Category Archives: Rants

Moaning and groaning.

Je Suis Charlie

Je Suis CharliePlease click the ‘Audio’ tab to hear the song and read the lyrics.

I spent most of the month wrestling with this issue. I’ve been shocked and moved by atrocities before, of course, but this hit hard because I felt included. That’s why people say “Je suis Charlie” because the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on all of us who believe in the right of free speech or self-expression. This despicable, cowardly, sickening act by a twisted, unrepresentative few who feel threatened by debate, who, through desperation and inadequacy, cannot countenance difference, cannot tolerate dissent, was met by a dignified but defiant response from the French, people of all walks of life, young and old. Freedom of speech, of self-expression, is a vital right. If we are less than unequivocal about this, there will be a slide towards an obsequious tiptoeing around for fear of treading on toes or, worse, reprisals. Terrorism will have had some success. You can be respectful without compromising your truth. I’ve been shocked by some articles by seemingly intelligent writers who felt the need to announce that, no, in fact they were indeed NOT Charlie because one ought not to be rudely offensive about the ways and views of others. I’ve heard people say Charlie Hebdo wasn’t justified because they weren’t funny! That is not the point. It doesn’t matter how unfunny, puerile or offensive they were. The fact is they had the right to express an idea without fear of anything more than counter argument, argument as derisive, scathing and vitriolic as you like but counter argument, the life-blood of a healthy society open to new and evolving ideas… not a death sentence.

So I’ve wrestled, not because I’m unsure but because I never wanted to use music or art to preach. I like the song, the words probably do a better job than this rant. It just came out, as all songs do, as a response to life and the world at the time, not forced into being as part of some personal or political agenda or to jump on a bandwagon. This one is too important for that.


Recommended reading:

Polly Toynbee: “Yes, free speech has always had its limits – but verbal provocation is never an excuse for violence.”

On Charlie Hebdo, Pope Francis is using the wife-beater’s defence.


Look after each other.

Pilton Pop

Poor neglected blog. Never mind, the football and tennis will soon be over, Glastonbury has passed…


Ah, yes, the “Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.” I’ll be honest, I prefer recordings, film, books, painting and so on to performing arts. There is probably something about the focus on the human figure and it’s ego as the centre of attention in live, performing art that I have a problem with. Not that it’s much of a problem, it keeps me focused on what the work of art does rather than distracted by looks, skills, star-quality and all the trappings of celebrity which are almost always hideous.

So, Glastonbury 2014. The BBC TV coverage was excellent. I’ve spent hours accessing footage online and checking stuff I was unfamiliar with. The sound quality was better than ever. No complaints there. The festival was so vast in scope there was bound to be something for everybody so thumbs up for the Worthy Farm team too. But, as a snapshot of the current music scene, there was a dearth of exciting broad-based breakthrough next-big-thing OMG did you see that unmissable shit I can’t wait for their album vibes. If they’re out there, they will be using the  internet,  the great democratising enabler…except the sheer weight of dross up there makes it as hard as ever to find them before they achieve the tipping point or die of fatigue/old age. It says a lot when the thing that pushed the envelope most was Bryan Ferry revisiting the freaky early Roxy song Ladytron (after 40 years!) and still sounding expansive and futuristic in context.

Festivals are not exclusively or even predominantly for music lovers these days (if ever they were). Glastonbury is an experience involving much more than mere music (I’m told). I think of it as a weekend break with music for those who prefer camping to shopping malls. Similar experience.

But I don’t want to knock it. I’ll never know since I can’t imagine I’ll ever go and find out. I’m glad it’s there and thrilled so many are entertained by the experience. Like Mount Rushmore or The Giants’ Causeway, I’m sure it would be worth seeing. But not worth going to see.

Yes, the BBC is ideal for those who are into music but with no interest in the other trappings. Having veered off in a slightly cynical direction for a minute, let me just say I’m sure I noticed some fans listening during Mogwai’s set. Unusual since the audiences on the whole didn’t seem to be looking for subtlety and were happy with a singalong tune and a beat to jump about or sway to.

There are a couple of bugbears of mine associated with seeing performers. Firstly, singers who emote at me (with accompanying facial expressions) as if they felt this validated their music and helped me “get” its profound significance. Honestly, some singer-songwriters are more pretentious than the most extravagant OTT bands. Secondly, bands who “flesh out” their sound with synth pads or guitar strumming. Flash the chord-chart on the screen and most of us could do that for ourselves if we felt we really needed it. It’s lazy and boring.

The artists I preferred drew you into their unique musical world with effective dynamics and good arrangements as well as the tunes. There is an elusive tight-but-loose quality that the confident, well-bonded bands can achieve which allows the music to flow amongst them with an almost telepathic empathy. Audiences can pick up on it and share that vibe. Warpaint are a bit of an acquired taste and their new album is a slow grower but they have that feel about them. They don’t indulge in any visual presentation gimmicks whatsoever. It’s just them in their world and, if you think you’ve got their measure, their bag is flexible enough for plenty of invention and spirit.

Another band whose set I watched in its entirety was Pixies. I was actually prepared to be disappointed because of distant benchmarks and so on but, after a couple of numbers warming up, they were as formidable as ever. The Black Keys always deliver and are now at a peak of popularity having become a sort of pop/rock ideal for a modern age with a sizeable pop/rock hole at its centre. Interpol seem to be getting back in form, sharp and cool as ever, reminding us how consistently melodic, moody and edgy the magnificent “Antics” was.

Finally, best all round newcomer for me was St. Vincent who proved you can do a visual show without compromising the music if you are talented enough to consider every aspect of the whole and then deliver. Apparently the Americans “don’t get it” but they are still gorging on their overstuffed place where we have a rock/pop hole. There’s plenty of space for Annie to go far.

And speaking of the Americans, not content with outshining us with their spirit in the World Cup, they do the same at Glastonbury?! My musical tastes have always lent towards Europe rather than the trad old U.S. but where was the Brit challenge? The leftfield has bands like Mogwai and cheeky new pretenders Royal Blood but their audiences will always be limited. Too far out. Then you have headliners Kasabian trying desperately hard to be too far in. Since “West Ryder…” which was a very promising modern psych rock album, they seem to be dumbing down so much that Billy Bragg struggles not to confuse them with Spinal Tap. In between these two points…? How long is it since Radiohead delivered the ideal Glastonbury set that was of the moment and an index of possible futures? Really, that long?




What on Earth is going on at the new design Soundcloud? I tried to upload a track this evening and at the end there was no “Save” button. This is listed as a known bug in their troubleshooting pages as “an issue affecting older versions of Safari.” I have news for you guys, I’m using the latest version of Safari on a brand new top of the range iMac!!! Pretty shoddy, don’t you think?

Bowie notes

David Bowie – Video Killed The Radio Star, Sky Arts 1, 24, 26, 27 January

If you didn’t catch this TV show

a) you didn’t miss much

b) Sky will undoubtedly repeat it over and over and

c) I don’t need a better excuse to play this slightly less famous footage:

This wasn’t in the show, of course, as the theme was video but I’d rather watch a great classic live performance like this as a reminder of true genius than an overexposed video. The programme suggests that Bowie was perfect for the MTV video era. There was Ashes To Ashes and Let’s Dance… and then… well, didn’t he go completely crap just as MTV was taking over? Still, Sky Arts, bless them, think that having licence to include a handful of very familiar clips is enough quality to carry this shabby package. Speaking to camera, video directors (and Robert Elms) offer a few words about the making of these iconic videos…except they reveal nothing. David wanted the sky to go black and they can do that so they did. Sky didn’t bother asking how or why of course.

The brief edits of Bowie himself will be familiar to fans but one bit that sparked my imagination was this from DB:

“Sixteen, school leaving age: I went to an advertising agency. One thing that came out of the advertising thing, I think, was learning about storyboarding and putting your ideas down on paper in chronological order. That really came out of advertising, I think, and that stayed with me. So right from the beginning I was storyboarding videos.”

I’d like to say that, although the V&A “Bowie Is” exhibition successfully conveyed something of the breadth of the Bowie phenomenon, it’s really only the music that affects me. I’d like to say that but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It would be like claiming you can disregard the cultural significance and listen to The Beatles as just music. The things I liked most at the V&A and yearned to see more of, however, were not the stage outfits but the notebooks, lyrics and storyboards, the stuff in his own hand. I know I’m probably in a small minority on this and most fans respond strongly to the aspects of an artist that are the most extraordinary, most removed from everyday banality and the fans’ own behaviour and capabilities. To me, though, bits of paper, notes, doodles and drafts, which are made from such humble materials that they are within the grasp of anyone, can capture something truly remarkable and revealing about the creative process. I love art books that show working drawings and plans. One of my favourite exhibitions at the National Gallery was one juxtaposing drawings from different eras so you not only glimpsed behind the scenes and saw rarely viewed pieces but were somehow sucked right in to witness raw talent in the process of creating. In fact, the first time I was ever taken to an art gallery as a child, it was to the National Gallery and the intimate, dimly lit room that housed the Leonardo cartoon. I remember the tremendous sense of awe.

Getting back to the Bowie quote, it reminded me of one of the few useful truths to emerge from that depressing plethora of “improve your brainpower” self-help books (so end of the last century! I hope.) Tony Buzan (The Mind Map Book) pointed out that “Those considered to be “Great Brains” in the fields of art, science, politics, literature, the military, business and education have all used notes to help them think.” And “It is important to make a clear distinction between note-making and note-taking. Note-making means organising your own thoughts, often in a creative, innovative way. Note-taking means summarising someone else’s thoughts as expressed in a book, article or lecture.”

Leonardo, Picasso, Newton, Edison, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Columbus, Blake, Kennedy, Darwin… all used notebooks creatively not just  as a repository for ideas but as an incubator of ideas.

If Alan Yentob met up with Bowie in 2014 to look through his notebooks and chew the fat over the creative process a) I’d pay my money right now and b) maybe with more worthy efforts from Sky, Buzan’s list could be updated to include examples of living rather than long dead brains.