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Sunday, 30 September 2012

~Tales Of The Momii~#3: Circus Maximus

The latest in my appreciations of the works of Momus. As always, the views and the interpretations of the songs and ideas are mine alone, and may bear no similarity to what the artist intended.

In 1986, Nick Currie found himself living in a bedsit in Streatham, nurturing the crumbs of the foundation of a solo career, almost half a decade on from the demise of his band The Happy Family, and having already struck out with a couple of EPs.
Now, he decided, it was time to rewrite the Bible. The result was the first fully fledged Momus album, 'Circus Maximus'.

There was no record label arch or artier in 1986 than él Records. A subsidiary company of Cherry Red, the label specialised in aloof, angular, over-intellectualised, well-crafted Pop music, housed in sleeves that even Factory or 4AD would decry as pretentious. And Momus' debut album fitted the bill to a tee.
Adorning the sleeve himself, Nick appears on the front in the guise of Saint Sebastian, pale, thin and gaunt, crucified and shot through with arrows. On the reverse he is the very embodiment of the él artist; well cut suit and tie, angular fringe and razor sharp cheekbones.

And the music itself is a purely European tract, all French chansonnier, Scottish Folk and English chamber Pop. So out of step with the flashy synthetic cheesiness that draped British music of the time that it's little wonder it fell on mainly deaf (or indeed 'tin') ears in it's day. Critics of the day sniped at its lofty, wordy attitudes; Jack Barron of the NME suggesting that Nick was maybe too well read and was trying to condense his appropriated knowledge back into easily digestible soundbites.
The album was split into two sides, something you could do in the days of the vinyl LP, with one side containing the religious songs, and the other dealing with the trials and mores of life itself.

The album starts with one of Momus' most hardy perennial tracks, 'Lucky Like St Sebastian'  which contains one of my favourite opening lines of any song or album ever; "Once upon a time there was a man called Saul// Who persecuted Christians till he saw// That the work was bearing fruit for the Christians// So the man changed his opinions and his Christian name to Paul". Now you have to admit that that is not just a million miles away from "Club Tropicana, drinks are free// Fun and sunshine, there's enough for everyone", but is also far removed from anything Morrissey, Michael Stipe or any Indie hero of the mid-Eighties was turning out.

What Momus did was to apply a Presbyterian approach to his religious writing, as opposed to the heavy Catholicism that ran through most of Rock's canon from such artists as Nick Cave, Lou Reed or even Bono. This allowed Momus to focus on the more sexualised texts of the Old Testament without all the baggage of guilt and the-love-of-God-as-a-burden. Thus songs like 'The Lesson Of Sodom (According To Lot)', 'King Solomon's Song And Mine' and 'John The Baptist Jones' not only bristle with a sexual frisson, but also take an almost Pasolini-esque step back and view the subject with a more modernist, matter-of-fact approach....

Side Two's less religiously focused songs are still steeped in the world of literature; 'Rules Of The Game Of Quoits' suggests an air of W. Somerset Maugham or Evelyn Waugh as a middle class English boy and girl become sexually involved, with the rules of the game acting as a metaphor.

And in 'The Rape Of Lucretia' Momus manages to meld ideas from Goethe's 'Faust' with the fall of the Roman Empire...

In the dazzling 'The Day The Circus Came To Town', an uptight Calvinistic Scottish town is liberated by the arrival of the titular Circus and the once timorous community descends into the carnal madness of a work by Goya or Alighieri....

Then there's another of Momus' early classics, 'Paper Wraps Rock' in which Nick ruminates upon the unavailability of the very famous and beautiful (Garbo, Monroe, Helen Of Troy) and which contains a rather spooky reference to Diana Spencer which alludes to her other-worldly beauty being kept behind the double locks and bulletproof glass of her Limousine, as she is perpetually hunted, almost as a sport. We all know how prescient this turned out to be....

'Circus Maximus' is an excellent piece of work, but falls just short of the classic albums he was just about to deliver. Most of the tracks feature intricately picked acoustic guitar backed with heavily atmospheric synthesiser passages. Nick also seems to have found his Momus voice, the tremulous vibrato of his Happy Family vocals replaced with a mellifluous sotto-voce seductiveness that lures the listener in.
There was nothing else like it at the time, and there's precious little like it now!

'For love will endure or not endure
Regardless of where we are'



You can download Circus Maximus here
(This link does not belong to myself or the ~Streetlamp~, so while I can remove it from our page, I cannot delete it from the Internet)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Griff says; Dear Motorist, a boy needs a bike

Hello, Streetlampers. I've got something for the cycling fraternity tonight - it's an article first published in France in September 1973 under the title "L’idéologie sociale de la bagnole" in the magazine Le Sauvage. Written under the pen name André Gorz it was the work of Gérard Horst, an Austrian and French social philosopher and journalist who was originally an advocate of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist version of Marxism until after the May '68 student riots in France where he became more concerned with political ecology and environmentalism.

More commonly known under the title of 'Dear Motorist' in English speaking countries, and circulated in pamphlet form, the article delivers a devastating critique of the Western world's ideological obsession with the motor-car and has become a firm favourite in anarchist and cycling circles over the years. Here's a taster:

Why is the car treated like a sacred cow? Why, unlike other "privative" goods, isn't it recognised as an antisocial luxury? The answer should be sought in the following two aspects of driving:

1.    Mass motoring effects an absolute triumph of bourgeois ideology on the level of daily life. It gives and supports in everyone the illusion that each individual can seek his or her own benefit at the expense of everyone else.

2.    The automobile is the paradoxical example of a luxury object that has been devalued by its own spread. But this practical devaluation has not yet been followed by an ideological devaluation.

Interested in reading more? I hope so, as The Streetlamp have got a free pdf of Dear Motorist available for download 'here'. This came about as I was looking for a version of the pamphlet online recently and realised that the site which used to have it was no longer available.  Other sites did have it, but not as an easy to read pdf, so I decided that, given our recent success posting an anarchist cookbook for free download, we might as well give you this as well.

Now, of course, the obvious question is; "What music should you listen to while you're reading Dear Motorist?" Well, we here at The Streetlamp would like to recommend a recent single release by our old friends over at EardrumsPop. For newcomers to the Streetlamp we should explain that EardrumsPop is a netlabel specialising in warm and melodic folk-pop and indie-pop. The label is famous for working in close and sympathetic collaboration with musicians and illustrators to produce unique and beautiful pop artefacts which are all available on a free download basis. What could be better than that? As they say over at EardrumsPop:

"We believe in beautiful things you can see and hear, and we believe in working together, helping each other and getting good music and good art out to the public."

The particular digital single we'd like to recommend was released on September 12th and is by Kids on Bikes. Kids on Bikes is the electronic-surf-folk music project from illustrator, musician, surfer, skateboarder and bike-enthusiast Sean Mahan. For the past 10 years Kids On Bikes has been working on the forthcoming record set “77 songs of cycling”, an epic 4 LP veneration of Schwinn Stingrays, Raleigh collapsibles, and powder blue beach cruisers. Sean writes each song as an introspective adoration of the many wondrous aspects of getting on a bike. So , if you want three sweet and delicate popsongs, all with a bike-theme, look no further.

Kids On Bikes - ePop026 by EardrumsPop

The above digital single can be downloaded 'here'. If you're interested in Sean's work as an illustrator you may also want to visit his site 'here'.

Visual art, indie-pop, cycling, anarchism and creative commons downloads! I believe I've just hit the Streetlamp jackpot.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Getting My Five A Day: My Top 5 Beatles Songs

In this new feature, I've decided to take a look at my Top 5 songs by certain bands or artists. It may also expand to include Top 5 films by particular stars or directors, or even books or graphic novels by chosen authors. I felt it best to kick things off at the very top, so I'll begin with a look at my Top 5 songs by the Kings Of Music, The Beatles.
The songs are not in order of preference, but in chronological order to make it a bit more linear for me to compile.
And we begin with....

All My Loving(1963)

Perhaps no song captures the zing and exhilaration of Beatlemania than Paul's 'All My Loving'; a track that clatters along at a pace that wouldn't be out of place on The Clash's debut album, and a song so loaded with melody that it bamboozles and seduces with every play. It shows that even as early as their second album they were already pushing way ahead of the field, experimenting and collaborating with producer George Martin to conjure up new ideas whilst their peers stuck pretty much to the same old formula.
Beginning purely on vocals with the opening "Close your eyes...", the band kick in at full pelt on the word 'eyes', starting on a minor chord then quickly ascending, causing a burst of aural euphoria quite unlike anything else at the time. The minor chord ascending then descending all within the one line gives the song a unique feeling of both melancholia and joy at the same time, totally catching the listener off guard. The harmonious blend of Paul and John's voices was probably never bettered and practically blares from the speakers like a brass section!
Another interesting point is the way in which the song seems to slow down to incorporate the guitar solo, an almost Countrified solo from George Harrison. It's been pointed out that the solo bears all the trade marks of Carl Perkins, George Harrison's hero, which makes me wonder if George created the solo himself? If he did, why doesn't he receive any writing credit for it? Given that George was easily the best guitarist in The Beatles, I wonder how many other classic solos he contributed to 'Lennon & McCartney' numbers without credit? No wonder he was constantly dismayed at the writing credits.
All that aside, this is still one of the best songs The Beatles ever created and therefore one of the greatest Pop songs of all time. Unquestionably!

And I Love Her(1964)
Another Paul song, this taken from the soundtrack to 'A Hard Day's Night' and written for then girlfriend Jane Asher.
As opposed to all the bluster of 'All My Loving', this is a very spare arrangement, purely on acoustic guitars and with sparse percussion from Ringo. Yet once again Paul's gift of melody is extraordinary, the notes practically sighing with adoration and surrounding the listener like some twilight-purple cloak.
Once again Paul and John's voices counterbalance each other so beautifully, reaching a peak on the lines "A love like ours// Could never die// As long as I have you near me", before Paul takes the song to another level, soloing on the lines "Bright are the stars that shine// Dark is the sky// I know this love of mine// Will never die" raising the song up a key before dropping back into the dueting chorus.
The 'A Hard Day's Night' soundtrack album is often overlooked as one of the more throwaway albums in The Beatles' canon, but I actually think it's the best of the 'Beatlemania' era albums, containing not only the song I've written about here but the storming theme song, John's beautifully simplistic 'If I Fell' and George's outstanding 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You'. It was also the album that cemented their reputation in America and therefore the one stopped them being just a flash in the pan.

Every Little Thing(1964)

From the fourth album 'Beatles For Sale' comes this tender John Lennon composition that underscores the fact that behind John's aggressive bluster was an emotionally vulnerable man. The basis of the lyrics seems to suggest that John feels he is punching above his weight, that he is undeserving of the attention his girl is showing him; "When I'm walking beside her// People tell me I'm lucky// Yes I know I'm a lucky guy".
Still less than two years into their recording careers, The Beatles have already left bands like Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Fortunes and The Searchers in their wake, moving away from the effervescent jangle of the early songs and moving into more complex arrangements and introspective lyrics. The influence of Bob Dylan was already manifesting itself in Lennon's songwriting. Beginning with a seemingly detached seven note intro, we're immediately into a world of chiming 12-string guitars and folksy melodies. There's also the unexpected use of timpani in the chorus; "Every little thing she does//(BOM BOM)// She does for me", the two beats acting like the beat of a heart fit to burst. Dispelling the theory that Lennon wrote the rockers and McCartney wrote the plaintive ballads, 'Every Little Thing' would see the emergence of John's 'living diary' lyrics, which often got too bitter for even the most committed Lennon-head.

'Beatles For Sale' also saw the band move away from their lovable mop-tops image with the almost sneeringly ironic album title, the Autumnal shading of the album sleeve, and the serious unsmiling faces glaring out from the cover suggesting the strain of having to be this creative ALL THE TIME was already beginning to tell.

Cry Baby Cry(1968)

And so to 'The White Album'....seen by some as The Beatles' great folly, or by others (like myself) as their greatest album. The White Album is like the entire history of music condensed into about 80 minutes, and shows just how versatile all four Beatles had become, a mere five years on from their debut album. This album features Rock, Pop, Folk, Surf, an Orchestral Lullaby, Jazz, Protest songs, Country & Western, Children's songs, proto-Heavy Metal, and even an Avant-Garde Sound Collage.
And amongst all that is another under-rated John Lennon composition, 'Cry Baby Cry'. Since taking LSD, John often reverted to a childlike world where the writings of Lewis Carrol and Edward Lear loomed large. This influenced his writing immensely, but also led to virtually any old Psychedelic band writing flowery gibberish when all they had consumed was some herbal tea and some smoked banana skins!
When John gets it right though, as on 'I Am The Walrus', 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', you do get the feeling that the lexicon of Pop is finally being stretched to creative new highs. And 'Cry Baby Cry' is pretty much the last time he would use this approach, but it works beautifully. Basically a nursery rhyme, John uses all his Carrol and Lear influences to spin the tale of some fabled kingdom of Marigold where the king and queen have tea with Duchess of Kircaldy. What stops the song from becoming horribly twee and cloying though, is that the melody has a sparse, melancholic, and, sometimes, quite sinister feel to it.
The song also ends (after 2mins 30) with 30 seconds of a Paul song in which he simply refrains "Can you take me back where I came from// Can you take me back?", which I also think has a slightly sinister edge to it and acts like an intermission before we collapse headlong into the nightmare world of 'Revolution 9'. Perhaps it's that sense of trepidation before the sound collage threatens to drive you insane that creates such an aura about the beautiful three minutes of music that precede it.

The Long And Winding Road(1969)

Now, I must point out that this is entirely my own theory, but I think this song is Paul acknowledging that The Beatles are about to split up, and that he's saying to the fans "Don't worry. We may be gone but the music will always be there. Whenever you need to relive your youth or recreate the 1960s, The Beatles music will always be there". Obviously I have no proof of this, but I've always believed that the long and winding road that Paul speaks of is The Beatles' music itself . It may even have been directed at John, suggesting "We may never work together again, but look what we've created!"
The song is taken from the 'Let It Be' album, possibly the only album of theirs that disappoints slightly, which may have something to do with the fact that it's the only one in which George Martin wasn't directly involved. At John's insistence, Phil Spector was brought in to 'try' and produce an album from the miles and miles of half-baked performances The Beatles had racked up in an attempt to 'Get Back' to their roots. Spector's production often meant drenching songs in overwrought syrupy strings and choirs, much to Paul's annoyance. So much so that just a few years ago Paul re-mastered the whole album and took off all of Spector's dabblings. It may have upset the Beatle purists, but the resulting 'Let It Be...Naked' is actually a better listen than the original, and it's the version from that album which I've chosen to play.
Whether Paul really had the foresight to know how The Beatles would be viewed in the years that followed their demise is obviously pure speculation, but it is that theory, along with the haunting melody (one of Paul's best EVER!) that makes it, for me, one of their greatest achievements.

So there you have it.
By only picking FIVE titles I've had to miss out such albums as 'Sgt Pepper', 'Revolver' and 'Rubber Soul', often seen as the high water mark of all popular music. I've also had to leave out such landmark one-offs as 'Penny Lane', 'I Am The Walrus', 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever'....classics all!
But I feel that the five I have chosen are the five that represent The Beatles as the greatest craftsmen in the history of music, and that all five contain some of the most heart-stopping melodies of all time.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Griff says; Stanley Odd - Nae half-way hoose but aye whaur extremes meet

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that I'm very fond of the musical output of Scottish hip hop's only genuine contenders for pop breakout status Stanley Odd. Since the release of debut album 'Oddio' in 2010 the band have really matured musically over the last couple of years and now proffer a genuinely unique blend of hip hop, soul, funk and electronica that is instantly identifiable as their own. I'm pleased to let you know, then, that their new album 'Reject' is out tomorrow (Monday, 17th September). Fortunately for me, I've been able to have a listen to an advance copy and so I wanted to give you my thoughts on what to expect. This being the Streetlamp, I also intend introducing a few rarefied intellectual ideas into what, in any other music blog, would be a straightforward review of a hip hop album - so strap yourselves in.

Are you familiar with the concept of the Caledonian Antisyzygy? This rather grand sounding term was first defined by G. Gregory Smith in 1919 as the division in the Scottish psyche which is apparent in its literature - basically, the “idea of duelling polarities within one entity”. This notion of “a zigzag of contradictions” defining a nation was further developed by the poet, revolutionary, prophet and self-contained bundle of contradiction himself, Hugh MacDiarmid, who saw it as the key influence on Scottish art, most obviously seen in R L Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or James Hogg’s ground-breaking, years-ahead-of-its-time classic The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It is also one of the themes in MacDiramid’s greatest work, and 20th. Century Scotland's greatest poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. And doesn't that last just sound like the title of one of Stanley Odd MC Solareye's raps?

So, what am I getting at? Well, just that to this listener, Reject, as a work of art, fits rather nicely into the above defined tradition of the Caledonian Antisyzygy. You see, on this album and on most recent EPs 'Pure Antihero Material' and 'The Day I went Deaf' there's been something subtle going on. Frequently, when reviewers mention Stanley Odd they mention the humour found in Solareye's raps and, while that's still there, it has taken on a much darker tone and his pawky and gallus streetwise image is still yet more sharply contrasted by the musical accompaniment. On this new album, as on the EPs, the music takes an angsty, melancholic, introspective turn with the keyboard basslines in particular descending down through the minor key - see new single Killergram, and album tracks 'I Don't Believe You' or 'Carry Me Home' for instance. This creates a tension between the lyrics and the music that takes the songs away from the more straightforward pop of 'Oddio'.

But the more obvious tension in the album is over the question of Scottish independence. Overseas readers might not be aware of this, but in 2014 Scots will have the opportunity via a referendum to decide whether Scotland should remain within, or secede from, the UK. It's a topic which has generated much heat and very little light in these parts recently and, evidently, so absorbed Solareye, a man much given to political soul-searching, that he has devoted two separate songs on 'Reject' to its examination - 'Antiheroics' and 'Marriage Counselling'. Interestingly, Solareye has avoided the snare of coming down firmly on one side or the other but has instead concentrated on a satirical examination of the stereotypical arguments presented in the media as defining the position of both pro and anti-independence camps. This works most effectively on 'Marriage Counselling', which presents the Union as the dialogue between two partners locked in a dysfunctional marriage. In Antiheroics the theme is similarly explored, although in this he adds a plea for the Scots to exercise their right to vote as a way of engaging in the political process. This method of dealing with Scotland's most prominent ongoing debate is novel and demonstrates the contradictory ideas that are being pushed by politicians on behalf of 'the nation'. You see, there's your Caledonian Antisyzygy right there!

If it's any help at all, to both the conflicted Solareye individually and Scots in general, the Streetlamp's team of libertarian socialists would like to declare our support for the notion of Scottish independence on the grounds that it is the outcome most consistent with the concept of the promotion of grassroots and local democratic accountability. Of course, we would like to see power devolved not just from Westminster to Holyrood but away from dead-eyed careerist politicians altogether. For us, power should always be placed directly into the hands of the people. That being so, Scottish independence can be seen not as an end in itself, but as just a first step along the way in the journey from exploitative, globally-projected, imperial, UK power to local, collectivist, socially-just, ecologically-wise, non-violent, non-hierarchical, horizontally-dissipated power. We should also add that the best way to obtain that is not just by one day of voting in 2014, as suggested above, but by engaging every day in the sort of direct action that makes a difference. But I digress - let's get back to the music.

The other tracks worth mentioning are 'Will The Last One Out Please Turn Out the Light'. This song is the living, beating heart of 'Reject' as it is a heartfelt plea for the celebration of individualism in place of the rejection of exclusion. As such, it is a fitting companion piece to the magnificent and well-loved Stanley Odd anthem 'Ten to One' (available as a free download courtesy of the Streetlamp 'here').
Day 3 is also very, very good. Veronica's vocals on this whole album are wonderfully slow-burning and soulful and on this wistful and pensive love song, a follow up to the similarly-toned 'Day 2' on 'Oddio', she steps rightfully into the spotlight to great effect.

So, there you have it. I hope this meandering review is intriguing enough to make you want to check out one of Scotland's most interesting current bands; who, incidentally, are fantastic live and not as beard-strokingly contemplative as I've made them sound here.
To promote the album the band will be playing some special acoustic in-store shows at the following records stores:

Monday 17 September - Avalanche Records, Edinburgh (5pm)
Tuesday 18 September - Love Music, Glasgow (5pm)

All in-stores are free and open to all ages, however due to the limited capacity in the shops, spaces will be offered on a first-come first-served basis.. so get down early. They will also be signing copies of 'Reject' at all the in-stores, and may well have a few extra surprises for you too!

The band also have the following live dates booked:

20 Sep 12 GLASGOW Stereo
21 Sep 12 EDINBURGH Liquid Room
22 Sep 12 INVERNESS Ironworks
27 Sep 12 LONDON Bull & Gate
28 Sep 12 ROCHESTER Royal Function Rooms
29 Sep 12 SHEFFIELD The Cobden

You can order your copy of 'Reject' as from tomorrow and/or book tickets for the upcoming shows 'here'. In the meantime, here's the video for Killergram, the first single release from the album:

I'll finish with some lines from MacDiarmaid especially for Solareye, in congratulations of his clever trick of debating a topic but dodging the cursed conceit of having to take a firm position and be right when doing so. Nicely played, mate, nicely played.

I’ll ha’e nae half-way hoose

But aye be whaur extremes meet – it’s the only way I ken

To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt

That damns the vast majority o’ men.

Hugh MacDiarmid
A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, 1926


Friday, 14 September 2012

Griff says; Blanket Coverage - Turn off your television

Astute readers will recall me writing about melancholic, Swedish folk-rockers Turn off your television (pictured) back in April (see 'here'). Well, those of you who enjoyed last year's eponymous debut album will be excited to learn that the trio have newly released a teaser track off their newly recorded studio album, scheduled to be released on October 8th. The album is to be made be available on a name your price basis, presumably on their bandcamp page, so remember to look out for it. Here's the preview track, Blanket of Shame, which can be downloaded right now:



Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Griff says; If creativity is the field, copyright is the fence

Gordon is off globetrotting again, leaving Ray and I to our own devices back here at Streetlamp HQ. This, of course, means that there will be a dearth of 60s psychedelia on these pages over the next few weeks but there will be more hip hop. Oh yes, there will!

Hot on the heels of my last piece on the new Loki album, I wanted to draw your attention tonight to the compilation album 'Anti Copyright & Censorship Compilation Vol 1' released last month by the A Better Tomorrow netlabel. This latest release is a collaborative project of DIY, electronic music artists against copyright and censorship. The album features 45 tracks, ranging from downtempo, ambient electronica to UK conscious hip hop of the sort I normally champion. The album is only available from the A Better Tomorrow bandcamp page on a 'pay-what-you-want even-nothing' download scheme in-which users are encouraged to re-post on other blogs and websites. Any and all proceeds from the album will be going to the extremely worthy and various anti SOPA & PIPA causes.

 The album features two interesting and socially-conscious hip hop artists who I've had in my sights for a while now and who I think are well worth bringing to the attention of readers of the Streetlamp. Firstly, track 16 of the album is the Ruby Kid's 'Art vs. Industry':

This spoken-word poet, based in London (but originally from Nottingham, via Sheffield, and with roots in New York), first released this track on his excellent, early five track demo La Manif, which is free to download in its entirety from his bandcamp page.

The other artist worth seeking out is Captain of the Rant Vs. Hair Explosion who provide track 1, 'A Copy of A Copy of A Copy'.

This track first appeared on the duo's second EP 'Nudges, Whispers and Threats', which was released in April 2012 and is available to download from their bandcamp page on a name your price basis. Their first EP 'No Copyright Necessary', was released in May 2010 and is available from the same source.
I think Streetlamp readers will really like this duo's output as it combines thoughtful, and passionate spoken word poetry, which runs the gamut of human expression from rage to sarcasm to sorrow, with deep, dubby, trip hop beats. This makes for a genuinely absorbing and unsettling experience and as each song progresses you will find yourself unable to stop listening I predict.

 Captain of the Rant is an East London-based writer, spoken word performer and promoter and, with his literate and cerebral style, you're most likely to be pleasantly reminded of Scroobius Pip. His musical  partner, the mysterious Hair Explosion, provides the beats and musical production. It's a winning combination in this writer's opinion.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Griff says; Loki - Never Mind the Pollok!

I've got a bit of Scottish hip hop for you again tonight in the shape of the new 12-track album Remind You by Loki and Bill Breaks. Fans of hip hop should recognise the name of Loki as probably Scotland's best known rapper who seems to have been around forever. In fact, he began rapping as a teenager in 2002 and his prolific output in the intervening years can make you forget that he's still only 27.

For those of you who might not be up to speed with Scottish hip hop, here's the standard Loki potted biography:
Loki is the stage name of Darren McGarvey who grew up in the badlands of Pollok, a peripheral district on the south-western edge of Glasgow associated with social deprivation, high levels of unemployment and poor housing. Loki grew up in a troubled family and, leaving home at age 16 following a family breakdown, he found himself living on the streets. Despite the eventual support of community services he still fell into the drug and alcohol culture pervasive in Glasgow's marginalised schemes before discovering that he could use music as his inspiration and guide in life.

His songs, performed in the broad Glasgow vernacular, deal unflinchingly with the realities of life in the city. As well as making music, Loki is a long-time social activist and has been involved in community groups since his teens. He is acutely aware of his role as a spokesperson for the voiceless and is determined to make us all remember that "every ned is a human being, with a heart and a soul and a story".

Loki's songwriting has matured over the years, I must admit that some of his early work left me cold, and Remind You shows him in a, mostly, thoughtful and reflective mood. In keeping with the Streetlamp's own obsessions, Loki's lyrical concerns are, understandably, political and socially conscious but I must add a warning here; don't expect a soft and fluffy liberal.  Loki has a sharp edge that can seem vicious or overly aggressive to those of you unused to Glasgow street 'banter'.
Here's track 2 from the album, These Things Happen, to give you a taster of what to expect:

The album can be downloaded on a 'name your price' basis from his bandcamp page. Loki can be found on Facebook and Bill Breaks can be found on Soundcloud.

Since making his name as a rapper, Loki has branched into many other areas of community art and activism, some of which I want to write about tonight.
Firstly, he is now running Volition, a unique community project for young people. The reason that it's unique is that it was set up and is run by Young People according to democratic principles. Volition engages 14 to 25 year old youth, many of whom are victims of a society that provides limited opportunities for them. Meaningful jobs are scarce, families are often in disarray and drugs and alcohol are everywhere. Volition aims to help them take control of their lives through mediums such as Music, Dance, Visual Art, Photography, Film, Recording and Live Events.

The project aims to challenge the negative stereotypes surrounding youth culture by encouraging members to conduct themselves in a thoughtful and positive manner with each other and the wider community. It also hopes to show that hip hop can give new meaning to their lives. As I have mentioned before on these pages, when rap was first introduced it was often dismissed as violent and homophobic by people who weren't willing to engage with it. Since then it has changed immeasurably and has become a universal language among young people. Indeed, it is often the only means of self-expression available to socially-marginalised, disenfranchised, urban youngsters, wherever they live in the world. Volition takes that language and helps the youngsters involved; overcome the deprivations that they have suffered, use creativity as a means to express anger, conquer their fears and look beyond their own present situation to a more fulfilled life.

Some of Volition's musical output can be found on the project's soundcloud page. They also have a Facebook presence 'here'.

As well as Volition, Loki has been involved this year with National Theatre of Scotland’s hip hop driven project 'Jump'. Fusing physical theatre, storytelling and the urban movement discipline of parkour, Jump has so far engaged over 1000 boys at Fife and Glasgow high schools in a series of workshops, training sessions and exercises, examining the fears and challenges faced in the transition from boyhood to manhood.

As the project progresses, Jump will collect the boys’ own stories and reflections on what it means ‘to be a man’, ‘to be strong’, gradually weaving a narrative into an evolving, large-scale, physical theatre event, styled around the urgent and fluid movement of parkour. Jump will culminate in a series of public performances in November 2012 – at Rothes Halls in Glenrothes, Fife, and Platform in Easterhouse, Glasgow. For details of dates, and to buy tickets see 'here'.

All good stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. And what's more, it seems that far from being the music of 'gangstas', hip hop really can save the world. Who'd have thought it!


Sunday, 2 September 2012

I Misplaced It At The Cinema: The London Nobody Knows

London, 1967.
If you were to believe the hundredweight of Pop culture tomes pontificating on the Swinging Sixties, you would believe that London was the very pendulum of all that was hip, trendy and happening. You would imagine Mary-Quant-skirted girls and Carnaby attired young gents swanning around like contemporary Byrons as the music of Pink Floyd or the Creation blared from Aston Martins.....right?
Well, Norman Cohen's 1967 filmed short (48mins) documentary 'The London Nobody Knows' will come as a real eye-opener and a bit of a culture shock!

Filmed in the very heart of London at the height of the Sgt Pepper era, Cohen's film paints a bleak and disorientating picture of London as a run-down slum filled with meth drinkers, doss houses and crumbling, decaying architecture.
Our host, James Mason, looking and sounding like a wandered country gent, takes us on a tour of abandoned theatres that once boomed to likes of Marie Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, standing within perilous distance of the swinging wrecking balls demolishing the buildings. Then it's onto a street market where, amongst all the fresh food and bartering salesmen, live eels are prepared in gruesome close-up as they are prepared to be jellied and sold to the punters. Cockneys? Jellied eels? And you thought it was all a bit of a stereotype! We then cut to run down cafés where pensioners and down-and-outs are served suspicious looking green gruel. Then it's on to the Salvation Army flop houses where the homeless and the desperately poor congregate for a hot meal and a bed for the night. Here the film begins to resemble Luis Bunuel's 'Land Without Bread', a film the ~Streetlamp~ had seen at the Sleeping Cinema event we covered back in the Spring.
Bunuel's film shows inland Spain in the 1930s; rough, rural landscapes peopled with faces as ravaged and worn as the land itself. It seems baffling then that here in 1960s Swinging London, faces very similar to those in Bunuel's film gaze out from the screen, eyes bereft of hope and a demeanour that suggests they have given up. One haggard old chap reveals that he had once been wealthy but had lost everything in the great stock crash of 1929. Now he dosses in the Salvation Army shelter, bedraggled and covered in boils.

Once out of the flop houses, the impoverishment and wastage never lets up as we find ourselves gazing upon genuine meths drinkers. I always thought the whole drinking meths scenario was a bit of a put on, some urban myth surrounding tramps and the homeless, but here we are and bottle after bottle of the pink pure alcohol is swigged straight or mixed with what looks like cheap cooking sherry. In the infamous 1963 documentary 'Mondo Cane' there is footage of Hamburg's Reeperbahn district, depicting excessive drunkenness leading to violence and debauchery, and here again as the meths drinkers begin fighting among themselves these images echo and again you find yourself pondering "Could this really be London in the late Sixties? This is not what the brochure promised!".

Any film set in Swinging London, even those shot at the time, inevitably has almost EVERYONE decked out in the latest high fashions of Carnaby Street. The hair is often long, the young men bearded, the girls all flowery dresses and uber-big sunglasses. The reality, captured in this film's street scenes, appears quite different. The clothes are drab and workmanlike, the young women all dress like housewives or their mothers, and men's hair seems to be divided into two groups; greasy quiffs or severe Beatle-cuts (as in the Klaus Voormann Left Banke haircuts sported by the 1963-era Beatles). If London really does 'swing like a pendulum do' then the clock it is affixed to seems still to be set in the 1950s.
Of course there are a couple of Jason King dress-alikes, and one or two hipster chicks, but that's just the or two!

It's hard to tell from James Mason's comments whether he approves of this unseen London, or if he's happy to see it being torn down. His beautiful, velvety, mellifluous voice seeming at odds with the ruination and neglect (of body and building) on display. But his authoritarian presence elevates the film from trashy 'Mondo' rubber-necking to a more serious and worthy timecapsule. Not of a world that no longer exists, but of a world we never knew did exist!

You can view the whole film below.