Sunday, July 31, 2011

Visual Music (I'll Be Your Mirror)

Retrovision: the Test Card projected before Portishead's performance at ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror; a nod to Ally Pally's past, perhaps?

Rock bands such as the Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd have used visuals in their live shows since the 1960s. But in this post-MTV internet age, even if you're a band with a magnetic stage presence, having a huge projector behind the group (and to left and right too) now seems mandatory, even if it is just so the audience can see the band a mile away. But in recent years hip bands (who are possibly dull to watch) are projecting more than just blown up images of themselves; many are showing short, experimental films or projections.

At ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror festival curated by Portishead in London last weekend, perhaps befitting music that was largely discordant, many of the bands had visuals that were distorted and retro: Godspeed You! Black Emperor had black and white mock film slipping and melting/burning in the projector with old-fashioned text and medieval imagery overlapping; Beak> had distorted 80s arcade games; Portishead had flickering, distorted video effects; Books used found 1980s VHS home movies. Members from Portishead and Goldfrapp provided the live score for Dreyer's silent 1928 classic The Passion of Joan of Arc whilst Alan Moore and Stephen O'Malley collaborated for a soundtrack and narration to Harry Smith's 1962 film Heaven and Earth Magic. In short, the music may have been post-rock but the visuals, even though they were all digitalised, were made to look pre-MTV, even pre-TV.

Presumably no accident, then, that it all took place in Ally Pally, birthplace of TV – the world's first regular high definition service was augured there by the BBC, 2 November 1936 (says its blue plaque).

Several of the bands were instrumental – so, really, any visuals would probably work, seeing as there are no vocals to provide narration. Ever tried playing music whilst watching TV with the sound turned down? At some point – no matter what the music or TV programme – they'll be a moment when sound and image complement each other perfectly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Scala Forever!

On the subject of King's Cross (see Wednesday's post), next week sees a six-week season of Scala-inspired double bills showing at cinemas across London. The season comes complete with a programme replicating the design of the Scala's own lurid programmes from the 1980s and early 90s.

The programme stays loyal to the Scala's unique choice of films, always a bizarre mix of arthouse, foreign, porn, horror and mainstream. Highlights include double and triple bills from the Scala's favourite sleazy directors John Waters, Russ Meyer and Dario Argento; cult classic porno films Liquid Sky and Cafe Flesh; Santa Sangre and Tetsuo: The Iron Man; a healthy dose of Fassbinder, Herzog, Kieslowski and plenty more besides. Finishing the season is the film that bought down the original Scala: A Clockwork Orange.

All that's missing is the actual experience of seeing a film at the Scala (which is now a pretty good music venue). Surrounded by a bizarre audience of art students, raincoat brigade, women knitting and the two resident cats, a Scala experience back in the day was often more harrowing than the films they showed. Especially after an all-nighter of five films, emerging into the daylight of King's Cross on a Saturday or Sunday at 6am, it was often hard to know when the films had ended and reality had began. I distinctly remember seeing a scary-looking, almost naked prostitute (presumably – King's Cross was famous for them, once) walking slightly drunkenly along the pavement on such a morning. I wasn't sure whether I was still in a John Waters or Russ Meyer movie.

Scala Forever runs from 13 August - 2 October 2011.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Double Bill Me

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lighthouse at King's Cross

Looking at it from a certain angle, this block in King's Cross is slightly reminiscent of New York's flatiron building, though admittedly not quite as impressive. I love this block and the strange tower on top of it known as The Lighthouse, which has sadly stayed in a state of disrepair for some twenty years. As with Battersea Power Station, this is another sad story of lack of funds, legal issues, red tape, etc, whilst meanwhile it stands decaying and boarded up. Also like Battersea Power Station it's a listed building, so hopefully it will stay with us, though being listed doesn't seem to mean much nowadays, seeing that many of them are allowed to rot.

Though called The Lighthouse because of its shape, I've always thought of it as a tower from a surreal pirate ship. Its actual purpose is something of a mystery, with some speculating that it was once an oyster house, others that it's an architectural folly. Whatever it was used for, it's certainly unique, and with St. Pancras train station recently renovated and King's Cross station currently being given a facelift, it would be great for the flatiron block to be similarly rejuvenated.

The peg graffiti on the tower is fairly new; I've been seeing quite a few of them all over London recently.

I pinched the photo from here; next time I'm in the area I'll take a photo myself.

Monday, July 25, 2011

London through its charity shops #12: Kingston

Though originally in Surrey, Kingston-upon-Thames is now part of Greater London.

Considering it's basically one big concrete shopping centre, it's surprising there aren't more charity shops there. There are two on Castle Street; an average Oxfam and a colourful if below par FARA. Around the corner on Fife Road is an uninspiring Princess Alice Hospice shop. It's possible I've been in these charity shops hundreds of times and never bought a thing. Next to the falling down telephone boxes sculpture, designed by David Mach and possibly the only interesting thing in Kingston (okay, I'm being a bit harsh; there's still a few fine old buildings left in the 'historic market town' but mostly the place has become pretty homogeneous) is a small Oxfam Books. There are two more Princess Alice shops nearby – one for furniture, the other for children. And I made a discovery only recently – there's a Cancer Research on Eden Street; it's very nice, clean and well-organised with well stocked book and CD shelves.

Here are some interesting Kingston cultural facts: the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, credited with being the precursor of moving film, was born there; Three Men in a Boat begins in Kingston; it makes an appearance in The War of the Worlds; a character in Austen's Emma often visits Kingston; a character in DH Lawrence's The Rainbow dreams of a job in Kingston, presumably in a time when the town had some character; a whole episode of TV programme Primeval was filmed in the Bentall Centre... some of these fascinating facts were gleaned from Wikipedia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Formula for the perfect band

The Beach Boys

My Bloody Valentine

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Top 10 Films about Musicians

A mix of fiction films, documentaries and, if you will, rockumentaries.

1. This is Spinal Tap
As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.
2. Dont Look Back
Yes, I left the apostrophe out on purpose.
3. 24 Hour Party People
Factory days.
4. Stop Making Sense
Who said concert movies had to be boring?
5. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story/I'm Not There
A fine Todd Haynes double bill, warming up with his early short, starring Barbie and Ken dolls (and now banned) followed by his Dylan tribute.
6. Gimme Shelter/Cocksucker Blues
All you needed to know about the Stones but were afraid to ask.
7. The Last Waltz
The Band and friends farewell concert.
8. Thirty two Short Films about Glenn Gould
Eccentric Canadian pianist, famous for his humming and obsession with Bach.
9. DIG! / Scott Walker: 30 Century Man
Who's crazier: Anton Newcombe or Scott Walker?
10. Leningrad Cowboys Go America
The Finnish Aki Kaurismaki is one of my all time favourite directors. But I'm confused with the Leningrad Cowboys. Like Spinal Tap, they're fictional; and like Spinal Tap, they've done tours. Unlike Spinal Tap, they're from a real band (Sleepy Sleepers) but after the film, they went and formed the band Leningrad Cowboys. Go figure. DVD release finally coming soon.

See also: 'Round Midnight, Let's Get Lost, Bird, Straight, No Chaser, Amadeus, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Sid and Nancy, Anvil, Control.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Notes on jobs and girlfriends

You can't get a woman unless you've got a job, and you probably haven't got time for a woman if you've got a job. You're more likely to get another job if you're already in a job, and you're more likely to get another girlfriend if you've already got a girlfriend. In short, women and employers like to know that their prospective boyfriends and employees are in demand. Most people seamlessly transfer from job to job, partner to partner. But when it comes to both of them, I'm sort of like the Groucho Marx quote, as in (to misquote), I wouldn't want to work for a company that would want to employ me, and I wouldn't want a woman who wanted me – there'd be something wrong with them, most likely.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rebekah Brooks resigns over her name

Rebekah Brooks, News International chief, has resigned over the stupid, annoying spelling of her first name (which most people would spell Rebecca), saying she no longer wants to be "the focal point of the debate".

Though both spellings of the popular girls name are correct (they both appear in The Bible after all), the spelling Rebekah appears at first to be either a spelling mistake or the name of a budget sporting goods manufacturer.

There are many examples of common names with unusual spellings: Jakub, Daizie, Leesa and Mhaxx are but a few in what has become a worrying trend. Presumably parents like a traditional name for their child but want to make him or her stand out from the crowd with a unique spelling of the otherwise dull name. Unfortunately what comes across is a lethal mix of pretentiousness, trashiness and dyslexia.

It's hoped that Rebekah Brooks will change her name by Deed Pole to the better known spelling of her name, Rebecca. "We support her as she takes this step to clear her name," James Murdoch said earlier today.

She will find the transition difficult. In 2003, on her first day as The Sun's first female editor she gleefully ran a picture of topless page three model Rebekah Teasdale with the controversial caption 'Rebekah from Wapping, 22'. If it was a victory for Rebekahs everywhere, it was a hollow one, for the name would come to haunt her, culminating in the shocking revelations of the past week, and her resignation earlier today.

Little else of interest is known about the flame-haired Rebekah, 43, except that she married Eastenders thug Ross Kemp purely for the chance to beat him up: in 2005 – the same time The Sun was running a campaign against domestic violence – she was arrested for assaulting her then-husband.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Amazon 1 Star Review: Moonfleet

I'll be the first to admit it: this idea is blatantly copied from the Cynical-C blog, which had a section called You Can't Please Everyone, a look at 'One Star Amazon reviews of classic movies, music and literature', such as Catcher in the Rye, Revolver, Psycho and Animal Farm. A great idea and hilarious (though many of the bad reviews look as if they're written for the sole intention of pissing off others), it's a shame it hasn't been updated since January last year.

This probably won't be a regular feature but seeing as I was involved in much smirking over the original review and its comments, which (strangely) took almost a decade to materialise, I thought I'd share it:

Moonfleet (Puffin Classics)
John Meade Falkner

1.0 out of 5 stars TERRIBLE, 9 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Moonfleet (Puffin Classics) (Paperback)
...Its extrodinarily boring, i thought it would never end. I made the mistake of choosing to do a book report on the ... book and i hated it so much it's not even funny. If you like that stupid format where authors use words like thee, thy and thou than u love this brutaly written novel. If i were you i wouldnt buy this book...
By Brayden E

Graham Chapman says:
There is a case for saying 'well everyone is entitled to their point of view', however, I think, better to be honest here and to say that you are a half-wit. 'That stupid format where authors use word like thee'. That was - unintentionally, of course, quite funny. I wonder what mark this dunderhead got for his (it's a boy, isn't it) book report.
17 Sep 2009

Litlover says:
He probably got an A* by the time he took his A levels - that is the calibre of student who passes these days!
17 Feb 2010

Thomas Hardy says:
You were evidently sub-literate when you wrote this review. Ten years on I hope the teaching career is going well.
21 Jul 2010

Mr. K Kilpatrick says:
This was a good book in 1898(I wonder if the stupid thee/thou was in vogue then?) and still is! Yes the style is strange; what do you expect from over 100 years ago?
ps: There's more spelling and punctuation errors in your review than in the whole book.
14 Sep 2010

The original's here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

RIP Cy Twombly, 1928-2011

Cy Twombly, painter and sculptor, died early last week.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Olympic Cinema in Barnes

Thankfully absolutely nothing to do with the Olympic games being held in the UK next year, The Olympic Cinema in Barnes, also due to open in 2012, was built in 1906 as an entertainment centre and variously named Byfeld Hall, the Ranelagh, The Picture House and the New Vandyke.

Standing at 117-123 Church Road, the late 1960s saw the building transformed into Olympic Recording Studios, where hundreds of artists including Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones recorded there, as well as the likes of The Spice Girls, Madonna and Oasis in more recent times. In December 2008 U2 became the last band to record in the building.

Now with full planning permission granted from Richmond council, the building can re-open once again as a cinema. Though described as 'boutique' in style (which sends shivers down my spine), the opening is certainly an exciting prospect, with two screens to be showing a mix of current releases, retrospectives and special events. It'll be great for Barnes, a posh, sleepy suburb in south west London, next to the Thames. Barnes prides itself on being more like a village, which essentially it is – there was uproar recently against a Sainsbury's Local opening in town.

I found out about the cinema at a stall at Barnes Fair, which was yesterday. I've been going to Barnes Fair every year for at least the last thirty years. Possibly the most exciting event on my calendar, the fair transforms sleepy Barnes into a buzzing assortment of market and food stalls, music, and children's games and rides. This year, past the estate agent giving out (plastic) glasses of wine and the grocer's with its old-fashioned bicycle outside overflowing with artichokes, was the graveyard of a church with live jazz music wafting out from it. Just heavenly.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Busy bein' boring

I recently met up with some old friends I hadn't seen in a while. It seems a truism that as we get older we get more boring and laugh a lot less, and the evening consisted of chatting about the three unavoidable subjects we find ourselves discussing once we hit our thirties, that holy trinity of work, babies and mortgages; apparently a sign of growing up, maturity, independence and freedom, I find it hard to think of any topics more boring (though TV comes a close fourth), so all three in one evening was a tad too much. In the old days, when we were young, if we weren't going out (which we probably weren't) we'd be staying up all night listening to music; doing or talking about doing drugs, getting drunk, debating sex, politics, Godard, Dylan, Kafka… and laughing. I used to laugh quite a bit when I was younger but going out nowadays is so sedate and serious; people have to be back by ten and/or it's a work night and/or the missis won't like it and/or the baby will be crying. We used to talk of our hopes, dreams, ambitions and desires with a candour lacking nowadays. For the first time – for better or worse – I looked at my one time best friends and thought, they are now mature adults; bizarrely I felt almost proud of them, they had made it through the wilderness and emerged as grown ups. I also felt a little sad, perhaps for things which will never be the same again. Once everything seemed possible, but now it seems hard to deviate from our chosen (or unchosen) paths, things now seem more set in stone than when we were young. Time is pushing on, our options are narrower, perhaps even our earlier aspirations have faded and reality has finally shown up.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Lookalikes #13: Elvis Presley's debut LP

Clockwise from top left: Elvis Presley, the debut album, 1956; The Clash, London Calling, 1979, designed by Ray Lowry, photo by Pennie Smith; Tom Waits, Rain Dogs, 1985; Monkeys of Syion, Superficial Lover, 2009; K D Laing, Reintarnation, 2006; Big Audio Dynamite, F-Punk, 1995.

London Calling features at #9 on Q Magazine's Top Album Covers Ever whilst the Elvis cover doesn't feature at all. On Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Album Covers the Elvis cover comes in at #40, one behind London Calling at #39. Funny really how the London Calling cover has become iconic, even though it was a blatant copy, but the bottom three, which are really just copies of copies, have no redeeming features at all. The Tom Waits cover, supposedly also inspired by the Elvis or Clash cover, has become fairly iconic in its own right.

Monday, July 04, 2011

London through its charity shops #11: Kensington to Notting Hill

Monday isn't the best day for charity shop hunting; most of the best stuff has probably gone at the weekend and staff haven't had time to replenish the shelves. I'm not exactly sure why but Tuesdays and Thursdays (possibly Fridays) are my best days for visiting them.

On High Street Ken there's just one charity shop, a nice and spacious Oxfam, almost opposite the cinema and close to Holland Park. It's quite a long walk in the opposite direction, past the tube station and up Kensington Church Street where there's two excellent Trinity Hospice charity shops next to each other on the left hand side. The first one is Books & Media, full of character with record sleeves and posters plastered on the walls and a treasure trove of books, records, CDs, magazines; all nicely organised, reasonable priced and great to browse. My boon companion was also impressed with the Trinity clothes and bric-a-brac shop next door. The warmth of the wood of old, open wardrobes revealed shelves full of interesting items to create an intimate and inviting atmosphere. A few doors up, in stark contrast, is a small and dull Octavia.

Once in Notting Hill Gate there's an Oxfam at No. 144 which is small and a bit cluttered. After being replenished with an over-priced ice-cream we headed down Portobello Road, where there's an excellent Oxfam Books & Music (as recommended by Ruth Rendell in her recent thriller Portobello), and just round the corner on Elgin Crescent, a typically funky FARA which has, for example, chandeliers on the ceiling.

On my way home I stopped off at South Kensington where, tucked away on Bute Street off the Old Brompton Road, is a typically small and uninspiring Octavia and a small but elegant Trinity Hospice, with jazz music tinkering in the background (possibly Thelonious Monk) and lots of French graphic novels and art catalogues (Christie's being just round the corner) for sale.

On the Brompton Road, near and on the same side of the road as Harrods, is another Octavia. This one was Time Out's pick of London's best charity shops (back in 2007 mind) and 'Mary Portas-approved' (otherwise known as 'Mary, Queen of Shops'). A large space with lots of clothes, many designer labels (according to TO) and some bric-a-brac. Downstairs is a nice bookshop with art books and catalogues laid out coffee-table style. A hand-written sign informs that mobile phone conversations are not allowed down here. Lots of books, some average CDs, mainly classical records.

No barngains today. Now what did I say about Mondays...