Thursday, April 24, 2008

No Wonder Mum's Gone To Iceland

Current level of conviction in own genius: 7.8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: a round zero, too ill
Reading / Listening: Have weakness for historical mysteries by CJ Sansom, just finished 'Dark Fire' (ouch!) / Beirut's second album
Hair day: overlong

A bit belated, here's my report of never-seen-before-even-though-she's-one-of-my-true-icons Bjork at Hammersmith Apollo last week. To be honest, I was looking forward to it but not like an excitable child: as much as I love her oeuvre, I have been desperately trying to like 'Volta' and quite, quite failing on the whole. But the gig was fabulously, kaleidoscopically wondrous, a sherbert burst for all the senses, a night that can only be described as brass-techno-funk led by a slightly unhinged storm-goddess.

Bjork is a freakin' genius. She looked like a thirsty lioness who'd dipped her head into a few paint pots (I was a bit disappointed not to see the nu-rave-pom-pom hat she sported in the first night press photos); she prowled and purred all over the stage, flinging 10-metre ribbons from her wrists, sending her effortlessly elastic voice into stratospheres. The songs from 'Volta' were much-improved live, and eminent guests from the album topped it off: gentle giant Antony Hegarty (much hilarity obviously ensued when I shouted 'that's not Antony, that's Alison Moyet!' Honestly, he's a dead ringer) came on to do his best with the very silly duet about sparkly eyes and fiery desire; and Toumani Diabate conjured Niagra Falls with his blurred-fingered, cascading kora strings. Alongside a keys player, techno boy and free jazz drummer, Bjork was accompanied by an Icelandic brass troupe, Wonderbrass (boom boom), 11 fantastically striking girls who if not spiking the air with punchy trumpets and tubas, were pogo-ing around to the pounding beats whilst wearing flags and similarly tribal and singing ethereal backing vocals.

'Cover Me' was a brilliant moment of clarity amongst the big noise of 'Volta'; extremely avant-garde keyboard noodling suddenly leapt into terrifying pipe organ doom-chords, with Bjork prancing around self-deprecatingly making Addams Family-esque hand moves. 'Hyperballad' was a hilarious singalong (1,000 people roaring 'every morning I walk towards the edge/and throw little things off/like car parts, bottles and cutlery/whatever I find lying around') and then launched into outrageous happy hardcore, complete with criss-crossing neon lights scrolling shapes on the ceiling. In fact, the gig was just one big party: her last track, China-baiting 'Declare Independence' had everyone jumping in the air before clouds of ticker tape burst above us. Bjork didn't say much, apart from a brightly coquettish 'Senk you!' between numbers. No really, Bjork, senk YOU!

I've just finished reading John Peel's auto/biography; what a warm, charming, brilliant man. Am utterly inspired by his constant pioneering of new music: at 60 he was introducing grime to Radio 1. I must keep going! The new idea is combining mine and Andy's love of organising and starting a new mini-experimental-music-and-literature festival. Summer 2009, here we come...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Am Whisked Away On Mystery Holiday In Honour Of Being 30 By My Love

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: am on holiday, dumbchuck
Reading / Listening: ‘Margrave of the Marshes’ by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft/ Rufus ‘Cheekbones From Heaven’ Wainwright
Hair Day: hairdryer, straighteners, extra hold hairspray, I greet you with open arms

So, two days after the charity/music/30th bash, I was on a train heading north which cancelled out my guesses of northern France and Cornwall – for I was being taken on a mystery holiday by Andy. Still, he was too hoppingly excited to keep it a secret forever, and by the time we were speeding through the Lakes I knew we were aiming for Kintyre, the drooping penis of lower Argyll on the west coast of Scotland – bliss! We wended (went? wound?) a winding route there past ex-forests that now look like boneyards, lochs fingered from underneath to simper and billow alluringly, villages that were no more than two houses and an inquisitive dog; in valleys boulders had thudded into the spongy earth and mountains cried steady rivulets. Our 19th-century cottage in Clachan, a small village on the west side of Kintyre, was notable for its coalfire smell and snowy fluffball dogs that were more ‘Changing Rooms’-esque decorative cushion than canine. The only place serving alcohol for 11 miles was the hotel up the road; grand but near-deserted, it was all a bit ‘The Shining’, but we read our books and drank some wine in the plush sitting room with an teeth-spitting fire and an thick-accented old man, and I played some Scottish tunes and ‘Gymnopedie’ on the echoey electric piano. Class.

The sea, a shining silver plate, was a mile walk away and dished up views of more mainland, Islay, Jura’s majestic paps (steady) and Gigha. We walked through bog and dappled woodland, by rusty little rivers that gulped and sang as if there was a tabla player wedged down there in the water, and made field recordings with our new mic of said brownish brook and small vocal ensembles of birds; I stalked a chaffinch resolutely as it repeatedly blurted out its little riff. My epiphany was climbing over a stile into the silver birch wood and a golden eagle, as big as a bi-plane, breaking into the clearing in front of me; I’d like to say that it looked deep into my eyes and burned a dark future into my soul but in truth it was there for two seconds before veering off into the sky to scour the land below for small dogs and babies to eat.

We took a ferry to the cheerily verdant little island of Gigha, notable for being community-owned, with an independent flag and annually-voted council. Andy persuaded me to hire bikes, so off we pedalled (he going at one-tenth his normal pace to allow me to huff and puff and blow my nicely-styled hair down, and sometimes just give up, get off the damn thing and walk), going end to end over the afternoon. We took in a slightly spooky, Famous Five-style beach with signs of life such as Unabomber-esque caravan and deserted jetty making me expect a hard-bitten couple (he with an angry face and dark, choppy hair, she with tarnished blond crop and glinting sunglasses) to come round the corner any second and kidnap us for revealing the whereabouts of the treasure, etc. The beach was a mixture of lovely and littered - a sad theme of many beaches we stepped upon - with gulls loitering excitably on the rocks like a bunch of kids on a school trip and terns haring down the sea-furrows like X-Wings. Stopping in the middle of the island for Argyll venison and yanked-unsuspectingly-out-of-the-sea-and-plonked-on-my-plate prawns, we then got to the other end to find a twinned beach, one ugly sister blemished with about a thousand scattered plastic bags, the other more demure but untouched. I made a small stick-sculpture (I AM Richard Long) and pretended to be a seal before returning. Miraculously, though we have watched rain fall like soot from the sky on mountains very near to us, we have existed in some kind of Kerry And Andy Microclimate: the rain has bellowed and glowered close but never touched us; plucky little freckles have indeed bloomed.

Finally we toured the main circuit of Kintrye, stopping to enjoy the bracing West Port Beach, which offered everything you’d want from coastline: perfect skimming stones (among the dross I produced one stunning 6-pointer which leapt and bounced like a gazelle over mountains), leg-slashing dunes, galloping waves, deadpan sand and enough large-scale flotsam to make three found-art, slightly totemic sculptures, named and duly documented. Towns have been unremarkable, rather sad fag-ends (what do they DO around here?! Especially when they want to see a GIG or EXHIBITION or TALK ON POSTMODERN VIDEO ART AND ITS ROLE IN OUR PHILOSOPHICAL MODERN AGE?) but it’s not about that. It’s about rollicking journeys along coastline which allows you to spot a) Kintyre b) Arran c) Mainland d) Islay e) Jura f) Gigha g) Bute and h) NORTHERN IRELAND all in one day, and forest walks that take in hushed green glades, landscapes of collapsed trees and ground so spongy with damp and a million soft-crushed pine needles you can jump on it like a trampoline.

We ended our sojourn in Glasgow, a small shock to the system but we were staying in a friend’s vacant townhouse flat and managed to see some quirky caravan-based art and eat out wonderfully with one of Andy’s ebullient authors. Still, 'tis nice to be back in the rainy metropolis, which we rechristened by gazing at Peter Doig’s mostly marvellous Canada-evoking big splashy works at Tate Britain. Now I have 7 relatively jobless weeks in which to take over the creative world. Erm, right, think I’ll make a list...

I Host The Second In A Series Of Experimental Vocal Nights At A Plush London Venue, Raise Money For A Respected Charity And Oh Yes, Turn 30

Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: on the seventh day, I rested
Reading / Listening: ‘Mister Pip’ by Lloyd Jones / ‘I Didn’t Get It From The Lord’ by Camille
Hair Day: raffish

The landmark birthday weekend has passed: I am now 30. Hugely gratifyingly, four people in four days have expressed astonishment at me, fresh-freckle-faced and twinkle-eyed (or perhaps it’s the feckless immaturity and occasional chin-spot), being such a grand old age. But alas, ‘tis verily upon me. In truth, I have spent so long fretting about being 30 and all the things I haven’t done yet that it comes as something of a relief that it’s finally here and I can stop worrying and just get on with the damn thing.

First up, though was Gobsmack 2; the first had starred juice, semi-famous Jamie Woon and others and gone down a storm at the Spitz. That venue now being ripped to bits and replaced with another most vital and utterly craved-for gastropub (philistines!), we moved way out west for this one, to the gorgeously plum-interiored, chandelier-bedecked Bush Hall. I act as curator/presenter for this series, which involves much myspacing until my ears and eyes bleed, but brings me into contact with lots of musicians, including this time as mentioned previously, the lip-whetting prospect of meeting folky glitchtronica genius Leafcutter John, our headliner. Or that was the idea, until he rang on the day to cancel, suffering from migraines and vomiting like the wan and waifish artistic genius he is. So I was momentarily thrown into a sweaty and fish-mouthed panic until I remembered I had plenty of other very good artists on the bill too. And it went marvellously well, Bush Hall swelled nicely to hear smoky jazz-leaning Verity Standen, Peter Moran’s clever lecture on the rhythms of speech which went down a storm, Bunty’s soulful looping session, Laura Moody’s completely sensational crazy-woman-with-a-mouthful-of-voices-meets-‘cello set, Natasha Lohan’s contemporary piece with increasingly nasty, belly-rumbling electronics, Elizabeth Walling’s (best outfit of the night, complete with satin ruff and ankle-length spats) sublime Elizabethan-inspired stuff, and Mikhail’s Berio-meets-Arabic-meets-nu-rave thing. So job well done, and looking to the next ones already, probably featuring poetry and vocals, improvising and a cappella groups. Where to start…

As the birthday approacheth, Andy whisked me off to the Old Vic for a rare theatre visit to see ‘Speed the Plow’, which allowed me to see the once most-lusted after Kevin Spacey in the flesh. It was actually more exciting to see Jeff Goldblum, who seemed to be about 8 feet tall, knife-sharp in a suit that was all corners and angles and delivered all his lines with a super-laconic arch of eyebrow and made Andy and I sink into our seats at his extreme sartorial genius and coolness. The play being David Mamet’s responsibility, the two barrelled through it in volleys of bulleted barbs and ripostes: ‘A man, Bob-’ ‘A man?’ ‘Yes, a man –‘ ‘Sit down, why don’t you?’ ‘A man, Bob, came into my house – ‘ ‘A man came into your house’ ‘My HOUSE, Bob, a man came into my HOUSE and, you know I could have walked across the street with this Bob but you know I would never-‘ ‘So a man comes into your house and-‘.. repeat for an hour. Was pretty fab. The cultural side of my weekend was topped up with visits to Tate Modern to see the Man Ray, Duchamp and Picabia exhibition (verdict - early paintings: good; depiction of women: very bad) and the Natural History Museum for our annual viewing of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which is perpetually stunning; this time a macaca pictured like a ghostly Japanese seer rising out of the mist and a puffed-chested corn bunting performing an aria that, in the frosty air, became smoke-rings of song, were my favourite this year.

But onto the main event, my birthday at the Fleapit on Columbia Road. My love of organising knowing no bounds, this time I’d decided to tie it in with raising money for my Mum, who’s doing a trek for Help the Aged in the Himalayas in the autumn. So people could pay money to do karaoke with a live band – DOLLYman – backing them, commission me to arrange a pop cover for Sarah, Rob and myself to sing or do the raffle. I’d made the small oversight of forgetting that all this meant large amounts of work for me so spent many hours chained to the computer on automatic arrangement mode. But it was a top night, tons of lovely friends came to join the fun and hear a cappella covers of Mr Bungle, Nine Inch Nails, The Proclaimers, All Saints and Simon and Garfunkel – something for everyone. Accompanied by LucyDOLLY, MattDOLLY et moi assortedly on bass, clarinet, melodic, keys and vocals, Tracy delivered a sultry ‘Fever’ on the karaoke, followed by Sarah and Ross doing a killer version of ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ complete with harmonies, Andy did an outrageous ‘Tainted Love’ (complete with me on stylophone) and Phil polished it off with a smoooooth ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’ to a rapturous reception. The raffle was a high-octane affair, with cries of ‘fix!’ and hysterical celebrations at winning such delights as a magnum of champagne or tickets to the English National Ballet at the top end, and a 3D Connect 4 game and Harris Tweed tea cosy at the other. We all went home happy and by 1am I was in my jim jams with a cup of peppermint tea. Well, I AM 30 now… sigh.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I Go To A Fenland Literary Festival, Drink Ale I Don't Like And Converse Briefly With Renowned Documentary-Maker And Humorous Journalist: A Report

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: arranging: 1; poems: 1
Reading / Listening: ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen / ‘Pink Cigarette’ by Mr Bungle, my new favourite song
Hair Day: bedecked with turquoise-green flower to match scarf and slightly lurid eyeliner

Bestowed my artistic largesse on the provinces last weekend by attending Cambridge Wordfest , part-organised by my finger-in-several-bookish-pies love. The first day involved much rain filling a wide puddle between an early morning slot with Lavinia Greenlaw and a very late-night one with some Open Mic slam poetry. Greenlaw was discussing her recent book, ‘The Importance of Music To Girls’, a pithily-titled book I read with not a small amount of (envy-tinged) irritation, seeing as it’s very little about music other than some overheatedly-rhapsodic poeticisms on a 70s disco track or two, and mostly about her angsty growing up. It may be snootiness but I’m not convinced how much she really knows about music; I really wanted to ask her who she preferred these days: Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong or Does It Offend You, Yeah? The evening slam was a bit stilted and crusty but I was inspired enough to pen some poems in the delightful Cambridge Blue pub on my unerringly optimistic willingness to taste Andy’s ales though unfailingly finding them rank. Here is one:

the candlelight plumbs
for rubies, lodged low
in this gothic, opaque,
sweet scum-covered
fairytale dark bog

it tastes like
an unwanted golden shower

Sunday saw us do a bit general brain spit ‘n’ polishing, a high-minded literary marathon that took in a talk by charming economist (not as paradoxical as you’d think! Economics is everywhere you see, in crime, dating, dieting!) Tim Harford, hard-bitten media debate with Adrian Monck and Allison Pearson and the-world-is-overconsuming rants by John Naish and ‘Shoreditch Twat’ founder and burner of brands Neil Boorman. Andy had introduced them all so I was eyeing him up rather a lot of the time but really, it was very inspiring. The perky, lemony icing on this rather wholemeal cake was a giggly hour with Jon Ronson, he of brilliantly deadpan documentaries about extremists who believe that human-lizard hybrids secretly rule the world on the one hand, and witty Guardo Weekend columns on the mortifyingly excruciating minutiae of life on the other. He was game, self-deprecating and wrigglingly funny.

We bumped straight into him at the station and he said a cheery hello, miraculously having recognised us from the back of the theatre. I beamingly gushed how much I’d enjoyed his most entertaining talk, which he seemed marvellously over-pleased about, before I skipped away to M&S on light feet as I always do having come into contact with a Real-Life Celebrity who is nice to me. We of course knew that he would be on the same train as us returning to civilisation, but resolved to stay well back; being a popular humorous journo, he would want some time alone rather than having to converse with us mere simpering minions. Respectfully then, we studiously avoided him on the platform but turned to find him at our shoulders. We headed purposefully away down the train carriage but he ended up sitting right next to us, and giving us a studiedly awkward grin and a wave. I started to worry that actually he would really like some company (we are an arty, magnetic couple after all) and that it appeared we didn’t have the slightest interest in talking to him further. Unsure which way to swing, I squinted inquisitively at his book which he held up: Nick Hornby. I showed him Neil Boorman’s tome (I had borrowed Andy’s copy to get it signed: NB was so chuffed that someone had come up to the unattended author’s table that I didn’t dare admit I hadn’t bought it and spent the next half an hour determinedly ignoring Andy in case he saw us together and was crushed) and gave him the gist, whilst inwardly cursing my incredible rudeness at shoving a book by another of the day’s authors in his face rather than holding one of HIS. Collectively, we briefly tried to remember the name of the artist who also burnt all his possessions on Oxford Street. We failed, and JR said, ‘Well, I’ll leave you to it’, which is SURELY the wrong way round! WE should have been the ones leaving HIM to it! He must have wanted train buddies. I’d gone about it totally badly, when I could have made a new urbane celebrity friend. Desperately hoping to make amends, I spent the rest of the journey looking as arty as possible (manuscript out, editing poems with a pen-chewing frown, talking loudly to Andy about his economics books), hoping he would engage us in conversation again, whilst of course studiously avoiding his occasional glances up. He gestured to me: my last chance to spark off a potentially lifelong friendship! ‘Michael Landy. That was the artist’, he said. ‘Oh yes’ I smiled, non-committal, and went back to my book. Rubbish. I’d reverted back to my achingly pathetic non-flirting teenage self, when I was in love with a long-haired boy for four years but could only hide behind my hair and whimper when he looked over, except now it was in a non-sexual celebrity-pal-wanting way. Self-defeated, I resigned myself to fantasising about JR writing his next column about us and how we’d tried to avoid him; how he’d been happy to talk but that we were far too cool and uninterested to reciprocate. Jon, how wrong you would be! Sigh.