Monday, November 30, 2009

Notes on Spare Time

Spare time is clumsy. It’s a large cumbersome cat too large for its flap. It’s a lowly status court jester laughed at by the hangman and the villains of the stocks. The children blow raspberries at it and throw playdough stones until it falls to the ground like a bad dream. Then they go to work, tying it down like an army of pixies, prodding it with tiny sticks and marking notes on bark with a flat rock. They consider the angles, lift the eyelids, pluck the hairs, shave a small square clear behind the ear. They wear it like fur, pick at its nails and slice off sharp small splinters to fit the tips of their spears. They communicate and laugh at its gaudy expression. They wonder where it came from, what it wants, why did it disturb them?

One by one they climb onto it’s chest to peer into its large sun-like eyes. Watching the marble swirl, they ooh and aah, make faces at each other and draw lead sketches like pupils. They form signs, hold up giant leaves with painted diagrams and symbols. They listen to it breathe, stand by the nostrils and let the wind make them go all silly. They wake earlier each day to spend more time with it in light. They sit silent as it reasons, as it wows them with stories, as it teaches them like faculty. They become disciples, they begin to worship. They erect tiny structures from their tiny sticks and hold court with its wishes. They like it. They respect it. They love it. They free it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Decemberists @ The Coronet 19/11/09

Standing in the lower part of their own portrait The Decemberists launched into the type of music that gives many critics' heart flutters; the dreaded prog-rock-folk-metal concept hour. The Hazards of Love played in full, with all the charming quirks of shouts and children chants that give Pink Floyds’ The Wall a run for its money. This is something the Decemberists have been building up to throughout their entire career with prog first rearing it’s time sapping head on their debut Castaways and Cutouts, continuing right through the back catalogue to the 20 minute EP The Tain based on the Irish folk tale Tain Bo Cuailnge.

The spotlights captured their silhouettes on the ceilings as they softly spun through the first part of the record, accompanied by Becky Stark as the beautiful Margret during Won’t Want for Love and Isn’t it a Lovely Night, and occasionally ramping it up a gear with the entrance of on-stage baddies, the Queen (stunningly played by Shara Worden) and the Rake.

Seeing the opera unfold on stage expanded it far more than a single record listen, and brought it to life far beyond expectations. Full of babies, infanticide and woodland shipwrecks, The Hazards of Love (heralded by the broadsheet lot as the weaker part of the set) was, in my view one of the most exciting performances of a pop-rock group I’ve seen in some time. And with the treat of a second set giving fans even more bang for their buck it’s sad to see the rock-opera format still blasted by peers. In the age of the download too, it’s impressive to see the full record selling almost 20k copies in its first week alone. Now that’s encouraging considering most music critics are already predicting the death of the album.

Having ended the Hazards of Love Meloy introduced the group after what was possibly the longest first number ever at a gig, and come part two the fans still wanted more of their prog brilliance. A medley of hits followed with the classic in-the-round audience participation during Billy Liar and radio fave Sixteen Military Wives. But the real treat was saved till last with the surprise performance of The Mariner’s Revenge Song which was teased throughout the entire second set with an inflatable whale dancing over the heads of an enthused crowd who all jumped at the chance to wail and moan as London was finally swallowed ‘through the jaws of an angry whale.’

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catriona Irving @ Pure Groove

We escaped the digital farm favoring something organic with cheese at lunch. Had to grapple through the pigs mind, and then there where the cows to deal with, but all in all it was an everyday city scenario. Pigeons flanked the workers and coordinated lunch crumb strikes named operation peg-leg and the sun came out like a rare breed dog, waggling its tail to show everyone how friendly it was. We pulled ourselves up on the cliff edge of Pure Groove and heaved our way through the glass doors.

Ale. Three barrels of the stuff tempting me like a drunkard on the Sabbath day. All I could do was order tea. Our journey’s reward was in sight however, when Catriona Irving, tight clad in nylon, plimsoll-footed her way onto the shop-floor stage.

Pure Groove, the music mountaintop of Farringdon has seen more changes in the last year than Prince Charles has made plans for Snowdon, and today it is better for it. Pushing aside the top 100 display in favour of a bar room set, it’s quickly becoming a cool hangout with its penchant at getting top new talent for lunchtime gigs so local workers can escape ‘the boss’ for thirty minutes. Catriona Irving’s set however short lingered like a sweet Satsuma and taught us all to slow down for the afternoon. With her clumsy guitar and fragile voice, it was one of those quiet moments where we remember that music wasn’t always an industry but once a chanting commune of cathartic expression. Irving’s songs were delicate and soft with the low rhythm of Sitting on the Shelf and the charming love note Untitled which is enhanced with subtle cello in the recorded version. Check out her EP here.

My friend says 'we live in an age of the niche' – anything and everything is on offer no matter what you’re into. And with musicians like Catriona Irving carving her own following with the ‘arts and craft’ label Need No Water he’s right. This certainly is DIY territory that feels far more exciting to play with than the big boys of pop. Give me handmade vinyl packages and pin badges any day over logo’ed t-shirts and plastic jewel cases.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I've been shooting things again

Like some inherent vice of a generation brought up with video games. Trained explosives experts of the electronic variety, reload time second to none, and with more lives than all the cats in the world. I am green beret, SAS, Navy seal and crack serious crime operative. Always look for the exits just like Manners, and never underestimate the enemy. Just because you can take out fourteen troopers with a knife doesn’t mean you can shoot down a chopper with an air rifle.

There's a lot of attention on the games industry today. The media's taking it's yearly magnifying glass out for the release of Modern Warfare 2. It’s rolling out the child psychologists all around the world to find out the experts opinion on the old debate, 'do violent video games cause violence?' We know there have been instances in the past where games have been the alleged inspiration behind killing sprees, we also know that the ultra violent games in question are ultra popular, selling millions of copies worldwide. People like shooting stuff it seems, and surely we don't have millions of potential killers on the make?

This is obviously a touchy subject that only comes in waves (i.e. whenever a new violent game is released), but the worrying thing is that all this activity only serves to increase the game notoriety and thus it's publicity. Seemingly it's a stunt, and it even had politicians arguing yesterday with Labour MP Tom Watson urging gaming fans to join a Facebook petition as a show of strength against the critics. In the pocket of one of the largest growing industries perhaps? After all, it's only a game. Isn't it?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Oh, My Green Soap Box

‘And what will we do on the days where there’s no wind?’ Lucy Foster asks addressing the solution of wind farms to the world’s energy crisis. It’s simple, ‘we’ll stay in bed,’ an answer the world leaders would chuff to like a gaggle of bankers, but in their hearts probably couldn’t think of anything more appealing. When did the economy become more important than love, anyway?

Oh, My Green Soap Box steps back from the racing protests and the urgent dialogues on how we need to act now, and thinks about our emotions. With a few well-crafted scenarios showing how we could be affected in everyday life, it made the climate change message even more poignant. It wasn’t preachy, nor did it require donations, and the point was more powerful for it.

On one occasion an audience member was called upon to take a walk across the farm; through the forest where the city stood, by the river where the motorway once lay, and into the farm where the banks used to be. The volunteer was shown what life was like on the commune picking apples, making pies, enjoying love. In fact it almost made climate change sound positive. As if it has the power to make us realize the error of a capitalist consumerist society, and get back to basics. Let’s face it; we never really needed all those handbags, IPods and celeb mags in the first place, eh?

Foster weaves in enough relaxants and jokes that remind us we don’t need to be militant to be revolutionary. At one point she wanders through London dressed as a Polar Bear to remind people not to forget about the beautiful creature and to demonstrate that it might be gone one day.

Unlike most climate campaigns out there, Lucy Foster’s isn’t after donations; her show wants us to understand it in a way that we haven’t considered before. It isn’t a pin-badge, or a plastic bracelet, a T-Shirt or a status update, but an actual organic thing that will change our lives. She opens the simple truth that in years to come we might need to teach children in schools what exactly the ‘white’ stuff was. As Foster points out from the start, ‘This is the biggest campaign ever’ and we are all going to play a part in it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

She's Electric

It was in the penthouse. Right by the whisky bar, the chattering teeth and the playing cards. The fairies strung lights like an electric warrior belting out the shocking tones of ‘Jeepster’. The charge sent forth a bolt like the light brigade and jolted her into the air like a tossed pancake.

Gallantly our heroine fought on, casting the sparks back to their wall bound prison with her left hand. Taping the wound with masking tape she tapped her two feet in victory and danced the butterfly.

Conversation after conversation she threw the static prints upon the floor and trampled over their reverberating microtones, she was prepared for any surprise the night could throw at her…