Elton John, Wonderful Crazy Night

5 Feb

‘This is a raucous rock n roll record,’ Elton John says of his 32nd studio album, explaining that it was put together in the same way as his 1970s classics Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Honky Château. ‘I don’t think I have ever made such an uptempo, energetic album. It just bangs away!’ That’s probably an exaggeration – although after 2013’s more intimate The Diving Board you could probably get away with comparing it to Motörhead. The title-track opener is a real honky-tonk party-starter of a tune, while Guilty Pleasure charges forward astride a positively raucous, shimmering rockabilly riff courtesy of returning guitarist Davey Johnstone, who is likewise on hand to provide In The Name Of You’s funky, recursive piano figure with moody chiaroscuro shadings. There’s no shortage of melodic hooks or stylistic surprises: Claw Hammer develops unpredictably from brooding beginnings into an open-hearted, almost do-si-doing chorus before drawing to a jazzy, brassy conclusion. Sir Elton is joined again in the control room by T-Bone Burnett, the producer who carried former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant deep into bluegrass territory on Raising Sand. Wonderful Crazy Night similarly draws deep lungfuls of rootsy country (and western) air. Regular co-writer Bernie Taupin’s lyrics contain references to mercy and amazing grace. The lovely, folksy ‘I’ve Got 2 Wings’ is a celebration of Elder Utah Smith, a preacher who wore a pair of wings and played a Gibson guitar to carry his listeners to higher ground. ‘Every breath is a prayer of some kind,’ sings Sir Elton on Blue Wonderful, while on The Open Chord he says he has had ‘the horns that the devil used to make me wear all day’ clipped off. If the music has a strong pulse, it’s also imbued with a deep sense of heartfelt, spiritual serenity.

Edited version published in Metro, 3 February 2016

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Ocean Colour Scene – live review

25 Jan

Twenty years on from the giddy heights of Britpop, a lot of middle-aged men and women would (to use the lingo of the times) be mad for an Oasis reunion. The Gallagher brothers don’t seem minded to reunite, but never fear: Ocean Colour Scene are here to help you sing along like it’s 1996 all over again.

Beginning with the roaring Zeppelinesque riffology of The Riverboat Song and the Beatlesisms of The Day We Caught The Train, the Brummie boys performed their 20-year-old retro classic Moseley Shoals in full. It’s an album of many whoa-whoas and la-la-las, and the crowd sang along lustily with every single one of them.

The album-in-full format is great for nostalgic audiences, although it felt like a bit of a straitjacket for the band, who put out new music as recently as 2013. Only on tumultuous, moody closer Get Away did sharp-dressed guitarist Steve Cradock really let rip.

Shielded for the most part behind an acoustic guitar, singer Simon Fowler, sporting waistcoat and specs, initially had the air of a retiring university lecturer who looked mildly surprised to see that so many students had turned up to hear him. He bantered a bit between songs but the enthusiastic din meant most of what he said was inaudible.

After a short break, the band returned to play a further set of fan favourites, including anti-war hymn Profit In Peace. Performing Robin Hood solo, Fowler threw in a snatch of Live Forever – so there was a bit of Oasis after all.

Published in Metro, 25 January 2016

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One Direction at the O2, 24 Sept 2015

28 Sep

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George Ezra at Brixton Electric, 16/02/15

26 Feb

‘My name’s George Ezra, this is my lovely band and we’re going to play some songs for you.’ There’s a charming artlessness about the way the affable 21-year-old with a number-one album and four BRIT nominations to his name greets an expectant, packed-out Brixton Electric before launching into the roof-raising skiffle-stomp of Cassie O’. The night is won before he’s sung a note in that extraordinary baritone voice of his; cries of ‘Love you, George’ punctuate the subsequent pauses between songs. With his nice haircut, clean-cut demeanour and knack for writing undemanding, gentle-paced tunes your grandparents would approve of, Ezra is something of a throwback to the early days of pop: you can imagine him performing on a bill alongside The Beatles circa Love Me Do and Please Please Me. He certainly has a talent for writing happy-go-lucky youthful anthems pleasantly shadowed by the experience of first love (Blame It On Me). So far, so beigecore. As homages to Central European capitals go, Ezra’s biggest hit to date, Budapest, doesn’t compare to Ultravox’s Vienna, its breezy, almost yodelled chorus veering dangerously close to novelty-song territory. But there’s a darker side to George, as evidenced when he quits the delicate shuffle-sway of future wedding-reception standard Listen To The Man for the resonant off-kilter biblical menace of Spectacular Rival or the complex country blues of Did You Hear The Rain?, which begins with a mournful unaccompanied sung invocation before galloping off to a furious climax echoing with the refrain of ‘O Lucifer’s inside’. It’s on this sulphurous note that Ezra chooses to end his short set tonight, which suggests that he may already be plotting his transition from easy-listening pop troubadour to full-on rock star.

Abigail Reynolds: Cuts in Time

24 Feb

greenwich 71 50 copy ‘London is this dynamic, constantly shifting swirl of people and movement,’ explains Abigail Reynolds. ‘But the monuments don’t fundamentally change.’ It’s this simple but potent insight that endows Reynolds’s The Universal Now series with its quietly uncanny, subtly mythic quality. The works are created by splicing together photographs of the same London monument taken from the same place by different photographers at different times – often decades apart. ‘I think it’s quite a beautiful idea that there are these people who have stopped and placed this little circle of glass in the same spot in front of these monuments that we’re constantly passing by without really looking at them,’ says Reynolds, who grew up in London but is now based in Cornwall. ‘The buildings are the overt subject of The Universal Now but the real subject is time. We’re in this fluid river of time which is unstoppable but through photography you can have these frozen moments. When I started the series I was looking at the Lorenz Attractor and ideas about how time could be folded, about wormholes in time and how you could get loops and things could be folded back over one another.’ Alb Hall 48 85 She describes her temporary move from London to New Mexico some years ago as a formative experience in her practice. ‘Albuquerque is a place where there is only one moment. Stuff is built and it’s never demolished because it doesn’t rust, and because there’s other land you don’t pull it down, you just build on other bits of land.’ Exposure to the more expanded New Mexico architectural horizon triggered a recognition of the palimpsest-like quality of the London landscape. ‘I’d never previously really appreciated the intense layering that’s been going on in London since pre-Roman times. It was only after I’d lived in Albuquerque that I understood how I’d been living inside this extreme compression of time and detail in London.’ With its folds and careful layering, The Universal Now is a photographic-sculptural rendering of this temporal compression. Reynolds has a collection of 300 or 400 London guidebooks that serve as her principal source material. ‘I use a lot of photographs from the Fifties because they are very well crafted. They were taken by serious photographers at a moment when photography was really doing well. Cameras were very good and people took it seriously as a documentary medium. From the Thirties on, a lot of documenting was happening because there was an awareness that London, and Britain in general, was irreparably changing and it needed to be photographed pretty quickly. So there’s an urgency and a formal clarity in those photographs that I’ve always liked. ‘I’ve always looked for photographs that are formally strong because otherwise I can’t cut them together. All of the photographs of London I use were taken by photographers working to a clear commercial brief to photograph the monuments in the accepted way or in a way that’s objective. They’re not meant to be very personal musings on St Paul’s but rather THE image of St Paul’s that people instantly recognize. So I’m looking for photographs where the photographers will have stood in the same place, where the camera lens will have been in the exact same spot in space. Then they’ve printed those images at the same scale.’ The self-effacing nature of the source photographers’ style is important. ‘The fact these photographs are not strongly authored is useful to me,’ Reynolds says. An image bearing the clear visual signature of an Avedon or Cartier-Bresson would interfere with her process. ‘It would be like there’s another person in the room. I feel I just have more space to fabulate with [more anonymous photographs].’ Reynolds’s working method is rigorously precise. ‘Imagine a chessboard. Now, if you cut all the black squares into an X – you slice them all straight across – and you fold out the flaps you would exactly cover all the white squares. If you do that to two chessboards and merge them, you could have an entirely black chessboard, but if you folded the flaps the other way it would be entirely white. Both chessboards are present simultaneously.’ This simultaneity is key to the impact of The Universal Now. ‘In cutting and folding these images, I’m not privileging one moment over another because they’re both simultaneously present, and though as a viewer you can’t actually fold down the flaps, you can move in relation to the image and see what’s there, so in a way you are in two moments – your present moment of looking contains these two photographic moments. ‘Initially that can be quite confusing. You have to puzzle the folds out and work out what belongs to what, which really slows you down. For me that’s a way of prolonging the moment of looking, where you lose your sense of time. That’s why I want the works to be slow or puzzling – so that time expands a bit.’ Peter Pan 19+23+99 copy Take Peter Pan 1919 | 1999, 1923 | 1999 (2013), for instance. ‘The black and white images are taken from two editions of the same book. That’s why the page numbers differ, and the rounded-off corner is to the other side,’ Reynolds explains. ‘I returned to this image twice because I like the print very much. There’s something very strange about the tree in the background. It can’t be throwing that shadow to the side/in front of it, and there are two printing pops across the trunk like a ghost form. The grass that holds the statue does not seem to connect at all to this background, nor that to the right, which is carpeted in white flowers. It’s surely been worked on in the dark room pre-1919 very thoroughly by Mr Rischgitz [the photographer]. It feels redolent of the “faeries at the bottom of the garden” photographs from the 1900s, which is entirely suitable to Peter Pan. It might be that the photographer felt that the black column of the statue needed a black column continuing the tree ­– so there is a sense of doubling already in the original photographic print. The double/doppelgänger I extend in the cutting, which gives the viewer a shifting sense of the visible/invisible as different glimpses of Peter are offered in each part of the diptych. The cut form has three tiers because the original has three tiers – three lines of disconnected ‘ground’: grass, grass, shrubbery.’ Though her art practice is distinctly analogue, she describes her role in the language of the Digital Age. ‘I suppose I’m a content manager. It doesn’t interest me to take my own photographs. The focus for me is on a sort of recomposition. ‘We live in a world with enough stuff in it. I don’t feel like contributing to that pile of crap. I feel like sorting through the ruins and picking stuff up. I feel very akin to T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland, picking through the rubble and reconstructing. I usually work with narratives that I already pretty much subscribe to, but where I want those narratives to become larger. I don’t deface images, I resuscitate them. Or at least that’s my intention. ‘The craft of photography is on the way out. Our interest at the moment is in the fluidity of photographs, how quickly they can be passed around. But with that increased speed there’s the loss of a certain formal beauty or clarity that’s just inevitable. In the same way if you want an image to move quickly down through the internet, it gets compressed and is kind of junk-y when you get it down the other end. That’s just the way it is. The whole thing is under a lot of pressure at the moment. I’m working on that closing margin of these ways of representing.’ Article taken from Elephant magazine, winter 2015. All images © Abigail Reynolds. http://www.abigailreynolds.com

The Campaign for East Midlands Independence Starts Here

16 Sep

20 Reasons Why Nottingham Might Just Be the Best City in the UK

14 Sep

Who can resist the eccentric allure of the Queen of the Midlands?

1) Booze
Nottingham takes its drinking seriously. You can tell because a lot of the local hostelries – the Bell Inn, Ye Olde Salutation Inn – claim the distinction of great age. Nestling beneath the castle, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is said to date from 1189, the year Nottingham-loving monarch Richard the Lionheart ascended the throne. Legend has it that when old King Dickie announced his intention to lead a crusade against the Saracens, his followers had a swift one at the inn before setting off on their journey to Jerusalem: hence the name. No wonder Boots the Chemist set up shop here – there’s always been a high demand for aspirin and paracetamol to steady the raging hangovers.

2) Swearing
It was somewhere in the wilds of north Notts that Lady Chatterley’s gamekeeper Mellors first told Connie she had a nice tail and threaded her pubic hair with forget-me-nots, and it was on Waverley Mount above the Forest Recreation Park that the creator of that saucy pair went to school and practised the wide array of four-letter words that would later pepper his infamous Dirty Book. As living Nottingham legend James Walker recently explained on Radio 3: ‘Let’s not forget that we’re home to England’s favourite potty mouth, D.H. Lawrence. The acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial of 1960 would pave the way for greater freedom of expression for us all. A Nottingham man made it possible for everyone to swear more freely.’ Hurrah!

3) Snot
Witty, fun-loving Vikings originally named the city ‘Snottingham’ in honour of local chieftain Snot. Happily, over time the initial ‘S’ was dropped, although blowing your nose is still regarded as an act of ancestor worship in Nottingham. In more recent times, the city has been no less unglamorously known to millions as ‘Dottingham’, the go-to railway destination for all cold-sufferers thanks to a (Snot-related) TV ad for Tunes cough sweets; it’s now also widely referred to as ‘Shottingham’ owing to the high level of gun crime. Still, we shouldn’t worry – Manchester derives its name from the Latin word Mamucium, which means ‘Tit Hill’.

4) Ducks
There are more ducks in Nottingham than in any other town or city in the UK – fact. That’s not because of the unusually large number of mallards that flock to the Market Square in spring (although that’s a factor, obviously) but because – anthropologists note – the human locals consider themselves to be ducks. As a consequence of this curious mass delusion, the phrase ‘Ey up, mi duck’ can be heard echoing around the city as young and old greet one another of a morning.

5) Geese
So there are a lot of ducks in Nottingham. There also used to be a lot of geese, which is how Goose Fair, the city’s annual fun fair, got its name: thousands of the birds, their feet coated with tar and sand to help them survive the journey, were brought over from Lincolnshire and Norfolk to be sold at the fair. First held in around 1284, Goose Fair used to be all about food; nowadays it’s all about terrifying high-tech rides that make your head spin and stomach churn.

6) A City of Rebels…
The award-winning Galleries of Justice Museum characterises Nottingham as a ‘rebel city’, and it’s a title the city well merits. From Robin Hood – ‘For he was a good outlaw, / And did poor men much good’ – and Lord Byron to Luddite leader Ned Ludd and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’s Arthur Seaton, the city has nurtured a long line of anti-establishment folk heroes.

7) … And (Cheese) Rioters
When the citizens of Nottingham rebel, they like to do it with a spot of humour: take the Cheese Riots in the 1760s, for instance, when discontented locals bowled the overpriced produce, conveniently supplied in wheel-like units, down the hills leading out of the market place. The mayor, protesting against the rioters, is said to have been knocked off his feet by one of the cheesy missiles and to have landed, with severe consequences for his dignity, in the mud of Wheeler Gate.

8) A City of Cave-dwellers
Nottingham folk are hyper-sophisticated but, historically, they’ve had a bit of a thing about living in caves. That’s largely because the city is built on a soft sandstone ridge which can easily be dug out to provide rudimentary subterranean dwellings for the financially challenged. ‘If a man is poor he has only to go to Nottingham with a matlock, a shovel, a crow, an iron, a chisel or a mallet, and with such instruments he may play mole and work himself a hole or burrow for his family,’ observed one nineteenth-century commentator. Asser, Bishop of Sherborne, even called Nottingham ‘Tigguo Cobauc’ (Place of Caves) in his ninth-century biography of Alfred the Great.

9) The Land of the Free
The idea of the USA was first cooked up in and around Nottingham by a group of religious Separatists who would eventually set sail for America on the Mayflower. The Pilgrim Fathers bequeathed several important legacies to the modern US, beginning with the ‘Mayflower Compact’. As President John Quincy Adams would later claim, the Compact was the foundation stone of the 1787 US Constitution, perhaps the most influential document ever enacted in the name of ‘the people’. So you could say Nottingham – the City of the Free – invented the Land of the Free.

10) A Land of Superheroes
That being the case, it’s only natural that the eccentric residents of Gotham, a village just to the south of Nottingham, should have given their name to the home city of Batman. The Notts village became immortalised as the setting for the adventures of the DC Comics superhero after Washington Irving (author of ‘Rip Van Winkle’) referred to New York as Gotham in 1807. It’s not clear that this was intended as a compliment: thanks to their efforts to dodge paying to have a highway built during the reign of King John, Nottinghamshire’s Gothamites had become legendary for their folly, even if they were only pretending to be stupid.

11) Ice Dancing
She was a humble insurance clerk, he was a common-or-garden copper, but together the Nottingham pair of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were destined to ice-dance their way into the record books when they received 12 perfect 6.0 scores for their ‘Bolero’ routine at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984. A gold medal and a place in the nation’s hearts followed. Today Nottingham is home to the National Ice Centre, which is housed – where else? – on Bolero Square.

12) Breakdancing
You may think that the original B-boys and B-girls learned to bust their moves on the mean streets on New York City – and if you did think that, you’d be right. But the specifically British break scene was centred on Nottingham, which played host to the celebrated Rock City Saturday afternoon jams in the early 1980s. Visiting B-boys included Goldie and Jason Orange – though Nottingham is in no way to blame for Take That. See the documentary film NG83 for further information.

13) Nonconformism (Religious)
Nottingham has been home to a long line of religious radicals. Chief among them in the nineteenth century was William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. Booth was a notable equal-opportunities employer, an idea to which Booth gave memorable verbal form when he exclaimed: ‘My best men are women!’ Indeed, Booth’s heady strain of classic Nottingham eccentricity was his greatest spiritual weapon: one survey estimated that on a particular weeknight the Salvation Army attracted 17,000 worshippers while the Church of England got only 11,000 through its doors.

14) Nonconformism (Sporting)
In May 1930 the whole of the Notts cricket team took to the field in lounge suits on the final day of their match against Hampshire. The previous day’s play had ended with the Southern side requiring just a single run for victory. The Notts captain, Arthur Carr, didn’t think it was worth his men’s trouble to put on their whites the following morning. Opening bowler Bill Voce even wore an overcoat. His second ball yielded the necessary runs.

15) It’s Just Not Cricket
They say Australians are tough, but Nottingham folk are tougher still. It was the efforts of two Notts fast bowlers, Bill Voce and Harold Larwood, that caused the MCC to dismiss the Aussies as squealers in the wake of the infamous Bodyline tour Down Under in 1932–33. Voce and Larwood caused uproar when they employed so-called ‘fast-leg theory’, bowling at the batsmen’s leg stump and getting the ball to rise into their ribs. The strategy worked so well that it nearly caused a riot in the Third Test at Adelaide. And it wasn’t going to be a cheese riot either.

16) The Nation’s Best-Dressed
Nottingham was once the centre of the global lace industry and hence home to a huge female workforce, which perhaps explains the modern myth that there are four women to every man in the city (the city is consequently very popular for stag nights). It’s also where local boy Paul Smith began his illustrious fashion career. No wonder Nottingham folk are so much better dressed than everyone else.

17) Footballing Genius (1)
Which means Brian Clough, obviously. As manager of Nottingham Forest, Ol’ Big ’Ead won the league in 1978, then brought the European Cup to the City Ground the following year, and again in 1980. There’s also the matter of his celebrated bons mots. ‘We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right’ was how he once explained his manner of dealing with team members who questioned his tactics. And then there’s that sign he had placed in front of the Trent End. It read: ‘Gentlemen, No Swearing Please – Brian.’ The famously foul-mouthed Trent Enders got the point – and the joke. Afterwards away supporters were routinely greeted with chants of ‘You’re gonna get your flipping head kicked in’. Still an unpleasant sentiment, clearly, but so much more family-friendly in this form.

18) Come On Down!
Nottingham gave the nation some of its best – or at least its most popular – lines in the 1980s. Who can fail to be moved by the memory of local boy Leslie Crowther inviting lucky audience members on to the stage with the words ‘Come on down!’ in the classic ITV gameshow The Price Is Right? The prizes were rotten, of course, but what lovely good clean fun it all was. Not at all like the smut they serve up nowadays. Note that Su Pollard – famous for uttering that other immortal 80s catchphrase, ‘Hi-de-hi!’ – likewise hails from Nottingham. Roy Skelton, who voiced both Zippy AND George in the children’s show Rainbow, grew up here too. There must be something in the water.

19) Footballing Genius (2)
Not far from the City Ground, a second football stadium, Meadow Lane, hosts the oldest professional team in the country, Notts County. Now, County may not be particularly good at the game but that’s not the point – they’ve been not very good at it for longer than anyone else. That’s distinction, if you like. Nottingham also has a third team: AC Milan, created by homesick Nottingham lacemaker Herbert Kilpin in Italy in 1899. Which, if you think about it, means that, between them, Nottingham clubs have won the European Cup/Champions League NINE times. Match that, bloated footballing ‘giants’ of the English North!

20) Bigger, Taller, Longer: Simply the Best
Nottingham’s vast Market Square is the largest (about 22,000 m²) in the country. Until recently, the city was also home to the tallest freestanding work of art in the UK, Ken Shuttleworth’s Aspire, a red and orange steel sculpture that rises 60 metres into the air above the Jubilee Campus of the University of Nottingham. A Nottingham writer – Philip James Bailey – also wrote what is sometimes rumoured to be the longest poem in the English language, Festus. The stats say it all: Nottingham bigger, taller, longer and simply BETTER than the rest.