A new song. It’s inspired by numbers stations, “a shortwave radio station characterized by broadcasts of formatted numbers, which are believed to be addressed to intelligence officers operating in foreign countries. Most identified stations use speech synthesis to vocalize numbers”. This got me thinking about clandestine communication and betrayal.
I heard chatter on the network.
But I couldn’t crack your code.
I was waiting defenceless
for your bombshells to explode.
If you’re here, there is a reason.
Your ciphers are all known.
To everything there is a season.
Now you’re here, your cover’s blown.
I don’t recall why we are enemies.
I don’t understand what we are fighting for.
I forgot my ideology,
half way across the bridge
in this cold, cold war.
You walked down to the checkpoint.
I saw graffiti on the wall.
You presented your false papers,
and the wall began to fall.
Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours upstairs in a sweaty windowless room above a pub in Camden on a scorching summer’s evening.
The reason I subjected myself to this misery was to see a Japanese punky-pop-shoegaze band called Taffy play. Taffy are a bit like The Primitives, with chainsaw guitar and great pop melodies but also sport a shoegazey-disorted lead guitar and sweet vocals from a singer called Iris. Their drummer, an ever-smiling bespectacled chap who reminds me of Penfold from Dangermouse, plays like two drummers together. They might not be ground-breaking, but they do make a great, summery sound. They’re much too cheerful to be real shoegaze, and they’re better musicians and singers than Shonen Knife, with none of their studied wackiness.
Best thing to do is listen. Here’s their latest single “Tumbling” (but the best tracks from their new Lixiviate album, Sweet Violet and Train aren’t singles):
After paying my £6 to get in, who should I bump into but drummer Ken at the bar. As my 14 year old daughter is in love with him (“he’s so adorable”, apparently) she demanded by text that I have a photo taken with him.
The photo was taken by the guitarist. They both signed my CD cover. Note that Ken’s autograph is a smiling anthropomorphised drum kit. (“It’s so adorable!” squealed my daughter.) I didn’t know what Iris or the bassist looked like to get their signatures, so lost my chance at a rare collectible there.
The band went on, and they were great. The sound was terrible, naturally: pub gigs never have a decent PA, the drummer plays loud to fill the room, the guitars turn up loud so they can hear themselves, and vocals are lost in the mix. Iris has a tuneful, engaging voice, but it’s quite high and not powerful. But they were brilliantly tight, and obviously loved playing. The bassist grooved around until his shirt was wringing wet, Ken flailed around on his drums, cleaning sweat off his specs between songs and never letting his smile falter. The guitarist even played an intro by hitting the strings with a glow stick.
As a band, they’ll either disappear or get really big and you’ll all be jealous of my seeing them in a room of 40 people in Camden. I think their tour finished tonight, but I heartily recommend their album.
I’d had the tickets since before xmas so have been excited for months to see the first reunion gig since MBV stopped recording around 15 years ago.
As seems traditional these days, the support band were a bag of shit and the main band took far too long to come to the stage (what are they doing backstage? Finishing a game of monoploy?) and I was knackered, so starting to feel pretty grumpy.
But, as I’d hoped, they blew me away. The last time I saw them (in 1991) I was in a special frame of mind so my memories of that gig are hazy. I recall great visuals, a lot of noise and the band not interacting with the audience. As we entered the hall, Nongyaw and I were offererd free earplugs. I declined: what kind of wussy pink-knickers wears earplugs at a gig?
Answer: me, by the end of the evening.This gig’s chemical intake was restricted to 2 pints of Kronenbourg, so I trust my recollection. MBV are the loudest, noisiest bunch on the planet. Colm O’Coisig flails away on the drums like a madman, Debbie Googe on bass never takes her eyes off him, and Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Sheilds neither acknowedged the audience or each other.
My only criticism is that the vocals, which are never emphasised and only ever another instrument in the songs, were so far down the mix that sometimes they disappeared altogether. Nevertheless, all the hits were played, the visuals were splendid and the last song, You Made Me Realise had me putting my ear plugs in as the band just howled noise.
That nice Jule Howell invited me to go and see the first night of the Sex Pistols’ reunion gigs. As I was just a little too young and provincial to see them back in 1976, I couldn’t resist the chance for a little nostalgia. For a band whose premise was a musical “burn the museums”, there’s a special irony in their being a nostalgia act, yet that’s what they are (bear in mind that we’re as far away now from the release of Never Mind The Bollocks than it was from the end of the second world war).
There was a real air of expectation in Brixton. The pubs were full of forty-somethings having conversations like “Did you see Sham in Southend in ’79?” and “…so that’s when Sid punched me”. The excitement was not completely scuppered by the miserable shitty venue with its two rows of corporate hospitality seats in front of us, and scowling bouncers telling everyone to “remain seated at all times”.
The (crappy) support band were dispensed with, Dame Vera Lynne’s “There’ll always be an England” concluded on the P.A., and out came the band—at which point the bouncers gave up on the “seated at all times” rule and retreated to the sidelines.
Age has mellowed Johnny Rotten. He actually hugged Glenn Matlock on stage and told us that “we fucking love each other”, told us that Matlock, Jones and Cook are “a fucking good band” and—heartwarmingly—that he is “one lucky cunt” because of them. Don’t believe me? Check out my video:
Age has improved Matlock, Cook and Jones’ musicianship. A guy behind was commenting that they were immeasurably better than they were 30 years ago, and they were certainly tight, well-rehearsed and oh so loud. Rotten, on the other hand, had a book of lyrics bought onto the stage by a flunky, and still managed to fuck up the words to No Feelings, Liar and (for chrissakes!) Anarchy in the UK. You’d’ve thought that someone who’s made a mint for thirty years on the same dozen songs would know the damn words! Never mind, though; it was the occasion that mattered.
The band worked their way through note-perfect versions of all their songs except (I think) I Wanna be Me and Satellite, and a reworked version of Belsen was a Gas called Baghdad was a Blast for an encore, and a splendid time was had by all.
Here’s me and Julie—the MS Pistols—all excited on our way to the gig.
A mate of mine had tickets to see the Bajofondo Tango Club, but couldn’t make it so donated them to me. I was sceptical: “a sort of jazzy tango” was the vague description he’d given me and as I like neither modern jazz nor tango, I wasn’t expecting a good night.
I had a great night. I never expected a band fronted by violin, guitar and an accordiany thing to do the kind of looping riffs with increasing textures that you find with Loop or My Bloody Valentine, but these guys were something else. Some songs were haunting Spanish guitar; others were almost industrial, with the on-stage VJ layering black and white footage of machinery, trains and a military coup while dirty beats and samples intertwined with the real-world instruments. All the while, audience members danced the sleaziest, fucked-up tango that I’ve ever seen.
Listening to the CD subsequently is a pale imitation of the live experience, unfortunately. Highly recommended.
First gig I ever saw was The Undertones at the Odeon in Birmingham in 1980. They rocked so much that, 27 years later, I still play “Teenage Kicks” in my band.
So when I discovered that they’d reformed (without Feargal Sharkey) and released an album I had to buy it. And it’s great! The opening song “Thrill Me” is a complete classic, with a chorus that’s running through my head constantly.