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 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. 


Essays 


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


"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

WHEN MATTS MAKE BOOKS

 






















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!".