Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of Year Review 2013

Yes, it's that much-unloved feature once again, a budget version of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, only not as good. Or funny.  On with the show...


Ronald Shannon Jackson, Nelson Mandela, Lou Reed, Al Goldstein, Joan Fontaine, Paul Walker, James Gandolfini, Peter O'Toole, Cory Monteith, Elmore Leonard, Karen Black, Dennis Farina, Ray Manzarek, Trevor Bolder, Ray Harryhausen,  Marcia Wallace, George Jones, Roger Ebert, David Frost, Mel Smith, Alan Whicker, Richard Briers, Michael Winner, Cecil Womack, Reg Presley, Richard Griffiths, Iain Banks, Mick McManus, Bill Pertwee, Jeff Hanneman, Bernie Nolan, George Duke, Jon Brookes,  Seamus Heaney, John Fortune, Donald Byrd, Junior Murvin, Mick Farren, JJ Cale

Most Bastardised Word in the Media

A close-run thing this year. "Selfie" was certainly in the running, not only because it transmuted into "belfie" over the course of 8 months (thanks, Daily Mail), but also because it now seems to mean any hastily-captured portrait of a person taken on a smartphone and then uploaded to a social networking site, and not just a self-portrait.  Note the recent pictures of Nigella Lawson holding a roasted Christmas turkey on a platter up to the camera.  Most tabloids rose to the bait and printed the pic and many of them used the word "selfie", despite the fact that both of Ms. Lawson's Hands were clearly visible in the picture, holding the damn bird.  Unless Lawson has a third hand we haven't heard about (and I think, given her recent court appearances, the Grillo sisters' lawyers would have introduced it
in evidence), I can only assume that the pic was taken by one of the members of #teamcupcake.  In
which case, it's not a selfie, but an old-fashioned photograph. But boring old photos aren't sexy and can't be used as clickbait by newspapers, and so any old photo of a person is henceforward a selfie.  Cheers.

But no, "selfie" isn't the most egregious example of meaning-changing this year.  The accolade goes to "troll", once a very specific term meaning someone who lurks on Internet fora and posts messages to draw the ire of other forum users, and who then sits back and enjoys the results (for example, the poster who might visit a Death Metal forum and mention how much they're enjoying the new Justin Bieber single, to predictable howls of outrage from regular forum users.).  While I'm not going to argue that these trolls were on a par with the emergency services, charity volunteers or school crossing guards, they DID perform a valuable service, namely pricking pomposity and exposing the monocultural mindset of many internet boards.  A troll was NOT someone who simply gratuitously insulted others, or was merely obnoxious.  There are already numerous terms for such people. "Dickheads" is one. Unfortunately, the newspapers have decreed in the last few years that anyone with unpalatable opinions is a "troll".  Thus xenophobe Godfrey Bloom is a troll.  As is the homophobic James Arthur.  As is Katie Hopkins, who was recently declared 2013's troll of the year
by the Guardian (who should know better), for her inflammatory pronouncements.  Katie and the others besmirch the good name of real trolls in two ways; first, the opinions they hold are, as far as I can tell, real and genuine rather than simply voiced for effect (though I suspect Ms. Hopkins is prone to exaggeration with an eye to newspaper sales). Second, Godfrey Bloom and Katie Hopkins (and many others in the Guardian list) choose not to promulgate their bile online, but in rather more traditional media.  All therefore are not trolls (a sobriquet that flatters them, and makes them seem seem slightly less unpleasant and more cartoonish). Rather, they're old-fashioned cunts.

Most annoying auto-correct tic on a tablet

The way that "selfie" keeps auto-correcting to "selfish". 

Biggest stramash over a slightly-above average song

I refrained from mentioning "twerking" above, just as I've refrained from mentioning Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines this year (the acres of press coverage this far have been sufficient without me weighing in).  But what a lot of fuss over what, essentially, is a mash-up of Marvin Gaye's Got To Give It Up, and the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses.  The banning of the song by a number of student unions, too (a mere three months late) was a gross over-reaction. I'm not going to argue that there's no link between culture and morality and behaviour, but if they're going to ban Thicke because there are some slightly off-colour and sexist attitudes in Blurred Lines, they'd better ban a whole slew of other songs too. God forbid, for example, that these drones should ever hear Rolling Stones' Under My Thumb. Or Daft Punk's Get Lucky (which seems to be about keeping a girl up way past her bedtime
till she's too exhausted and drunk to say no).  Or whole chunks of the oeuvre of Led Zeppelin. Or R Kelly.  I could go on.  Have they forgotten what rock 'n' roll is a euphemism for?

Most over-rated artist

Kanye West.  What is the continuing appeal of this blowhard? His recent release has appeared on quite a few best-of lists. I really can't hear it. Mediocre rapping, rudimentary beats, an overweening, out-of-control ego that thinks that fighter jets at a wedding are a good idea... The guy is a cast-iron idiot.

Best compilation

I mentioned The Clash below, and despite strong competition from a couple of Strut compilations
(Trevor Jackson's second stab at Metal Dance, and the Celluloid retrospective), the Clash's box set edges it, because it reminds you of what a great and diverse group they were, and how far they travelled sonically over 5 years, and also because it includes a number of tracks from Mick Jones' first pass at Combat Rock, Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg.  Yet again, Cut The Crap has been airbrushed from history, but as I've said once before about the same group, you can't have everything.

Best single

I've been listening a lot to Justin Timberlake's Take Back The Night, the greatest single Michael Jackson never made, but the best thing I heard this year was Eminem's Berzerk, an insanely catchy slice of old-school hip hop, produced by a returned-to-form Rick Rubin.  Like the best rock 'n' roll, and like the Def Jam singles of 1984 that seemingly inspired it, it makes you want to kick over a dustbin. Much of its energy comes courtesy of that buzz-saw guitar chord (from Billy Squier's The Stroke), but deft sampling and Mathers' wordplay make this the must-hear track of 2013.

Best album

Valiant efforts from Chvrches, James Blake, Vampire Weekend (a bit of a grower, that one), Savages, Jon Hopkins and Steve Mason, but I particularly enjoyed Jessy Lanza's debut. As long-term readers will know, I'm a sucker for females doing things with sequencers, and if you like Ladytron, Roisin Murphy or Marsheaux, there's a good chance you'll like Pull My Hair Back, Ms. Lanza's 2013 release.  On the mighty Hyperdub label, it's got enough going on to satisfy twitchy dub step-addicted short attention-span teens, but is smooth enough not to scare the horses and to ensure occasional mainstream radio play. You can even play it at dinner parties.  Recommended.

Most surprising TV

The trouble with American series, as I've told anyone who'll listen, is that they so rarely know when to bow out. Most writers pitch a story idea, with little sense of how the story is going to end, and as long as people are watching, and advertisers are paying money, they will usually keep churning out episodes. And so most long-running comedies and dramas end in the ignominy of cancellation, a shadow of their former glories, or tie up multiple loose ends in a wholly unsatisfying fashion (Lost, anyone?).  Breaking Bad, one of the few exceptions to this rulewas absolutely excellent, and we devoured the whole series at Irk Towers in just a few weeks. But Homeland, which I initially championed for its nuanced take on terrorism and patriotism, and then like many grew disillusioned with in its second series as it seemed to descend into one-dimensional US boosterism, returned to something close to its original form at the climax of its third series.  I wish they'd gone out on this high, but a fourth series is planned.  Whether they can maintain the standard of the final episodes without one of the series' major characters remains to be seen.

Over and out. See you in 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Two Sevens' Clash

While we're wallowing in nostalgia for 1977, and generally acting like the fictional letter-writer in Not The Nine O'Clock News who would gladly sell his house and all its contents to help the BBC, a quick plug for a great show I enjoyed on Boxing Day, This Is Radio Clash, presented by the three surviving members of the group.  No one will be surprised by their inclusion of tracks by Junior Murvin or Grandmaster Flash, but I, for one, was taken aback by Mick's selection of a very recent Prefab Sprout tune.  The stories were good, the banter flowed and their imitation of Bernie Rhodes was welcome.  It's a shame there wasn't five minutes given over to celebrity osteopath Terry Chimes, but you can't have everything.  You can listen here for a limited time.  

Temple's Run

More churlish souls would probably be irritated at the way Julien Temple continually churns out Sex Pistols documentaries.  However, when the documentaries are as good as Never Mind the Baubles, the improbable tale of (what turned out to be) the Sex Pistols' final British gigs on Xmas Day in Huddersfield, the churls should pipe down.  The footage of the gigs themselves (one in the afternoon for the families of striking firemen, at which a gleeful Johnny Rotten cavorted with children to Boney M's Daddy Cool before handing out cake, followed by one in the evening) was limited, but it was given context by interviews with the surviving band members, and by contemporaneous footage of Britain in 1977, from Top of The Pops to TV ads for Smash, and from vox pops to political footage.  While this has all been done before (seemingly, no punk documentary is complete without image of overflowing bins in Leicester Square), it was the sheer diversity of the contextual material that really set Never Mind the Baubles apart, and which really does credit to the researchers and director. The rights-clearances alone must have taken an age.  The additional material showed Britain in the 1970s to be even stranger, even more brown and grey than I remember- the short clip of the man in the pub proudly placing a red hot poker into his pint of cloudy cider before noisily and messily slurping it down is now etched on my retinas.  You've got four more days to watch it on the iPlayer, though with luck, like most of these BBC4 docs, it'll come around again.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Frank in a Sense

And just in case you think the Stepkids (below) aren't festive enough, here's the late Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom to get the party started. And please, this film can't come soon enough.

Gilles' Play

I may not have mentioned this, but chez Irk we have a Gilles-ometer, a device that we can hold next to the stereogram to ascertain the exact Gilles Peterson-ness of any given tune. Constructed using some oscillators and VU meters we found in a skip, connected to the finest plastic tubing, some 13 amp fuses, a metal colander and a stock of bargain-bin Young Disciples CDs, it's not pretty but it performs its job with considerable aplomb.  Holding it next to the speakers when, say, Metallica's Enter Sandman is playing, elicits nary a flicker.  Some gangster rap by the Geto Boys produces a little more movement on the needle, but not much. Not smooth enough, too many rough edges.  The more polished tones of French rapper MC Solaar finally brings the Gilles-ometer into life, as does anything on the Acid Jazz label, early dubstep and Fela Kuti.

Anyway, I mention this because earlier this year, we nearly broke the damn thing when we exposed it to James Blake's Retrograde.  The needles on the meters were pushing into the red, the device started to smoke and we thought with some satisfaction that we'd discovered the most Gilles Peterson-esque record ever, the one that took our homemade contraption up to 11.  That was until earlier this month, when a record we'd never heard before came out of our radio. Sounding like a mash-up of Prince, Everything Everything and Steely Dan, it was smooth, quirky, instantly catchy, and we held up the Gilles-ometer expectantly.  Sure enough, it immediately started peaking, its needles oscillating wildly*, and smoke began to pour from its roughly-hewn innards. Finally it combusted, and the pile of smoking ash and acrid burned plastic bears testament to what is definitively, officially the most Gilles Peterson-esque tune ever.  Here it is:

And just in case you think I'm merely being facetious, I happen to agree with the Gilles-ometer. It's ace. The video less so, but there's no arguing with the tune.

*apologies to Smiths fans.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Beyond our Ken

On the occasion of the demise of Brit jazz legend Stan Tracey, here's a bizarre and revealing (at least in parts) interview he did a few years ago with the Right Hon Ken Clarke MP.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Around the Horn

I'm extremely gratified to see the revival of one of my favourite blogs of the year, The Art of ZTT, which burst into life in January with an avowed mission to document the photography and graphic design around one of the seminal record labels of the last 30 years, but which seemingly petered out in March almost as soon as it had begun. Happily it's back, with a batch of recent postings including an interview with the illustrator of the Relax cover.  Its a terrific-looking blog, almost as good-looking as the work of the illustrators, designers and photographers it documents, notably XLZTT, Accident, John Stoddart, A.J.Barratt and others.  It's also terrifically well-informed and researched, and, if nothing else, serves as a salutary reminder that while Peter Saville, Mark Farrow, Malcolm Garrett and others may have garnered the most headlines in Design Week, there was plenty of innovative and eye-catching work going on elsewhere.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dolby Laboratories

Leafing through today's Daily Mail (hey, it's for research purposes only), I was gratified to read the heart-warming story of a 33 year old man who has spent $100,000 on plastic surgery in a quest to make himself look more like his pop star idol.  And I have to admit, it's money very well spent. He very closely resembles Thomas Dolby in his pomp.

Wait, hang on a second...what do you mean he was trying to look like Justin Bieber?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chips Ahoy

As I've said here before, Hot Chip are one of those bands that, on paper, should entirely float my boat.  In reality, they rarely get me as excited as they should.  This, though, from Hot Chip member Joe Goddard, is entirely lovely and follows a string of great releases on Goddard's Greco-Roman label.  Which is making me wonder; maybe it's Alexis Taylor that's holding them back from greatness and keeping them in the realms of averageness.

Set too

...and speaking of El, Cherry Red and Mike Alway, The Monochrome Set are seemingly back, back, back with a new album and tour.  Here they are in their heyday on The Tube :

Winsome, losesome

...and taking of fake identities, here's a great interview with Simon Fisher-Turner.  As well as rubbing shoulders with Jonathan King, Derek Jarman, Mike Alway and Daniel Miller- not all at the same time, sadly-, Simon was once one half of Deux Filles, purportedly two winsome French girls making beatless guitar music (think a Gallic Durutti Column) but in reality Fisher-Turner, along with Colin Lloyd Tucker, both in drag.  His oeuvre is well worth a listen, in particular his stuff as The King of Luxembourg, and you can buy Deux Filles CDs and read a full bio here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

That's a Rap

I should draw your attention to two documentaries, both good, one of them great. Both touch on a genre with a vested interest in "keeping it real", and both paradoxically concerned with fakery.  The first, The Great Hip Hop Hoax (available for another 6 days on iPlayer) told the story of Silibil 'n' Brains, purportedly two Californian Eminem-alikes, but who were really two college pals from Arbroath and Dundee respectively, and who inked a deal with Sony, partied with the stars and supported D12  back in 2004.  It's a fascinating story, extremely well told using contemporaneous footage, interviews with music biz talking heads, animation and commentary from then then-estranged duo themselves, speaking in their native brogue rather than the Californian twang they affected to get themselves signed.  Ostensibly a cautionary tale, it seems to have had an unexpected coda, as the pair have become reacquainted and seemingly relaunched their musical careers. 

The other documentary, I Want My Name Back, has some similarities, outlining the story of the Sugarhill Gang and their fractious and litigious relationship with the label that gave them their name.  A story of fakery and subterfuge, it told of how Sylvia Robinson of Sugarhill repeatedly inserted her name into the writing credits of Sugarhill artists, how her husband and business partner withheld royalties from the bands, and, most egregiously, of how the group had their band name and (in the case of two of them-Master Gee and Wonder Mike) even their own rap pseudonyms trademarked behind their backs.  The net result of this chicanery was that he group was left unable to perform, their efforts being thwarted by lawyers at every turn.  The David vs. Goliath narrative, though, was slightly undermined by the less-than-black-and-white nature of the participants, a point elided over by the documentary makers.  What might initially appear as a clear-cut case of identity theft was attenuated by the fact that one of the original group members (Big Bank Hank) was still performing with the supposed usurpers, making this less a case of straightforward imitation, and more one of factionalism, akin to that of many rock groups the world over-  cf the Sugababes.  Also not dwelt upon in this tale of piracy and copyright refutation was the fact that the group's most successful song, Rappers' Delight, was itself based upon a stolen piece of music by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, both of whom went uncredited during the song's heyday.  Despite these cavils, the sheer magnetism of Wonder Mike and Master Gee was enough to convince this viewer that while they may not have had the sole rights to the name and the songs, as they claim, they have a stronger case to be called the official Sugarhill Gang than do those who are the current legal owners of it.  The doc is available on Netflix and on iTunes. 

Double trouble

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If it is, I should have been deeply flattered to come across another blog on a rival blogging platform with exactly the same name as this one...http://irkthepurists.wordpress.com/

No, it's not me. Christ, I can barely manage a post per month on this one, so I'm hardly likely to start another one, am I? Strangely, though, it does have a similarly broad approach to popular culture as this blog...Focus, Osymyso, John Carpenter... and the guy (?) can certainly write well. I LOLed at his description of RockBox being played at ASBO-level volume.  Sadly, it seems to have crashed and burned after a couple of months. Which means you're just going to have to put up with me. And if it does come back to life, well, c'est la vie.  I don't own the name, and anything that draws more attention to Nigel Blackwell is OK by me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Kind of Magic

Single of the year?  It's only October, but I don't think this effort (by Luke Temple of Here We Go Magic) will be bettered. It reminds me of the sorts of songs that you'd hear on John Peel or Kid Jensen night after night, often on European labels, and which you'd swear were going to cross over and be massive hits (Heaven Sent by Paul Haig springs to mind) but which would then limp to no. 63.  I doubt that Katie will even graze the top 100, but it's still a fantastic song with some nagging hooks.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Face Off

Has anyone told Este Haim that Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap was meant to be an object of ridicule, rather than emulation?


Thursday, August 01, 2013

Choir riot

Of necessity, Irk The Purists doesn't often make live appearances.  However anyone that wants to see your correspondent making a potential fool of himself should hotfoot it to this year's Edinburgh Festival. No, I haven't been asked to understudy Jerry Sadowitz or fluff Jimmy Carr.  Instead, I'm participating in the Complaints Choir along with approximately 40 other hardy souls.  You can read about the origins and history of this art-project here, but in essence it involves participants (no singing experience or talent required) giving voice to complaints both local and international in scope.  So in Edinburgh, ours include, but are not limited to, trams, dog mess, recycling bins and the phallocentric nature of western patriarchy.  The composers who have been appointed to knock these disparate ideas into some sort of shape are Daniel Padden and Peter Nicholson, both of whom have a background in improvisational and experimental music but don't let that put you off.  For the most part, it's very accessible with only a couple of pieces that are a bit Steve Reich. In fact, given that singing talent was not a requirement of joining its all a bit less Portsmouth Sinfonia than I was fearing, and at times is downright melodic.  Anyway, judge for yourselves, if you want to, on Rose St this Friday at 5.30 to 9pm.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Taking the Michael

Mrs Irk walked in on me listening to the new Scott Walker compilation the other evening.  She asked whether I was listening to Michael Ball.  I laughed and called her a pleb.  She took umbrage, insisting that I listen to Michael Ball singing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables.  And I have to admit, when you compare the emoting and contained histrionics of the latter to, say, Montague Terrace in Blue, the similarities are definitely there.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Things go better with coke

In Metro this morning, an ill-advised choice of words from the curiously-monikered Mike GLC, who along with N-Dubz' Tulisa, is facing charges related to an alleged class-A drug sting..."We are innocent. Anyone can chop things together on video."

Friday, May 31, 2013

RIP Steve Martland 1959-2013

Bristol fashion

Prior to today, I'd have put Tricky in that small category of people filed under "could start an argument in an empty room"- others on the list include Lauryn Hill, American talk radio host Alex Jones and Sir Alex Ferguson.  People permanently aggrieved, with a supreme lack of awareness of how their own personality contributes to their perceived misfortunes.  So, it was somewhat salutary to see him positively radiating bonhomie, in a formal interview, no less, on Vice's Noisey channel (terrible name, good content).  Interviewed by the estimable John Doran of The Quietus, the interview is one of a series done with British iconoclasts, including Gary Numan, Luke Haines, Adam Ant and Bryan Ferry.  They're all worth looking at, especially the one with Adam Ant, but the one below has repositioned the Bristolian whinger in my estimation.

Record breakers

A nice piece from Record Collector about the record industry shooting itself in the foot.  Again.  I couldn't agree more, but I'd add that the parallel argument about mp3s ("you mean, Mr. Universal, that you want us to pay more for a digital artefact, with no warehousing or manufacturing costs, than for a CD? Ambassador, you are really spoiling us.") shows that time and again the sheer greed of these companies will ultimately be their demise.  For further elucidation, and for more examples of how the industry resists innovation, I highly recommend Louis Barfe's book Where Have All The Good Times Gone.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Elements of Style

They're back! And I couldn't be happier. I'd written them off as a one-off, but Neon Neon are back, back, back.  Hooray.  This time around, they're biographising (hey, did I just invent a word?) Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.  Okay, I'll admit I was unaware of him, but he was apparently an Italian publisher and activist. If that's not enough to tempt you to give the new album a spin, it features Sabrina among its guest stars.  Yes, that Sabrina.

Here's the new single, less than 2 minutes long:

And here's a link to where you can download it for free, thanks to the nice people at Rolling Stone.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Rhumble's Trip

Congratulations to the BBC for perpetrating a great April Fool joke today.  I awoke this morning to be told that a shonky 20-year old single by PJ and Duncan was a new entry at Number One in the charts. Hilarious, right up there with the Spaghetti Trees of Switzerland and the Isle of San Seriffe.  Bwah, hah, hah!  Hang on a second..... What did you just say? It's not a joke? 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thornton's Fudge

There were few revelations in the BBC's  documentary about Nile Rodgers on Friday night, but it's always entertaining to hear the man talking, and even better to hear others talking about him (and Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson).  And the sight of Johnny Marr on stage in Montreux jamming with what's left of Chic reminds one that for all Morrissey's considerable talents, you'd much prefer to spend time with Marr.  I mean, can you really picture Morrissey yucking it up with a disco group?

I say there were few revelations, but there was one, for me at least.  And that was that Fonzi Thornton, the backing singer (David Bowie, Luther Vandross, Diana Ross etc) that for 30 years of looking at credits on LP sleeves I had assumed was female (and Thornton often sang in the company of BJ Nelson and Tawatha Agee, who definitely are female), is actually a bloke.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Reich Stuff

A very enjoyable interview with Steve Reich here, conducted by the genial Alexis Petridis.   I always forget the fact, but it's salutary to be reminded that he and Philip Glass once ran a removal company.

On the subject of Reich anecdotes, I love the story that used to be told about The House of Love.  It's probably apocryphal; I really hope it isn't.  Apparently when Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers of the aforementioned combo were rising stars (c. 1988), they let on that they were big fans of Steve Reich.  Their manager got wind of this, and told them he could probably arrange for the duo to meet the great man.  Excited, they turned up at the agreed place at the agreed time hoping to be introduced to the serialist maestro.  In an atmosphere of hushed awe and reverence, their manager opened the door to allow the hapless pair to meet their hero, and in walked..... afternoon zoo radio "personality" and Weird Al-lookalike, Steve Wright.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

RIP Cleotha Staples 1934-2013

Mounting excitement

Sir Edmund Hillary

In similar vein, I was astonished to see that former Skids frontman Richard Jobson had taken time out from directing low-budget (and rather good) Scottish flicks to become the first man to conquer Mount Everest some 60 years ago.  Good work.

Lookey Likeys



Have curmudgeonly comics supremo Alan Moore and only marginally less curmudgeonly record spinnage supremo Andrew Weatherall ever been seen in the same room together? Could they by any chance be related, etc.....

Grant Aided

This is so great, and despite being brand new would have been right at home on Trevor Jackson's Metal Dance ( see below).  It's not by any German metal bashers though; instead it's by a beardie American guy whose most recent offering before this one was recorded with Midlake.  Ladeez and gennelmen, Mr. John Grant.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

2012 Round Up Part Two

Best book
There have been a few that are worthy of mention; Matt Thorne's Prince biog was worth a look but flawed by a) its earnestness and b) the equal weighting it placed on all phases of his career.  Normally, I'd be praising the latter quality as a sign of even-handedness, and the biographer as having the correct amount of detachment from the subject.  But even his least ardent supporters would argue that the years 1979 to 1987 are the only ones that count in the Prince story, and that these are the ones any biographer should concentrate on.  So I'm afraid that's not the winner.  And neither is How To Wreck A Nice Beach, though I greatly enjoyed it and will return to it in future posts ("yeah, right"- ItP readers). No, my favourite book was Peter Hook's Unknown Pleasures.  I know, I know.  Hasn't this been flogged to death?  Well, yes, it probably has. As someone astutely pointed out, New Order (and by implication, Joy Division) spent the first 20 years of their career not saying a word, while for the past fifteen it's been difficult to get them to shut up.  And some pundits and fans see Hook's recent activities (the DJing, the club openings, the one-man talk shows, the touring, all on the back of his former glories) as tantamount to some sort of indie betrayal.  Even I think that it's a bit strange that someone from a band and record label that were formerly noted for never wallowing in nostalgia is now making a career out of just that.  However, as far as I'm concerned, Peter Hook, more than anyone involved in the Factory story, has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants in his twilight years.
And what a story it is.  Rightly redressing the balance, it paints a picture of a band made up of four individuals rather than Ian Curtis and three anonymous players.  It also shows Curtis as being a long way from the tortured existentialist of popular myth.  I, for one, will forever cherish the mental image of Curtis running along a Parisian street, jiggling a pair of imaginary breasts on his chest and asking a bemused Frenchman "Where are the girls?"  I really cannot wait for the inevitable New Order book.

Biggest ticketing cock-up
Kraftwerk at the Tate Modern.  Read the story here.  Take my advice though, readers.  To avoid this sort of teeth-gnashing fiasco, and the concomitant touting that bedevils any over-subscribed event, just say no to big gigs.  Honestly, the bands don't need your money, they'll almost always be trading on past glories, they'll appear like ants in the distance and they won't have been relevant for 20 years or so.  In the case of Kraftwerk, it's closer to 30. Plus, they only have one member remaining from the quartet that made Trans-Europe Express, Man Machine and Computer World. Why, then, do people fall over themselves to see Kraftwerk when other, worthier bands struggle to fill venues?  I can't remember the last time I went to a gig where there were touts, for the simple reason that the artists I enjoy almost never sell out (literally or figuratively).  On which note...

Best gig
If you ever want to feel young, go to a John Cale gig.  Most of the time when you go to a gig, it's like stepping into a branch of Urban Outfitters (most recently this happened at an Annie Mac DJ set- she was great, incidentally, but I and my companions were by far the oldest people in the room).  At Cale's date in Edinburgh in the autumn, the hall was about 50% full, mostly of the sorts of people that frequented the Factory in the 1960s and the Batcave in the early 80s.  It was like being on the set of The Addams Family.  We were by far the youngest people there, which made a pleasant change.  The gig was better than I expected, Cale essaying a great version of Helen of Troy, as well as most of his current album Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (worst album tile of 2012, BTW). He's smaller than I expected.  And as a bonus, Ian and I got to shake hands with Davey Henderson of the Fire Engines.
However, I'd have to say my favourite gig (and there weren't that many to choose from) was Saint Etienne, supported by Scritti Politti.  Again, only about 80% full, but that meant we got to stand mere feet away from Sarah Cracknell.  I've always liked Saint Etienne, but would be lying if I said they were my favourite band, or even in the top 10.  And in truth, I'd sort of lost touch with them in recent years.  But this gig reminded me just how dependable and consistent they are.  Never quite Premiership leaders, but certainly cheerful mid-table chuggers.  If this sounds like I'm damning them with faint praise, or implying that they're the West Brom of pop, then nothing could be further from the truth.  Their newest album, Words and Music, is truly wonderful, a fantastic evocation of the power of music, and pop music in particular. On which note...

Best album
Despite strong competition from Grimes, Scott Walker, the Purity Ring, Hot Chip (who I've never totally warmed to, but whose In Our Heads finally delivered on their initial promise), I think Saint Etienne just shaded it, though it took the gig above to convince me. If you need convincing, just listent to Tonight (below) and listen to how Pete Wiggs, Bob Stanley and Richard X's words and music capture that feeling of being 17 and gleaning information about a band from the pages of the NME before going to see them.  I'm guessing that in an age of Twitter, Facebook, music blogs, viral marketing and oversharing, that doesn't happen very often these days.  Maybe I'm part of the problem. Hmm.

Best compilation
Metal Dance by Trevor Jackson

Best song
We can't say best single anymore, can we?  Anyway, despite the cynical dreck turned out by the likes of Kanye West and will.i.am (all of which made the One Pound Fish song sound like Bohemian Rhapsody), there were some high points to the year from Jessie Ware, Burial, Dutch Uncles, Everything Everything and MIA.  But the one that most resembled a classic 7 inch single (nagging hook, orchestration, shiny production, 3 minutes, proper ending rather than a fade out) was surely Carly Rae Jepson's Call Me Maybe.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 round up part one, better late than never

2012 Irk The Purists Story of the Year

Just sneaking in under the wire at 10pm on 31st December, this was the strange sighting of Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter at an Angus leisure centre.  The reasons for their appearance are a little unclear at the time of writing (and while I'd love to see Willie Wonka and the Haunted Squash Court, I think we can safely discount the possibility that they were there for research purposes), but I'm keenly watching http://www.facebook.com/thecourieruk to find out more. Thanks to Lesley S for spotting.

Gerry Anderson,  Fontella Bass, Neil Armstrong, Marie Colvin, Donna Summer, Dave Brubeck, Ravi Shankar, Alistair Burnet, Max Bygraves, Tony Scott, Eric Hobsbawm, Ray Bradbury, Gore Vidal, Larry Hagman, Sylvia Kristel, Davy Jones, Etta James, Jocky Wilson, Robert Hughes, Vidal Sassoon, Herbert Lom, Whitney Houston, Bob Holness, John Barry, Alexander Cockburn, Hal David, Robin Gibb, Terry Nutkins, Andy Williams, Bert Weedon, Byard Lancaster, Frank Wilson, Terry Callier

The 2012 "Nice Try" award
This year, the award goes to EMI who, at the height of Olympic fever in the UK released the debut single Winner from the Pet Shop Boys' recent album.  And while the lyrics may not have referenced athletics and the Olympics specifically, the allusions to being "in the running" and its timing in particular led many (and here's a case in point) to believe that it had some semi-official endorsement from Team GB.  I'm guessing that this was EMI's hope, at least- that its vaguely Olympic theme would allow it to ride on the coat-tails of Jessica Ennis et al into the public's hearts, and therefore into the charts.
The trouble, though, was that the Pet Shop Boys don't do strident, triumphant and victorious.  Neil Tennant's voice has always connoted distance, dispassion and irony.  The song doesn't even sound victorious; it sounds apologetic and half-hearted, more "Oh well, never mind" than "Yay! Go us!"  Which is ironic, because as far as I can tell, this is as celebratory as the PSBs get (see video, below).  It's just that they have the British capacity for self-deprecation, a capacity that Team GB managed to overcome in some style, hard-wired into their souls.  Predictably, the rest of the public was as confused as I was, and while Elbow and others shifted loads of product on the back of our sporting achievements, Winner limped home at a chart high of number 86.

Label of the year: 4AD
Whouldathunkit? Like many people my age, I had a high regard for 4AD in its heyday, thought that Colourbox, the Cocteau Twins and the Wolfgang Press were the shizzle, and sat mesmerised by Vaughan Oliver's (and Russell Mills' and Nigel Grierson's) sleeves in the same way that older friends stared at those of Roger Dean and Hipgnosis.  With the departure of Oliver and the label's co-founder and eminence grise Ivo Watts-Russell more than a decade ago, it seemed that like Blue Note and other labels suddenly cut asunder from the people with whom they were most closely identified. 4AD was likely to limp along, occasionally knocking out so-so albums by so-so bands and living on its ability to licence and re-release its vast back catalogue.  In recent years, though, it's made some interesting signings that were distinctly different from those that made the label's reputation  (Camera Obscura, Zomby, The Big Pink- and BTW, didn't they miss an open goal when they failed to call their debut Music From Big Pink?), and this year really hit the ball out of the park with albums from Scott Walker, Purity Ring, David Byrne and St. Vincent and, especially, Grimes. About whom more next time...

And yes, we now have internet at ITP Towers once more.