Monday, 17 December 2012

In postscript to my last post...

Some thought-provoking writing and responses here - NYR Blog - Our Moloch, by Garry Wills.

After a commenter drew parallels between those who seek gun regulation and those who seek freedom of choice for women on the abortion issue, accusing them of hypocrisy, another poster's response was so brilliant that I'd like to reproduce it here in full:

Interesting analogy you choose. Let's explore this further.

1) If given a choice between saving a refrigerator full of Petri dishes with frozen embryos or a 5-year-old, which would you choose? Remember -- if, as the anti-choicers say, life begins at conception, you cannot make any distinction between the two, so I hope you wouldn't let all the Petri babies die to save one other life that, by the very terms of the anti-choicers, is no more valuable than theirs.

2) Since pro-gun advocates always say that you cannot prevent anyone who really wants to get their hands on a weapon and therefore it is folly to regulate them, I presume we can apply this reasoning to the abortion debate (remember, abortion is still constitutionally protected under Roe v. Wade) and end the constant string of regulations that exist only to shame women, lie to them (i.e., bills that require telling women that they risk breast cancer or infertility through terminating pregnancies -- neither of which is true), etc. We definitely know that any woman who really wants to get an abortion will do it, so why make it illegal?

3) Since you say you respect life, may I assume you are working against the death penalty?"


On that note, I'd like to make a suggestion; while I know that in the US women are as free to buy and use guns as men are, and (I daresay) exercise that right, it seems to me that guns have historically been regarded as a typically male domain. Once, it was men that went to war and defended the homestead. Going out hunting (in the deerstalking, rather than the fox-hunting sense) still seems to be treated as a peculiarly male pastime (the rite of passage of a father taking his son hunting etc, or 'the guys' getting away for the weekend). And I can't help but feel part the defence for guns goes back to a sense of preserving an old-fashioned sense of masculinity - as though taking away a man's gun unmans him somehow. Do NRA members all imagine they're John Wayne?

Abortion and contraception, as we know, are treated as a women's issue, though they have huge ramifications for relationships and entire families. If these facts were reversed, I wonder what the political responses would be, particularly from the right. Would the American constitutional right to an abortion be so vehemently attacked if it was seen more as a men's issue, rather than a loose and over-generous freedom for all those slutty women? What if gun-toting had traditionally been more associated with women - would the right to bear arms be treated so reverentially?

Maybe I'm way off the mark with this but the thought's bothered me all day and the responses to this article brought it up again.

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

"From our cold dead hands"

It is staggering to me that, as 26 children and adults lie dead following another school shooting in the US, the response from some seems to be either that this might not have happened if teachers had been armed as well (!!). Or that the reason for this tragedy, according to Bryan Fischer, was not that the perpetrator was potentially deeply messed up in the head and fully able to acquire a gun to inflict his rage with, but that there's not enough focus on God in American schools. Brilliant.

If you're pro-gun-ownership, if you believe it should remain the constitutional right of every American to bear arms, and that this right outweighs the other laws of your constitution, you're entitled to your opinion. But in the immediate wake of these needless and irredeemable deaths, now is not the time to air this belief. Your opinion on this matter does not trump the grief of those who have lost, and the trauma of those who have witnessed so many deaths, fully unprepared for such horror. Rather, it insults everyone who is struggling to understand why, yet again, it has been possible for this to happen. There have been at least 62 mass shootings in America in the last three decades.

Gun ownership in the US is actually on the decrease, and long may that continue. As much as pro-ownership folks might like to claim otherwise, it seems obvious to me that the harder it is to access a gun, the less likely it is that these crimes will happen at such volume. The stats that chronicle mass shootings in the US are shocking. How about this: 24 in the last seven years.

"People who want guns will get them illegally if they can't get them legally", some cry. No - some people will. Others won't, because not every violent crime is a planned attack. So many are impulse crimes, motivated by fury or shock or jealousy or sheer mental breakdown, and if a gun isn't there to be reached for, the damage inflicted is likely to be so much less. Others might stop at the planning stage if getting a gun proves to be difficult enough. Not all, but the majority of guns used in these mass shootings were legally owned.

On the same tack, teenagers should not have access to guns. An acquaintance of mine told of his childhood at a US school, where there was a shooting range.

I was taught how to shoot guns in my liberal Oregon high school as a kid. The shooting range was underneath the school stage and the NRA handed out awards to all the kids like candy. One of those kids, Ken Janowski went on to shoot/kill his parents a year later. My senior year I had a gun pointed at me from a drunk pissed off kid within a 1/4 mile of the school. I have never seen a gun here in the UK other than on a few cops.

Kenneth Janowski was released in March 2012 after nearly 30 years in prison for the murders. He was 18 when he shot his parents, using a rifle obtained from a friend.

What teenager needs to be able to shoot or get a gun? If they wish to enter the army and use guns in defence of their country, they will be taught those skills when they enlist. Again, I'd suggest that a young man or woman who shoots up a school full of children potentially has something very psychiatrically wrong with them, which requires medical help. How can any pro-gun lobbyist argue that society and the constitution should make it anything but harder for someone so unstable to get hold of a gun?

Equally, those arguing that godlessness in schools is the problem are missing the point entirely. Hasn't thousands of years of history, including our bloody present times, shown us that religion doesn't defend against human violence? More often, it's used by the power-hungry as a political tool to control people and perpetrate and prolong violence, in the name of a 'higher purpose'. (Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares series is instructive on this point.) Religion should be preserved as a personal right, for those who feel strengthened and guided by it. But it should not be the framework around which our countries are governed or our children educated. And it certainly will not prevent someone in a murderous rage from obliterating those around him if the tools are close at hand to enable it.

It should be illegal to carry a gun unless your job requires that you do so. A gun should always, always be cause for alarm, because it's a machine that, at the click of a button, allows you to punch a hole through another human body from a distance. If you want to carry a gun to show that you can defend yourself or those you love, to show that you won't be bullied, then learn to fight and defend yourself using your hands and feet, not a machine that with one click can cause such senseless destruction.

Carrying a gun won't stop you getting shot, it won't stop a bullet in transit - it'll just mean you can shoot back. The more guns in circulation, the higher the death toll rises. The clearest way to bring gun crime down is to get as few people owning and using guns as possible, while addressing the social, personal or economic causes of these crimes.

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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fidlar

Ah, now this is fucking immense.

LA troupe Fidlar make really wickedly scuzzy, oldskool, surfy garage rock and roll. This has been done many a time, in disappointingly neutered fashion, by a veritable parade of would-be no-goods. This here, this is better. Much better. You do not get the impression these miscreants would fill onstage bottles of Jack with iced tea. They're self-denigrating and cut-throat, obnoxious but legitimately fucking fun. At their least interesting they sound like the Death Set, but elsewhere it's harder and faster and uglier.

They've been touring with the Hives and Jeff the Brotherhood, if that gives you an inkling to the kind of fun you're about to encounter. But unlike the Hives' cartoon punk or JTB's WOO! RIFFS! outlook, Fidlar's songs come with a bitter, serrated edge. Don't expect Proust - "I - DRINK - CHEAP - BEER - SO - WHAT - FUCK - YOU" is a sample of the wordsmithery employed by these dudes. But "White on White", above, is a compellingly nihilistic middle finger to the joy of being army drafted - the fast-and-fuck-you Stooges yell is the first thing you'll notice, but it gets a lot darker once you take in the words - a succinct account of a society drop-out being shoved overseas and out of the way to 'serve' his country.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Rebekka Karijord

You know the 90s revival is in full swing when singers start sounding like Sarah McLachlan again. Listening to the new Rebekka Karijord record. It's quite pretty, very melancholic, and if she's not wearing a long floaty dress and Doc Martens while singing this, then I've been lied to. This one's off the Norwegian singer's second LP. Maybe I sound a bit dismissive, but it's actually a beautiful record. I don't agree with the 'what a pioneer!' panting I've read about her though; the way she uses her vocals (melodramatic minor chords, great big tragic harmonies, vulnerable high notes and trills emerging from an obviously powerful voice, plenty of studio layering with lots of background aaaahs...) the soft, pensive piano... there's a thick streak of Lilith Fair running through the whole record. Familiar but certainly very listenable. She's got some UK dates in January, if this is your bag.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sweetheart Contract

I'm floored by “The Lonesome Death of the One-Man Cabaret Act” by Sweetheart Contract.

I can’t write about it for my usual spots, as it’s too close to home for me to feel comfortable writing about with my journo hat on - I’ve always avoided reviewing friends’ bands etc. It’s really, REALLY good though.

Love the clattering, whipsmart psychobilly drums, love that whizzing guitar slide and the jittery riff, and of all their songs, this is the one where I think the vocals work the best - starting out sly and kinda predatory in the verses, before it rips into this wailing chorus howl that clutches at your throat then crumples to the floor.

You can hear country and rock n roll influences in there but at its core seems to be the kind of emotive, literate punk thing that Jimmy Eat World did so brilliantly - melodrama without absurdity, a convincing now-or-never urgency. Just awesome.

Saw them do it live last night at the Windmill supporting country singer Lydia Loveless, and it ripped the heart out of the room. And they were giving out cds with this song on for signing up to their mailing list, so now I have a copy. They’re supporting Lucero at the end of November… I’m there with bells on.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Live review: Refused @ The Kentish Town Forum, 13.08.12

Once upon a time, in a wintry land across the sea, there was a punk band. They lived as they died; blinding, brilliant, furious; a flash of nuclear light in the blackness; the multitudes who missed their passing felt the fallout for years to come.

Refused struggled to make an impact during their original tour of duty, coming up against criticism from all quarters; they didn't look enough like a punk band, they didn't move like one. They weren't interested in aping their forbears and making a fuck-ton of money; they wanted, they claimed, to take apart the system that disgusted them, to replace and totally sideline what passed for popular music. People missed the point and ignored the challenge. In a way, maybe they didn't translate precisely because they were /too/ easy to like. They were no blunt instrument; the anti-capitalist, reactionary, damn the man lyrics were married to squiggling basslines and an enviable, rude sense of rhythm that commanded you to DANCE, motherfucker. If you struggled with the basics of this, Lyxzen was only too happy to demonstrate, bodypopping and snaking across the stage. Fully punk in their sensibilities, they found themselves at war with the purists, and internally they struggled with the tug of war between their political raison d'etre and the reality of the music industry - not to mention their own inter-band conflicts. By the time they released their third record - the magnificent, unchained lifeforce of The Shape of Punk To Come - they were fed up.

So they split. A corrosive statement vowed that they would never reform or try to 'celebrate what was'; they were, they felt, part of the the problem, not the solution.

And yet, here we are. I'm smashed up against the barrier of Kentish Town's dingy Forum. A man who seems composed of 30% flesh, 25% blind faith and 45% sweat is wordlessly and rhythmically threatening to break my nose, his head swinging at me with every guitar stab. After chivalrously letting me in on the barrier, he spends the next half hour trying to shatter my ribs. This is the decade of reformation, and while it's no surprise that bands like Soundgarden and the Stone Roses have stepped up to enjoy the headline slot again, something weird is going on when firebrands like ATDI and Refused accept the gauntlet. The band who bypassed actual success and shot straight to mythology are right in front of us. Dennis Lyxzen, still wiry, still angry, still bearing a 'straightedge' inkbrand across his spine, is rocketing back and forth, robot-dancing, scaling Babel-towers he's built from up-ended monitors, walking on water through the sea of outstretched hands in front of him, and the fucker next to me is trying to kill me.

Who cares? What's played out in front of us is so fucking fast and fun and on the money that it brings back those teenage endurance levels - you know, like when you would stake out your place hours earlier and collect your barrier bruises, leaving the notion of the bar and the toilets to the less dedicated plebs who just didn't care enough. Because you knew it would be worth it. That sense of urgency floods back, and although Refused have broken their promise, although it's harder to trust in Lyxzen's fervent, black and white optimism, for one hour everyone with a functioning soul gives in to it again, and every chorus, missive and shouted call to arms alights the crowd. This is not a gig, it's a rally.

What are Refused's intentions now? What does the Refused Party Program entail in 2012? Is the mission still to take apart, reduce and destroy culture and replace it with pure, collective feeling? Are they just here to party? Are they going to make a new record? These things are not clear. They're not young men any longer, though they move like them. They must know that this can't play out the way they demanded it would in their 20s. The TV rights to the revolution were sold a long time ago, and popular culture is not about to bow to Refused, any more than it was the first time around. "Shitty band with an awesome plan"? Maybe in the end it was the other way around. But if Refused accept that what they do matters for less grandiose reasons, then maybe they'd accept that they're still the best punk band in the world.

Or maybe they already know that and maybe that's why they reformed; because they could. Because they knew that there is a generation of young and not-so-young men and women here that never got to see them rip the roof off. What they do has value, even if you strip away the professed political intent that shaped it in the first place. It has cultural value, because they're fucking incredible; they attack in fifteen minute raids, ripping the breath from your lungs as they burn through 'The Refused Party Program', 'Liberation Frequency' and 'Rather Be Dead'. Their timing is impeccable. It goes dark, you slump for a moment, wanting the onslaught to stop, then wanting it to start again and never stop - and it begins again. People, and writers, and bands, talk about the influence of Refused, the music that came after them, because of them. Of course they do; if it was anything like this first time around, of course it lit a fire under some creative arses - and this latecomer knows they probably burned twice this bright 20 years ago, albeit in significantly smaller venues. As angry as the words are, the music is joyous, inclusive and celebratory. These are not tired, angry punks, they're men with ideas who still want to dance - and they can dance better than you.

They have political value too, even if it's not the kind they originally aimed for. They still inspire; they make you feel young again, a vital tool in the fight against mediority and creeping irrelevence. No, it's not just you; no, you're not getting too old to demand something vivid and alive; you can ask for better. And tonight, Refused can provide it. If their sloganeering and their blissful, brilliant fury keep one person out of a shitty job at a bank, and in a studio or a laboratory or a disaster relief zone or anything else that feels like living and contributing, instead of just existing and administrating, they have done their job. Refused are not fucking dead.

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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

I love the pop culture archetype of the lonely hero on the road, searching for something or someone. I guess it's the soulful flipside of that rebellious American cars 'n' girls aesthetic... the mechanical-age equivalent of the lone rider. American romance at its moodiest. Here are three great examples.



At this point I have to quote Clueless.
"Is it more James Dean or Jason Priestley?"
"Carpe diem, ok? You looked hot in it!"


(I'm with Cher on this one. Jason Priestley is cheesy as hell, but still. Roy. Oh, Roy.) I also really like the Maccabees' cover of this. Orlando Weeks has the kind of crooning vocals that suit this song, and I'd be surprised if he didn't claim Orbison as an influence generally.



God knows where to start with Springsteen, seeing as this archetype fills about a quarter of his songs, from the age-old and magnificent Thunder Road ("my car's out back if you're ready to take that long walk from your front porch to my front seat") to the comparatively recent Radio Nowhere, with its brooding "trying to find my way home" opening. But State Trooper is an understated and amazing example.



I still don't subscribe to the Fuck Yeah Ryan Gosling school of thought, but Drive is a stupendous movie. It's the absolute perfect amalgamation of ruthless, violent action and still, almost unspoken romance. It's noirish without being pastichey, and it's far bigger than the sum of its influences. Gosling is really well chosen as the taciturn, unstoppable driver/hero, a character who'll go to any lengths for either the task at hand or the girl he loves, but thankfully eschews grand gestures or any of the sort of schmaltzy shit that would ruin this kind of movie. He's essentially kind of ordinary looking, not some dark, towering, smouldering screen idol. That works. The Lone Driver aesthetic is a pretty sparse one; pile on too much detail, tell us too much backstory, and you lose its punch. Drive does it tremendously.

And as per the post title, I want to give an honourable mention to Don Henley's Boys of Summer. Partly because if you really don't like that song, you may well be dead inside. And partly because I love the pictures it paints; a guy alone on the road with just his car and his memories... a dead seaside town... a girl in shades, once in the front seat, now just in the recesses of the past... and the line "A little voice inside my head / Said 'don't look back, you can never look back'". The sense of running desperately towards, and away from, something. It's not often a great big power pop song can conjure such feelings of nostalgia, elation and dread all at once.

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Monday, 6 August 2012

Will you stop pretending I've never been born, now I look a little more like that guy from Korn?



Bruce isn't my only New Jersey hero. I loved Fountains of Wayne, the garden state's finest power pop quartet, the moment I heard this song on the radio, maybe 14 years ago. I waited years to see them, and the show I saw them do at the Academy in Islington was perfect.

This song is from Utopia Parkway; it's their second album and, I think, their best - a near faultless twist of dreamy, sundazed Beach Boys slacker nostalgia and vibrant power pop. I love Chris Collingwood and Adam Schesinger's clever, warm, smart-arse lyrics - the characters they portray between them are like the Chandler Bing of indiepop, the heartfelt kid who quickly learned that his wit would get him further than his looks ever would. I also love their sense of place. I once pledged to make a Fountains of Wayne monopoly board, populated by all the New York, Joisey and New England spots mentioned in their songs. I didn't do it, but there's still time.

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Friday, 3 August 2012

The words she knows, the tune she hums

A friend and I took in the Almost Famous director's cut at the Prince Charles Cinema on Monday. (I'll probably write something about the PCC another time - a cinema so lovely I applied for a job there. Sadly unsuccessful, hey ho.) Almost Famous is easily in my top 5 alltime films, but scandalously I'd never seen 'Untitled', as the director's cut is monikered in the opening credits.

What gets me about Almost Famous is the mood. It's a well-knit film, and all my favourite elements contribute to each other; Penny and her girls, their glorious 70s vintage gear, their knowing adolescent joie-de-vivre, their rose-tinted specs and polaroid cameras.... the music, the sighing, intoxicating hum of Simon & Garfunkel's America which chokes me the fuck up every time I hear it, the bellowing, filthy drive of Fever Dog as it rips through another arena, the glorious bus sing-along of Tiny Dancer - ain't nobody chooses movie music as well as Cameron Crowe (those not too snobbish to recall it will remember the bomb blast of Good Vibrations reverberating through a palatial lobby in Vanilla Sky as the bottom drops out of Tom Cruise's world - who knew that song could sound sinister?).

But what it all adds up to is this sense of illicit holiday, adventure, being on the run, and for a short moment in time, being king of everything you survey; a feeling of fleeting youth that must be clutched and clung to at all costs before it slips from one's grasp. I guess I talked about that a few posts back, the thing that makes you follow your heroes on the road. I love how Almost Famous reaches for that thing, finds it and rolls about in it. It's a film about fans of every age; Lester Bangs, aping giddily inside a radio station as he pulls Stooges records off the racks, the groupie girls who translate their fandom to a lifestyle pitched between cheerleader and mistress of ceremonies, the rockstars who talk in reverential tones about Cream and Pete Townsend, and little William Miller, a fan at all times in the most classic and innocent sense of the word, whether holding a mic to his heroes' faces or conked out in a bedroom surrounded by Hendrix and Who posters.

Almost Famous snaps that essence more perfectly than a tweaked Instagram, and with more authenticity, because its author came from the place he writes about. And it translates it beautifully, luring us in with the same siren-like deadliness as the bands themselves. I was 18 when I first saw it, on a date. After I left the cinema, I bought a green sheepskin coat and some naive part of my teenage self really thought I could be another Penny, trip through life with her easy glamour. I couldn't - I wasn't diaphanous or mysterious like her. "They make you feel cool. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn't." Twelve years (and many viewings) later, I found myself back in the front seat of the cinema. And what did I do when I left? I went to the record store and visited my friends (hello, 12" Suicide LP). I went to my local vintage shop and bought a perfect pair of 1960s sunglasses. And I felt that dizzy 'maybe, maybe' feeling again. Almost Famous has that effect because its writer knew exactly what it's like to be subject to it.

Since then, all I can listen to is 60s and 70s rock - Aerosmith, Creedence, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hendrix, Todd Rungren. And of course Springsteen. I was already on this trip; last month's kapow double-header of Springsteen and Paul Simon yanked me right back into the land of nostalgia for an era that ended before I began, and watching Almost Famous the other night sort of distilled that feeling, and clarified it for me. It reminded me which bits are real, and which bits are fiction. Right now I'm mourning that however many basement shows I go to in Kingsland Road, I'm not going to find my own young Springsteen or Tyler, ready for me to champion and cheer on to greatness; the feeling is different, colder, harder, and it just doesn't work like that anymore. Irony rules now, and that era of wide-eyed rock fandom is gone.

The director's cut demystified Penny Lane for me too; Crowe's version of her is much more fragile than her edited self, and you get how she and the bands became entwined, what they saw in each other, and how they failed each other. You see the girl she was before she became Penny Lane, the girl who never reveals her name. For a casual viewer, the demystification detracts from the whole, but to the fan, it's another precious layer of information. I read today about Obie Dziedzic, Springsteen's very own seamstress to the band - number one fan from day one, turned clothier, employee and Van Zandt manageress. Sans the girlfriend/groupie side of things, I saw in her the Tiny Dancer of Elton John's imagination, and the Penny Lane (in the dressing room, iron in hand) of Crowe's movie. I'd like to know more about her. I guess even the fans get to be heroes to someone else.

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Monday, 30 July 2012

London, Underground

I love this excellent essay by Laurie Penny about London from underneath, and the history that gets rewritten by the victors. Evocative, beautiful and a stark reminder of things we should not forget.

London, Underground

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Friday, 27 July 2012

The increasingly poor decisions of Chris Brown and the mainstream music industry

On Monday I saw a teenage girl get punched in the face.

I was waiting for a train, and a young girl and guy were having an argument. He was pissed off with her and followed her along the platform. I don’t know what the argument was about, though it seemed like she had been to his house.

He said ‘’D’you want me to bang you in the face? Don’t think I won’t bang you in the face.” And then he punched her in the face, his fist meeting the side of her head.

I was sat next to her as it happened – she half-landed on me. It looked like he was going to go for her again, while she shouted that she knew where he lived, held up her phone and somewhat incoherently threatened to call the police. The guy’s friend was hanging about behind them, and as the fucker was leaving on his bike, his pal tried to persuade her not to inflame him any further.

I asked her if she was okay, and she said no. Another woman from the platform came over and reported it to the police (she worked for one or another crime unit, I forget the name), and asked the girl lots of questions, while ordering the other boy to stay put.

I don’t know how old her attacker was but I'd guess late teens. She was 16, and tiny. She came across as a pretty, shy teenager. He came across as a thug. She didn’t know his real name, just his street name.

The woman who helped her did fantastically. I was furious with myself for not snapping a photo of the guy before he ran away. But mostly I’m furious that between teenage kids we have this situation where boys think it’s acceptable to use violence to express their frustration and control the girls they know. And where their friends won’t stand up and say ‘that’s not fucking acceptable’, but will just exhort the girl to keep schtum. There has been plenty of coverage of teen domestic violence in the media in recent years, and the tone has varied from investigative to hysterical. But this was the first time I witnessed it, and I can’t get it out of my mind. I don’t think the girl would have contacted the police if the woman that helped her hadn’t phoned them.

And meanwhile teen idol, Grammy winner and girlfriend abuser Chris Brown is living the high life in full view of his fans, surrounded by girls at parties and still refusing to take responsibility for what he did. What did he do, exactly? He beat up his girlfriend and threatened her with further violence later on. But more than that, he beat up his girlfriend knowing that he and she were both megastars, role-models (willing or otherwise) for teenage boys and girls, shining examples of the lives that their fans would like to lead.

When you see your super-rich, hyper-famous hero being subjected to, or committing, the same shit that you experience in your life, and there are hardly any consequences, is it not likely that you’ll think “Well then, that’s just life. That’s the status quo and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.’?

Domestic violence is hard enough to combat, and when it’s starting at an ever more tender age, that’s really frightening. We risk allowing a pattern where teenage girls grow up into women who think that being hit is just one of the grim facts of life. Women who will have children that potentially witness this pattern. It has to stop, and it needs addressing from top to bottom.

It’s not acceptable – AT ALL – to attack someone, and domestic abuse – from physically strong men to smaller women – is a particularly cowardly form of control and abuse. I don’t need to rehash this – we know it. But why are Chris Brown’s records still being played? Why is he still getting paid? I know he’s not the only famous person who’s ever committed this crime before, and I don’t condone the actions of anyone who’s behaved like this. But the sheer brazenness that he wears, his ridiculous stance of ‘Fuck the haterz, you can’t keep me down’, as opposed to ‘Oh shit, maybe they hate me because they think I’m a violent bully, perhaps I should address what I did and try to make amends somehow’, is jawdropping. The industry has looked sternly on him for a year or two, and now it's back to business as usual, because people are still willing to spunk their cash on him, and he's willing to take it.

How novel it would be if he thought ‘Hey, I have a responsibility, not just towards the woman I hurt, but towards the millions of teenagers who buy my music and will, in some cases, try to be like me. Maybe I should consider what my actions and attitudes tell them about male/female relationships, and about taking responsibility for your wrongs.’ How novel, but how unlikely it looks.

Rihanna has a part to play here. She was 100% blameless for getting hit; that blame lies squarely with Brown. She has said in the past that she doesn’t want to be a role model. Sorry, Rihanna – at this point, tough. It comes with the megastar territory; girls dress like you, they want to sing like you, and they want to live and succeed like you. She could contribute positively by drawing a hard line where domestic violence is concerned, but she doesn’t seem willing to do that. I don't know if she identifies as a feminist, but in this respect she certainly doesn't behave like one. Her fans look at her and see a woman who seems strong and powerful in every other way, yet is happy to go back and record songs (I won’t comment on rumours re: her personal life because I don’t know what’s true or not) with the man who beat her up and never tried seriously or publicly to make amends, yet chose to publicly gloat about his victory over the ‘haterz’. (In light of that, the right to privacy doesn’t come into it.) That’s not fucking cool.

I don’t know if that guy and girl on the train platform are Chris Brown and Rihanna fans. But I know millions are, and now I can bear witness to the hard and ugly fact that there are teenage boys who hit girls to control them. And I know that two of the biggest pop stars in the world are, right now, sending out the message that hey, that’s life, and there’s no good reason for it to change.

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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Gifts for boot heels to crush



How do people live without Jeff Buckley?

I come back to him again and again. He's like red velvet cake - his voice, his songs, the production, those keeling, swooning melodies; the first taste is like total immersion - you know that sort of 'crumple' gesture you make when you bite into the most beautiful cake you've ever tasted, and sort of collapse with satisfaction? But it's so rich that after a certain point I'm gripped by the urge to turn it the fuck off and never listen again, my taste buds saturated, my brain sickened by gluttonous consumption. And a week later, I crave that voice again. When he sang Lilac Wine, he might as well have been describing his own voice.

There's just no-one around like him. I remember the early 00s when, alongside the New York new-new-new-new-wave stick insect invasion, there was an unfortunate infestation of winsome singer-songwriters who, intentionally or otherwise, held up Buckley as an influence.



Singing in a falsetto and plying their heartfelt, male fragility like recycled loo paper didn't make them like Jeff. No one is like Jeff.

There's something so sly, creepy, sold-your-sold-to-the-devil about his melodies - they swoop down on you, then sneak behind you and surprise you again. This is a man who could spin out a faithful and convincing - !! - rendition of Nina Simone's The Other Woman. He thundered, vengeful and tyrannical, through Nightmares By The Sea and Dream Brother, he slumped in decadent, drunken self-pity in Lilac Wine, and Morning Theft, the song that popped my Buckley cherry, gifted to me on a compilation ten years ago... shit, man. What a song. A full and unflinching breakdown of the end of a relationship - self-recrimination and love declaration, all entwined together.

There are other songwriters out there who work the whole male-ego/desire-vs-shattered-masculinity thing - Matt Berninger is a very good example, though what he does is aesthetically far more conventionally gruff and male. But no-one swandives with such elegance, such glittering, bewitching, guileless style. The thing I loved best about Jeff Buckley was that although he told all these stories of doomed love, intoxication, prostration at the feet of the one he adores, and seething fury at the world around him, he always seemed to come across as a guy who would just be fun to go for a beer with. None of this shitty Pete Doherty method singer bullshit, getting snapped tangled around the bottom of lampposts in a heroin stupor and using one’s 'job' to justify being a fucking idiot. He didn't die from an overdose or snort all his talent up his nose. He just fucking drowned, died way too young, and it was sheer bad luck.

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Living in the future

Yesterday I taught my boyfriend how to use a record player.

It's not that he's not good at this sort of thing. He is better at technology than most - indeed it is his bread and butter. But I had to tell him which part of the record you place the needle on. This is the world we live in now. A record where boys have never played records.

He can now say with pride that the first vinyl record he ever played was Fear of a Black Planet. There are worse places to start.

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Monday, 23 July 2012

Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city

London is scorching. The asphalt is melting and finally I can leave my umbrellas in the hallway. I'm glad the last week of my 20s are finally going to feel like summer.

Yesterday we schlepped to Nunhead for a friend's barbecue. Nunhead has many hills, and in summer it seems hotter than anywhere else in south London, but the trip is usually worth the aches. I can't think of too many better ways to spend a sunlit Sunday than sitting in someone's back garden with meat cooking, drinks cooling, Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy Spotifying, and good people talking about European festivals, the problem with 'girl bands' and the wonder of Springsteen. I've lived in Peckham for three years now, and one sensation I will always associate with it is that hazy, can't-quite-see-out-of-the-lower-corners-of-my-vision, sunbleached late afternoon feeling that takes you over as you walk home after drinking in the sunshine. I never felt it anywhere else; picnics in north London never left me so hazed out, even if they went on twice as long. Perhaps Peckham has its own microclimate. It's almost exhausting but it feels like friends and not at all like work, and I know I'll always remember it.

Thirty is an odd one. I don't really care about life landmarks like this - I'm more concerned with banking treasured memories than marking off milestones But I can't deny it feels a bit odd. I feel accelerated; I feel like I have to hurry up and Get Things Done. I've always been scared of missing out, not having all the fun I could, letting the good times pass me by. So much so that in my mostly-legal hedonism I've probably not achieved some of the serious shit I could have. I want to be the girl with the most cake, both had and kept; I have no interest in putting away childish things or retreating into grown up greyness, but I know I need to put more time and push into painting, find a better-paying day-job, and generally figure my shit out. Suddenly I realise that the kids coming up from behind are ten years younger than me. Bruce Springsteen was 26 when he made Born to Run, and that was his third record. I have some catching up to do.

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Saturday, 21 July 2012

I seem to lean on old familiar ways



There is truly nothing more satisfying than getting home from work in the afternoon sun, sitting on the floor of your living room and playing old records. Fuck TV, seriously.

Yesterday a blissful afternoon was soundtracked by Carole King's Tapestry, the Pretenders' Extended Play, Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years, side two and three of a big Supremes anthology, the 12" of Salad's single Drink The Elixir, The Modern Lovers and of course, of COURSE, Born In the USA.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Show a little faith, there's magic in the night

I burbled ineffectually the last couple of posts about my rock n roll heroes, and I'm dissatisfied. In the last 6 days I saw bands I've loved my whole music-loving life, bands I never thought I'd see, bands I never thought'd even play again. And either side of that week, I'm listening to their music (mainly Springsteen and Simon). Those songs - particularly Springsteen - are words fleshed onto bone, the simplest elements brought alchemically to life like the tin man with a heart; four chord rock turned into hymns, words you've heard a thousand times before that still jerk your neck and make it prickle. There's electricity in those songs. And I'm no songwriter, I'll never be able to do what he does; but I know what I can do, and that's to write something complete and honest about last week.

What I'm trying to understand and express is the effect he and his band had that day - and before it. At 6am on Saturday morning, I sat across a McDonalds table faced with a cardboard breakfast. Two women from Birmingham sat opposite me. One of them was raw with irritation; she spent the night under a tree, she was cold, the tinny chart r'n'b leaking through McDonalds' speakers was scratching at her nerves, and she had hours to go before she was where she wanted to be; front row, looking up at her hero. Why would you put yourself through that? Why did I race round the park in the rain the night before, trying to find a lurking group of strangers who'd write a number on my hand, and then turn up for a register at dawn the next day? Why'd I sit and stand in the rain for hours before the show? I hate the rain. Why'd I do that?

I remember being 19, and there was a band I loved. Every foolhardy music fan has that band they'll abandon judgment and sense for, and this young band, with their egos and their hair and their churning, growling, squealing heartbreak songs, were mine. I saw them up and down the country from back room to festival field and back again. I bought everything on every format, I painted and drew them relentlessly, seeking the perfect representation (oh, glory - seeing one of my paintings used on their record artwork later on!), I talked to them every chance I got, I interviewed them just because I could, sitting in a bar listening to my hero talk and then writing pages of rapture about his band. One time I ended up in a hotel room with him after a festival and a bottle of vodka. Then, I was too nervous and naïve to let things go where he wanted, so we just slept, and now I'm glad of how uneventful it was. But the thrill of being in that room with him, just me and my hero, asleep next to me, the feeling that anything could happen; that teenage feeling was the core of it.

Then I grew up, got jobs, worked 'properly' in music, understood about licensing and tech specs and financial breakdowns and riders and how to wreck an XLR cable by coiling it badly, and the grey exasperation of haggling with the door girl over guestlist entry for a band you've only come to see because you've been told to review it. That teenage intoxication that made other cities seem so much closer when your heroes were touring, that made possibilities trump logistics every time... that seemed a long time ago.

And my whole life, Bruce Springsteen was a remote figure, a titan in my dad's record collection and a staple in mine, someone I'd always defend to anyone who dared slate him. Hungry Heart made every bad day better, those opening chords bumping hips together and my hands flying up and scraping the ceiling at his opening 'YEA-HAAHH!'. But this month I rediscovered him completely, went back and listened to all the songs I knew and more that I didn't, and absorbed them like it was the first time. Devoured live videos, bootleg clips; it was the only thing I wanted to listen to. I didn't want to hear new bands; like a kid behind a library shelf after midnight I wanted to hunker down in the dark, warm, dusty comfort of that back catalogue, aided by the others I love that surround it (Allman Brothers, Roy Orbison, Aerosmith, Eddie Cochran, the Supremes; the songs I loved that never sold me out by going stale).

Something about that music; it had, and has, the compelling power that you imagine religion has over other people. I think about centuries past, when God was solid and terrifying and you grew up believing or else, or about the evangelical African churches in railway arches behind my house, where normal people go to shriek and clutch each other, unified by conviction and release. And something in Springsteen's lyrics, the same motifs repeated, mutated, repeated again, something in his authoritative, roaming, jovial stage presence, whether an archaic 1970s performance or recent show; it was like watching a veteran priest order his flock, there was a determination and a purity about it. (Recall Bruce yelling up the hype for Clarence - "Do ah have to say his name??? Do ah have to speak - his - name???") I'm not religious, I left behind a Catholic upbringing years ago, but I remember church every Sunday, and I never felt this fervour there. That fervour, that's what I was running towards when I was 19, and now.

I'm 29 years old. I work a shitty day job. I make £20 grand a year shuffling paper. I have to be somewhere at 9am every day, and I can't afford to throw caution to the wind any more. Yet something sparked into life and set a motor running; 7 days before the show, it became the most vital thing in the world to get Springsteen tickets. It became a matter of survival. I chased down every lead I saw, called every number, and walked home in the rain last Tuesday with a precious orange ticket in my pocket, checking every few minutes to make sure it was still there. And that weekend, I HAD to be in the front row. I sat for 3 hours in the rain, and stood for ten hours after that - my feet stopped hurting after five. Those two women from Birmingham were opposite me on the front row of the catwalk, and behind them, thousands of people knew every word. All I wanted was to touch the arm of my hero, and the next day I went back and spent another £60 I don't have, really really don't have, on a Paul Simon ticket because I couldn't bear for the weekend to end, for that dizzy feeling to slip away. And of course how delicious - seeing my two childhood heroes in the same weekend. And then I got itchy thoughts about Springsteen's next shows; was Dublin really so far away? How much were flights to Oslo?

Reality caught me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me back, and so Bruce is playing in Dublin tonight and I'm sitting at my desk in London, writing this instead. But that teenage feeling... it's still tweaking my ear, sitting on my shoulder and reminding me that maybe he'll be back next year, and I'll be in the same room, or park, or field, as my hero again.

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Monday, 16 July 2012

Glory Days - or how Hard Rock Calling ruined my life

I have used up my purpose in life.

Last week I saw Faith No More at Brixton Academy. I saw Yeasayer do probably the smallest show I'll ever see them play. I saw the once-mighty Soundgarden flex their muscles again on Friday night at Hyde Park - and it was screaming and corrosive and brilliant - I fought my way to the front, broken wrist 'n' all, and they fulfilled every hope & expectation. I saw the great, beautiful Boss on Saturday night, and on Sunday afternoon, unwilling to spend my Sunday lost in a Springsteen anti-climax, I found tickets for Paul Simon, and watched him and Ladysmith Black Mambazo play as the sun dipped below the clouds behind us.

I don't think anything will ever be as good again. How can I surpass it?



Bruce was incredible. I've never seen him before and the whole experience was an act of endurance, a day of making friends, and a satisfying of hopes. A fan-organised number system meant the early-comers scored front-row places, and I collected my number at 11pm the night before after Soundgarden. Home, curry, washed the moshpit right out of my hair, 90 minutes sleep, and I was up & out again to get my name checked at 6am. We queued til 12, huddled on the ground under umbrellas, and once in I got a spot on the catwalk barrier. Disappointing support line-up, but John Fogerty of Creedence, introduced by Bruce (who duetted with him later) was a phenomenal, bluesy force of nature.



Bruce's set was long and lovely, opening with a stripped back Thunder Road (just piano and Bruce on harmonica). None of my favourites (Seeds, Hungry Heart, Rosalita, the chunkier songs off Magic - my request for I'll Work For Your Love was fruitless) were played but Johnny 99 was fast and heavy and superb, Wrecking Ball and Death to My Hometown were roared sing-alongs that united the crowd early on, and Tom Morello redeemed his below-par acoustic set by joining Bruce for a few songs and absolutely slaying on guitar. Oh, and Paul McCartney showed up for a couple of songs - you'll have read all about that in the news so I won't rehash it here. Born in the USA lacked a little something but Born to Run was perfect, as were My City of Ruins and a reassuringly boisterous Working on the Highway. Slightly broken hearted that we catwalk folks were the only barrier people that Bruce didn't spend time with (apart from the people at the very end) but my god, he was astonishing.

The whole time he was on, Patricia Arquette's line from True Romance was reverberating in my head... "You're so cool... you're so cool... you're so cool."

I didn't know if he'd hold my attention for the full three hours but he could have played for six and I'd have been overjoyed. I didn't even mind the rain. (And this is coming from a girl with 25 umbrellas, for different kinds of rain.) It was worth the hour's sleep and the 6am street-traipsing and the queueing and the 10 hours sans loo or alcohol and the cold and the mud and the beer and the blood and the cheers. It was even worth Lady Antebellum's set, which redefined the word anodyne. I will be a Bruce fan forever.

Paul Simon was a much more relaxed experience. We got a little drunk, found ourselves a roomy spot in front of the sound desk and danced like damn fools. Ladysmith were peerless, it was such a treat to see them (they weren't with him at his Roundhouse show last summer). So perfect to hear Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes the way it's meant to sound. I was giddy and delirious with joy from start to finish, and The Obvious Child hasn't left my head since then. I've had 5 and a half hours sleep since Friday, I'm still beaming like someone's mum, and I'm barely standing.

Speaking of Paul Simon, here's my May 2012 review of the Graceland reissue, originally published on The Line of Best Fit.

Paul Simon - Graceland, 25th Anniversary Edition - May 2012

“Ugh. I hate Paul Simon.”

Those were a friend’s words last weekend. An argument followed in which I indignantly defended the great (little) man; a timely debate, given the re-release of this seminal record.

It would seem that whatever will be will be reissued, and few records are so deserving of a reappraisal as Graceland. Formed in the shadow of South African apartheid, and crossing cultural picket lines by being recorded there with a host of native musicians, Paul Simon’s seventh studio album drew political revulsion from its critics and support from the UN Anti Apartheid Committee, delighted Paul Simon fans old and new, described a generation, won a Grammy, set up home in critics’ “Top 100″ lists and soundtracked innumerable childhoods. My earliest solid musical memories are a Buddy Holly cassette played endlessly on my first Walkman, and my father’s Saturday morning couch commando tendencies, regularly taking pole position on the sofa to re-watch Paul Simon’s gargantuan Central Park show. I loved Buddy, but Paul Simon’s music was something alive and real, clever and grown-up and mystifying. The seven year old me burbled the chorus to ‘I Know What I Know’ relentlessly, with little clue what the words meant. Small and naïve, I had no sense of Graceland’s cultural importance and the protests it provoked. It infiltrated my childhood so simply and solidly that I thought of Paul Simon like I thought of Paul McCartney; a fixture, a dependable presence, an uncle I surely just hadn’t met yet.

Arguably one of the most trailblazing, loved world music records ever – yet primarily, a pop record – Graceland doesn’t patronise its audience or its influences. Simon’s fascination with and respect for the rhythms and infectious sounds that drew him to Johannesburg is evident and the result is a heady, complex collection of songs. The anniversary edition includes Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger’s documentary about the recording and touring of Graceland in the dark days of South Africa’s war on its own people, with Simon returning to visit the friends he made all those years ago. As it shows, the melodic structure of this groundbreaking record was built by many hands, assembled from collaborative jam sessions and the South African musicians’ ideas and natural styles, as well as the shades of Americana that Simon was also exploring at the time, with the remarkable lyrics sewn into this tapestry after all else was done.

“Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.”

There’s no sense of the diverse components, from mbaqanga and Ladysmith Black Mambazo‘s remarkable a cappella performances, to Creole zydeco, being watered down for easy consumption; they’re already accessible, a cascade of gorgeous melodies, irresistible rhythms, voices that dance and lock together to become a complicated percussive instrument in their own right. “Our music is always regarded as third world music”, opined producer Koloi Lebona in Under African Skies, applauding Simon’s stance; his decision to bypass the concerns of the anti-apartheid movement and ignore the boycott still divides opinion, but it’s beyond doubt that Graceland did much to transport a fresh array of music styles to the mainstream and dispel tired clichés about African culture, and its influence is still keenly felt today. Ladysmith Black Mambazo became a household name after Graceland was completed, and many of the artists involved toured the record together globally.

The political story of Simon’s best-loved record provides the narrative thread to the film, but most striking is the burgeoning friendships between Simon and the musicians he approached to help him write and record the record. From initial meetings, strangers fundamentally separated by colour, language and a sediment of mistrust, to a studio full of new friends, dancing and grinning and creating something wonderful, it’s an infectious and engaging story – particularly considering the widespread misery and fear that threatened the African musicians outside the studio.

As for the record itself, it was a potent return to form for the songwriter after the disappointing flop of Hearts & Bones – the remnants of his abortive reunion project with Art Garfunkel. Graceland combined bewitching, surprising music with his trademark lyrical dexterity; he was once more at the top of his game.

“She comes back to tell me she’s gone…as if I didn’t know my own bed. As if I’d never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.”

Paul Simon is the master of the nuanced lyric, the tiny indicator that reveals the heart of the matter. As Quincy Jones notes in the documentary, “He’s got that curious mind”. A writer’s writer, his wordplay is faultless and he deploys flippancy and wit with devastating mildness. The songs skip and trill and shrug; melodies become casual little jams and riffs, phrases rolled around reflectively before revealing unmistakeable purpose. You can never accuse him of bitterness, but his observations are shot through with the loudly unspoken. After the opening four-shot explosion of ‘The Boy in The Bubble’ and Forere Motloheloa’s peerless, famed accordion groove, its expectant pace is given unsettling resonance by lines about “lasers in the jungle” and a “bomb in the baby carriage” – whether Simon is referring to Johannesburg’s troubles, Vietnam or any other upheavals of the last twenty years, the effect is arresting. Even at his most flip, there are little spots of yearning – ‘You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could’ – those notes reaching and clutching at human contact and understanding. And ‘Crazy Love Vol II’ is, lyrically, a painful story of a life passed by, a tragic lack of ambition, the weary using-up of time and the realisation of mortality, yet is delivered with the characteristic, smarting joy that radiates from his musical arrangements; from the opening, fluttering fall of guitars that gleam like steel drums, its bright, futile hopefulness cuts deeply.

Is the melody itself, lightfooted and flippant, a wry extension of the double-edged Jewish humour that permeates his lyrics? Or does it just serve to remind us that our problems are just distractions, the sense that even if the little things don’t work out, there are bigger things to spend one’s time on? That if the big things tank too, there’s still hope if nothing else? These are the questions that Simon’s music poses but never answers.

That eponymous, game-changing title song shuffles and chugs into view like a locomotive, before that legendary line disembarks and knocks you flat – “The Mississippi delta was shining like a national guitar/I am following the river down the highway, through the cradle of the Civil War”. Seriously, if you are one of those that really doesn’t see just what a biblical, humbling piece of songwriting this is, go back and listen to it again. Listen to the swoon of the pedal steel, bury your face in those lyrics; spare, unembellished accuracies about fatherhood, the loss of love, the search for something vital to make sense of it, the importance of faith – if not in God, in something, anything else – all mused without pomp, backed up by the Everly Brothers themselves, and carried along by that warm, elastic guitar sound that just IS Paul Simon. Go back and listen to it. Now listen to it again. Get it yet? There you go.

Early demos of some of the record’s defining moments close this edition – a nimble alternative version of ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ and raw, revealing demos of ‘Homeless’ and that trumpet-laden triumph, ‘You Can Call Me Al’. If you own Graceland, hand it on someone who hasn’t come to it yet, and get this instead. The pleasure of this edition’s ‘the Making Of…’ themed extras make it a worthy upgrade.

Was Simon wrong to ignore all the advice and go to South Africa? That question still begs an answer which Berlinger’s film never quite provides, though it ably tells both sides of the story. If the resulting record hadn’t been Graceland, an answer might be more glibly reached. The boycott was there to isolate a racist government and show them that the world wouldn’t play ball with a nation that terrorised its black population. There’s no doubt Simon was selfish to plough ahead without seeking the approval of those who organised the cultural boycott, prizing his next record over an international movement. But Graceland is a once in a lifetime achievement, and ultimately, the magnificent end did justify the means. Great art is seldom reasonable; there is often a tyranny at work, an unshakeable belief by its creator that what they are doing must take precedence over everything else. Given what was being fought for in South Africa, it was a hell of a risk to take, but Graceland is indeed fine, great art; a rarely-matched coming together of artists, strangers of different backgrounds and languages, and an introduction to strains of music that the ruling government had sought to curb through brutal means. A quarter of a century on, Graceland still dazzles.

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Friday, 13 July 2012

Yeasayer @ The Lexington, 11.07.12

There’s just something extra classy about Yeasayer. The Brooklyn artpop troupe have elicited all sorts of adjectives from enthusiastic writers and fans, and in 2010 chalked up the none-more-modern honour of ‘Most Blogged About Artist’, but all of this is mere faff and distraction compared to what they actually do.

Tonight they’re at The Lexington to play a sweaty and intimate gig to showcase new material ahead of the release of their third record, Fragrant World, and the upstairs room has been enhanced by a wall of what appear to be timpani or satellite dishes. These turn out to be Clever Concave Reflective Devices for Yeasayer’s touring light show; trust this hyper-creative band, whose complex approach to music-making has won them a loyal following as well as all those excited bloggers, not to do things by halves.

Aloofness is an alien concept to Yeasayer; when singer Chris Keating isn’t shaking and beckoning to the heavens like an evangelist, he’s cuddling and patting the heads of his fans, or crawling on the floor among them. Such inclusiveness works in their favour; the love they collect from the crowd makes this a friendly setting to debut new tracks. The exceptional ‘Henrietta’ feels like an easy progression for them – a loping, dubby rhythm section overlaid with Keating’s paranoid freakout vocals and Yeasayer’s trademark trills and found-sound – but elsewhere their scattergun sound has been tightened considerably.

Fans and detractors alike both cite Yeasayer’s tendency to pile billions of influences and ideas on top of each other, and squash them down into something dense and rich – the musical equivalent of fossil fuel, if you will. With their ears pointed like receivers in 10 different directions at once, the band’s accomplished first album wove together 80s pop and soul, homespun freak-folk, globetrotting mysticism and Remain in Light-esque post-punk, yet a Promethean inventiveness made these old riches seem newly minted, and sophomore record Odd Blood continued this approach, though less cohesively.

With that in mind they seem to have decided it’s time to pick an allegiance – new songs like ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’ and ‘No Bones’ reflect a love of all things disco, from the late Donna Summer’s vibrating, still-futuristic pop-ecstasy and the electro-hedonism of the Communards to a more focused, pulsing Moroder / Depeche Mode sound. Drummer Jaytram’s titanic percussion is punchier, roaming between four-to-the-floor directness and sunny, pealing Caribbean steel drums and cowbell.

They’re right to progress from the sound of their last two records, and maybe they’ve opted to hone their sound rather than spread themselves too thin, but in places it feels like the old Yeasayer alchemy is missing. The starker songs satisfy but don’t electrify, leaving you wishing for some kind of volte-face or miracle moment, for the music to pick up its own stretcher and walk (like the climactic end-hook in Odd Blood’s ‘O.N.E’ as the vocals leap surprisingly into a celebratory falsetto). But the charm and fervour of their live performance keeps up the momentum and, adrenaline-dosing the crowd frequently with interspersed favourites like ‘2080’ and the TVOTR-esque ‘Madder Red’, they remind all present what a vital force they are.

Originally published at The Line of Best Fit.

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"Where can I begin?"

I have always liked Bruce Springsteen. Growing up in the 80s, certain facts were immutable:

- Margaret Thatcher was Bad
- Paul Simon was Good
- Bruce Springsteen.

These were simple facts inherited from my dad when I was small. (Troublingly, after I recently told him I'd finally got Born In The USA on vinyl, he opined that "Bruce Springsteen is good, but a lot of his stuff sounds the same." I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO HAVE A GROWN-UP FATHER/DAUGHTER MUSICAL BONDING MOMENT. Upsetting. If this trend continues he'll tell me he doesn't like Jeff Buckley after all, or that Graceland isn't the greatest record ever made in the history of people making records.) (Also, no it doesn't. It's all different. Every song has its own beating heart. And it's all brilliant.)

But my love for the great man, America's last old-time hero, the best thing to come out of New Joizey, and yes, that tired old nickname, The Boss, has reached new and epidemic levels in the last month. It reached its climax this week as I frantically decided, somewhat bloody late, that I needed to go to his Hyde Park show this Saturday, and my life would be over if I could not get a ticket. Much Gumtree-grazing, 30 emails, one costly ticket scam, two calls to the police, £200-ish down and one glazed, happy look later, I have a ticket. I HAVE A TICKET. I only hope it's legit (it looks it.)

In anticipation and enjoyment of this lovely, lovely fact, I have been drowning myself in his back catalogue for weeks now. Today I discovered Magic.

My little bruv put I'll Work For Your Love on a compilation for me a few yrs ago, but only yesterday did I finally hear the record it came from. Oh GOD. Oh god. It's so wonderful. I didn't know he could do this with his voice. He sings like Richard Hawley! Oh god. Girls In Their Summer Clothes is as graceful as anything he's ever written or performed (and I really liked Secret Garden). You'll Be Coming Down is as beautifully brutal as The Cars' Who's Gonna Drive You Home, which I always thought was a stunning but really unkind song. I love how flooded this album is - I'm a sucker for glorious technicolour, movie-moment, hero-gets-the-girl/hero-swandives-to-his-death-heroically production, the kind that hauls shameless tears down your face.

And I'll Work For Your Love - that crashing, comforting 'this is how life's meant to play out' piano cascade and the chorus's graceful, egoless declaration of intent - it's so Bruce, it's almost a fucking cliche, except that he's so wonderfully good at being him that it's just meta-Bruce - like looking down a corridor of eternal mirrors. If mirrors had arms like rocket launchers, a Fonz-like manner and a really cute arse.

And just because I have no decorum, let's take a moment to celebrate the glorious spectacle that has been Bruce over the years.


Teehee. Mirrors.




I would be happy to find this in my Christmas stocking. That's probably not a euphemism. (He is only 5'9, after all. He'd probably fit.)


Name one other person who can wear medallions like this and get away with it. Other than Mr T.




Still hot. Still got it.


The ultimate bromance. R.I.P. Clarence Clemons.

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Teenage Girls Are Bringing Out My (not so) Inner Raging Feminist



My name's Gen and I'm a Made in Chelsea addict. Properly. I love it to bits.

This post isn't about my allegedly misguided viewing habits though. (Fuck alla y'all, to my mind it's the first really entertaining and likeable bit of whatever it is you call this mish-mash of soap and fly on the wall without using some horrible thickwitted portmanteau nonword I've seen - Essex, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore et al can't touch this, so step away now. Maybe I'm just intrigued by the habits of rich people; Evelyn Waugh it ain't, but it's jolly good fun and compulsive viewing regardless. And anyway, if it's good enough for the ever-witty Daisy Buchanan of Sabotage Times it's good enough for me.)

If MIC brings you out in hate hives, by all means skip to the next blog; discussion about the characters will follow herein. But actually what I want to talk about is one disturbing and nasty side-effect of the show, and a perfect illustration of a larger problem we still don't seem to have gotten past yet - quite the opposite. It's all over Twitter, it comes from the show's fans, and by and large they're teenage girls who live in a world that you would hope had inherited a few established truths about feminism and sisterhood by now.

Nope.

If you dare, search for #MIC or #madeinchelsea. Or, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Look up the female stars of the show - they all have Twitter accounts. Brace yourself for a flood of vicious, spiteful commentary, mainly on their looks. There's blundering, unlucky-in-love Gabriella, who gets every insult from 'dog' to various observations re: the size of her chin, or scheming Rosie of the pale skin and flat hair (Rosie, I hate you but I feel your pain), or recent addition Kimberley; initially lambasted for seeming fake and concealing a shady love-life, it now seems to be all about the shape of her nose and the fact that she wears a lot of white. (Now, say what you want about Kimberley, but the fact remains that she is an uncommonly pretty girl. If we're going to be judgmental about it, comments on her looks are nonsense.)



The only one to completely escape the nastiness is Binky who, as the only girl whose love life the show barely seems to touch on, seems to command almost unanimous adoration. The rule seems to be, Chelsea girls whose love-lives are less than spotless (allegedly or otherwise, in Kimberley's case) get verbal abuse about their looks. Ironically, MIC fans are desperate for the producers to fix Binky up with present golden boy Jamie; if it happened, no doubt Binky too would be in for a tweet-lashing the minute the relationship faltered.

Non-Chelsea fans, if you've read this far your head may be reeling right now with the seeming irrelevance of these people and their love lives, but stay with me.

The men, often found behaving badly, don't seem to encounter this particular kind of abuse, being held up for their behaviour on the show rather than the lack of volume in their hair or badly placed creases in their trousers. They amass armies of willing devotees - even eccentric capitalist and professional diamond dude Francis, who's tried it on with nearly every girl in the show and reportedly made churlish remarks about Emma Watson, who he claims to have dumped. Spencer, the girlfriend-stealing villain of the last series, gets plenty of stick for his behaviour, but no-one ever slags off the shape of his nose.

There are two obvious retorts to this phenomenon.

• The teenage twitterati are catty because they're jealous of the girls that get to pardy™ with, and bed, the objects of their desire. The meanness stems as much from this as from a reaction to perceived behaviour.
• Anyone who signs up to a reality show is exposing themselves to a flood of reaction and potential abuse.

Both of these statements are true. But that doesn't justify dodging the issue; this body fascistic aggression is disturbing, especially when you see it at the deafening volume that Twitter enables. The lack of self-awareness is profound; look at the number of girls who slated and even threatened Louise for dating Jamie then sleeping with his best mate. Constant is the cry of 'forget that ugly slag, have me instead!', and just as prevalent is the ignorance of the fact that if they got what they wanted, they'd be next in the online firing line from the jealous masses.

Tina Fey did a smashing job of portraying this girl-on-girl hatefest in Mean Girls some years back, noting how girls use looks and sexually-themed name-calling to clamber over each other, thus condoning men using the same language to them in turn. The film was loved instantly and clutched to girls' hearts, yet it's changed nothing. Made in Chelsea is the easiest current example to use because, because of the uniquely modern mechanism of Twitter - conversation is instant, not just between fans, but also with the cast themselves, who all have well-used Twitter accounts. But I could just as easily be writing about average girls' conversations in nightclub bathrooms or at the back of the bus.

Any girl who falls short of the accepted, TV-friendly aesthetic standard - slim (but not, heaven forbid, flat-chested), fake-tanned (if white) with a head of hair that can only be achieved by extensions or fucking incredible genetics, and a total absence of hair anywhere else - is in line for a dose of vitriol. But it's all shit; for a start, the time and money that goes into looking like this lends itself to an entirely separate discussion about class and economic divide. All the time girls are directing their energy to what each other looks like, they're not doing the things that will really make them fitter, happier, more productive; reading, writing, singing, building, competing, debating, discovering, travelling, saving lives, learning and earning. Talk about doing yourselves down. Watching this or any other reality tv show is, in technical terms, no bigger a waste of time than watching the football or the latest BBC drama, but spending one's time on the internet, ripping apart the looks of women you've never met? Fucking hell.

Of course we all know that it's all Heat magazine's fault, and the Sun and the Mirror and Grazia and OK and Hello, for ingraining this culture of salacious gossiping about famous people's looks and shortcomings like their cellulite is a matter of public importance. And because it's their fault, we don't have to take any responsibility for proliferating it, do we?

When you see someone calling some girl a dog you should be hollering 'Shut your piehole, you sexist, misogynistic dickhead!', not LOLing and retweeting it.

In a world where girls are still sold into marriages with strange men - where you can be convicted and imprisoned for being a rape victim - where governments are trying to pass laws to criminalise the morning-after pill - where legislators want to make medical rape the price of an abortion - or kidnap and force unwanted abortions on women who can't afford the fine for being illegally pregnant - where women STILL don't earn as much as their male equivalents - where politicians pursue cuts and shady corporate deals that will disproportionally hit women up and down the scale - where it's ever more expensive to get an education - and where intern culture means future careers are increasingly, once again, determined by what sort of money you come from in the first place... where this shit is happening in every corner of the world including the UK, anger from women is as vital as ever. And while women are tearing each other apart, they're ignoring the forces that threaten to make all of their lives a lot harder.

But they're just teenage girls, why would they give a damn about politics and women's rights and all of that boring stuff, all they're interested in is TV and One Direction and clubbing and shopping...

Bollocks. I don't buy that. Teenagers are as capable - more so! undiluted by the creeping, wearying cynicism of age - as anyone at getting up in arms about perceived injustice - look back at the anti-tuition fees student marches for instance. If you enjoy MIC or any of the shows like it that invite online engaging with the storyline and characters, then go ahead and respond to what you see. Or alternatively, if the show's money-worshipping triviality offends you, then call to account the massive gulf it seems to endorse between the hyper-rich and everyone else. But please, enough of the misogynistic bullying and spite. Feminism isn't about doing whatever you want while hating on some girl for having spots around her mouth or limp hair. Read the Beauty Myth and then go and get pissed off at the people who really deserve it.

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Monday, 4 June 2012

Album review: Paul Simon - Graceland (25th anniversary edition)

Originally published at The Line of Best Fit.

“Ugh. I hate Paul Simon.”

Those were a friend’s words last weekend. An argument followed in which I indignantly defended the great (little) man; a timely debate, given the re-release of this seminal record.

It would seem that whatever will be will be reissued, and few records are so deserving of a reappraisal as Graceland. Formed in the shadow of South African apartheid, and crossing cultural picket lines by being recorded there with a host of native musicians, Paul Simon’s seventh studio album drew political revulsion from its critics and support from the UN Anti Apartheid Committee, delighted Paul Simon fans old and new, described a generation, won a Grammy, set up home in critics’ “Top 100″ lists and soundtracked innumerable childhoods. My earliest solid musical memories are a Buddy Holly cassette played endlessly on my first Walkman, and my father’s Saturday morning couch commando tendencies, regularly taking pole position on the sofa to re-watch Paul Simon’s gargantuan Central Park show. I loved Buddy, but Paul Simon’s music was something alive and real, clever and grown-up and mystifying. The seven year old me burbled the chorus to ‘I Know What I Know’ relentlessly, with little clue what the words meant. Small and naïve, I had no sense of Graceland’s cultural importance and the protests it provoked. It infiltrated my childhood so simply and solidly that I thought of Paul Simon like I thought of Paul McCartney; a fixture, a dependable presence, an uncle I surely just hadn’t met yet.

Arguably one of the most trailblazing, loved world music records ever – yet primarily, a pop record – Graceland doesn’t patronise its audience or its influences. Simon’s fascination with and respect for the rhythms and infectious sounds that drew him to Johannesburg is evident and the result is a heady, complex collection of songs. The anniversary edition includes Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger’s documentary about the recording and touring of Graceland in the dark days of South Africa’s war on its own people, with Simon returning to visit the friends he made all those years ago. As it shows, the melodic structure of this groundbreaking record was built by many hands, assembled from collaborative jam sessions and the South African musicians’ ideas and natural styles, as well as the shades of Americana that Simon was also exploring at the time, with the remarkable lyrics sewn into this tapestry after all else was done.

“Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.”

There’s no sense of the diverse components, from mbaqanga and Ladysmith Black Mambazo‘s remarkable a cappella performances, to Creole zydeco, being watered down for easy consumption; they’re already accessible, a cascade of gorgeous melodies, irresistible rhythms, voices that dance and lock together to become a complicated percussive instrument in their own right. “Our music is always regarded as third world music”, opined producer Koloi Lebona in Under African Skies, applauding Simon’s stance; his decision to bypass the concerns of the anti-apartheid movement and ignore the boycott still divides opinion, but it’s beyond doubt that Graceland did much to transport a fresh array of music styles to the mainstream and dispel tired clichés about African culture, and its influence is still keenly felt today. Ladysmith Black Mambazo became a household name after Graceland was completed, and many of the artists involved toured the record together globally.

The political story of Simon’s best-loved record provides the narrative thread to the film, but most striking is the burgeoning friendships between Simon and the musicians he approached to help him write and record the record. From initial meetings, strangers fundamentally separated by colour, language and a sediment of mistrust, to a studio full of new friends, dancing and grinning and creating something wonderful, it’s an infectious and engaging story – particularly considering the widespread misery and fear that threatened the African musicians outside the studio.

As for the record itself, it was a potent return to form for the songwriter after the disappointing flop of Hearts & Bones – the remnants of his abortive reunion project with Art Garfunkel. Graceland combined bewitching, surprising music with his trademark lyrical dexterity; he was once more at the top of his game.

“She comes back to tell me she’s gone…as if I didn’t know my own bed. As if I’d never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.”

Paul Simon is the master of the nuanced lyric, the tiny indicator that reveals the heart of the matter. As Quincy Jones notes in the documentary, “He’s got that curious mind”. A writer’s writer, his wordplay is faultless and he deploys flippancy and wit with devastating mildness. The songs skip and trill and shrug; melodies become casual little jams and riffs, phrases rolled around reflectively before revealing unmistakeable purpose. You can never accuse him of bitterness, but his observations are shot through with the loudly unspoken. After the opening four-shot explosion of ‘The Boy in The Bubble’ and Forere Motloheloa’s peerless, famed accordion groove, its expectant pace is given unsettling resonance by lines about “lasers in the jungle” and a “bomb in the baby carriage” – whether Simon is referring to Johannesburg’s troubles, Vietnam or any other upheavals of the last twenty years, the effect is arresting. Even at his most flip, there are little spots of yearning – ‘You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could’ – those notes reaching and clutching at human contact and understanding. And ‘Crazy Love Vol II’ is, lyrically, a painful story of a life passed by, a tragic lack of ambition, the weary using-up of time and the realisation of mortality, yet is delivered with the characteristic, smarting joy that radiates from his musical arrangements; from the opening, fluttering fall of guitars that gleam like steel drums, its bright, futile hopefulness cuts deeply.

Is the melody itself, lightfooted and flippant, a wry extension of the double-edged Jewish humour that permeates his lyrics? Or does it just serve to remind us that our problems are just distractions, the sense that even if the little things don’t work out, there are bigger things to spend one’s time on? That if the big things tank too, there’s still hope if nothing else? These are the questions that Simon’s music poses but never answers.

That eponymous, game-changing title song shuffles and chugs into view like a locomotive, before that legendary line disembarks and knocks you flat – “The Mississippi delta was shining like a national guitar/I am following the river down the highway, through the cradle of the Civil War”. Seriously, if you are one of those that really doesn’t see just what a biblical, humbling piece of songwriting this is, go back and listen to it again. Listen to the swoon of the pedal steel, bury your face in those lyrics; spare, unembellished accuracies about fatherhood, the loss of love, the search for something vital to make sense of it, the importance of faith – if not in God, in something, anything else – all mused without pomp, backed up by the Everly Brothers themselves, and carried along by that warm, elastic guitar sound that just IS Paul Simon. Go back and listen to it. Now listen to it again. Get it yet? There you go.

Early demos of some of the record’s defining moments close this edition – a nimble alternative version of ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ and raw, revealing demos of ‘Homeless’ and that trumpet-laden triumph, ‘You Can Call Me Al’. If you own Graceland, hand it on someone who hasn’t come to it yet, and get this instead. The pleasure of this edition’s ‘the Making Of…’ themed extras make it a worthy upgrade.

Was Simon wrong to ignore all the advice and go to South Africa? That question still begs an answer which Berlinger’s film never quite provides, though it ably tells both sides of the story. If the resulting record hadn’t been Graceland, an answer might be more glibly reached. The boycott was there to isolate a racist government and show them that the world wouldn’t play ball with a nation that terrorised its black population. There’s no doubt Simon was selfish to plough ahead without seeking the approval of those who organised the cultural boycott, prizing his next record over an international movement. But Graceland is a once in a lifetime achievement, and ultimately, the magnificent end did justify the means. Great art is seldom reasonable; there is often a tyranny at work, an unshakable belief by its creator that what they are doing must take precedence over everything else. Given what was being fought for in South Africa, it was a hell of a risk to take, but Graceland is indeed fine, great art; a rarely-matched coming together of artists, strangers of different backgrounds and languages, and an introduction to strains of music that the ruling government had sought to curb through brutal means. A quarter of a century on, Graceland still dazzles.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Spring cleaning

So I bought one of these:

And now I have a home office. My living room has become a restful place of work. In a sunlit bay window, I can curl up on my telephone chair laptop chair, my Macbook fits snugly on its surface, and I can write and do accounts. At the back of the room, tucked in a corner, is my easel and assorted art paraphernalia. There, I paint. And nestled between the two corners is my turntable, to soundtrack whatever I'm doing. It's either vinyl or Spotify; my CDs are now little more than artifacts. The TV is on a lot less these days.

As for here, I'm having a bit of a clear out over the next few days. Deleting dead links, swapping things around a bit. The content here will be more music focused as well. I love fashion as much as ever, so I will probably still write about it, but I no longer consider this a fashion blog. It's just a vault for my various scribblings. These days I write for The Line of Best Fit but some things will just end up here. I haven't really worked out a sensible way of deciding what to submit and what to keep (I guess largely it comes down to what I imagine they'll want to run).

Painting takes up a lot of my life at the moment, and lots of business work relating to it; selling prints, sorting out shows, doing accounts (I thought I'd start as I mean to go on, and actually document receipts and the like. We'll see how long that lasts). The new blog header is a quick snapshot of one of my paintings. You can see more of that sort of thing at my other blog here. I'd really like to build a proper website for my work, but I've got to relearn HTML before I can do that. I have my work cut out for me...

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Pins + IO Echo @ Birthdays, Dalston

The singer does that nonchalant mooch back and forth - the one that Ian Brown built a career on, looking gloomily disgusted with the world. Only in this case, the singer's a bone-sized blonde with the silhouette of a screwdriver and a floorlength pale pink kimono billowing around her. LA's IO Echo start like Stereolab, wearing their detached cool like armour, but they rapidly heat up and abandon themselves to the kind of mad, passionate MGMT pop where the guitars and bass boing around getting in your face and making jazz hands at your ears like incomprehensible idiots at a party.

It's kind of a let down when they feel the need to namedrop the bands who came to see them play but fuck it, they're good, so let's not hate on them too much. It's apt enough that they give chops to the Big Pink, because the London duo's seismic, belligerent sound is represented here in full force. It'll be interesting to see how this translates on record, because when you step back twenty feet IO Echo don't have the power to change your mind, let alone your life. But suspend disbelief and step back into the blast zone of the speakers and it makes instant, perfect sense. The bass drills through Birthdays' eyewatering sound system like Shell in the Niger Delta, and while there's not a new note to be found, it's a satisfying, sexy noise they make.

The problem with Pins is that Dum Dum Girls were doing this before them, and Vivian Girls before that, and the Raveonettes before that, and the Shangri-Las waaay before...you get the picture. Unlike Pins, they all added something new to the mix. Gurlvox over a nihilistic, doomed wave of not-so-nostalgic surf guitar is never not gonna sound good, but... is this it? There has to be something new to add to this genre, but Pins didn't pack it with their flightcases, arriving instead with glum looks, sharp hair and, seemingly, the hope that this is enough. It's not. They don't attack with enough conviction to justify music so frantically referential. It's slick and familiar when they break from the 60s retro and dip into Suicide's isolated, paranoid crackle instead, but the lack of personal ideas still rankles. Hey, Pins - do more! Be more! Show us something new. Find a way to put it all together differently, or just do it harder than anyone else.

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Monday, 30 April 2012

Maxi skirts and Morocco

A long time ago, I wrote this about maxi skirts. I have changed my mind.

Last week I went to Morocco. It was my first visit to a Muslim country (albeit a pretty relaxed one) and I decided not to be That Tourist, cheerfully oblivious to the dress code at her destination of choice. I saw one chap (orange tan, sailor tattoos) striding across Jemaa El Fna in shorts and flipflops and nothing else, and thought "..you tit."

I brought floorlength dresses and one pair of jeans, with a variety of long-sleeved tops to cover my shoulders & collarbone with, and some scarves to cover my hair. One dress was madly patterned, Pucci-style, in purple, blue, green and acid yellow; I wore a thin acid yellow jumper on top. Another was in two layers of sheer grey chiffon, over which I wore Topshop's ribbed nut-coloured cropped top, and the third was a recent purchase; a perfect, plain black jersey racerback dress. It's floorlength but not especially roomy; it still hugs the figure at one's curvier extremes, falling gracefully from the knees downwards. Amazing with the loose acid saffron separates that Monki do right now, but even better with a sheer, tomato-red lurex batwing jumper. I wore headscarves that complemented the colours of the clothes; with the black and red, I wore a flowery silk scarf in similar colours. There is an art to tying a headscarf in such a way that it stays atop one's bonce and conceals most of the hair, but does not look as though one has bandaged one's head.

For someone used to wearing less...sedate clothes, it was a strange departure, and one I really enjoyed. I felt elegant in my head-to-toe attire. I felt dignified, and if anyone had made any cheeky remarks, I think I would have felt qualified to fix them with my most owlish hard stare, a bit like my Year 10 science teacher used to do. I didn't feel frumpy, as I feared I might; I guess that's down to the cut of the clothes. They didn't swamp me - one could still see basically what shape I was - but they left much more to the imagination than, I guess, elegant and more typically western clothes do. Wearing such long clothes definitely made me feel more grown-up - and quite a lot taller.

Marrakech itself was wonderful; a festival of colour and noise and scent. Animals everywhere; the streets are filled with untidy but seemingly quite content and friendly cats, donkeys navigate the crowded alleyways tugging high-laden carts, horses pull carriages and the sound of birdsong is cacophonous and quite distinct; certain phrases reverberated in my head for days afterwards. Everywhere you go, you can smell mint and cumin, often interrupted by the less glamorous smells of the street but there were very few genuinely unpleasant pongs.

The colour is something else; predominantly a clay-pink city, the rainbow colours of the souks dominate everything. Every shopkeeper puts his wares on full display; one of the prettiest things was the frequent 8-foot high displays of coloured slippers. Every colour seems brighter, and every spice seller and apothecary (of which there are hundreds) calls out, "Excuse me! What is this??", pointing to one or another mysterious ware to pique your curiosity.

It's not a city for the claustrophobic or misanthropic but it is wildly beautiful and exciting, and if you settle into the pull-and-push of it, very welcoming. One charming young apothecary first loaded us up with free gifts and then sat us down for some mint tea, brought alive by an eye-opening burst of eucalyptus (my mother nearly spluttered her tea out on tasting it), and chatted with us for 45 minutes in French and English, teaching us Arabic words and knowing full well that we'd buy a good selection of his wares. When we made to leave and find some lunch, he fetched his brother to ferry us to the rooftop of nearby riad for a hearty lunch.

Of course, they all made a tidy sum from our custom, but we had one of the nicest meals of the entire stay, and got one of the best possible introductions to the city - as well as a lifetime's supply of eucalyptus crystals, oregano and ras el hanout mixed spice, and a ceramic lip stain (you wet your finger and run it along the gold-painted ceramic ornament, and it comes off red on your finger). The moral: stay and take a guess, when they ask you "What is this??" And remember to say thank you - 'shukran'!

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Who feels like going shopping?

Ladies! STOP THROWING OUT YOUR CLOTHES.


Ignore every magazine article that tells you to streamline your wardrobe and chuck out anything you haven't worn in the last year. They're just trying to get you to get rid of your shit so that you'll go out and buy more. It's a massive conspiracy. A capsule wardrobe is only useful if you have zero interest in fashion (fair enough) or are going on holiday. Your clothes are not out of date, they probably just need re-contextualising.

I learned this the hard way. I still regret things I let go. I know now that I was wrong.

My favourite pair of trousers lived in a screwed up ball at the back of my wardrobe for ten years. They were a charity shop gamble, a brocade mistake. Never did I think they'd be stylish, and I thought I'd wasted my £5 (at 17, when most things in charity shops were £2.50, this was upsetting). Now they come out every summer. They would make Lana del Rey weep. She'll never have a pair of trousers like these. They are super high-waisted in soft silk copper and black brocade, slim-cut and cropped at the ankle, and they look phenomenal with wedge sandals. They didn't stay up well at the waist, so I made belt-loops out of an old black dress lining (a new challenge; easy, it turns out. Just cut the length, then fold in to hide the edges and get your needle & thread out) and I wear them with skinny belts.

Every time my boyfriend suggests I throw some clothes out, I retrieve the trousers, hold them up and make this face:



He hates those fucking trousers now.

Store your stuff better. Keep frequently worn clothes in one place. Keep things you haven't worn in ages somewhere else, rolled up very tightly, to save space. (Mothballs and clothes bags are useful.) When you get bored of your clothes, rummage through these things. Treat your wardrobe as a treasure trove. Keep a good sewing kit to hand.

You don't have to be a pro to make changes and update things in small ways. Mend your clothes when they break. It's easy to raise or repair a hem (turn inside out, fold along a straight line, pin, try on to make sure it doesn't look wack, then sew it with a machine or needle & thread). New buttons are a doddle and take a few minutes. You can take an open necked shirt and add a new buttonhole at the top so it buttons all the way to the top (buttonholes don't need a fancy sewing machine; mark where you want the button, make a slit in the right place, check it's not too big/small, and make tiny looped stitches around the raw edges to secure it). Buy different collars to add to shirts, rather than buying a new shirt. You can remove or shorten sleeves, change belts, dye clothes in the washing machine, or sew parallel seams down the sides of skirts to change the fit slightly.

Cheap secondhand clothes are awesome for risking DIY on; spend yr money something oversized and just see what you can do with it (I made a prom dress out of a mumsy old C&A dress, and I lack the sewing skillz. I just put it on inside out, pinned a new outline around myself, and then used the pins as a guide to draw and sew new seams down the sides - a smaller waist, keeping the fullness of the skirt, and a lower-cut neckline). It's not too tricky, just set aside an afternoon to do it. If nothing else, the fabric might be useful for other things. If you find a good cheap basic that fits amazingly, note it and buy two or three; better to have a standby (or something to alter later) than rue the unhappy day when it wears out and you waste money fruitlessly trying to find a perfect replacement.

Ditch your things if you truly decide you hate them, or if they'll never ever fit you again and are totally unsalvageable, or if someone vomited on them at a party and the smell haunts you. Otherwise there's a good chance they'll save you money later on.

Every time you feel the need for something new, ask yourself if you could make it out of something you already have.

If you decide you really hate your old clothes and want new stuff, try swapping them at clothes swaps, either with friends or at proper events. I surrendered a Miu Miu shirt that I finally accepted wasn't meant for the likes of me, and got a free pair of plum and gold heels instead. Or sell them on eBay/car boot sales etc, and then use the proceeds to buy something new.

Don't buy things you know you'll throw out three months from now! PLEASE.

It's fuelling the fast-fashion industry at the expense of independent stores and it's encouraging magazines to keep selling us more tat, momentarily satisfying the mustbuysomethingNOW itch but not actually making us feel like the elegant, put-together mavens they promise we'll become. And it's a huge waste of money. Find shops you can trust, shop second-hand, sniff out bargains that you'll keep for years. Try things on before paying for them.

Also, car boot sales are king. You know those clothes you're offloading because they'll never work for you? Everyone else here is doing the same, and they're not putting a £50 tag on it and calling it 'vintage'.

And stop buying magazines that tell you you're not thin or cool enough or having good enough sex. They're A4-sized Mean Girls and it's ludicrous to pay £4.00 a month to hang out with them. Unless they come with a free gift - I love those free makeup bags they give away.

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