Sunday, 9 August 2015


Fat White Family gigs are always good. I've not seen a duffer yet. Certainly the one I witnessed last night - in a hipster-occupied former factory space in East London - scored highly on all the usual requisites... acrobatics, drama, bad psychedelia, noise, disturbance, damage. All in abundance.

Of course, I loved it. And my friends hated it.

I was hanging with a different crowd. A gang of visiting Californians. They'd seen 'it all' before. They'd already seen 'it all' done so much better. That's what they thought. That's what they told me. Of course, they're completely wrong.

Decades ago, they might have had a point. The MC5 were probably the most malevolent miscreants to ever stand on (and fall off) a Grande stage. They had haters, just like Fat White Family have today - although the MC5's opponents operated on an institutional and international level.

Rooted at the side of the concrete, hessian and brickdust stage of The Laundry in Hackney, my senses clobbered by 'Raining In Your Mouth' and 'Touch The Leather', I couldn't help but fall into flashback after flashback to some old MC5 live footage from 1968 or '69 that I have cause to have seen. In that clip, shot at a political rally in Boston (I think), the 'stage' area is defined by handheld rope. It's as anarchic and undefined as Fat White Family's makeshift platform in E8.

In both (footage and real life), tattooed and hairy boys and girls run a rampage, scattering over the boards, getting in the way, diving on and off, wrestling with mics and leads. In the old film, Rob Tyner is up and down on his knees, screaming wild oblivion. In 2015, Lias and his hair are blurred and flying, in and out of outstretched hands. In both, pretty much the whole band are smoking and playing simultaneously - the latterday lot, of course, in clear contravention of the great smoking laws of our fine country.

An intern photographer stood next to me stops shooting for a second to lift a one-finger salute to each and every person before him, unwittingly apeing Brother JC's actions as seen in that old, old clip.

A cowboy hat (a very wrong cowboy hat, I'm informed by my American friends) is worn in 2015. As it is in 1968 or '69. So is a redneck baseball cap. The band look so shockingly untogether and sound so shockingly close to falling apart. It's real as can be, in other words, and about as rough-around-the-edges and therefore captivating as The MC5 must have been at the height of their powers. You'd be a wise person not to give any of Fat White Family (or The MC5) your home address. That's what I think, sometimes.

The set over, one of my American friends shouted: "Boo, you suck!" just quietly enough so that the band wouldn't actually hear. Later he talked about having had tomatoes in his pocket and having thought about throwing them. He didn't do that, though. Because, he announced several times, "they would probably like that!"

Funny. I don't think they would have given a flying fuck.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

* "I am a stranger on the earth..."

All of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings are important but 'Landscape in the Rain at Auvers' means the most to me.

It's a striking double canvas, slightly larger than an opened-out gatefold LP sleeve, depicting a broad country panorama being pummelled and pelted under a particularly brutal summer downpour.

Diagonal streaks of rain stripe the painting from top to bottom and much of the French wheat fields' colour has been sapped by the storm. Vincent's other late-period works glow with characteristic yellow-golds and rich greens, but this scene has surrendered to cold silvers and greys, dark blues and depressed ochres.

To stand face to face with the painting, now in peaceful retirement at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, is to square up to the artist's own tantrums. A knife has been used to slash the canvas. Thick paint has been pasted on, as if spitefully. Where some of Vincent's earlier, happier work comes bundled with concession and compromise and a nod to contemporary taste, this one does not. It's a last hurrah. It's immense. No filter.

It was hanging on the wall of Vincent's room at CafĂ© Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, just north of Paris, as he lay dying from his self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was most likely completed on or slightly before 27 July 1890. Vincent died two days later aged 37, the poor, poor man.

'Landscape in the Rain at Auvers' continued to stand guard over its creator's corpse until the funeral but for unknown reasons it never went on to enter the possession of the Van Gogh family. Maybe it was squirreled away? Canvas impressions on the thick paint splashes suggest, to my untrained eye at least, that it was rolled up while still drying.

One day in the late 19th Century it came up for sale in Paris. The Davies sisters bought it, and later bequeathed it to their local gallery. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, probably scared by the broken provenance, has always distanced itself from this one. But they're fools.

This is Vincent laid bare. Forget crows. FUCK crows. What the fuck have crows got to do with anything? This is Vincent's full stop. And it's the saddest thing ever.

* The first words from Vincent's first Sunday sermon. Turnham Green, London. 29 October 1876.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Music Is Lethal

Sometimes I think to myself, yeah, this could be the day. The day that I finally plot out my on-off, up-down, love-hate relationship with music and see how it looks laid out as a graph or in a Venn diagram.

I'd have rows marking out the years from 1964 to now, and I would have columns representing the intensity of the music heard each year. The higher the column, the more intense the listening experience. With a different colour, perhaps, to denote good or bad. With a great deal of luck, the statistics I input would reveal a curve of some kind - a wave or fluctuating frequency that demonstrates a pattern. That would be a real breakthrough. That would be brilliant science.

But I haven't tried the graph thing yet and I'm not at all sure that it would work out, anyway. Besides. My memory is terrible. Too sketchy to even attempt it. So here are some highlights instead - presented as an overview of periods in my life when music and I did or did not see eye to eye. These lasted weeks, months, years. They're not presented in any particular order.

1) The One-ness with Raw Power. This is when I was happiest. Luckily, this coincided with Rocket From The Crypt being active and touring. Throughout this time of my life I felt the gutteral, primal power of the rhythm and force of music. I was able to absorb, devour and surf its relentless movement. Music was like a life-force to me - I felt like it controlled my muscles and senses completely. My eyesight seemed brighter. Life was a breeze. More than this, it seemed to vitalise me, physically. I was hungry and thirsty for it. The opening bars to 'Pigeon Eater' were more important to me than anything.

2) Music as Passive Therapist. The 'teen in his bedroom' syndrome. I used music to reinforce or rebutt my voice in the world. This was a helpful phase. Music was unobtrusive and helpful.

3) Music as Aggressive Therapist. This was a powerful and unpredictable one. Instead of helping me through turmoil, the music would underline what was wrong with everything in my world. Innocuous songs, pop songs, would mock, jeer and condemn me. But I listened to them anyway. I would cling desperately to their messages, convinced that it would do me good in the long run. I went to a lot of gigs in this state - and hated them. Moreover, I hated the people around me at those gigs. I couldn't understand how they could look like they were enjoying themselves when the message coming from the stage was so utterly, utterly bleak. I was very unhappy at this time.

4) The Shredded Nerves. For a while, I found myself connecting super-strongly with what I perceived to be an emotional depth to the music I was listening to. This is the polar opposite of the 'One-ness with Raw Power', in that I would be drawn to music which affected me strongly, only to have such a terrible time coming to terms with it. British Sea Power and Arcade Fire songs made me weep, easily and freely. It was a type of mourning, I think.

5) Distrust In Music. This was a kind of purge on my part. Unable to pick out anything emotionally, spiritually or educationally worthy in the music I was listening to, I would consign the whole lot to the bin. I wouldn't listen to any records or attend any gigs. I would never put the radio on in the car. It was all bullshit, all of little or no use. In this state, I would have no recollection of any of the four scenarios listed above.

6) Music as a Welcome Distraction. Enjoyable tunes, enjoyed. Merry bopping about. Able to enjoy it for what it is.

7) Music as an Unwelcome Distraction. My mind would be twisted up in knots, confused as to how people could be letting this music stuff go on when it was mischievously clouding and shrouding something far more important - some perilous coming event, or something that urgently needed attention.

Written in a van with the door shut, backstage at a summer festival.