What I’ve Learned, Thom Yorke, US Esquire
“My grandfather would come to our house in the countryside, borrow one of our bikes, and disappear. He’d come back after dark and we had no idea where he’d been. If he ran into anybody, he’d just ask them where the good nightclub was. He did that right up until his nineties.”
The Disarray Of Staff Benda Bilili
Sad news that SBB are no more. Last year, Marcel and I went to see a preview of the film telling their story, followed by the band in concert, and both were wonderful. The film’s an uplifting piece of work full of great scenes (my favourite being when teen genius Roger—player of self-invented tin-can and wire instrument, having just been found downriver and asked to join the band—is given a stern talking-to by his mother and sister). The show was as riotous as a concert in a chapel can be, and finished with some of the finest dancing I’ve ever seen, especially as most of it was done by men on crutches and in wheelchairs.
Mr Hyde Mailout, extolling virtues of “Birmingham Scene”
IS THIS THE NEXT BIG MUSIC SCENE? shouts the headline. “What do you know about Digbeth? We do have one useful thing you should know about it: it’s been lazily dubbed the “Shoreditch of Birmingham” thanks to three young bands who are rising to prominence after spending their formative years hanging out there. Is “B-Town” 2013’s version of Madchester? Meet the major players and decide…”
So I do. I Soundcloud them all. Three bands from the, uh, West Midz. First up is Swim Deep: According to Mr Hyde, “producing ethereal, synth-heavy music that’s unashamedly poppy, yet also soulful and endearingly rough around the edges.” The band’s vocalist says “[Birmingham bands] are making the UK’s best music. It’s not all the same like in other scenes–it’s a really varied sound.” Mmmm. I say: Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.
I try number two. Jaws. Mr Hyde again: “their fuzzed-out shoegaze-indebted sound can’t remain in the shadows for long in any era that sees a new My Bloody Valentine album so warmly received. The vocalist says: “I heard someone describe us as Ian Curtis In LA, which is pretty cool.” Right. Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.
Sensing a pattern I move to number three, Peace. My Jekyll (sorry, I mean Mr Hyde): “Their gift is writing complex, Foals-esque tracks but with huge, sing-along choruses. The vocalist says: “Our music should make you want to shake and make you want to cry at the same time. And sometimes it should make you want to party.” Ordinary boy vocals, more guitars than the others, slightly less tinny beats.
I’ve got to say, five minutes in the company of each of these bands only made me think Where’s the new here? Why are they all so satisfied with replicating what’s gone before? Why are all the vocals so… dull? And how desperate are journalists to discover a new “scene”?
Lately, A Ken Colyer State Of Mind
Before filming an interview with John Williamson and his charming crew for a BBC 4 documentary, I had looked out some hopefully useful material. Among my favourite finds was this picture, taken by the Brighton Evening Argus, of Doug Dobell’s first shop, shopfitted by my dad, in 1956. The programme, to be shown in late May, focuses on the British Jazz Revival of the late Forties and early Fifties. My job was to help illuminate the extraordinary trip that Ken made to New Orleans in 1952, jumping ship in Mobile to play with some of his heroes, breaking the law in several ways to do so. I also recently compiled this piece for The Stansbury Forum about Ken’s pilgrimage, based on reminiscences and letters from Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer.
The Mad Opening Number of A Chorus Line
My mother’s birthday. A show. The pre-opening night, the last of the previews, where the audience seems packed with the cast’s relations, which gives a peculiarly heightened air to the whole performance. It’s actually pretty great—in some ways a weirdly prescient view of Reality TV’s audition process—but my favourite musical moment comes right at the beginning. The opening number I Hope I Get It pits frenzied Seventies Lalo Schifrin wah-wah disco, all tom rolls and rim shots, against the Tin Pan Alley tune of the refrain, “I really need this job/Please, God I need this job/I’ve got to ge—t this jo—b.” Cue massed jazz hands and that particularly Michael Bennett-style of angular shock dancing. Magic!