Thursday, 28 September 2017

Fleapit revisted:In Between.

Maysaloun Hamoud's In Between is a mostly low-key look at the day to day happenings of three Arab-Israeli women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv. It's just a snapshot of their lives over the course of a few weeks or so but in that short period of time we grow to become familiar with the characters, to identify their flaws and weaknesses, to admire their moral strengths, and to care what happens.

Budapest born Hamoud is in her mid-thirties so she's done what we're all advised to and made a piece of work about something she knows about. These women are all roughly the same age as the director. There's glamorous Layla (Mouna Hawa) who appears to have a pretty decent job in the legal profession, there's grungy Salma (Sana Jammalieh) who hides her lesbianism from her Christian family and drifts from job to job, and, finally, there's student Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a new addition to the household whose strict adherence to Islam, covering herself, and devoting her time to her studies is surely, at some point, to rub up against Layla and Salma's full on party lifestyles.

Layla and Salam's double act works like a considerably less annoying, Eastern flavoured, and younger version of Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous. As they get glammed (or grunged) up for nights out, swig out of beer bottles (almost always Estrella - some serious product placement or is that what everyone drinks in Tel Aviv?), and reject the advances of unsuitable suitors we begin to see that their lives, like all lives, are not so straightforward after all.
Nour may take a raincheck on the partying and piss-ups but her life is no simpler. She is betrothed to the pious, rich, and condescending Abu Wissam who is dismayed by the unholy 'whores' she's chosen to live with and concerned that their dissolute behaviour will rub off on his intended. Which, to a tiny tiny degree, it does.
Both Layla and Salma find love of sorts too. Unlike Nour they've not been set up by well meaning parents but found it for themselves - at bars and parties of course. Layla falls for the handsome, and seemingly worldy-wise, (he's lived in New York) Zlad (Mahmud Shalaby) and Salma begins a relationship with the stunning and supportive Dounia (Ashlam Canaan).

Naturally, none of these relationship paths run smooth and all three girls experience moments of betrayal and one of them undergoes a truly transgressive experience. That that experience is rendered grimly realistic and in complete silence only serves to make it more stark, more shocking, and more uncomfortable.
Despite this, and other unfortunate run ins with less tolerant types, it's mostly a positive film. The girls and their relationships with partners and potential partners are all depicted realistically but, if anything, the film is more about friendship than love. How when lovers, or family even, let you down friends are there to pour a drink for you, listen to your woes, and help you get back on your feet again. 

The friendships we first see forming over fags and bonding over booze quickly develop into a sorority of strength and a two fingered salute to the stifling conformity of conventional society. In some ways it's a tale as old as time of conservative parents with rebellious offspring who appal them by flipping the bird to bullying bosses, getting ink, and downing shots. All basic, and somewhat dated, signifiers of rebellion but, perhaps, in Tel Aviv still pertinent. The more important acts of rebellion are refusing to stop smoking because a man tells you to, standing up to abuse, and turning your back on a society that refuses to accept your choices in love or life.
If the film has any message it's don't bother trying to conform to meet the approval of people whose 'standards' you don't even respect. They'll never respect you. They'll never love you. Respect yourself, look out for others who treat you with respect and treat them well in return. Drink, dance, and fall in love for life is short. Everything is transient but love and friendships leave far deeper, and more meaningful, impressions than status and bank balances could ever do.
It takes a strong director and a strong cast to make such a small film resonate so grandly and, in the bravura performances of Hawa, Jammalieh, and Kanboura, Hasoum has found three immensely talented actors. From casual scenes like Salma sorting out her DJ set for a big rave and visiting her old school to the tenderness of the friendships between the leads when they're forced to confront the rawest of emotions, Hamoud, and her cast, always seem to pitch it right. مرحى  as they say in Arabic.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Queer British Art:From the closet to the clear blue sky.

"For me, to use the word 'queer' is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer" - Derek Jarman.

I saw an internet troll commenting that Tate Britain's Queer British Art 1861-1967 was a reductive exercise in that it reduced artists down to their sexual preferences. Like most trolls he'd failed to actually read in detail or investigate the very thing he was up in arms about. As with the British Library's recent Gay UK:Love, Law and Liberty this exhibition was being hosted to mark fifty years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men. So it was more celebration than reduction. Though I guess the real celebration comes in the, hopeful, follow up show that focuses on queer British art from 1967 to the present day.

Not only is it a celebration of sorts, it's a story worth telling, and it's both interesting to show the development of British art through the prism of attitudes towards homosexuality and the development of attitudes toward homosexuality through the prism of British art. Starting in 1861 when the death penalty for sodomy was abolished it's a long, slow story of gradual liberation, identification, and community building. The Tate, in a cautious, if probably wise, disclaimer, have opted to use the word 'queer' to "avoid imposing more specific identity labels".

Despite its reputation for prudishness the Victorian era seemed to have been bursting at the seams with latent, or even blatant, homosexual lust. Simeon Solomon's work was criticised for 'unwholesomeness' and 'effeminacy' and his Bacchus described as "a sentimentalist of rather weak consumption; he drinks mead, possibly sugar and water, certainly not wine".

Simeon Solomon - Bacchus (1867)

Frederic Leighton - Daedalus and Icarus (1869)
Whilst the heterosexual men were sipping their wine, Frederic Leighton was pondering the potential homosexual desires hidden in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Walter Crane was appropriating the work of Sandro Botticelli to reflect his own interests and desires. Over in Taormina, Sicily, Wilhelm van Gloeden looked admiringly through his lens at the young Sicilian men. All of these works were open to interpretation. If you wanted to see them as gay art you could but most chose not to and so long as the artists themselves weren't physically acting out their desires then all was fine and dandy.

Walter Crane - The Renaissance of Venus (1877)

Wilhelm van Gloeden - Head of a Sicilian Boy (1890s)

Henry Scott Tuke - The Critics (1927)
Even if Henry Scott Tuke's 1927 The Critics evokes homoerotic desires as much as it does the masterful impressionistic ripples of the sun dappled Cornish sea to our modern eyes it seems it was possible, ninety years ago, to compartmentalise this kind of thing (think, decades later people wouldn't believe Freddie Mercury was gay despite parading around in leather vests, peaked caps, and calling his band Queen).
Edward Carpenter, in that respect, was a man very much ahead of his time. He lived in the Peak District, openly, with his gay lover George Merrill. He was an advocate not only of same sex marriage but of vegetarianism, socialism, and women's rights. When the taste maker Fry painted him he remarked upon Carpenter's "very anarchist overcoat".

Roger Fry - Edward Carpenter (1894)
As the nineteenth century rolled over into the twentieth a series of scandals, along with more in depth scientific studies by the likes of Henry Havelock Ellis and Richard von Krafft-Ebing, pushed the debate about sexuality and homosexuality into the public eye. There's some stuff about Oscar Wilde's trial (including, on display, somewhat bizarrely, the prison door of his cell in Reading Gaol), and a small section devoted to Michael Field.
Michael Field is a most curious case and one I'd hitherto been unaware of. Michael Field wasn't one person but two and neither of them had been born male. Katharine Harris Bradley and her niece Edith Emma Cooper used the joint pseudonym for the poetry and verse drama they wrote together. It wasn't the only thing they did together. They lived together too, as lovers, for four decades. When they died less than a year apart they were buried together in St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church in Mortlake. The lesbianism is, of course, perfectly acceptable to all right-minded people now, and most won't have a problem with the fourteen year age gap, but physical love between an aunt and niece still seems rather problematic.
If you have to drill down into the details of the story of Michael Field to find something shocking then Aubrey Beardsley, quite literally, puts it right in your face. Alongside some Cecil Beaton photographs and Beardsley's own illustration for Wilde's Salome we're presented with the artwork he provided for Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a classical Athenian play performed as far back as 411BC which used ribald humour to tell the story of a woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by denying all the men of Greece any sex. I once went on a date to see this play (in Hammersmith) and I wonder now what kind of message I was being sent! Certainly if my date was expecting me to look anything like Beardsley's Herald they'd have been very disappointed! My hair's much shorter.

Aubrey Beardsley - The Examination of the Herald from 'Lysistrata' by Aristophanes (1896)

Angus McBean - Danny La Rue (1968)
Beardsley himself, by all accounts, wasn't gay (despite clearly loving drawing massive cocks) but he dressed in a dapper fashion and behaved in an affected manner that may mark him out as a forerunner of the whole 'metrosexual' thing we heard so much about a decade or so ago.
Gay or not he'd have probably been described as a 'theatrical type', which was the euphemism du jour (and lingers to this day). There's a room given over to female impersonators, a portrait of Glen Byam Shaw (who, it is claimed, was almost certainly the lover of Siegfried Sassoon) from John Gielgud's Hamlet, Noel Coward's dressing gown, and sets of headphones where you can listen to Coward's 'Mad About The Boy', Ella Shields singing 'Why Did I Kiss That Girl?', and Douglas Byng's camper than John Inman skipping 'Cabaret Boys'. It's a nice touch (as are the assorted visitor response cards testifying to people's own personal experiences of coming out as gay, more often than the art, that are displayed alongside said art).

Glyn Warren Philpot - Glen Byam Shaw as 'Laertes' (1934-1935)

Ethel Sands - Tea with Sickert (1911-1912)
The Bloomsbury Group, as we often hear, "lived in squares and loved in triangles" although trying to work out exactly who was married to who, who slept with who else, and whatnot seems to suggest something far more confusing then the straightforward triangle. Whatever their 'profoundly queer experiment in modern living' did for their personal lives it seemed to have worked wonders for their art. At least judging by the selection on display at the Tate.
Ethel Sands takes her cues from Matisse, Vuillard, and the Post-Impressionists while Ethel Walker, by way of Cezanne and Gauguin, goes back even further to find inspiration in Greco-Roman friezes and Homer's Odyssey. Best of all is Duncan Grant's Bathing from 1911. Inspired by summers spent at the, then well known London cruising spot, Serpentine, the rendering of the wave is almost an early form of Abstract Expressionism, the muscular swimmers' bodies are rendered as pointedly as a Tamara de Lempicka portrait but with the studied Mannerism of the High Renaissance, and there's something about the seeming desperation of those bathers to return to the boat that's an inversion of the majesty of Theodore Gericault's 1819 Raft of the Medusa.

Ethel Walker - Decoration:The Excursion of Nausicaa (1920)

Duncan Grant - Bathing (1911)

Edward Wolfe - Portrait of Pat Nelson (1930s)

Marlow Moss - Composition in Yellow, Black and White (1949)
If sexual conventions could be defied then so could artistic ones. Marlow, born Marjorie, Moss did both. She lived in Paris with her lover, the Dutch writer Antoinette Hendrika Nijhoff-Wind but, as you can see from the above composition, the major influence on her work was Piet Mondrian.
Claude Cahun (who had an excellent double header show with Gillian Wearing at the National Portrait Gallery recently which I was unable to find time to write about, sadly) was another artist who toyed with the ideas of identity. Mostly hers. Often posing in masks or dressed up she's clearly been a huge influence on Cindy Sherman as well as Wearing.
While Cahun was pioneering the still controversial idea of non-binary gender, Virginia Woolf's liberal approach to sexuality and how women should behave and her affair with Vita Sackville-West attracted more attention. To the extent that she became the subject for a snapper as celebrated as Man Ray. Woolf refused to wear lipstick for her portrait until Man Ray explained to her that it was merely a technical measure and wouldn't show in the finished photograph.

Claude Cahun - I Extend My Arms (1931-1932)

Man Ray - Virginia Woolf (1934)

Alvaro Guevara - Dame Edith Sitwell (1916)
There's a copy of Woolf's Orlando in a vitrine but more interesting are the works by Cecile Walton, Dora Carrington, and Laura Knight. They all seem to call into question the duality of the female body from the perspective of artists living inside those bodies yet equally observers of them.
Walton takes it a step further. 1920's Romance shows a young lady, clearly soon after giving birth, looking quite dispassionately towards her offspring and appearing surprisingly relaxed considering that offspring's just come out of her. It's a painting that's initially comforting but becomes more jarring with a more sustained consideration. It's rather fine.

Cecile Walton - Romance (1920)

Laura Knight - Self-Portrait (1916)

Dora Carrington - Female Figure Lying on Her Back (1912)
Edward Burra's armoured and muscular Soldiers at Rye could hardly be more different to Dora Carrington's exposed and vulnerable Female Figure Lying on Her Back and it's odd to consider that some would find a naked body more shocking than an image of people potentially killing each other.
In the fifties and sixties Soho become the UK's epicentre of queer culture. Francis Bacon called it "the sexual gymnasium of the city" and many of the artists in this part of the Tate show were friends and shared studios. Though they were based, mostly, in London travel became a theme of their work and they were often sunning it up in the Med or hanging around in 'seedy American bars', Burra's Izzy Orts, with a blank eyed soldier staring ominously out at us, was inspired by a dancehall in the docks of Boston, MA.

Edward Burra - Soldiers at Rye (1941)

Edward Burra - Izzy Orts (1937)

Keith Vaughan - Kouros (1960)
Johns Craxton and Minton, and Keith Vaughan, were described as 'neo-romantics' though Craxton preferred the term 'Arcadian' and although his works, like the Head of a Cretan Sailor and Pastoral for P.W. have something of the urgent city life often expounded upon by the Futurists and the Cubists they also pay homage to the outdoor life of Greek island shepherds and seamen. Horses, trees, and goats populate the geometric abstractions and pyramids of Craxton's  mesmerising output. Robert Medley also found inspiration in antiquity and the rural, his Summer Eclogue references Roman poet Virgil's Eclogues in which pastoral tranquillity is disrupted by erotic forces.
Vaughan's are harder to read and seem almost coded. It seems that Vaughan was uneasy about his homosexuality and was concerned that there were clues to it in his work and his secret would've been uncovered. In the private drawings of men sucking each other's dicks and wanking each other off he was decidedly less shy.

Robert Medley - Summer Eclogue No.1:Cyclicts (1950)

John Craxton - Head of a Cretan Sailor (1946)

John Minton - Cornish Boy at a Window (1948)

John Craxton - Pastoral for P.W. (1948)
Public opinion was gradually, slowly, changing but the law had not caught up with it yet. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell had separate beds in their tiny flat to maintain the pretence that they weren't a couple, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu was sent to jail for "conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons", and avant-garde photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer was thrown out of her room for leaving a copy of Radclyffe Hall's Well of Loneliness in plain view.
There's a selection of the library books that Orton and Halliwell defaced and collaged (and got themselves incarcerated for doing so), a Picture Post story about Roberta Cowell (the former racing driver who was the first known British transsexual woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery), and an impressively large box of buttons collected by Richard Chopping and Dennis Wirth-Miller to celebrate their 'liaisions' with soldiers. It's an interesting introduction to the final room in which the flowering of proud, and overt, homosexuality became further explicit in the hands of two of the most respected, and admired, artists of the 20th century.

Stephen Tennent - Lascar, a Story of the Maritime Boulevard

John Minton - Horseguards in Their Dressing Room (1953)

David Hockney - Cleanliness is next to Godliness (1964)
David Hockney and Francis Bacon are a pair of big hitters, no doubt, and two artists who have long since moved on from being defined by their sexuality. It's there to see though, both in Hockney's hat tips to body building magazines like Man's World and Health & Strength and Bacon's more visceral, almost excruciatingly physical, portraits of bodies contorted either in passion or, in homage to Eadweard Muybridge's 19c motion-picture projections, combat. Perhaps both. Bacon's intensity would certainly suggest this to be a possible interpretation. 
Hockney and Francis Bacon may be considered to be the two artists, pre-1967, who made the boldest and bravest depictions of same-sex desire before the law changed but without the artists, many unheralded, and many who had their works destroyed and have been completely forgotten, that went before them they'd have not had the foundations or the platform from which they launched their careers. This show did a splendid job of sketching out the story of how homosexuality and art in the UK have often walked hand-in-hand, sometimes looking carefully around in fear of provoking violence, but, more often these days with a sense of pride. Reductive? Nah, not here mate.

David Hockney - Going to be a Queen tonight (1960)

Francis Bacon - Two Figures in a Landscape (1956)

David Hockney - Life Painting for a Diploma (1962)

Sunday, 24 September 2017

LCD Soundsystem:Don't it make you feel alive?

Man, LCD Soundsystem are big. Pulling over 10,000 people, two nights in a row, to north London's cavernous Alexandra Palace is no mean feat. The sound's big too. I started the gig thinking they'd become festival headliner material and I left thinking about stadiums. Depeche Mode have been filling them for years and LCD's expert fusion of rock tropes with, sometimes punishing, sometimes funky, electronica seems to be the logical conclusion of what they started, the anchor leg of a relay that's seen the baton passed on from Kraftwerk to Depeche Mode to Daft Punk and finally to James Murphy's thrilling gang of New York noise makers.

Not that they particularly sound like any of those bands. They're a little too arch, too self-referencing, and far too self-aware for that. They certainly pull them in as influences but they also take in bits of Talking Heads, David Bowie, The Fall, and New Order too. James Murphy's cherry-picked from the entire history of leftfield rock and electronic music to come up with something that's uniquely his, a quintessential history of much that's been great in music over the last forty or so years.

That doesn't mean it only resonates with us older music fans. There are plenty here who, back in 2002 when LCD released their debut single, wouldn't have even gained their edge yet, let alone lost it. The band seem to have been on a gradual, yet continuous, upward curve in terms of success. Even taking four years off after 'splitting up' in 2011 only seemed to increase our appetite for them. To think that this was the same band that back in 2007, when I was writing reviews for the Subbacultcha website, I had to virtually plead to take a +1 to!

I'd been tired on Saturday afternoon. In the week running up to the gig I'd been to see both The Jesus and Mary Chain and Sleaford Mods. Both had been great but it was a higher gigging rate than I'd been used to in recent years and the late nights (and, no doubt, the liquid refreshment that accompanied them) had taken their toll. By 11pm, when I walked out through the vast concourse of Ally Pally into the still young London night, I felt like I could've stayed up ' til 4am. I didn't. I went home, ate a chocolate biscuit, and went to bed but the important thing was I felt like I could've done.

Pam and I had started off the evening round Kathy's being fed exceedingly tasty goats' cheese pasta bake, sampling exotic gins (I passed on this part), and going down a Spotify wormhole of 70s disco. It was lovely but without a visit to the pub as a sort of a nursery slope, volume wise, to prepare us for the gig it felt like the noise was almost overwhelming at first.

Picking tracks evenly from across all four LCD albums (and leaving out crowd pleasers like Losing my Edge, Daft Punk is Playing at My House, Drunk Girls, and North American Scum) this gig was acting as both a celebration, and an overview, of all that was great about the band. An opening salvo of the anthemic, cowbell heavy Us vs Them, I Can Change's wistful look back at eighties synthpop, and the anything but innocuous Get Innocuous set the scene, got the mirrorball spinning, the phones waved in the air, and the pints spilling.

There's a lot of 'em in the LCD live experience but whilst Pat Mahoney, Tyler Pope, and the rest all deserve their credit the two focal points are clearly James Murphy and Nancy Whang. She's as glamorous as he is unglamorous. Swapping guitar for keyboards and back again, she comes across like the vice-president of the whole firm. But there's no doubt that, at the end of the day, it's Murphy's baby. He may look like he's just woke up, hasn't brushed the sleep out of his eyes, and is wearing the clothes he slept in but you'd be mad to think he's not entirely in control of proceedings. To the point that he informs the audience, twice, that when they go off stage it'll be for a urination break, an intermission, and definitely not an encore. Don't be thinking they'd do something as crass as that.

His voice is a strangely powerful beast as well. Mostly he keeps it functional, powerful yet restrained, but in songs like I Can Change and Someone Great, when the emotion is ramped up he allows it to lift to a slightly higher register as if to briefly acknowledge that emotional shift. Without that there'd be a danger of the band being a little too clinical but that, at first barely detectable, minor change does a fair bit of heavy lifting for the band and it's in these moments that the bond between audience and band are most firmly established. They're the loving cuddles that follow a series of hard and fast bangers.

What was hard but definitely not fast was the bar service. In the time it took me to get served I'd missed Call the Police, You Wanted A Hit, and, most disappointingly of all, my favourite LCD song:- Tribulations. It seems something of a trademark move by me to be either at the bar, or in the bogs, during my favourite song at whichever gig I'm attending.

I could hear these songs - but not properly. But luckily I was back in again, and glugging from a two pint jug to save further visits, for Someone Great. It was the songs from Sound of Silver that perhaps stood out the most on the evening. Whilst there was plenty to admire, and shake our asses to, in American Dream's Tonite and I Used To it was the popping, slow building paean to love and loss of Someone Great, the bitter lament to a city changed for the worse of New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down (more Frank Sinatra croon than Mark E Smith drawl), and, played as an absolutely epic set closer, All My Friends that were the songs that were spinning round my head on the bus back to Finsbury Park, the tube to Brixton, and when I woke up this morning. In You Wanted  A Hit, from 2010's This is Happening, Murphy claimed "maybe we don't do hits". That wasn't true then - and it's certainly not now.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Sleaford Mods:It's at night when they come.

"They call me Dyson, I fucking clean up".

It'd been a surprisingly sunny day in South London. A beer on the Tamesis Dock floating pub with views across to Westminster, and a pizza in Brixton's new container park, had set the scene nicely and Darren and I were still in Brixton Academy in time for the support bands.

The Lowest Form were a punishing, unchanging assault of hardcore punk, Mark Wynn was, assumedly intentionally, embarrassing am-dram performed in an office chair with a mop and some trouser dropping, and Nachthexen were an enthusiastic, and clearly thrilled to be there, riot grrrl quartet whose tunes were, alas, all rather a bit samey.

To give the benefit of the doubt to the promoters it seemed like Sleaford Mods were using their currently exalted position to help some worthy causes, and maybe some mates, get to play to a larger audience. Alas, exposure to the sunlight may've done them more harm than good as, to be brutally honest, none of these acts seemed quite ready for a stage as large as Brixton's.

It's a charge I might've expected, at this point, to be levelling at ver Mods themselves but the boards of Brixton Academy are not even the biggest they've trod in London in recent years. They supported The Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium this summer and The Who in Hyde Park back in 2015.

They've earned their right to be there too. A phenomenal work rate and a message that people fed up with austerity, the Tories, Britain First, pretentiousness, working class scapegoating, and the deification of heritage rock acts can all get behind. With some gusto.

If the initial sight of two, slightly older than your usual popstar, men standing on a vast empty stage doesn't look too promising, once Andrew 'Hardest working man in Showbiz' Fearn initiates one of his motorik funk backing tracks and Jason Williamson launches into one of his trademark, fuck and cunt infused, spittle flecked invectives you're soon won over.

I'd kinda imagined a fairly static crowd hanging on every word to come out of Williamson's mouth but the moshpit bounces around as if at a Ramones gig and even those near the back of the Academy (near the bar and the toilets (where the smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon) are swinging and bopping to Fearn's preset rhythms. The music may be minimal but the bass is heavy, the beats both funky and frenetic, and any small change in the music appears with the power of a seismic shift.

From Army Nights' tales of lobbing down vodka and getting squeezed in a caravan to Tarantula Deadly Cargo's slow burning bass heavy story of alien mums and European poo, targets are identified and utterly destroyed by the precision, and sheer playfulness, of Williamson's words. If you're offended by the large amount of f-bombs and c-bombs going off you really need to listen to people actually talk some time.

TCR launches the first mass singalong of the evening, Williamson working the crowd as if he's Jim Kerr or something (well, if you squint). There's something immensely satisfying in watching a good proportion of Brixton Academy's 4,921 capacity screaming 'Total Control Racing' at the stage to a song that contains references to Ena Sharples and Ray Reardon.

Tied Up In Nottz was, probably, the first song that turned me on to the genius of the Sleaford Mods. How they turbocharged the prosaic accounts of life that bands like The Streets and Renegade Soundwave gave us and mixed them with punk and grime to create something resolutely their own and absolutely necessary for the uncertain times we live in. Giant toilet krakens, The Final Countdown by fuckin' Journey, Kellogg's cunts, and drug dealers. Any suggested impotence in his yelp is a narrative device that works all the better to portray the frustration and alienation that more and more people are feeling as nasty elitist pricks like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Jacob Rees-Mogg assume anti-elitist positions to mount power grabs.

At one point Williamson launches into a bit of Bad Manners' Lip Up Fatty. If that's not intended to be directed at our current Foreign Secretary then Moptop most certainly is. The lyrics are as cryptic as the sentiment is acute but Williamson's cleared things up with this quote on

“MopTop is based in and around the disgusting lie that is Boris Johnson, the wannabe Churchill (we don’t need another one). The song also discusses the void that is modern music, internet attention spans, one dimensional acts, and the current trend of reformed bands looking to cash in with PR heavy assaults that try to conceal their pointlessness.”

That's a lot of ground to try and cover in two minutes and forty eight seconds but encapsulates a lot about the Sleaford Mods. They see patterns and parallels between politics, music, and day to day life and in songs like the almost bionic paced Jobseeker (cans of Strongbow, leaflets on depression, and sitting round the house wanking) and Jolly Fucker's tale of Mr Kipling, Ian Beale, grammar wankers, and rotting away in the aisles of Co-op they seek, unglamorously and highly effectively, to weave it all together into a diorama of dystopia, disillusion, and drink and drugs fuelled escapism.

That they do so with good humour, banging beats, kind hearts (a collection for Shelter on the way out wasn't out of character but just what you'd expect), and smiles on their faces shows that this is a band that are angry not because of immigration, the EU, or Big Ben being silenced but because of privilege. Because of the injustice that leads to people to burn to death in unsafe tower blocks as luxury apartments sit empty a mile down the road, because of the conscious cruelty that leads people to food banks not far from where the Queen lives in a huge palace, and because of the lie they've been sold, we've all been sold, from birth to school to work to death, that serves only to prop up an unfair society utterly obsessed with consumerism, status and cold, hard cash.

In B.H.S, a serious contender for the single of the year, the bloated body and smug overfed face of Philip Green stands as a synecdoche for all that's wrong with Britain at the moment. It seems wholly appropriate that as the able bodied vultures monitor and pick out us, and we hope for the knuckle dragging exodus, that we should dance, sing, and drink as we do so. That's something they'll never understand.

Cheers to Darren for inviting me along to this gig, to Cheryl for getting the tickets, and to Ben and Tracy for getting another round of beerz in. Yeah, with a z you cunt.

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Jesus and Mary Chain:A taste of something warm and sweet.

As the silhouetted Jim Reid, microphone lead tightly coiled and back so hunched he's staring at the floor, yells "I wanna die, I wanna die, I wanna die, I wanna die" and his brother lets out another blistering screech of guitar it's hard to make a case for The Jesus And Mary Chain being anything like 'warm and sweet'.

Starting the set with a song called Amputation doesn't exactly conjure up images of flowers or chocolates either. But, from the very beginning, the JAMC's appeal has been in their duality. For every Teenage Lust or Reverence there's a Darklands, a Just Like Honey, or Some Candy Talking's paean to either love, drugs, or cunnilingus. You choose.

The Jesus And Mary Chain arrived at just the right time for me. I was hitting my late teens, starting to go to gigs, and devouring NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds with almost religious intensity every Wednesday morning (or Tuesday if I was in London). As The Smiths had done only a couple of years earlier they opened my ears to a new way of hearing, my eyes to a new way of seeing. They were a gateway drug that led me on to Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr, and The Butthole Surfers and even back to Can and Neu.

The feedback, the riots, the gigs cut short, the protests at pressing plants over a b-side called Jesus Suck. All of this fed into their legend but none of that would've meant anything if they weren't making the music to back up the outrageous claims of both the band and a then fawning music press. On debut album Psychocandy, the title making that aforementioned duality keenly explicit, they married feedback drenched blasts like The Living End and You Trip Me Up with the blissed out sadness of Just Like Honey or Cut Dead and the classic rock tropes, but fed through an industrial shredder, of Taste The Floor and The Hardest Walk.

On second album Darklands they dropped the feedback and if there was any fear it would expose their songwriting chops it was completely unfounded. Songs like Nine Million Rainy Days and Down On Me proved the Reid brothers to be consummate authors of anthems to teenage heartache even if they, and much of their audience, were long past those teenage years.

As the nineties progressed my tastes diversified and many of the bands that the JAMC had opened the door for, and some they resolutely had not, took precedence. I was listening to the likes of Pavement, Underworld, Primal Scream (fronted by ex-Mary Chain drummer Bobby Gillespie, of course), and Happy Mondays more but every now and then a Mary Chain track (Cracking Up, I Hate Rock'n'Roll) would cut through into my world and I'd be reminded of the sheer majesty of their utterly unique sound.

Since they reformed in 2007 I've caught a handful of gigs. From a wonderful evening at the Royal Festival Hall to a so-so experience in the Roundhouse a few years later where it felt like the wheels had come off this particular reunion. The fact that they'd sobered up, got it together to record a new album, and were receiving rave reviews again had tempted me along to the Forum in Kentish Town on a Wednesday night and the fact that I'd be spending the evening with such good friends as Ben, Simon, Pam, Kathy, and Chris sealed the deal.

After a couple of primers in the Grade-II listed Pineapple pub on Leverton Street we arrived at the venue just in time to catch the start of The Primitives set. The Primitives were yet another one of those bands I discovered in those wonderful and exciting first few years exposed to the live music scene. I'd seen them supporting James at the ULU before they went big with Crash and I'd adored their song Really Stupid. In fact I'd much preferred it to Crash.

I'd seen them supporting The Wedding Present some years back and had been surprised by how well their songs had aged. I'd expected Crash, and even more so Spacehead, to sound dated and silly but played back to back on Wednesday night they sounded urgent and vital, stripped of all extraneous fat and delivered as buzzsaw guitar sharp yeye blasts of pop perfection, Through The Flowers, Way Behind Me, and Really Stupid had lost none of their original oomph and the band looked, and sounded, lean and galvanized.

As did The Jesus And Mary Chain. Due to sibling rivalry and, let's face it, industrial levels of alcohol consumption gigs had been known to not end well in the past. Though that might've been exciting to begin with it soon, as with most pissheads, became tedious. Not least for the band themselves. Now fully in control they're able to stake their rightful claim as one of the most influential bands of theirs, or any, era. They didn't take long to stick a flag into the dying body of indie rock and, as ever, it was never quite certain if they were trying to kill it off or reanimate it.

About a quarter of the set was made up with tracks from new album Damage and Joy. Opener Amputation suggested the vast expanses of American deserts and long road trips in open top cars, Always Sad was pretty much the sound of a leather jacketed punked up remake of Grease, and All Things Pass could've come straight off 1992's Honey's Dead. Not one note sounded like filler.

Each one of them could, maybe, go on to be future JAMC classics but the bulk of tonight's crowd was, of course, waiting for the hits. A few bones were thrown out early doors:- the electric cool of Happy When It Rains and the television sick and television crazy Far Gone and Out had this happy customer screaming along at the top of his lungs. Head On's Duane Eddy turned up to eleven twangy guitars sent a chill shooting down my back.

After The Living End's frenzied, coruscating, blast of pure biker existentialism we got the catharsis of both Some Candy Talking and Darklands. Knee deep in that stuff and talking in rhyme with our chaotic souls before release was delivered in Reverence's iconoclastic dismantling of the American dream. A love/hate assessment of the USA, JFK, and Jesus Christ spat out with a combination of awe, bile, and contempt.

It was a pretty powerful way to end the set and the Mary Chain must've been in a good mood as we were treated to not one, but two encores. There can't be many bands around who could knock out a four song salvo as strong as Just Like Honey, Sidewalking, Cracking Up, and Taste of Cindy and still have plenty left in the tank. No time for Upside Down, the iconic Never Understand, or their biggest UK hit April Skies. The fact they can leave out these songs and people weren't complaining is a testament to an extraordinarily rich back catalogue.

They signed off with War on Peace's slow burning elegy to lost youth and lost love and, finally, the tongue-in-cheek, contrary, churning, vacuum cleaner guitar of I Hate Rock'n'Roll as if to further underline the essential dichotomy of the band and to stress that if that dichotomy was ever resolved the band would somehow, mysteriously, lose their power. Jim Reid's last words of the night may've been 'Rock'n'Roll hates me' but you know what? It really doesn't. It fucking loves him.