Friday 21 May 2010

Great origin myths of rock and roll

Following hotly on from yesterday's post (thanks to those who sent me their contributions), the same friend has just emailed with another task.

This one I confess I'm struggling with. He wants album titles (exclusively British ones at that) that are seemingly incomprehensible but have an interesting story behind them. Examples he gives are Disraeli Gears by Cream (apparently a mispronunciation by a roadie of bicycle "derailleur gears") and Pink Floyd's Ummagumma (allegedly slang for sex).

So far I haven't been able to think of anything that quite fits the bill. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts sounds a bit mysterious but is just named after a book. Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is just an imaginary tobacco brand referencing the tradition of keeping one's stash in a tobacco tin.

Although this latter example makes me think that an interesting list for the book might be to gather together all the British song and album titles that are elliptical references to drugs and drug taking—a huge and controversial corpus. (Golden Brown, Brown Sugar, Ebeneezer Goode, erm, Puff the Magic Dragon, etc.)

Or, for something more challenging, how about British songs that make elliptical references to masturbation? I could only think of two off the top of my head—Turning Japanese by the Vapours and Pink Thing by XTC. Oh, and I'm told that Teenage Kicks by the Undertones is also about wanking.

A brief search of the internet, however, also throws up Pump It Up by Elvis Costello, Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol, Blind Vision by Blancmange, St Swithin's Day by Billy Bragg, Desperate But Not Serious by Adam Ant, Far Too Hard by Dead of Alive, Close to Me by The Cure, Every Day I Die by Gary Numan, Hit It by The Beat, Lift Me Up by Howard Jones, Eve's Volcano (Covered With Sin) by Julian Cope, Touching Me, Touching You by Squeeze, Mother Fist by Marc Almond and Sat in Your Lap by Kate Bush. Some of these may need verification…

Incidentally one such online list had a post by someone alleging to be the Undertones' manager, insisting that Teenage Kicks is not about wanking and demanding it be removed from the list. I wonder how much of his time he has to spend doing that.

Any ideas out there for any of these?

Thursday 20 May 2010

Tips for aspiring bands

I mentioned a few posts ago that a friend is writing a book about Rock, and indeed Roll, and wanted ideas for songs about the seasons.

He had another request too: tips for aspiring bands.

Turns out he doesn't want genuinely useful advice, more humorous topical digs. This is the best I could come up with:

1. If in doubt, paint a stripe across your eyes, preferably in a glam metallic colour. And wear a braided military jacket. In short, look just like Adam Ant did 30 years ago. And if you see Adam Ant give him some DJ work—he's broke. (You might want to wear a bullet-proof vest, though, to be on the safe side.)

2. On the other hand, if you want to be taken seriously as an artist, grow a beard. Beards are very in for Serious Rock Artists. It'll also keep your face warm in winter when they cut off your gas.

3. Hire the best graphic designer you can to fabricate some crude personal snaps to put on your personal MySpace page to show that you're a real person trying to keep in touch with your fans. You'll also have to hire someone to run your personal MySpace page.

4. You'll need a blog. RIGHT: "OMG we're on Later With Jools Holland tonight!!! V. nervous but v. excited!" WRONG: "Got off my tits on free Champagne at a party for some record company twats. Kicked a fan in the balls LOL!" There are computer plug-ins that will introduce the right degree of spelling mistakes to make you seem approachable and human. Again, probably best to hire professional to do this.

5. If you're not too sure about your music, make yourself a bizarre costume out of angular bits of cardboard and tinfoil and wear a small birdcage on your head. This will distract attention.

Any other ideas?

There's a Bridgehouse over yonder...

To Canning Town for our second round heat of the Surface Unsigned "battle of the bands" experience. As you may recall, we defaulted through the first round because two bands dropped out. They make it quite easy of course—in the first two rounds fully four out of the six bands playing each night make it through. (Generous of them? Of course not: they need to drag it out so that your multitudinous fans will keep paying to see you in heats.*)

That first round was in the Boston Music Rooms, a sizeable (and consequently fairly empty) joint at Tufnell Park. This time we find ourselves at "The Legendary Bridgehouse 2". You can't help thinking that any venue that actually needs to tell you how mighty is its legend is probably deluding itself. Hell, I haven't even heard of the Bridgehouse 1. (I feel they should have come up with something a bit more inventive, or at least a subtitle—"Bridgehouse 2: The Nightmare Continues", or just "Bridgehouse 2: Bridgier and Housier".)**

You would not believe there is a venue here: it's on a rubbish-blown industrial estate, devoid of humans (apart, I think, from a man selling burgers through an armoured hole in the wall). Even when you find the right building, the venue turns out to be through an unassuming door, past some toilets and up two flights of stairs. (See Mark's photo below of me reaching the venue. I particularly like the flag.)

The weird thing is that once you get in there you can tell someone has spent some money. The room has two bars, a powerful PA and an astonishing light show with lasers and everything (which was apparently switched off while we were playing; story of our lives). They clearly expect trouble, as they have crash barriers along the front of the stage (meaning Alex could not do his usual trick of prowling around the audience during Freak Tornado Blues, so he elected to lie down for the guitar solo instead.) But it's also tiny.

I'm still perplexed about this place. Did it really have a heydey, say in the late 80s acid house scene when there was a drugs factory underneath and the place was the private pleasure dome of the drugs baron? Is it used for discreet industry showcases (in Canning Town, the heart of the music industry...)?

I actually had to nip out after we played first, to deliver some posters to another venue, before returning in time to see the last two bands. At no point in my travels did I see anyone else not connected with the event. I thought I glimpsed a feral dog with a human hand in its mouth, but I may have imagined that...

*(We still didn't get through this round though. I guess they realised they didn't want losers like us cluttering up their competition.)

**(Now that I think about it, it isn't even anywhere near a bridge, unless you count the flyover...)

Sunday 2 May 2010

Bowling for Bloomsbury

To Bedford Way, just off Bloomsbury Square, to the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes under the Tavistock Hotel. I'd never been there before but I was immediately struck by what a fun place it was. They've done it all up with 50s American bowling imagery and the space is indeed dominated by bowling lanes, though they also do food and have four or five private rooms for lager-fulled karaoke sessions. It was busy and quite buzzing, and I thought, "Oh, good we actually have an audience to play to." Not only that, but a poster in the gents revealed that only the week before the Fun Lovin' Criminals had graced the very stage upon which we were to perform.

I quickly realised, however, that all those people had come there to drink and bowl, not to listen to bands. The stage was in one corner at the foot of the lanes; most of the bowlers ignored us, though I did wonder if they weren't rather annoyed by the noise. Every now and then a punter would step up across the corner of the stage as a short cut to the bar. If you add up the people who were actually listening to the music, you just had the usual handful, almost all of whom were in the five bands performing, plus the odd shaven-headed punter who paused in passing—whether in rapture at the siren sounds or in neanderthal perplexity, I could not say.

Needless to say, it was a bit of a cock-up. I think the promoter told me that the house drum kit had been missing so he'd had to go to another venue to get one. Anyway by the time I rolled up around eight no one had soundchecked. The first band was rushed on, and it was a game of catch-up after that. Our set was trimmed to 25 minutes but seemed to go down well with the audience (i.e. the other bands), and we had the honour of seeing The Teeth, a band that we all independently decided were perfect for the Cirque de Crème Anglaise: come and see them on Friday 14th May!

Strangest of all was the end of the night. I like to make a point of watching the other bands, if only out of courtesy. Immediately after us were a band called "Moses and the…" (I didn't catch the rest) with an intriguing Everley-Brothers-go-Indie sound. Then came Speak and the Spells. I know from listening to their MySpace that they have a kind of surf/garage rock sound, but I never found out in the flesh—after waiting 15 or 20 minutes for them to get ready, fiddling with sounds and effects pedals, occasionally shrugging at the sound man in a what-the-fuck? idiom, while the sound man shrugged back at them in the same way, I gave up and went home.

It was already 11.30 by this time and as I left the bouncers were warning incomers that they were closing in half an hour. I thought to myself that if Speak and the Spells wanted to complete their set they had better get a move on.

Neil, who is the hardiest of the Furbelows and always stays to the end of every gig, sometimes the only person in the audience, tells me that in the end the band were pulled off stage by the bouncers and beaten up. Kind of squalid, but, as Neil observes, kind of rock and roll.

Not all seasons are created equal

A friend of mine contacted me recently because he is writing a book about British "rock and pop" (not quite sure what aspect of it) and wanted to pick my brains about various things.

One of the things he wants to have is a list of songs that evoke the seasons. As you might expect, we found it a lot easier to think of ones about summer than anything else, though if you count Christmas songs as winter songs then there are obviously quite a few of those too. (I think it's a shame that no one seems to make Christmas albums any more, something I think the Furbelows should rectify.) Spring and autumn? Hmm… In fairness, the emphasis here is on evoking a season rather than specifically name-checking it. Though I suspect that can be a very personal—or sometimes accidental—thing. I remember one summer when Seal's first album was all you heard, blasting out of every open window.

Here's the best that I could come up with, bearing in mind that they must all be British artists:

Spring: Perhaps Jack in the Green by Jethro Tull; or Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, though I would hate to promote guff like that; or there's the epic, and largely instrumental (it's over 12 minutes long and the words don't start till the rocky bit around 8:50), number April by Deep Purple. It is actually about the month in question—I checked.
Summer: Hot in the City by Billy Idol, Cruel Summer by Bananarama, anything by the Duckworth Lewis Method (for obvious reasons), Summertime by The Sundays (from their obscure, and unsuccessful, 1997 comeback album Static & Silence), or Staying Out for the Summer by Dodgy, which does have a very summery feel.
Autumn: you could try Harvest Festival by XTC (from their 1999 album Apple Venus)
Winter: There's always New Year's Day by U2, but they are Irish not British. Or Winter by the Rolling Stones (from the less well known 1973 album Goat's Head Soup). Of course Sting did recently release an album all about winter…
Christmas: Last Christmas by Wham!, Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizzard, and for something more recent Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End) by The Darkness.

Got any other ideas?