Sunday, August 31, 2014

Keeping up with the Jones

MILTON JONES / JAMES ACASTER, 1ST DECEMBER 2011, OXFORD NEW THEATRE

Note to self: the time printed on comedy gig tickets is not the time the doors open. Trying to pick our way through the packed auditorium to a running commentary from the headline act serves as a harsh reminder...

The headline act in question, Milton Jones, is in character as his granddad, complete with shopping trolley, long coat and jokes about queuing up with other pensioners in the post office: "Widow number four, please". Much of his short warm-up set revolves around historical gags from the Little Book Of Time that he keeps in his pocket. One joke about Wolfgang Mozart has to be repeated for the remedial members of the audience - perhaps still discombobulated by our late arrival, I'm shamefully among that number.

To say support act James Acaster is the best thing to come out of Kettering would be to damn him with the very faintest of praise - as he admits, the only real competition is Weetabix.

Coming across like Julian Rhind-Tutt as a gawky sixth former, Acaster's delivery is relaxed and confident. Aside from a section about hiding behind doors and pretending to be dead, his material mainly revolves around food - the fine art of slicing cheese; the culinary significance of breadcrumbs (Scotch eggs, chicken kievs); the fact that if you are what you eat, then people who buy resealable ready-to-eat apricots are only ready to eat some apricots.

The set ends with a routine about skydiving which finds Acaster lying on the back of sizeable audience member Jason. Safe to say he's not a comic who's afraid of getting up close and personal.

The first time I saw Milton Jones, when I found myself in frequent danger of falling off my seat laughing, I was at Green Man - so it's sort of appropriate that one joke references a little green man who vanishes. "And then I was run over..."

The maestro of the surreal one-liner, Jones' strike rate is such that it's hardly a spoiler to reveal some of the jokes. Characteristically lurid-shirted and curiously quiffed, he looks like a kids' TV presenter after a gas explosion - and indeed tailors his rapid-fire set to the fact that there's a 12-year-old in the front row.

Not that that's hard - his material is always a blur of silliness rather than a torrent of risqué subject matter or what my mum might distastefully refer to as "language". There are occasional hints of a darker, weirder heart to his humour, though - the claim he'd achieved his lifetime ambition of becoming a lion whisperer, just before he died, and a recurrent gag of the pattern "Turns out not all horses are Trojan horses. I know that now. That was a messy afternoon..."

If there's a surprise, it's the whimsical David Shrigley-esque drawings displayed using an OHP. Certainly it's evident, when you get a rare opportunity to pause for thought, that many of the jokes themselves follow a familiar formula: working backwards from a common saying or idiom (the punchline) to a heavily contrived set-up. That might sound like a criticism, but such is Jones' skill and delivery that it never wears thin. His gags might often be of the cheesy cracker variety that would have you groaning over the Christmas dinner, but they're so finely honed and tightly bound into a devastating clusterbomb of a set that resistance is utterly futile.

Quote of the day

"I am sorry for being such an idiot."

Mark David Chapman seems to think shooting John Lennon was on a par with locking yourself out of the house.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"I once saw Louise Wener in a Little Chef"

Have you ever ...

... had a boring encounter with a musician? Then why not share it with the world at Did I Ever Tell You About The Time...?

... wished pop lyrics might be reimagined in the form of Elizabethan-style sonnets? Then why not pop along to Pop Sonnets?

... wondered what it might look like if famous guitarists' instruments were to be replaced with slugs? Then why not visit Slug Solos?

(Thanks to Simon and Nick for the links.)

Game over

"It’s an unusual question that isn’t often asked: What happens to sex workers once they retire?" That was the starting point for French photographer Benedicte Desrus' pictures depicting the lives of women in a home in Mexico City.

(Thanks to Mhairi for the link.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Quote of the day

"As our avid chatter increases in volume red spots begin to appear on our pale cheeks. And as we cough and splutter the news of our latest acquisitions, so it occurs to me that unless we can find a cure for this malady soon it will have eaten us all up, just as we will have consumed all of Mother Earth's bountiful resources. All that will be left is a gigantic stomach, floating in space, its visceral manifold gleaming weirdly in the cold, indifferent light of the stars - stars that are quite unable to feel any sadness for our demise, because they're too busy consuming themselves."

Will Self on the, er, all-consuming nature of consumerist consumption.

Self's A Point Of View pieces for the BBC website are always worth a read, for a bon mot or fabulously well-turned phrase at least. Some of them have serious substance too - such as this one on patriotism, which he argues is now actually the first refuge of the scoundrel, not the last.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Unhappy Birthday

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that The Birthday Party disintegrated due to an explosive combination of egos, creative and personal differences, and exceedingly heavy drug use - and this Quietus article, featuring contributions from a whole host of characters in the unfolding drama, underlines just how messy it got.

I love Nick Launay's description of first meeting the band - "They walked in looking like they hadn't slept in days, all smartly dressed in black like they had just come from church but maybe the church was a ruin with rats, and they hadn't washed in weeks" - almost as much as I love Nick Cave's expression of absolute disgust at those who liked them: "I don't know of another group who are playing music that is attempting in some way to be innovative that draws a more moronic audience than The Birthday Party. This is not everybody of course, just people I see from stage, there's always ten rows of the most cretinous sector of the community."

An earlier Quietus article marking the 30th anniversary of the release of Junkyard makes for an excellent companion piece - particularly worth reading for the opening paragraphs describing what witnessing The Birthday Party live in 1982 was like.

It's fascinating that even in a band that supposedly embraced musical freedom and iconoclasm with archetypal post-punk glee, Cave should have started to feel so constrained that he needed to break free and begin afresh - albeit carrying Mick Harvey and others with him.

Allow me to use the above as an excuse to once again post a link to the band's extraordinary performance on German TV (complete with bassist Tracy Pew arguably upstaging even Cave), as well as to this footage of the band in their early incarnation as The Boys Next Door showing off their love of fellow Aussie punks The Saints with a cover of 'These Boots Were Made For Walking'.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cover story

Are book jackets redundant in the age of ebooks? Unsurprisingly, cover designer Peter Mendelsund thinks not - and here's his justification. Books do certainly help to decorate my living space - though Mendelsund would not approve of the fact that many haven't yet been read.

Some of the cover designs that accompany Mendelsund's article are brilliant, but inevitably publishers and/or designers aren't always quite so inventive or original - to the point that a few cover  clichés can be discerned.

(Thanks to Adam for the former link.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"We have four guys who write songs here. We have four guys contributing material without someone calling bullshit on it. You follow me? There are many bands out there that are led by one guy who does all the writing? He might have some religious epiphany or some psychedelic experience and he will write all this material that can very easily suck. And the rest of his band feels like they have to play it. That is not Soundgarden. Consequently, we have never made a record that sucked."

Soundgarden's Kim Thayil manages to combine boastfulness with a not-so-subtle dig at Billy Corgan. In truth, he's not really wrong on either front.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The invisible man?

'How To Disappear Completely', pondered Radiohead on Kid A. Well, according to Curtis Wallen, whatever guidance Thom Yorke and company gave should be ignored - in the digital age, disappearing completely is impossible. Find out what happened when Wallen decided to explore the issue of online anonymity by inventing a person.

Ave ya gorreneh moneh?

A fan of Nottingham's esteemed local arts and culture magazine LeftLion? Put your money where your mouth is and help them raise £10,000 to move to monthly publication. There are a selection of rewards available to those who donate - though don't let the possibility of getting a signed Jake Bugg album put you off...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Better late than never

It only took 35 years - but two of the most prominent Khmer Rouge leaders have finally been held accountable for the atrocities inflicted on their own people. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan went on trial the autumn of 2011, less than a week after we left Cambodia, and the verdict has only just been delivered. At the outset there were four defendants, but Ieng Sary died and his wife Ieng Thirith was declared unfit to stand trial.

As has been acknowledged, the life sentences the pair have received are academic, given both are in their eighties - but the symbolic significance of the trial and verdict is what matters. Having visited Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek ourselves, we were appalled that no one had been held responsible for the horrors that unfolded under the Khmer Rouge's regime. Hopefully, now that a measure of justice has been done, there can be a sense of closure, and the country can move on while at the same time remaining mindful of the lessons of the past.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Misplaced optimism

From a letter that came through our door this morning from Better, the new operators of the White Horse Leisure & Tennis Centre over the road: "Whilst we are new to the leisure centres in Islington, we are very experienced at providing affordable and accessible community leisure facilities ... We are committed to working with the Council to improve the facilities and programmes at all the centres in Islington". This being Abingdon, either they're rather less experienced at and committed to proofreading and geography, or they're just so proud of their plans for Islington they feel the need to tell the world...

Quote of the day

"Cliff is a very close friend of mine and has been for a million years."

Thanks, Cilla - at least now we've got a better idea of how old the Peter Pan of Pop really is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"I wanted to compliment your mum for the wonderful way that she designed the decoration on the basement she lets you live in."

Gene Simmons shoots back at the Black Lips after they sabotaged his Huffpost Live online Q&A session, branding Kiss' music "misogynistic, sexist rock 'n' roll". It's a bit rich for the saboteurs to take offence - after all, they're no strangers to delinquent and provocative behaviour themselves. All just a ploy to get some free publicity, probably - in which case it's worked. Unfortunately.

Smart phone

Technophiles, may I introduce you to the latest must-have gadget, the noPhone - designed so that you "never again experience the unsettling feeling of flesh on flesh when closing your hand".

(Thanks to James for the link.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quote of the day

"I'm a little bit surprised but very delighted. This is the second time I've won this award but I guess nobody loves a repeat more than Dave."

Tim Vine reacts to the news that one of his jokes has been named the best of this year's Edinburgh Fringe in a public vote run by comedy channel Dave.

Vine's status as a reliable source of pithy gags is evident from the fact that he won in 2010, and has also been runner-up the last three years. That said, as good as this year's effort is ("I decided to sell my Hoover ... well, it was just collecting dust"), for my money Mark Watson should have taken the crown for this: "Always leave them wanting more, my uncle used to say to me. Which is why he lost his job in disaster relief."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Parties over?

For a long time I was very tempted to buy a ticket for ATP's Jabberwocky - but now I'm feeling I dodged a bullet. The event was cancelled on Tuesday, just three days before it was due to take place, and the fall-out is proving very messy indeed.

In the initial statement announcing the cancellation, ATP cited ticket sales as the crux of the issue - although "healthy", their efforts "could not take those sales to the point that we needed to finally stage the event". The obligatory reference to "an increasingly aggressive festival market" will once again raise suspicions that saturation point might have been reached, but that would ignore the quality of the line-up. I wonder whether the fact that it clashed with Green Man - a well-established festival boasting a stellar bill of bands popular with the ATP demographic - may have been a factor. I also wonder whether having slightly fewer artists on what was an ambitious bill or charging a bit more for tickets (it did seem exceptionally good value for money) might have helped - only the organisers could answer that.

Either way, they say the decision to pull the plug was taken reluctantly, but that on this occasion simply pressing ahead and attempting to absorb the losses "would have 100% been the end of ATP". Even still, the cancellation itself has left the company - which has already bounced back from liquidation once, in 2012 - in a perilous position.

For a start, ATP's dispute with ticketing partners Dash has left punters confused about whether they will actually be able to get a refund. Dash have threatened legal action, but ATP are attempting to work with them to resolve the issue and ensure refunds are paid out. However, that won't compensate fans for the costs of any travel or accommodation booked, and they are naturally likely to be more hesitant to buy tickets for future events - such as the second ATP Iceland, which ATP has insisted will go ahead as planned.

Second, you'd imagine that lawsuits from Dash and PR firm Zeitgeist could both prove crippling to the company.

Third, while some of the bands invited to play were able to make alternative arrangements for gigs in London at the last minute, most will be left out of pocket by the cancellation. As with the punters, you'd suspect it will seriously damage ATP's ability to attract artists in future.

However, let's not dwell on the above - as ATP's follow-up statement pleaded, "If anyone out there says they believe in what we do; now is the time to support us more than ever, rather than letting others try and kick us while we are down". As a veteran of many ATP events, I certainly do count myself as a believer and have no interest in trash talk or spreading malicious rumours. Their passion is there for all to see in the evident hurt they're feeling at both having to cancel and the subsequent fall-out. The world is a much better place for ATP's activities and I for one sincerely hope they make it out of the wreckage in one piece.

Water way to go

All hail the mighty GWAR. More bands should give their deceased members Viking funerals - burning boat and all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We're all back from a summer holiday

Back from a week en vacances en France and emerging blinkingly from the dark cave of blissful ignorance into the full glare of news - it sounds as though our Cliff Richard calendar might have to come down, then...

On a related note, it seems disturbing images have indeed been found at his house.

Incidentally, I love the fact that the tabloids go to such lengths in their pursuit of detail that they've commissioned estate agents to value all of Richard's properties. I don't know about you, but I'd feel disappointed if I wasn't informed how much each gaff was worth.

(Thanks to Rea for the link.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

From beyond the grave

In an interview snippet towards the end of A J Schnack's 2006 film Kurt Cobain: About A Son, its subject expresses despair at the state of music and concern that in twenty years' time it would be worse. 21 years on from that interview, grunge is back in fashion and he's being celebrated as an icon. He'd probably have been disgusted.

Unusually for a film of this sort, there is no narrator or talking heads - simply Cobain talking over footage and stills of the places in which he grew up and lived, with a soundtrack tracing the evolution in his tastes. That makes it feel all the more intimate and personal, if a little unnerving - the viewer getting a guided tour (geographically and historically) by a dead man.

The landmarks of Cobain's life are all covered: his twin childhood obsessions of art and music, his temporary homelessness, his move to Olympia, the early days of Nirvana and their rise to prominence. Despite initially telling Michael Azerrad not to expect him to be any more candid than for any other interviewer, he talks openly about his feelings on his parents' divorce, his teenage struggles with self-identity and fitting in (or rather finding other like-minded people who didn't want to fit in), his misanthropy and drug-taking, his relationship with Courtney Love, and his fury at journalistic invasions of privacy. Generally, he comes across as likeable, though certainly troubled and conflicted.

The interviews were conducted in late 1992 and early 1993 (for Azerrad's biography Come As You Are), but even then it was obvious he was looking for an exit - talking about escaping hounding from the press, wanting to record with people other than Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, fantasising about once again being permanently in bands just on the cusp of popularity.

A year later, of course, he found a way out of sorts. Towards the very end of the film, Love can be heard asking him to bring up a bottle for Francis Bean - a stark reminder that when he did find that way out, it wasn't a clean exit, instead causing untold collateral damage.

Friday, August 15, 2014

You've got to have faith

Don't stop believing - or woe betide you if you do. That's the lesson of this eye-opening article on atheism in the US. It's staggering to think that, in the twenty-first century and in the (supposedly) most advanced and powerful country on the planet, only 2 per cent of people feel sufficiently brave and confident to publicly admit to being atheists - it's as much of a taboo as coming out as gay.

The fact that "no serving congressman or woman is openly atheist" indicates the scale of the issue - politicians are too fearful of how they'll be perceived by the electorate. The vital divorce of state from church is clearly some way off.

The article also sets the Christian Right in context. Often perceived by those of us in the UK as a lunatic fringe (albeit a powerful one), they are evidently not so very far removed from the mainstream of American opinion as we'd imagine or hope.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Unpromising beginnings

Some authors' talents are obvious from an early age - but, as this article on school reports underlines, others only shine in adulthood. The teacher who noted that Charlotte Bronte "writes indifferently" must have been left suitably red-faced by the publication of Jane Eyre - and it must have come as something of a shock to whoever described P G Wodehouse as having "the most distorted ideas about wit and humour" to discover that such ideas were actually extremely popular...

And it's not just some authors who get off to unpromising beginnings - sometimes the same applies to the books they write. Take The Great Gatsby, for instance - initially it rejoiced under the glorious moniker Trimalchio In West Egg. On the Oxford Dictionaries site, you can take a quiz to test your knowledge (or powers of guesswork) in relation to the working titles of famous works of fiction.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Art schooled?

So Jake Chapman thinks it's "arrogant" and a "total waste of time" for parents to take their children to art galleries because they just won't understand what they see. If anyone's arrogant, it's Chapman himself for assuming that art has to be comprehended to be appreciated. Cue Antony Gormley to spell it out: "Art is not to be decoded. It is to be felt. Feeling comes before understanding." I'd have thought an artist like Chapman whose work is often visceral would have realised that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When the music's over

When bands break up, those used to soaking up fans' adoration on stage are often forced to re-enter the humdrum of normal life. Thanks to this thread on the Drowned In Sound messageboard, I've learned that Mark Ibold of Pavement and Sonic Youth is or was a barman, that Seafood's David Line now works for a vineyard and that the Brighton Institute of Modern Music is a place to avoid at all costs if you don't want to bump into a member of Britpop also-rans.

Some bands soldier on, though - such as The Go! Team, whose Ian Parton recently took to the same forum to advertise for new female vocalists. I lost touch with the band after their Mercury-nominated debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike, but in the course of checking up on what they've been up to, I've discovered 'Buy Nothing Day', the single from last album Rolling Blackouts featuring Beth Cosentino of Best Coast. Glad I did.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Death of the author

Don't believe everything you read - especially if it's a misery memoir or celebrity autobiography. Sure, the content may be true, but the author name given on the cover may be duplicitous. Andrew Crofts' Confessions Of A Ghostwriter looks set to blow the lid on the whole charade, indicating that, for some, the life of a professional writer does still pay.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gone but not forgotten

Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Thurston Moore and Jim Sclavunos - all together on the same song ('Nobody's City' by The Gun Club)?! Blimey. It's testament to the cult status of Gun Club founder, the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The track appears on a tribute album called Axels & Sockets also featuring Mark Lanegan, Lydia Lunch, Pierce's former bandmate Kid Congo Powers and assorted associates of Cave (Warren Ellis, Mick Harvey and James Johnston), among others. Certainly worthy of investigation, though perhaps I should invest in the originals - starting with Fire Of Love - first...

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Child's play?

Lego have followed up their Architect Series with the Lego Architecture Studio - a kit specifically designed for architects. Well, it makes a change from assorted film cash-ins...

It'll be interesting to see what the take-up is from students and practices. In the era of CAD, the firm will be hoping that there's no substitute for hands-on tactile creativity, but, like the author of the article, I'm not so sure that it won't just be perceived as gimmicky and quirky.

Who's looking at you, kid?

Ever get the feeling you're being watched by inanimate objects? Some of these faces are really quite sinister - even the cheery ones look slightly demented. Kudos to whoever spotted the Cookie Monster, though...

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Fwends in high places

J Mascis, Moby, MGMT, Lightning Bolt, Maynard James Keenan, My Morning Jacket, Miley Cyrus: yep, the Flaming Lips have assembled quite a cast for their forthcoming full-length cover of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - called, naturally, With A Little Help From My Fwends. Mascis and My Morning Jacket will be teaming up for the title track, while interestingly Cyrus will feature on 'A Day In The Life', rather than 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', the track she's already recorded with Wayne Coyne and company.

Having worked with the Lips, it looks as though Cyrus may now be branching out with her alt-rock collaborations - if Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre gets her way. After Cyrus posted pictures of Hanna in her riot grrrl days on Instagram, Hanna contacted her on Twitter about "an idea for an album that only you are daring enough to make". Could be interesting (not least to see what Sinead O'Connor makes of it) - watch this space...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Quote of the day

"In his legendary solo performance piece The Furtive Nudist, the late shaman-clown and zen-ventriloquist Ken Campbell claimed he was able to move around the world entirely undressed and entirely unnoticed, because the last thing anyone was expecting to see was a naked man, and therefore passers-by just screened the image out of the collective consciousness. Likewise, as I move among the ancient standing stones of the Wiltshire village of Avebury early on a Tuesday morning in June in the company of local resident Julian Cope, who is dressed as a cross between an '80s peace convoy anarchist and a WWII Nazi flying ace, what's remarkable is not how much attention he draws, but how little."

Stewart Lee meets Julian Cope for The Quietus, to talk about the latter's debut novel 131. Published by Faber, no less, it sounds mind-bogglingly mental and apparently owes a debt to D H Lawrence - that's my interest piqued, then...

Lee's also been talking to the Guardian about Fist Of Fun, as part of the paper's coverage of the Edinburgh Festival. Interesting to hear how much he hated the second series - I never noticed much of a difference in quality.