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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘music’

The Sound Of Music

In which we go to a festival, albeit a mud-free city centre one

As I keep, keep saying, it’s been busy, so busy. Not only was there that trip to Manchester; but also K’s been busy at work. And then, following it all up, we had visitors, and we had tickets to the Dot To Dot Festival, or, at least, the Bristol half of it. A long and tiring day of music, bands, and trips back and forth between various venues around the city centre; so many different bands that they start to blur together.

First up, we had planned to start with Marina And The Diamonds at The Louisiana; but, unfortunately, they were replaced with a local band, First Of The Giants. Who weren’t bad, just not what we wanted to listen to; still, we stayed through to the end. Before moving on: another venue, another band.

Tell the truth, we didn’t move straight on; we stopped off in The Centre for ice cream, before going on to The Academy for the main line-up. There, we started off with The Rogues, who wore leather jackets and sidled up to the mikes as if they were trying to be Pete Docherty.* They were solid and competant, though, and good performers. Maybe not a band we’d go to see, but a band we wouldn’t mind seeing again.

The Rogues were followed by Mumford & Sons, a rather good Americana band who turned out, when they stopped singing, to have American singing accents but British speaking voices. They’re coming back to Bristol in September, and we’ll make sure we catch them again. After the Mumfords came Cage The Elephant. The best think I can say about Cage The Elephant is that they were enthusiastic. They were also dull, pedestrian and tedious; and all their songs sounded the same. “He thinks he’s Jagger,” I overheard the people next to us saying, about the Elephant’s lead singer. “He’s fucked, and he thinks he’s Jagger.”**

The bookers of Dot To Dot certainly like contrast between their bands. Cage The Elephant were followed by Patrick Wolf, who was the real reason we’d come to the Academy. Entirely unlike Cage The Elephant, of course; but he rocked out a lot more than the last time we’d seen him, at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Then, he only had a single backing musician; at Dot To Dot, he brought a full band. He was dressed something like a glam-rock matador, with bright yellow quiff held in place with a lifetime supply of hair gel. He produced lively, sing-along music that still had meaningful lyrics, all expressed in his powerful, crisp and sharp-edged singing voice.

Next on was Ladyhawke, one of the best-known acts on the bill. Ladyhawke was a disappointment, and that was partly because of Patrick Wolf’s singing voice. Mr Wolf, we could hear every word and syllable of. Ladyhawke’s sound was all very mushy, not helped by a slightly mumbly voice.*** She was also a disappointment because there wasn’t much variation at all between her album tracks; we could clearly tell who in the audience had bought the album and who had only heard the singles. Personally, I can remember the ’80s the first time around; and we’re surprised that Chrissy Hynde hasn’t called Ladyhawke up and asked for her stance and hairstyle back.

We didn’t stay at the Academy to see the headliners, Friendly Fires. Instead we took a break, took in some unhealthy food,**** and popped over to the Thekla ready for Little Boots later in the evening. There was no queue, so we wandered straight in to the bar and came across the French band Naive New Beaters. We knew nothing about them, we didn’t plan to see them, and they turned out to be one of the best bands we saw all day. Certainly better than the band that followed them onstage, Pulled Apart By Horses, who thrashed about and rather suited their name. As the moshpit was between us and the exit, though, we were a bit trapped until their set finished. Looking out of the window porthole, we noticed that the Thekla had suddenly become the hot venue of the night, with a long, long queue stretching back almost all the way to Prince St.***** Possibly because the other venues had, by then, started to close. Almost certainly not because of all the people rushing to see Pulled Apart By Horses.

I don’t remember much at all about the final act we wanted to catch, Little Boots. I was starting to get a bit sleepy, and the festival’s timetable was slipping further and further. The band before Little Boots went offstage over half an hour late, and by the time Little Boots herself appeared, the schedule had slipped by another half-hour. The crowd were getting restless, very restless, and her first song was accompanied by loud boos. I was well out of the way; as the air conditioning had failed, I’d retreated to the back of the room because I felt that if I didn’t I’d probably faint. We heard Little Boots from a distance, and occasionally caught a glimpse of her through the crowd. I know she sounded pretty good, but I have no memory at all of exactly how she sounded. If she’d come onstage at her booked time, we’d probably have really enjoyed it; our slightly-more-hardcore friends, who had more stamina, certainly did.

Overall, it was a bit of a mixed day. Afterwards, we felt as if we’d need a long, long time to recover. It wasn’t all good; but we’d never heard of several of the bands before in any case, and didn’t know what we were going to find.****** Is it something we’d do again? Well, maybe: it would depend exactly on who’s going to be playing next. Enjoying the day with friends was more important, in the end, than the music we were listening to as we did it. And that, by any measure, was a success.

* when he looked slightly healthier than he does now.

** At least, that’s what I think I heard. The singer certainly was staggering about the stage as if he was about to fall over.

*** “You couldn’t even make out what she was saying between songs,” said K. “Because it was in ‘strine?” I replied. “No, just because she couldn’t say anything without mumbling.”

**** except K, who had pitta bread with hummus and salad.

***** I’m exaggerating. But not by much.

****** The slightly-more-hardcore friends mentioned earlier are more engaged with the modern music scene than us, had done quite a lot more research, and planned out the itinerary

The Neighbourhood

In which we visit some neighbourhood artists

As summer comes in, it seems as if every weekend there’s something artistic or creative to do. Last weekend it was the Bristol Comic Con (which we missed), and the Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, which we didn’t miss; or, at least, didn’t miss all of. The Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, in short, is a weekend event where creative people around Southville throw open their doors and turn their houses and/or gardens into galleries for everyone to visit. And it was the weather for it: we toiled around the hills of Southville, trail maps in hand, all the time seeing other people doing the same.

We didn’t see all of the venues, nothing like all of them; there were 51 listed on the map, scattered over a pretty wide area. Off the top of my head, they tend to blur into each other, especially nearly a week afterwards. We definitely saw: the Wonkey House on Mount Pleasant Terrace; people from “Number 40” at, erm, 40 Mount Pleasant Terrace; textile designs* on Allington Road; paintings by Terry Williams on Birch Road; and lots of other wildly artistic open houses whose owners’ names passed me by. We finally ended up at a second house on Birch Road where we saw various bands and performers play. Rachael Dadd served us tea, and her band The Hand played, along with The Wraiths and The Fingerless Hoodlum. We relaxed in the sunshine, the warmth of the garden, and K caught a sunburn.

Like everything else, we walked home wanting to do more ourselves; wanting to create things; wanting to have things to show ourselves. There are so many local art events, I wonder how people have time to make art in-between them sometimes.** We walked home, and then straight away started planning to go out once more. Because, we’d been told: “those people over there are in a really good band, and they’re playing tonight – you should come along, you’ll love it.” That’s another story, though, for another blog post.

* some a bit like the “crochet bomb” which I keep telling you I’m making

** the next one I’m currently aware of is the Easton Arts Trail, coming up in about a month’s time

Sound and music

In which we go to see The Boy Least Likely To

As soon as we get home, we’re out again. To a gig, at the Louisiana, to see The Boy Least Likely To, hard at work promoting their new album that’s just been released. We were slightly confused when we arrived, to see that according to the posters the gig was on Monday, March 24th, and we’d turned up on a Tuesday. After checking our calendars, we went in. Inside, there’s not much room in the Louisiana. It’s quite a cosy place, so cosy that we quickly spotted that a good chunk of the pub was taken up by support band The School tucking into their tea.

The first band that came on were The Fox And The Bramble, an electric/acoustic duo who dashed about the stage swapping instruments, and made slightly-twee twinkly sounds with children’s toys. I spent a while wondering which one was Fox and which Bramble; the internet says the name comes from Aesop, though.

They were followed by The School, as I mentioned. We’ve seen The School before, so we knew what to expect; but we were slightly disappointed. They didn’t seem as good as they did in November. The sound didn’t seem to be mixed quite right, with keyboard and vocals overpowering the rest of the band.

The Boy Least Likely To had sound troubles of their own. “Violin isn’t plugged in,” one of them shouted, after the first song. “Too much violin,” he shouted after the second. They are apparently only a duo normally, but on-stage they mysteriously expand to a full band, like one of those toys for dropping in water. I have to admit to not knowing very much about them; but the gig left me wanting to find out more. Their frontman smiled broadly, and flicked balloons back and forth with the audience in a genial way, never missing a beat.

A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes

A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

Condiment Frenzy

In which we are delighted by music and storytelling

Since we moved here, we’ve been promising ourselves that we’ll get Out And About, go to lots of local events, be actively artistic, and so on. And, well, we haven’t quite managed it. We’re doing better than we used to; we go to more things than we ever did before we moved; but the calendar still isn’t quite as full as we’d like.

As I’ve said before, though, one of the things I love about this city is that it doesn’t take long before you hear about a good-looking event.* For example: we quickly popped into Boston Tea Party at the weekend for tea and cake,** only to spot a poster on the wall that we quite liked the sound of. A regular event called Folk Tales, at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf, on the last Wednesday of the month. So, we went along.

It turned out, as it happened, that one of the organisers of Folk Tales was one of the performers we saw on New Year’s Eve at the Cube; so we knew that things would probably turn out for the good. And any gig where the door-person, after taking your money, points you to the kitchen where you’re free to use the kettle, make yourself tea and help yourself to a biscuit,*** is going to be a good gig.

And, indeed, it was a good gig. Folk Tales is a mixture of folkish music and storytelling, as you might guess from the name; and the whole thing together made a rather good combination. I’m not really a fan of some “professional” storytelling, because I find it rather over-dramatic and stilted; I prefer a more naturalistic style of recounting. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy the storytelling as much as the music; but because of the mixture of performers, that wasn’t a problem. The storyteller closest to my taste – for that reason – was the aforementioned Jethro McDonald, who told us about a man who, after a kitchen accident, and ambulance delirium, became obsessed with falling. As I can just about remember a similar chunk of ambulance delirium myself, I could sympathise.

In-between the storytellers, came a selection of local musicians with a similar ambiance: quiet, thoughtful, and with stories to tell. My favourite was probably Shaun McCrindle, partly because of a coincidence: one of the stories in his songs was an anecdote in the David Crystal book I recently read and keep writing about; the others, though, both women playing ukeleles,**** sparkled just as much. Thoughtful songs, which raised wry smiles.

We’ll be going back to Folk Tales, and we’ll remember to get there early again next time, because the audience really had to pack themselves in tightly. We’re making sure we keep turning up in time to get a seat and a cup of tea; not to mention, making sure we can get in the door. If Folk Tales gets much more popular, people will be spilling out onto the quay outside. Understandably so, I’d say, because it’s a very good way to spend a weekday evening.

* and one of the other good things about this city is the converse: if you’re running an event, if you advertise, people will turn up. Putting random posters around the city does work.

** Why we say “let’s go for tea and cake” when we both rarely drink tea itself outside of the house is one of those eternal mysteries. I had coffee that day, for example, and K had hot chocolate; but we still referred to it as “tea and cake”.

*** Dark chocolate digestives, for the record. And we did indeed have tea, despite the previous footnote.

**** It wasn’t clear whether that was themed or coincidental, really.

New Year's Eve

In which we celebrate

Wednesday night was New Year’s Eve; and, for once, we went out. Counting on my fingers, I worked out, it must be about seven or eight years since I last went out to an event on New Year’s Eve, rather than just pop round to a graveyard or a friend’s house. Last year, I remember very clearly where I was at midnight: in bed, ill, groaning and wishing the bloody fireworks and cheering would shut up.

This year, though, as I said, we decided we’d go out. Find somewhere which sounded like Our Sort Of Thing, something new to try, and enjoy ourselves. And, indeed we did.

We ended up at the Cube Microplex, the independent cinema off Stokes Croft, for a night called Fascinating Virtue; and fascinating it was, with a stream of small folk-ish, indie-ish bands taking to the stage. One performer, Rachael Dadd,* had flown in from Japan that day, and flung a boxful of Japanese confectionary into the audience for us all to try. One landed right in my lap. We kept the wrapper:

Japanese wrapper

Other performers included alt-folk storyteller Jetfly, quiet harmonium-equipped duo love.stop.repeat, storyteller Hannah Godfrey telling a tall and beautiful tale in-between, and complex local five-piece Boxcar Aldous Huxley. The latter sounded like a cross between the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack and the Decemberists,** had not only a harmonium but also a saw, clarinet*** and euphonium, and sang lively songs about such things as the Hellfire Club and how debauchery isn’t as good as you might hope; or the difficulties of being an astronaut in the 19th century. The stage acts finished with Men Diamler, self-proclaimed drunkest act of the evening, who went on to DJ by the bar for a couple more hours. We danced, energetically; skilfully in K’s case, not so much in mine.

K pointed out that often, when you go out on New Year’s Eve, it can be a bit of a compromise: you go out to something that you wouldn’t normally go to, just because you feel you should be going out somewhere. Fascinating Virtue was an event we’d be excited to go to any day of the year.

* I was tempted to ask her if she was related to the famous mentally-ill Victorian artist Richard Dadd, but I didn’t get chance. Which is probably a good thing, because I’d forgotten his first name.

** It was me who thought they sounded like the Decemberists, and K who thought they sounded like the soundtrack. K rather likes klezmer.

*** Any band with a clarinet in has to be a good thing. Except possibly for Supertramp.

Folk

In which we review Rachel Unthank and the Winterset

This weekend’s gig: Rachel Unthank and The Winterset, at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Theatre. “People ask us if ‘Unthank’ is our stage name,” said Rachel. “Who’d choose a name like ‘Unthank’?” Personally, it reminds me of Scotland;* but the Unthank family are Northumbrian. Rachel and her sister Becky share the major vocal parts, with a piano and another musician behind them.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of folk; but then, I don’t really agree with the concept of genre to start with. And, to start with, it was a little avant-garde: slow, not really rhythmic at all, but relying on the beauty of the sisters’ voices, the pianist darting from one end of the keyboard to the other and occasionally reaching inside the piano’s innards to pluck its strings directly. We were a little distracted by a woman just in front of us in the audience, who had decided that the quiet opening was the ideal time to take a loud phone call. “Don’t you shush me!” she said, harshly, to anybody who complained, as she pushed her way out of the row. “MY SON is more important than YOUR HEARING”. I was sorely tempted to mutter “Oh no he isn’t” sotto voce, but the rude bint would probably have tried to lamp me one. Fortunately, she was soon gone.

The gig continued, with songs getting a little more up-tempo, but always with the slight flexibility implied by the lack of percussion. If the band needed percussion, they provided it with their feet; but its lack gave them the freedom to explore, to work in free time without any constricting structures. They seemed to be able to soar at will with their voices; and Rachel stood with her hands spread and moving across her lap, as if she was consciously grasping the music with them and guiding herself.

I must have been enjoying it, because I even joined in with the audience participation sections, something I’m normally loath to do, and despite barely being able to carry a tune. Not that it matters when you’re in the middle of an audience; but still. After a rousing and catchy midwinter song** about the Allendale new year fire ceremony, they finished up with all four of the band, together a capella, singing a Shetland song with lyrics in Norn.*** I couldn’t make out the words from the sound, but the sound was beautiful enough to not need anything more.

* One of my favourite novels is Alasdair Gray’s classic Lanark, largely set in a city called Unthank.

** So catchy the chorus is still stuck in my head three days later.

*** The strand of the Nordic languages spoken in Shetland until the 19th century, similar to Faroese and some dialects of Norwegian

The Artist's Dilemma

In which we discuss music and advertising

It’s a question that must come to every artist and musician who starts to get successful. Sell out, or not sell out? And what is “selling out” anyway? What about advertising? Do you license your music for use in advertising, knowing you’ll effectively lose control over how it’s presented?1 Maintain artistic integrity, or go for the money? There are some bands whose oeuvre will, forevermore, be thought of as “oh, it’s that song off that advert, you know, that one for thingy, that stuff.” – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra being a prime example.2

I was rather pleased when I was idly watching late-night telly the other month, and a bouncy Casiolike tune popped up in the ad-break. It was “Summer’s Gone”, an early track by a very good (and little-known) Scottish band, Aberfeldy. if you want to track it down, it’s on their first album, Young Forever, released by Rough Trade.3 Good to hear a little-known band on the telly; good to think they’ll be getting some money for it.

Less good, though, to see that it was being used to advertise an online gambling company. If I was Riley Briggs – the chap who formed the band and wrote the song – I’m not sure I’d be happy about that. I wouldn’t want my music to be used that way. I wouldn’t want to be associated with gambling; the only saving grace being, 99.3%4 of the people who see the advert will never have heard of the band.5 The song will seep into their memories without them really knowing it, until they hear it again by some offchance on the radio and think: hang on, don’t I know this from somewhere. It’s a hard call. Do you take the money and the airplay, or do you take the high moral stance? I’m glad it’s not a question I’ve had to face yet in life. What would you do?

1: Or, for that matter, for TV. Belle and Sebastian, another of my favourite bands, have been used many times over the years as TV and soundtrack filler material; most famously, the title track from their third album The Boy With The Arab Strap was used, without lyrics, as the theme music of the Bristol-set comedy-drama series Teachers. I’m sure I recall, when the band were asked, saying that they weren’t able to say yes or no to that or any other specific TV use of the music; they’d granted a blanket license and that was that. On the other hand, unsurprisingly for a band with a socialist and Presbyterian background, they don’t (I think) let their music be used in advertising.

2: PCO might have been helped slightly by the death of MFI, who used their well-known “Music For A Found Harmonium”; I doubt, though, that anyone now who hears their best-known track “Telephone And Rubber Band” thinks of the band first. The Jesus And Mary Chain might be heading this way – we’ve heard “Just Like Honey” an awful lot on TV lately, most strangely as incidental music on Hollyoaks.

3: and it must have come out a long, long time ago now, going by where I lived when I bought it. For that matter, their second album – released just before Rough Trade dropped them – must also be a few years old, because I picked it up in Avalanche Records on my last trip to Glasgow.

4: If there’s one thing I learned from the vegetarian food roadshow we went to, it’s to use invented and ridiculously precise statistics with panache and confidence.

5: According to that famous encyclopaedia, the same song has been used to advertise Diet Coke in the USA. So I’d bet that by far the vast majority of people worldwide who have heard an Aberfeldy song, have heard that song, on an advert.

Woolies

In which we lament the demise of vinyl

Ah, farewell then, Woolworths. Well … maybe. Certainly my local shop is still soldiering on, as I assume the rest are.*

It’s maybe a sign of how the chain’s going, though. I last shopped there a few weeks ago – picking up a gift voucher for K’s niece – and it was a strange experience. Because my local Woolworths doesn’t seem to have changed for a long, long time. Everyone else on the high street has shiny displays; Woolworth’s here is a step back in time. Slightly worn shelving that wouldn’t have looked out of place in my grandfather’s newsagents twenty-five years ago; everything piled up on it without much thought. Worn linoleum. No fancy ceiling or light fittings: bare plaster and unshaded fluorescent tubes are fine for Woolworths. If the shelves had been emptier, I’d have thought maybe a wormhole had decanted me into Moscow, circa the Andropov years. I almost expected to find carrier bags bearing the 70s coil-of-wool logo that I remember from childhood.

Personally, I still have a little bit of affection for the place. I’d never shop there, not any more, but once upon a time I did. Back when I was a teenager, it was the first place I ever bought music from; my first port of call at first; and then, as I knew more, the place I would come to flick through the 7″ singles and buy ones that had just dropped out of the charts. When they stopped selling vinyl, in about ’95 or so, I stopped going.

I almost typed there: “if you told a teenager today that Woolworths…” – and then I stopped and deleted it, because it made me feel old. Strange to think, though, that people today have completely forgotten Woolworths was once the best place to buy singles, back when Apple were a failing computer company** and portable music meant songs taped off the radio. Nowadays, it isn’t the best place to buy anything. Still stocking vinyl would hardly help, in this decade, but looking a bit smarter might. If they didn’t look like they’d furnished the place with other people’s cast-off shelves, it would be a start.

* A bit different to when the Fopp/Music Zone chain fell over: one day they stopped taking card payments, the next the shops didn’t open, and that, then, was that. Or, indeed, the Dutch ISP Aramiska, which gave its customers a few hour’s warning before they ceased operating with no explanation.

** People forget today that the first Apple Mac was a commercial disaster, so much so that its champion, Steve Jobs, got fired from the company partly as a result. I recommend reading any of the many books about the development of the Mac and the Apple company in the early 80s.

Wall of sound

In which we go to a Death Cab gig

I wonder, sometimes, how much music reviewers know about the bands they review. Some, it’s obvious, are fans. Some are at least knowledgeable. But there must be some, surely, who turn up knowing nothing and leave knowing less.

We went to see Death Cab For Cutie play the other night. “Ah,” I thought, “I’ll write about them for the blog.” It’s the second time we’ve seen them this year, having seen them already a few months back at the Manchester Apollo. I even recognised some of their tunes. But, nevertheless, I still don’t feel qualified to have an opinion about them.

The stage felt slightly odd at Sunday’s gig. A big, wide stage, the band set themselves up at opposite corners of it, with a vast empty area in the middle through which their bass guitarist romped, jumping about wildly. We were pressed up against the front barrier, so I amused myself by watching the local photographers jumping about in pretty much the same way, grabbing photos before they had to leave. Nice cameras, coincidentally all Nikons. I wasn’t entirely sure one of them had chosen the right lens – it looked a bit slow for the job. But I was supposed to be listening to the music.

They’re not the best band if you want onstage banter. They launch straight from one song to the next without leaving any applause room, sometimes stopping briefly to change guitars. We learned: they think that British and American Pizza Hut branches are just as bad as each other. We learned that the band learned: swimming in the harbour is not a good idea.* And that, as far as banter went, was that.** Their music, though, is good. They’re a tight band, even though they practically needed telescopes to see each other on stage. People don’t necessarily go for talk, do they? They go to listen to the music. Benjamin Gibbard danced about on the balls of his feet, a roadie in the wings paying out and reeling in his guitar lead as he went, to stop him tripping up on it; not knowing the music, I liked watching the little details like that. After the very full set – twenty-odd songs, including a 4-track encore, not just stuff from their current album – we went home filled up with feedback and our ears ringing.

* Possibly they saw the same thing as I saw the other day: the Big Issue seller whose pitch is on Pero’s Bridge, standing and pissing off the bridge into the water, about 10ft below.

** unless you count the Barack Obama campaign sticker on one of Benjamin Gibbard’s guitars. If you don’t say much, even a single sticker can count as a statement.