Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rock & Roll & Writing

This week I read a couple of books on what it is to be a rock critic: one set in the 70s, the other in the 00s. Nick Kent’s Apathy For The Devil is a year-by-year memoir of his time writing for the NME when . There were good – mostly American – writers before him, but Kent was the one who raised rock criticism into an art-form. What’s more, he lived the life of a rock star, travelled with them, partied with them, the whole deal, drugs and all. By the second half of the decade he was a bona fide junkie, homeless, broke wandering the streets of London in search of his next fix. And yet he still somehow managed to write, juggling his obsessions with Zeppelin and the Stones with Iggy Pop and punk. (He was briefly in an early incarnation of the Sex Pistols). I like his writing – and would recommend his collection, The Dark Stuff – but as a person he comes across as flaky, arrogant, weak-willed and sad. It’s a wonder he survived, but he did, found a good woman and now lives in Paris.  

Straight afterwards I read an uncorrected proof copy of a book called Rock Bottom by Michael Odell, who wrote for the NME and Q Magazine in the noughties. It’s also about a rock critic’s struggles with the absurdities of his job, but is less a memoir and more of a confession. Actually it reads like a novel. Odell had a breakdown in 2005, but instead of turning to drugs he sought help from a psychotherapist, unearthing a hornets’ nest of childhood stuff along the way. His ‘interview’ with a drug-addled Pete Docherty at the end was a lesson learned. Having revered him for years as a rock god, an artist who ‘meant it’, Odell thought better of it and walked out.    

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sizzling Hermosillo

Today I find myself in Hermosillo, state capital of Sonora in the north-west of Mexico, 200 miles from the US border. It's in the middle of nowhere, arid and incredibly hot. Yesterday was a jaw-dropping 46C. Today, a mere 42C but still, I think, the highest temperature I've experienced anywhere in the world. I'm here to sign an MoU with their Minister of Culture, as part of a broader series of events which include trade and education. The formality of the occasion means I have to wear a suit and tie but thankfully it's very dry heat and amazingly I hardly break sweat.    

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Close To The Noise Floor

MFH / Pump's second life continues with a track on Close To The Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984 out on Cherry Red this month. We are in exalted company: early Human League, Heaven 17, OMD, Throbbing Gristle, Blancmange, John Foxx... and a whole slew of lesser-knowns and bedroom bands. 
Our track is 'Mistral' from the MFH Ground Zero cassette album - an airy but edgy instrumental recorded in a bungalow in Cornwall in '81. It's a 4CD set complete with comprehensive notes and an essay by Dave Henderson. A fine piece of cultural documentation which unearths the key role of early analogue synthesizers in post-punk experimentalism. There are omissions: most importantly The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette' and no Cabaret Voltaire for example. But it's the additions that are intriguing. And the reviews have so far been excellent.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince RIP

Blimey. And now, Prince. Almost as shocking as Bowie. What's going on!? 
As with Bowie, I didn't really keep up with his output of the past 20-25 years. For me his career is defined by the eighties: the early Dirty Mind and 1999 albums, 84's massively successful Purple Rain (at one point the album, single and film were all no.1) and later brilliant stuff like 'Kiss' and 'Sign o' the Times'. 
I watched Purple Rain for the first time this evening. Weird film. Despite being the main character, his presence is equivocal, uncertain, even ghostlike throughout. 
But he had it all: could play any instrument, brilliant in the studio, flamboyant, controversial, enigmatic, a true dandy, fantastic live, but above all a great songwriter - both for himself and other artists. I doubt if we shall see the likes of him again.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Swimming with Dolphins

This morning, A&N - and Max - swam with a couple of dolphins, as you do. Amazing to watch: pulled along by dorsal fins and pushed by snout on balls of feet. The latter saw the girls rise from the water, arms outstretched like Kate Winslet at Titanic's bow. Parents watched from a distance - too far to get any decent photos. You could buy some afterwards, but at a rip-off £10 each we decided it was a day to remember the experience rather than chronicle it in pictorial detail. Nonetheless, here's a pic of the marine mammals in jumping mode. A&N are far right.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

RIP Johann Cruyff

And another icon departs. Lung cancer at 68. Cruyff was my hero in the early 70s when, aside from Leeds, I was obsessed with European football. Borussia Munchengladbach, Anderlecht, Inter Milan and of course Ajax. Teams that are not so big now but were then. I used to love watching those European Cup, UEFA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup matches, especially the away legs in cities that seemed glamorous even if they weren't. And Cruyff was at the centre of it all, dribbling past hapless defenders, scoring impossible goals, 'that' turn... He wore a no.14 shirt when English League teams only went to to 11. He looked cool. More than anyone (OK, alongside Best and Pele), he made football seem like an art. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

Been reading an interesting book about the Zoroastrians of Iran, Samaritans of Israel, Copts of Egypt, Yazidis of Iraq, Kalsha of the Hindu Kush and other forgotten religions, hanging on by a thread in the Middle East. It's by Gerard Russell, a former British and UN diplomat (fluent in Arabic and Farsi), now advising on human rights policy at Harvard, but is as much a travelogue than an academic tome. 
It's easy to forget that there are religions other than Islam (or Judaism or Christianity) in the region but for how much longer?