26.09.18: Ólafur Arnalds world is one of travel, he informs the audience in between one of the songs he performs tonight. When not touring he takes a break from his career by travelling more. The places he visits often influence the music he makes and on this occasion it was Nyepi the Balinese “Day of Silence.” He informs the audience that he found it amusing today when he found himself having a hot bath, on Hot Bath Street, while in Bath. On another occasion, he talks about his first visit to Bath around 2007 when he was the drummer in the hardcore punk band Fighting Shit.
It takes a leap of faith to imagine the guy in front of us who tonight is playing beautiful, fragile and evocative music once thrashed out punk in a small pub in Bath, but he also informs the audience that his grandmother was the greatest musical influence on the young Ólafur. The metal-loving Ólafur would sit with his grandmother to listen to Chopin’s work whenever they had visited one another. At her deathbed, Arnalds said “She was just lying there, old and sick, but very happy and proud. Listening to a Chopin sonata. Then I kissed her goodbye and left. She passed away a few hours later.” The final song tonight is Lag Fyrir Ömmu (Song for Grandma) and it all makes sense now.
24.09.18: I inadvertently stumbled across Michael Nau in his early days when fronting Cotton Jones whose album Paranoid Cocoon (2009) remains a favourite and contains the majestic track I Am the Changer (seriously track it down!). His style is casual, an appearance of not being fazed, but what lays beneath his calm exterior is a musician and songwriter of the highest order. I’m at the Louie tonight and Nau is with his band The Mighty Thread promoting their self-titled new album. Uplifting beautiful stuff. Check out the link below.
23.09.18: There have been many attempts over the years to categorise They Might Be Giants, a task akin to balancing on a set of shakey decorating ladders while attempting to nail jelly to a ceiling, so I’m not going to even attempt it here. All I can say is that if you take St. Peppers era Beatles, a bit of Beach Boys, some Liza Minnelli, Deep Purple riffs, Motown backbeats and the brass section from Earth Wind and Fire, place them in a tumble drier several times over a bright summers weekend. You might (just might) be lucky enough on one occasion to get the ingredients right and that is without the arduous challenge of blending in some of the wittiest lyrics being set to music today. Getting this right, of course, is a challenge for the musician. One slip, either way, can project the material into a smug self-righteous mess.
TMBG have found an odd relationship with my music collection. I adore their 1990 album Flood with its quirky set of songs, including the perfect pop tune Birdhouse in your Soul, sitting along the track Your Racist Friend, which coming from an American band seems quite an aptly timed anthem for their 45th President. Their music has popped up on TV shows like Malcolm In the Middle. They’ve written music for the Spongebob Square Pants, as well as winning two Grammy Award and nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score.
With 4 million records sales to their name, I’ve dipped into their catalogue along the way and I now find myself at the SWX venue Bristol to finally see Brooklyn’s very own and self-titled ambassadors of love perform live for the first time. TMBG are providing two sets tonight covering material from their back catalogue and forthcoming album. The evening is a storming success, full of humour, amazing musicians who are simply on top of their game and at ease with one another. The dubbing of Aerosmith/Run DMC’s video to Walk This Way is a particular fun treat! Check out dates for their remaining tour dates here as well as accessing band information, free downloads, etc. I heartly recommend you go see them live. If you don’t come out with a rye smile on your face and a spring in your step the next morning then you are in need of professional help.
Dramatic clouds, seagrass bending too the breeze. The warm ceramic cup between the tips of fingers, I took a sip of black coffee. The melancholic mood of Sunday morning’s interrupted by the reality of life. The noise of parents seeking desperately to control their offspring, making demands, they surrender, and staff behind a makeshift counter rapidly took orders, shouting them through to a small kitchen where a large lady made a note.
Driftwood retrieved from the sea on display, clumsy art, the smell of fried food. Through the window, I’d noticed she had been stood there for quite a while. On the sand dunes, still, just staring out across the waters, motionless. Her silhouette set against the sky. Is she playing with memories? Looking down at my coffee, I take another sip and a trail of old cup stains ground into the rough grain of the bench. Each cup mark representing somebody, who sat here and no doubt pondered the universe.
Aasma was her name. She had explained in struggled, broken English, She asked “please time” as she sat on the nearby bench alone. Her demeanor, as if waiting for a train, flight or ferry. “Have a nice day” I said as she exited the beach cafe. “Thank you” she replied, before making her way up the sand path to the water’s edge. A silent sadness followed her steps. An intense sense of solitude.
I had noticed she had bent down as if to tie shoelaces, then standing upright, she calmly placed her hands on her face, turned and made her way back down the path and passed the cafe window, which I sat behind. A small nod of acknowledgment from each other and she was gone.
Leaving the cafe, inhaling the sea air, the sound of waves in the near distance and seagulls screaming their constant hunger I made my way up the sand path to where she had stood. Looking across the seas, no lands were in view to these naked eyes. Nestled in the sand, where she stood, 3 separate pebbles lay on the stems of 3 carnation flowers.
Tom Waits awakes from his hibernation with a collaboration with Marc Ribot. An anti-fascist folk song with an accompanying video, which also has a very strong anti-Trump theme. The track is taken from Robot’s album Songs of Resistance 1948-2018, which is due for release on 14th September 2018 via ANTI-.
The sound of Lensmen occupies a personal space in my musical adventures. A space between my adolescence youth and early 20s, which is bookended at one end by the demise of Jim Morrison (1971) and at the other end the tragic death of Ian Curtis (1980). The shadows of these creative geniuses are cast large over the Lensmen’s output, so far. This is not by any means a criticism given I have admiration for any band or artist who wears their influences on their sleeves. The challenge of course always remains if they can utilise these influences and navigate the rocks of not simply becoming a pale intimidation or at worse a tribute band. While its early days and some of the tracks on offer are naturally raw you can get a sense of fresh musical ideas fermenting away, often bleak, but similarly fragile. Dark, yes, but with the craft of lyricist Alan Hughes, they have an emerging talent who like the aforementioned bookends were able to inject humour into their dark landscape. If Lensmen are able to navigate the rocks I see an interesting journey lies ahead. Enjoy.
04.10.18: Tuesday night and off to an evening with Gina Miller, who is known mainly for legally challenging the UK Government’s right to invoke Article 50 (Brexit) without reference to Parliament. In the absence of political moderation, for many, Miller has willingly, or unwillingly become the figurehead for those desperately seeking somebody to rally around. As a consequence, Miller has faced an appalling barrage of abuse, including threats of gang rape, beheading, racial harassment, murder and, acid attacks. Her personal office has received packages containing dangerous substances. Her legal team has been subjected to protests outside their offices, and at least eight people have been served with cease and desist notice by the police. In a self-declared act of ‘satire.’ Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, 4th Viscount St Davids, a British peer, described Miller as a “boat jumper” and added: “If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.” The 4th Viscount St Davids also offered “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant.”
How have we got here? A question I often find myself asking, whatever our views on the challenges we face in our communities. What has stirred up so much animosity, hostility and, hatred? It is a darkness that strikes at the heart. A hatred I have known to have existed in the few but not the many. The grumpy uncle, or neighbour who lazily points the finger at everybody else for their troubles while fearfully avoiding the hallway mirror. Last Sunday evening I spent over 2 hours in a public meeting trying to discuss the merits and genuine concerns of a proposed winter shelter for the homeless in my neighbourhood. These issues are always sensitive, often the catalyst for bringing the worst out of people with locals exasperated by the weak administration of the consultation process managed by the City Council. Yet, none of this provided any justification for the uncontrolled rage, and venom aimed at those most vulnerable in our community who face the threat of freezing to death over the winter periods.
The demands for the council to compensate people for a perceived loss of house value, if the project were to be granted, is one thing and a concern for personal safety is another, these are entirely natural concerns. The council must calmly explain how it will help mitigate these factors, justified or not. How these adult discussions are able to take place in an environment of open hostility, lack of humanity and outright appalling behaviour is frankly beyond me. At one point I turned to witnesses a group of people poised continuously to interrupt when breath was taken by anybody else contributing to the meeting, tightly clenched hands, a reddening and angry facial expression, like volcanos awaiting explosion. This is not a legitimate expression of concern, but an embolden confident disregard for anybody else. In part a small reflection of where we are as a people at the moment, polarised and unable to reach out, share and lacking any empathy. A smaller reflection of what Gina Miller is relaying tonight.
There is much, which I agree with Gina Miller, Brexit, the general state of politics in the UK, government abuse of power, erosion of accountability and a need to find new ways of opening up dialogue across our fractured political divide. There are also issues where her analysis, on the surface seems naive with the reiteration of the muddle that a ‘kinder, more socially aware capitalism’ will help solve the deep-rooted economic injustice between North and South and in the micro-economies of the UK regions. Not everybody who works in the world of capital finance has, and will never have the values of Gina Miller, and waiting for this type of transformation to take place is a wait too long. Especially for those who have had to live with the consequences of failed 3rd-way market-based (kinder capitalism) solutions since the 1980s. A decade, which brought the promise of an end to ‘boom and bust’ economics by its advocates who often now like to start their narrative from the financial crash of 2007, and the onset of austerity.
Tonight and I can genuinely sense a feeling of the utmost loss, grieving, ongoing bewilderment amongst the audience. It is a feeling captured towards the end of the evening during the Q&A session when Miller to her credit talked about the need to reach out to those who voted for Brexit. The voice is one of that is reminiscent of many who cannot comprehend a loss of power, an elderly man who asks “how do we get into their heads to help change their minds.” A question I am quite sure sounds much more sinister than what the questioner meant but nevertheless gets to the core of the problem. As a proud North East migrant, who voted for remain, but wanted reform. It’s not a case about getting into people heads, but listening, demonstrating empathy and a willingness to support the implementation of policies that will address economic injustice.
Gina Miller is a remarkable woman, and I can list a lot of platitudes. I utterly reject and condemn the vile misogynistic and racists abuse she faces and will no doubt continue to suffer. She is an inspiration to anybody who values common decency, and more people like her are required in public life. Her decision to transfer political allegiances away from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats is regrettable but understandable as the Lib Dems seem to offer a better home for her ‘kinder capitalism’ ethos. It is a move that also contains an element of irony given some academics had drawn the conclusion that the seed of Brexit was sown when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government embarked on their policy of austerity. I can only reflect that our appreciation of Miller’s work will be valued more in the post-Brexit landscape, after the storm, than it is today.
I finish writing this blog entry, I open my web browsers and read the headlines. The Institute for Public Policy Research have published a new report (link here) calling for “A radical overhaul of Britain’s economy as far-reaching as Labour’s post-war reforms and the Thatcherite revolution in the 1980s is needed to address the UK’s chronic failure to raise the standard of living of millions of workers since the 2008 financial crash.” As well-meaning and insightful this report maybe I am left thinking, while Rome burns.