!
Come, armageddon! come!

Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey

Hide on the promenade
Etch a postcard :
“how I dearly wish I was not here”
In the seaside town
…that they forgot to bomb
Come, come, come – nuclear bomb

Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey

(Everyday Is Like Sunday’, Morrissey, 1988)

Version 14: Comparative

Most of these are Morrissey’s own comparison points, drawn from the music and films played before the set on Monday. I threw in Barry Ryan, mainly for the Frankie Valli cover, and I can’t imagine Morrissey would object. If I was feeling real mean here, I’d compare some of the set to the lesser bands that came after Viva Hate (which is my favourite of any of Morrissey’s albums, with or without The Smiths), but I ain’t feeling real mean here, just comparative. Oh, wait. That means I should.

Hence the Suede clip at the end.

Version 15: Vitriolic

This section is halfhearted because I ain’t got no call being vitriolic towards Morrissey. My feelings for him veer from indifferent to admiring and, on occasion, glad that he’s around. Do I think he’s a racist (to answer one popular call)? No. Not vaguely. I think he likes to think he’s challenging.

Also: it ain’t his fault the shit his music has inspired… OK, maybe some of it is (Easterhouse, anyone?) but not all of it.

  • ‘Still Ill’ has always fucking sucked and it STILL FUCKING SUCKS
  • As does ‘You’re The One For Me, Fatty’
  • ‘Sweet And Tender Hooligan’ should never have been afforded a release. The “etcetera” lyric sounds way better in its original form, “You’re my pride and joy/Etcetera”.
  • I wouldn’t remove my shirt, looking like that. Oh no. What does he think this is? 1992?
  • If I’d wanted to hear someone bawling his way over graceless noise I could have stayed at home and listened to Isaac and Daniel fighting, thanks.
  • Meat means dinner. Always.
  • He’s a bit Tony Bennett, all this reaching out to the crowd.

Version 16: Conflicted

Ah yes. Should I ‘fess up now after all these years? That I only ever hated The Smiths because everyone else so overrated The Smiths when all they simply were was an occasionally brilliant rock band with a lot of chaff attached?

Doing research for this review, I saw plenty of examples of (overwhelmingly male) music commentators making irritating and outrageous claims for Morrissey (the Second Greatest Living Englishman, according to a poll conducted a few years back). That he’s the Last of the Great Pop Stars. That he’s the World’s Greatest Living Lyricist. Etcetera. Etcetera. Bugger that. All they’re doing is trying to reaffirm their own place in the world, one rooted in nostalgia and a yearning for times when they still understood half of what was going on around them.

The Last of the Great Pop Stars? To paraphrase Bill Naughton (The Goalkeeper’s Revenge), I buy and sell pop stars, they’re two a penny to me.

I like The Smiths but I don’t like The Smiths. I don’t like The Smiths but I do like Gene, The Sundays, The Stone Roses, even (very) early Cranberries…

Fundamentally, because I’m old, I can still remember independent music in the U.K. before The Smiths’ champions (and Creation Records) got their teeth into it and turned it all retro and put paid to myriad of the possibilities. This is the prime reason for never being a fan, but that’s ancient history now and it’s 2012 and yes I’m glad Morrissey is up on stage tonight. I can forgive almost anything for one, just one great song.

On his day, Morrissey can handle a phrase, that’s for sure. And he struts with a certain insouciance befitting of the former president of the New York Dolls fan club. He ain’t half rooted in a different world to mine though (one that seems weirdly indifferent to his sojourn in Los Angeles). He’s known for his sensitivity and wryness, yet attempts to browbeat us into awed compliance half the time with an arena rock band interchangeable with dozens of other arena rock bands.

I like the fact he’s petulant, still cares enough to wind up folk he sees as the foe. I dislike the fact he’s petulant, doesn’t really care enough to wind up folk he knows are the foe. I am not a Smiths fan, but I do really like about six of their songs (same as with Roxy Music, Sparks). I am not a Morrissey solo fan, but Bangs alive several of those songs really came alive for me tonight.

Version 17: the Spotify playlist

Bugger that. Create your own, you lazy fuckers.

Morrissey is shit (2018)

There I’ve said it. Happy now? Morrissey is shit. Of course, I don’t really believe that. Not really. He’s a diarrhoeic stream-of-consciousness twat whenever he opens his mouth these days, he doesn’t think before he opens his big fat mouth… or perhaps he does? Maybe that’s the problem. But back in the day, he was great… wasn’t he? Well no. Never felt that either. A pleasing enough diversion, but I didn’t grow up in buttfuck USA. I knew of plenty of alternatives already, many of whom weren’t so obviously performing sorrow and integrity and sensitivity the way he did. Nothing wrong with performance of course, not per se – but to me, back then? Fuck yeah there was. Still, The Smiths (and Morrissey solo) released a good couple of songs and several albums of mediocre imitations and approximations of same. So blanket shit, like Chris Martin? Hell no. ‘Course not… unless you happen to believe he is.

Hell, I’m not scared of my own taste, but I don’t believe you should be either. Got n’owt against him as a performer. Puts on a damn good show sometimes. But nowadays? Fuck man. Nothing feels like shit more than someone people once placed their trust in, their belief, and formed their identities via. No one can stand up to that pressure, that spotlight. Imagine being Johnny Rotten for 40 years. Imagine being Morrissey day in and day out, and not being able to switch off. Bad enough being Everett True. The other day I had a student tell me that she liked DailyMailfuckwadwriter’s name, cos at least she’s being honest. Here’s the thing, though: is DailyMailfuckwadwriter being honest or is she being selective? Perhaps she, like us, eats Oatibix in the morning, but she doesn’t Tweet about that, does she? Nah. She Tweets shit like, “An entire city of monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Blind. Deaf. And dumb.” Not about her Oatibix at all. Just the stuff she knows will rile people. She’s a professional twat, a Troll of the First Order, thriving on fear and hatred and everything that is low and scummy about life. A bottom feeder on the bottom feeders.

Morrissey isn’t a Troll of the First Order like that… and he’s not as bad as Bono either. But he is a twat, isn’t he? Maybe he always was, and we just didn’t care (or know) back then. Maybe he’s changed, or our demands upon how he should behave have changed? He says stuff to provoke, to get people thinking. That’s the defence. (Is it?) What, so you like people thinking what a racist piece of shit you are, Mozzer? Nice. ‘Course you don’t need to defend yourself mate. This is art. All you need to do is call other races ‘subspecies’ when you get upset. Not individuals, mind. Whole races.

Claims to love animals, bans all animal products from his shows: Wears leather shoes, so I’m told. (Who knows? I’m no expert. I’m down with the alternative reality brigade, just not the alt-right scumbags.) All he does is sing the same melody from the Dominant 5th to the major 3rd of whatever key his songs are in… so I’m told. Behaves like an impoverished rejected outsider when he isn’t. (Is that a crime? Well, it explains Trump.) And he looks like a Tory MP these days. Flag waving ex-pat. Still, he’s got a nice voice, don’t he? Lovely voice. (‘less you don’t like it, of course.) Shame The Smiths only had about eight good songs. Still. That’s eight more positive contributions to humankind than that fucking DailMailfuckwadwriter has managed.

People who have always been shit don’t disappoint. Not in the same way.