Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Jimmy Saville is dead and the Velvets never played TOTP

There is a constant need to elevate Top of the Pops to mythical heights – a programme that could supposedly bring about cultural and political change because ‘acts’ had done a ‘turn’. The power of television to transform and shape our futile existence. And they’re turning up ‘lost footage’ of glam rock and putting it on the news last month – not the fact that Thatcher was going to let Liverpool rot after the mines closed down. Bowie’s better – see. The six o’clock news. You know all those talking heads – it was like Bowie was speaking to me – just me – and all that because he appeared on TOTP. It resonated and reverberated in homes across the country – sparking revolutions in the bedrooms.

They never say that about The Roxy do they?

I remember The Fall on The Roxy – not on TOTP.

Did it alter what I was doing on Scunthorpe streets – probably not – but it was good to see Hit the North on television – okay I admit that TOTP was important – and at times it felt incredible – but it was just performance and further acceptance that bands where dancing to the industry shilling. I was a watcher – a viewer – one of the fifteen million regulars. Waiting with my brother or sister to witness the The Teardrop Explodes or The Stray Cats pound through their tunes and offer a glimpse of decadence and difference. I’m not totally negating its influence – but let’s not rewrite history here. Jimmy Saville played some records once –started presenting a pop programme – was distinctly odd and thankfully fucked off our screens – he was not a ‘national treasure’ nor a purveyor of the underground – The Last Poets did not appear, nor the MC5.

The 1970s was a bleak time – the eighties made it worse. There were teachers in schools who fought on the beaches and Boy George in the living room. There was no ironic post modern twist – life was throwing up some odd alignments back then. Minds were thinking. Was it challenging the system? Unlikely. Not that it vowed to be political or even analytical – it was simple singers and fancy pants [let’s dance, dance, dance] We only had three channels to choose from. It was bound to happen. And of course there were performances that moved me - I can remember appearances from The Jam, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Adam Ant – the list goes on. All etched quickly into young minds. But I forget the disappointment and the horror of the filler and formless bands and singers who tried [and they failed] to entertain us. It seemed like another world – because it was one – but a dull one – in bright knit ware and hairspray.

I was listening to Sister Ray by the Velvet Underground sometime last week or month – this chugging fug of ferocity and feedback and it is clear that ‘DLT’ would never have introduced this – in a throwaway link and a smile at the ‘sisters’ in the house. I didn’t get into The Velvet Underground because of Pan’s People – I think I read about them. We [that’s Paul and me] bought a compilation, a long player in Woolworths. It had on it Run, Run, Run, White Light, White Heat and Beginning to see the Light. It intrigued and it delivered. I guess I’m torn here – I want TOTP full of the freaks and oddities yet have come to realise that this run of the mill programme was never going to change things – it might give you a few ideas.

Sometimes Top of the Pops had a moment – a spark. That glorious performance by New Order when I coveted the keyboards that helped send Blue Monday down the charts. It’s a beautiful performance – all nerves and electro squeals. But it fits into the whole picture. New Order existed outside of all that in the first place. Perhaps I’m doing Bowie a disservice – that arrival of the alien to mainstream houses for some would help shape and form experiences and ideas. But if I’m honest – I remember my granddad just laughing at Culture Club – because it wasn’t threatening, or challenging – it was just a bloke in a dress. Should I have felt liberated as my mum sang along to Karma Chameleon? Probably not.

I think I did when Divine sang Think You’re Man – but that’s different – that is counter cultural and you could sense it. I’m not certain why that ‘found’ footage has got me so wound up – I think it’s because I feel a rush and push and falling back in time. There’s a riot goin’ on – but like the track it’s just silence – being lost in the mawkish and reminiscence of when things were good – looking back instead of letting us push things forward.

Much like the writing in/ on here.

When Simon Reynolds met the World of Twist they said they wanted to build a gulf between the audience and the band. We want superpop back I guess but  Bowie’s footage seems so contrived – so obviously different – and  listen to the chug chug chug of the song. It grates after a while.

There are so many bands that didn’t play TOTP.

There has never been a revolution here because of television. There has never been a revolution here.

The Fall on The Roxy. It changed nothing.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

From the Bronx to Scunthorpe: breakin' in back gardens

I attempted breakdancin’ in my garden – I was on my own – except I guess the neighbours could witness the spectacle of a skinny youth slowly slamming his body onto lino and cardboard in a hasty representation of the Bronx created in a Scunthorpe yard. When I say on my own – I mean I was not in a ‘crew’ – my parents, brother and sister were all home. They could look out and see me too – if they had  wanted.

Practicing the ‘caterpillar’ to show to nobody. Although I had perfected the ‘the robot’ and used it to good effect at school discos as Blue Monday was slipped on the decks. Those moments when a crowd gathers round – circular and sinister – watching. Invariably a teacher would join in and credibility would seep out and embarrassment creep in.

Thinking back to those faintly ridiculous times it pains me to say that I didn’t even have a ‘ghetto blaster’. I was simply lockin’, poppin’ and breakin’ to my own internal beats and scratches. Replaying Rock it and Bambataa’s electro groove. That’s not to say I didn’t hear those tunes on a regular basis – at staged shows, meets and battles– whilst we all had fun [family] weekends or watched by the clock or the leisure centre paved car parks. As crews from various parts of town came to get down – came to get down. And then up rolled the Hull crews, the Donny ones – it was a touch of the spray paint fuelled NY times – right here in the industrial landscape of northern Britain – it was a culture shift really – a separation and recognition of futures both scuppered and starting. Which I guess the whole NY scene was to. Futility, fury and freedom. Rock a funky beat and dance. We’ve always danced to forget.

There was even an all female crew – Break Three – geddit – ratcheting up the rights of women’s liberation through synchronized windmills and headspins [okay- so I probably made up the political angle – but it was liberating in a way] You could say the ‘elements’ were in place – hip hop had arrived in the North East. As I’ve said before – I kind of got lost in the mix – that indie blender of jangles and jeans and missed out on the hip hop scene to some extent – my education coming from Lou Reed not Marley Marl in 1984. But luckily I had school friends who did. And they would eventually play me those ‘lost gems’ on 1210s in smoke filled bedrooms as beats bounced off walls. You don’t lose your passion for those breaks – even if you do stop listening. There’s a wonderful book called Can’t Stop Won’t Stop that documents those breaking days of the breakin’ craze and the emergence of hip hop in New York. You should read it if you like hip hop – you probably have done.

I should read it again.

There is never enough time though. I just picked up Rotten again – a seminal book about a John – suddenly lost in ten pages as Lydon explains just how wrong everybody got it and Jones with his wonderful insight to those college students who at the time ‘were so fucking snobby’. You know the ones who became ‘ the upwardly mobile yuppies’ and as Jones’ puts it –‘they were so damned self-righteous at their hippy festivals, never connecting with the general population’. You can imagine their [the hippies not the Pistols] reaction to the birth of hip hop – class, race and poverty all rolled into one –ready to exploit - it’s a shame it fell for the glittering jewels of banal capitalist gifts – you need to be looking back at the ghetto to change it – not forgetting why it was made as you race off in tha Benz from your endz.

As I type in a London home.

Not that my attempts at breakin’ would free the North and therefore working class Britain from the tyranny of the greed and systematic erosion of any identity worth fighting for. But the ways we set about creating sub-cultures were full with politics. I was talking last night – between the Great Bake Off and Midsomer Murders about the depoliticised nature of popular culture – we do that in our house – it’s all highbrow you know. Now clearly I am most likely wrong about this – but as the independent ‘spirit’ crossed over to mainstream acceptance and all looks became up for grabs – the ideology behind the putting on was lost.

Again don’t misinterpret the naivety of youth and the willingness to belong. But as those scraps of sub-culture were amassed we discussed why we looked like we did – be it the appropriation of a Kangol hat or the wearing of a studded belt – things like this mattered. Didn’t they – and do they now? Maybe I was just more neurotic and uptight [everything is [not] alright] Which brings right back to the music.

Music has and always will matter – I now accept it doesn’t change the world. But it can offer alternatives and through those clumsy attempts at b-popping and crazy legs rockin’ I have amassed a knowledge of the political infrastructure of New York during the 70s and how Bambataa and his Zulu Nation tried to fix a corrupt system amidst the Reaganomics of the 1980s - that shaped choices about purchases and listens in northern towns and Scunthorpe record shops – why KRS One mattered more than MC Hammer or 2 Live Crew. Don’t get me wrong KRS One was a misogynist too – but Sound of da Police could soundtrack last Summer and the next one. That relentless beat and as cars with sirens pull you up and stop and search you – it’s always about the wider power struggle with the state. I wasn’t expecting to arrive at the ways the brutality of the police can ultimately empower the masses from attempting a headspin in my garden – but somehow I have arrived here – questioning modern police methods.

Hip hop can do that – well it used to.

And it’s all trapped in the anger and hostility of this tune.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

I have allowed the new year to pass quietly – to pass quickly with the classical work of Ligeti sound tracking our ascent into the Olympic Year – I didn’t play much music over the holiday period – couldn’t quite find the time to sandwich it in between the sandwiches. It was all rushing and wrapping from a slow start – and songs seemed to drift into the background.

Songs I would want to play.

I had my fill of carols and pop countdowns – as the hairy bikers leant more hair to Wizzard and Wood’s rendition of that well known popular Christmas tune and George Michael endlessly wandered round snow filled ski resorts lamenting his insistence to simply give his heart away and then find it in somebody else’s hands. All bloodied like and limp and cold.

But I never got round to playing some of the songs that make us smile.

So this writing is a short piece to welcome in the inevitable race that will be 2012 and look to the future [now] and the assortment of memories I will retrace and rewire and reword. I will find the time to do it. As I find the time to listen to the evergrowing pile of records that [rules from the centre of the universe] and sits in my room – my front room – well the only room – it’s open plan maaaaan.

I’ve told you that before.

It seems only right to start with Ligeti – that’s what’s been playing – well that and Black Dog by Led Zeppelin – it seems to bring out a response in my children that no other tune or riff has so far. But as they wildly strum with left hands and fury there’s a beautiful sense of chaos in it all. Chaos that drives me up the wall.

But it should. Music should annoy your parents and Led Zeppelin annoy me. It was never something I fully understood – it was a refusal to acknowledge the musicianship again. Being a punk – or a pain in the arse – one or t’other. Okay so I played them the track – they are the ones who embraced it – it may come back to haunt me – this Midlands thump and twang. I like my midlands more Wolverhampton and glam.

Anyway here’s to Ligeti and quiet composition – where ambience is at. I thought this was lost forever as I heard it in the bath on Radio 3 and caught syllables and sounds of a name – of a title – but having people who know things in your life helps. Emma’s brother saved the day with a discussion of Ligeti’s finest work and a box set of it all for Christmas.

Listen. I love a party with a happy atmosphere.