Zun Zun Zun Zun Zun Zun Zun Egui… And some other people.

On Friday last (the 29th), we returned once again to the Fleece and Firkin, à la Bristol. This time we went mainly for the rather pleasant support, Zun Zun Egui first seen by us at Mr Geoffrey Barrow’s ‘Invada Invasion’ last September. The main act were The Ex, with Brass Unbound (and very unbound they were), who made something of a noise-fest, but still had some commendable points.. Gig research was not hugely needed for Zun Zun, but after delving into The Ex, I was a little (a lot) apprehensive (not looking forward to them). I had only their Myspace to work from, which I was not entirely overwhelmed by: it sounded more like they could not decide what genre to jump into, and tried to fit together styles that just would not go. That, and the fact they kept changing their style from song to song meant what I initially heard was so hit and miss, it didn’t look too good for the Ex.

After tea in the Watershed’s restaurant (mm cake.. Mm..), we made our assault on the Fleece, and inadvertently directed (not particularly well – all back streets in Brizzle look the same) a certain Andy Moor to the gig. Slightly confused as to why this stranger ran ahead, we later saw him “rocking out” on stage. I’m glad I didn’t extol the virtues of Zun Zun and tell him we were mainly going for them..

Anyway! Zun Zun Egui. They had such a lovely sedate quality to them that it wasn’t brilliant preparation for The Ex, but no matter. Oddly, what initially struck me was their clothing: Mr Bass had a very cosy looking jumper, a rather odd-shaped hat adorned the head of Lead “Vox” (what a horrible term), and all the male counterparts managed to get away with wearing the tshirt-jeans-jumper combination that males so frequent. Miss Keys, however, went in for a somewhat vibrant dress, which started me thinking – why do females in bands always look marvellous, and males can get away with looking like they’d just walked through a hedge backwards? Is this the typical image of the rockstar/penniless Bohemian artist/musician that we like?

Their set up on stage meant it looked like there was no obvious leader – but instead of this being detrimental to their performance, they worked incredibly well as a pack. Instead of having a mild tentative anxiety (as one can do for supports as they can frequently be both young and nervous) for them, you were confident they had each other’s wavelength in check, and many exchanged smiles and nods between band members created a quietly confident ambience – thus meaning it was awfully enjoyable. Miss Keys, in particular, put such concentration into her work that her expression didn’t change until a song ended and she could actually enjoy they performance they just gave. Only about six or seven songs were played, but Zun Zun are excellent value for money as their song lengths and “rockability” (rock durability – how long they can keep going) are pretty impressive. And long. They’re more “pieces” than songs I feel. And that’s not a bad thing. Similarly it’s not a bad thing that the lyrics were hardly ever in English – one could almost guarantee they would be good. They added to the influence-infused sound: but it felt more that they were giving an appreciation to all the different styles they liked, rather than that they couldn’t decide which one to be. A lovely performance from a charming band.

Now. The Ex. And Brass. Unbound. Kind of ouch, kind of wow, kind of “shhhhhhhhhhut the fuck up”, kind of “hm well they come together well don’t they”, kind of “I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON ANYMORE”. 10/10 for energy. Especially considering some had been going from the 70s/80s. But still – such noise! Sources have labelled them an “anarchist” band. What is that?! A band who’s roots are in anarchy? A band who tries not to be an actual band because they wish to cause chaos for the music world? It makes little or no sense. And is not cool. However. Let us put that aside..

My favourite in this band was again the only female (the drummer), especially considering that if she hadn’t been there, they would have been all over the bloody place. That, combined with the fact she delivered my favourite song by them (a pleasantly calming folk song), and that she seemed to really care about her craft made for an excellent musician. Go Miss Drums. Some excellent European on-stage banter came from the newest member (Mr de Boer), in the form of phrases such as “Thank you very much, you’re very kind” after a song loud enough to make one’s ears bleed. I found you couldn’t really categorise them – which frustrates me ten-fold – but you could say, I suppose, it was “rock with a brass section”. Now the Brass Unbound were a little irritating in that they were such brilliant musicians, but on more than one occasion didn’t exercise this to create the nicest sound. Instead they appeared to be having arguments with theirs instruments, whilst trying to the contest of who can make the most noise. Why must people do this?! It is not music! I’d rather listen to Mogwai with NO EARPLUGS than this drivel. Having said that, there were times when they came together as a group so well, you were thinking “YES Brass, again please” – which added up to a damn frustrating group. They really did add to what The Ex made, but still – why can’t they play nicely all the time? And don’t give me any of that improvised, “creative”, “going into a brass trance” stuff. It does not sound good.

All in all, The Ex and Brass Unbound were exceptionally hit and miss, and getting to the extremities of both good and bad. Zun Zun, however, were pretty flawless all the time, so they win this round…


The Brit Awards

I was so utterly shocked and appalled at the choices for this year’s Brit Awards that I decided to nominate my own!


It rather appears to me that those choosing the nominations had a few points to hit with their choices :
– are they mainstream?
– are they crap?
– is there any musical talent involved whatsoever?

Etcetera, etcetera. With the possible exception of Animal Collective, Bat For Lashes, Doves, Seasick Steve and, at a push, Dizzee Rascal, I can safely say that all the other nominees annoy the hell out of me and I do not consider them decent musical artistes. I keep reading the same nominations in different categories too – there are so many bands, acts and groups that you could have no nomination appearing twice in the whole thing, let alone three times (Florence and her pretty awful Machine, JLS, Lily Allen and the like). And how can people morally put DOVES and JLS in the same group?! I am all for appreciating a plethora of genres, and picking out what marks a good group from a bad one, but this is fucking awful. Pixie Lott? Dido? CHERYL COLE?! What is this about?! The musical taste of Britain seems to be going increasingly downwards, and I know ‘popular music’ is dead and blah blah blah – ergo we get some terrible things up there for people who do not really seem to care about good music much (I refuse to call Leona Lewis, for example, good music) – but how is it the nominations have completely side-tracked what is actually good in the world of music?

British Female Solo Artist – Bat For Lashes

British Male Solo Artist – Dizzee Rascal

British Breakthrough Act – ???

British Group – BRITISH SEA POWER.

British Album – Brakes ‘Touchdown’

International Female Solo Artist – Fever Ray/St Vincent

International Male Solo Artist – Owen Pallett

International Breakthough Act – Grizzly Bear

International Album – Rodrigo Y Gabriela ’11:11′

Outstanding Contribution Award – Damon Albarn

Other suggestions quite welcome! 🙂

Incidentally, there’s a good article in the NME today, stating about how the Brits should be scrapped – an interesting view, but maybe if they actually reflected what was really going on with British MUSIC then maybe it wouldn’t have to be.

‘Murder on the Mallaig Express’ – David Shepherd

I have come to the end of this rather interesting book. But I am still not quite sure what to make of it. On delving into some research on the author, it turns out he is in the clergy – odd start already as I’m not entirely sure members of the church should be writing about such subject material (“shock!”) – and that Shepherd’s main detective actually takes after Poirit and Marple, and that his books should make good (or “ideal”) holiday writing. So, essentially what he is saying (or worse still, what his publisher is saying) is that he is a poor man’s Agatha Christie. Not a brilliant set-up. Why have super-market brand when you can have Hellmans? For example. And why follow suit when you can strike out on your own and go for something a little more original?

That in mind, I present you with the first novel I have read by Mr Shepherd. It is a gentle read, and you get the feeling he isn’t exactly a professional writer – if that makes any sense. There were numerous places where I would have phrased parts differently, or changed words around, and that bothered me somewhat: I should not be writing an already published book for the author. Similarly, some parts of the lay-out were just infuriating. So inconsistent! If this was not your day job you would you not get someone to check it before hand? Even if you are going to lay things out the wrong way, why could you not make it all the same? Surely that is better than mixing it up. Choose a path and stick to it Shepherd!

There was, as previously mentioned, some shameful stealing from Ms Christie. It can’t be allowed to pilfer from such an esteemed author! The trick of “We found fingerprints…” – “But you couldn’t have because-!” – “Because you used gloves?”, stolen directly from Poirot’s ‘Death In The Clouds’, and the murder victim being thrown from the moving train was somewhat reminicent of the ‘4:50 From Paddington’ were so blindingly obvious. This is not cool Dave. Most glaring of all – name another famous fiction train murder! Not only was the title one word different from Agatha’s most famous novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, all the suspects in said novel wanted the victim dead – just like in ‘Mallaig’. How does one think they can get away with this…

Another massively obvious point was the lack of research Shepherd had done into this book. He talks of “cocaine parties” – but who would be stupid enough to host a party where everyone attending was either in possession or taking – or both- a Class A drug? People don’t have cocaine parties, they do cocaine AT parties. Jesus. Along the same lines (ha ha), I have never heard said drug referred to as “stuff” so many times. Some street words are frequently used, but never “stuff”. If you wanted to create an impact by saving the actual word “cocaine” until the end of the paragraph, fair enough, but use words more convincing than “stuff” in its place. Similarly, every single character seemed to be an alcoholic-which, again, is a little unrealistic. With such a large amounts of sex and drugs involved when it was not altogether necesary, one had the feeling the author was trying to act cool, and failing. I think it would be possible to have a murder without such scandals occuring and the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle he gave his characters made them, at times, a little unbelievable. His descriptions of female clothing was also much to be desired – a small point but why tackle something you know nothing about? Which he clearly did not, as some of the combinations he suggests his female characters put together where laughable and not entirely contextualised.

Having said that, the story did start off very well and rather readable. I actually took it from my parents home to finish it. But once the murder had occured, and the suspects calculted, all the rest of the book consisted of was countless interviews with the suspects and no active detection work whatsoever. Small amounts of round-ups here and there to keep the reader on-board and alert to what is happening, but I wanted the Inspector to inspect! It was so utterly boring just reading account after account of the murder. Another body wouldn’t have gone amiss. It felt it wasn’t exactly a realistic method of solving the crime, and as there was basically only one setting for the rest of the book, character development was somewhat limited. His male characters were fairly solid and enjoyable ones, but his female characters were a little boring and somewhat stereotyped. Having said that, I know from experience it is hellishly difficult to write a decent female character, who is not cliched and does have a personality.

All in all, it was a fairly enjoyable read, although you are aware you’re reading trash. The latter part here means it results in a somewhat unpenetrating and unimpressionable book, but if it is aimed at holiday reading, it seems to have achieved its purpose in life. I found the story a little confusing as there were so many characters and so many words. A lot of dialogue seems to result in a lot of confusion… There was a pretty good and unexpected twist right at the very last chapter, but the whole thing was so Poirot it was hard to take it seriously. A good attempt at a murder mystery, given the difficulty and skill involved in writing a decent one, but there are other options than copying the greats. That is no way to become a great yourself!

Celebrities and a World Crisis.

Given the recent devastation in Haiti, many stars, celebrities, and other famous people who are actually famous for something they are good at, took the opportunity to raise funds for the survivors of the quake. But, when watching ‘The Politics Show’ (I would like to stress there is nothing else on at this time..), it raised a very good point of why they are doing this. Is it because they actually want to help people? Or because they are doing it for the publicity?

Dame Diana Rigg was a little put-out (in that she was quite angry) about this last suggestion – and gave the look of the disapproving and disappointed mother when talking about it – and who would want to disappoint Diana Rigg?! I feel her title on the show could have been more than “Former Avenger”, but it did not detract from her presence as a very well-respected star. Obviously there are famous people who do really want to help – unless I am very much mistaken, Audrey Hepburn was helping out whoever she could right up until her death, and if she was so interested in herself, then you would have thought she would have taken these last few years off to have for her own.

One could say that celebrities have a duty to show their faces and contribute their time to such causes – for the majority of celebrities, this should not be too difficult considering the amount of back-breaking work they have to do on a day-to-day basis… But how will lending their support do anything? If they are famous for a scandalous sex tape, or because they married some rich tosser for all his money then divorced him two months later – surely this would have a negative effect, as who would have them for their idols? I place a lot more respect by people like Radiohead playing an appeal gig. Incidentally, they raised over £500,000 for this.

It could be said that the celebrities of this world would be more likely to show their support simply for the publicity – they clearly just wish to be famous, and this is going to make them more so. The same could be said by the sheer number of bands who have joined forces to raise money – but at least they are actually using their talents to do this. It is just so hard to believe someone like Davina bloody McCall when she waltzes through the slums and worse-off parts of the world, stating about how tragic it is. We all know that! But what are you actually doing about it?

And, just for another argument, people do seem to find Bono and Bob Geldof the most irritating souls that walked the earth – and they have spent ages raising funds for people all over the world. Surely if anyone deserves some form of respect, it is people like this. But then – as so many people have so many different idols, I suppose it is best to say that even if they are doing it for the publicity, at least they are doing it and using their “power” to sway people’s minds to those less well-off than us. Even if it was their publicist who told them to do so.

Don’t Let Me Grow Old..

At a friend’s house yesterday, the telephone started making its crass and obtrusive screaming, meaning someone on the other end wants to talk to you. My aquaintance abstained from answering it, which gave me so much potential malevolent opportunity… “Hello mini-cab?”? Or maybe “Hello, Helga’s House Of Pain?”, the latter being a suggestion not of my own. But when I eventually picked up the handset, I rather understood quite quickly that the other speaker would not appreciate such a joke.

“… and I’ll be ready for you in, in the morning, will that be okay dear?” said a painfully frail voice. Like really, painfully frail. I started explained that she clearly had the wrong number, and was about to hang up, expecting maybe a “Oh well I’m awfully sorry to have bothered you dear,” but not that put out about the absence of it. But the talker – clearly not having registered she was not talking to the person required – just keep on going. It would be a rant or a babble had she had the energy. Again, I tried telling her she had the wrong number, but talking to old people is frequently like talking to a brick wall. And I just could not hang up. I felt so utterly awful for her.

That, and she was deaf. Two or three minutes of her talking about god only knows what passed, with me trying to explain, as politely as I could, that she had GOT THE WRONG NUMBER, and that I could not help her. It was one of those phone calls where you are miming out killing her, but talking to her in the gentlest voice you can muster. But she was deaf! You did have to shout. How can you be polite and shout?! It does not work.

The worst part was, after listening to her trying to arrange whatever the hell it was she was doing tomorrow, I had to hang up. I actually could not help her. She asked me what phone number it was that she was calling, and said “Is this not [insert number here]?”, FOUR BLOODY MINUTES AFTER I HAD TOLD HER THE ORIGINAL SITUATION. In retrospect, it might have been funny. But not only was she deaf, clearly living alone, obviously with no one else to help her – she could not help herself. And because her declining self had the potential to be so annoying just by its very nature, who would offer to help her? I could just imagine a lonely old granny, getting the paper delivered in the morning, possibly walking the dog if she was able – unless she stereotypically owned cats – and then just waiting for Midsomer Murders to come on after Countdown. And enjoying it with a ready-meal for one. Perhaps she would go for weeks without seeing people. Her husband had long since died, and her children had too much to manage and deal with to dedicate any time to her, despite her bringing them up so well, and dedicating so much time to them.

I may be being ridiculously sentimental her, and I am completely aware of how difficult old people can be, but that does not stop it being so utterly tragic when you realise how lonely some people’s situations are. And how lucky we can be to be young and not have to rely on other people to pick us up for Meals on Wheels. Or worse still, walk us to the bathroom, losing all possible chance of dignity. This lady clearly was at the very end of life, but how much longer will it drag on for her?

Music Non-Stop, Techno-Pop. Part One.

Listen to ‘The Man Machine’ by Kraftwerk whilst reading. And for your ease and education, here it is!

This track makes you feels super-human, and seems to be so versatile – it could be used for the beginning of a Mafia movie, the soundtrack to a film about post-war Germany, for a minimalistic underground electro-club at 2am, or maybe even for interprative dance. Who knows. The point is, it would work for nearly anything. But —

I have struggled for a while to come to terms with the fact that electronic music is in the same line as music played on real instruments. Is it really music? Or something completely different? One has to backtrack and define music to state whether or not electronic “music” is really so. One could say that music is sounds, placed into an agreeable order so it is paletable to the ear. But if that is true, Stravinsky is ruled out.  On the other hand, you could say that “music is an art form whose medium is sound” (thanks Wikipedia. Thikipedia!). And if that were true, then surely anything that is audible is music? Anything that is audible is art? No, because the quote states “art form”. And no because that would mean whatever, for example, Janet Street Preacher says is art. Like fuck it is.  So what the hell is art?! I feel this may be an argument that proves a little pointless, as it is so subjective. Art is so damn vague. But music I feel may be less so, even though it is still an art form so technically that does not work. However!

As much as I wish it not to be deemed music, I feel electronic music may be – you can dance and sing to it, have it on in the background, attend a gig of that nature, use it for general ambience. You can use it like normal music. But for some reason I feel it is slightly secondary to music where people have played every note and sung every word. Not that electronic music is less enjoyable – au contrare – but it seems to me to be on a different level than conventional music. Possibly because the process of creating such sounds is slightly less organic? It certainly is a different experience seeing someone play music, and see someone press some buttons and wire a few odd-looking machines up.

Can sound that employs that much music technology be deemed music? Given how much music has advanced, and the fact that nearly all types of music, even those played on real instruments, will invariably use music technology at some point, then one needs a somewhat updated definition of music. Technically, creators of electronic music are playing music, but not instruments. Does one need to be playing an instrument to create music?

To give an example that nearly everyone can get on-board with, you could say that contemporary dance is not really dance, because it looks awful and ridiculous and confuses you more than it entertains you. But one could say that art is about “pushing boundaries” trying to make you question society and the issues the art form has raised for you. So anything that has a meaning is art. Being so subjective, with any art form you can find topics and points of relevance in pieces that the original artist has never even realised they are stating. That is the beauty of art.

Elevator Music

Would someone please explain to me the whole concept/cult of jazz?!

In this case, it was some smooth jazz (ie. the stuff that’s not completely awful, is actually palatable to the ear, and can go on in the background without it interrupting too much of the current topic of discussion) that we saw. In a pub. Yes, a pub. A pleasant quiet-ish sort of pub that served cloudy cider. Although it had a few suspect continental lagers around too. Not your ideal setting for JAZZ (maybe a bar in New York? A “swinging club” in the deep South of America?) as such, but we chose neither the genre or the setting.

The players themselves were outstanding musicians – really quite excellent, although I rather feel the cow-bell was somewhat overused – and the way they played with each other was brilliant too. They were so in touch with each other that they could just start a tempo of sorts and everyone could join in with something. Just like regular jazz musicians. So one is led to believe this wavelength element is vital to playing jazz.

But what they were playing was just elevator music! It was the same beat every time, just the solos were a little different. But the crowd loved it. It provided excellent background ambience, but I found you could either ignore it completely and have a nice chat with a friend you had not seen in a while (maybe about “What the hell is this music?”), or you would get sucked in 100% and start subconsciously grooving away. There was no plateau, no middle ground. Alas. Was its purpose just to sit in the background, casually grooving away and creating a mild ambience of tack? Because if so, it does it very well indeed. It’s not like they can start playing a “number” and you yell “CHHOOOOOONNN!!” now is it?

Jazz to me seems very much to be a club or cult sort of thing, that if you get it, you love it. It also seems a little pretentious to me too, as, really, how much can one honestly like and merit elevator music? Where is the variation? Where are my lovely lyrics?! Fair play for varying the regular “song” format, but what is there to remember from elevator music? It all seems quite indulgent (for the musicians) in a “Let’s get our instruments and have a jam! Oh and there will be people watching” sort of way. But is there some merit to music that has just been created for your enjoyment on the spot? Possibly. But I rather want my music to have more meaning and thought involved. I find music means so much more if it actually means something in the first place, and it is not just music for music’s sake. I would quite like to know if anyone actually likes this music, because there is a reason it is called elevator music, and there is a reason it is only played there. You do not have to sit in an elevator for a whole evening. Now do you?