Saturday, 26 July 2008

This Week: Dead Guitarists, David Tennant, Shakespeare, Stratford and Gordon Brown

It’s been an odd kind of week. On Monday, whilst I was in Manchester, I went over to see Gunter Von Hagen’s ‘Bodyworlds’ exhibition. Now, paying ten quid to go and stand in an old warehouse full of dead bodies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there was something amazing about it all. It really makes you realise what an incredible thing the human body is, and how scientifically sophisticated we are; like an incredibly well built machine. It also brings you face to face with your own mortality, which could be seen as an unsettling experience if not thought provoking.

As a guitar player, I found this chap particularly amazing:

Keith Richards if he gave up the drink?

Later on, I went down to Stratford to go and watch the opening night of ‘Hamlet’.

Discovering that parts of Birmingham are actually pretty nice wasn’t the strangest element of the day. Indeed, that whole evening felt kind of surreal. When I was stood at the bar, I heard a couple of guys talking about having just seen Gordon Brown: I turned round and saw him heading off, unhindered, to sit in the circle. The play itself began eerily, and managed to keep up a high level of suspense throughout, thanks to the high energy and fantastic performances of the acting company. As an avid fan of both Shakespeare and ‘Doctor Who’, I was interested to see how David Tennant would come across on stage, and the night only served to confirm my feelings about what a brilliant actor he is. Supported well by such a strong cast, Tennant brought an unpredictable spontaneity to the play which added a whole new dimension. Furthermore, the use of lighting and props lent a vividly realistic tone to the whole production.

Afterwards, hundreds of people lurked by the stage door to try and get the actors’ signatures. When David Tennant appeared, the wonderful Patrick Stewart by his side, he was completely swamped by people. Although I was unsuccessful in getting any actors to sign my programme, I did manage to slip Tennant a copy of my book. In the ‘Cox’s Yard’ bar afterwards, I was thinking about how weird it must be to have people hounding you everywhere you go. Although the attention would be flattering, it must be hard not to be able to go shopping or drink in a pub with any anonymity. I also noticed that whilst the Prime Minster had attracted relatively little attention earlier on, Tennant had a huge audience. I was glad to see that, in their privileging of The Doctor over the Prime Minister, the country have their priorities right!

With being at home very little this week, I haven’t had a great deal of time to work on book promotion, but I have been writing for the next one. I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote last week, whilst listening to a news report on the radio…

The English Executioners

They marched on through the streets
with bayonets and sharpened teeth:
the English executioners,
with ill intent, lurk in the trees.
Attack from every side
then cordon off the land and sea,
taking slaves and soldiers strong
whilst shooting dead the infirm weak.

Seize what you want – this is the hunt –
the western way, so follow me
in spreading pestilence,
death, famine, pain, war and disease.
If they’re not human – just collateral –
targets lost to righteous hands;
why do they bleed like you and me
when crimson stains the murky sands?

And when they’re dead, trading knife for axe,
you scour the earth of plants and trees,
constructing brand new colonies
for another fallen century.
If this injustice feels familiar –
watching the news as history repeats,
we’ve seen the empire’s fall and rise:
a bureaucratic war machine.

This world is run by western rule
and we know how to cheat.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Press Cutting from Local Rag

Thursday, 10 July 2008

'Big Blue Ball' (Real World Records): Review

At last – after years of recording, post-production, and a huge amount of mixing – comes ‘Big Blue Ball’; the fruit of 3 Real World recording weeks way back in the mid 90s. The spontaneity of the initial recordings and snail-pace gestation period of this album suggested that it could either be a huge success or an unmitigated disaster. If the project started off as a kind of ‘recording experiment’, would it work? Would material recorded over a decade ago stand the test of time amid the modern musical climate? I’m glad to say that, for the most part, ‘Big Blue Ball’ has been worth the wait. In many ways, it almost comes as something of a relief to say that. The release of any Peter Gabriel-related material nowadays is infrequent at best, and the level of anticipation which surrounds it is always huge amongst his dedicated fanbase.

To call this a Peter Gabriel record, however, is misleading. Whilst Gabriel, along with ex-Waterboy Karl Wallinger, undoubtedly provided the creative impetus here, this is as much a collaborative project as last year’s ‘Imagined Village’. Furthermore, whilst this album will almost certainly draw comparisons to Gabriel’s ‘Ovo’, there is probably a greater balance of Eastern and Western musical influence and input here than ever before. Those expecting a Gabriel solo album, as I know some were, may be disappointed by this but the sheer diversity of sound and talent on display here is the album’s greatest strength.

I’m not going to look at each track in depth, as this has been done elsewhere. I would, however, like to talk about several personal highlights, the first of which is the Gabriel-led opener ‘Whole Thing’ (which will already be familiar to those who watched last year’s ‘Long Way Down’). ‘Shadow’ blends a distinctly African groove with some fine flamenco guitar playing to great success. I was expecting to like the tracks most heavily featuring Gabriel the most, but ‘Atlus Silva’ probably has to be my personal favourite. The song sets Joseph Arthur’s incredible voice against a musical backdrop combining the wistful melancholy of Irish folk music with driving ambient soundscapes and a slow Eastern rhythm.

Of course, the album isn’t without its faults. Its staggered release around the world seems to be a strange way of working for people as pioneering as Gabriel and the Real World Records team. Furthermore, the project’s original intention of being representative of many different styles, cultures and eras is somewhat blighted by its late release. Occasionally it does seem to be a little out of sync with 21st century musical developments. Considering the sheer volume of work it took for this project to make it off the ground in the first place, however, it’s an overall impressive feat and a worthy addition to the Real World records repertoire.


‘Big Blue Ball’ is released in the UK on July 28th 2008

Friday, 4 July 2008

Frost*: Live in Manchester

There was a looming sense of chaos on the way to this evening’s Frost* gig. My train was diverted and took some weird route, my friend was stuck in traffic (as were, apparently, half the band) and a huge queue of people had built up by the time I arrived at the venue. On my mission to find the end of that extensive queue, a car pulled up in the street and out hopped Andy Edwards; late, and with only a minute to spare before the set. I was amazed at how remarkably chilled out he seemed to be under the circumstances. I directed him to the entrance and ran back to take my place in line, which wended its (disconcertingly long) way along Oxford Road’s most trendy, studenty district. By the time I got to the back of the queue, I could already hear the set starting, with the unmistakable pulsing bass of ‘Experiments in Mass Appeal’ rattling through the walls. I arrived halfway through the song, and, with little time to stand still, got the call from my friend, who’d just shown up. When I got back up from meeting him, and the band launched into fantastically Muse-like new track ‘Pocket Sun’, it suddenly dawned on me that someone was missing: John Mitchell.

If any other band were missing such a key part, I would have expected their performance to be weak, but this is Frost*. True praise must go to recent addition Declan Burke, who put in a blinding performance with his improvised guitar solos. I was also blown away by Jem’s solo rendition of the beautiful ‘Raining in My Heart’. One thing that also stood out to me in the live setting was John Jowitt’s incredible bass work, which could have rivalled Tony Levin. JJ really comes into his own, and I was as impressed with his skill and prowess as I was by Andy’s mind blowing percussive skills. Aside from the great music, and incredible technical skill, something that sets Frost* apart from so many of their contemporaries is their obvious warmth, sense of humour and banter with the crowds. I would have expected the band to show the strain, playing the entire set without their lead guitarist, but they were light-hearted and enthusiastic as ever, still managing to remain professional and putting in a great set. They played as though they were the headline act, and, in my opinion, far surpassed ‘Spock’s Beard’. The new CD, on sale at the merchandise stall and featuring brand new tracks, promises great things. If these samples from new album ‘Experiments in Mass Appeal’ are anything to go by, the band should be headlining their own tour very soon.

…let’s just hope that John Mitchell doesn’t get gridlocked on the M6 next time!

Set List:
Experiments in Mass Appeal
Pocket Sun
Raining in My Heart
The Other Me