Saturday, 7 January 2012

Roman holiday

Typical, you wait for a year in the rain, and then three come along at once.

I think I've realised where I'm meant to be.

I spent a few days in Rome between Christmas and the new year.

Rome is a city of mixed memories for me. There was the first encounter; the whole place was cold and windy and rainy! Not whatI had hoped for. Everything since has been better, from romantic getaways to simple family returns to my favourite not-London city. It's a couple of years since I've been back, so I was excited.

It hit me as soon as I was there - I've never felt anything so powerful for a place. I knew I loved the city but I had never felt any city pull me away from London before. I dreaded going home. I didn't particularly revisit places I knew, other than the cat sanctuary I always visit. I explored Trastevere properly, and sought out vintage shops in Via del Governor Vecchio (success - the suede lace-up black ankle boots to eclipse all other boots, 80 Euros - secondhand Gucci!), and sipped Aperol alone at sunset behind Piazza Navona, and plunged into the huge Saturday fruit & vegetable / spices market in Campo del Fiori. I walked along the river for the first time for a few hours - what a beautiful, desolate, lovely, lonely walk it is. I fell in love with every single bridge. I took eight hundred photos on three cameras.


- The colour of the city. Everything is sand and sunset coloured. Even the grey buildings are warm looking. Everything is lit at night. The cobbles reflect everything. It's not a city for heels but I did admirably nonetheless.

- It's a city you can get lost in, after a hundred twisting streets explored, and think yourself miles from anywhere you know, only to find yourself thrown out onto Vittorio Emmanuele - recognisable bus numbers, and that shop you walked past two hours ago! A compass will not help you in Rome. Optimism will.

- Everyone in Rome wears puffa jackets. Everyone. Some of the men wear discreet navy options, and some wear terrifying PVC abominations with shiny jeans. Some of the girls wear short casual versions, and others wear snow-bunny style knee-length fitted puffa coats. Inflation is alive and well in Roma. If I lived in Rome, I would not succumb to this trend. I will never clad myself in balloons.

- The girls do not seem to wear high heels! It is in my nature to make an effort (to be taller), and while I thought I looked perfectly December-practical in skinny jeans, soft jumpers, a warm fluffy hat, my aunt's old plum boucle jacket and a big wrappy scarf, my stilettos seemed to attract attention. A man followed me across a piazza in Trastevere to tell me I was 'the best tourist' he had ever seen. Damning me with faint praise perhaps? They were nothing flashy - warm brown leather ankle boots, albeit mounted on lethal weapons holding me aloft. I looked at the other girls' shoes, and to a woman they were all either trainers or flat boots. I guess the cobbles partly account for that, but they really aren't that difficult to negotiate if your shoes are comfortable, heels or no. Heels are perhaps just not the culture.

Going home was awful. I didn't think I could bear to get in the taxi to the airport. A week later I am still not used to London. It feels cold and unreflective. This has never happened - I LOVE London. I think Rome is the place for me. I know no-one there but it deters me not. Time to sell some paintings and learn Italian.


Friday, 6 January 2012

Ulterior - Wild in Wildlife

Ulterior? Ulteri-phwoar, you mean. It's preposterous that I haven't seen Ulterior before. Since HTRK knocked my socks off back in 2007 (and kept on keeping on, their recent post-Sean full-length is an inky masterpiece) and S.C.U.M. caught my eye with a live set back at Offset a few years back, I have had my eye on this whole goth revival. Fuck it, I've had to put up with people calling me a goth for years, it's about time I got something back. So how did I miss Ulterior? It's not like I never heard of them; I just never got round to them.

Anyway, last night I did, and onstage marched this gang in black (except for the keyboardist in white jeans who didn't get the memo); tall skinny guitarist with his too-big clothes pinned roughly around him, and singer who looked like the chappy from The Big Pink if you wrapped him in gaffa tape and shiny puffa cladding and made him wear leather trousers against his will. There were also some unjustifiable reflective aviators, but he carried it off because when you're wearing a pvc puffa jacket, nothing seems ludicrous in comparison. (The Italians know this.)

And it was all *SLAM SLAM SLAM* (no, NOT in a Spice Girls way) and vocals shouted into the stagesmoke and massively overstated synth drums, but it felt very industrial and brutal and empty and - key - MODERN. Something newly carved and freshly birthed, not a rehash of all the stuff that was done better by better rehashers.

I'm listening to them now on Spotify. Strange, they sound very different. It's a funny thing, when a band you like live is a completely different band that you still like for completely different reasons on record. This record is properly gothy and 80s crashdrum-laden. The vox are sung, not roared, and they have that purified quality that every singer who loves Dave Gahan tends to cultivate. It really really works because they're just harder and better than a lot of the bands that attempt this sound.

Part of me can't help but think this is the sound that White Rose Movement would have aimed for if they'd had a brain cell between them. Which is a bit mean, not to White Rose Movement (because they deserve it), but to Ulterior, because I really think they're better than comparisons to WRM suggest. But nonetheless, that's what comes to mind. It sounds like sleaze and leather jackets and tall buildings and the moon through smog and fast cars with buzzsaws for tyres. And that all sounds shittily cliched because this sound is, it's nearly 30 years old, but fuck it, if chaps like Ulterior can keep it alive and kicking, then long may the life support continue.