Friday, December 23, 2022

RIPs in 3's

My tribute to Terry Hall, the scowl and the soul of The Specials. Not forgetting Fun Boy Three, who despite the name could be even bleaker. RIP.

RIP also to Martin Duffy, who played on one of the greatest songs of the 1980s, and one of the greatest songs of the 1990s. 

And RIP to Thom Bell, the man behind some of the most beautiful songs ever made. 

More mourning - a Coventry native's remembrance of Terry Hall from Neil Kulkarni, while another Melody Maker alum Bob Stanley tells the story of Thom Bell. 

Lovely to hear Terry's light, gentle voice and self-deprecating manner on this 1985 radio show as he introduces a selection of his favorite records. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly - given the Colourfield's sound - the selection is fairly weighted to M.O.R. and soft-rock  - Edith Piaf's version of "Autumn Leaves", Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"  and Janis Ian's "At 17" all get played and Terry mentions en passant that he recently attended a Cleo Laine concert!.  The two-hour show was originally done for  Manchester's Piccadilly Radio at the invitation of Timmy Mallett. 

Terry also plays the Colourfield's lovely cover of a song by The Roches, as also sampled by The Avalanches. 

Thinking of Bell business like  The Spinners "I'll Be Around" (below) and "I'm Doin' Fine Now" (as well as non-Bell creations of that era like Al Green's version of "Funny How Time Slips Away"), it struck me how elegantly adult these songs were when it came to things like breaking up, walking away, getting over, and otherwise making it to the other side of heartbreak with dignity intact.  Casting my mind back, I wondered whether I had ever achieved such grace in similar circumstances.... I fear the answer is "not quite".  Whether we heed their wisdom or not, these songs model how to be. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Blogging Renaissance

I completely failed to register this when the anniversary rolled around two months ago: it's been 20 years since I started Blissblog.  Two whole decades - a third of my life - I've kept at this thing! Not just posting here, but at the daft profusion of satellite blogs spun off it - got a little carried away with the fun of proliferation!  

Meanwhile, in the outside world, blogging is dormant verging on dead*. At least in this neighbourhood, once so bustling. Now though, with really only just a few exceptions, surviving blogs seem to be hibernating, while legends are almost all extinct.  One hardly ever seems to come across a new blog - the few that sprout seem to wither quickly, or go very intermittent

Oddly, though -  right here if nowhere else -  2022 saw a blogging renaissance. 

Not so much on Blissblog, which has become my official "news" outlet, the place for announcements of upcoming appearances, links to what I've been writing in proper places, alerts about the books or other writings by friends and family, and of course the melancholy business of RIPs for deceased admirations. But on the other themed blogs, I've been churning out posts. Not just the typical detritus  of a restless mind, either - whimsies and fragmentary thoughts based around a video or a track as with the "drivel blog" Hardly Baked or Energy Flash (unabashedly a rave nostalgia zone these days). No, I have written a bunch of proper thought-out essays. Even involving research, in some cases.

When it comes to substantive content, I've haven't blogged this actively or copiously since.... at least 2012. Below, you'll find a link list to some of 2022's work-not-work.

I put it like that because blogging remains my favorite format precisely because the writing so rarely feels like labour.  Liberated from the need to pitch an idea or wield credentials, blogging - for a professional writer  - frees you up to address topics outside your perceived expertise. It feels like  a leisure activity because it's leisurely - a ramble across fields of culture and knowledge, during which you sneak short cuts and trespass into areas you are not meant to go.  A post doesn't have to have a destination,  a point. You can bundle or concatenate several different topics, push into adjacency things that don't obviously or naturally belong together - like oddments inside a Cornell box.  You can start  somewhere and end up somewhere completely different, without any obligation to tie things up neatly.   Unlike most paid journalism, you are unshackled from release schedules or topicality -  able to address anything, from anywhere, and from anywhen. Lovely too the way you can illustrate with videos and images (always the danger of getting a bit carried away there) while linking to related writings by others or the texts that spurred your essay into existence (again, tempting to overdo). 

And then there's the comments box: people adding dollops of their own knowledge, being  perceptive or amusing. I regret not having activated the comments box for Blissblog - can't even remember the original reasoning for that choice - and subsequent attempts to 'turn it on' have never worked, not sure why. But the other blogs all have active comments sections and I appreciate the insights and micro-essays deposited by the regulars. These are proper friends, even though most of them I've never met in person.

I  honestly can't see that anyone has invented a better format than the blog, at least for what I want to do. Supposed at-one-time eclipsers such as Tumblr  never seemed to add anything truly extra (just a bonus element of sycophancy and increasingly-empty-gesture supportiveness with the below-post cosigns). Facebook is too invitation-only; it's limited too when it comes to illustrating with video and audio. The extremely extended Facebook meditation seems discourteous in a way that a long rambling blog riff isn't. The tweet is an artform I've never mastered - too longwinded, no doubt - and of course Twitter now is a hellzone we should all be fleeing.

I love blogging. More than that, as the old legend at the top of Blissblog used to say, "I believe in blogs" (a twist on Ivor Cutler). Now there's a new blog motto, a twist on Tricky: "my brain thinks bloglike." And it does, you know. This is the closest to how my mind moves.  A bit more relaxed and informal (unfocused, perhaps) than the appearances in magazines or between book covers. In those contexts, I'm the king of structure, but in here, structure's strictures liquify a little.  Starting a blog in 2002 was an extension of the kind of thing I was already doing on my website, whose title included the phrase "thinks aloud". Blogging, being so much easier than uploading new text to a site, encouraged the casual, dashed-off tone, the real-time feel of conversation and chit-chat. 

I have no real idea how many words I've written on these blogs in two decades. But I wouldn't be surprised if all totted up, the blogorrhea comes to something in the vicinity of  five million words.  A significant diversion of energy from the stuff that pays the bills.  Occasionally, I have thought of going the Substack or Patreon route, but that would only turn what is absolutely not a job into a sort of job. Insidiously, I'd start to think about what would appeal to existing subscribers and what would lure new ones. And with those particular templates, I just don't like the look of them - they don't seem to archive in the way I would wish.  There is also something about the fact that this stuff is just out there for anybody to look at - that a search engine or a random peregrination might cause someone to stumble on it. Blogging is effectively narrowcast, but it retains an aura of broadcast, the tantalizing possibility of reaching more than the pre-converted, the already tuned-in. (In that sense, not unlike the terrestrial broadcast pirate radio station). Perhaps that is an illusion, but if so it's a useful and productive one, creating propulsion and purpose. 

There's this bloke on Twitter who, every time the subject of Mark Fisher comes up, says (absurdly) that he wasn't a rigorous thinker and what could you expect from someone who merely operated a "Simon Reynolds level culture blog". He loves that line - he's used it about four or five five or six times now! Unsurprisingly, I am perfectly happy to operate a Simon Reynolds level culture blog. It's just my level. 

Back at the start, someone who was then already a veteran blogger predicted that I would go at it hard for six months and then close down. I'm delighted to have disproved him - 40-fold at this point! This dude should really have known better. No one would ever mistake me for a man of few words. Short of some drastic life event, I see no reason why I shouldn't carry on indefinitely. See you in the comments boxes! 

Here are some of the long posts you may have missed this year, some of them about topics that don't seem like "me" at all. 


Decline of the Wes

A piece connecting Fellini's Amarcord, Anderson's The French Dispatch, and Tati's Playtime, via decadence, detachment, and a typology of nostalgias

Sideways Through Time

An essay about alternative history, steampunk, hauntology - "the ghosts of other presents". 

Showbiz Against Showbiz

A piece about Bob Fosse and Lenny Bruce, believe it or not

Keeping up affront

Essay about Jordan as the original Sex Pistol, punk, and the notion of "cultural terrorism"

The Fall as Sound / The Sound of the Fall 

An essay questioning the over-emphasis on Mark E. Smith and lyrics in serious writing about The Fall

Tonks for the Memory  

A piece on Rosemary Tonks and Delia Derbyshire, via the former's novel The Bloater

"No, I Do Not Want to Hear the New Stuff"

Reflections on a visit to the alternative rock / Goth / mope-rock festival Cruel World - and on ageing ,and the ageing-out of former musical heroes. 

Riffs + Rambles

ShitBrit - a fiesta of fester

A thickly illustrated tour through the Bad Music Era, reveling in the unique properties of the U.K.'s musical Shitegeist of the  mid-80s through to mid-90s. If not the all-time most read of my blogposts, certainly the most commented on. Something about this subject strikes a plangent chord, stirs a kind of "inverted patriotism". Perhaps it's cathartic. Probably the start of a series, as there is no end to BritShit. 

Sparks and American Rock Critics: A Hate Story

Aversion and animadversion triggered by the not-quite-male Maels.

Jagger versus Morley, or Life and Death and the Living Death of Rock and Roll Music

Looking at the rhetoric of vitality and necrosis in a 1980 interview encounter between the Rolling Stone and the NME firebrand. 

Air Breaks

Considering the mimetic fan response to music and how it is affected by sampling. 

"Get Donald!"

The sample epiphany as mondegreen via Loleatta Holloway and Noise Factory

Ennio versus Ennui

A musical revelation chanced upon in a film starring my favorite movie star James Coburn

if at first you don't secede...

Separatist movements of the 1970s... and the strange case of  Saunders Lewis

"Going forward into the past"

On Elvis Costello and the locus of the newness in New Wave

Anwen Crawford's No Document 

A brief review, effectively. 

"Naturally we're punks" 

Connecting the Sex Pistols version of "No Fun" and West Side Story's "Gee, Officer Krupke"

Glamour Mix  

Siouxsie and the Banshees as Late Glam

New Wave as Anti-Glam 

Fabulous Poodles!

"the monster with the thousand eyes is shouting to be fed"

On Anthony Newley, with particular attention to his extraordinary performance of "The Man Who Makes You Laugh" 

The Blow Out 

Identifying a dynamic at work in "Friday On My Mind", "Weekender", and songs by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. 

dubbing tapes (I am reggae hear me ROIR)

Retracing a route through to roots reggae and dub love, via a cassette-only label. 

Baubles + Bagatelles

The Armpit Foghorn 

About a certain kind of rave riff 

Fear of the Oi! Polloi: Images of the British Working Class from Butskellism to Bushellism.   

Melody Maker the rave paper

The Sound of the Suburbs 

New Wave songs about those placid peripheries where dreams go to die, via a Nicky Tesco RIP.

Track 1½

Ardkore esoterica

Ritual Love

Connecting Al Green and Tim Buckley

"Thought is the enemy of flow"

Vintage Vinnie thinkige gets my thoughts a-flowing

Ghost Post 

K-punk's raves from beyond the grave

Picture Posts

Fringe Benefits

Purely pictorial byproduct of an unexpected fascination for fringe theatre and radical playwrights of the late 60s + 'early '70s - a parallel action that anticipated punk but seemingly had almost no connection or influence on it

Old Wave Eye Candy

Deep immersion into the beardy, brown aesthetics of the pre-punk design episteme.

Liner Notes

Largely but not wholly pictorial celebration of the sleeve note - there's some commentary. Of course  the "pictures" in this case are dense with text. In fact, there is more to actually read in this post than any other post out of the whole history of this entire blog constellation. It's just that the bulk of the text is not written by me.

* Contradicting my claim up top, Phil Gyford thinks there's life enough out there for it to be worthwhile launching this very year a directory of blogs with a new one added on an almost daily basis. Ooh! also lists no less than seven of my blogs - not the full list by any means! 

Monday, December 12, 2022

RIP Manuel Göttsching

Never really clicked with those first four Ash Ra Tempel albums. But when Manuel Göttsching starts to get deeper into technology - delays and other FX - on 1975's Inventions for Electric Guitar he develops this uniquely blissed and glistered flow-motion. Rippling synths and sequencer-style pitter-patter pulses enter the sound picture with those underrated late '70s albums like New Age of Earth and Blackouts  - heading towards the revelation of E2-E4

My absolute favorite out of everything Göttsching did, though, is this gorgeous glory: "Wall of Sound", off The Private Tapes Vol. 2. Jump to 39.51 in the clip below (although the whole album is well worth your time). Recorded in 1979, "Wall of Sound" is another step toward E2-E4 featuring sublime shaft-of-sunlight-through-cigarette-smoke guitar-playing. 

More Göttsching godness 


Friday, December 09, 2022

RIP Jet Black


The Stranglers are one of my most listened-to groups ever - initially because at a time when I had about 5 vinyl albums in total, tapes of my friend Mark's copies of the first four 'Glers LPs got a lot of play. Then there was a long period of  not listening at all. I suddenly got back into them in the early '90s - started with picking up the vinyl, used and cheap, and then there was a box set  of the six UA albums plus singles that I leaped at the chance to review (during which I confidently proclaimed that they were a fascinating if troubling anomaly with zero legacy in terms of subsequent groups - only for Elastica to pop up on Top of the Pops within weeks to disprove that contention). They also got a lot of re-listening when doing a chapter on punk misogyny for The Sex Revolts -  the 'Glers being half the chapter in question (McLaren was the remainder). Since then,  there's rarely been a year when there's not been a bout of Stranglers. It's a shared favorite for me and Joy, despite the male chauvinist blemishes across the discography. Oddly, though, for all my deep familiarity with their songbook (well up to The Raven - after that it's more the remaining singles up until "Skin Deep"), I struggle to think of specific songs that showcase Jet Black's ability. He was simply a vital integral part of their brooding yet propulsive sound - and their baleful aura of malevolence. The fact that Jet - already old and a successful enterpreneur when he joined the group - owned a fleet of ice cream vans and that one of these vehicles was repurposed as the group's transport in the early pre-punk years of hard gigging up and down the country adds to the legend wonderfully.

I wonder when Jet joined whether he had any inkling he'd end up playing so many songs with a waltz beat. 

Now this vindictive little ditty has a terrific revving-up drum bit in it... 

He did some reggae-ish beats now and then - "Peaches" and this one. 

They put out some odd singles - not in the sense of "weird" but like, where's the tune? 

Another one bereft of a hook but double A-sided

But then they could be so so pretty 

Saturday, December 03, 2022



It's out! Matthew Ingram's new book The "S" Word: spirituality in alternative music, is ready to order. 

Self-deprecatingly, Matt describes the tome as "very geeky" and "for music geeks only". But in fact anyone who is interested in music's capacity to engender higher states of consciousness and its  association with the devotional, the transcendent, the sacred, enlightenment, mysticism, magic, trance, etc, will find this a fascinating read. 

I was pleased to offer up this morsel of endorsement:  

Intensely researched, latticed with surprising connections and correspondences, these essays expand and deepen our awareness of the links between music and the numinous. The "S" Word is an illuminating book about illumination.” 

Contents-wise, there's several epic essays already aired on Matt's blog but now only to be found within these covers (meditations on Eastern Philosophy and The Cosmic Sound, Psychic Pop Relics, Dub... paeans to Neil Young and Mark E. Smith) plus a previously published profile of Chris Blackwell. But more than half the book consists of new writing: a staggering 18,000-word exploration of New Age music (very expansively understood here), a paean to Prince, a whole chapter dedicated to Roedelius of Cluster / Harmonia renown, and a treatise on Tibetan recordings.  

The "S" Word is available universally as an eBook but residents of the United Kingdom can also purchase it in the gorgeous solid form of a 255-page book copiously illustrated with colour photographs.  Terms, conditions, and prices are be found here at the Woebot site long with more information about the contents.  

Friday, December 02, 2022

Kidding around

Here's Our Kid with a piece for No Bells on corecore. "We're not kidding" the headline offers in a  proleptic parenthesis. Certainly, it does sound like a hoax, or a piss-take: one of those parodying-the-very-idea-of-genre entities that flicker up ephemerally on the internet. But apparently it is real, whatever that means in the increasingly derailed consensus hallucination that is life today:  a "deep internet video genre full of 'meme-poems' with cute cats and fried music choices... a meme equivalent of the many microgenres spawning across SoundCloud." And Kieran convincingly takes it seriously, along the way dropping some neat phrases like "an abyss of vibes."

More grounded in material realities - sweaty bodies rubbing against sweaty bodies,  reclaimed trashy urban spaces and shivery rooftops at dawn - here is Kieran's account of his favorite live shows and DJ experiences of 2022. Fifteen peaks picked out of three times as many expeditions across the nightlifescape of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Sweet to read about Our Kid having so much fun in the clubs and micro-raves of the city that never sleeps. Glad to know that some of the time he is out there having adventures rather than inside chasing onscreen phantasms. 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

RIP Christine McVie


Off Tusk, "Brown Eyes" is my favorite Christine McVie piece of writing and singing - unusually baleful, wounded in love and wary. And the band are just wonderful. 

Here's another fave

Hearing this on the radio was what re-awakened my interest in Fleetwood Mac, dormant since an early outside-my-lane enrapturing with "Sara".  (That and a feeling that there was some uncanny affinity between Stevie Nicks and Kristin Hersh - Throwing Muses at that exact point being my favorite band). 

I rushed out and bought... well, not everything, but self-titled / Rumours / Tusk / Mirage.  And blagged Tango in the Night off the ever obliging WEA.  

Another good McVie bit of writing and singing. Backing wise, one of those Fleetwood Mac bluesy-chuggers where you realise that underneath they are still the band fronted by Peter Green. 

This meringue is just the sheerest froth next to "Gypsy" on the same album - but a sickly sugary treat that's hard to resist. There's that odd breakdown where the song seems to come to a halt like an old horse running out of puff half way up a hill. And some over-toppy lead guitar from Lyndsey that fair screeches "cocaine!". 


Monday, November 28, 2022

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - Tidings of Yule

They say Christmas starts earlier every year.  And it can certainly feel like that. But not all seasonal occurrences feel intrusively premature.  Viz, the welcome wintry release of a new Moon Wiring Club long-playing recording, bearing the mos t'peculiar title: Medieval Ice Cream

It's great! And it's unusual. Ian H dismantles much of his established sound here. Oh, it still wafts that characteristic clammy aroma, but some key structural fixtures have been absented; the way the music moves feels different. There's no "bouncing ball" basslines; the beat-modes fall into none of his existing templates.  It's sort of ambient, except not: the beats impose a little too much, while remaining too fitful and spasmodic to assemble anything resembling a groove. 

"The far more interesting music that dubstep could have been" - this feels like a line I've reeled out before, but it sort of applies again, here and there. Occasionally there's a corroded clankiness and intricately wound quality to the drum patterns that minds me slightly of Shackleton.  Related to that thought is another thought, or feeling: puzzlement that Moon Wiring Club is not as universally exalted as Burial. Perhaps it's because, mood-wise, the religiose is given a wide berth? Because eeriness is achieved without solemnity? Not that Burial would be improved by jokes exactly (and before this is construed as a jab, let me add that Antidawn is one of my favorites of an otherwise meagre year)

Here's the lead "single" from the album. And here's a MWC mix of related materials  And, in a mos t'peculiar promotional gambit, you can also read a poem penned for each of the six tracks. 

I asked Ian about his fancies and procedures this time round and he kindly divulged: 

"There’s definitely an aspiration to get somewhere I haven’t been before. 

"I’d say the tagline would be ~  ‘Musick that has been damaged by Time Travel, and has the consistency of Ice Cream’. 

"After the Ghost Party Delirium 2xCD (which was fairly straightforward in terms of grid structure) I knew I wanted to do something that was ‘un-quantizable’...  I’d had the title Medieval Ice Cream swirling around my head for a number of years, along with a gathering concept of what that would sound like. I think with early / medieval music, (which I listen to fairly often) it has an immediate set of signifiers and a framework in which you can begin to operate.  I wanted something that had that ‘ye owd’ vibe (and visual language) but with a complete (or as complete as I could muster) de-anchoring from the expected musical framework. 

"The main image I was inspired by, was of being deep within a vast medieval frosty winter forest (no leaves, icy mist, eerie pale blue light etc) and hearing the sound of a flute bouncing and echoing around the trees from an indeterminate distance. I naturally continued with this thought, and imagined that if you swapped out the flute with a variety of other instruments (such as a basic drum machine) / voices and then recorded them, you’d have a set of musical stems that, while belonging to the same track and featuring the same organic quality, would overlap and struggle to catch-up with themselves over their duration.

"If (wait for it) this music was all initially captured in a frozen state, then began to gradually thaw out, the sounds would also start to congeal together, much like melting ice cream. The specific ice cream I was thinking off was a Smarties M*Flurry - a tub of processed ice cream with  a load of Smarties frozen inside. As the tub is consumed, the food colouring on the smarties begins to run into the melting vanilla ice cream, until all you’re left with is a lurid slop of fluorescent additives. 

"The album is also inspired a bit by that feeling in a telly program, where someone has definitive proof of the supernatural or time travel, but when the evidence is presented to an incredulous present-day official, it begins to fade away, or what was a complex piece of machinery is now a peculiar sculpture made of twine and twigs." 

More about the album from the Gecophonic page: 

"MEDIEVAL ICE CREAM (GEpH016LP) is permanently on the cusp of being ambient / non-ambient. Beats wobble and shimmy like jelly. Tracks have been de-boned but the skeleton remains, staggering around in a hazy twilight of delighted eerie-delirium. Tunes skate along multiple frosty grooves within themselves to only occasionally converge. Shards of broken ice form melted rhythms while a Medieval Ice Cream van careers serenely down a distant misty ravine." 

You can purchase Medieval Ice Cream here . The album comes with a A4 Premium 225gsm Matte paper Art Print.


Update 12/2/2022

Further Moon Wiring Club tidings - there is a vinyl repress of Psychedelic Spirit Show just out.

Here's a taster in the form of a very cool monochrome videoclip

What ho! Literally as I am posting this update, I receive a tiding MWC Central that there is also a vinyl edition of A Spare Tabby At the Cat's Wedding that has just come out

Thursday, November 24, 2022

RIP Wilko Johnson

The fingernails of Wilko ! 

Mine crack and tear when opening a suitcase in a hurry - how could he play like that? It's not just that he isn't using a plectrum - he's actually percussively cuffing the strings with the tops of his fingernails. Electric guitar strings are generally made of steel and nickel. 

I must have watched that Geordie Scene TV clip at least fifty times since first coming across it on YouTube. Just such a fantastic capsule of the '70s. Brilleaux absolutely cranked on sulphate - whereas with Wilko, I think it's natural energy. Love the girls, slightly bemused at the singer's fanatical intensity, still choogling gamely. 

Here's the whole program of Geordie Scene with Dr Feelgood


Another clip I've watched many times now since stumbling on it (it was not something that got any play at the time of release).

Wilko's one great moment with the Blockheads. Pubfunk with a taut-elastic sproing to the riffage. 

It probably seemed like a great re-energizing and career-reorienting idea having Wilko join after Chas Jankel left and after the "too disco-y" Do It Yourself. But brilliant player though he is, Wilko couldn't take up the songwriting slack left by Jankel.  Laughter is no laughing matter. Indeed it's ploppermost-of-the-plops in this tally of  Disappointing Albums in my life. 

But for a moment, with "I Wanna Be Straight", it looked so promising. 

Talking of capsules of Seventies-ness, let's have "She Does It Right" again...

A different iteration of more-or-less the same riff, and the Wilko-era Feelgoods's  other classic

Saturday, November 12, 2022

RIP Keith Levene

My first guitar hero, at a time when the guitar hero wasn't really a thing.  Keith Levene made unbelievable sounds with his instrument. Took the guitar to new places. So much beauty.

When I interviewed him in 2002, Keith said he thought "No Birds Do Sing" was PiL's peak - his best playing - and he could be right (it's always been a favorite). But there are so many peaks. 

PiL counterfactual: if they'd done 9 other songs like this on the debut album, surely they'd have become instant stadium rock stars. There'd have been no need for U2!  I'm glad they didn't take that path, but it's an intriguing thought - the group that came to destroy rock, make it obsolete, start their career with one of the greatest rock anthems of all time.

Along with the guitar god stuff, Keith was also quite nifty with a Prophet 5 synth.

Talking about Keith and keyboards, how about this almost-solo beauty? He could have done a whole album of this kind of thing and I'd have been very happy.

As PiL's de facto music director, Keith also made some great things without either guitar or synth  (and with Wobble flown the coop too).

I don't think there's any guitar on this one either, so Keith's contribution is probably that beebling synth drone in the background and the EQ on the snares and hi-hats. 

Can't miss this -  "Death Disco" on Top of the Pops is one of a handful of turned-my-world-upside-down-inside-out moments of music on TV (others include "This Charming Man", "Party Fears 2", a T.Rex moment that shook me and that I've written about a couple of times now as a Primal Epiphany... and in a funny way the Rezillos on Top of the Pops singing a song about Top of the Pops) 

Another great PiL teevee moment 

Here's me on Metal Box and PiL as Rock Band. 

And here's my Wire interview with Keith Levene from 2002. 

"I respected my influences enough to never imitate them. That was always important to me. It still is" - Keith Levene

Sunday, November 06, 2022

RIP Takeoff


That tune and these next two are among my favorites pieces of music from the 21st Century so far.

the widely accepted peaks

but let's hear more from the mystifyingly under-revered Culture II

fragments from an unfinished paean 

the Migos sound above all distinguishes itself with its flooding insistence of jouissance...

bliss is this music's subject, it is its subjectivity....  things incessantly flood or drip in these songs...  the self melts and brims and bubbles and overflows...

the lyrics speak of endless hustle, working hard, the grind...  but the feeling is imperial indolence,  imperturbable nonchalance, gliding serenity, basking in glory...

the words saying the opposite of the music - or rather, the music (and the fey vocal style -  closer to PM Dawn than DMX) contradicts the lyrics.... 

the lyrics are like a residual element, a hollowed-out signifier of rap-as-was...

but the truth of the music is the woozy gaseous vocal texture - that listless wistful bliss...

no matter how hard-hearted and cold-souled the lyrics appear, the fluttery fluidity of the vocal interplay and its ecstatic texturizing speaks to something else: a vulnerability to bliss...

Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff - seem entranced by themselves, lost in an auto-erotic swirl, draped in  jouissance that seems to seep out of their bodies as a mist of Auto-Tuned droplets, a self-swaddling canopy of shivers and moans

there are moments in "MotorSport" and "Top Down on Da NAWF" and "Bosses Don't Speak" - shudders, gurgles, dilated moans - that are cut from the same orgasmic-mystic cloth as Tim Buckley's "Starsailor"...

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

family reading - the Redstockings Abortion Speakout; Stumpwork reviewed

Here's Joy Press with a fascinating - and heroic - tale of the first Abortion Speakout convened in 1968 by Redstockings, an offshoot of pioneering feminist outfit New York Radical Women. For Vanity Fair 

The first time this has happened  - father and son convergence as firstborn Kieran Press-Reynolds weighs in with the Official Pitchfork verdict on Dry Cleaning's Stumpwork

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Catburgers!

Sometime in late '86, or possibly very early '87, an advance cassette from Dan Treacy arrived with the words "this lot are great!" hand-scribbled on it.  It contained five songs from a Scottish group called The Catburgers. I played it a lot and was all set to write something on the group whenever Dan got round to releasing them via his label Dreamworld. Except the release never came out. In fact,  nothing by The Catburgers ever got released. 

I never completely forgot the tape - periodically I would rediscover it amid the clattery clutter of hard shells in the various boxes in which cassettes were stashed. Dug it out, gave it a play, and wondered whatever happened to the Catburgers.... 

A few years ago, thinking it a shame that these songs had never reached the public, I cheekily put the demo tape up on YouTube.  

These tracks are underproduced, to put it mildly. But something about the songs shines through the lo-fi scrawn and hissy murk. The Catburgers belong to that moment of groups like Jesse Garon & the Desperadoes and Beat Happening, but there's a musical element that sets them apart - perhaps it's the trace of Joy Division in the basslines you can hear in some of the tunes.  

Colour me surprised, but several weeks ago I heard from a young man called Fergus Jones, son of the singer + guitarist in The Catburgers. Fergus was in the process of putting out for the very first time some of the material recorded by his dad Robert Jones (vocals / guitar) and bandmates Stuart Macgregor (bass) and Andy Benton (drums). He'd seen the YouTube clip and was looking for decent quality audio for this phantom-EP (how I always heard the cassette, although who knows what configuration of the songs might have reached the scene, should they ever have been released.) 

And now a pair of Catburgers releases - The Dreamworld Sessions and The Rocking Horse Demos - are coming out on the Danish label FELT. The former is obtainable as vinyl and the latter as a tape. Dreamworld is also available digitally via Bandcamp.

Release rationale for Dreamworld Sessions

Swell Maps / Television Personalities affiliated C86-era indie pop rescued from sheer obscurity and thrust into semi-obscurity by FELT. The Catburgers were a short-lived Scottish group, this recording initially primed for release on Dan Treacy’s Dreamworld imprint yet placed on the perennial backburner as so many creative projects inevitably are.

Soundcloud uploads dating back over a decade ago and the odd blog/twitter post aside, the group lived on only in the memories of those who happened to catch them on the Edinburgh scene back in the day. Until now! With the help of the National Sound Archives, the original master tape containing these three tracks has been rebaked, cut and mastered for seven-inch.

‘Holiday House’ sounds immediately at home in the Postcard Records nexus, the influence of 1980 particularly tangible. Slower paced and with a touch more melancholy than its companions, the song sounds both in and out of time, as if some young teens raised on a hand-me-down diet of Pastels CDs might have laid it down yesterday.

Jowe Head of Swell Maps joins the group for ‘The Acid Tree’, whilst EP closer ‘Diving For The Brick’ sees the band ruminating on weak knees, sore lungs and stinging eyes down at the local swimming pool.

Letter from Mr Treacy to the band, indicating that I was among a very select company of media folk to receive this tape. 


Sunday, October 16, 2022



On a bit of a creative tear at the moment, Matthew Ingram has just published a new tome - a graphic novel / comic book entitled TPM

It's funny and eerie. Subtly unsettling. And beautifully drawn - the body postures and expressions of the characters, the composition of scenes, the interior and exterior backdrops, bear the distinctive Ingram line. 

Without wishing to give away too much of the plot, it involves a company whose specialty is psychic marketing a.k.a transpersonal marketing (the TPM of the title).

Without wishing to pin it down too much, TPM feels like it belongs to a mini-genre of "uncanny workplace" dramas. (Severance would be a recent example).  

Someone really should take TPM and turn it into a TV series or a long-form animation. 

You can read more about the genesis and inspiration of this latest Woebot masterpiece at Matt's blog - it's fascinating stuff, emerging as you might expect from the research into the nexus of spirituality, health, and the counterculture that led to Retreat, and to Matt's imminent publication The S Word that combines his recent blog epics with new essays.

You can buy a  hard copy of TPM direct from Matthew by sending money to Paypal address Prices for one copy as follows: 

UK Standard: £13.61 Tracked: £18.79

EU Standard: £16.30 Tracked: £21.17

USA Standard: £19.46 Tracked: £23.91

It can also be bought via Amazon, where this is also a digital Kindle version on offer 

Friday, October 14, 2022

It's a Weird Premise for a Band - But I Like It.

I interviewed my favorite band of the moment Dry Cleaning for The New York Times, on the eve of the release of their wonderful new album Stumpwork - on which they've totally pulled off that tricky trick of retaining everything good about the debut but expanding upon it and making it different enough to be fresh. It was really nice to chat with Tom, Lewis, Nick & Florence when they were in LA for Primavera.  I was surprised by how hard they rocked when they took the stage - and enjoyed the visual incongruity that ensued, as captured in the snaps below.  The piece also includes some nice quotes from Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods, a friend of Dry Cleaning and an admirer. 

Friday, October 07, 2022

From Budweiser to Bodhisattva

It was great fun reacquainting myself with the uuurv of Beastie Boys for this Tidal piece on Check Your Head, which is published in partnership with the  record-of-the-month club Vinyl Me, Please. There's also a playlist I pulled together juxtaposing Beastie tracks with formative influences and fellow travelers. 

Nothing beats Licensed To Ill of course (my favorite album of that year - or maybe equal first with The Queen is Dead). But there's moments across Paul's Boutique, Check and Ill Communication that get quite close. 

Funnily enough my favorite song on their transitional third is the least-Beastlie: "Namasté", which is more like Licensed to Chill. A floaty and flickering fusion-funk jam worthy of,  oh I dunno, Idris Muhammad or somebody like that. MCA sounds like he's already a good way along The Path to Bliss. 

Another good one in their new laidback and non-bratty mode

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

RIP Cass Davies

...  of Furious Pig, of course!

From the C81 cassette compilation - must have listened to this dozens of times in my life.

Not listened to their one actual release, this EP on Rough Trade, quite as often, I confess

Another version of "Bare Pork" that has the bit on them from the booklet the NME did as a spread inside the paper,  for you to pull-out and fold-up to go with the compilation (except that when folded up, it was just a little too thick to fit comfortably in the cassette shell) 

There's actually a live document, which  - unless I'm misunderstanding the label - looks like it came out on the Japanese postpunk label Vanity. 

Remembering Furious Pig during the writing of Rip It Up was one of the things that led me to the still ongoing and endless interest in Mouth Music and Extremism of the Human Voice. Viz, this post from 2003: 

"Talking of voices, how come there isn't a compilation or even a box-set (and maybe there is and I just don't know about it) of free vocal music, extremists of the human voice? Ideally vocal performances unaccompanied by music, or at least not mediated by technology and studio techniques (you could have a whole other compilation of that stuff: "Starsailor"). You could have one disc for the avant-classical lineage: the Dadaists and bruitism, Ligeti's choral stuff (as per 2001: A Space Odyssey), Cathy Berberian singing Berio, Stockhausen's Stimmung, Meredith Monk. Another disc for out-jazz: Patty Waters, there must be shitloads of other freeform vocalese types I don't know about. (Question: why does most free jazz leave me cold when it's instruments but is totally enthralling when it's the larynx?). A third disc for edge-of-rock: Diamanda Galas, Yoko Ono, live tapes of Buckley disastrously touring the Starsailor material, Furious Pig (this great Rough Trade vocals-only outfit, did one EP for the label, had a track on C81--sounded a bit like the Pop Group as barbershop quartet, grunts and howls and infra-human mewlings, they were inspired by pygmy music), Arto Lindsay's Christmas Rose Choir. And disc four would be like world music: Inuit plainsong (there was a disappointing CD of this stuff out on Sub Rosa I think it was a few years ago, but I remember an Eskimo field-recording LP a friend had in the early Eighties, amazing breath-pulse duets that sounded like DAF or something, then they'd burst out giggling after two minutes), Tuvan throat-singing, Pygmy monkey-chant.... This is all just scratching the surface I'm sure, suggestions welcome."

So who were Furious Pig, then? 

In the words of member Stephen Kent:

"Furious Pig was a group that emerged out of the High School experiences of a group of friends and relations in Totnes, a little town in South Devon, England. Influenced by listening to an eclectic mix of early Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, The Beatles, Ethiopian Polyphonic chants, The Doors, Stravinsky and Edgar Varese, among other things, we moved to London in 1979 a year after reaching the final of the National 'Melody Maker' Rock/Folk Contest - an event at which the judges included Bob Geldof, Justin Hayward [of the Moody Blues] and Ray Coleman [editor of Melody Maker]. Needless to say Furious Pig didn't win with their stirring renditions of 'I'm Going Round the Bend' and the jarring 'In Order of Height' but Bob Geldof said we'd 'Gotta Lotta Bottle'[Nerve] playing what we played. Squatting in houses around North London we developed a form of intense acapella vocal chanting, highly orchestrated with choreographed passages. It became a cult sensation on the London and N.European club scene. We toured on the bill with bands like This Heat, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, The Slits, The Fall, The TV Personalities. We played on the streets, in clubs, pubs, schools. At the Comic Strip in Soho we were a regular music act - playing alongside all the comedians who became 'The Young Ones' and 'Absolutely Fabulous' on TV. We scored a live soundtrack to a William Burroughs book, 'The Wild Boys'. Our session on Radio 1 DJ John Peels show so divided the listenership between those who loved and those who loathed our music that it was repeated in record time. We'd spend 8 hours a day for months working on extending our vocal ranges, often in grotesque and hilarious ways - we had fun! Rough Trade Records got us into the studio and we recorded a vocal set including versions of 'I Don't Like Your Face', 'Jonny So Long' and the 'Kingmother'. I always regretted not recording 'Frozen Tarzan' with its alternating Shouting Through Cardboard Tubes and simply Shouting choreography and its Rolling On The Floor section. However, tapes do exist......

"Furious Pig came to an end when I left to become MD of Circus Oz in Australia. However all the other band members continued recording careers: Martin Kent aka Martin Pig with a series of singles on Rough Trade and Dominic Weeks and Cass Davies with two full length LP's on Recommended Records: Het - 'Lets Het' and another with French chanteuse Hermine."

This next chunk o' commentary seems to be from somewhere else (I've taken it from an older Hardly Baked blog entry) but who knows.... 

"This is an ensemble of male vocalists from England who created their own eccentric concept of experimental music using only voices, even though there was a fair amount of existing work in this vein, mostly in the academic world (e.g. Joan LaBarbara), but also stuff like Linda Sharrock and Jeanne Lee.  This has a grass roots punk/cabaret/comedy aspect and offers both fun and musical substance. They clearly worked out a lot of creative, rehearsed parts for these maniacal songs, so it's not just some guys acting goofy.... "I Don't Like Your Face" has a large section based on Balinese kecak, which is always a good thing!  There are connections between this project and other important early 80s creative music from England like Het and Hermine Demoriane. They played on bills with This Heat, etc.  It's a fabulous slice of underground music history.

""A friend said upon hearing them for the first time: '’s like The Manhattan Transfer went insane and recorded music in the plough of the sicker Fugs, dis-harmonizing cries and yelps in a studio with windows left open toward the farmyard.'"

Quoth Stephen, "Tapes do exist" - someone should release them!

As Kent mentioned, after Furious Pig, Cass Davies and Dominic Weeks formed Het and in 1984 released the album Let's Het, through Woof Records (formed by ex-Henry Cow man Tim Hodgkinson + his partner in The Work, Bill Gilonis)

Here's the whole album, it's rather good - slightly closer to "palatable"

Stephen Kent, meanwhile, would form Lights in a Fat City, which I actually reviewed live at the ICA, unaware of any connection to Furious Pig. 


April 8, 1989, Melody Maker

Seem to remember the album didn't quite capture the live experience. 

And then it seems - and it makes sense - that Lights in A Fat City found their way into that whole Club Dog zone 

The missing link between 23 Skidoo and Loop Guru.