Ben Watt Trio – Phoenix Exeter

ben watt 150x150 Ben Watt Trio   Phoenix Exeterbernard butler 150x150 Ben Watt Trio   Phoenix Exeter

 

 

 

 

 

At one point tonight, Ben Watt talks of his songs as those of innocence and experience which is totally fitting for what unfolds tonight: intelligent enough to know he is referencing William Blake and self aware enough to know the album he made at 19, ‘North Marine Drive’, is the former whilst the 51 year old’s second album ‘Hendra’ encompasses the life, and near death, experiences of the latter.

The set opens with the title track of the new album and immediately the chemistry between Watt, guitarist, Bernard Butler, and Everything but the Girl drummer, Martin Ditcham, is apparent. Both are restrained in their playing and allow Watt’s voice and lyrics to shine. Never has Butler been better. In Suede, arrogant and showoff, here he is all subtlety and nuance. Watt is communicative about his songs and reveals numerous titbits.  ‘Young Man’s Game’ reveals insecurities about being a club DJ at his advanced years. This second song is counterpointed by an anecdote about being an arrogant youth and asking Robert Wyatt to play on his debut album. He is open about the conflicts between his literary career and his musical career and how one has influenced the other. There are stories about Peter Milton Walsh of The Apartments sleeping on Ben and Tracey’s floor for six months while they tried to make it in the music biz.  ‘The Levels’ is one of the many standouts tonight but whilst Hendra is clearly the focus tonight, he does not forget the songs of innocence. A fantastic version of ‘Some Things Don’t Matter’, third song, in seals the deal of innocence and later ‘North Marine Drive’ (evidently a nondescript street best suited for a song title) makes heart melt. There’s a new song ‘Hello Michael’ (presumably not a paean to Portillo) which hopefully indicates further albums. Let’s face it, the frequency of Watt’s solo albums make Scott Walker look like Liberace.

The set ends with ‘The Heart Is a Mirror’, a song that Watt describes as an inability for men, including him, to express themselves and a need to open up more. This is why women like me love Ben’s writing. He recognises his frailties and isn’t afraid to address them. The final encore is a song unknown to me but one Ben says was written as Christmas song in New York for Everything But The Girl but the recording session was aborted. Needless to say, it is as fine a piece of songwriting as the rest of the gig has evidenced.

This isn’t a gig where you think where the fuck have my brain cells gone. This is a gig where you realign  your brain cells and think in age, comes wisdom. Welcome back, Ben Watt.

Daily Playlist 23/10/2014

Moral Kiosk – REM

Rescue – Echo and the Bunnymen

Way Back When – Aimee Mann

Nothing Gets Crossed Out – Bright Eyes

The Needle and The Damage Done – Neil Young

Someday – Moby Grape

Baby, Please Don’t Go – Them

California – Rufus Wainwright

I Will Smile More – Numbers

Wake Up – Arcade Fire

This Light Is For the World – The Waterboys

Le Voyage de Penelope – Air

 

Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends – The Cavern, Exeter

ezra 150x150 Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends   The Cavern, Exeter

 

 

 

 

 

The contrast between the sharp suited, sober, headliner Ezra Furman and the dishevelled, wasted, bottom of the bill Daniel Lefkowitz could not be greater but it is the latter who transforms the former’s set by jumping on stage and haranguing the audience. But let’s rewind.

The Cavern is not misnamed. You descend steps into an area about the size of my wine cellar. You can’t buy tickets in advance; they don’t issue them. You hand over your money to the bar staff and they write your name down and you hope that when you turn up your name is still on the list. Luckily mine still was. To say the venue is laid back is like saying Gangbang Gertie is laid back. Last time I was here, I walked into the venue to see Six By Seven and no one bothered to check anything. Tonight people wander into the venue with Subway meals they have purchased down the road and eat them in full view of the bar staff.. Coming from London, where venues are policed like going through airport security, I welcome this.

If you read this shambles of a blog, you will hopefully realise that I don’t really keep up with current trends but I do recognise quality. Daniel Lefkowitz is quality. The voice is quality. The guitar playing is quality. More importantly, the songwriting is quality.  He is also something of a perfectionist stopping mid song to tune his guitar and then continuing as if nothing had happened. Lefkowitz is a former member of The Low Anthem and, judging by his barbed, between song comments about band mates deserting him, also an ex member of Futur Primitif. He warns the audience that the CD selling on the merchandise stall will only have one of the songs on it that he is playing tonight. The warning is unnecessary. Many of his songs seem to address the homogenisation of America and are rich in melody and nuance. It seems fitting that, of the fifty people here, to my left stands Ezra Furman watching approvingly and to my right a woman who opens her bag to take out a full size bottle of Absolut vodka from which she starts drinking. Musicianship and excess seem to be at the heart of Lefkowitz’s muse.

The next band, The Black Tambourines, have three major handicaps: they’re not black, they don’t play tambourines and they’re shit.

Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends come onto the stage and launch straight into “I Wanna Destroy Myself.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends play “And Maybe God Is a Train.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively with the exception of one woman who comes to the front of the stage to dance. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends play “Caroline Jones.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively although the young woman is now joined in her dancing by a refreshed Daniel Lefkowitz. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends play “Slacker Adria.”  The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively. By the end of the song, Lefkowitz has had enough. He leaps onstage to address the audience  telling them it doesn’t matter what they look like, they have to get closer to the stage and dance. He leaps off stage and starts physically pushing people to the front. This rather direct approach has its effect. Furman digs back to his old Harpoons incarnation and delivers a gorgeous version of  “Mysterious Power” during which he also shoehorns in a verse of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” Finally we have a gig with an audience. Furman relaxes, although when talking to the audience he still comes across as a more diffident David Byrne, and grows into the performance. There is a brand new song, “Little Piece of Trash’,  he claims to have written that very afternoon; a gorgeous “Queen of Hearts”; another Harpoons’ song “Take Off Your Sunglasses” that has him at the lip of the stage striking the best rock star poses he can manage; a cover of The Marvelettes “Please Mr Postman; and, of course, the double whammy of “My Zero” and “Anything Can Happen.” As an encore he appears alone with an acoustic guitar for a sparse and moving version of “Wild Feeling.”

At one point tonight, Furman put on sunglasses and said, “It’s a night for clowns.” The only clowns tonight were those citizens of Exeter who stayed at home.

Daily Playlist 04/09/2014

Alternative to Love – Brendan Benson

Late November – Pavlov’s Dog

Jolene – Susanna and the Magical Orchestra

I Keep Coming Back – The Afghan Whigs

Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself – Morrissey

Don’t Let The Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart – Everything But The Girl

In The Street – Big Star

Ooh Las Vegas – Gram Parsons

Knock ‘Em Out – Lily Allen

I Am Sailing – Stina Nordenstam

Forever – Goldfrapp

Sweet William – Tuung

Poor Man’s Shangrila – Ry Cooder

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Israel

siouxsie and the banshees israel polydor 150x150 Siouxsie and the Banshees   Israel

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time when you knew where you stood with a Banshees’ lyric. In the days when they were adorned with Nazi armbands and provocatively goose stepping around London clubs, they could pen a lyric such as “Too many Jews for my liking” for ‘Love in a Void.’ As recently as 2005 in an Uncut interview, Siouxsie stated, ” I have to be honest but I do like the Nazi uniform. I shouldn’t say it but I think it’s a very good-looking uniform.”

And so what to expect from a single called ‘Israel’, not on any album, carrying the image of the Star of David on it? It wasn’t the first time Siouxsie had used the image. Following her Nazi flirtation, the band started attracting a far right contingent at their gigs resulting in Siouxsie wearing t shirts with the Star of David emblazoned on them as a riposte. Additionally, the song ‘Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)’ was incorporated into their set dedicated to the memory of anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield. The attempt at some sort of rapprochement with Jewish culture seems to have been finalised with this single.

However, it would be unwise to venture what the song is actually about based on the lyrics. If you wanted to be kind, you could say that Siouxsie has learnt nuance and subtlety; if you wanted to be cruel, you could argue that Coldplay would be quite happy to sing lyrics of such vagueness. There are images of “little orphans in the snow” and “veins on the stained glass”; there are biblical and fairy tale allusions of turning “blood into wine” and princes and kings “now hidden in disguise”. There are lyrics that seem to concern themselves with religion and sectarian divisions but they melt away under analysis like the snow the orphans are playing in. It’s almost as if, having played the provocateur early in her career, Siouxsie doesn’t want to risk causing anyone offence and thus has penned lyrics of mind numbing banality. Contrast this to the lyrics penned on ‘Arabian Knights’ which couldn’t be any clearer (“Veiled behind screens /Kept as your baby machine / Whilst you conquer more orifices / Of boys, goats and things /Ripped out sheeps eyes-no forks or knives.”). Indeed she has claimed she wanted ‘Israel’ to be the Banshees’ Christmas single which makes some kind of sense when you hear the bells ring and the use of Christmas colours, “Red and green reflects the scene” (although, of course, they are also the  national colours of Palestine). And that is the frustration with this song: all meaning slips nebulously through your fingers until there is nothing left to cling on to.

It is left to the music to elevate the pretentions of the lyrics: from Severin’s sonorous bass, to the ghostly choral backing effects, to Siouxsie’s mournful lead vocal and, above all, John McGeoch’s heavily echoed guitar spiral that dominates a sound held together by Budgie’s ceremonial drumming. It is a music that allows us to dream, that takes us somewhere exotic,  that allows us to ask questions about what we are hearing. It is just unfortunate that like the country in the title there are far more unresolved questions than answers.

Daily Playlist 03/04/2014

The Thorn In My Side Is Gone – American Music Club

Silent Air – The Sound

This Summer – Herman Dune *

The Ballad of Easy Rider – Fairport Convention

Hey Captain – The Broken Family Band

Crumb by Crumb – Rufus Wainwright

Dirtywhirl – TV On The Radio

Knock On Wood – Prefab Sprout

Here Come De Honey Man – Herbie Hancock

Feed The Enemy – Magazine

Cooking – Scritti Politti

I Stand Corrected – Vampire Weekend

* “If you think that they are right and you are going insane

It’s just the lithium fucking with your brain.”

Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury

Clipse Hell Hath No Fury 150x150 Clipse   Hell Hath No Fury

 

 

 

 

 

Clipse have long been characterised as the doyens of cocaine (w)rap, a term which does scant service to the ingenuity of their wordplay and the stripped back nihilism of the music on this, their greatest album. Their interest in words can be traced back to their origins: originally known as the Full Eclipse Crew, they then changed their name to the gun referencing Full of Clips Crew before settling on Clipse. The brothers, Gene (Malice) and Terrence (Pusha T) Thornton started selling crack in their Virginia neighbourhood as teenagers whilst, at the same time, trying to gain a foothold in the local music scene where they met Pharrell Williams who, impressed by their lyrical skills, wanted to work with them, thus beginning a long partnership with The Neptunes production team who have never been better than on this album.

Having released a previously well received album, ‘Lord Willin’, in 2002, it was anticipated that the follow-up would arrive the following year. However, numerous record company changes and contractual problems meant that ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ would not appear for another four years – a lifetime in rap circles. If the William Congreve referencing title didn’t make you aware how frustrated and angry the pair were with the delay, then the music and vocals contained within would.

The first track, ‘We Got It For Cheap (Intro)’, starts with a warped, repetitive mambo beat over which a dealer is selling his wares immediately establishing the predominant theme which is taken up by Pusha T: “Fear him as soon as you hear him / Upon my arrival, the dope dealers cheer him….” There is little doubt that the brothers are intimately acquainted with the drug world they portray here. In ‘Wamp Wamp (What It Do)’ we are told,”17 a brick, yeah, go and tell ‘em that /I got the wamp wamp when I move it its still damp /Mildew-ish when I heat it, it turn bluish /It cools to a tight wad…” By the time we get to ‘Keys Open Doors’ (the keys, of course, are kilos of cocaine), the dope is safely stored in the fridge awaiting distribution: “Open the Frigidaire, 25 to life in here / So much white you might think your holy Christ is near / Throw on your Louis V millionaires to kill the glare / Ice trays? Nada! All you see is pigeons paired.” And away from the fictionalised world of the album, the real life friend and manager of the band was imprisoned for 32 years for being the head of a 10 million dollar drug ring.  Alongside the vast quantity of songs about drugs, there are occasional glimpses of the violence required to sustain this lifestyle. In ‘Chinese New Year’, they decide to supplement their drug money with an armed robbery: “I’m at your door, your eyes are like why are you here / Judging by my steel I got something to do here / Give up the money or the angel cries two tears / Front of your crib sounding like Chinese New Year.”

So what is it then that differentiates ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ from other macho braggadocio about drugs and violence? Firstly, I think it’s the literate imagery used throughout, for example the idea of a gun firing  two bullets likened to an angel crying two tears with the associated religious imagery of angels shedding tears in heaven for this man’s subsequent death. You can go to virtually any song on this album and find dense, literate imagery – Pusha T and Malice can write, that’s for sure.

Secondly, there is real humour here. They may be writing about drugs and violence but there are times when it is difficult to suppress a chuckle. When Pusha T likens his skills to cooking up cocaine to that of Bet Crocker (an American equivalent of Mary Berry), you can envision a reality cooking show where rappers compete to see who can make the best crack.Then, on ‘Mr Me Too’, there is the slapping down of Lil Wayne for his blatant attempts at imitating them: ” Wanna know the time? Better clock us / Niggas bite the style from the shoes to the watches.” There are the knowing references to Miami Vice’s Tubbs and Crockett , The Wire, The Fonz and even the Cookie Monster, Ernie and Bert. There is the sheer stupidity and joy of the chorus to Chinese New Year which goes, “Brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, ka-ka-kat, kat / Brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, ka-ka-kat, kat,” where, vocally,  they try to replicate the noise of fireworks or guns.

Thirdly, behind it all, particularly in older brother Malice’s lyrics, you get a sense that he, at least, understands the superficiality and cost of this lifestyle. In the very first song, he says, “And to little brother Terrence who I love dearly so / If ever I had millions never would you push blow, never”; in the next song, he reveals the guilt he feels over his lifestyle choices, “Mama I’m so sorry, I’m so obnoxious / Big home, palm trees, and watches / Mama I’m so sorry, I’m so obnoxious / My only accomplice is my conscience”; and by the final track the confusion and paranoia of a life dependent on crack is plain for all to see, “Look over your shoulder, something is near / And I’m so scared, when I’m alone I’m so scared / Now it’s inching closer, trouble is near / But nothing’s there, when I look nothing’s there / I’m outta my mind, I’m runnin’ from guilt, but / It’s right by my side, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Finally, there is the music in which these words are wrapped. There was a conscious agreement between Clipse and The Neptunes that the production should try to revise some of the early sonic experiments of Mantronix. As a result, everything feels stripped back and encased, coiled up, ready to pounce. The synth soundscapes are restrained but form a threatening backdrop to the beats and rhymes. Unusual instruments like accordians, kettledrums  and harp suddenly appear, frequently forming a main component of the song. There is a real tension and darkness in the music that matches the lyrics perfectly.

From Congreve to cocaine, from the making and taking of the drug to the paranoia it can induce, this is as artful an album as you will get anywhere, irrespective of genre.

              

Daily Playlist 16/01/2014

No Dice – Beirut

Your Own Back Yard – Dion

Broken Radio No 1 – The Fatima Mansions

Mineral – Buffalo Tom

Lazy Rain – Smog

Heart of Darkness – Sparklehorse

Merge – Grizzly Bear

Murderers, The Hope of Women – Momus

You’re a Big Girl Now – Bob Dylan

Miami – Randy Newman

Sweet Gospel Music – Prefab Sprout

BH Rock – The Paradise Motel

Really – Nellie McKay

Love of an Orchestra – Noah and the Whale

Everybody – Delta

Summer Breeze – Emiliana Torrini

Poison Girls – Persons Unknown / Crass – Bloody Revolutions

 Poison Girls   Persons Unknown / Crass   Bloody Revolutions

 

 

 

 

 

The germ of this split single lies in the arrest of anarchists Ronan Bennett and Iris Mills on trumped up charges of conspiracy to cause explosions with persons unknown. After 18 months of imprisonment where they were subjected to numerous indignities, they were found not guilty of all charges and finally allowed the freedom they should never have lost. During that year and a half, friends and supporters of Bennett and Mills took on the name of Persons Unknown to help publicise and fund their cause. Both Crass and Poison Girls played benefits for Persons Unknown and, following their release, Bennett penned the copious liner notes for this particular single.

Poison Girls were a misfit band from the start. At a time when female visibility in bands was generally restricted to the glamorous and young, Vi Subversa, the lead singer, formed the band in her mid forties (she is currently 78 and living in Spain). With a honeyed voice that has echoes of Marianne Faithfull, Lesley Woods and Eartha Kitt, Vi uses the phrase ‘Persons Unknown’ to encapsulate all ordinary people whom the authorities may choose to brand with that nomenclature: “Housewives and prostitutes / Plumbers in boiler suits / Truants in coffee bars /Who think you’re alone.”  The suggestion is that any of us could end up like Bennett and Mills, accused of a crime we did not commit and vilified by press and government. Throughout the song, Subversa makes the point that society encourages people to live lives of isolation making it easier for the authorities to exercise control: “Habits of hiding /Soon will be the death of us /Dying in secret from poisons unknown.” The only response to this is to try to reclaim power from the state by not being scared to speak out about what we feel is right: “Survival in silence / Isn’t good enough no more /Keeping your mouth shut / Head in the sand.” The music is swaying, circular, woozy: it reminds me of the music of a carousel, albeit a carousel powered by electric guitars. In the course of the song, Subversa covers the whole gamut of society from “accountants in nylon shirts” to “cleaners of lavatories” but,above all, it is a call to arms challenging each and every one of us to cast aside the social conventions imposed by the state that shackle us: “Flesh and blood is who we are / Flesh and blood are what we are /Flesh and blood is who we are /Our cover is blown….”

Crass’ ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of anarcho-punk. Around the central musical, and symbolic, motif of La Marseillaise, this 6 minutes and 24 seconds packs in five distinct musical movements, linked only by lyrical content. After an initial collage of sound, comes the dull thud of monotone bass and drum over which Steve Ignorant intones, “You talk about your revolution, well, that’s fine /But what are you going to be doing come the time? / Are you going to be the big man with the tommy-gun?”  There is little question that this is a reference to The Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’ and ‘Tommy Gun’ although only later in the song does it become apparent that it is also a critique of their perceived posturing. But Crass are far more concerned with wider issues than mere rock star ‘revolutionaries.’ Not for them, the adoption of left wing credentials: ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is an attempt to put a metaphorical bomb under the notion of left wing revolution:

“You talk of overthrowing power with violence as your tool
You speak of liberation and when the people rule
Well ain’t it people rule right now, what difference would there be?
Just another set of bigots with their rifle-sights on me.”

Ignorant’s vocal style and delivery have always been problematic for me as they seem to encapsulate the worst sort of yobbish, aggressive, faux Cockney punk and in the second part of the song it is at its worst as he barks in stentiorian style, like a man on the corner selling the Socialist Worker Ignorant so clearly despises. And then a thing of wonder occurs: Ignorant shuts up, a beautiful guitar emerges from nowhere and the fantastic Eve Libertine takes over vocal duties, sounding as though she’s channelling the voices of Maddy Prior initially and then Poly Styrene. In the final part of the song, over militaristic drumming and La Marseillaise,  Joy de Vivre hammers home the message by speaking the final lines:

“Nothing’s really different cos all government’s the same
They can call it freedom, but slavery is the game
There’s nothing that you offer but a dream of last years hero
The truth of revolution, brother………………. is year zero.”

Just like Crass themselves, ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is an unholy mess and yet it somehow works. Within the confines of a pop song, there is an intelligent argument posited whether you agree with it or not. The shouty, barking, male lead is counterbalanced by a beautiful femininity. And whatever you think of Crass’ politics, they put their money where their mouths were. From the proceeds of this single, they established the Wapping Autonomy Centre as a central meeting place and venue for anarchists. The fact this closed due to the disagreements of the different factions of anarchists only highlights the naive idealism at the heart of this band.

 

Daily Playlist 12/11/2013

Pink Glove – Pulp

Demons In Her Dancing Shoes – Richard Thompson

Ode to Booker T – Young Marble Giants

Please Stop Dancing – The Magnetic Fields

Circuit – Delta 5

Pride – Manchester Orchestra

At Home He’s a Tourist – Gang Of Four

My Little Rainbow – East River Pipe

Beautiful Place – Babybird

Straight Life – Black Box Recorder

Anvil – Tapes ‘n’ Tapes

The Kerry Baby – Pete Wiley and the Wah! Mongrel

Miss X – MC5

Skip the Youth – Frightened Rabbit

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