Tuesday, 31 July 2007
About as relaxed as this, in fact.
Thursday, 26 July 2007
Last night I went to a gathering of bods who had been involved in one way or another with the music festival I had been helping at a couple of weekends ago.
As thanks for my travails (whatever that means), I was given a present: things are looking rosy again!
I like it when this kind of thing happens.
Meanwhile I'm away this weekend, visiting a couple of good friends and their wonderful 8-month old daughter in a lovely North Derbyshire village (so North it overlooks Manchester from a great height). Hence, things will be a little quieter here at the Press, probably. Unless I do some late-night, less-than-sober writings. Either way, have a good weekend yourselves, whoever might read this.
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
That particular post wasn't meant to get emotional - I was/am saving the bulk of that stuff for another time, when it seems right - the original intention was more about how anniversaries seem quite abstract and don't usually stir much emotion in me in themselves. A nice irony then that as I was writing, I couldn't help but get involved.
It has been a very nice and affirmative blogging experience, to receive that warmth from those who responded. I'm really very grateful for it.
It also resulted in the birth of another blog, that of the sinister welder, already mentioned more than once on these pages recently, though not by that name (and no, he's not my namesake). I'm looking forward to seeing what he has to write (no pressure or anything), I'm sure he won't mind people stopping by at his shed to pay him a visit.
Sunday, 22 July 2007
Presently though, I don't feel the need to place ever so much emphasis on this - I'll write about it when it feels right to do so. Because apart from a few moments to give pause for reflection and a firm nod of respect, I've never really focussed all that much on this particular day or date. Last year, the tenth anniversary, passed without me even being aware of it til later that week, and that in itself felt quite healthy.
What I think I'm trying to say is that memories, thoughts and emotions will present themselves at any given moment, for any number of possible reasons, and that's when I'll give them their due significance: an anniversary, in itself, doesn't necessarily do that for me.
But I'll share the following, if you don't mind.
My dad was cremated. There's no headstone or memorial of any kind to mark his passing - no churchyard to go to, to lay flowers or pay our respects. This had been my mum's decision - we did discuss this, I remember, and though I wasn't fully comfortable with it, I didn't really question it.
The result, however, was that I had to find my own way of remembering him and paying my respects. It was a struggle, since a gravestone is a point of focus, an anchor. Finally I came to a point of realisation. A few years previously, my dad had given me his guitar - without any pomp or ceremony, it was just that mine needed some repair work and my band had a few gigs to play. He'd never asked for it back.
I'm sure that to some degree I got, among many other things, my love of music from him. Definitely my appreciation of jazz and blues. He was also surprisingly (to me) receptive to some of the weird records that I would bring back home and play.
Anyway, the guitar now serves to symbolise how I remember him. It does it, I think, far better than any gravestone: more personal, more fitting - it says so much more about him and me. Also, like his memory, it has been there with me wherever I am.
The memory of him, I'll always carry with me regardless. It does, of course, have a certain weight. I'm thankful to reflect that it isn't a burden.
Despite what I wrote in the first part of this post, now I'm getting emotional.
Friday, 20 July 2007
1. I was in a band with someone who is now a journalist and published author. During a rehearsal one evening when his guitar prowess was particularly slack, we made a bet. The bet was that I could do an impression of his guitar-playing better than he could hit me (I'm not quite sure how we came to agree on that).
"You're on," he said.
I did an impression of his guitar playing. He hit me square on the jaw.
"Told you," I said. "Fair enough," he said, accepting defeat graciously.
2. I can bend my thumbs back 90 degrees (without having to push them). Someone told me that's a sign of having an incredibly bad temper - but they can just piss off, what the fuck do they know?
3. Aged 18, I had a minor operation, which required me to have general anaesthetic. The nurse who brought me back to consciousness had, coincidentally, been one of my play-school teachers when I was aged 3 or 4, and I had not seen her since then. I was seriously convinced, when I saw her face, that I had actually died. I remember it taking her a good few minutes to convince me otherwise.
4. The very first record I bought was "Baggy Trousers" by Madness. However, the first record I considered to be my own, some years earlier, was my dad's copy of "Honky Tonk Women" by the Rolling Stones. I'm sure he and my mum were amused to hear me singing along with the lyrics at such a tender age. Another memory is of hearing a song on the radio and asking my mum what it was.
" 'Fernando', by ABBA" she replied. I then had to get her to explain the distinction between the name of the song, and who was singing it, which was the first time I was aware of the difference. (Incidentally, the most recent record I bought was "Jealous of Shit and Shine" by Shit and Shine)
5. 11 years ago this weekend, my father died (on the 22nd).
6. I don't own a television and haven't done for at least 10 years. When anyone asks about this I tell them, "I can't stand spending all evening sitting in front of a screen - I much prefer to pass the time using my computer instead."
7. My favourite whisky is Laphroiag. Pure heaven in a glass - or straight out of the bottle (no I'm not that bad). Favourite beer is currently Theakston's Old Peculier. Favourite wine is La Chasse du Pape (red, of course. If anyone is passing through Carrefour at Calais...).
8. Anna Mr mentions mild vertigo in amongst her 8 facts. I discovered (though whether this is medically true has not been established) that I too have mild vertigo. The moment of discovery was when I was half way across Striding Edge, by which point it made more sense to carry on than to turn back. I was terrified, and spent the rest of that particular walk feeling euphoric that I was still alive.
Hope you don't mind me not tagging anyone else. If I was going to do so, they've already been tagged in the first place - but feel free once again to call me a spoilsport.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
You hail from the Peak District, I believe. Do you feel an exile in the city? Are those wide open spaces and delectable views a comforting influence in your urban life?
I hail from almost, but not quite, the Peak District - from somewhere semi-rural but altogether less pretty. I love the Peak District, and being so close to it did make it part of the fabric of my upbringing. I would say that more closed, intimate, potentially secret little pockets of countryside (like those described in Home) have a much more raw, direct kind of resonance for me though, which hasn't really dimmed over time. Paths enclosed by hedgerows or trees. Spaces in which to hide and think - or not think, as the case may be. I'm not sure how articulate I can be about why that is, without (say) re-reading The Poetics of Space first....
Do I feel like an exile in the city? Yes if I'm here for a long uninterrupted spell. I need my fix of rural space. Luckily these days (when it's not constantly raining) I can cycle out to charming areas of countryside within a short space of time, and that does me a hell of a lot of good. Listening to silence being punctuated by sounds of near-silence. I don't always want to be a city dweller, and it can at times be isolating in its own way - but some of the time I think I've got the best of both worlds.
You've sometimes expressed dissatisfaction, and even frustration, with some aspects of your work. Do you have any plans for moving into more congenial spheres?
Work is taking on an increasingly Kafkaesque sense of freakishness, and is doing my head in. This week, it seems, especially so - though I wouldn't go into any detail here. If nothing else it perhaps proves a certain level of resilience, though moaning but doing nothing about it is surely an example of the worst, most annoying kind of comfort zone.
So yes I want, need and would really welcome a change. Regardless of the efforts I've made so far though, I'm still having trouble answering rather basic, crucial questions, such as: so what do I actually want to DO? At present I'm not sure how happy I'll ever really be in any kind of structured, conventional employment (though I do have a very calming, peaceful image of working in a clearing in a forest spending my days chopping logs with an axe).
You have wide artistic and musical interests. Please tell us something about these.
Now this could really be a nightmare question to answer, being so open-ended as to allow me to wrap myself in knots of incoherent pretentious twaddle, or at least the blogging equivalent of eating spaghetti.
However, I'll begin with an example which I hope might shed at least some light onto such territory:
When I began my MA course in Fine Art (oooohhh, X years ago) I had the strange but strong assumption that my work had to be big and clever. I was doing an MA (gasp) course after all. Everything Would Be Very Earnest And Serious And Require A Lot Of Thought And Intellectual Rigour. Needless to say, when I tried to apply such principles to my work, the result was that it was a Load Of Shit.
My final show, which was my best, most playful, free, often bizarre work, was collectively entitled "Neither Big Nor Clever." Having scrapped my previous approach about a third of the way through the course I started afresh with a new modus operandi which could be summed up as "No Idea is Too Stupid."
Which didn't mean I was solely engaged in the pursuit of stupid ideas, rather that it opened me up to all sorts of possibilities which I might previously have dismissed. This proved to very liberating, enriching and exciting, and hopefully sums up much of my mindset in this respect.
The relevance of this (I hope) to anticant's question, is that it reflects on my approach to other people's work of whatever form in the sense that:
It helps me to constructively dismiss or question my assumptions towards works of art or music, especially assumptions as to what is "good" or "bad", "acceptable" or "unacceptable" for example. The framework of (even dumb) ideas seems to be the key.
What may seem stupid, surprising, ugly, brutal, violent, shocking, twee, scattershot (insert other adjectives at random) and therefore seem to detract from my appreciation of something, may actually be the key to my appreciation of it.
I also think John Peel has a lot to answer for. It was nice to listen to a radio show and frequently hear, say, a prime piece of 1940's jazz played back-to-back with a monolithic slab of white noise or some other such extreme, and not see anything inherently odd in that.
Right, I've wrapped myself in knots after all. Next question...
If you could be granted one wish that you believe would improve the plight of humanity, what would it be?
That everyone go and see The Fall in concert at least once. I tried to think of a more weighty answer to this one, I really did...
How has the internet, and blogging, changed your life?
I'm a lot paler, since I go outdoors less. As regards the internet, fairly common factors: its much easier to keep in touch with people on the other side of the world; much easier to have access to information of whatever form generally. I don't think this is completely a good thing, since it is also very easy to take so much of it for granted. I'm glad to remember the thrill of getting letters through the post, for example.
Blogging has, I think, been a more generally positive thing for me. Getting involved in talking with interesting if not always like-minded people. There's a definite charm in participating in conversations and debates with people from very different places, circumstances, experience and (maybe) status. Blogging has made me think about a lot of themes and topics which I might not have otherwise have been exposed to.
My own blog has, in terms of process, felt like a good thing for me to have set up, at least so far. It feels like it helps me to order my thinking much more again. Rather than "just" thinking about things, I'm finding that I'm trying much more to find a way to adequately express those thoughts: to develop the language again. Getting a response to those thoughts is also quite a marvellous thing.
Directions for the interview meme:
1. Leave a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
I'll say no more (until I publish the results of my interview questions c/o anticant)
You're Les Miserables!
by Victor Hugo
One of the best known people in your community, you have become
something of a phenomenon. People have sung about you, danced in your honor, created all
manner of art in your name. And yet your story is one of failure and despair, with a few
brief exceptions. A hopeless romantic, you'll never stop hoping that more good will come
from your failings than is ever possible. Beware detectives and prison guards bearing
Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
Meanwhile, lately I've been writing thousands and thousands of words (quantity if not quality) about my recent trip away. I'm not a hundred per cent sure what the purpose of those writings are, not that I'm too concerned. Initially just a personal memoir, and at the moment unnecessarily bogged down with detail. Maybe a creative exercise too: I've been enjoying sitting down and focusing on doing something productive day after day over the last couple of weeks, something which had been previously lacking.
I know that being immersed in writing has been a bit of an escape too. The more I do (whether writing, music or whatever) the happier I am.
So rather than coming out with a tired and incoherent blog tonight I thought I'd post a tiny (and slightly odd) snippet from the above writings: a couple of paragraphs relating to the drive to the airport in the early hours.
...by the time we hit the M1 we were listening to the delicious strains of “Lonely Woman”, opening track on Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” This was Juan’s choice*, and it was a good one.
As we continued down the motorway, I looked east, and there were the vestigial remains of last night’s sun, or the very first signs of dawn, which wouldn’t be in full swing for another hour or so. I marvelled at how some things in the world work like they’re supposed to. Look east in the morning and there’s the sun – or evidence of it at least. And if east was to my left, then that meant that we were going south. Brilliant! That was the exact direction we needed to be heading.
I looked at Juan who was due west of me – which was lucky since that meant he was in the driver’s seat. Everything was working out well so far.
“You all right?” I asked.
I looked behind, which was north, and was equally satisfied to see that as we were heading south, we were leaving north behind us. At times like this it was good to be alive.
*My mate Dave's name has been changed to Juan for the sake of confidentiality
Thursday, 12 July 2007
In this one, I was in some old, walled Italian city. Beautiful place, all narrow streets, squares and porticos (whatever they are - it sounds Italian so I'll leave it in). Actually I don't know why it was Italian, it just was.
The thing about it was, the place was under siege. By whom, I don't know. But there was chaos, panic and unrest throughout, as old stone blocks fell from the sides of buildings and fire seemed to reign down from the sky (the impression I got was that the fire was a bombardment of missiles of some sort - but it was aflame anyway).
Amidst all this, I was in a place which seemed like some kind of hostel or commune or something. There was a huge communal kitchen with a few side rooms almost like dorms and offices (the implication seemed to be that I worked in this kitchen along with someone else). The tension in here was palpable too.
There was a sense of day and night passing and things getting more intense, everyone in motion, hurrying around as things appeared to be getting more desperate outside.
Then, in this hostel/commune kitchen area, someone took me to one side. A mysterious hooded figure, ill-defined, but like an odd cross between the sandman and a sinister bond villain. He told me I had one sure-fire way of getting out. He told me to be very careful, and not to let anyone else in on this, except one other person who already knew, and who would be escaping with me.
I had to lean forward as he whispered to me my instructions. It was important I didn't miss a detail, I thought. His voice sounded ancient and full of gravitas (or gravel).
"You will be aware....that there are two trays full of cakes in the cupboard down there."
"You will take these cakes with you - but do not let anyone else see them. These are your key to escape."
The cakes? THE CAKES? CAKES ARE MY WAY OUT?
"SsssssSSSSHHHHHHHHHH! Look! Everyone else is looking for them! If you tell anyone, your chance is lost!"
I lowered my voice.
So, I was to just take the cakes and go?
"Yes. With her -" he pointed to the woman who worked alongside me in the kitchen " - but don't let anyone see you with the cakes!"
Guess what? He was right. I didn't know how, but they really were our escape ticket. We got the cakes, all two trays of them. We sidled our way through the chaos both within and without the building, and out of the increasingly hellish spectacle of the walled city, taking strength and courage from each other (and the cakes, presumably) as we went.
My lazy attempts at analysis so far make me think that the city and the pandemonium within it, represent the often dispiriting chaos that is my work. Perhaps the woman I escape with, represents the fact that I need some help from someone to effectively change my situation. Maybe the sandman/Bond villain represents my subconscious, or conscience (oh dear, is that what it looks like?), trying to guide me along. Maybe, maybe not, but that all makes some kind of sense so far.
But the cake? Any ideas?
Sunday, 8 July 2007
I remember walking with my parents and my brother one evening. It was a gorgeous, sunny evening, like the ones we were fortunate enough to have this weekend. Although not in a particularly scenic part of Derbyshire, a couple of minutes on foot would lead us to a little network of paths and fields. Some were almost tunnel-like, covered overhead as they were by trees - then a change in direction would lead to an opening, to an expanse, relatively speaking.
I was knee-height to my mum and dad. I've a strong image in my mind of them being tall and me being dwarfed by them - my arm aloft to hold one of their hands, and a sense of walking alongside their legs. As we walked, it felt like an adventure - journeying to somewhere unknown and secret. Charting new territory. After reaching the end of one lane which was quite dark - sheltered from the sun by overhanging trees - we reached a gate which led onto a path, fenced at either side.
Out from the cover of the trees, the sun bathed everything in a warm evening glow. The structure of the fence was thrown into silhouette, the space between the wooden posts and bars acting as a picture frame through to the fields behind. This moment is precisely what's remained in my memory so vividly, has stayed with me ever since. The sense of nearness (the fence) simultaneously contrasting with, defining and acting as a barrier to a sense of distance (the fields), all illuminated by the gorgeous, gradually fading sunlight. All around was peaceful and gentle, this was a timeless moment, but that unattainable distance sparked off some kind of curiosity in me. At that age - three? - obviously I couldn't exactly think in a sophisticated way about what it meant or represented, but I was full of imaginings of what was over there.
Whenever I'm back in Derbyshire at this time of year, I always make sure I go out and revisit the spot where this moment happened. Not for nostalgia, at least not primarily. The main reason is that whatever it is that struck a chord with me, is still there. I go out there and think, and imagine. Of late, I've been bemoaning my lack of creativity. Out there I find ideas easier to come by. When I'm there, ideas don't present themselves: rather, they well up, like grief.
I took the pictures on Saturday evening. They're very pixellated at this size, but far better if you click for the full image.
Thursday, 5 July 2007
They hail from.....well *cough* its not important for the purposes of this post where they hail from. No prizes for guessing though.
I first heard of them around the age of 13 when they caused a bit of a fuss in some of the tabloid newspapers after a pretty riotous performance at the ICA, during which it was reported that they managed to drill a big hole in the stage, amongst other acts of wantonly anarchic destruction. Their name sounded rather scary and these lurid tales of (supposed) violence and frenzied chaos only served to increase the sense of threat and menace that they conveyed to the likes of me. The newspaper reports seemed to paint a picture of them as being so twisted, decadent and on the edge, that there was something worrying and fascinating about them in equal measure.
My brother was at college at the time, and I would look forward to him coming back home every so often with a stack of weird and wonderful albums under his arm which he had either bought, or borrowed from his esoteric fellow students (they were esoteric to me - one of them even smoked a pipe). It was like a window into a different and exciting world - exotic, intriguing, sometimes baffling, but always a quantum leap away from the music I was used to seeing on Top of the Pops or hearing on the radio.
One day he came home with "Strategies Against Architecture" by Einstürzende Neubauten, practically unveiling it from within the Selectadisc bag with a flourish. The band's name adorned the sleeve in spidery writing, just above the logo in the middle of the black album cover which had fine red scrawl all over it. On the back were the song titles and a number of pictures of three extremely intense looking individuals with their array of instruments: drills, jackhammers, metal frames and implements, electronic equipment, even a couple of guitars.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting to hear, but when I got the chance I put on the headphones and, with great anticipation, took the album out of its sleeve and onto the turntable. Click: needle hitting plastic.
Then, a weird, metallic sounding scraping noise which became a dissonant hum.
A couple of words uttered in German, then shouted.
Suddenly all hell broke loose as the opening track, Tanz Debil, kicked in properly. I had never heard anything like it, and I was scared shitless. All I could hear was a screaming atonal racket, cold and metallic, which seemed to increase in its relentless intensity as it went on. My heart rate had increased and I was feeling very uncomfortable. I took the headphones off. I looked at the information accompanying the track. "Metal drumkit/record player" were the instruments listed. I was deeply troubled.
The first reaction I gave to my brother was a scornful one, borne out of defensiveness.
"You mean you actually paid for that? Bloody hell, they saw you coming!" Or words to that effect.
And that was that.
But before much time had passed, something drew me back to it. I think I was fascinated that something could have had that effect on me. It didn't sound like music. It didn't sound like anything. I had no reference points that could help me put it any any kind of context. At that age, I barely knew what context was. But the fact that it had produced such a reaction in me stayed in my mind, and I had to go back and explore.
So, maybe days later, maybe a week, the headphones were on again, not without some trepidation and a quickened pulse. Again came that scraping sound, that hum, those words. Stell dich tot. STELL DICH TOT! And again all hell broke loose. The sound of a metal drumkit and a record player having the shit kicked out of them. Someone shouting like he too was having the shit kicked out of him. It was still terrifying, but it was compelling as well. I'd never heard anything so raw and unfettered, and so aggressive. On my next listen I realised I actually found it exciting.
From that point on, I was hooked.
Looking back, I'd say this is precisely the same reaction that many people would have had a couple of generations earlier when they (or their parents) first heard, say, Jerry Lee Lewis. Or, later, punk rock. Shock. Rawness. Aggression. This isn't music, this is unlistenable.
But I love it.
p.s. Incidentally, their lead vocalist will be recognisable to many as long-term (but now departed) guitarist with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Neubauten themselves are still going strong and still give pretty electrifying live performances, the mayhem finely balanced with moments of quiet beauty. These days they look like elder statesmen, bedecked as they often are in suits and waistcoats - but they can make a hell of a noise.
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
Although I had popped over to his site more than once this week, the penny failed to drop until this evening that it was his birthday the other day. Merkin, that is.
Then I published a post about this, and managed to delete it. It was witty and everything and everybody would have loved it.
I'll settle instead for repeating the main message in it rather than trying to recreate such a lost classic.
Belatedly, happy birthday Merkin. Cheers!
Sunday, 1 July 2007
Here goes then:
1: I once had a competition with a friend to see who could last longest without washing their hair. My friend lasted a month. I managed 15 years. Should I be telling you this?
2: A few years ago I woke at 4 in the morning to find myself cycling round the small French village of Vias Plage. Well I was on holiday there, but was rather surprised to wake up at the wheel, as it were. I was also looking for some Belgians to check everything was ok with them. I found them, everything was indeed ok, though I wasn't even sure what language we were speaking. Nor, for that matter, was I sure why anything wouldn't be ok. As you might have surmised, I'd had a couple of drinks.
3. I'm a multi-instrumentalist and play sort of experimental-ish music in a band comprised of me and my best friend. Technically we have a recording contract with some bigwig in London but he vanished. Incidentally my drumming is incredible - by which I don't mean that its any good, if you see what I mean.
4. I've got a Master's Degree in Fine Art. Sadly its going to waste at the present time, something which I hope to change.
5. I've a tattoo of the logo of one of my favourite bands, Einstuerzende Neubauten, on my upper arm.
Update: a quick roll up of the sleeves and...here it is, by popular (ie more than one) request!
6. I'm left handed, was born in April and have a predisposition towards counting things. I was informed, reliably or otherwise, that these are common traits of people considered to be geniuses. Even if that were true (which I doubt, and am dubious about the whole concept of genius in the first place), there's always room for exceptions.
7. I have tinnitus, something which has affected me for nearly 15 years. When I was first diagnosed, I was terrified that within the space of several years it would be difficult to hear what people around me are saying, for example, on a night out . Well I've got to that stage and I have to admit, I'm quite happy about it.