Monday, May 26, 2008

"Highgate Cemetery in the Rain"

There's ever delight in drizzle. If you choose a rainy bank holiday for a walk across Hampstead Heath, the people might not be out in numbers (ha - fairweathers), but in the Hardyesque mists you'll still have the company of the moorhens, ducks and crows. Then, why not wander, via the dreary opulence of a sodden Highgate village, through the swirling greens and greys of Waterlow Park (where woodpeckers are the avian speciality), and down to Highgate Cemetery? And find that it's still possible to enjoy this hallowed ground without even Wolfie Smith in sight, to have George Eliot, Faraday and Marx and all to yrself, to indulge in quiet, uninterrupted contemplation about the mysteries of the universe. Such as how, after the swashbuckling high of "Cloud 9", Tinchy Stryder allows himself to be sullied again every time the lacklustre "Breathe" appears on Channel U. How "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba", a number written before punk was invented, can arguably still be the best three-minute pop song of all time. And how the hell Domenech has managed not to pick Trezeguet for Euro 2008.

Eventually, you might want to quit thinking about these things, all as intractable as the Schleswig-Holstein question. You should get home, change out of your drenched gear and knock up a top 20 worth of playlist to dry you off and warm you up:

1. Paul Mac "Cusp Of It All"

This from his "Scratched Soul" download single on Stimulus Records. Since redeployed as our soundtrack to "Holloway Road in the Rain": lasts exactly as long as the walk from Holloway Rd tube to Highbury Corner...

2. Glenn Wilson "Industrial Control"
3. Glenn Wilson "Phoenix"

"Control" - returning to the Marx theme ? - is from a v/a 12" on Unknown Forces, the grooves of which also shelter some not unmemorable tunes from Distek / Zoid, Jeroen Liebregts and Bas Mooy. "Phoenix", meanwhile, is the lead track on another single released earlier this year, a 3-track EP of the same name on Compound which Glenn has all to himself. Both are very fine, pacy stuff from an artist we're now rapidly scrabbling to get hold of more from... and we think our belated discovery of Glenn - no relation to Ant, or even Phil - more than justifies us wheeling out the phrase "Oh! Mr Wilson" again, even if you don't.

4. Badawi ft. Juakali "Crows"

From a 12" on ROIR (yes, the same ROIR that gave us the Raincoats!) The A-side is a Badawi / Kode 9 instrumental joint called "Den of Drumz", but we prefer the B, albeit that the ubiquitous Juakali's vocal seems to have been recorded underwater. Rippling, then.

5. Deicide "Severed Ties"

This and "In The Eyes of God", at least, from the new "Till Death Do Us Part" LP on Earache, hurtle along with the accomplished, at least-mildly satanic vim we'd want and expect. But could we recommend you the whole album ? Frankly, sadly, no, not this (day and) time (my brother). Best investigate the last one, "The Stench of Redemption", instead...

6. The Fall "50 Year Old Man"

A tune that's everything you'd demand from the Fall, fading out far too soon at around the 11'30 mark, with Mark inevitably exhorting "Fade out!" in that identifiably demented way of his. Recalls Even As We Speak's "Beautiful Day", the daddy of inspired mid-song derailments, in the way that on not one but two occasions it so deliciously decamps from its main thumping, uncompromising furrow. The hub of their not unreasonable "Imperial Wax Solvent" LP on Sanctuary, a record that thuds that little bit harder, overall, than Reformation TLC.

7. Warrior Queen "Bad Boyz"

Eschewing recent dalliances with dubstep, this is a smart, tart reggae-ish number, one that also goes very nicely with the Buju Banton and Queen Omega singles we've mentioned on here recently.

8. Quincy "Can't Wear My Air Force"
9. Pres T "Dis Lickle Yout"

ILWTTISOTT favourites from Bless Beats' very busy "Hard Days Graft" CD on Eskibeat Recordings (the Atomic Beat Records of grime), both of which deserve more than a maybe.

10. Wiley "Music Money"

Though we mentioned a handful of tracks, we wouldn't want you to think that "Umbrella Volume 1" doesn't have other stand-outs. Nor would we want you to think that "Wearing My Rolex" was anything other than the commercial pinnacle of Wiley. True, the beat on this is apt to cause serious structural damage if you 'accidentally' amp it up: but we reckon any increase in yer building insurance premium will be well worth it. At some point, remind us to go on and on about "Grime Wave", too.

11. Cee-Rock 'The Fury' "Kill Da Killin'"

About a million years ago, a 12" from the Wolftown label fell into our hands: a 4-track taster EP by some New York bloke called Cee-Rock 'The Fury', for an album to be called, a little improbably, "Bringin' Da' Yowzah!!!" Said 12", which featured collaborations with some of the usual West Midlands suspects (Late, Juttla), was brill (ooh, it seems to be #18 here), but although the final Cee-Rock long-player apparently did get a limited release at some point, we certainly never managed to track it down. Anyway, no matter as finally in 2008 a CD of the same name has been (re)issued, on Abstract Urban; it appears to be on general release (coming with a knowing "No Parental Advisory Necessary" peel-off sticker); and it features a number of corkers including the standout, lead song from that Wolftown EP, "Anderson Iz Nice". A reminder that there is much in American hip-hop to enjoy, even if it's a hell of a task to find it inamongst all that rampantly commercialised gangsta posery. And the ebullient "Kill Da Killin'", which neatly encapsulates The Fury's own defiantly anti-thug msg, is not only on "Yowzah!!!" redux, but seems to be getting a separate release as a single, too. Hurrah.

12. Fosca "We See The World As Our Stunt Doubles"

Talking of million-year waits... they're back, you know, with a new album called "The Painted Side of the Rainbow". What this rather spangly should-be single is off of. And especially in a world that appears all too ready to tolerate the vacuous chuntering bluster of the Pigeon Detectives et al, we would argue that Fosca are needed more than ever before.

13. The Wedding Present "I Lost The Monkey"
14. The Wedding Present "Don't Take Me Home Until I'm Drunk"

"El Rey", their new album on Vibrant Records, is better, we think, and certainly more consistent, than "Take Fountain", only the first two singles from which really shone. It's a record which manages somehow to sound both shambling and widescreen - the press are probably right to attribute this to the fact that the once heavily-flagellated TWP are now seen almost as a lovable curio, the cliche of gritty Yorkshire indie transplanted to L.A... The lyrics are still the usual blend of love triangle narratives and execrable chat-up lines, but especially where the guitars still shamble a little sweetly - like "Spider-Man on Hollywood", the longer, languid "Boo Boo" or indeed "Don't Take Me Home..." which we now remember they previewed at ULU last year - you can still easily identify that wily old sea dog David Lewis Gedge as the same man who's been toying with jangle-headed listeners' heart-strings since the mid-80s. The taster single, "The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend", if disappointingly non-ska, is amongst the lighter and frothier tunes here, yet just as darling as "I'm From Further North Than You", say. Plus, there are many more-than-mildly satisfying tranches of noise (ah, Mr Albini, we presume!) inamongst the various earnest strumathons.

15. Robert Forster "Demon Days"

There are gentlemen and ladies of our acquaintance who are smitten with Bob Dylan, or someone called the Boss, who seethe with resigned frustration every time we admit that we just can't quite "get" their devotion. Yet we do recognise their pain: we always have to defend Robert Forster when some whippersnapper insists that his songs leave them cold, or worse are merely *okay*... Like a favourite uncle, he remains immune to criticism from us, and it's a right we feel he's earned many times over, and if he made a bad record - even if he became a stadium-botherer - we wouldn't let it deflect our ardour. So we won't purport to say anything other than that new album "The Evangelist" is, for us, a tender treat. And reiterate that we would rather die tomorrow still loving the Go-Betweens, than live forever liking Royworld.

16. Mytty Archer "Too Many Lovers"

Any 7"s from 555 Recordings still droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven (even if we fear they're gonna droppeth in ever-decreasing numbers, so long as this ungrateful globe continues to shun them). And on the 3-track 555 48 (play at 33), we have an army of all the talents: the Cannanes take on "Don't Fear The Reaper" with grace and gentle pizazz, while the inestimable Boyracer pay tribute to the Beatniks with a not-fi clamber around the classic "Supremer Queener". But the pick is Mytty Archer's tune, a flitting dazzle of guitar with a soft-spoken vocal that briefly blossoms into rainflecked sheets of noise before departing too soon.

17. Boyracer "Faith Seeds"

One more spot of gentle rain, then: a five-tracker on 555 / Jelly Fant, this time played at 45, and split between the Racer and the infectious Que Possum (including the latter's "Unrested", from this). It's all good, obviously: but "Faith Seeds" is the play for today.

18. The Occasional Keepers "I've Realised"
19. The Occasional Keepers "If The Ravens Leave"

Having been less than enthralled by their previous outings, the latest album "True North" (on LTM) in places makes some fairly serious amends: these particular songs being so damnably gorgeous that they make us want to rip up every damning word we've ever said. About anyone. Really, two sumptuous, enviro-consh tracks. One of which you can listen to here.

20. Zipper "Goodbye"

This is from their "11" LP on Liliput. We saw them live: they made us *smile*. Life can be beautifully, absurdly simple.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Better Than You Think (or, How To Re-Sell Soul To A Nation Of Millions That Forgot It Had A Soul)

"Brixton! London! England!"...

D. "Public Enemy No. 1". The man. Still angry, still hating on guns and gun culture, still incandescent at where US rap has got to and all it celebrates. FLAVOR. "A legend in his own mind". Irrepressible, energetic, taking running jumps into the crowd... Terminator X ? Sadly no, still "retired in North Carolina". Professor Griff ? Not allowed out of the States... The S1Ws ? Yes, they're here. Striking kung-fu poses, pirouettes, throwing shapes, sometimes being statues. Occasionally fishing Flav out of the throng. "Hell yeah"... DJ Lord presides over the decks. And THE BOMB SQUAD are in the house. Wow. Wow. Wow.

It's not just noise. It's noise and shouting. And scratching. And bass, guitar and drums. And more shouting.

This is the 20 year anniversary, of course, of IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK. Both this and "George Best" performed anew in the matter of a few months... Flavor is milking it a bit. Chuck observes him, hands on hips, with a kind of resigned, weary tolerance. Flav carries on with the old-skool call and response. Chuck looks at his watch. Priceless.

But it's a wonderful noise. This is fantastic, more than it could be if it was fuelled *only* by nostalgia. We really weren't intending to write a word on this. But try and stop us now.

(At home, afterwards, we dig out another old fanzine, "What's this generation coming to ?": looks like Pete Dale's handiwork. "Sorry Morrissey, but Public Enemy say more to me about my life than you have for about five years". There's nothing new in loving the PE.)

Tonight they carry on bringing the noise, carry on giving. Take "Night Of The Living Baseheads", "Rebel Without A Pause": these are standards. Almost textbooks on lyricism and technique. Like "Paid In Full", they're songs that are built to last, and have done so effortlessly - every lyric, every beat, the way Chuck emphasises every syllable still imprinted on our mind, two decades on and for always. One day, we'll be humming them in some retirement home.

"Nation Of Millions" is still one of the 10 greatest albums of all time (a little like "Reign In Blood", which it famously samples). And when we say 10 best, we don't mean "10 most influential", "10 you should own", "10 you should have in your collection to appear cool", any of that broadsheet non-sense. This is one of the 10 most MUSICALLY EXCITING, *now*. One of the 10 that SAYS THE MOST... And it's not even their best album.

Tonight's gig is the polar opposite of the Pistols' show here a few months ago. Once having rescued music is the only thing the two bands now have in common...

D reminds us how London welcomed Public Enemy in '87. That tour was a phenomenon. We'd kill to have been there. Remember the controversy ? Seems so quaint - the record still slays now, but the messages are so obviously, overwhelmingly positive. A flashback - "I like that from the people up top". YES... And there's shouting, more shouting. We're shouting. Must be something wrong with us.

"Promoter's dream, fan's fantasy, artist's challenge", notes D sagely of the task set for Public Enemy tonight. He's being cute, almost suggesting he wanted no part in this exercise. But Chuck is wise enough to know that tonight is not just about reluctantly going along with the Man - it's an opportunity. A few years ago, when we saw them at the much smaller Forum (where a respectable music journalist asked us what Flav was wearing round his neck - And a national paper sent you to review a Public Enemy show ?) the place was not so packed. And if they'd been here to play their most recent long-player, "How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?", the Academy wouldn't be brimming like this with anticipation, expectation, passion. More people in the house means more COMMUNICATION, and in this case more CONNECTION. And PE have always been about messages, as "Black Steel" - for which D uses a couple of pieces of A4 as a lyric sheet-cum stage prop - perfectly illustrates.

So. At the end of the barrage of "Party For Your Right To Fight", the dream / fantasy / challenge is achieved. Then - somehow - things are upped a notch further. D plays up to being freed from the shackles of the contract, and the set goes rogue. "Welcome To The Terrordome" works especially well. "Shut 'Em Down", we've always had a soft spot for: "Too Much Posse", we haven't. But there's a whirlwind of other tunes though: "Can't Truss It", "PE #1", "911 Is A Joke", last year's "Harder Than You Think", "Fight The Power" to properly rip it up. It's all a kind of blistering medley of noise complemented by the ceaseless activity on stage - at any time there are between ooh, 10 and 15 people jumping, rapping, playing, swaying, or just standing nodding. We're bouncing up and down, too.

It's half past twelve and they're trying to switch the lights out. But Flav won't go away. Aaw, he's clearly made up by the occasion, the reception. He needs a few people to shout "Fuck Racism": and in this our 5% BNP city, we need them to mean it. The fanzine we found later on, reminding us how PE did the same at Reading, all those years ago, asked: "... what's wrong with a simple, powerful message ?"

Finally, Flav needs a few of us to shout "Fuck George Bush". Alright then, for old time's sake, one for the road. There's a bundle towards the last tube, but few make it. Who cares.

Really. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Brilliant.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

And those that laughed, they are laughing again

For fuck's sake.

It's not good enough to have voted for a laugh because you liked him off the telly, or to have plumped for him because of some half-baked fantasy that it would "teach Gordon a lesson". This isn't the high-jinks student japery of putting "Jedi" on a census form, nor is it some kind of noble protest vote. This is electing a known incompetent, a self-parodic Dickensian bumbler, old Etonian and new Islingtonian (who we've meanwhile been paying to be an Oxfordshire MP) and doing so simply in the hope he's going to offer good copy. Someone who has been given a free ride just for that reason, not just as you might expect from the Evening Standard (whose editor basically put him up as a candidate) and those mindnumbing Murdoch and Rothermere freesheets, but also, inexplicably, by BBC London and others, so eager these days to be sucked into the papers' agenda.

Now, not only have we got a Conservative mayor, enough obloquy in itself, but he's the UK Dubya, a candidate so irredeemably and unintentionally comedic that even the Tories have been sensible enough not to let him near the front bench since they sacked him from it. But, just as they were happy to back Jeffrey Archer, for pity's sake, as mayor of us rabble (only really relenting when he went to prison) they are of course happy to let this clown loose on London too, on a city that has been loath to do them any favours over the years, and that stands for so much of what they hate.

So what are the new broom's policies ? "No two boroughs are alike. Your corner of the capital is unique and the issues affecting you are too", says the glossy Boris website. His specifically-tailored policies for our borough ? "Safer streets" is one. Yes, that's it, a whole policy. Two words. "Better living conditions in London NE" - without further elaboration - is another bullet-point. Inspired. And remember, this is in his *own* borough: that's how much of a policy vacuum we're in. A third 'policy' is "reducing gang crime". Well spotted: that is a problem here. But er, exactly how many candidates are proposing to increase gang crime ? And how is he actually proposing to implement these brilliant fag-packet policies ? Not a single word of explanation.

But hey, none needed. Nobody asked the new mayor, even really cared, what his policies were, or if he had any: they colluded in his advisers' tactics of keeping him away from the camera and the microphone, where he can't do so much damage to himself. Do people really think that this erstwhile pillar of the Bullingdon Club is just a Tim Nice-but-dim, "a bloody good bloke" ? Do they forget how even while Ken Livingstone was sticking it to Thatcher (before she abolished the GLC), Boris was knocking out boorish right-wing copy for the pages of the Telegraph ? His worldviews are hardly, were never, obscure: his vocal backing of Clause 28, his on-record defence of Islamophobia, his famously pitiful response to the Macpherson inquiry (it is not pure coincidence that he was the fascist party's nominated second preference mayoral candidate). True to form, he also thinks that his own children are above attending local schools, which kinda makes it harder for him to claim he'll be that energised to improve them.

So, in the void where serious policy discussion could have been, the media homed in on crucial points like the alleged fecklessness of Red Ken or Lee Jasper (as if Boris, with his record, should have the moral high ground on family and fidelity), or on spewing endless invective against bendy buses (as if the return of the Routemaster was the only issue worth voting on). Transport-wise, the real issue for years now has been a re-enactment of an old battle of 1980s London: the same Tory councils who then tried to bury Fares Fair and the GLC were now out to nail the Freedom Pass and a socialist, thankfully only nominally New Labour, mayor.

And they got him. Of course you could have legit issues with the old mayor and his style. But regardless of the self-aggrandisement or other personal capital it brought him, Ken Livingstone spent basically his adult lifetime working for and promoting this city: and what we saw with our eyes over the last eight years, from both north and south of the river, was a positive transformation in so many ways. A mayor who was hands-on, involved and actually made things happen, including things that even made a difference, not least the congestion charge (something that the new mayor notably won't be attempting to repeal).

Nobody sensibly thinks that Johnson will stick up for the unwaged or the low-paid, that he will continue to support schemes for integration, regeneration or anti-racism. None of us are under any illusion that he will have the bottle or the inclination to threaten or challenge vested interests, to adopt policies that even tilt at redistributing wealth or increasing opportunity, to push back on the councils (and to be fair, it won't just be the Tory ones) who tell him where to stick his 'consensus' approach to affordable housing. When he tries to convince us of a Damascene conversion, that he's now a friend of the environment and public transport, a supporter of social housing and multicultural society (remember, "I'm down with the ethnics" is a direct, recent quote!), we think we're entitled not to believe him.

As for what might happen with major infrastructure projects, to Underground PPP, Crossrail or Stratford 2012, it's too dispiriting to contemplate. Forget the twinkling eyes of his dining-club fellow Cameron, and remember what the real Conservative party in the country is like: because it's that lot who are again in the ascendancy, with Boris Johnson as their willing puppet in City Hall for the next few years.

*Sigh*. Those of you outside this city can rightly feel a little amused: sometimes London needs taking down a peg or two, and making it a laughing stock (not just in the UK) by voting in Johnson is one way of doing that. But this is, inescapably, a win for the crowing press corps who peppered us with increasingly desperate stories of how the old mayor was unworthy of our vote because he was consorting with Muslims, with union leaders, with environmentalists, with other such enemies of the state. A triumph for the blue-rinsers who came out in force to champion their hero, the mop-topped crusader against "political correctness", while three million Londoners deigned to stay at home, no doubt with better things to do. A victory for those who inhabit the benighted world of the Beeb's subtle, seminal, demented online comedy "Have Your Say". But for us, it's just a flat, inglorious, pit-of-stomach defeat that makes London seem a slightly darker place tonight.