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Saturday, 24 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#24: 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians'

It's all Pia Zadora's fault!
All of it!
Everything....my all encompassing obsession with 'Trash Cinema' and all it entails; all the hours spent ruining my eyesight and sanity, all the money I've spent (Griff: surely you mean 'wasted'?), all the days spent scouring small ads and records fairs (in the days before Amazon, or even the internet)....just looking for that elusive gem of cinematic cat-litter to add to my ever expanding collection.
It all began with Pia Zadora....on Christmas Eve 1983, and the first ever showing on British TV of 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians'. What clouds fell across my eyes that night that I would never see clearly again?
Let's go back and take a look.....
So it was Christmas Eve 1983, which was a Saturday, and Ray and I decided to go to Edinburgh that day for a bit of shopping. I had only been up to Edinburgh on my own once before but knew where the main shopping area was. This was in the days before I ever even thought of going to Glasgow. I had my first ever Christmas pay-packet (of sorts) and knew exactly what I was going up there for; an album by Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield (I was still in my 'Stranglers' phase) called 'Fire And Water', a book on Horror Movies back in the day when Horror films were still respectable and not the 'torture-porn' franchises we have nowadays, and a book which Barry Norman had talked about on Film 83 called 'The Golden Turkey Awards' which dealt with the very worst of Hollywood. Barry had even showed a couple of clips from 'Godzilla vs The Smog Monster' and 'Rat Pfink A Boo Boo' so my interest was immediately piqued.
We had been looking forward to this visit to Edinburgh for weeks, so I won't embarrass Ray here by revealing how he spoiled the entire day (and didn't even make it to the last train stop!!) and how I had to condense my whole day in Edinburgh to about 15 minutes, but in which time I still got the three items I had been after.
So I got home that afternoon, listened to my new album, read through my Horror Films book, but decided to leave my Golden Turkeys book till later that night as Channel 4 were about to start running a series of films called 'The Worst Of Hollywood', presented by Michael Medved who was one of the co-writers of the Golden Turkeys book.


The rest of my family went along to the midnight Carol service that night, leaving me with the film 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' and my new book about bad movies. To say it was one of the most pivotal moments in my life is a bit of a massive understatement. To read about all of those bizarre, ludicrous movies whilst actually being able to watch one of them as it played out sent something adrift in my psyche. For the rest of my life I would become obsessed with the most terrible, most outlandish, most mindbending, most outre surreal movies imaginable; not just watching them (which sometimes, admittedly, is a chore in itself), but reading all about them, studying them almost.
That's not to say that 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' is all that bad a movie. You usually find that, that the films with the worst reputations turn out to be nowhere near as bad as you are led to believe. Take 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' for example; that used to have the mantle of 'Worst Film Of All Time', but to be honest it's not even the worst Ed Wood film, and in actual fact is quite entertaining.


The basic plot of 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' has the children of Mars feeling pretty down as there's not much fun to be had so, after viewing the happiness of children on Earth at Christmastime, they decide to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to their home planet where, hopefully, they think he'll dispense the same good cheer.
The kids (one played by Pia Zadora, actually acting more capably than in the ridiculous career her sugar daddy bought for her) are overjoyed by Santa, as is friendly adult Martian Dropo, but evil Martian Volgar captures Santa and holds him to ransom etc etc. Cue Kids and Dropo overpowering Volgar and releasing Santa back to Earth while back on Mars Dropo becomes a Santa-like figure to the children. Earth rejoices as the real Santa returns.
Sure the acting is ropey at best, and the costumes and make-up are awful, but the Mars sets now look very retro-chic and there is a genuine sense of joy in the film-makers intentions, so it's not all bad. To be honest, I can think of far worse children's films than this; 'The Wonderful Land Of Oz' or 'Jimmy The Boy Wonder' for example.
So that was it!
From that night onwards I would be obsessed by the worst and weirdest of Hollywood; be it giant monster movies, Spaghetti Westerns, 60's 42nd Street Grindhouse Exploitation, Drug Movies, Sexploitation, Mexican Horror movies, ultra low budget genre pictures....you name it. The worse its reputation, the bigger my desire to check it out.
We here at the ~Streetlamp~ all have our own default settings when it comes to movies; Griff can barely even watch B-Movies preferring 'decent' films, Ray likes a fair amount of Sci-fi, Horror and genre movies and will tolerate some of the shite I let him see.
But me....I'm like a moth to a crap movie flame; tell me it's the most tawdry, badly acted, badly scripted, special-effects-by-glue-and-string rubbish about a giant Italian cowboy terrorising a spaceship full of 60s burlesque strippers, and starring Julian Sands and Danny Dyer....and I'll be first in the queue.

And all because of a Christmas Eve, 28 years ago today, spent with Pia Zadora!
Eeeewwwww!!!

~Gordon~

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The 2011 Streetlamp Festive Thirty


Your attention, please! This is Ray speaking, which means that it's that time of the year again; that's right, the Streetlamp Festive Thirty! As is now customary, this gives me the chance to temporarily take over the blog and present to you the thirty outstanding tracks featured on the blog this year. Before I do so, I'd also like to give a short 'state of the nation' address:

"Seasons Greetings to all the readers and musicians who have made The Streetlamp blog what it is today. It's because of all of you, that we here at The Streetlamp are encouraged and inspired to keep this blog going, and hopefully to give something back in return to the music that we love, and which continues to shape our lives.

I was thinking to myself at the beginning of the year that, if we as blog writers were to encounter the same difficulties that bands go through in their own creative process, i.e. the creation of the 'difficult second album', then this would manifest as the 'difficult second year blog' for us.
Thankfully, we were in safe hands with those twin professors of obscure pop trivia, Gordon and Griff. Not only have they continued to delight and surprise me in scouring the globe and the annals of history to provide us with even more truly amazing music than they did last year, but, in addition to this, this year has seen an expansion of the blog in new and unpredictable directions. Last year, The Streetlamp was merely a music blog, this year Gordon and Griff have delved deeper into their own expansive hinterlands and covered visual arts, poetry, sculpture, film, and, of course, politics (although admittedly at times it's been like reading 'Marxism Today'!). I would personally like to thank both of them for bringing to light all the wondrous cultural phenomena that have not only expanded the blog but also my own knowledge. I look forward to further enlightenment next year."

OK, that's quite enough praise for those two for the time being, let's proceed to the issue at hand. The Streetlamp Festive Thirty presented its usual problems this year, i.e. so much good music, so few spaces available on the final list. As always, it has been a terrific struggle to settle on our final 30 songs. Without doubt, a few excellent bands had to be left out, which either Gordon or Griff would ideally have loved to have seen included, but I am a strict taskmaster and insist that only the very cream of the crop make the final list.

So, without any further preamble or self-congratulation, ladies and gentlemen,..it is my pleasure to finally present to you

- in alphabetical order -

The 2011 Streetlamp Festive Thirty


A Love Song To Evelyn McHale - Anton Rothschild


A Woman's Worth - ZuKrewe


Apples & Oranges - Olympic Swimmers


Baby's Fine - Alice Martineau


birds in a supermarket - Palms on Fire


Both Sides, Now – Syd Lane


Bouffant Headbutt - Shampoo


Don't Destroy Me - Golden


Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It) - The Lovely Eggs


Dos Policías - Los Punsetes


Dream for Julie - Kaleidoscope


Farewell - Soda Shop


George & Tracy - Gaffa


Guadalajara - Doble Pletina


Hallam - The Spook School


Horo Bhodachain - The MacDonald Sisters


I Am (If You Are) - Murder Mystery


I Heard You Say - Vivian Girls


Let Her Go - Birdie


Lights In The Sky - The Moth & The Mirror


Love in December - Club 8


My Darling Grace - Berlinist


My Lonesome - Two Wounded Birds


Myself - Columbus and Crusoe


No Boys No Girls - First Fatal Kiss


Sorrow - Life Without Buildings


Strongmen & Acrobats - Laura Hocking & The Long Goodbye


Você Corre - Parallèles


Winter of Discontent - Stanley Odd


Year of the V-Neck - Elizabeth City State




Looking at that list what strikes me most is its sheer eclecticism. Gaelic girl singers from the 60s rub shoulders with modern, US, street, hip-hop; sensitive singer-songwriters vie with garage bands. All life is here, and pleasingly, there is a good strong Scottish contingent on the list too.

Now all that remains for me to say is; 'Have a very Merry Christmas, and see you in 2012.'


Ray




Gordon writes: Personally, I found this to be quite a strange year. I felt that we moved away from music to an extent and found ourselves writing and commenting on political issues and Socialist culture, but this was more through necessity of the times, rather than any pre-ordained plan that we had. Who knows what next year will bring and where we'll find the heart of the ~Streetlamp~ resting.
But this was still a good year for music, and I'm hoping for even better next year.
Have a good Christmas.
~Gordon~

Sunday, 18 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#23: Christmastime - Cocteaus & Wine

It has to be said that, for me, the Cocteau Twins are probably the most paradoxical band that I can think of. You see, while on one hand they are these purveyors of ethereal, dreamlike, otherworldly slices of achingly beautiful perfect alt-pop, topped of with one of the most enchanting and headspinning vocalists of all time; there's also the fact that they come from Grangemouth!
Now this may mean absolutely NOTHING to the majority of our readers, but Grangemouth is an industrial shit-hole of a town, a mere nine miles from where I live. Sometimes it's hard to equate such cultural beauty could ever have sprung from such a dreary and soulless place.
Also, because they come from so near by, it was also commonplace to see them around. This kind of de-mystifies things a tad. Surely creators of such captivating spectral musical alchemy should live in golden palaces on Mars and only visit our sphere once in a while to drop off gems of radiant wonder? But no....there's guitarist and sonic innovator Robin Guthrie sitting in The Barrelhouse on the Graham's Road in Falkirk in 1989, trying to enjoy a pint whilst all around him have gathered a rum bunch of overly keen teen/early 20-somethings (of which I was one), pestering him with questions as ludicrous as "What's Nick Cave like?" or "What's Jim Reid like?" and then with one almighty penny-dropping moment of realisation all voices chime "Have you met Morrissey?? Have you met Morrissey??". To say he looked pissed off would be an understatement.
The Cocteau Twins, of course, have now become a kind of by-word for Eighties Indie Music; like The Smiths, The Cure or New Order they just ooze 'Eighties Indie'. Darlings of the NME, especially in their formative years, it's very safe to say that the Cocteaus delivered some of the greatest records of that much maligned decade, and in their unique sound and equally idiosyncratic sleeve artwork and videos, created a world of their own, something only the very best bands can ever achieve.
I have planned to write about their main body of work at some later date but, as this is a Wassail, I'm going to take a look at their Festive release from December 1993.
I have to confess that when I first heard that the Cocteaus were releasing a version of 'Frosty The Snowman' I though it was another of the NME's jokes, something along the lines of when they announced that Morrissey and Jimmy Somerville were to release a duet entitled 'Away With You, Laddie'. And yet there it was, on Radio 1, on the daytime playlist (I'm sure it was Simon Mayo who championed it), something their entire previous output had failed to muster.
As you would imagine, it's not a carbon copy of all previous interpretations, it's most definitely a Cocteau Twins song; instantly recognisable by both the production and, of course, Elizabeth Fraser's extraordinary vocal performance....


Before we discuss the flipside (another seasonal treat), let's talk about THAT voice. Nothing prepares you for the impact of hearing Elizabeth Fraser's singing for the first time; at times it doesn't even sound human, like some swirling cumulus of angels and aliens, leaping octaves in a single breath and making you feel like Heaven is holding a fireworks display inside your head. I find it really sickening that people fall over themselves to proclaim that singers like the late Amy Winehouse, or Duffy or Adele have these incredible voices, lazily comparing them to Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield, while Liz Fraser is genuinely gifted in a way comparable to Asha Bhosle, Ofra Haza, Shahin Badar or even Bjork. Even voice specialist Tona de Brett claimed Liz had one of the greatest voices she had ever heard, so how come she's not hailed as one of our greatest ever vocalists except by us here at the ~Streetlamp~?
So, now that I've gotten that off my chest we can have a listen to the other side of the record and we find another Cocteau-esque interpretation of a Christmas classic, 'Winter Wonderland'....


Interestingly, and with true Independent stance, the Cocteaus deleted the single as soon as it hit the national charts; something that in this age of Cowell-saturated demeaning of the Christmas spirit , I find rather satisfying!

These days all that seems to emanate from Grangemouth is over-priced fuel and clouds of suspicious gas. Oh for the halcyon days when Heaven could be found within the Central Belt.

~Gordon~

Saturday, 17 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#22: A Damned Fine Christmas

''Here comes Uncle Nick// Let's give him some stick''

Aaaah....The Damned!
That most under appreciated of bands!
Never given the Punk kudos dished out to The Sex Pistols or The Clash, and totally underrated as purveyors of fine pop/rock singles in the early 80s. Indeed, most people probably only know them for their superb cover of Barry Ryan's 'Eloise', but The Damned were always favourites of us here at the ~Streetlamp~, a fact that you can read about at length in my previous Blog about them.
So, as has been previously determined, The Damned (along with Crass) were pretty much the sound of High School for me and, as this is a Christmas Blog, we should take a look at their contributions to the canon of Festive ditties, beginning with their 1980 single 'Their Ain't No Sanity Clause'.
Released on November of 1980, '...Sanity Clause' was yet another classic recording by arguably the band's greatest line-up; Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies and Paul Gray. At this point the band were signed to Chiswick Records for whom fans reckon they recorded their greatest work, and '...Sanity Clause' came in a run of superb singles that included 'White Rabbit', 'The History Of The World (prt 1)', 'The Friday The 13th E.P', 'Generals', 'Dozen Girls' and 'Thanks For The Night'....magnificent singles all!
'...Sanity Clause' is a fairly raucous old wheeze complete with (probably ironic) sleigh bells and Ho-Ho-Ho-ing. What always makes me smile listening to it these days is the ''Here comes Uncle Nick// Let's give him some stick'' backing vocals that run through the second and third choruses. I'm guessing it was Sensible who came up with this as it seems like his sense of humour....


And speaking of the good Captain, it's hard to think of anyone whose career has seemed so schizophrenic! In The Damned he was a complete madman who took to the stage in tu-tus, nurse uniforms, or even completely naked. Yet running concurrent, he also had a bizarre solo career that saw him release show-songs, pop songs and (dare one even say it) children's songs! He pretty much became a light entertainer, even recording the theme tune to cringingly, God-awful, Jim Davidson-starring, TV snooker bollocks 'Big Break'....how embarrassing! Mind you, I suppose it pays the mortgage....but still!!!
Despite all that though, his solo career is still littered with some sublime songs; his debut solo album is a sounds-like-nothing-else-in-1982 bonkers classic, he made a brilliant single with Crass, he released the superb anti-war pop song 'Glad It's All Over', a fantastic serious Psychedelic double album entitled 'Revolution Now', and a rather fine Christmas single 'One Christmas Catalogue'.
Released in November 1984, the single sadly paled in the shadow of that same month's behemoth 'Band Aid' charity fest, and failed to even chart despite his previous single reaching Number 6. Even the comedy fluffy beard that bedecked the sleeve failed to lure the punters....


Given the endless rehashing of Christmas songs, both on the radio and on the music satellite channels, at this time of year, I'm always surprised that neither of these songs get much (or even any) airplay. It's always just the same old crap, year in year out....much like Christmas itself, eh cynics?

And to finish off, as a vegetarian, here's a little something for all you meat eaters out there....


~Gordon~

Friday, 16 December 2011

Griff says; Bring a Torch (for Bradley Manning)

Exactly a year ago today (see 'here') the whistle-blowing organisation Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange were all over the news and I took the opportunity to remind you all of the fate of Bradley Manning, the US serviceman accused of leaking; a video of the Granai airstrike, around 260,000 US diplomatic cables and the notorious "Collateral Murder" video.


When I last wrote of this, 17th december 2010, Manning was 'celebrating' his 23rd birthday at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico where he had been held in solitary confinement since July 29, 2010. Today, 17th December 2011, on his 24th birthday, he is once again back in the news. Yesterday, after 17 months of pre-trial imprisonment, Manning finally got to see the inside of a courtroom, at the preliminary stage of his military trial at an army base in Maryland.
Since his arrest, Manning has been treated as one of America's most heinous traitors. He faces 23 charges, the most serious of which is that Manning knowingly gave "intelligence to the enemy, though indirect means".

The sadistic conditions to which he was subjected for 10 months at Quantico, which Amnesty International condemned as 'inhumane', are well-documented and provoked an international scandal. Even so, PJ Crowley, a US state department spokesman, was forced to resign after denouncing Manning's treatment. In April 2011, 295 legal scholars and philosophers signed a letter stating that the conditions he experienced amounted to a violation of the U.S. Constitution; later that month the Pentagon transferred him to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, a new medium-security facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The attempts to crush Manning, and with him conscientious objection to government venality, are not yet over, however. One of the stranger aspects of the pre-trial is that it begins on a Friday and will run throughout this weekend. The military authorities have indicated that each day's proceedings could be extended late into the night. Jeff Patterson of the Bradley Manning support network has explained this decision thus;

"To run the hearing through a weekend right before the Christmas vacation is clearly designed to minimise both media coverage and public protests,"

It seems that, though it is Manning who is nominally on trial, these proceedings reveal the US government's fixation with extreme secrecy, covering up its own crimes, and intimidating future whistleblowers.

Today, I wanted to bring you a beautiful artistic response to Bradley Manning's treatment at the hands of the authorities, and at the same time, to remind you all that each of us, every one of us,is responsible for keeping the flame of liberty alive during our lives. Below I've embedded the video of the song 'Bring a Torch (for Bradley Manning)' by Cabin of Love.




I think that's truly beautiful. A free MP3 of the song can be downloaded from 'here'. Cabin of Love is Julia and Nathan Bloom, an acoustic duo from Owatonna, Minnesota. They have been making music together since 1988 and the best place to keep up with them is probably their Youtube channel. Julia also has a fine site of her own 'here' where you can read her thought on various issues. 'Bring a Torch (for Bradley Manning)' is based on the 16th. century French Christmas Carol 'Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle' (Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella). To this day, in the Provence region of France, children dressed up as shepherds and milkmaids, carry torches and candles to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, while singing the carol. The wonderful chiaroscuro painter Georges de La Tour was inspired by the carol to paint this exquisite nativity scene.


As I look on those tender and gentle faces looking on the vulnerable yet peaceful child, I am reminded of the hope that must attend all births; the hope of a better and brighter future. This year, 2011, has seen the advent of a spirit of change and optimism throughout the world. The Arab Spring, The Occcupy movement, Los Indignados in Spain, the White Ribbon movement in Russia, and the Europe wide anti-austerity protests have all spoken of the re-birth of old and noble human ideals. The young people involved in these protests are the midwives of that rebirth. They hold in their hands the hopes of humanity; freedom of speech, the freedom to participate in free and open elections, the right to a fair trial, social justice, an end to acquisitive wars. These are the ideals I think of over the weekend of Bradley Manning's pre-trial. These are the ideals that, I believe, prompted Manning to release the material that so damned his own government. In doing so, this 24 year old man lost his liberty but took his place, along with so many of his generation, to endeavour to ensure that the fragile arrival of hope in the world is not crushed by those who would see us live under the weight of fear and hate.
Now is the time to ask yourself,where do you stand? Are you prepared to carry the hope born in 2011 forward and into 2012? Ask yourself, what will you bring into the world? Will it be darkness or light? Are you prepared, as Bradley Manning was, to bring a torch into the darkness and light up the world with hope?


Griff

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Griff says; A purrfect excuse for some kitten art

I've been feeling a little tense recently and I think it has been reflected in my blogs. Christmas always makes me feel grumpy; it really seems to exacerbate my alienation from consumer society. Gordon, on the other hand, as regular readers will know, loves Christmas and feels full of joy and peace and goodwill to all men etc etc, which , quite frankly, just makes me grumpier. So, I was looking through my recent posts and realised that, rather than giving you my usual fare, i.e. something about undemocratic corporate oligarchies, or suicide, or homelessness in Russia, I'd reveal a little of my sweeter, more gentle side. If you think you can take it, that is.

What many of you may not realise is that The Streetlamp team are very much cat lovers. Is that a surprise? I suspect not - if you've thought about it you'll have twigged that dogs are too slavishly obedient to inspire our love. No, it's feisty and independent cats for us all the way; all three of us too, particularly Gordon who is practically Egyptian in his adoration of felines. That being the case, I came across something very cute recently and wanted to share it with Gordon and Ray, but then thought; what the hell, I'll stick it on the blog and cheer everyone up at the same time.
My find was a blog called the kitten covers, which has a very simple but effective premise. Basically, it takes iconic pop and rock album covers, mainly from the 70s and 80s, and faithfully reproduces them but with the crucial introduction of kittens into the image. OK, I know what you're thinking; 'How, very internet. How very lightweight'. Yes, that's true but in my defence all I can say is... look at them, they're soooo cute!

Here are my favourites so far:







Aren't they brilliant? There are loads more on the kitten covers site, so please do pay it a visit.


Now, as you know, I never leave you empty-handed on your Streetlamp visits so I racked my brain for a song to accompany this and had an inspiration. I'm embedding 'One Kitten' by Julia Vorontsova (pictured) below. This charming, slightly eccentric song, features the sombre and melancholic Russian poet/chanteuse both purring and meowing throughout to startling effect.

One Kitten - Julia Vorontsova by SadPanda

Here's a translation of the lyric:

Yawning cavities of the soul
This fluffy snow has covered.
And through this floury powder
An eager and scary morning rushed in.
Where’s heaven for little kitties ? Where is it?
January. Everyone is asleep and I lean to the cold walls.
Why the silence torments today?
So dreadful… At least someone meow!
Where, where did you get lost?
Amused me and enough, come out!
Let’s play! Let’s go to the basement, it’s so dark there!
I’ll teach you to run up and down the stairs.
Please come! I’ll wash you up, I’ll lick you clean!
Something taps in my chest, someone restless is tapping.
You’ll come and you can bite my tail or my paws
And you can sleep on my rug and you can scratch anywhere!..
Oh, I see, that brother you called it!
Once I’m offended you can meow for an hour even
I’ll walk away and sit alone and show you my back,
So that you’ll know how to get a sister upset!
Where’s heaven for little kitties ? Where is it?
January. Everyone is asleep and I lean to the cold walls.
Come back, right away I’ll follow
Come back at once, after all there’s two of us…
Where’s heaven? Where’s paradise for little kittens , where is it?...


Isn't that amazing? I totally love Julia's output, it is by turns solemn and exuberant, but always dramatic. That particular song is from her 2004 debut CD 'From St. Petersburg With Love'. This can be downloaded online at the usual places, or the physical CD can be purchased from Abaton Book Company and includes a 12-page booklet of English commentary and drawings by the artist. Julia is originally from St. Petersburg (a city I featured in a blog just last week) but has lived a markedly peripatetic life and is currently resident in Paris, where she is working on new material and starting to collaborate with other musicians.

Julia's music falls within the Russian бард (bard) tradition. This term came into being in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and continues to be used in Russia today to refer to singer-songwriters who write poetic songs, accompanying themselves with fairly simple guitar arrangements so that the emphasis is very much on the lyric. It is a very direct, powerful and emotionally profound style when done well and Julia is a wonderfully talented modern exponent of the genre.


As the бард tradition puts a heavy emphasis on its commerce-free nature; with the songs written to be sung and not to be sold, I'm hoping that Julia won't mind me making a free MP3 of the above track available 'here'. This track, from my own collection, of course, is provided purely for promotional reasons and I do hope that you will come to love it as much as I do and go on to investigate the rest of Julia's output.

Griff
xx

Sunday, 11 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#21: December Will Be Magic Again

The idea of a magical looking December goes hand in hand with the whole Christmas package, yet somehow this particular year it isn't living up to much. In the last few days alone we've had 95mph winds, blizzards, severe ice and torrential rain. Where's the enchanting white vistas we so long for to add some seasonal spice to our festivities?
Well, this year, thanks in part to Mojo Magazine, the bewitching depictions of a Winter Wonderland come courtesy of the artist Lisa Evans, whose stunning evocation of a rather odd Christmas scene adorned Mojo's review of the new Kate Bush album '50 Words For Snow'. As soon as as I saw the illustration(see below), I was hooked and immediately set out to try and find more images by this gifted artist.
What I love about the image above is that it has that otherworldly allure that only something as magical as Christmastime would allow us to fall for. The foreboding palette of grey blues and shimmering whites creates a chilly fairytale effect, but like the best fairytales it is shot through with a little sinister surrealism. Take for instance the snowman that seems to hover above the trees, or that rather ominous shadow on the far right hand corner that threatens the Winter idyll that surrounds the children; is it a monster, is it some disreputable adult, or is it a parent following on to make sure the the two children are safe? Also, the eyes of the moon give the whole scene a storybook feel that assures us we are in the realms of fantasy.
If we look at the close-up detail above we can see that the female character could almost pass for the young Kate Bush herself (I'm guessing that's the whole point!), and that both have a wide-eyed innocence coupled with a rather eerie detached look that suggests their faces have been Photo-shopped on, creating further unease.
This is why the image works so well for a songwriter like Kate whose entire oeuvre is enshrouded in that whole blurring of a highly sensualised reality with a child's dreamlike fantasy. And who other than Ms Bush could ever reassure us, in her own inimitable way, that December WILL be magic again?


Both Kate's songs and Lisa's artwork manage to convey that sense of spectral unease that lies within children's fantasies, nursery rhymes and fairytales. There's that sense that children haven't really worked our what 'evil' is yet, so anything threatening or potentially dangerous is viewed by the child as something unknown and slightly peculiar, rather than downright sinister.
Take this next painting of Lisa's; we can see the happiness that the rocking horse and the glove puppet should bring to the child, but the blank look on her face coupled with the overall sense of disquiet brought on by the mute colours suggests all is not as it should be.
Or then there's this beautiful creation in which everything looks rosy, everything is bright and the child is surrounded by her toys and animal friends, yet the sad look on her face and the concerned look of her playmates, not to mention that all furniture is covered in ice, allows a sense of unease to permeate through the scene.
It's not the first time that Lisa has had her wonderful artwork accompany reviews in Mojo magazine; this beautiful and haunting image below was used to illustrate an album by the equally Wintry and sepulchral Bon Iver. Possibly making Lisa Mojo's Winter illustrator of choice!
As you may know, we here at the ~Streetlamp~ worship at the altar of the blessed Kate Bush, although special mention should go out to Ray who has burned the candle longest, seeing the beauty and the mystery of Kate's breathtaking body of work long before Griff or I ever managed to get our heads round it. And so it makes perfect sense that it was Ray who e-mailed me all aglow to inform me that Kate had a whole new album of original material out this month. I don't think Kate sees her new album as a 'Christmas Album' as such, more a celebration of Winter, that most maligned of seasons.
So to round off this Blog I thought I'd finish with a track from that new album, and the video that Ray chose for inclusion in the Blog. Plus an illustration of Lisa's that I think conveys the same feel and essence of the song:



And finally, a portrait of the artist:

You can view more of Lisa's incredible and beautiful artwork here

And you can follow her own Blog here

December IS Magic!!

~Gordon~

Saturday, 10 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#20: 'Silent Night' by The Dickies

Despite being one of the first Punk bands (formed in 1977) to emerge from the L.A. Punk scene, San Fernando Valley's The Dickies have never really achieved the kudos that many lesser, and certainly much less talented bands have attained. A large part of this probably is down to the fact the band are often seen as cartoonish and a bit of a joke. Something I'm here to hopefully reverse!
For me, The Dickies were always exceptional musicians. Just listening to the musicianship on their recordings; the drumming, the guitars, the Farfisa style keyboards, the incredible speed at which they played (and played well), and their remarkable ability to stop/start on a sixpence belied their much negated reputation.
Also, I think, what worked against them was their geek-chic look, with its shiny plastic jackets and wraparound plastic shades, and the fact that all their records came on coloured vinyl, which added to the contrived New Wave image the band seemed lumbered with, something that more earnest Punks and the NME seemed to take umbrage with.
The Dickies are best remembered among the Punk fraternity for their 1000mph cover versions of Rock Music's sacred cows; everything from Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' to Simon & Garfunkel's 'The Sound Of Silence' to The Moody Blues' 'Nights In White Satin' were covered at blistering, helium-voiced, velocity. This was both a blessing and a curse for the band, as it was the cover versions that gave them their hits, but they also detracted from their own compositions. And some of those, like 'Fan Mail' were rather superb slices of ironic Punk energy.




In Britain, at least, The Dickies are probably most well known for their speedfreak cover of the theme to 'The Banana Splits' TV show which gained them their highest positioned chart hit in the UK (No 7), and which was the only song I danced to (or rather pogoed to) at our school disco that year.
The song has had fresh life breathed into it by it's inclusion in one of the best scenes from the recent movie 'Kick-Ass':


And, as this is a Christmas Blog, it's only right that I should feature their Festive favourite, their cover of the traditional song 'Silent Night' (pressed on white vinyl for those who wish to know), which was released in December 1978 and actually charted in Britain a whole six months before the Banana Splits single. As usual, the playing is immense and the counter-melodic second guitar is something of a joy:


The B-side to the single was the already mentioned cover of the 'Sound Of Silence'; I'm guessing a 'silence' theme was at play here:


After 1980, the hits pretty much dried up on both sides of the pond but the band continued onwards, regularly being featured in the U.S's 'Maximum Rock'n'Roll' magazine (which took a pretty serious look at the American Punk scene), and were still playing in the early 2000s, albeit with a radically altered line-up, the band having suffered a rather tragic spate of deaths (drug related and suicide).

A fine band then, and one, like The Monkees, who deserve a bit more credit than they are usually given. And, as if it was all planned, here they are covering The Monkees!


See, not thrown together at all!!

~Gordon~

Griff says: A Russia and a push and the land is ours

I don't think that anyone can have failed to notice events in Russia this week. An estimated 50,000 people have gathered in Moscow, with a further 10,000 in St Petersburg (pictured), to protest against what appears to be widespread fraud in last Sunday's elections. The authorities have responded in typical fashion and the media reports that there have been more than 1,000 arrests. Undaunted by this, the protestors have pledged to take to the streets again on December 24 and continue to insist that the election results should be annulled. They also want; the resignation of the head of the election commission, an official investigation into vote fraud, democratic and open elections and registration of opposition parties. The Streetlamp salutes them and wishes them success!



Thus, while our eyes are turned to the East in hope and admiration, now seems a good time to bring a couple of Russian cultural artefacts to your attention.

The first sees the Streetlamp take another of its very occasional forays into the interface between the worlds of gaming and art (see 'here' for previous) in the shape of stark, homeless-themed game Ulitsa Dimitrova.
Designed by German game designer Lea Schonfelder, Ulitsa Dimitrova is really more of a political, arts-project than a game. The central character, whom the player controls, is Pjotr - a chain-smoking street-child in St. Petersburg. Pjotr steals glue and trades it to his glue-sniffing friend for cigarettes. His mother is a prostitute, who in exchange for stolen vodka gives him money, which he also uses to buy cigarettes. The player soon finds himself trapped in a world of ever-dimishing returns; he can beg for money, steal, vandalize Mercedes cars and trade their emblems (for cigarettes, naturally) but any sense of achievement or hope is soon inexorably reduced to zero.


You see, Ulitsa Dimitrova has been deliberately designed to ensure that progress isn't an option. Pjotr is condemned to endlessly repeat the daily soul-sapping grind or to lie down in the street and be gradually covered by the falling snow. Thus, if the player stops playing, Pjotr will freeze to death. As harsh as that sounds, it is, unfortunately, real life for millions of street children. When you play this beautifully illustrated game you are placed, for just a very short time, into Pjotr's shoes, and the experiences you have, and the emotions you experience through him, will live with you for considerably longer. Do then, please, go ahead and experience this paradoxically simple and sophisticated game for yourself, as this is gaming constructed to be both art and social commentary. The game can be downloaded for free 'here'.

If you need further convincing, then have a look at this short youtube presentation:






Rather serendipitously, I've also recently come across an indie-pop band from St. Petersburg, Russia who seem to have the theme of childhood running through their work. Called ЧАЙЛДИШ (Childish) the line-up is as follows:

Andy Rozberg: voice, guitar, harmonica
Alexei Belyaev: bass guitar, double bass
Nikolai Novikov: guitar
Andrew Heller: drums, glockenspiel


They've just released their first recording, in the shape of a gentle and wistful five-song EP (also called ЧАЙЛДИШ), which can be freely downloaded from their bandcamp page. They say (if my translation is correct) that the songs are:

"for those who still believe in those things we were taught in the books that we read in childhood, and who like the music that we listened to in our youth. These are the delicate hymns to our fears and dreams. This is our quiet manifesto."

I'm embedding the first track, Свидетели (Witnesses), below for your listening pleasure.





Enjoy,

Griff
xx

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#19: 'Santa, If You Do Exist'

I'm afraid it's a bit of a short Wassail tonight, not because of any lack of quality in the music, but purely down to there not being much for me to go on, nor indeed much to share with you. Tonight we feature another song that was sent to our e-mail address, and once again, rather surprisingly, we REALLY enjoyed it. So....despite a lack of info to impart with you tonight, I'm still going to crack on with it.....



Tonight's Christmas song is called 'Santa, If You Do Exist' and is by a Brooklyn based composer called Jeremy Coleman who plies his trade under the moniker of Jmo. The song in question is a rather jaunty little Indie-pop ditty with rather a touching message. It's all about the negativity and crushing disappointment of adult life, yet how at this time of year the belief in Santa Claus and therefore the Christmas spirit in general can break through all the pessimism and broken dreams. Jeremy admits himself that the song is shot through with a certain 'Jewish cynicism', but I still think it's one of the best Festive songs I've heard in a long time, and one whose message I give in to.

Sadly, no video accompanies the song, neither can it be downloaded; but you can stream the song here

Looking further into Jeremy's musical output, I discovered that he is a member of an Indiepop quartet called Murder Mystery who have some rather splendid tunes out there.
Take for example this fine song called 'I Am(If You Are)' which, if you liked our Blogs on 8-Bit Music, Kraftwerk or Evening Lights then I'm sure you're going to love this:


Murder Mystery have a really cool website where you can download the song featured above for free, as well as a whole raft of other songs if that's piqued your interest. You can find their website http://www.murdermysterymusic.com/
It's one of the cool things I love doing about this Blog; you set out to write about a particular song or artist and you stumble upon a new favourite band complete with a whole caboodle of free songs.
Hurrah!!

The Christmas spirit is most definitely alive!!

~Gordon~

Monday, 5 December 2011

Griff says: The transmission of affect - Mellow Dramatic Avenue


Just over a year ago you may remember me writing about 'Through the woods, divided', the sixth album by melancholic, Swedish, post-rockers Mellow Dramatic Avenue (see 'here'). If you do, you'll also remember me praising this band for their introspective, down-tempo style, which I described as, "perfect listening for a dark, rainy evening". Well, tonight it's snowing here in Scotland rather than raining, but you'll still be pleased to hear that Mellow Dramatic Avenue have released a new suite of moody and nocturnal songs, just in time to play us through those long, dark winter's nights ahead.



Named Transmission, it is the seventh album from the band and, as usual, it's released on their own Kakadua Partnership label . It contains ten songs and was recorded during 2011 in Studio Rönnehill in the countryside in the South of Sweden. Large parts of the songs were recorded live in the studio, a technique the band adopted to try to capture and preserve feeling and atmosphere within the music. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the songs were recorded in the exact order that they can be heard on the record.

Transmission will be officially released in January 2012, but is now pre-released for your immediate listening pleasure. As with all their output, the band have made the album available as a free MP3 download on;
bandcamp
soundcloud, and
last.fm

To give you a little taster, I'm embedding Track 1, 'You Called The Light' and Track 10, 'Broken Down Nightingale' below:








Enjoy.

Griff
xx

Sunday, 4 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#18: The Greedy Bastards

1979 was a weird year for the Sex Pistols, or at least what remained of the Sex Pistols. Glen Matlock was long gone, John Lydon had quit, and Sid Vicious recorded some Eddie Cochran covers with Steve Jones and Paul Cook before he succumbed to his own squalid death in rather unpleasant circumstances.
Cook and Jones were left to carry the weight of the name and of the reputation of the band. In 1979 they found themselves performing with some rather odd lead vocalists, which included Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, and Eddie Tudorpole who would later find success with his own Tenpole Tudor, as well as becoming a successful actor and presenter of TV's The Crystal Maze.

1979 also saw Cook and Jones become embroiled in the recording of the soundtrack for 'The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle' (in which they also appeared), Malcolm McLaren's bizarre vision of the Sex Pistols story, which included copious nudity, images of domination and bondage, and under-age girls. They found themselves re-recording guitar and drum parts for old Pistols demos (with Lydon on vocals) so that they could be used in the film, as well as recording all new songs like the title track, Silly Thing, Lonely Boy and erm, Frigging In The Rigging.
After becoming disillusioned with the rotting corpse that the Sex Pistols had become, Paul and Steve began looking for other projects. They would eventually form their own band The Professionals and in turn would join with Paul Simonon of The Clash to appear in the movie 'Ladies & Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains'.
In between all that though they linked up with leather kecked rock god Phil Lynott, of Thin Lizzy, who was a fan of the Pistols.
On the 29th of July 1978, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Phil Lynott, Gary Moore, Chris Downey, Scott Gorham (the last three all of Thin Lizzy), Jimmy Bain (of Rainbow), and Chris Spedding (long time Pistols cohort) took to the stage of the Electric Ballroom to play a set of Pistols and Lizzy songs under the moniker of The Greedy Bastards.
The Greedy Bastards would return in December of that year without Bain and Spedding, but this time featuring one Bob Geldof!
A year later, in December of 1979, the only fruits of the Pistols/Lizzy concoction were released; a Christmas song under the title of a 'A Merry Jingle', which charted but only reached the disappointing position of Number 28, surprising when you consider the fanbase for both the Pistols and Thin Lizzy!
On the 20th of December 1979, the band, now tastefully re-dubbed The Greedies appeared on Top Of The Pops:


And then, on New Year's Eve, they turned up on Kenny Everett's Hogmanay show:


Paul Cook and Steve Jones were probably wise, and relieved, to leave behind the baggage of the Sex Pistols at that rather crazy and unsavoury time in the band's history, and nearly everything they did immediately post-Pistols is worth checking out.
The late, great Phil Lynott was one of the few pre-Punk rock stars that the Punks actually adopted as a hero figure, and he and his fine band certainly brighten up those mawkish 1976 Top Of The Pops that are being re-shown at the moment.
Not the greatest Christmas song of all time then by any stretch, but an intriguing time capsule of when two of the best bands of the late 1970s collided.

~Gordon~

Saturday, 3 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#17: 'Christmas Eve For Two' by Summer Fiction

Despite being the ~Streetlamp~'s most unshakable Atheist, it seem that, once again, within the merest few hours of December I find myself donning the tinsel and mistletoe, binging on port and mince pies and sitting down to eulogise yet again on that most lamentable of genres, Christmas music.
Even though I managed to cover most of my favourite Festive tunes last year, there's no shortage of songs to cover this year, especially as quite a few bands and artists have sent us some of their own to check out. Now, I have to confess, and I don't want to sound ungrateful, but we actually get sent a fair amount of material from bands, artists and record labels over the year, but unfortunately most of them appear to be sent by people who have simply NEVER read our Blog, or seem to have no general idea of the music we write about. Thankfully though, this year we got a couple of belters in the Festive section and it's one of these I've come to write about tonight.

The band I am covering tonight have the aptly seasonal name of Summer Fiction, and they are a project based around Philadelphia singer/songwriter Bill Ricchini. Now, I have to admit that until we received his Christmas song, I had never personally heard of him or any of his previous bands. However, he has been featured in such publications as New York Magazine, Vogue and Magnet, as well as having his music used on the soundtrack to 'Grey's Anatomy'.
So what propelled me to write about someone so seemingly mainstream? Well, the quality of the song for a start!
'Christmas Eve For Two' is simply an exquisitely fine piece of Festive Pop Music. The music is a mix of Spectorish cavernous echo and Sinatra-esque piano, creating a heady Brill Building soundscape. Throw into the mix some rather superb Four Freshmen style backing vocals and already you have an engaging and instantly warm and nostalgic feel. When Bill's vocals cut in they are world weary and knowingly melancholic, with just the right amount of acidic undertone to stop the whole confection being too sugary. The production is both retro and modernist at the same time, creating that wonderful air of arch aloofness that él Records used to specialise in. This is probably the hook that reeled me in.
'Christmas Eve For Two' manages to convey that rather wonderful feeling of being away from all the madness, the commerciality and the stress of family Christmasses by suggesting a scenario in which you can just spend time with your loved one. Whilst others crash and bang about, driving themselves to the point of insanity by TRYING to have a happy Christmas, you can just pour some Festive cheer, sit beside the Christmas tree and spend some quality time with your better half. Of course this is hardly anything new, but you'll probably find, if you look hard enough, that all the best Christmas songs seem to have this as their theme.

Summer Fiction have made the song available to download completely freely from their Bandcamp page, and you can listen to it below....


Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a video to accompany the song so I've chosen another of their songs, 'Chandeliers' to play out with. Purely because the video that has been created for it features the actor Lou Castel who appeared in two of the greatest Spaghetti Westerns of all time, 'Requiescant' and 'A Bullet For The General', the latter in which he plays a 'blonde Gringo' named Bill.
See how it all comes together?


~Gordon~

Sunday, 27 November 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: The Decline Of Western Civilization(prt 1)

Perhaps the only true cinematic representation of the early (U.S.) Punk scene, Penelope 'Waynes World' Spheeris' 'The Decline Of Western Civilization' may not be anything like a definitive word on the subject but it remains a fascinating, funny, and sometimes horrifying, look at the earliest days of Punk music in America.


Shot in and around Los Angeles in 1979, and mostly on handheld cameras, the movie has a certain Cinema Verité quality that really takes you in amongst the audience, and the bands when at home or rehearsing. The film was heavily criticised when first released for appearing to be shooting at sitting ducks; many fans are interviewed as talking heads under a single lightbulb, often spouting nonsense or incomprehensible drivel. As we often don't hear the questions asked, this shows the interviewees in a bad light and could be deemed subjective editing. However, as we now know that Spheeris was a fan of the music and the scene, this seems unlikely and we should just accept that this is what those interviewed were generally like.


And what of the music?
Well some of the music featured isn't very good at all to be honest, although it's energy and anticonformism makes it really refreshing. The bands featured include The Germs, Fear, X, Circle Jerks and a pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag.
Black Flag are shown living in a grimy squat where they rehearse, as well as live and sleep. The music hasn't quite reached the levels of quickfire intensity that would burst out when Henry joined them, but there's still a scratchy, nervous energy about them that must have really stood out in the blissed-out, coke-heavy, LA music scene.


The Germs provide the most interesting section of the film, all for the wrong reasons. The band onstage are AWFUL, mostly due to vocalist Darby Crash being completely out of it. Virtually unable to stand upright, Crash continually falls on his backside, slurring gibberish into the mic and allowing people in the crowd to scrawl all over him in black marker.

We later cut to him at home as he prepares breakfast, and he comes across as a nice-but-dim goofball, all softly spoken and wide-eyed innocent but with occasional flickers that lead you to suppose he may be a little damaged.

Tragically, Darby died before the movie was even released. What is known is that,
shortly after the live footage of him was shot, he went to London, following in the footsteps of his idol Sid Vicious. While in London, Darby allegedly saw the pre-fame Adam & The Ants with whom he became quite smitten. Back in LA, Darby changed his look and image and came out as gay, something he had always tried to hide, always leaving clubs with girls etc. It's believed by those who knew him that he was never able to accept fully that he was gay and that this led to his suicide. When the movie was released, the poster featured Crash lying on his back, eyes shut, and with the mic cable in his mouth. This was seen as absolute bad taste by some, but it was pointed out that the poster had been designed before Darby had died, and that his family and friends had okayed the decision.



Next, we drop in on the creators of Slash fanzine, one of the first Punkzines in the U.S. Edited by Frenchman Claude Bessy, we see how a fanzine was put together in the days before mobile phones, the internet or even word processors. There seems to be a real vibrant energy about the staff collating the info, but you get the impression that Claude may well be just a little long in the tooth and is merely a 60s burnout trying for a second youth.
Claude also sings in the band Catholic Discipline who are actually very good (if already drifting into what we would call New Wave), and feature on guitar Phranc, who would later become a major voice in Lesbian music and who was much beloved of Morrissey, even opening for The Smiths on one of their American tours.


Aside from Black Flag, X are probably the most well known of all the bands who appear in the movie. Led by Exene Cervenka and John Doe, who have both had long careers in music as well as films, they are almost without doubt the best of the bands featured in the movie. And while being interviewed they also come across as more sussed and savvy than any of the others featured, although you do get the feeling that maybe they are underplaying their music slightly for the Punk audiences and that they can't wait for Post-Punk to happen so that they can make the music they truly want to make.



And then Fear come to town!
I don't really know much about Fear, and I don't think they really caught on much beyond the Californian Punk scene, but it's obvious that the audience have been waiting for them; not to cheer and support them, but to indulge in bad tempered badinage. I have never seen audience/band interaction so nihilistically aggressive as when Fear take to the stage. Spitting, insults, fistfights (including girls being punched and kicked) all breakout before the band have even played a note. But it appears the band's reputation goes before them, or certainly before their music, for once they eventually start playing, the end result is quite disappointing. Straight (almost Pub-)Rock played by ill tempered men who are clearly older than they are pretending to be, you can't help feeling that Fear are mere fakes.


And this is the overall problem with the whole movie. Obviously, nobody at the time knew that Punk would have such a lasting influence over music or culture, that there is a dismissive attitude by almost evetyone involved, on either side of the camera, or even on or off stage. Punk is seen as a cipher for bored teens to let out all their rage and bitterness, but not against society or authority, but upon each other. It's obvious, to me at least, that Americans saw Punk in an entirely different light to that which we in Britain did. That's why the energy of the early (American) Punks led not to such things as Post-Punk, Two-Tone, Industrial Music, the New Romantics or BIG Pop, but instead became bogged down in self indulgent Art-rock, or humourless one-dimensional hardcore. Instead of using Punk's energy to propel itself forward, it imploded into self-loathing and vitriol.

Sadly, the movie doesn't exist on DVD at the moment, but bootleg copies are fairly easy to track down, the home-made quality often adding to it's scuzzy appeal.
Not exactly a movie for music lovers then, but a fascinating document of a movement in it's genesis.

~Gordon~