Tag Archives: music

The Sound of the City

My desk space in the city is located just off Dale Street. I love walking to work across town in the morning, past the sprinkling of market traders that are left, setting up for the day ahead. I see steaming cups of tea being administered to people who look like they desperately need them. I try to interact with this dying breed of trader. Use them or lose them! I try to buy vegetables from the stalls as often as I can. I could not get a pumpkin at Halloween last year for love nor money. One of the regular stalls I go to complained about how they simply cannot compete with the supermarkets,

Even I had to buy mine from the Asda, lad!

I love this humour that is used as an attitude in this city. The unshakeable wit of Scousers that can be heard everywhere. Recently on a bus a teenage girl was arguing/flirting with one of her male friends, who had taken a picture of her on his phone,

Do you know it’s illegal to keep a picture on ye phone if the other person doesn’t want you to?

She barked. To which he quickly retorted,

Do you know it’s illegal to have them eyebrows?

The acidic comeback is natural to the average Scouser. It’s all part of the sound of the city. It is all about survival. I have noticed in the past few years, a couple of the flower sellers have vanished on my route, withering away into nothing like the flowers they sold. There is still the occasional Eccoooooooooooo of an Echo seller and thankfully the sounds of the buskers if you can manage to ferry your way past the Predator, the Alien, a balloon squeezing Mario (plumbing obviously has been affected by the recession) and the odd Olaf. (Please note it is not recommended to tell a three-year old if the said man in a snowman costume is not present by stating, ‘he must have melted’, as my nephew was traumatised by this for several hours after.)

But one of the most gratifying sounds is the one I often hear, the music from rehearsal rooms on Dale Street. A banging drum set beat as I walk to work early in the morning and guitar solos flooding into the night air as I finish in the evening. This always raises a smile on my face, as you can hear the soul that is going into the practice. It is so much more refreshing a sound than ‘Cashier number three please.’ It is part of the DNA of this city, music, yes respecting the past but also moving progressively forward, to the future bands.

princes buildings

I was appalled at the news that this magnet for musical talent, the Princes Studios could be threatened with closure. We need to close a vital creative hub – that makes great sense! We need new apartments in the city like the world needs Ebola!

As those behind a recent petition to the Council asking to save the building have written:

Princes Studios currently houses over 250 musicians and 50+ bands who make up a large percentage of Liverpool’s illustrious music scene.

If the building closes it will have a huge negative impact on the Liverpool music scene as there is a chronic shortage of flexible and permanent rehearsal space in the city.

I was so proud to show off this City over the holidays to friends who were genuinely shocked by the culture, humour, history and vibe that we have. I do wish I was equally as proud of its elected leaders. The local Council – the alleged custodians of the city – do not seem to realise they do not own this city, the people do!

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Everybody’s looking for something

At a recent re-union with my two close friends, I went through my archive to find photographs from our collective past, remember photographs? Actual hard copies, actual physical images? I had a suitcase-full from the University days in Aberystwyth: theatre projects, pantomime and holidays, all shared histories. At the time we looked so fresh, yet were stacked with insecurities. It was striking how visually we had changed, faces, bodies, the core of the physical.

One of the funniest – yet lamest at the same time – cracker jokes I had this year was about Santa having to discipline his staff, as productivity on toy production was down in his factories. This was due to the Elves taking Elfies. Indeed, if you think about it, 2014 was the year of the selfie.

Nowadays, everybody airbrushes, changes, edits, deletes! We all do it, we all modify our digital life experiences promoting the fun times and the happy memories. We are all self-aware to a degree, but only projecting what we want the world to see. We are all Public Relations agents. Some admittedly are better than others.

It made me extremely happy to see a musician I have admired, Ms. Annie Lennox in a portrait that did not iron out her life lines or laughter marks. An image that did not tone and gloss her face to resemble an alabaster porcelain doll. To be raw, to be unaltered, to be authentic.

annie lennox

It reminded me of an anecdote I heard about Audrey Hepburn, who was appearing on the front of Vogue. One assistant, when showing her copy from the shoot, told her not to worry about the wrinkles as they would airbrush them out of the picture. To which this dignified actress said,

Don’t you dare! Leave them all in. I have earned every single one of them.

The recent picture of the Eurythmic legend was accompanied by a telling quote about our society on the Purple Clover Facebook page,

There’s this youth culture that is really, really powerful and really, really strong, but what it does is it really discards other people once they reach a certain age.

I actually think that people are so powerful and interesting – women especially – when they reach my age. We’ve got so much to say, but popular culture is so reductive that we just talk about whether we’ve got wrinkles, or whether we’ve put weight on, or lost weight, or whether we’ve changed our hair style. I just find that so shallow.

Perhaps we all should be made to read Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps we all could do with a reminder of what happens when you try and remain youthful for eternity. Perhaps it’s time to delete that picture in the attic or re-examine the profile image of our digital selves?

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Treats for ears

Reviving an occasional series on ten minutes hate, here are the Top 5 Records currently bringing joy to my ears:

1. Javeon McCarthy – Lost Time (T Williams Remix)

It is rainy season here in Japan, so there are days when we can’t see much of anything through the rain. Still, these haunting lyrics of lost love, set against a beat you will find difficult to ignore the invitation to dance to, will make even the greyest of skies seem suddenly brighter:

2. Fact mix 327 – Disclosure

The series of mixes released by Fact magazine are always worth more than one listen and this from Disclosure doesn’t buck the trend. By three minutes in I already knew it wa the best mix I had heard all year and then it proceeded to get even better. Don’t miss out!

3. Cajmere & Russoul – Let’s Dance

Watch the video, practise the moves, hit the club, be the toast of the town.

Thank me later.

4. XLR8R podcast – Braiden

Another quality series of mixes, another great DJ. What’s not to like?

5. Flight Facilities – Foreign Language ft Jess (Will Saul & Tam Cooper remix)

More great lyrics, an amazing vocal and deft remix by Simple Records founder, Will Saul. Almost too perfect…

Hopefully that has you in the perfect mood for whatever shenanigans the weekend holds for you. As ever, let me know your top 5s in the comments, below and be sure to have a cracking one!

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Going missing

A grey sky, making it too easy to feel miserable. The heel fell off my boot as I walked into work, leaving me limping all day. Over-tired, I had slept too long, veering from one lucid, unsettling dream to another without any pause, so that I found it difficult to escape from the feeling of having disappointed some faceless authority, failed to measure up to what was expected of me and faced down accusatory tones, even after the alarm had intruded.

Days like today it is impossible to fight the urge to go missing for a while, even if it only is in the virtual sense. Turn off the internets, pick up a book, a notebook, a pen. Write letters, listen to music loud enough to have the neighbours cursing your name and hope that tomorrow the sun will shine again. Perhaps that is enough.

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The price of everything

A comment on my post about this week’s book signing event made from the direction of the mortal bath, when added to a Golden Week spent with delightful visitors from back home, has suddenly opened my eyes to a universal truth. Crikey, life in Tokyo is expensive at times.

I realise that I now regularly pay 4,000 yen (slightly over thirty notes) for a night of clubbing without batting a heavily mascara’d eyelash at it, when back in the East London days, a fiver would be all I would need for admittance to some of the city’s finest warehouse raves. A taxi home once the last train has been missed will cost slightly less than four grand, but is still a hefty chunk of cash and remember, no drinks have been bought yet.

Still, payday is approaching and summer fun is on the horizon. Ticket details for the forthcoming Tokyo performance by the xx were released today and I allowed myself a couple of moments of getting over-excited about the prospect of going. I love their sparse beats, plaintive lyrics and am sure that seeing them would be a highlight.

Then reality kicks me in the head. Tickets have been priced at forty-five quid (5,800 yen). I paid about the same to see The National last year, a band who have released five albums and a stack of additional songs and who were on stage for almost three hours. It felt at the time, and still does, like a good return – much as I hate to be measuring my enjoyment of music in such a way. I suppose I should be grateful that I am able to hand over actual cash in return for a ticket at all, when the xx’s London dates have completely sold out, having been released in a ballot.

And yes, I do appreciate that it costs money to run a club and to fly bands and DJs in from overseas. I don’t begrudge anyone making a living from selling their creativity, especially when the use of it results in me having a cracking night out. That said, there are times on the dance floor when wide open spaces loom all around and the thought that it would be better for the room to be full with people paying less is difficult to push away. If everyone is priced out of going clubbing and gigging, where will that leave the respective music scenes in a decade’s time? We will all be the poorer, not just the promoters, if they allow the atrophy to become irreversible.

So, with some reluctance, I will be sitting this one out. Hoping instead to pick up on some smaller, less well-known, less high-priced gigs and nights out over the summer, to enjoy the immediacy of live music without completely breaking the bank. And for now, I will have to content myself with sitting in my room, writing and humming along to the xx as I do.

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You can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop, MCA come and rock the sure shot

It is difficult to credit, when you consider their later preoccupations, that the first incarnation of the Beastie Boys was a gift to tabloid headline writers, creating outrage wherever the group went, causing riots and scandalising sleepy British society.

That it was all taken seriously was amazing even to my 10-year-old eyes, who could see that the Beasties were meant to be a real-life extension of the Saturday morning cartoon shows I was glued to. With their Volkswagen-owner bothering jewellery, Ad Rock’s baby-faced clowning and the custard pie antics of the Fight for Your Right video, the moralising made it even more certain that I and many other kids far from their native Brooklyn would love them.

Of course, history records that the band had the last laugh on everyone who predicted that their brand of juvenile humour would begat nothing more than a one hit wonder. The moves from frat house soundtrack to enlightenment now look so assured that again, it is difficult to recall exactly how close to being written off they came. Teaming up with the Dust Brothers to make an album now as universally loved as it was initially ignored, organising concerts in support of the Free Tibet campaign, apologising for the worst anti-women tirades of their Licensed to Ill days in the lyrics to Sure Shot.

The Boys done good.

And that is before we even get to the music, the incredible brilliance that is the Sabotage video:

The wonder of Intergalactic: I can’t be the only one who never walks through Shinjuku station without thinking of the lads dancing in a crowd of bemused Japanese commuters, can I?

And now that high whine is silenced. I first heard of MCA’s illness when learning that touring in support of their latest album was on hold pending his recovery from another round of treatment. 47 is far too young and cancer is a bitch. But as a Buddhist, perhaps he would have celebrated the impermanence of life, knowing that it is short for all of us and the end is inevitable. What matters is to live it to the full and bring happiness to others while we are here.

On both counts, MCA delivered.

Goodbye and thanks for all the tunes.

R.I.P. MCA.

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Top 5 Records of 2011

Missed doing this last year as I was toasting myself to a crisp on a beach in Thailand, so it seems long overdue!  I know you are probably all a little weary of ‘best of’ lists, but it has been such a cracking year for music that it would be an awful shame not to share some of the love with your ears.

1. I Break Horses – Winter Beats

In a year so full of albums to fall in love with – from Slow Club to Oneohtrix – it seems cruel to have to choose one, but I Break Horses’ debut Hearts demands the accolade.  Layers and layers of perfection, so the songs blow you away on first listen but still keep enough back to reveal further delights on subsequent plays, it is a beautiful, beautiful piece of wonder.  If you don’t already own it, you MUST.  No question.  And if you don’t believe me, trust The Line of Best Fit, who made it their album of the year.

There are a couple of gems I could have picked, but I have gone for the one I discovered first, the stunning Winter Beats:

2. Octo Octa – I’m Trying

A sublime, silky, Amerie-sampling, soul-laden piece of loveliness from American producer Octo Octa, certain to get you in the mood for whatever tonight’s celebrations may bring:

3. Sully – Let You

I first discovered Sully via his mix for FACT magazine, yet it has been difficult to find out much else about him, as he seems to be that rare breed of producer that shuns publicity.  First album Carrier is another essential listen, mixing strong beats with soulful melodies to sound, in the way all good dance music does, brand new and classic at the same time.

Again, it is tough to choose a favourite, so here is the one that first caught my ears’ attention, with its sparse beats and tough bassline, Let You:

4. I Draw Slow – Goldmine

Slight change of pace for this one, a song I discovered via a friend and have rarely gone a day without playing since, a true mark of quality.  I Draw Slow meld American bluegrass and traditional Irish melodies to provide the perfect accompaniment to this haunting tale of a bad girl falling for a good guy:

5. The National – England

No-one following me on Twitter or reading ten minutes hate this year could have missed how much I fell for The National, even more so once they were able to play their long-delayed Tokyo gig.  I know that latest album High Violet was released in 2010, but hey – my site, my rules.  So I choose this stunner, the words to which never fail to put a tingle up my spine:

So, that’s my 5!  I am sure to have missed many other gems, so please let me know yours in the comments.  It has been such a crazy year for news, politics and life that concentrating on music seems at times dreadfully self-indulgent.  However, I like to think the opposite is true and that we need great music more than ever right now.  Whatever comes, I wish a very happy Year of the Dragon to everyone who has read the site this year.  Thank you!

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