Archives for May 2007

Schlock of Ages

Stuart Bailie | 10:50 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgThe BBC music series Seven Ages Of Rock will tackle punk rock this Saturday, and I feel afraid. Because they have already dealt with Hendrix and Dylan, Bowie and Lou Reed, and they’ve taken all of the mystery, edge and confusion out of their acts. I can already imagine the upcoming script (think ’70s polytechnic lecturer) reducing some of the formative eruptions of my youth to flat declarations.

It might seem disloyal the criticise another Beeb production, but I love all this music and I chose to defend it against the sociologists and woolly historians who use the word “quintessential” and talk about a “musical collage”. The tone of last week’s show suggested that we should be taking notes, and so I did. When Bowie became Ziggy, the narrator told us “he had kick-started a revolution that would take rock music to a different planet”. Excuse me, but that’s a chronic example of mixed metaphors. It’s also a terribly glib idea. Furthermore, who invited Peter Gabriel and silly old Genesis to the classic rock party?

So I may miss the Saturday transmission. Instead, I’m pinning my hopes on the Julian Temple film, ‘The Future Is Unwritten’, which opens at the QFT, Belfast on June 29. I fully expect noise, contradiction and punk rock emotions. It may not make complete sense, but hey, this ain’t no media studies module.

Lost Will And Testament

Stuart Bailie | 17:34 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgIn some Oriental religions, the say the life isn’t linear at all – that it consists of individual, self revealing slices. A bit like watching Lost on TV, then. At least, that was my take on the series finale last night.

lost2.jpgWe’ve grown used to the sly grammar of the programme, how characters pinball across other people’s history, how old actions take a bite out of the present. And in the two part conclusion to series three, the time-space continuum got looser, virtually funky.

Jack was eating pills and getting suicidal. Charlie made a noble sacrifice under the sea and Locke hobbled out of a boneyard. There were flashbacks and throw-forwards and incidents that might have seemed absurd elsewhere. So yeah, it was contrived and the revelations were sometimes a bit bogus. But still it was a satisfying yarn.

Like those ancient editions of Star Trek, it’s a sure bet that Lost will circulate the cable networks and broadband lines for decades to come, all out of synch and context. Which might actually suit the zig-zag logic. For all we know, Eko is still communing with ghosts, Ana-Lucia is keeping the peace and the Dharma Initiative is in charge of the cosmic order.

Will everything be tidied up when Episode 117 is finally screened in May 2010? Most likely the end will deliver a mocking non-sequitur and so Lost will heroically consume itself.


Docs Around The Clock

Stuart Bailie | 15:14 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgI once spent an emotional afternoon in Soho with Joe Strummer. It was shortly after his comeback with the Love Kills soundtrack, and he was enjoying the post-Clash acclaim. So we hoisted a series of cold drinks in the John Snow on Broadwick Street. After a few minutes pretending to be a proper journalist, I quickly reverted to gushing fan mode and he kindly accepted my testimony.

By the end of the day, we had been joined by his tailor and his bookmaker. Joe was explaining how The Clash would reform in time and why the party lifestyle should be saved up for and then vigorously spent. He finished off a pack on Winstons and plonked his feet on the table. “Never take your boots off,” he told me, sagely. He’d picked up the advice from some old general, and the meaning was clear. You should always be ready for a ruckus and never so domesticated that it cramps your style.

This week, a rather contentious print advert has pictured Joe in heaven, wearing his angels robes and a pair of Doc Martens on his feet. His fellow angels are Kurt Cobain and Sid Vicious, who also wear the boots, just like they used to do on Earth.

The advert has misfired, Courtney Love is affronted and the marketing agency has apologised. But part of me approves of the idea. In my mind Joe is definitely wearing a pair of Docs or possibly his engineer boots up there. And they ain’t coming off.

Sophie's Choice

Stuart Bailie | 11:39 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgOn the upcoming Saturday Magazine show on Radio Ulster, I’ll be talking through new album releases from Jeff Buckley, Candi Payne, and Sophie Ellis Bextor. It’s the tenth anniversary of Jeff’s death, so a collection called ‘So Real’ is a welcome collection of favourites and rare stuff. Candi Payne has brothers that have served in Liverpool acts The Zutons and The Stands and like many people from that city, she knows her pop history so well.

Sophie Ellis Bextor
So what to we say about Sophie? Like many others I’m rather indifferent about the music. Visually, she’s still remarkable, with the big legs and the angular head. She’s not as sexy as the cameras want her to be but neither would I share Robbie Williams’ view that she has a face like a satellite dish.

Actually, I take much of my Ellis Bextor negativity from something that her mother made. Janet Ellis, of course, was a Blue Peter presenter and for some extra income, she made a video full of nursery songs. This in itself was no bad thing, and as a new parent, I was keen for my children to receive a bit of extra musical stimulation.

But ‘A Day Full Of Songs’ was a horror show. Cheap filming , grim choreography and duff arrangements. But the worst of all was Janet’s voice. Tuneless and braying and lacking in any conventional rhythm. For some reason my kinds watched this all the time. And so when Sophie arrived on the scene, I realised what she must have endured as an infant. And perhaps this explains why she too has a rum sensibility: tuneless and braying and lacking in any conventional rhythm.

Must our future generations also suffer?

To Baldly Go

Stuart Bailie | 10:17 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgTwenty years ago was the ‘Second Summer of Love’, when loads of English ravers got lost in Ibiza with house music and mood-elevating drugs. They returned home with enormous smiles, gaudy T-shirts and flared pants. A lot of sentimental words have been written about the era, but few people remember the strange side-effects for bald men.

Suddenly, it was cool to have a shiny napper. During my occasional forays into clubland, I would be stopped by ecstatic ladies who wanted to stroke my head. For the most part, I tolerated this strange request. They were having a good time, so why bum them out? And so I would take a seat and let them have some sensory fun. It was a touchy feely era, and a bit of extra attention wasn’t so bad.

OrbitalMany of the acts, such as Orbital, were also slap-heads. This was great for me, as youth culture has generally looked at the baldy with distain. Paul McCartney famously sang “when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now”. But what happens when your thatch starts to thin at 16?

I tried to comb over the issue and then hid the evidence under a baseball hat before finally getting the clippers and going naked. Around the same time, I met my future wife, who belonged to that subset of the female population that is drawn to expansive scalps. I will never understand her fascination for Phil Collins. Isn’t that illegal?

Anyway, they say that a baldness cure is imminent. The wife is worried. She thinks I may lose my good looks. Personally, I fancy cultivating all the hairstyles I’ve missed out on: Mohawk, flat-top, French crop and even a Hoxton fin. Friends, I may even manage a mullet.


There’s Something Rotten…

Stuart Bailie | 10:14 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgThe problem with Belfast’s current economic boom is that everything has a price tag. The flood tide of equity has turned rubble into retail units and brown sites into bijou apartments. And the purchase is a certain meanness of the soul.

It happened in London two decades ago and Dublin took the bait shortly afterwards. The result is an urban life that few can afford, and where creativity is priced out. And when you leave the bohemians outside the city walls, you lose an important dialogue with the heart of the place.

rotterdam180.jpgNow we hear that The Rotterdam Bar by the docks in Belfast is being passed over to the developers. As many of you know, this is a sweet little bar, a place where songwriters and players have been actively welcomed. Just a few weeks ago I saw Duke Special play here and the place was intensely busy with tourists, regulars and smiling Duke fans. Peter Wilson told us that this was his favourite place in the city and his performance was tailored to the intimacy and the unfussy charm of the venue.

The danger is that we have a booming tourist industry, but nowhere decent to take our new arrivals. The city centre is already an identikit collection of chain stores. We need to celebrate our character, not to raffle it off. And the loss of the Rotterdam will cost more than a cash register could ever calculate.

If you care, click here.

Going For A Burton

Stuart Bailie | 10:20 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgJames Burton wears snakeskin boots, a western shirt and a Fender Telecaster with flames lashing up the sides. He has played with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gram Parsons, Rick Nelson and Elvis Costello. He’s a proper legend and on a damp Monday night in Belfast, he is live and heroic at The Empire Music Hall.

jamesburton200.jpgThe place is stuffed with rockabillies, guitar afficionados, Presley devotees and country fans. James is almost 68, but he has the strut of a young man and his fingers are working fast over the frets. He takes us back to the primal days of rock with ‘Suzie Q’, which practically slithers out of the swamps. Later he will play ‘Johnny B Goode’, the tale of another guitar ace from Louisiana, and just to prove a point, he plays the lead break behind his head. Just like ringing a bell…

Billy Swann, another veteran, takes most of the vocals, but it’s James we’ve come to see. He’s cranking out ‘Promised Land’ and a glorious ‘Polk Salad Annie’, a throwback to his times as the leader of the Taking Care Of Business band. This is the closest many of us will get to Presley.

I once did the Graceland tour and found it rather sterile, but tonight, as the guitar man revives the old tunes, Elvis is most definitely in the building.


The Grand Old Kook Of Bjork

Stuart Bailie | 13:09 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgThe two albums that interest me most this week feature a bloke dressed in lederhosen and a lady inside what looks like a giant bottle of Orangina. You’ve guessed it- it’s the return of Rufus Wainwright and Bjork, artists who like to act contrary and daft. Their appearance is especially welcome at a time of crummy conformity, when the Arctic Monkeys are being celebrated as rock’s young hope and when that Genesis reformation threatens to send scores of music lovers off the tops of high clifftops in despair.

rufus.jpgRufus was in stupendous form over the ‘Want One’ and ‘Want Two’ albums, and I was glad for the fella when he sang Judy Garland at the Carnegie Hall. We all have our dreams, eh? And while the new album, ‘Release The Stars’ isn’t immediately a wow, I fully expect it to reveal some glorious moments. Certainly the single ‘Going To a Town’ dares to critique America at a time when such slights can’t go down well.

Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys is an executive producer, and he surely approved of the operatic heights, the giddy parts and the chance to personally sashay into a few songs.

bjork.jpg They say that Bjork is getting accessible again – returning to the pop terrain of ‘Debut’ and ‘Post’, but that’s really just a hopeful marketing line. Yes, she does warble with Antony Hegarty but the songs are vast and strange, and the Timbaland strokes are also a great challenge. Yet to hear the African strings and the declarations of independence and the lovely song about her son, well, it’s all perfectly right.

Let them wear their lederhosen and their bjonkers costumes. It goes with the tremendous territory.

Listen With Stu

Stuart Bailie | 12:57 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgOn tonight's Late Show, BBC Radio Ulster at 10pm. Stu plays new music from Bjork, Interpol, The Mighty Stef and Alloy Mental. Classic tunes from Green On Red, The Ramones, Jimmy Scott and The James Gang. Colin Reid will play live in the studio, Joe Lindsey will drop in from some blether ahead of his midnight programme and essential fun will ensue. People, you gotta hear it.

Spools Out

Stuart Bailie | 10:45 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgI was footering around the internet last week when I came across a film called Dead Of Night. This had scared me witless as a child, and so the credit card details were punched into a secure server and the DVD arrived a few days later.

As you know, it’s risky to meddle with old memories, and I thought that the film could never approach that original terror in my head. But as the disc started to hum in the machine, plenty of that anxiety returned.

Dead Of Night was released by the Ealing Studios in September 1945, only a month after the war ended. It’s about a house party in Kent that falls victim to a supernatural loop of time. Dreams are relived and bizarre stories are recounted. There are lost rooms, cracked mirrors and hearse riders in the sky. Googie Withers is awesome as the partner of a possessed husband. Michael Redgrave plays a ventriloquist who trades personalities with his horrendous dummy. It all ends with the kind of thematic spin that would later be used by Donnie Darko and The Sixth Sense.

dead2-100507.jpgA great purchase, then. Sure, the accents are plummy and the acting is terribly theatrical – a throwback to an era when blokes were called Basil and Nauton. But my imagination thanks me, and now I’m tempted to delve back into other movies that moved my impressionable mind. Next on the list is Wages Of Fear, about a nitro-glycerine convoy across the South American jungle followed by Ace In The Hole, a Billy Wilder classic from 1951 about media fever and dirty morality.

I’ve also got this mad recollection of a film that portrays a murderer, hiding under floorboards and breathing with the use of a snorkel. Or was that just a ridiculous dream?


Yeah, Baby!

Stuart Bailie | 10:07 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgIn a parallel life, I’m involved with an organisation called Oh Yeah, that aims to develop a dedicated music centre in Belfast. We’ve been hacking away at the idea for 16 months now and on Saturday, we threw the doors wide for an open day.

It was a risky call for many reasons. Firstly, the venue, an old whiskey warehouse on Gordon Street, needs a lot of renovation. Would people be able to see the potential? Also, health and safety issues meant that we had to spend loads of money to bring it up to standard. And finally, we had a secret gig in the evening that involved the likes of Snow Patrol, Duke Special and Elbow.

To our satisfaction, it worked well. The morning and afternoon sessions were busy, with loads of young bands, budding industry players and curious parents all checking us out. We had a discussion panel, DJ tutorials, a dozen music-related stalls and some live music from The Fools and virtuoso guitarist Thomas Leeb.

Gary Lightbody sang with Lisa HanniganWe held a raffle and visitors from the open day won 40 tickets to the evening performance. The volunteer workers and stall holders were also present, plus allies, media people and friends of the bands. And so our grins grew ever-wider as we listened to Jetplane Landing, Paul Archer and Burning Codes and James Walsh from Starsailor. The latter was introduced by James Nesbitt, who was totally enthusiastic, while Gary Lightbody sang with Lisa Hannigan from the Damien Rice band and then bellowed out ‘Teenage Kicks’ with Guy Garvey.

Elbow had come in from Manchester while we had to good fortune to have Duke Special and Rea Curran in the house. The night was effectively blessed when Peter Wilson sang that Ash tune ‘Oh Yeah’ and the audience responded with gusto.

I promise not to witter on about this project all the time. But forgive me if I sound a little self-indulgent. It was a bit magical, and you have to enjoy that stuff when it does reveal itself.


Ciggy Tar Lust (And The Sliders From Bars)

Stuart Bailie | 12:18 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgNo more smoking in Irish bars – isn’t that cool? As a seasoned music watcher, I’ve served a lot of time in licensed premises, and the sour funk of cigarette fumes has always been an unwanted souvenir of a night out. I’ll not miss it.

Young Americans Cover - David BowieIt makes me wonder though, how many impressionable kids have been suckered into smoking by rock and roll. All those images of David Bowie, puffing like a lab dog, looking unfairly graceful behind a fog of poisonous gases on the cover of the ‘Young Americans’ album. The ritual of smoking was even celebrated at the start of his song ‘Rock And Roll Suicide’. Brian Ferry also wrote lyrics in honour of the weed: ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Do The Strand’, while Ronnie Wood kept a fag butt perpetually screwed into his face for over four decades.

Courtney Love didn’t even let pregnancy put her off the habit, although Vanity Fair famously airbrushed the ciggy from a photo of the artiste shortly before giving birth. It sure wasn’t pretty. And Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers dispensed with the use of an ashtray and simply extinguished the cigarettes on his forearm.

The practice has prematurely killed off the likes of George Harrison, but still there is little dissent from musicians. They act like rebels but in truth, they’re in league with a nasty industry.

However, there have been a few intelligent songs on the issue. The Who delivered ‘Little Billy’, all about an overweight kid who defies peer pressure and doesn’t take up the nicotine shtick. The other kids all grow into middle age as the writer Pete Townsend notes: “their smoking games are reality now / and cancer's seed is sown”. And so Little Billy outlives them all, no longer the uncool figure. Definitely no sucker.

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