Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dog rescued from armchair

Lyn Kirkwood of Salford was looking for her dog Cagney when she heard a whimper and found the Lhasa Apso stuck head first in a reclining armchair. Cagney was unable to get out and Ms Kirkwood could not extract her herself.

Ms Kirkwood had no option but to contact emergency services and the RSPCA. Firemen were eventually able to free Cagney by dismantling the armchair. A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue reports that Cagney then "wandered off for a drink".

Cagney has not responded to inquiries as to how she came to be stuck in the armchair in the first place.

more (BBC)

Monday, October 05, 2015

[film] "Containment" [2015]

Do not destroy these markers. These standing stones mark an area used to bury radioactive wastes. Do not drill here. Do not dig here. The rock and water in this area may not look, feel, or smell unusual but may be poisoned by radioactive wastes. When radioactive matter decays, it gives off invisible energy that can destroy or damage people, animals, and plants.

I saw the film Containment in an exhibition in the Project Arts Centre called Riddle of the Burial Grounds. The film is a documentary by Peter Galison & Robb Moss. It is about the containment of nuclear waste, in particular the spent fuel of nuclear reactors. Much of the film is about WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. This was set up as a secure storage site in which nuclear waste could be dumped and forgotten about.

A problem with nuclear waste is that it will remain dangerously radioactive for a very long time, longer in fact than the entire span of human history so far. It was decided by US federal authorities that WIPP would have to be marked in such a way that in the far future people would be deterred from digging there and inadvertently releasing the radiation. This is a bit difficult as the people who must be warned away may have no memory of our culture and have no language in common with us. An interdisciplinary team of scientists, linguists, science fiction writers, and various other types (sadly no First World War bloggers) were recruited to try and come up with something that stood a convincing chance of warning off the people of the future. You get the sense that at the end of their efforts they are not really that convinced that they have anything will definitely or even probably work, but still they feel that they owe it to future generations to try.

The film is not just about WIPP, it also looks at where nuclear waste is currently stored. Typically the highly radioactive spent fuel of nuclear reactors is stored at the nuclear sites themselves, cooled in tanks of water to stop them catching fire and spreading fallout all over their surrounding areas. If a typical one of these sites were to lose its cooling waters then the spent fuel would probably render a vast area around the site uninhabitable. The film looks at one site where this almost happened, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The power plant there was severely damaged in the 2011 tsunami and did release radiation; the film shows a farmer whose irradiated cattle cannot be eaten and also looks at trees whose wood is too contaminated to be used in construction. However, the spent fuel rods in Fukushima did not lose their coolant, though at one stage it looked as though the water would boil off and expose the rods. The prime minister of Japan at the time of the tsunami is interviewed in the film; he says that if the coolant had boiled off and the rods had ignited then they would have released so much radiation that an area of Japan in which some 20 to 40 million people live would have become uninhabitable. He likened that outcome as being akin to losing a major war and said that it would have brought an end to Japan as an independent state.

The film also looks at some nuclear sites in the US, in particular the Savannah River Site, a huge complex of reactors and temporary storage sites in South Carolina. This lies on the Savannah river in an area of fascinating swampy wilderness. There is a lovely scene in the film with a camera panning along the lush tree-lined border of the river before a nuclear plant rears up through the vegetation. It is a fascinating juxtaposition of nature and a human construct of destruction.

The Savannah River Site seems to be a bit leaky. The film has a nice sequence showing a place where they keep wild turtles that have absorbed too much radioactive and so have to be taken away from people who might catch and eat them. There were also a couple of radioactive alligators swimming around. One of the locals interviewed bemoans the fact that the signs on the river tell people not to fish but do not say why, so people just assume it is some kind of proprietorial thing and catch the radioactive fish anyway. A thoughtful local clergyman bemoans the presence of the SRS on his doorstep but is powerless to do anything about it.

At WIPP, on the other hand, the locals appear to be quite excited about the prospect of the nation's nuclear waste stored nearby. Simple economics explains this: there is not really much going on in the area and until WIPP opened the local community was in steep decline. People further afield in New Mexico, through whose areas the waste would have to be transported, are a bit less keen on the project, but you can't make an omelet without setting off a chain reaction.

The problem with trying to communicate the warning to people in the future is a difficult one. Think of something like the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of an Egyptian temple: but for the chance discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 they would be completely incomprehensible to us. It is quite possible that in the future there will be no cultural continuity with our civilisation, so any kind of warning based on writing is potentially unreliable. Warnings based on pictures may also fail as different cultural norms would leave them open to misinterpretation. Another fear is that by marking the site and saying "Do not dig here" they run the risk of creating a gold rush as people rush to find whatever amazing stuff the ancient ones have buried. The suggested marking of the site with structures designed to conjure up unease also looked like they could backfire, as to me they looked like they would be fun places to explore. One proposal in particular may have been modelled on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin, a structure whose design invites people in for inappropriate games of hide and seek or chasing, so that might not be so good for the land above WIPP.

The project involved some people involved in one of humanity's few other attempts to communicate with those lacking any cultural points of similarity with ourselves: the images and sounds of Earth contained on the Voyager probes. I think the Voyager probes are unlikely ever to be found by alien life, but if they are it will be so far in the future that humanity will in all likelihood no longer exist. The Voyager golden records will be all that is left of our civilisation and culture. It is appropriate therefore that they attempt to present a good face of us to whoever or whatever finds them. As one of the people in the film says, the markers at WIPP are more to do with something shameful and shortsighted of our species: the production of nuclear waste with no thought for the danger it would pose to the future. Yet the project is still a noble one, as the team tries to create something that will protect people living so far in the future that they may no longer be human in the way that we are.

I have talked more of the content of this film than the form. The film features plenty of talking heads but also atmospheric shots of the desert landscape above the WIPP site. We also have the swampy wildness of the Savannah River Site and the irradiated landscape around Fukushima. In the latter we see the abandoned towns and houses of humans but again more fascinating is the countryside, a landscape that is beautiful and peaceful in appearance but so contaminated that people are not allowed stay overnight within the zone.

Although the film covers a serious subject, it has a light tone. I particularly liked the animations illustrating scenarios the futurology people came up with for likely future incursions into WIPP, with a succession of jaunty looking people or robots realising too late that they have released the radioactive death contained at the site. I also liked the animation of a suggested attempt to create cultural awareness of the WIPP site through a proposed cartoon character called Nicky Nuke, who would have an associated theme park (Nukeland or something like that), which reminded me of the Mickey Eye Park in the comic Seaguy, in that it was clearly a deranged rip-off of Disneyland.

All in all the film leaves the viewer with a sense that something will have to be done with nuclear waste and that the waste already produced cannot be expected to remain in water cooled tanks for the hundred thousand or more years it will take it to become harmless. That something is probably burying it somewhere like WIPP, in a remote and geologically stable location. Warning future generations not to excavate the site is difficult or impossible to do effectively, but there is no real option but to attempt it.

I also left the film thinking that if the USA has all that waste and is having problems working out what to do with it and how to store it safely in the meantime, what about more ramshackle countries that have also decided to go down the nuclear road. I'm thinking of Pakistan in particular here, but you would also have to worry about the long term safety of nuclear waste in the likes of Kazakhstan, Russia and Iran. And when you are talking of stuff that takes over a hundred thousand years to become safe you do have to think of the very long term.

Containment Trailer 1 from Robb Moss & Peter Galison on Vimeo.

image sources:

Spikes (Containment film website)

nuclear power plants map (Maps on the Web)

Voyager Golden Disc (Wikipedia)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Wikipedia)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Two contrasting festivals: Glastonbury 1992, Counterflows 2015

I wrote recently about my first visit in 1992 to the Glastonbury Festival and my recent first visit to the Counterflows festival in Glasgow. The post about Glastonbury has attracted more interest, which is not too surprising as most people have heard of Glastonbury and very few people have heard of Counterflows.

Even in 1992 Glastonbury was a big outdoors festival, albeit one considerably smaller than it is now. Counterflows is a small festival, taking place in a number of indoor venues, mostly featuring experimental artists unlikely to ever appear on prime time television (big exceptions: Noura Mint Seymali, a Mauritanian artist with potential crossover appeal and Sacred Paws, possibly your new favourite band).

Glastonbury 1992

Counterflows: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
The Flexibles

Glastonbury image source

Counterflows image source

Friday, June 26, 2015

My First World War blog, one year on

I started my First World War live blog a year ago. The first post described a pleasant visit made by Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the markets in Sarajevo. This was two days before the Habsburg heir's more eventful return to Sarajevo.

I have found the Great War blog much more time-consuming than I expected, which partly explains the lack of activity here; there are a lot of important animal stories that I have not had time to share here. I must confess to often thinking that the First World War blog is something of a pointless time-sink for me and that I should consider giving it up in favour of something more productive. But I soldier on. Posts will keep appearing there for the foreseeable future, barring adverse circumstances.

Birthday Panda (The Virginian Pilot)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Flashback: Glastonbury 1992

In a Facebook discussion on this important topic, Mr Scott Watkins suggested that he would far rather read about my visit to the Glastonbury Festival 23 years ago than whatever current stuff I might otherwise write about. Because I believe in giving the public what they want I will go ahead and do this.

I have previously written about this festival, but unless you are one of the few people in the world with a complete leather-bound collection of Frank's APA mailings you will not be able to read what I had to say on the subject. This I am writing from memory, so Frank's APA collectors will be able to see how my version of history has changed over the years. Because I cannot really remember too much about what I actually saw at the festival I am going to deliver an impressionistic ramble through my memories of this event rather than a ponderous list of all the things I saw in order (if you like ponderous lists of things seen in order, check out my review of Counterflows).

It begins:

Van Morrison - I was not the rich man then that I am now, so when my friend Mark said he was going to Glastonbury I was not at all sure that I would be able to afford to go. I was listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks when I did the sums and realised that I somehow had enough cash to make the journey, with the result that Van Morrison for me will forever be associated with the festival. He played at it but I did not go to see him.

Couples of yore - I went in a group of three couples: Mark & Lisa, Sara & Pete, Katharine & myself. To the best of my knowledge, none of these couples still exist.
Trousers - Our departure from London was delayed because Pete had no trousers to wear to the festival and had to go and buy some. I was waiting for the others on my own in a train station and they had to ring the station and have my name called out over the tannoy to report to the information desk for this important message. This is how we did things in the pre-mobile phone era.

Friday - We arrived on the Friday. Rookie's mistake. Always make sure to arrive before the Friday.

Cheroot - A friendly man chatted to us as we arrived with our rucksacks looking bedraggled and unsure as to where we were going to camp. He gave me a cheroot and I thought "OMG this festival is amazing, random strangers just hand you drøgs" before realising that a cheroot is just a type of cigarette.

Midway Still - They were fairly big at the time. We did not see them but as we made our way through the festival site looking for somewhere to camp we heard them playing their cover of 'You Made Me Realise' off in the distance.

Shady Customers - In the campsites shifty looking blokes would walk around saying "Es? Acid? Speed?". I think they may have been vendors of these contraband products.

Crusties - Crusties were big back then. When we saw some we were very excited. I was totally amazed once I spotted an actual dog on a string.

Sun - It was bloody hot that year. No subsequent Glastonbury for me has ever been such an unadulterated scorcher. Even so I think of scorchers as the normal Glastonbury state and the other ones as aberrations.

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine - Although they were subsequently airbrushed out of musical history they were a big band at the time. They headlined the Friday night on the Pyramid Stage. We went to see them. They were amazing! I think this may have been the first time I ever saw a band putting on a big stadium show with screens and stuff like that. Despite being just two guys on stage I remember them as astonishingly good showmen. See dog rough footage filmed from crowd of this performance here.

Controversy - But not everyone was on the same page. There were some disputed incidents after the previous Glastonbury and this was the first one where New Age Travellers were not admitted to the festival for free. Some of them took umbrage at having to buy tickets or climb over the fence like everyone else. Jim-Bob from Carter took umbrage on their behalf on the Pyramid Stage, saying that it was a facking disgrace that they were not getting in for free. It is nice to know that from my first Glastonbury people were complaining that it had lost what used to be great about it.

Stone Circle - Dude, they had their own stone circle!

"My menstrual egg timer" - It was an artwork.
The NME Stage - Back then the Other Stage was called the NME Stage. And it was in a different place to where it is now.

John Peel - He MCed one or other or both of the Pyramid and NME Stages. At one point he read out a message for some named person who was attending the festival. "Your mother says that if you do not sit the exam on Monday you will fail your Finals".

Curve - It has been said that I saw them. I have no recollection of this, your honour. They do not strike me as being a very outdoor festival band.

Lush - I do remember seeing them. This was around the time of their first album. I remember them being enjoyable but not life-changing. Again, they may not have been a very outdoor festival band.
Blur - I saw them too, playing in the afternoon. They were not the all conquering colossus they would subsequently become and were instead a mid-table faux indie band popular with girls. I do not recall whether my antipathy to Blur had kicked in by this point but I certainly remember them being unremarkable. Memory is a funny old game, as my fellow attendees remember them as being brilliant. Mark reports that Damon Albarn climbed up on some speaker stacks and then fell off and chipped some bones or something; I have no recollection of this incident but its sounds like the kind of twuntish thing he would have done. Someone recorded this important event for posterity; you can watch it here.

P.J. Harvey - I saw her too, playing with the early power trio (herself, Rob Ellis and Steve Vaughan). I think I liked them but I was not that familiar with her work at the time and not much of the detail stuck with me.

Memories, eh? - You may be wondering what exactly I do remember of the performances I saw at the festival.

Television cameras - There were few to none of them. This was in the halcyon days before Glastonbury allowed in the cameras and started selling itself to the people at home. That said, there was a documentary made about that year's festival which produced some footage, and there seems to be several recordings of complete performances on YouTube.

The Shamen - We somehow found ourselves in a field full of speeded up Antos when the Shamen came on. Mr C had just joined them and it seemed like every song was about how they were the Shamen and they keep coming on. It put me off the band for a long time and it was only the success of 'Ebeneezer Goode' that got me interested in them again.

Shit Caberet - There was plenty of good cabaret but I remember being fascinated by this amazingly awful cabaret act. Sadly I just remember that they were awful, not who they were or what was awful about them. But I was so fascinated by their awfulness that my friends thought I actually liked them. Good God no!

Toilets - I was afraid of the toilets.

Ian Moore - Wizard - In the New Age Mystic Healing Field there was a sign for someone called "Ian Moore" who was a wizard. You can see what might be his website here.

Loreena McKennitt - I think we were sitting somewhere when Loreena McKennitt came on and sang a song that was a setting to music of the Yeats poem 'Stolen Child'. It was a stunning moment of great musical beauty. Then my friends were going off somewhere else and I went with them. To this day I have never heard anything else by Ms McKennitt, fearing that it could never live up to my memory of this moment.

Heat - Seriously, it was bloody hot. I think on the Monday as we were making the long walk to where the buses pick up for the train station I really felt what it must have been like for those blokes in the war. Unlike them I was able to buy an over-priced ice pop from an enterprising local, which was nice.

And that was that. Even if my memory is not up to much about the event as a whole it was totally great. I don't know how it took me so long to go back there again.

1992 was the first Glastonbury I attended. The last time I was there was in 2005. If you want to read about that at great length, click here.

image sources:

Attendees' photographs: here & here


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Counterflows 2015: Sunday

I am belatedly posting about my time at the Counterflows festival in Glasgow. You can see all my posts on this here and the previous day's here.

I woke up to the sound of motorbikes. A convoy of motorbikes were heading off somewhere past the flat I was staying in. Many of the bikers were wearing strange costumes. I think it might have been a charity thing. Then a parade of Sikhs went by, headed by a load of blokes carrying swords, followed by some carriages and a great mass of their co-religionists: more indeed than I have ever seen in one place. I was curious as to what would come next along the road. A parade of Orangemen perhaps, or a gathering of the Ancient Order of Scottish Highlander Cliches, but instead the road went back to its normal Sunday usage. Nessa's friend Stewart made us a mushroom breakfast, which was tasty. After that we began a long journey down to the wilds of south Glasgow where Counterflows events were taking place. We visited a park and climbed a big hill and looked off in the distance at mountains. I was also excited to see the remnants of the Red Road flats. The park was fun but eventually we forced ourselves to leave it to head down for some music action in the Glad Café.
Red Road
The first thing I saw here was a performance by Andrea Neumann who was doing something with an Innenklavier: some kind of inside-out piano thing. Once I forced myself to perk up and engage I realised that this performance was one of the best things ever. As it progressed the set became more programmed and involved less physical interaction with the Innenklavier. Programmed music can be dull in the live context but Ms Neumann made things visually interesting by making it look like she was triggering the music by gestures and moves of her body. So you would get her reaching up to grab something out of the air to time with a burst of electronic noise. It was fun. Everyone liked it.

Richard Youngs was on next, playing a solo acoustic set. Apparently he is as well known as a maker of neo-folk music as for avant-garde conceptual stuff, so it was interesting to experience this string to his bow. He had young master Sorley playing with him for some songs and also he revealed that one song (called 'Fireworks' or something) was all about how great it was to have a son. If I had a son who can reliably take part in conceptual art music productions I would probably think that too.

A sudden hunger meant I missed Raymond Boni's set while I ate a tasty Glad Café meal. Then I had a small piece of cake and the nicest macchiato I have ever had outside Ethiopia. I did manage to catch the last performers: a jazz trio comprising Daniel Carter, Fritz Welch and George Lyle. Unfortunately I was stuck over to one side of the venue at the back and so had a restricted line of sight, which led to a certain alienation from proceedings. And anyway, jazz trios are best appreciated in a seated position.
Sacred Paws
That was it for the Glad Café, but there was still more to come from Counterflows. We crossed the road to enter the Langside Halls were two more acts were ready to entertain us. First up were Sacred Paws, who are two women (drummer and guitarist, both doing some vocals). They were only thing on the bill of the entire festival that could be loosely classed as "Glasgow Indie", though they were more unique than that makes them sound (as are all of the Glasgow Indie bands anyone has ever actually heard of). The guitar playing was very jangley, suggesting more Congolese players than Johnny Marr, while the overall thrust of the music was angular. I enjoyed this a lot and think their music would repay further investigation.
Noura Mint Seymali
The last act was Noura Mint Seymali and her band. She is a singer from Mauritania and her musicians were playing desert guitars music broadly reminiscent of the likes of Tinariwen, Group Doueh, Mariem Hassan's band and the like. The combination of striking female vocals and that kind of accompaniment is something I always love listening to, particularly in the live context. This lot seemed to be particularly good exponents of the form, managing to work the crowd up into a dancing frenzy. During Sacred Paws I was thinking that their music was the kind of thing that would be great to dance to but I was too tired to do any grooving. Then during Noura Mint Seymali's set I found myself dancing like a madman to the irresistible rhythms.

Pretty quickly the crowd found themselves joining hands and dancing in a great circle, charging around with frenetic abandon. One funny thing was watching people divesting themselves of drinks, bags, outer clothing and other stuff so that they could dance more freely. It was all complete brilliance, one of the best musical experiences of my life and a great end to the festival.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Counterflows 2015: Saturday

I am belatedly posting about my time at the Counterflows festival in Glasgow. You can see all my posts on this here and the previous day's here.

On Saturday morning my host Nessa made porridge for both me and the other loafer staying with her. Thanks Nessa! Then we went to The 78, which is a café-bar, to see The Flexibles. They were a four-piece. Featured Festival Artist Richard Youngs provided some kind of mysterious electronic percussion. There was another adult playing bass and a young lad on cello, but the real star was Sorley Youngs, Richard Youngs' young son, who played guitar haphazardly and provided vocals. Having a small person on vocals (with lyrics sounding like he might have had some input into them) gave this a certain outsider quality, but only to an extent. Sorley Youngs had a focus to his performance that I think would be lacking in most people of his age. I think he must have performed live a bit because he managed to avoid the twin horrors of being either cute or coming across as some horribly precocious little monster. Instead he just got down to business and delivered us songs with these lyrics:

"Space! Space!
Solar Panal System!"

Pop stardom awaits.
The Flexibles
Back in the CCA we watched a film called Ears Switched On And Off, directed by Chen Singing, which was about Taiwanese sound artists. It particularly focusses on Dino, Wang Fujui and Lin Chiwei. The presentation of the work by these people was interesting, as I think were the artists themselves, but I felt the film could have done with more contextualisation of the arts scene in Taiwan. Alasdair Campbell, the festival director, introduced it and said that there had been an artistic blossoming in Taiwan in the 1980s, following the lifting of martial law, with the state happily throwing money at avant-garde art; then apparently the state had second thoughts once it saw what the avant-garde artists were getting up to. There was no sense of this in the film.

One thing that was interesting was a throwaway comment in the film about how these sound artists find themselves putting on more shows in Beijing than Taiwan. Apparently there is a big arts scene in Beijing. That ran against my association of authoritarian politics with deadened cultural activity. Nevertheless the artists did have problems in Beijing. The film showed Lin Chiwei rehearsing his Tape Music piece (of which more later) with a Beijing choir. At one point we see the choir leader approaching the artists to say that she and the other choir members are concerned that his work might be some kind of covert Falun Gong plot.

I may have enjoyed the film more if I was less tired. I think by the end I was mainly appreciating it as a combination of appealing images and attractive sounds.
Nessa and I then went for lunch to the world's tastiest Lebanese restaurant that is not in Lebanon. It is called California and looks like an American diner. We ate all the food. If you are looking for this place yourself, it is on Sauciehall Street, a little bit east of the CCA.

Glasgow University Chapel
Out in the leafy streets of Kelvinland the Glasgow University Chapel was playing host to a performance by jazz saxophonist Evan Parker and organist Stan Stendell. They were improvising together. As is the way of church organs, Mr Stendell was hidden from view, so it seemed like Mr Parker was playing against a mysterious and all pervasive self generating noise. From my seat I could hear the organ's stops being pulled out and various bits of the huge instruments internal works that make noises separate to the music that emanates from it. This led to a certain atmopshere of deconstruction. Overall I found the event relaxing. I slipped into a pleasant reverie.
A bus brought us back to the supersoaraway CCA, where we went to have a look at an installation by Ying Yong (some kind of artistic group rather than an individual person, though one can never be sure of these things). This involved a lot of standing around waiting for them to get ready, which went on so long that some became convinced that the waiting itself was the art installation. But then we were ushered into a room to sit on the floor and experience what was more like a performance than an installation. They had a set which was kind of like a house or something and they were projecting images and they had masked people doing weird things. It was bizarre and enjoyable and I feel the world needs more things like this.
That was followed by performances from the three Taiwanese artists on whom that film was most focussed. Dino kicked things off with some electronic music that my friend Colin Ferguson described as being like Whitehouse without the misogynist lyrics. I am (thankfully) unfamiliar with Whitehouse save by reputation, but having seen their offshoot Consumer Electronics I know what he means. This was loud analogue sounding electronic music that hovered between drone and brain pulverising dissonance. I liked it.

The second piece was Lin Chiwei's Tape Music. The name suggests tape loops but it was not loops of magnetic tape that this piece involves. Instead there was a long piece of fabric tape with words (or syllables) written on it. Singers from the Glad Community Choir sat in a spiral pattern and passed the tape along. When a person had a word in front of them they sang it. They seemed to have bee drilled so that the tape moved along at a uniform rate, with people all or mostly having a word in front of them simultaneously. I think they were told what note to associate with a word, as recurring words appeared to keep being sung in the same way.

The piece had some false endings where the tape went blank for long sections before words reappeared again. But it did eventually end.

The last piece was Wang Fujui and an unnamed associate doing more analogue synth stuff. Or maybe it was laptoppy. There were visuals too. It was enjoyable enough but it delivered neither the sonic nor conceptual attack of its predecessors.

At that point we bade farewell to the Taiwanese sound artists and crossed the road to see Neil Michael Hagerty in Nice'n'Sleazy. This famously scuzzy venue was well suited to Mr Hagerty's rough and ready music. As you know, he was formerly one half of the famous Royal Trux but now he plays with his own band, a three-piece. He sang and played guitar while a guy in a suit played basic drums. The third guy mostly sat by the side of the stage drawing pictures but occasionally he joined in for backing vocals.

Mr Hagerty had a certain undead look to him, with his pronounced cheekbones and detached demeanour. His between song chat was a weird version of the kind of thing smarmy Vegas perfomers say (you know, "Thank you, you've been a lovely audience" etc.).

An odd feature of this concert was that afterwards several women reported fleeing from some creepy man who kept staring at them. I suppose Mr Hagerty might attract creepy men, as might the venue, but it turned out to be he same man (not me). He was apparently some kind of Glasgow Music Scene Character. I do not know if he stares at women at all gigs or if he was just feeling a bit starey tonight.

I escaped the attentions of this creepy man and so was able to enjoy the concert to the end. The performance had an entertainingly ramshackle quality of pure rock and I am glad I caught it.

This time I managed to stay up for the late night event, which was a disco in the Art School. Some geezer called Rabih Beani was DJing there. It was basically a techno dance set with random elements thrown in: Middle Eastern music, entire jazz albums, that kind of thing. The space was fairly small but it was hard to tell precisely how small because it was so full of dry ice that I could barely see my hand in front of my face. People wandered around for hours trying to find their friends, only to realise they had been sitting on them all the time.

I spent a lot of my time there dancing, partly because the music was great but also because the people I arrived with were turning increasingly Glaswegian as the night wore on (despite not being from Glasgow); coupled with the loud music this made it more or less impossible for me to understand anything they said. But the music was good for dancing. There seemed to be a lot of randomers present who had wandered in off the street without attending any of the other Counterflows events, including many attractive young ladies. At least I think they were attractive young ladies, it was hard to tell with all the dry ice.

And so to bed.

The final episode of my awesome Counterflows review comes your way tomorrow.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Counterflows 2015: Friday

I am belatedly posting about my time at the Counterflows festival in Glasgow. You can see all my posts on this here and a post on the festival's first day here.

Today's proceedings began again at the CCA with something called Experiment for Demolished Structures for 4 Voices by Richard Youngs. Mr Youngs is not someone whose work I was previously familiar with, but he was the featured artist of the festival. This was again in the CCA theatre space and saw the room arranged with four classically trained singer in the corner singing stuff that harmonised with the audience in the middle. The audience was standing rather than seated and encouraged to move around to explore the harmonics, though people maybe did not move as much as intended because the floor was a bit creaky and the performance was relatively low volume. In setup the piece had obvious echoes of James Tenney's In a Large Open Space.

The piece was fascinating butI felt that I missed a whole element by not being able to follow the words being sung. Operatic vocals can be difficult to follow even in a language you know. There were no surtitles or programme with the words and I was not really able to make out the lyrics, so I do not really have any idea what they were singing about. But that made the event all the more mysterious and intriguing, as the imagination had to fill in the gaps.

The crowd dynamics were interesting. People could move right up to and around the performers, but it was noticeable that they tended not to look at whatever singer was closest to them. Because the singers had such an air of concentration and were putting a lot of effort into the performance, people in the audience were wary of distracting them. Also those classically trained singers are famously handy with their fists if angered.

After that piece things got a bit Wanderly Wagon as we decamped form the CCA and made our way to the nearby Garnethill Multicultural Centre, where three different acts performed for our amusement. The venue's walls were lined with Taekwondo banners and Chinese dragon heads, giving some clue as to how multicultural the place was.
The first performance was by Angharad Davies & Sebastian Lexer. Ms Davies stood more or less in the middle of the room playing a violin while people sat on the floor around her. Mr Lexer did some electronic stuff, looping and treating the sounds Ms Davies was making. The whole thing was mesmerising and hypnotic. I liked it.

I like the next performance less so. This was by Hisato Higuchi, a Japanese fellow who sang while playing guitar in a manner that called to mind the Blues. Some of the instrumental bits were interesting but overall the performance was a bit repetitive and unengaging. I might have engaged more if the lyrics had been in English, not because I am some kind of racist who will only listen to anglophone vocals but because it would have served to differentiate the songs.
Daniel Carter and Owen Green
The last performance was a collaboration between jazz saxophonist Daniel Carter (who also plays keyboards) and Owen Green, who does electronic stuff. It worked surprisingly well, even though Mr Green's electronics were a bit laptop based. What he was doing had a live feel to it and lacked the sterility you get from watching someone tick away on a computer. Some of the electronics were triggered or influenced by him blowing into a tube, which lent things a certain physicality, as did his having to fiddle with knobs and stuff for other pieces.

For all the enjoyable jazziness of this last performance, largely driven by Daniel Carter, I think that maybe their set did go on a bit, though that might have been because I was somewhat *tired*.
Florian Hecker
Back in the CCA there was sound installation piece by Florian Hecker. This appeared to be programmed rather than being in any way "live", though it is so hard to tell with these things (and what is "live" anyway? blah blah blah etc.). The piece had a load of speakers arranged around the theatre space from which sound emitted. People could walk around between the speakers or stay in one place or lie on the floor or whatever they wanted to do really. The sound was set up so that it seemed to move around the room from speaker to speaker. I do not remember so much about the sound itself, I think it was of the electronic burst variety. The overall experience was very enjoyable, with the combination of the darkened room, the unusual performance and tiredness working well to accentuate the strangeness.

With that event over we drifted downstairs to the foyer for a small nightcap. There was a band playing, who turned out to be called The Fish Police. The foyer is more conducive to drinking and talking than live music so I did not engage with them much at first, but once I did I realised that they were amazing. They were four smartly dressed young men (unlike some of the scruffs who had been appearing earlier) and they had a fairly standard guitar, bass, drums and vocals line-up. At first listen the music nodded towards pop reggae.
Fish Police close up
The singer's in between song banter made me think that the band might all be stoners, particularly given the lyrics of their songs being about funny mass cultural items or things they like eating. However I read subsequently that the singer is on the Aspergers spectrum so it could be that too. Either way it was an appealing kind of oddness.

Chicken and the eating thereof seemed to be a recurring lyrical theme, particularly in the insanely catchy 'Chicken Nuggets for Me'. The bassist commented that this was all a bit ironic for him, as he was a vegetarian (he may actually have been of the Rastafarian persuasion, or maybe like me he just loves animals). They also had a song about how much they like cocoa butter, another about a Japanese girl who reads so many books that she is always falling asleep, and another again about a girl with blue hair.

I should add that these tunes were all incredibly catchy. To hear the Fish Police is to love them. Everyone went mental for them.

Your favourite blog will have more Counterflows action tomorrow.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Counterflows 2015: Thursday

At last I can reveal the true facts of my experiences at this festival. It took place in various Glasgow venues at the start of April. It is one of those music festivals where loads of varied artists appear, many of whom were people I had never previously heard of though they may be household names for you.

The festival ran over four days, starting on Thursday the 2nd of April. I caught the trail end of the Launch Reception in the CCA, which featured people giving speeches about stuff. Someone said that the way these things work is that the more money you have got from donor organisations the more speeches there will be, but also the higher the likelihood of there being free booze. At this one there were quite a few speakers but there was also free wine… except that the wine was inconveniently placed behind a crowd of people by the time we arrived. Fortunately we had a crack booze ninja on hand to slip in through the crowd and retrieve bottle. Jurassic Park.

The speeches included some stuff about how pleased they were to have a Brazilian strand to the festival this year, with transcontinental links being created with Novas Frequencias, a broadly similar festival in Rio De Janeiro. And then the speeches dissolved into some Brazilian bloke in a mask playing some discordant guitar music at us. It was intriguing and set the mood for the weekend: uncompromising yet playful. My friend and host Nessa described it as deconstructed Brazilian jazz guitar.
Chinese Cookie Poets
That was in the CCA's foyer. From there we moved to one of its theatre spaces for a performance by some more Brazilian people. These were the Chinese Cookie Poets, who were a guitar-bass-drums three piece. Their first piece combined feedback from the guitarist and bassist with rock animal drumming from Renato Godoy, suggesting to me that he might be the star of the outfit. Later pieces taxed the guitarist and bassist more. A most striking feature of this performance was how varied all the pieces were from each other, lending a mini-music-festival vibe to proceedings. There was nevertheless a certain Beefheart-Fall thread running through the concert.
Chinese Cookie Poets & Negro Leo
And then just when it seemed as though things could not get any more varied, they did. The band were joined onstage by Negro Leo, who was kind of a dancer and vocalist. He had a mop of hair and thick glasses and had a somewhat nerdy demeanour, delivering what sounded like stream of consciousness lyrics and dancing in a manner that I think was carefully choreographed faux amateur. I particularly liked the song where he seemed to be delivering both sides of a fraught domestic argument.

All in all the Brazilian combo provided a great opening for the festival. The band were fascinating and Mr Leo made a great temporary frontman. They were followed by a Brazilian DJ set but I was a bit puppy tired and had to crash (me being tired will be a recurring feature of this festival).

Come back tomorrow for more Counterflows action!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

May 1915

I have been neglecting Inuit Panda readers in favour of my World War 1 live blog. May 1915 proved a destructive month, with the first successful use of poison gas in warfare at Ypres and other bloody battles on the Eastern and Western Fronts. Allied hopes of a quick victory in Gallipoli were dashed while in Anatolia the Ottoman Empire began to eliminate its Armenian majority. The last Liberal government in Britain fell. Italy entered the war on the Allied side and the sinking of the Lusitania made the war something that could no longer be ignored in the United States.


May 1915

World War 1 Live

neglected panda

Monday, May 04, 2015

April 1915

If for some reason you find yourself wondering what happened in the First World War in the fourth month of 1915 then this is the link for you: April 1915

Saturday, April 25, 2015

China's funeral strippers crackdown

The BBC has reported on a Chinese clampdown on an increasingly prevalent practice at funerals. In China it is considered a mark of respect to the deceased to have large crowds attending their funeral. Funeral organisers often provide entertainment to encourage attendance. In certain rural areas funerals have gone so far as to lure in extra mourners by laying on strippers.

The authorities are taking a dim view of this new custom. Funeral organisers and exotic dancers in Hebei and Jiangsu provinces have been arrested and punished. However it is unclear whether this clampdown will be any more successful than previous attempts to eradicate this pernicious practice.


Pole dancing Panda (photobucket)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

K is for… KLF

In the pages of Frank's APA we are running through the letters of the alphabet.

The lyrics'll flow, yo, hear the words I speak. Rap is cheap so I teach and I preach.

The KLF were two fellows, one called Bill Drummond, the other Jimmy Cauty. Mr Drummond was the one who did interviews, wrote books and was mouthy and opinionated, which always led me to suspect that it was Mr Cauty who did more of the actual making of music. They started life as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, taking their name from an organisation featured in the pages of the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

Drummond and Cauty released records as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (and had their arses sued off for using unapproved Abba samples). As the Timelords they got to number one with 'Doctorin' the TARDIS', one of the world's great novelty singles. After this they published a book called The Manual, in which they explained how to have a number one hit. Then in 1990 and 1991 they had a run of monster hit singles, beginning with 'What Time Is Love?', an epic piece of pop-rave action.

I have read it suggested that the KLF wanted to pursue a more purist dance music direction, but to get their tracks played on the radio they had to add in vocals, especially the obligatory early 1990s lamer raps that show up on so many records of that era. I think their rappers were gentlemen named Bello B and Ricardo Da Force; I would love to know how they were recruited and what they went on to do afterwards. There might be an element of dance rockism to the idea that their tracks suffered by being popped up. The original versions have their own mesmerising qualities but it was the hit versions that have the ultimate power.

Aside from the fact that these singles were monster floor filling tunes, what was fun about the KLF was the way they created this ludicrous mythology around themselves. They weren't just some spods making faceless dance music, they were the Kopyright Liberation Front! And they were also the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, who had travelled from a lost continent or something to make pop-dance records. Their Top of the Pops appearances were Events, with capes and masks and armies of ransomers on stage, etc.

Along the way the KLF also released Chill Out, possibly inventing ambient house in the process. This odd record supposedly soundracks a night journey across some bit of the United States, with sounds wafting in from the ether like snatches of songs heard on radio stations as they come in and out of range. It is a very relaxing record, unlike the KLF's hit singles.

Eventually Cauty and Drummond grew tired of their success and decided to end it. There was a bizarre episode where they fired a machine gun loaded with blanks at the audience of the Brit Awards before dumping a dead sheep outside the venue. They followed this by withdrawing all their money from the KLF bank account (some one million pounds) and burned it, before deleting their entire back catalogue. I have heard it suggested that the money burning thing was not quite what it seems; nevertheless, in subsequent writings Drummond has alluded convincingly to the grief he received from his children once they grew up enough to register that their dad had burned that much money.

Sometimes I think the art happening stuff obscures the KLF's music a bit too much. Their singles were great floor filling tunes and listening to them again now has me wishing there was dance floor nearby where I could get down to them. At one point they were calling their music Stadium House, suggesting a certain bombastic quality alongside the programmed beats. The whole thing with chanted slogans and fist punched in the air goes with that, giving the whole enterprise a charge that much of the electronic music of their contemporaries lacks.

What to look for?

'Doctorin' the TARDIS' (released by The Timelords) - all the mixes of this are great, particularly the ones with Gary Glitter on vocals

'What Time Is Love' - the most epic of their epic singles. Try and find every single version of it and play them one after another.

'3AM Eternal' - also awesome. Again, you want every version of this ever recorded.

'Last Train to Trancentral' - third of the great trilogy.

Chill Out - spark the hooter and listen to this sonic journey across an imaginary US landscape

'It's Grim Up North' (released by the JAMMs) - a name-check of places in the north (of England), with the only other lyrics being the assertion that it is grim up north. Back in the day this record was cited as evidence by my then flatmate for the proposition that Chester is in the North of England. It is there at the 5.01 mark.

'America: What Time is Love' - more a reworking than a remix of 'What Time Is Love', with ludicrous intro about the JAMMs ancient journey across the ocean to discover America. Features guitars.

'Fuck the Millennium' (released by 2K in 1997) - kind of a greatest hits of the KLF in one song, with added swearing about the coming millennium; notable for guest appearances by the striking Liverpool dockers (on swearing) and the William Fairey Brass Band assisting with brass band versions of their great tunes

There is also 'Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMMs)', which is famous for the fact that it features Tammy Wynette on guest vocals, but I do not like it so much.

KLF image source (Fresh on the Net)

Pyramid blaster image source (Wikipedia)

(features some of the appearance of Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty on the Late Late Show discussing their burning of a million pounds)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

J is for… Joy Division

In the pages of Frank's APA we are running through the letters of the alphabet.I would not actually describe myself as the world's biggest fan of Joy Division, but they are a band I like. Their place in music history can easily be summarised. They start off as a Manchester punk/post-punk band. They develop in somewhat doomy directions, perhaps driven by the miserabilism of their lead singer, Ian Curtis. They are apparently on the brink of major success but then Curtis tops himself. And that is the end of that, except that the surviving members regroup, recruit the drummer's girlfriend on keyboards and continue under the new name of New Order.

Joy Division's career was short and they did not record that much, though I suppose two albums and a rake of singles in such a short time makes them remarkably productive. They have probably become more famous since the band's dissolution, with a cinematic documentary followed by a feature film telling the band's story; the Joy Division and Ian Curtis story was also an important part of that film 24 Hour Party People. They have been the subject of many articles by music journalists and several books.

So what do I have to add to this party? Probably not much. The big thing I have to say about Joy Division is that too much of the commentary on Joy Division focusses on Ian Curtis. I am not saying he is overrated as a frontman (though of course I never saw them live), as on record he is clearly a lead singer of power, possessed of a singular vision. What I am saying is that the emphasis on Curtis obscures the input of the band's other members and turns the whole enterprise inappropriately into Ian Curtis and his backing band. The fact that the surviving musicians were able to bounce back so effortlessly from the death of Curtis suggests to me that they were more than just his peons.

In listening to the music of Joy Division, it is apparent in so many of the tunes that the vocals are just part of the mix. The musicians' efforts create a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere as much as the singer's deep vocals and sinister lyrics. You only have to listen to the first two minutes or so of 'Dead Souls' to perceive the atmospheric qualities of the instrumental music on its own.

The other perhaps controversial thing I would say about Joy Division is that people sometimes over-emphasise the oppressive doominess of their music and miss the perky pop elements. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart Again' was released as a single after the death of Ian Curtis and will always be associated with his untimely passing. Yet despite the lyrics and their sad evocation of a dying relationship, the music is astonishingly joyous. From the triumphant intro to the surging rhythms that run through the tune, this is a song that calls feet irresistibly to the dance floor. I can imagine that in foreign countries where they do not know English local bands could cover this and sing it with cheery smiles on their faces. In days of yore I used to think it would be an ideal song for Steps to sing.

Joy Division's career was cut short but three of the band's members went on to form New Order, whose more dance floor friendly electronic music enjoyed considerable success. What is always a bit of a mystery is whether Joy Division would have progressed in similar directions to New Order in the event of Curtis remaining alive. It is a difficult question. In some ways early New Order and late Joy Division are not so very different to each other. Joy Division were becoming a bit more electronic and as noted above were not complete strangers to the lure of the dance floor. Early New Order meanwhile maintains a lot of the oppressiveness of Joy Division, as well as a lyrical miserabilism that they never definitively lost (though for tracks like 'World in Motion' it took a definite back seat). But there are other factors in play which may receive further discussion when I reach the letter N.

image source (Stereogum)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hunters Moon: from beyond the grave

The last few posts have turned into something of a Hunters Moon special. Although the Hunters Moon festival ostensibly shuffled off into that great Altamont Speedway in the sky two years ago, the Hunters Moon name still shows up now and then as a promoter of concert of events. Because I broadly approve of the Hunters Moon people I will basically go to anything they put on unless I am dying of bubonic plague or they are hosting an event in an inconvenient location. So it was that I found myself heading to a place called the Steambox Gallery with two of my associates.

Actually, as locations go the Steambox is pretty inconvenient. It is not too far from where I live but is in that part of town that has "Here Be Monsters" written on it in my mental map, by which I mean it is off Meath Street in the Liberties, a heart of the rowl Dublin location that soft types like me never go to and think of as being a bit terrifying. Walking there with my associates somewhat calmed my sense of terror, as they are both tough characters and I knew that in their company I would be safe from all but the roughest of Dublin gurriers. Also it turns out that one of my associates (let us call him Mr A) actually lives very near the venue, meaning that he is local to that part of town and someone likely to be treated with great respect. Even so it was with some trepidation that I walked through streets whose pavements have never before been touched by my feet.

The Steambox Gallery is some kind of hipster arts venue in what seems like a converted school or somesuch. It has a squatty ambience and felt like the kind of place where you would have to knock three times on the door and say the special password before you would be let in. In our case the door was open and there were no such formalities. The building is big inside and felt like it had been converted from some former purpose, with the concert being in some random bit of it, in this case what felt like it could have been a shed or a lean-to stuck on at the back.

There were a number of artists on the bill, all broadly of the avant garde art nonsense variety. God Hates Disco opened proceedings, combining funny electronic music with film and sound of people ranting about culty religious or psychedelic stuff. Then Three Eyed Makara hit things they had in piles on the floor. Fuzzy Hell worried Mr A by looking like they were going to be a solo woman singing and playing acoustic guitar (not that he is sexist as he would have been equally aghast if it had been a man doing the same thing) but she turned out to be doing electronic stuff as well as the guitarring. I thought it was more interesting than straightforward singer-songwritery material, but Mr A was not having any of it.

The last act was Head of Wantastiquet, who featured one Paul LaBrecque from well-known act Sunburned Hand of the Man. They turned out to be another act of which Mr A strongly disapproves so he left before they started, with the fact that his bed was just round the corner being a big draw for him (there was a another push factor of which I will speak later). I stayed for a bit longer, even though I was getting a bit puppy tired myself. I probably would have gone earlier if I had not found a nice comfy seat to plant myself on while watching Mr Wantastiquet do his thing. His thing turned out to be more droney electronic guitar stuff. I found the second of his long pieces quite engaging but I was getting really tired now so I made my way home.

The event had one feature which contributed to both Mr A and myself heading off early: smokers. As you know, in Ireland due to facism we have banned smoking from places of work or entertainment. In this place however the kids decided that they were going to stick it to the man by lighting up their death sticks. At first this lended the event a certain edginess, accentuating the squattiness of the venue and giving the sense that we were now operating outside the normal rules of bourgeois society. After a while though it all got a bit stinky and my eyes started to sting, reminding me of how rubbish things were before the smoking ban came in. So I scarpered.

Leaving was surprisingly difficult. I just about remembered how to travel through the large building to the entrance but the exit door was now closed and locked. Eventually I managed to work out how to open it but it was a close run thing and I was distinctly fearful that I would be dragged back into the smokatorium and forced to inhale the foul nicotine infused burning herbs until I became one with tobacco addicts.

Outside I was conscious that I no longer had either of my associates to protect me so I made my way out of the Forbidden Zone as quickly as I could. I did my best not to let the natives realise that I was not of their kind, trying to lurk as much as possible in the shadows without drawing attention to myself. The fact that you are reading these words should tell you that I succeeded in making my way home. Or that someone else did who has now assumed the identity that was once "mine".

Afterwards I was struck by one odd thing about the evening. There were quite a lot of people at the event, and it suddenly hit me that there were probably far more people at it than had ever paid to go to an actual Hunters Moon festival. Another odd fact that was pointed out to me on social media was that all the young stinky smokers who were delighting in the cigaretting were all probably too young to properly remember a time before the smoking ban. To them the idea of smoking indoors while music played may have been a genuinely exciting novelty.

image source (Heathen Harvest)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Joinery Halloween Spooktacular

It does sometimes seem like it is taking me longer to write about my life than to live it. This is an account of something I went to last Halloween in the Joinery, a local music and arts venue which has since closed down as part of a general erasure of things I like from the world. The event was organised by the Deserted Village record label, which is run by and releases records by people I think of as part of the Hunters Moon world. First up on the bill was Katie O'Neill, who had already started when I arrived. She played interesting textured guitar music.

The star act of the evening for me was a collaboration between Suzanne Walsh, Brian Conniffe and Diarmuid Mac Diarmada. If you were a hater you might describe this as artwank bollocks but I was in the zone and enjoyed it greatly. There were electronic elements to it as well as the playing of analogue instruments but the particularly amaze feature was the vocal performance of Suzanne Walsh. She was reading from the Grafton Paperback H.P. Lovecraft anthology The Haunter of the Dark, the one with the giant humanoid eating naked women on the cover, and singing Lovecraft's words to us. Or at least, that is what it looked like she was doing, except that I have read that book and number of times and the words did not sound familiar. Aside from Ms Walsh's wonderful presence, what made this performance was the strange and ritualistic nature of it, perfect for a concert on Halloween.

The last act were Tarracóir. I saw them once before, at Hunters Moon 2012, when they played unbelievably hard-rocking music in a tiny café. This time they had a different line-up because their brilliant drummer Bryan O'Connell was unable to make the event, so they replaced him for the night with one Tuula Voutilainen on crazy lady vocals. This was also bizarre and challenging and not the kind of thing that is ever going to trouble the charts but all forward thinking people enjoyed it.

And that was that. There were later concerts on in the Joinery, before it closed, notably a reformation of odd 1990s Irish band Wormhole, but I did not get to any of them. And now this great venue just a round the corner from my home is gone.

more pictures

The Haunter of the Dark (The Internet Speculative Fiction Database)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Horslips rock Sligo

Where was I on the last October Bank Holiday weekend, a full year after the last Hunters Moon festival? It would have been great if I had been in Carrick-on-Shannon, hanging out forlornly outside the Dock and wondering when when the festival was going to start, perhaps making my way to some of the coffee shops or the church looking to see if anything was going on there. But I was not, I was up in Sligo, a bit further along the same train line. As you know, Sligo is the town where my beloved is from and that weekend they were having a load of concerts and stuff on under the general rubric of Sligo Live or something like that. As well as local acts and artist well-known in Ireland if not outside they also had some actual big names (Sheryl Crowe!).

I was not in Sligo to see Sheryl Crowe, I was there to see Irish trad rockers Horslips with my beloved and her sisters. They were playing in the sports hall of the Sligo Institute of Technology. They were supported by Moxie, a local band who also combined trad and rock elements but did seem to come down more on the trad-folk-raggle-taggle side of the coin. They were at least half-decent and I would not object to seeing them again and they were clearly well-liked by the local crowd.

Horslips themselves… well they might be one of those bands who are much better known in Ireland than without. The strode the 1970s in Ireland like a colossus. If you see old photos of them they look amazing in their hairy hippy gear, quite a contrast to the by then tired look of the showbands who were still anachronistically active on the Irish scene. They were massively popular in Ireland, maybe not so much in the UK (correct me if I am wrong, readers), though they did apparently have top ten hits in traditionally hibernophile Germany. As previously noted, their music mixes rock and Irish traditional music elements, with lyrics also often calling to mind Celtic mythology. To be honest, I am not actually that familiar with their music but have liked what I have heard and have long been curious about them, so I leapt at this chance to see them live.

As far as I know Horslips are one of those bands who split up because their appeal had become more selective rather than because they all hated each other. So although they have all gone onto have successful non-musical careers there was no real barrier to them getting back together again and they have done so in recent years for high profile and doubtless fairly lucrative gigs. They had the complete 1970s line-up tonight for us, apart sadly from their original drummer, Eamon Carr, the only one of them I would have recognised. It was quipped that he was away getting ready for Halloween; if you have ever seen a picture of him you will know what she means.

Now, when you have a band made up of people who have all somewhat drifted away from music you would have to worry that maybe live they will be a bit rusty and rough around the edges. When they started off I did spend the first song or two wondering whether I had made a terrible mistake in coming to see them, as the songs seemed little above the level you would expect of an uninspired bar band. But a few songs in they started rocking out properly and also sneaking the trad elements into their tunes, reminding us of their unique selling point. And then they switched to the beautiful slow tune 'Furniture', a song I have heard described as the Irish 'Stairway to Heaven'. I think that might have been the moment that this concert tipped over from being quite good to being amazing. Normally I hate anything that might be characterised as a Lovely Song, but there is a poignancy to this tale of love gone wrong.

The set rolled on like a juggernaut, finishing with a pre-encore double whammy of 'Trouble with a Capital T' and 'Dearg Doom'. The latter is from a concept album based on the Irish hero saga of the Táin Bó Cúailgne, with the lyrics being the taunt of Cú Chulainn before he goes into combat. These are both monster tunes, particularly 'Dearg Doom', each with killer openings instantly recognisable to anyone in my country. They then encored with 'Shakin' All Over', a cover of a song by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (yarrr), which seems to be their party piece.

I came away from this fired up with Horslips-love. I would definitely go and see them again and I encourage anyone reading this to seek out their music. The Book of Invasions or The Táin might be the records to go for, or maybe Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part being the one to listen to if you want something more contemplative.

image sources:

Horslips will knock the lugs right off you (Horslips official)

Horslips band photo (Horslips official)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hunters Moon 2013: Part 2


On Sunday while other people went to daytime concerts in a local church I went to a circuit bending workshop run by one Rodger Boyle (who makes dark ambient music as Ruairi O'Baoighill). Circuit bending is when you get old toys that have electronic noise making stuff in them and then you dick around with them to make the electronics make different noises. It involves a lot of drilling holes in toys and ripping them open and then messing around with circuit tester things to bypass the circuit's normal functioning in the hope of finding a new noise. When you find something you like you solder the new link in place and then fit buttons and things to the toy to activate it.

I think I had this naive hope that a bit of dicking around with some old toy would mean that I would be leaving Hunters Moon with my own home-made Moog synthesiser. That was an unrealistic aspiration but the circuit bending was fun. At the start I was thinking, "this is just not going to work" but then there was a real moment of excitement the first time the thing makes an unexpected noise.

Apparently there are people in the world who are able to present concerts using their circuit-bent toys. I could also see how this was the kind of thing one could easily get a bit obsessive about and end up scouring charity shops for cast-off electronic toys to add to a collection of funny noise bits of junk. For all the fun I had with the workshop I have thankfully managed to avoid going down that terrible road.

But I could not spend all day wrecking old toys. Eventually I had to leave the workshop and head out to hear some more music. One notable act I saw was one Ivan Pawle. Mr Pawle used to be one of Dr Strangely Strange. Dr Strangely Strange are one of the first obscure cult acts I ever became aware of, as my friend William Whyte had a cassette of one of their then out-of-print albums. They played a kind of acoustic psych music and also had the winning feature of being Irish (though not so you would notice, as they did not have bodhran in their sound or lyrics about the praties).

Hunters Moon had Mr Pawle playing solo in the church venue. I was quite excited by this but it suffered from teething problems. Over the years it has been obvious that the acoustics in the church venue can be a bit difficult and they were initially being uncooperative, trying the patience both of Mr Pawle and I suspect also of Gavin Prior, who was on sound wrangling duties. My fear was that the concert was going to become one long soundtrack of annoyance but fortunately the acoustics were bludgeoned into some kind of submission. Then this became a magical exploration of the delicate music of Dr Strangely Strange.

The action moved back to the Dock. A face painter was available who must have found it amusing to be painting adults rather than five year olds. Cat Piss Brain Riot won the band name of the weekend competition. School Tour (who may or may overlap with Patrick Kelleher And His Cold Dead Hands) played electronic music while wearing a sticky looking cape that hid his features and made him look like underneath it he might be some kind of squamous monstrosity. Control Unit (from Italy or somewhere like that) were intriguingly goth. A particular highlight for me however were the band thrown together to fill a gap in the schedule caused by a foreign no-show, these being a Hunters Moon supergroup comprising the six or seven people who appear in 50% of the acts who play the festival. They seemed in particular to be drawing from the musical cupboard of popular Irish band Seadog (an act sometimes characterised as the post-rock Thin Lizzy), going down well with the home crowd.

Rhys Chatham closed off the festival. He is one of those names I am aware of though I would struggle to tell you too much about him… I think he is from the New York scene or something. He played a set which involved him playing a variety of instruments and sampling himself to create a textured sound etc.

By now word had filtered round the festival that Lou Reed had died. Chatham alluded to this in his set and the whole event got a bit emo. I know that Reed had become a bit of a comedy figure by the end of his life, characterised by his grumpiness and by a certain self-important distance from the rough music of his youth. Nevertheless, for most people present Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground would have been a gateway into the world of weirdo music. So festival attendees started writing Lou Reed lyrics or messages to him in chalk on the floor while listening to Chatham. Maybe looking at this from one remove that was a bit sad but at the time it had a genuine poignance.

And that was that. Two things I missed greatly from the last Hunters Moon were bands who had been stalwarts of the previous two years, Irish hard rockers Wizards of Firetop Mountain and British mentalists Gnod. But hey, they can't be everywhere.

I think it was on the October Bank Holiday weekend in 2014, fully a year after the above festival that it sunk in that Hunters Moon was over and there would be no more trips to Carrick on Shannon for great music. It does not surprise me that the organisers called it a day. For all that I loved the festival, it never seemed to attract that many other paying punters and it always felt like most of the people present were performers of one sort or another. I am not sure why that is. There is not much of an audience for weirdo music in Ireland but there is more than none, yet it seemed as though this audience was not willing to make the easy journey to Carrick on Shannon. Oh well, such is life, maybe it is for the best that Hunters Moon had three great years and then went away without outstaying its welcome and sliding into shite.

more rubbish pictures


Hunters Moon 2011

Hunters Moon 2012

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hunters Moon 2013: Part 1

Yes, readers, I am now going to travel back in time to 2013 and have a crack at reviewing the last Hunters Moon festival I went to on the Halloween Bank Holiday weekend that year. I have been Not Getting Round to doing this ever since the festival ended, with wanting to do the festival justice by producing the Best Ever Write-Up for it. That is not going to happen so instead I am just going to dive in and write a lot of semi-random stuff about it without bothering to look back at my notes or anything like that.

Now of course, you might wonder why I am bothering. Hunters Moon tended to feature some pretty obscure artists and reading accounts of artists you've never heard of playing at a festival you weren't at can be a bit on the dull side. And of course there is the time-lag: this is me writing about a festival that happened a very long time ago. But I feel that as no one else seems to have reviewed this event anywhere it falls to me to do it, notwithstanding the passing of time. The heroic efforts of the organisers in putting on the festival deserve to be remembered.

To recap, Hunters Moon was a festival that took place in Carrick-on-Shannon (mostly but not entirely in the Dock Arts Centre) on the October Bank Holiday weekend for three years running. It featured musical artists from the worlds of strange folk, experimental electronic music and neo-psychedelia. It always struggled to attract an audience (because audiences are stupid) but anyone who ever went to it will agree that it was the best thing ever.

The 2013 festival began with a performance by Divil A Bit, a nom de guerre for the festival organisers and people associated with them. They played droney instruments in the foyer of the arts venue. There was ritualistic parading around. There may have been sporadic hitting of a drum. As with a lot of avant-garde music you could easily have dismissed this as tuneless nonsense, but if you were so inclined then you would probably have made a mistake coming to the festival.

I will not go through all the acts who played, largely because my drug addled brane cannot remember them all in detail. Instead I present a selection of moments.

One thing that was always fun at Hunters Moon were the concerts that took place away from the arts venue, in cafes around the town. We caught two great performances in the Cafe Lounge, a place serious in its love of coffee and one of the few places in these islands that serves coffee in cafetière. While buzzing on caffeinated goodness we were entertained by Devon MacGillivray, a fiddler playing tunes from the Cape Breton region of Canada. She was followed by Sam Burke of popular mediaevalist folkie group Nuada. He played a variety of strange instruments and sang songs, one of which required male audience members to stamp their feet in the manner of a rampant stallion. I did my best.

An act that caused many people to flee in terror was the Phil Collins Project. They did a variety of Phil Collins related things, from performing idiot-savant covers of his tunes to singing tunelessly over concert footage of the great man. I think the Haterz disliked two things about the Phil Collins Project (or the PCP as those in the know call them): firstly, any association with the terminally uncool former drummer of Genesis and secondly the tuneless art-wank nature of the performance. I must admit to a certain Phil Collins sneaking regard so I was more open to this lot than many. I also found the tuneless artwankery to be fun rather than annoying. So I liked the PCP. I am unashamed.

What was also funny was watching the crowd who remained to watch the PCP. When they played concert footage of 'Two Hearts Beat As One', barely singing tunelessly over it, quite a few people started bopping to the crazy Phil Collins sounds. They were trying to look ironic but it was hard not to think that really they would love if someone were to drop all the tuneless experimental nonsense and serve up a weekend of 1980s tat for them to dance to.

This maybe was the night for confrontational acts who divided the audience, for later on the festival presented us with Consumer Electronics. They were a duo, a woman making some kind of loud electronic noise and one of the blokes from controversial perv outfit Whitehouse shouting "Cunt Cunt Cunt" over and over again into a microphone. He also stripped off his top and invited people to come and suck on his bitch tits.

Whitehouse are one of those acts you hear of as being very controversial and confrontational, never afraid of getting in the audience's face. They reputedly like to use images of hardcore pornography to make the audience complicit in things or something. I do not know how similar Consumer Electronics is to Whitehouse, but it seemed like the same kind of thing: puerile confrontation and attention seeking through bad language and infantile transgression. And it wasn't even that edgy. They had images projected on screens while they played but it never went beyond anything you could happily show to your mother, while always appearing as though at any moment it was going to off the deep end.

Still, for all that I thought Consumer Electronics were not that good, I was glad to have seen them. They also provided one of the most memorable incidents of the weekend. At one point Mr Electronics threw a pint of beer into the audience (edgy!), drenching a woman who then charged off to bar and returned with a pint of slops that she then poured over him. He loved it.

An act I thought would be more controversial was this Belgian synthesiser lady who perfromed as Orphan Fairytale. The music was very likeable plinky atmospheric electronic music, so you might wonder why I thought it would prove controversial. Why? Well, I thought its very likeability would put some of my more forthright friends off it. While I was listening to Ms Fairytale's performance I was conscious of how much I was enjoying it but also fearful of the conversations that would ensue once it finished, for fear that one friend in particular would dismiss it all as "fucking tweetronica shite". But this did not happen and in fact said friend professed to love Orphan Fairytale. Maybe I am no longer able to predict what people like anymore.

Come back tomorrow for more Hunters Moon 2013 action!

Phil Collins image source (Miami Vice Wiki)

more rubbish pictures


Hunters Moon 2011

Hunters Moon 2012