Friday, 26 March 2010

Jim Marshall

Photographer Jim Marshall died this week at 74. He was responsible for some of the greatest images of some of the most iconic musicians of all time. He captured the photo of Hendrix setting his Strat alight, of Johnny Cash flipping the bird at San Quentin, of Morrison in full flight with The Doors. He was the only photographer The Beatles allowed backstage with them on their final show in San Francisco in 1966. He spent three months living with Jimmy Page at the height of Zeppelin. The Stones took him out on the road during their legendary tour of debauchery in 1972. He was chief photographer at Woodstock. The man was arguably as influential as the artists he commited to film. In a world where image and look can be as important as sound he turned men and women into legends with his lens. The first photo below, of Pete Townshend on stage at 3.00am during the climax of The Who’s Woodstock set remains my favourite rock photograph of all time, and is pretty much the reason I picked the guitar up as a kid. Rest in peace, Jim. You will be missed.

Samples Of Noise

Random samples of noise circulating my head this afternoon, generated from a mix over at 8Track, a music-mix site you could do worse than checking out. This one contains some Mondo Generator, Zeppelin, Townes Van Zandt, Mark Lanegan, and more. Cool tunes from me to you.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

New Sounds

So your humble writer sits with his feet up, suffering the after-effects of having metal supporting objects removed from his right ankle. Little else to do but write and listen to music. Here are six musical recomendations, stuff I'm digging right now, with love from me to you...

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club remain one of the finest and unsung rock bands around, a gloriously scuzzy two-piece from San Fransisco who released their debut in 2001 and haven’t made the same record since. Their 2008 album The Effects Of 333 was pretty experimental and didn’t always hit home, but new release Beat The Devil’s Tattoo is awesome, mixing fuzz bass, driving beats and a gospel feel on some tracks to great effect, and the finished product is filled with guitar swagger and psychedelia. You want to wear dirty leather listening to this.

Four albums down and Metric continue to make some fantastic music. This Canadian group have recently recorded a track for Edgar Wright’s new film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and deserve the opportunity to get massive. Latest album Fantasies is filled with great indie-pop that reminds me of The Breeders and Stereolab. Their last single Help, Im Alive has a chorus that always, no matter where I am, gets me jumping around when I hear it.

Four Tet are pretty much unknown, and in reality is just one man, Kieran Hebden, who pays the bills by remixing the likes of Radiohead. All instrumental, and new album There Is Love In You is atmospheric electronica that I’ve found myself listening to a lot when I’ve been working on fiction. It’s mood music of the best kind, sucking you into the brilliant melodies with ease. Last track on the album is She Just Likes To Fight, which sounds like Air meeting Brian Eno. No bad thing.

I got into the Drive-By Truckers by accident a couple of years ago, surfing Amazon and listening to sound clips, and quickly bought everything they had ever done. Their combination of southern-rock guitar, early 70’s Stones vibes and lyrics straight out of a Joe Lansdale novel touch all the right buttons for me. New album The Big-To Do is, frankly, tremendous. I love this band.

The Morning After Girls are probably the best Indie coming out of Australia right now. Great lyrics, brilliant hooks, these guys are making anthems like we haven’t heard since the first Oasis album.

Jack White can have as many side projects as he likes (the okay Raconteurs and the genius Dead Weathers) but The White Stripes have just released their first live disc Under Great White Northern Lights to remind us just how fucking brilliant they are. A recording can’t capture the energy and thrill of seeing Jack and Meg, but this makes a pretty good go of it. And who else But Jack White could see Dolly Parton’s Jolene completely straight and turn it into a punk scream for lost love?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Sane Man

If you have no idea who Bill Hicks is, I strongly urge you to find his work. Head over to YouTube and watch as much of his stand-up work that you can find, or get your hands on his albums Arizona Bay, Relentless and Rant In E-Minor. I was exposed to Hicks around 1992 after seeing his live show on late night TV. It was a revelation, changing the way I thought about comedy in the same way that hearing The Pixies changed the way I thought about music. I was used to and enjoyed edgy, dark comedy that was being offered by the likes of Ben Elton and Stephen Wright, but Hicks was something else. This pale, lank haired, spec-wearing American was part-comic, part-revolutionary, part-preacher, screaming his diatribe at an audience who were laughing sometimes with humour and other times with nervousness. Hicks was funny but he was angry, attacking corporate business, the LA riots, the Kennedy assassination, mass marketing, abortion and George Bush Sr. Listening to his routine got me thinking about politics, about alternative music, about the importance of making a choice in my life that didn’t have to fit in with a certain crowd and about having my own voice. I may well have discovered those things on my own or with a different guide, but it was Hicks who pushed me onto the path. As I started to track down his work and find out more about the man, I also discovered that he was dying of pancreatic cancer.

Bill Hicks died in February 1994 at the age of 32. To say that his voice was cut short to early is an underestimation of biblical proportions. In the years following his death I have often wondered what he would have had to say about the current state of the America and life in general. Certainly seeing George Bush Jr in the White House would have incensed the man to a white-heat rage. I would have loved to hear his thoughts on 9/11 and our so-called ‘War On Terror’. Or the cult of Celebrity. Or Reality television. Or the Internet. There would have been so much for Bill to turn his intellect and genius towards.

American : The Bill Hicks Story is a new documentary that examines his too-short life taken from over 150 hours of footage from his early days on the comedy circuit, back through his teen years and right up until his death. Bill’s journey was similar to many artists. Drugs, alcohol, temperamental mood swings, the works. But unlike most such stories Hicks righted himself, kicked the booze, kicked the drugs (even though it seems that Acid was what took him to the next level as a person and comedian) and didn’t lose any of his edge because of it. The documentary reveals Bill to be a deeply complex individual who loved and hated the world in equal measures. There’s a particularly incredible piece where Hicks picks up a tape recorder and starts discussing his deep-rooted fears of having to live up to being funny. It’s a raw and honest moment of insecurity from someone who just oozes confidence in every bit of moving footage I’ve ever seen. Writing this entry and re-watching some of his old work made me realise just how much I missed the man, one of my true, genuine heroes. His words today are more essential than they ever were. As The Smiths once said, ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out…’

Monday, 8 March 2010


Andy Muschietti is a 23 year old Spanish filmmaker who has managed to get Pans Labyrinth genius Guillermo Del Toro to fund and produce his first film. How? By making a very impressive, creepy little movie called Mama, which has been playing at international festivals in the past year and causing fans to sit up and take notice. Rightly so - it's one of the best shorts I've seen in a long while, and it packs plenty into a little over three minutes. Muschietti is expanding this into a feature length fright fest that should definately be worth a look if he can keep the suspense and atmosphere seen below. Check it out and pay attention to just how long the main shot is and the environment it moves through. Damn impressive.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Will Work For... What?

I was once again perilously close to redundancy a few days ago. The detailed background behind it is as dull and uninteresting as you could possibly imagine, but the facts are this. Britain is in recession, and I work in an industry in the vice-grip of it. My company isn’t making enough money, and so people had to go. Same story up and down the length of the British Isles. My bosses, in their wisdom (well, some would say wisdom, others would say delusion) deemed that I was better than someone else. Someone else went, and your humble writer kept his desk, his salary and his routine. At least, for now.

I’m not particularly attached to my desk. It’s a block of wood with an aesthetically designed corner for me to swivel around in and three drawers jammed on the side. It serves it’s purpose, but I couldn’t really say I need it. I could spread myself out anywhere, plug in a laptop, pick up a biro and I’m good to go. My salary… well, I’m not exactly the highest paid hombre in the world, but then who is these days? I’d love more money, and in truth I could really use a bit more money. But I pay the bills, put food on the table, manage to buy a movie now and again and occasionally even find that I can save a few notes here and there. I get by. Of course, if I’d been kicked out then I’d need to find some form of replacement, but what I’m saying is that I don’t make the kind of money I couldn’t find elsewhere. I could, and if I tried hard enough, could maybe even find a little bit more.


Routine. If ever a word was designed to fill the human soul with equal parts dread and comfort it is routine. We are lost without it. We fucking hate it. And yet, above all the other fears I had during the 11 days I had between being told my job was at risk to finding out I was safe it was the thought of my daily routine being disrupted that kept me awake during the night. I am a slave to my daily routine, and so are you. Yes you are, and don’t even try to deny it. You will of course, because the thought of being a slave to anything is a terrifying one. Here, take my hand and I’ll show you a typical weekday…

Alarm. Same time. Every day. Ten minute lie-in. Up. Bathroom. Dress. Breakfast. Wearing same kind of clothes each day. Leave house same time. Travel. Listen to same radio station. Arrive work same time. Make tea. Fire up PC. Look at work to do. Do work. Same work every day. Talk to same people about same things - TV, holiday, what did last night, what doing tonight, sport, if I won lottery, how is wife/husband/girl boyfriend - Eat lunch. Same thing most days. Same time. Resume same work in afternoon. Have same conversations. Leave work same time. Travel. Listen to same radio station. Arrive home same time. Have dinner. Same things most days. Talk to wife/husband/girl boyfriend. Go out. Stay in. Watch TV. Read book. Feel tired. Go to bed. Sleep.

Now you can substitute various elements of the above (I personally will scratch ‘watch TV’ and replace with ‘write depressing blog no-one ever reads’), and yes, of course the weekends are a little different, but basically… that’s it. That’s our collective day. And when you break it down, split the time into words and add stops between them, it’s pretty frightening. Because… that’s it. We don’t really do anything at all. And the worst of it is losing my routine was what frightened me the most about getting made redundant! But I’m so boring! Why the hell would I want to keep on doing the same monotonous routine every day?

Because it’s comfortable, safe, easy. Routine is what keeps us going, makes us feel secure when we turn on the nightly news and watch 200,000 dying in Haiti or see kids getting their brains blown out in Afghanistan in the name of a war we don’t understand. Because we can switch off the news, go to bed and get up in the morning and carry on with a sense of purpose is what makes us sleep at night. But the routine controls us, holds us, forces us to do things we don’t want to do in order to pay for things we don’t really need. Chuck Palahniuk said it brilliantly in his classic novel Fight Club: “Eventually, the things you own end up owning you…” I am as guilty of that statement as you are. I need my laptop, my plasma, my sofa, my Xbox, my phone, my books, my DVD collection, my car. Or at least I think I do. Well, I’ve been told I do, by very important people on the top floors of very important buildings with very shiny advertising. Clever people who must be right. Right?

Maybe. One of the finest philosophers of the twentieth century, John Lennon, once said, “all you need is love.” Spot on. I am in receipt of love and am in turn a giver of the emotion, and anyone who is will be enriched by that. But, Jesus, I wish I could just let that daily routine go, cast all the rules aside and wake up at whatever time I wanted in the morning and think, “what am I going to do today?” But I can’t, because we’re slaves, you and I. Now tell me I’m wrong.

So, back to the title. Will work for…What? You fill in the blank here yourself. My answer? Will work forever. The third and final quote of this entry comes from George Orwell. “Fear will keep the people in line…” At least I think it was Orwell who said that. It might have been Tony Blair. Which brings us neatly back to the recession, in a roundabout sort of way.

Anyway, I’ve got to get up in the morning. Goodnight sinners. Same time, same place, tomorrow.