Saturday, 26 September 2009

I’m going to be honest: achieving my 10:10 target is going to be quite easy

Ah, 2009. A year that commenced with me receiving a look of approval from Laura McDermott as she observed how impressive the lack of flying my epic backpacking trip was *supposed* to involve.

A year that reached something like its two-third mark with vague disappointment in those same eyes as I ruefully totted up how many flights I’d actually taken. Okay, my carbon footprint is considerably less than, say, Al Gore’s, but still, I’ve been appalling this year, my head quite shamelessly turned by a sickening four foreign press trips, my lo-flight backpacking escapade spiralling wildly out of control thanks to the impressive meshing of both my inefficiency and that of the Chinese. Anyway, sat here on what ought to be my last flight of the year, I apologise profusely to Mother Nature, and for the sake of all those people in posterity keen to know what weapons-grade levels of frivolity we doomed idiots in 2009 achieved, I hereby submit my thoughts and feelings on every flight I got in 2009. I was originally going to rate them out of five using images of Jimbo from Jimbo and the Jet Set, but then I realised I couldn't in any way be arsed to do the cut out. I leave you with the credit sequence. Those cows used to freak the fuck out of me.

Reykjavik Keflavik to London Stansted 02.01.09

Hugely delayed return leg of awesome New Year’s trip to lovely lovely Iceland. Would have appreciated the lie-in had we known how many millions of hours delayed our stupid am flight was going to be, but we didn’t find ourselves un-amused as we went ker-razy with our lunch vouchers and totally broke into the apology booze when we finally got into the air. If I’d actually had to be back in time for anything in particular then might have been annoyed, but on reflection this arguably wins flight of the year. FOUR JIMBOS.

London Stansted to Talinn 12.01.09

Hellish. This can mostly be put down to the fact that I’d got wasted to mark the commencement of my travels, gone straight to the airport with Powell at, like, 4am, knocked back another pint, passed out on the plane and then woke up about 30 minutes from landing to about the closest I’ve ever come to having a panic attack. While this can largely be attributed to hangover, lack of sleep etc, I do maintain EasyJet have the most cramped of all short-haul jets, though possibly this is down to the happy-go-lucky approach to reclining exhibited by the overwhelming majority of its cheapskate customers. ONE JIMBO.

Qingdao to Seoul Incheon 24.02.09

Mixed. On the one hand it was now dawning to me that my eco-friendly world tour was going to essentially be responsible for the extinction of several undiscovered species of animal, the ghosts of which would proceed to stare at me every time I went to sleep with accusing, adorable eyes. Also I ended up speaking to a really unpleasant Dutch guy who proceeded to irritate me more by the fact he had a hugely worthwhile job developing an entirely solar-powered boat, a fact that seemed cruelly designed to rub in my failure. On the other hand I’d made it out of China, and also there was free beer. THREE JIMBOS.

Seoul to Jeju 27.02.09

Jeju to Seoul 05.03.09

Hmm. The flights were less than £20 a pop, and South Korea is set up so epically impractically for anybody wishing to approach the southern island by water that I’m not sure I feel that guilty about these. They served mandarin juice, which was nice. THREE JIMBOS.

Seoul Incheon to Beijing Capital 06.03.09

While it seems silly that there was no direct flight to Hong Kong, they did show The Simpsons film in English, which was nice at the time. THREE JIMBOS.

Beijing Capital to Hong Kong 06.03.09

Hmm. I’d asked for ‘Asian Vegetarian’ as my food option, but they gave me cucumber sandwiches. I hate cucumber sandwiches. Also after the glory of TV on the first leg, this had none, plus I’d finished racist epic Gone With The Wind. Dangerously bored. TWO JIMBOS.

Hong Kong to London Heathrow 13.03.09

Was really looking forward to this – films, wine, joy of seeing friends at end of it. Had possibly built it up a bit too much/was too worried about being in a fit state to be sociable at the end – sat in cramped seat while drinking cheap wine and watching a shit film isn’t wonderful. Also I had an epic sleeping pill fail and merely pretended to be asleep as I’d informed the nice old couple next to me that sleeping pills worked without fail, and I wouldn’t want to loose face in front of some elderly folks who I’d never see again. Still, they were a nice old couple, who I actually liked (normally I absolutely despise nice old couples) and y’know, it was okay and I managed to be reasonably sociable at the end (even if it basically seemed to be an almighty drunken conversation about marriage). THREE JIMBOS.

London Stansted to Reykjavik Keflavik 08.04.09

I suppose it is irrational to hold a grudge against an airline for only having flights that preclude you from going out to the pub with Icelandic friends, but there you go, eh? TWO JIMBOS.

Reykjavik City to Isafjordur 09.04.09

Definitely the ricketiest flight I’ve ever been on, though maybe the horror stories were a bit exaggerated. Considering it only takes six hours to drive this exact same route this possibly loses out on the eco-fromt. But still, would be a bit sour to give less than THREE JIMBOS.

Reykjavik Keflavik to London Stansted 12.04.09

While the flight was fairly unremarkable, the fact Anna from Icelandic Music Export simply phoned the airport and had the plane held to accommodate the fact we arrived five minutes after it was supposed to have taken off... well that was just deliughtful. FOUR JIMBOS.

London Gatwick to Basel 03.07.09

Okay, I shouldn’t blame the airline for the fact I missed the morning flight when it largely boils down to the fact I got wasted the night before. HOWEVER a) I’d have made the flight if it wasn’t for a stupid police roadblock – GATWICK IS CLEARLY A HIVE OF DEGENERATE SCUM b) Basel is the stupidest airport in the world, straddling, as it does, two seemingly hostile countries. Also c) I demand to blame somebody else other than me. ONE JIMBO.

Basel to London Gatwick 07.07.09

Much improved, though there’s not much romance to shorthaul really, is there? Anyway, ended in small victory when I remembered how the Gatwick Express was a horrible con and bought the half price, ten minutes longer alternative far to London town. Well done me. THREE JIMBOS.

London Stansted to Katowice 06.08.09

I’d somehow managed to avoid getting a Ryanair flight all year, but finally it happened. Appalling cunts. Playing their godawful ‘this flight was on time music’ so bloody smugly. I mean. It’s the airline equivalent of ‘I went to the toilet and didn’t shit myself’, isn’t it? ISN’T IT? By the by, you would be surprised how busy the Katowice flight is. TWO JIMBOS.

Katowice to Frankfurt 10.08.09

Frankfurt to Edinburgh 10.08.09

Oh hai KLM! There is nothing more magical than drinks and snacks on short-haul. NOTHING. (Apart from 92-year-old-ladies in the year 1971). Well done to KLM for harking back to the golden age of airtravel. FOUR JIMBOS.

London Stansted to Eindhoven 18.09.09

Oh fuck you Ryanair, like 6.55am is a reasonable time. Most frustrating thing about this flight is how very short it is – something like 45 minutes, all of which I slept for. There is nothing for persuading you how awful you’ve been to the planet like a pisstakingly short flight. TWO JIMBOS.

Eindhoven to London Stansted 21.09.09

As above, really, possibly compounded by the fact there is NOTHING TO DO IN HOLLAND (that’s an exaggerated statement and one we shall not engage with). Still the flight was at a more reasonable time, and I was amused to note that they were selling those electronic cigarettes on board. Nobody bought them. THREE JIMBOS.

In conclusion: I got 18 flights this year and am a right shit and deserve to burn for all eternity, except not, 'coz I'll do ten per sent less next year, and that'll be my bit to save the planet.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

A 92-year-old woman in the year 1971

So I went to see Mark Ravenhill's A Life in Three Acts (Part Two) last night, which okay, a sort of pseudo documentary type thing about the life of drag performer Bette Bourne, divided into three parts that happen over three nights. Can see why it went down well at Edinburgh, through was a bit baffled as to why it remained split into three in London, as Part Two was a svelte 45 minutes long, which seems kind of a rip. Though there were two for one cocktails and I did end up sat next to Ian McKellen (endearingly annoyed about price of the programme and the fact Cosmopolitans weren't included in the two for one), so I suppose that was added bang for buck (or 'the full gay' as I suppose it isn't very appropriate to call it). THAT IS NOT THE POINT THOUGH.

So at one point Bette Bourne reminisced about somebody who lived in the same commune as him being visited by his 92-year-old mother, and this was back in 1971. Now, this seems really fucking unlikely - we saw a photo of the son at the time, and he looked thirties tops, so unless his mother had a really, really amazingly weirdly, freakishly good womb then I sincerely doubt this is correct.


Ninety-two is unusually old, but there must have been a fair few of them around in 1971. That's just crazy. To still be a teenager in the reign of Victoria. To be thirtysomething when WWI broke out. To watch Hitler on the news as you shuffle into middle age. To spend your sixties being blitzed, to spend the Fifties watching the birth of rock and roll, to still be around for Dylan and the Stones and the Beatles' best years, to still be kicking and breathing and having progeny on the planet as the civil rights movement rages around you, the world still in such palpable transit at the end of your live. For radiation to be discovered when you were 13, for atomic bombs to be dropped when you were 65. To live from Oscar Wilde to the Jackson 5. I mean, what a fucking interesting span of time to be alive.

Obviously it's dumb to romanticise it - two world wars for starters, while it'd be profoundly unlikely that she'd really have spent her seventies and eighties and nineties grooving to that funky music. But it just really struck me, that bridging of 'now' and such a deep, deep 'then'. I dunno, I can't help but see there being something utterly enviable about that... we worry so much about the world changing for good these days, and, y'know, obviously many of those outcomes involve some sort of global cataclysm. Which is not good. But if I hit 92 and the world had changed half so much - even for the 'worse' (such a relative concept - fall of the British Empire was 'bad' I suppose, though again, that thing about global cataclysm) - I hope I'd be able to see something magical in that.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Ah, censorship, my old adversary, blah blah blah, etc etc etc

I realise that the meagure number of people who read this thing have zero interest in casting their eyes over more of my bloody music writing (which if anything they probably come here to hide from). But anyway, I wrote this review of George Pringle's new album for DiS, only it got pulled for weird scenester political reasons I had no foreknowledge of that were broken to me, um, well, with an invigorating lack of politeness. Anyway, I spent about an hour making some sort of absurd personal tragedy out of it and pondering giving it to another website, but then I realised I really couldn't be bothered with the fuss and didn't especially care. But I did take the time to write the stupid thing, so I hereby shuffle it under the metaphorical carpet that is this storied blog. But um, yeah, if you don't read my stuff normally it would be weird if you felt any obligation to peruse this one. I'M JUST PUTTING IT HERE.

George Pringle - Salon des Refusés

It would be fair to say that George Pringle has proven a divisive figure over the course of her short, bogged down career and it does not take a sociology degree to see why. Sure, a mixture of buzzing analogue primitivism and self-obsessed, irony-heavy monologues was never going to be everybody’s cup of tea. But without getting involved in any bullshit over classism, there’s no debate that the woman is pathologically posh, speaking in a sort of cartoonish strain of RP and insisting on calling herself a ‘diseuse’. Combine that with her Knightley-esque looks and Enid Blyton first name, and you’re left with the peculiar impression of a minor member of the aristocracy turning her hands to DIY electronica, a kind of Victoria Aitken vibe.

That this is at least part affected - Salon des Refusés' torturous gestation comes from Pringle being flat broke - is hard to bring to mind when confronted with the actual music.

But in any case, Salon des Refusés is here now, and while at times you are faced with what amounts to a debutante saying clever things over a laptop, to dismiss it as such would do little justice to the neon-streaked claustrophobia of a profoundly atmospheric record.

Tongue in cheek as it may or may not be, the diseuse tag isn’t astoundingly accurate. The word means ‘performer of monologues’, but those cut-glass spoken word segments are just a facet of what she does. So yes, album highlight ‘Physical Education (Part 1)’ does begin with her sketching out a fantasy scenario in which a boy who ignored her at school offers belated validation with the words ”you’re so cool George Pringle”. But that’s scarcely a minute of the track, which then proceeds to erupt into cold ecstasy, a hymnal buzz of syths crawling upwards as she sings the words ”cheap thrills; carved your name into my desk” over and over, interpolated with the hook line from Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. It is thrilling, but there’s also something a bit tragic about the juxtaposition of a sad little daydream with an anthem so utterly transcendent. Something Pringle is aware of: at the's music headiest, most climactic throb, she mutters a forlorn little“shit”, as if rueful that her 24-year-old self is so reduced.

Difficulty in empathising may be another problem people have with Pringle: these are sad, lonely songs about isolation and psychic disintegration, suburban entrapment depicted in sickly, Lynchian shades. But it can be a little hard to swallow coming from so plummy a voice. ‘Carte Postale’ is the closest she comes to asking you to feel sorry for her; but when she assume fractionally posher tones to bitterly mock the sender of the titular missive, holidaying in Buenos Aires, it’s kind of hard to get onside. Yet belatedly it happens, the story becoming more vulnerable, a gentle tide of early Belle & Sebastian-style backing beckoning you hither.

The thing to remember is that Pringle is a musician, and a good one at that; not technically adept, but a deft textural manipulator of GarageBand and her own limited vocal gifts. Sure, a warm Lancastrian burr would probably have saved her a lot of grief, but her hauteur suits the nerve-jarring music - ‘We Could Have Been Heroes’ seasick jabbering and savage drone; ‘LCD I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’s freezing pulse; 'Fellini For Prime Minister's nightmare stumble.

It all reaches musical and thematic climax over ‘Bonjour Tristesse’s ten churning minutes. The song commences with a muffled Pringle delicately singing the mantra ”my heart was meant to dance” over a nauseating, grimy bed, a bed that echoes and intensifies as the singer begins to unravel, declaring in less steady tones ”I’ve got no friends, I dance alone”. Around the halfway point words drop out entirely, leaving the song to mutate into an eerie cousin to New Order’s ‘In A Lonely Place’.

Symphonic, sad and unhinged, it’s the apex of an album that steadily ratchets up the atmosphere, squeezing and constricting until... it sort of loses its way. The final four songs are okay, but rather bathetic after the heights surmounted by ‘Bonjour Tristesse’. The entirely sung ‘Pop Hit’ is Pringle’s stab at convention, and sounds disconcertingly like second album Long Blondes; ‘One Night In Koko’ feels like a needless reprise of earlier tracks, while ‘S.W.10’ plays at being the nursery rhyme closer, but sabotages itself by being a little too busy, electronically speaking.

It’s a shame, perhaps for Pringle as much as anyone, as if you’re going to make music this divisive, you could really do with making your debut a bulletproof statement of intent. But ifSalon des Refusés isn’t quite that convincing statement, it’s two thirds of one. And to give Pringle her dues - that's about two thirds better than any other diseuse on the gig circuit right now.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Ah, September, my old adversary. So good of you to join me.

So I bet you got all excited when I did three blogs in about three days and you thought 'oh wow, he's going to become just like that Richard Herring, except with a less interesting life to try and make sound a bit depressing'.

No fear, I shall remain as feebly undiligent as ever. Anyway, it has been a funny old month, since last we talked, oh diary mine, and here are some reasons why.

Metro Life R.I.P.-ed

I suppose you could argue that my former Metro colleagues at least managed nine months more usefulness than me and Zof did; nonetheless, the complete elimination of all regional-specific arts coverage in Metro is pretty horrible. Thirty-odd people losing their jobs is never the nicest thing, especially when many are friends, especially when none of them saw it coming, especially when so many of them had laid down roots in regional cities - in many cases purchased houses - for jobs that are now gone, with no regional equivalents.

I pretty much have to assume that if I can make a semi go of it post Metro then they'll all do better/actively take work away from me; at least the comments on this here Guardian article would suggest it was not unappreciated (though I suspect quite a lot are from staff, actually...).

I think maybe in retrospect the most depressing thing of all, though, is that Metro Life arguably looks like a weirdly implausible endeavour. Metro as a whole may be a notch or two above the afternoon freesheets and the actual gutter press, but it's hardly a forward thinking, leftfield publication. Metro Life really was, if possibly only by necessity of not filling the allotted space with Jim Davidson's latest tour or whatever, and I suppose maintaining quality regional arts coverage never seemed obviously in line with anything the paper as a whole was trying to achieve. On those grounds I suppose you could argue that it was nice it ran and was financed for the best part of a decade, though, er, that's absolutely no consolation to anyone, obviously.

Anyway, it's a big shame for the obvious reasons. I suspect if I hadn't got taken in by the Birmingham edition shortly after I'd got back from Canada I'd have either ended up some sort of intolerable hipster or - even worse - blundered into a non-arts related area of the media and become some cunt in a suit. It became quite stultifying towards the end, and I do think my writing suffered as a result of being part of that machine, but it taught me a lot of stuff, I met a lot of wonderful people, and I guess now it's gone there's little question of the fact that it was A Good Thing rather than A Bad Thing. Sigh.

I went to Poland again

For the OFF Festival. You can read my review-cum-guilty trip at blatantly only being asked because I had a Polish name on DiS, if you can be arsed. It was fun; certainly I didn't balls anything up in a missing-the-entire-first-day-because-I-got-drunk style, and the atmosphere was great, people I met were lovely. Admittedly my chronic lameness at meaningful networking did mean that despite meeting the MD and editor of Filter magazine and pretty much everybody of any import at Sub Pop, I have nothing to show for it career-wise beyond some light liver damage (the Filter guys can drink), but that, my friends, is how I do. I stay warm under a bushel of integrity. Or at least ineptitude.

I did one drunken night end up pulling the lead singer of the above Polish indie band, though. That was a bit odd. I get the impression she's actually kind of famous-ish; certainly her escalating embarrassment every time she saw me afterwards would suggest something like that. Um, though I guess it's kind of par for course. I'm not really sure why I'm telling you this. I mean, obviously I'm boasting on some level, though as you don't know who the band are and don't really know that much about then, then we are in essence all just taking my word for it. Anyway, good festival, I would recommend it as part of a trip to the parts, so I would.

I went to Edinburgh for a month or thereabouts

An August without the Fringe had seemed like so awful an idea (again, thanks Metro for allowing me to chow down on the intoxicating teat of reviewing up there for three years) that I launched a limp, disorganised, but ultimately successful pestering campaign against the wonderful Caroline McGinn, theatre editor at Time Out, in which I basically said they could more or less have me for slave labour if only I could wield the Time Out name and go see a bunch of theatre. Obviously that was only half of the battle: it's not like they were going to put me up.

Enter Andy Field, who very kindly offered me floorspace in what has politely been referred to as The Flat From Hell, and sort of was, but the mere fact of its existence was unquestionably Very Awesome.

So essentially the combination in my taking a naive shoot for the moon in getting in touch with one of the country's more respected theatre critics, having a friend with a flat for artists that was horrible enough for not all the artists to bother staying, plus having the last financial vestiges of the luxury to not actually have a job to go to have all combined to mean that I have somehow ended up on the Time Out freelance theatre review team. This is probably the single proudest moment of my journalistic career, and has been received with a utter indifference by music friends, and a kind of gentle amusement by theatre ones. In all likelihood I'm going to continue dropping the phrase 'Time Out theatre critic' into conversation until either a) somebody shrieks at me "nobody fucking cares!", b) somebody shrieks at me "you lucked out you twat, what do you really know about theatre anyway?" or c) all my ex-girlfriends come round and tell me that I've done well and the only reason we split up was that I was too good in bed.

But it is a really great thing to have achieved, personally, having both that legitimacy in a world I've always admired hugely, no feeling entirely tied to the posturing and double bluffing and false importance and real importance and blah blah blah of music journalism, and more prosaically, being able to 'afford' to go to the theatre. Christ, this is turning into some sort of awful self-help blog. Wot a khunt.

Edinburgh was great, you can read my various thoughts on stuff here, if you get the chance I'd particularly recommend you see Uninvited Guests' 'Love Letters Straight From Your Heart', either of Belt Up's productions ('The Tartuffe' and 'The Trial'), Melanie Wilson's 'Iris Brunette' and Nic Green's 'Trilogy'.

As ever, the best thing was being in a tangential way involved with the Forest Fringe. It really is inspiration, and if Andy basically turns into a work stressed monster for its duration, the ends do justify the means, and to be honest I never really liked the fellow much.

The three week divide was unexpectedly enforced a little more by the changing casts in people; Mickey and a relaxed Andy for the first week, Powell for the second, Tams for the third, Arike right at the end... sort of gave everything a different tone and kind of mentally divided the festival into more manageable portions. Plenty of awesome constants and overlaps, mind - Deborah Pearson is teh awesomes, as are Tinned Fingers, H Plewis, and generally all who saile within the Forest. Oh, and I was only joking about Andy. Sort of. A bit. Don't hit me Andy.

Music that was good awaited my return

After grumping obnoxiously about music and music journalism, I got home to discover choice morsels by Atlas Sound, Fuck Buttons, HEALTH... AND MORE!!! had arrived at the old Lukowski homestead in my absence. So that was good. Stuff's good.

I'm going to try and get a job

Not, like, a proper one, but the festival season is done with, I'm bored of being skint, I sort of feel that in my various current freelance gigs I've racked up something to at least be proud-ish of - I think a nice part time job to take me out of the house and into fractional monthly profit could only be a good thing. Obviously I do say this as a friend of Ward, a man steadily coming up to his year unemployment anniversary, but I suspect I don't quite have his, uh, high standards.

Right. That was fucking long and self-indulgent, wasn't it? To be honest I only really wanted to say that thing about pulling that musician, the rest was just a disguise to make it look casual, like.