Weird. I go to Ted Leo’s Soundcloud page. A track by someone called Lil Purpp starts playing. Nothing to do with Leo or the page I’m on, as far as I can see.
I got an email from Songkick about a forthcoming gig in Camden by Nails.
You’ll recall, being the avid reader of this blog that you are, that a while ago — OK, six years ago — I wrote about a great song called ’88 Lines About 44 Women’ by a band called The Nails. I know nothing else by them, but the idea of seeing that song live in a tiny basement club is pretty cool.
But I had my suspicions. Especially when the first comment on the Songkick page was all about how it was the loudest gig they’d ever been at. Clicked through to the band’s page, played the video there, and it was immediately obvious that the hardcore band Nails are not indie/new wave/whatever band The Nails.
Just goes to show the difference a definite article can make. Nails sound pretty good, but I don’t think I’ll be going.
Funny where thoughts of current affairs take you.
All the fawning (and, to be fair, condemnatory and neutral) coverage of Trump’s bombardment of a Syrian air base in response to Assad’s gas attack have stated the quantity and type of munition that was used: “59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles.”
Those of us who lived under the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the 80s will remember that missile. It was the one stationed at Greenham Common, which of course was the subject of much protest, mainly from the Women’s Peace Camp.
The Greenham camp was primarily part of the anti-nuclear movement, as the missiles stationed there carried nuclear warheads. Obviously the ones the US launched a couple of nights ago didn’t, but what the whole thing did was remind me of a song from that time: “Tomahawk Cruise,” by TV Smith‘s Explorers.
I recall hearing that song in my Dad’s car1 back when it came out. It’s possible that I only heard it that one time, but it has stuck in my mind all these years, just waiting to be shaken loose.
On listening to it on Apple Music I’m pleased to find the chorus is almost exactly as I remembered. The rest of the lyrics are more oblique than I’d have expected. It was an anti-nuclear song, but less obviously than I’d have thought.
Not sure whether this counts as nostalgia, in terms of my post the other day, but I don’t really care. What definitely isn’t, though, is the album I’m listening to as I type: The Chiswick Story by Various Artists2 (most of whom I haven’t heard) is a potted history of the label. Lots of good stuff on there.
Yesterday I kind of wilfully skipped a day. At some point in the evening I realised I wasn’t going to write a post, so I just said, “Fine: that’s allowed.”
Today I started by going for a swim. After my new regime of exercise last summer, I got out of the habit once I started a new contract. So it was good to get back to it. (Which is not to say I haven’t swum or gone to the gym in all that time, but it’s been a few weeks at the moment.)
After that I took a HackerRank test for a new job opportunity. It’s a site that does programming tests. This one was, I suspect, a disaster. I hate doing that kind of thing: you’ve got a timer running, and the problem you’re trying to solve is unlike anything you’d have to do professionally… Anyway, suffice to say, it didn’t go terribly well.
This evening was all about falling asleep in front of the telly. We tried to watch 20,000 Days On Earth, the film about Nick Cave from a few years back. I got it a few Christmases or birthdays ago, but hadn’t got round to watching it till now. I enjoyed what I saw of it, but there was definite falling asleep on the sofa and missing chunks. Oh well, it’s a DVD: we can always go back.
Oh yes: there was also a trip to Westfield, the time-void where hours go to die.
My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.
But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.
Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were
Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.
The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.
“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”
Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.
In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).
I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m talking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.
OK, But What is it Really?
The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.
Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.
Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past
But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.
And a live performance always happens in the present.
This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.
And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.
Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.
Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3
But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.
I hadn’t come across Garageland London before, though I approve of the name.1 They came across my radar the other day with a piece called Cease and Desist: An open letter to Brewdog from PUNK, which says:
It has recently been brought to our attention that you are claiming legal ownership of the word ‘punk’ and are sending threatening legal notices to those you feel are infringing on that ownership by using that word.
I hadn’t heard this about Brewdog. If it’s true, they’re being beyond ridiculous (or possibly winding people up). I’ve got a lot of time for a Scottish company making craft beer, even if it’s only OK (and too damn strong most of the time: I like a beer you can drink a few of without falling over). But like the Garageland people, I thought their “Equity for Punks investment portfolio did raise some eyebrows.”
The open letter ends:
Definitions of punk are varied and debates over those definitions have been going on since before you were born. However, one thing punk is not is a bully! That goes against everything punk stands for. If you continue in this vein your punk credentials will be revoked and you will be called upon to cease and desist.
Kind regards and a middle finger salute
and is then signed by hundreds of bands. So many that I can’t really believe the website got agreement from all of them. But I heartily endorse the message.
I also note that one of the novel nominees is the very Too Like the Lightning that I was writing about the other day. Hugo nominated, and you still can’t buy it in Britain. Come on publishers!
Also: WordPress tells me that this is my 600th post on here. Not that many for the time the site’s been going for, but a milestone — or at least a round number — nonetheless.
- It’s named after a Clash song, as if you didn’t know. [↩]
Spent most of today in the garden, making a start on clearing it up for the summer. Not exactly gardening, as such. More gathering sticks and leaves, and putting them into brown bins for collection. Nice day for it, though.
Then this evening to the Barbican, for the New York Philharmonic doing a couple of pieces by John Adams, as part of the “John Adams at 70” series. Oh, and in the middle they had a cello concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Who was the cellist? Nobody special. Just Yo-Yo Ma.
It was clearly a virtuoso performance, but I didn’t enjoy the Salonen nearly as much as I did the two Adams pieces. Especially the second, “Harmonielehre.” Among other things, it’s good to see something orchestral where the percussionists have some serious work to do.
Not that we could see the percussionists, mostly. We were effectively in the front row. Which is to say, it was row D, but row C was right up against the front of the stage, and not being used because the stage had been extended into rows A and B. That orchestra is big. The downside of having such close seats is that you can only see the first few rows of the orchestra: the string sections, basically.
The big upside of the position, of course, is that you get such a close view and intimate sense of the performance. It’s almost like you’re inside the music at times.
- To be fair to Howard, that’s not at all what he said. Just that May should be as steadfast with Spain as Thatcher was with Argentina. But “war” is of course how the papers are hyping it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gibraltarians (96% remain) now wanted to become part of Spain. [↩]
Interesting generation-spanning lineup at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park: Green Day headlining, with the lower-on-the-bill bands including The Damned and The Stranglers. Interesting questions of seniority there.
They should really get Stiff Little Fingers as well, for the full High Fidelity vibe.
I was thinking about the loss of singles. Not individual tracks released individually: that still happens, of course; perhaps more than ever. But back in the days of actual, physical singles — 45 rpm records, or even CD singles later — you didn’t just get an individual track.
I’m here to celebrate — and maybe mourn the loss of — the B-side.
When you bought a single you usually knew what the main song was going to be, because you had heard it on the radio, or at least read a review. Or you might just know and trust the artist’s work, and believe that the chosen track would be worth your 75p.1
But there was always the promise that there would be something good on the other side, too.
Often, of course, the B-side track was really “B” quality, or lower. It was genuinely just filler. Which was always a shame. I remember flipping Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” to find out what “My Funny Valentine” was like. I hated it, and never listened to it again. Though as (in other versions) it’s something of a jazz classic, it’s possible that I’d like it more now.
The Members’ classic “The Sound of the Suburbs” was backed by something called “Handling the Big Jets,” which always sounded slightly rude to us2 and I think was an instrumental.
Then there were double A-sides, wherein both sides were supposed to be worthy of being playlisted. They always felt like slightly better value for your hard-earned pocket money.
And when CD singles came along they usually had three tracks, raising them arguably into the EP category.
But now, tracks are realised for streaming or download, completely on their own. It’s very sad, and I’m sure they must feel lonely. Plus if you’re buying the download and you want what would have been the B-side, you have to pay for each individual track.
I was going to say, as well, that if you search for single on your streaming service of choice, you only get one track. But I found out the other day that’s not quite true. I wanted to listen to “Elephant Stone,” by the Stone Roses; and in fact the B-side, “The Hardest Thing In the World” was listed too. Its “Album” tag was given as “Elephant Stone — Single (2009)”.
Which apart from the wrong date (and ok, it could’ve been a reissue5) is not a bad example of misused metadata. Or maybe just misnamed: not every gathering or carrier of a group of songs or musical pieces is an “album”.
Or maybe that’s just a change of meaning: what we used to call a single or an EP is now just a very short album.
- Only 50p, in fact, when I first bought them. [↩]
- We were schoolboys. [↩]
- The B-side of “Clash City Rockers,” of course. [↩]
- B-side of “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.” What, you think I’m not going to talk about Clash singles? [↩]
- But how you should give the date for reissues is a whole nother conversation [↩]
Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the anti-Brexit/pro-Europe demo today. I had a work thing that ended up taking most of the day. But I was there in spirit.
Last night was Comic Relief, which included Red Nose Day Actually. I thought the speech by Hugh Grant’s prime minister character was amazingly relevant to the times. Obviously that was intended, generally; but specifically it had resonance with London’s reaction to the Westminster terrorist attack.
Also about that, Mitch Benn has written a song called “London’s Had Worse,” in which he sings of our resilience and the attacker’s crapness. Not his best song, but no bad.