Monday, 24 April 2017

'Your Attention Please'

Well, at least there’s one good thing about the threat of nuclear Armageddon; it isn’t half inspiring.  I mean – the cover art on this pamphlet drew me in immediately.  

Fabulous graphics!  I found it on the floor of one of the rooms in my late aunt and uncle’s house whilst having a final look around on Friday before the house clearance people come.  It was next to a copy of this, a little bit of light reading from 1948:

and some other literature which I just had to save – like this (far more cheerful) 1951 programme from the Folies Bergère.  

I can’t resist this kind of ephemera, I love the history as well as the aesthetics, the connection to an intriguing past I don’t know.  But the ‘Death Stands At Attention - A Protest against the H Bomb Tests’ leaflet – created and distributed 60 years ago (and what have we learned?) - seems particularly, chillingly, apposite for today.  Click on images to enlarge for reading, if you dare.

Not that I’m wanting to dwell on it, but the idea of nuclear holocaust has been prominent in my psyche before now – if you were hanging around in the anarcho punk scene with Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in the early 1980s, as I was, it was pretty much mandatory.  However, perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable tunes to come out of the doom and gloom of imminent radiation poisoning was from a far more melodic post-punk band, Scars.  

There was something really charming about Scars.  They formed in Edinburgh in the late ‘70s, recorded a session for John Peel in 1980 and a second one in 1981, when they also made just one album, Author! Author!  It was a great album, but sadly the following year the band ceased to be and there were no more releases.

I remember listening to Author! Author! and in particular this song (first put out as a flexi disc that came free with the style magazine, i-D) and really getting the heebie-jeebies; it still sounds incredibly disturbing now.  But proof that the prospect of the end of the world is, as I said earlier, very creatively inspiring, so it's not all bad, eh  - every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.   I just hope with all my heart that this post isn’t too what you might call... erm... 'timely'.

Scars: Your Attention Please

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Excuse me, but aren't you....?

I saw the strangest thing in my village street yesterday: a little Paul Weller lookalike.

He had the whole feathery hair thing going on – the too-short fringe and the too-long bits in front of the ears, and he was wearing a nasty beige jacket and smoking something smelly which barely concealed the scent of an also rather nasty aftershave.  As our paths crossed I could see quite a facial resemblance: the slenderness and pointed jaw, close together eyes, a longish nose – although it was kind of like viewing Paul Weller in a Hall Of Mirrors. 

I assume he’s a fan and not getting paid for it, although I s'pose he could front a Jam tribute band .  It got me thinking, though… as a lot of fans do like to look like their idols, which comes first?  Do people remark that you remind them of someone and then you consciously assemble everything from there – not just the whole look, but wanting to buy their records and go to their gigs too?  Do you have to convince yourself, maybe even force yourself, to like the output of the artist you so naturally resemble?   Or is it pure coincidence that you’re already a fan and just happen to look like them too?  Almost like there’s something in the genes – for example, statistics show that  93% of people with Elvis-type (‘Elvine’) features also have an innate penchant for The King’s music.  But I may have just made that up.

When I was working in a record shop, one of our regulars was a Gary Numan fan, who really did look like his idol.  Of course the dyed hair and the black and red outfit helped with the illusion, but he already had the basics covered in his facial features.    Siouxsie lookalikes were also a common phenomenon in the ‘80s, but probably not too hard a look to achieve if you have the right make-up and some hair crimpers.  I’ve seen Princes, Rod Stewarts and even now there’s an assistant at our local B&Q who’s a slightly shorter version of Elton John.  I’ve often wondered if she’s an Elton fan.

I should’ve asked them those questions.  Which came first, looking alike, or liking a look?

Anyway, I saw the Modfather lookalike again this morning, getting his fags at the paper shop.  Well, there was something about him - I just knew from his demeanour that  it would really make his day to hear a stranger say to him, “Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you – you’re the spitting image of Paul Weller?!”  or, better still, “Erm, hello…. you’re Paul Weller, aren’t you?  Wow!”  Oh, he would be so chuffed!  So, feeling uncharacteristically callous, I’m afraid I didn’t say a word.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I think I know just what you're longing for

The fabulous Lee Hazlewood is a name which has cropped up more than a few times on several of the music blogs I love to read.  Whenever it does I'm unable to resist mentioning how I'm equally unable to resist a man with a deep voice.  Mmm.

When I heard a striking song by a man with a deep voice last year I scribbled it down hurriedly in the back of my notebook.... and then forgot about it for a while, until rediscovering it recently (and being just about able to interpret the appalling scrawl...)

Only thing is I don't remember the source - was it on the radio? Was it on a blog?  Was it on your blog?  If it was then I'd like to thank you!  I love this song.  It's kind of cinematic, dark and brooding with shades of John Barry and as if from another era -  the additional female vocal from Marie Munroe (Hilde Marie Kjersem) made me think of Lee and Nancy, the whole mood made me think of film noir....  well, it made me think of many things.

I'd never heard of Sivert Høyem before but a quick search around reveals that he's Norwegian and used to sing in rock band Madrugada. Following a number of solo releases (including the 2016 album 'Lioness' from which this track comes) he has formed a new band called Paradise with Rob Ellis (notable for his work with P J Harvey, Bat For Lashes, Laika and others) and Rob McVey (Marianne Faithfull).   I'm not sure that anything else he's done will match up to 'My Thieving Heart' for me, but sometimes one song is all it needs.

Monday, 10 April 2017

In praise of geeks

“Geeks,”  I said, “Geeks!  That’s what you need in your life.”

I was trying to explain to my friend as we sat in the pub why I think she would benefit from having some people in her life who don’t follow the crowd.  Why it might be good to surround herself more with the type of people who, just as a ‘for instance’, would prefer to dig up dirt and find Iron Age brooches than to dig up the dirt on perceived love rivals on Facebook. 

This had followed on from a long and animated conversation about all the bad influences in her life, and then led to us drinking a toast to how, actually, we don’t really like 'people'.  To quote Charlie Brooker from the back cover of his excellent book, ‘Dawn Of The Dumb’:

“I don’t get people.  What’s their appeal, precisely?  They waddle around with their haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles.  They’re awful.”

Of course I know not everyone’s like that  –  I know you’re not, for a start.  But we all know what Charlie means by ‘farting skittles’ and sadly, in her self-proclaimed bid to ‘fit in’, my friend has allowed herself to be drawn to their world. 

I sense that many of the people with whom she wants to fit in are also desperate in their bid to fit in.  They are full of insecurities disguised as material aspirations and boob jobs.  To fit in to what they see as ‘normal’ – to meet the expectations of others, the irony being that those ‘others’ with their expectations are also doing the same thing and so it goes on and on and the most shallow social stereotypes get reinforced.  To be true to oneself, to embrace one’s funny little ways, quirky interests, tastes and obsessions, to accept one’s imperfections and  to have a different perspective in a world full of farting skittles (I’m getting to like that term more and more) – well,  it makes you a bit of a geek.

I realised I was a bit of a geek from quite an early age; there was that time at primary school when my best friends were the ones who hated sport but loved reading - plus, they were boys.   Andrew and the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i’) shared my interests – we all liked drawing and tortoises and the Wombles and playing in the sandpit with our Itty Bitties.   It was a happy time in my life, but I realised that Andrew, the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i') and me were not quite like the majority of our classmates.  Later, my close girlfriends were the ones who went through punk with me, we revelled in being in a minority in our neighbourhood, and in our school, we liked the music no-one else did and the look that people ridiculed.  But then on Tuesday and Saturday nights we’d go down to our local gig venue and fit in effortlessly with all the other misfits.  We found our niche.

My friend said that ‘fitting in’ and 'wanting to be normal' had always been her desire, even in childhood.  She must be one of the few people I know who didn’t have a teenage rebellion.  But through not just going along with the majority, you find your own crowd of like-minded others, don’t you?  Work and broader social situations may require compromise, but there’s no point in trying to change yourself into the type of person who’s never going to ‘get’ you anyway.  

I'm hoping my friend will embrace the true geek in herself, and then she'll find some others who will embrace it too.  It's about time.

Itty Bitties.  In case you were wondering...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Selfish C**t dilemma

Several boxes of CDs recently came our way through a friend.  He used to sell CDs, so in amongst them are some multiple copies of one or two items.

This means there are six copies of ‘Authority Confrontation’ by the band whose name contains one of the most reviled words in the English language (with the exception of ‘Farage’).  This is a word I don’t have a problem with, but I know and understand that a lot of people do.  (Should you be interested you can read my - and others' - more in-depth thoughts on why it deserves a place in our vocabulary here: Something beginning with C  - and I'm sure it goes without saying that both post and comments contain a few expletives.)

Back to being given several boxes of CDs - well, I know that sounds exciting - and it was, until we opened them.  Oh, the thrill of the unknown! Surely a veritable smorgasbord of new sounds to investigate… a glorious cornucopia of audio surprises?   What marvellous gems could be in there, just waiting… waiting for our gasps of delight when we find them hiding amongst their less interesting neighbours, free them from the bondage of their plastic enclosures before succumbing to their shiny shiny charms and falling desperately in love?    Sadly none.   We’ve gone through them all and there are very few we want to keep, so we're bagging most of them up again now to take to the charity shop.  But at least that feels good; I love the way charity shops work, everyone’s a winner.

Here comes the dilemma.  Can you take six copies of a CD by Selfish Cunt to a charity shop? Would they even dare put it on display in Age Concern or Barnardos?  And if they did, would anyone dare buy it?





Umm.  At the moment they are still here.  But if you would like to own a free copy, all six are up for grabs, that’s more than enough to go round, surely?!   It could be like a competition!  Just tell me the most selfish thing you have ever done.  Or the least selfish thing…. 

…and it’s yours.

Feel free to swear.

UPDATE:  In light of Rol's and Swiss Adam's suggestions in the comments, it doesn't seem quite right to send a Selfish Cunt CD to someone who clearly isn't one.  Or at least not to accompany it with something else a bit nicer.  So if you have a lovely tale of unselfishness to share, I shall look in the box of CDs for other prizes. You never know what you might get! 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Magritte for the masses - the cover art of the art cover, part 3. Includes substance abuse.

My chosen theme for an important Art exam is one of the finest examples of futuristic technology in existence.  It’s interactive, revolutionary, progressive.  I’ve picked something ultra-modern, a reflection of the fast-moving times we’re in. 

I’ve decided to portray a Space Invaders machine.   It is 1980, after all.  Space Invaders are taking over the world, or at least the pubs of the world.

And I’m going to draw it in oil pastels.

Only, trying to draw a stupid Space Invaders machine  in a stupid hot studio at college, with no previous experience of these stupid smudgy colour sticks I’ve bought is a bit like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with lipstick.  We’re up against the clock too, this being an exam.  I keep having to leave the room to spray it with fixative which is a right pain, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “getting a fix” – or perhaps not.   The fixative smells like hairspray mixed with nail varnish, Evostik and vodka.  It can kill 30,000 brain cells in one sniff, or something like that, and if we knew all about CFCs and the ozone layer it would be banned, but we don’t - at least not for another nine years or so.

Anyway, every time I go out into the college corridor to sniff the fixative, Kirk is already there, sniffing his.  Kirk is one of my best friends.  He is tall, skinny, geeky, excruciatingly shy, a Sci-Fi fan with a dry, caustic wit, and he looks a bit like a young Catweazel, if you can imagine that.  I swear he eats nothing but cream buns and he wears those Cornish Pasty shoes.  He is also super-talented, an incredible young artist.  On a large piece of card he is portraying a wonderfully bizarre view from a window, abstract and full of dreamlike atmosphere, and it is a masterpiece - skillfully, expertly rendered – in oil pastels.  Even after several sniffs of fixative spray I think we can safely say he still has a lot more brain cells than me.

When the exam is over, Kirk has produced a piece of art good enough to hang in the Louvre.  Me, I’ve produced a piece of shit not even good enough to hang in the loo.

 I scrape by with a ‘C’  in my ‘A’ Level Art for a stupid smudgy picture of a stupid arcade machine being played by my disembodied hands; the whole thing looks more like a patterned jumper knitted by Aunt Ada after the malfunctioning sausage machine incident of '74.  However,  I’m very happy to say that Kirk is awarded an ‘A’ for his magnum opus.  Not only is it a brilliant piece in its own right, but it’s also an homage to another fantastic artist, René Magritte.

As you may know from the first part of this series, Magritte is one of my favourites, so this is where the cover art theme comes in, as it turns out that there are an awful lot more examples of Magritte's inspiration than Kirk's 'A' Level Art triumph and a Jackson Browne album sleeve.

Such as this…

Styx: The Grand Illusion

...and this…

Roger Daltrey: One Of The Boys

...this too.

Funeral For A Friend: Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation

Some are slightly less derivative, but still clearly inspired by Magritte...

Heart: Greatest Hits

Gary Numan: The Pleasure Principle

There are also the covers which simply use original Magritte artwork, like these

Gladys Knight & The Pips: Visions

Jeff Beck: Beck-Ola

Alan Hull & Radiator

How brilliant and influential is Magritte?!  Far too many examples to compare and contrast this time, I'm sure you'll agree.  Mind you, I wish I could see Kirk's 'A' Level picture again and show it to you here; I have no doubt that it could still be a favourite...

... a bit like this was in 1980:

Space Invaders game

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Rod or Renoir? The cover art of the art cover, part 2. Includes snogging.

I had my first, proper tongues-included kiss to Rod Stewart’s ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’.  It was with an identical twin and it was awful. Not that those two things are connected.  But they were both slobbery.

It  was Spring 1977, I was thirteen, liberally doused in Charlie perfume and wearing a cheesecloth blouse in pale blue to match my eyeshadow, unaware that my little white padded bra beneath it was illuminated like a neon sign in the ultraviolet lights of the local disco.  The twins – who seemed really old, I mean they must’ve been about fifteen -  flirted clumsily with my friend and me and then when Rod’s ballad came on one of them grabbed me and the next thing I knew we were doing that weird, awkward, rotating thing they call a slow dance. Halfway through he asked me if I’d ever kissed anyone before.  I told him I hadn’t.  What followed was a lot of mangling of lips, teeth and tongues and some unpleasant exchanges of dribble.  I’m just glad I'd taken both my dental braces out earlier that night or there could've been some serious injury involving wire and tonsils.  But I was off the starting blocks.

So whenever I hear that track I’m there again, uncomfortable and naïve, French kissing a boy I didn’t fancy one iota but feeling strangely proud for trying it, even if it left me slightly traumatised and in need of water, a bit like taking part in a chili eating contest.  I’d been practising it on the back of my hand for months, after all, so it was about time I tried it on something that moved and, mainly due to her 'beef chunks in jelly' halitosis, the cat was not really an option.

What I didn’t know about that song at the time was that before being released as a double A side with ’I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ and reaching No. 1 in the singles chart, it had appeared on Rod’s 1976 album ‘A Night On The Town’.

What I also didn’t realise at that time because my familiarity with impressionists did not extend beyond Mike Yarwood, was that the sleeve art for ‘A Night On The Town’ was a pastiche of a famous piece of art from 100 years earlier: ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Just like identical twins (oh the connections keep coming!), they were superficially alike but not exactly the same.

Now which one do you prefer?

Renoir’s beautiful depiction of Parisians dancing and feasting on a Sunday afternoon, an Impressionist masterpiece full of life and joy, with its richness of colour and the incredible sense of light, dappled through the trees, almost flickering off the canvas, and all those shapes and forms fitting together so well, so organically?

Or the same scene as painted by Mike Bryan, so self-consciously copied that the lines and brush strokes look rigid, that lovely fluid quality that Renoir achieved is sadly missing, the softness of the faces hardened, the figures flat, the illuminated hues of a balmy afternoon now duller and more like a morning in February?

And its pièce de résistance - grinning out at us from underneath an ill-advised straw boater (I know he just wants to fit in with 19th century Paris but the mullet is a giveaway, he’d make a crap time-traveller) is Rod himself - looking more like a schoolgirl from St Trinians than a raspy-voiced ladies' man.  

I'm not saying that I could have painted a copy any better, I couldn't - just that, like Morris Dancing and incest, some things in life are best left untried.

It's a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Still, it gives me an excuse to include a far superior version and great live performance of ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ (written by Cat Stevens), sung by PP Arnold in 1967.  I do like this rendition and the good thing about it is that it helps me to disassociate the song from the snog.  Let's just say, the first kiss was not the deepest…

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The cover art of the art cover

There’s a series of paintings by Magritte which I love: L’empire de Lumières (Empire of Light).   I love them because they’re impossible.

The sky tells you it’s daytime, but everything else shows it’s night.  At first it looks like some kind of twilight scene, but the sky is full of light and the light should go somewhere - it doesn't.  Instead the trees and ground are in darkness, the buildings illuminated only by a streetlamp.  Magritte’s art is full of the unexpected, of little visual tricks and playful combinations that don’t go together naturally.   I had no idea that I’d ever be saying the same thing about Jackson Browne.

But here it is – the cover art to Jackson’s album ‘Late For The Sky’.

Thanks to it being featured at  Rol’s very fine blog My Top Ten,  it was the first time I've taken notice of the sleeve which I must’ve flicked past in record shop racks many times before now.  But the picture is brilliantly inspired by the Magritte series, this time a photographic sky of vivid daytime blue with bright white clouds which could only be lit by strong sunshine so, like the painting,  everything else should be too - but no.  Clever, innit?  I still prefer Magritte, though. 

Anyway it got me thinking… about art and album covers and how there are others that also take their influence from well-known paintings.  One of them sprang to mind straight away.

Bow Wow Wow: 
See Jungle!  See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah.  City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!

It's still controversial because we're aware that Annabella Lwin was only 15 at the time of the photo shoot.   When asked in later years if she realised how 'shocking' the image was she replied that she didn't and that the difficult part for her was really just the act of sitting there naked in the middle of nowhere on a cold early morning with her clothed male band mates. The original Manet painting had also been thought of as offensive (though for different reasons) and was rejected by the official art exhibition (the Salon) in France at the time of its creation in the 1860s.  It wasn't the nudity itself that was the problem (hardly unusual in art!) but something about the context. 

Edouard Manet:
Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe 1863

However this wasn't the first time a painting of nude women in the outdoors with clothed men had been exhibited in France so it seems a bit hypocritical.  Manet was influenced by this one on display in the Louvre, painted over 300 years earlier.

It's not known whether this is by Giorgione or Titian
Fiestra Campestre,  1510

At Bow Wow Wow's peak anyone buying their records was already familiar with seeing photos of Annabella without many clothes on, and I don't remember this cover seeming as outrageous in 1981 as it probably would be now, although it still ruffled feathers - just as Malcolm McLaren intended it to.  The publicity worked - the album quickly made it to No. 1 in the charts - but a less happy outcome of that cover was a rift it caused between Annabella and her mum.

But I know I readily accepted it - as art, I suppose - at the time of its release, when I was just 17 myself.  I might have done the same as Annabella at 15 and I doubt I'd have ever thought of it as anything dark, especially with band mates - more just embarrassing, but also rebellious.  Perhaps the fact that it was an obvious pastiche of a painting made all the difference?  Also I can't help thinking about how the photo shoot must have felt in real terms, all waiting around for the right light and getting the technical details in order whilst hoping your, erm, goose pimples don't show, a bit like life modelling with a broken fan heater.

I've been looking at other album covers inspired by famous paintings too so I've some lined up for future posts (oh, another series!)  As in the thoroughly enjoyable one over at Charity Chic Music where we get to weigh up a wide selection of cover versions with their originals (the outcome for Bob Dylan was victorious but we've yet find how it’s all going to pan out for Bruce Springsteen) I found myself wanting to rate which one I preferred.  Most of the time it's the original painting but I'd have to give my points to Bow Wow Wow for this one - the lushness of the setting and Annabella's typically defiant expression take me right back to this great song (which I can't embed because Blogger won't let me - censorship all over again? - so here's a youtube link)

Bow Wow Wow: Chihuahua

And here's that fantastic clip of Annabella sticking it to the extremely condescending BA Robertson.

"All froth and flounce..."?  What a dickhead.

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