Tuesday, April 18, 2006
An Evening With Bolt-Thrower.
OK, so at the end of the day it was hardly a private tête-à-tête with the band, but when the Camden Underworld is sold out, there is an inevitable intimacy - the involuntary sharing of sweat and body odour between the punters crammed into its labyrinthine corridors - not to mention the, er, thickly-veiled homoerotic camaraderie between the massed ranks of stagedivers who keep popping up and being swatted down throughout this all-too-rare London set from former Peel faves and astute war correspondents Bolt-Thrower ("established 1986", as their natty range of leisurewear has it, and yes, it's been the best part of two decades since I first encountered their metallic swirl, even if at the time they were the only band on Strange Fruit's Hardcore Holocaust whose songs breached the three-minute barrier, and at the time, that - as well as the fact they have never been a hardcore band - was a bit of a no-no).
But now, as George Michael would have it, we're all older. And the thing about Bolt-Thrower is that even with a formidable back catalogue, their recent records are up there with much of what they've ever done (see also: Sportique). Last year's "Those Once Loyal" set is a colossal, confident record, and tonight returing vocalist Karl Willetts is certainly in the pink, perhaps hamming up slightly too much the frontman role, although getting the atmosphere spot-on with the odd shout ("Never compromise!", "Fear nothing!" and, best of all, the utterly unnecessary, "We are Bolt-Thrower!")
Anyway, they started with "At First Light", the album opener, with its terrific snaking riff, and things settled down into a rumbustious, rumbunctious set which plucked most tracks from the last two records, inlcuding my favourite, the super-danceable "The Killchain", but plenty from former glories, even if there was sadly no "Attack in the Aftermath" or "Through The Eye of Terror". This being the Underworld, vision was severely restricted through the rows of headbanging thirtysomethings in front of me, but by occasionally craning my neck around a pillar I was able to get the odd glimpse of the 3/5ths of the band who were outside my general line of vision. I think I can safely say that even in my excitable teenage years discovering this music, I never expected that I would be sufficiently exercised about it to be excited by the prospect of seeing it performed in the flesh in 2006, but then I guess at the time I never realised the need for a proper escape from the "everything's urgent, all the time" mantra of the day-job. And while Bolt-Thrower are a world away from my higher passions of hardcore or grind, of Flyblown or Napalm, with their slower, chewed-down harmonies and more conventional chord shapes, theirs is a compelling enough form of entertainment, and their lyrics still as coherent a commentary as contemporary musicians can offer on the pinstripe insanity cheerfully masquerading as "global politics". Before we knew it, the encore came and went, finishing with the controlled tumult of "Loyal"'s closer, "When Cannons Fade". And we were left with Bolt-Thrower's friendly fire ringing in our ears.
A Tube Ride With C-Mone.
And then it was back upstairs and into the night, slotting the earphones into place for the tube journey back across the river. Which found me reacquainting myself with the new C-Mone record, "The Butterfly Effect". She has an album out at last because Son Records, Londoners with a keen ear for Notts rap (like me), put their money where their mouth is and actually get some stuff on the streets. Now I would probably rather see a new Cappo album, or get my hands on a single from Mr 45 or Lee Ramsay, or persuade Scorzayzee to come out of his self-imposed retirement, but anything new out of Nottingham still pleases me no end. And this was always a reasonably tantalising prospect, 'specially after her very good Son 12" last year (party tune "Stan Bac", present and correct here) and, before that, an astonishingly slick Nick Stez-produced Dark Whisper white label which boasted three superb songs.
Bad news first. Albeit that Stez remains largely at the controls, "The Butterfly Effect" pitches not unheavily for the crossover market and on a few tracks that shows a little too much. In the spirit of open-ness, I will name and shame them as "Disfunctional", "Ride", "Watching U", "Nightvision" and the well-meaning but saccharin "The Nina C-Mone Effect". After all, brilliant as "1980" was, it opened trapdoors rather than doors for Estelle.
But, fittingly for Easter, there is plenty of good news. While most albums these days would only really justify an EP, the rest of the songs here would have made, ooh, a great Sarah 10". First, the other Marga Boys, Ramsay and Pij, join Stez on production duties for the bouncing recent single "Second After Second", whose cheesy party feel contrasts with more righteous lyrics ("I hope all the fighting and killing was worth it"). Then, the good ol' P Brothers turn up on "Inside Out", which might lack their usual hobnail beats, but compensates with shuffling Beastie-ish breaks.
The cocky "Catch Me If You Can", with its 70s car-chase funk motif, would make a fine companion piece to her former Outdaville colleague Tempa's Joe Buhdha-produced "Ya Get Me?" and "Article 5" plugs into the same vibe, even if lyrically it majors on contemporary themes of stop and search and low achievement in education by black children in the UK. Indeed, the songs gain in power when C-Mone takes aim for the political jugular, whether on "Second", which lines up governmental greed against refugees and pensioners' plights, "Inside Out" ("Against guns / against drugs / I don't give a fuck about your funds") or the sisters-for-themselves celebration and, I think, a previous 45, "Black Widow".
While under-exposed labelmates Cappo and Midnyte pleasingly join others on the posse cut "Magnificent 7", it's "Ode To Hip-Hop" which has the realest community feel - like a Notts-focussed take on Blade's recent "UKHH" album cut, it exudes a soulful, over-arching positivity without tipping into the sickliness of the worthy but wetter tracks gently dissed above. It's rare my cynical faculties are overridden by such unallayed sunniness - there must be magic in them thar beats.
And I have to mention the accent: NG7 is hardly a flow you hear in the rap they play on the radio, but C-Mone's East Midlands lilt gives the songs a bit of extra range, a homely dynamic which stateside accents can't provide in this genre any more. "Think I've bigged up quite enough people over the past couple of tracks" she chides herself at one point, although thankfully it's only a couple of songs later she manages another full minute of shout-outs.
So, as she later cheerfully admits, "I'm not quite ready yet... but I got a lot of heart". Aah. And yes.
Going To The Pub with Stewart Lee.
It was also good to see Stewart Lee again the night before (in London's defiantly untrendy New Cross). I can't easily imagine Peter Kay or Alan Davies turning out on £4 pub back-room bills too often, but not too long after I got his DVD for Christmas, the darkhearted comic, Fall fan, ex-Alan Parker Urban Warrior guitarist and now-presumably minted Jerry Springer librettist was taking the corner stage in the Amersham Arms. Still pushing the same envelopes ("I've got nothing against the Catholic church - they're actually my favourite form of clandestine global evil" he intones without a flicker) and still angry and bitter, though I'd still love to hear more of his experiences at the hands of Christian Voice etc in the media over the past few years, Lee has lost his youthful gait and developed a hangdog pallor that, dare I say it, seems to suit his act better.
Finlay "Rad Wagon" (from "The Fall Of Mary" CD album on Fortuna Pop!): If you got Million Dead and Bearsuit in a room together, and forced them to play drinking games whilst listening to the Fall and Pavement, their subsequent jam session would probably produce a great little skewed fey-rock song like this.
Galaxie 500 "Submission" (from "Peel Sessions" CD): With a band so feted who produced so little, it's always great to hear previously unreleased recordings, and the Peel sessions set is a lovely adjunct to the three albums. They cover the Pistols with more verve than you might expect, cascading carousels of guitar meaning it still sounds rather special.
Morrissey "You Have Killed Me" (Attack, 2xCD, 7", etc, etc): 'Fraid so. It wasn't so long ago I was talking about how Jim Reid and how that even at his most pedestrian, he still seemed to have a warm songwriting knack that he couldn't shake off, no matter how he tried. And now Morrissey, a potential treading-water gold medallist, returns with minimal effort, with a song that he could have easily have penned in a bored moment or two whilst blithely plucking gladioli from his windowboxes, or perhaps gazing reverently into a mirror. And yet its ineffably easy majesty is handsome and arresting, his voice still a beautiful instrument more than a blunt one. For me, the three minutes of this work better than the forty or so minutes of "Ringleader of the Tormentors" in getting the basic point across: that he is in Italy, he loves it, and he feels renewed. For now.
Phil Stant "Ooh Ah Stantona": Terry Marsh "Undefeated"
If like me you can't stomach the thought of reading volume after volume of Wayne Rooney's 'memoirs', then the stories of Messrs Stant and Marsh remind us what sporting autobiography should be about. While neither writer is unduly troubled either by self-doubt or any semblance of editing, both have stories of real interest to tell which never revolve around the modern sports-celeb diet of making scintillions of cash and then spending it all on gambling, clubbing and sordid group sex adventures.
Stant managed to buy himself out of the army at 24, courtesy of a few hundred quid advanced by an obliging Hereford United that got him out of bomb disposal duties. His description of service in the Falklands, helplessly watching the Mirages bombing his comrades' ships, leaves you in no doubt about the distance between his experiences and those of the modern player. Plus, the photo of him accepting his sponsored car from a Mansfield Skoda dealership is priceless: now, you get paid-for Lotus Elises even in yer average 3rd division players' car park.
Former fireman and commando Marsh, of course, literally fought his way out of the Marines, and has an even less prosaic story to tell - it's not every world boxing champion that goes on trial for trying to murder their ex-manager. But again the absence of ghostwriting, and a pronounced fondness for swearing, give "Undefeated" a real freshness.
The end, after a long and lingering demise, of Bristol Rovers' play-off ambitions. Though for once I will apologise to Craig Disley, for responding to my "luxury player" epithets with an out-of-the-blue scorching half-volley.