Friday, 29 June 2007

Glasto - The Awards!

Whew! I’ve just completed the marathon task of watching all 12 hours or so of recorded Glastonbury highlights (thanks BBC) and have to say that, as usual, what a thoroughly enjoyable experience it was. The more so that I didn’t actually have to be there!

So. After much deliberation, five minutes at least, I am now ready to give out my awards to the best three acts – bearing in mind the limitations of only having seen those that were televised – in the customary reverse order.

In third place are the Killers, who I thought looked like a genuinely capable headline band this year, unlike the Arctic Monkeys, whom I really don’t get and the Who, who are just too familiar. Sounding a touch U2ish at times the Las Vegas outfit were melodic and dramatic in the best stadium rock tradition. Fabulous. Just as well I’m not an Elk lover!

In second place are the bizarre Brazilians, CSS who were thoroughly entertaining and bonkers in equal order. Who’d have thought that lycra catsuits were back in fashion? Oh…they’re not. In a strange way, this lot put me in mind of The Fall with their relentlessly patchworked rhythms and scattergun vocals – I’d like them to do a cover of Slang King or Pat Trip Dispenser just to test this assertion. I dare say I’ll get a load of comments from grim northerners telling me they’re nothing like them now. So moving swiftly on…

And in first place is the truly mesmerising duo of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the Flamenco Heavy Metal guitarists. Until you have seen these two you just cannot conceive of how two acoustic guitars can produce the dynamics and gut wrenching excitement of Thrash Metal. And not a Marshall stack in sight. A bit of a cheek to get the audience to sing ‘Wish you were here’ all by themselves – how do they remember the words, do you have to learn them beforehand on the off chance or do you get handed a lyric sheet at the gate? Anyway, amazing stuff from the Irish Mexicans and I shall be investigating their CDs in the not too distant future.

Of the rest, Bjork was her usual fascinating self (loved the horn section) and the Pigeon Detectives kept me amused for at least a couple of songs – a rarity these days. Lily Allen was sweet and John Fogerty reminded us all how to write songs. Babyshambles were just that and I found Iggy Pop a shade disappointing. Is it me getting old or can’t new bands write melodies anymore? OK, it’s me. But really – they can’t. I can’t stand Paul Weller, but his set was bursting with great melodies, yet most other bright young things were monotone in the extreme (Killers excepted). Come on guys!

But frankly there’s nothing quite like live, as opposed to recorded, music. The highs are higher and the lows cannot be disguised by an MTV makeover. Who’s on next year?

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Wham! It's the Other One!

You know, it could have been so different. With the undoubted benefit of hindsight, it is all too obvious where I went wrong in the 1980s. It has nothing to do with not wearing power suits or big hair, although this may have helped. Nor has it to do with not being a stockbroker or investment banker. I should have been a Silent Partner.

Think about it. One of the more popular configurations for the 80s pop star was the duo as essayed by the likes of Yazoo, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, Soft Cell and the rest, including, of course, Wham! What all these duos had in common was that they comprised a seemingly talented front man/woman who hogged the limelight and generally beguiled the public into thinking that they were the driving force and general trouser-wearing half of the partnership… and the Other One. But together they succeeded where one might not have.

And it is the post of Other One that should have attracted me as it seemed that the job basically entailed skulking around in the background playing two-finger keyboards or strumming a guitar and scowling, something that I reckon I could handle, whilst picking up a huge pay-packet at regular intervals.

But I then the downside kicks in, because anybody with half a brain would twig that the Other One in both Yazoo and Erasure was one Vince Clark. And in Eurythmics it was Dave Stewart and so on and what all these people have in common is that they are darn good songwriters. Damn! This Other One job looks harder than I thought.

Until you look at Wham! Surely the Andrew Ridgeley role would be more suitable? You know, lounging around hotel swimming pools and crashing racing cars. But even then, there’s that nagging suspicion that perhaps all is not as it seems. Careful investigation of George Michael’s post Wham! Career reveals a worryingly downward trend when it comes to quality of product and a veritable wealth of personal trouble to boot.

Perhaps the Other One’s role here was more catalytic than first imagined. In any event, it looks like there may have been a lack of Other One vacancies available at the requisite time as it clearly required a certain aptitude.

Oh well. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea after all. Sigh!

Monday, 11 June 2007

The Brave, the Bold...and Kirsty MacColl

To diversify or not to diversify, that is the question. It is a question that haunts not just successful businesses, but successful pop stars as well. Once a winning formula has been found there is always the temptation to repeat it ad infinitum until your adoring public has had enough and skulks off to do something else.

There are those that discover that elusive formula quite early on and make a whole career out of it, like Oasis or, dare I mention them, Status Quo but the reason for such doggedness is generally a large financial return so who’s arguing? Then there are those that get bored with the formula and try something else. These are the risk takers; the ones that seek to gain not only monetary reward but also that most elusive attribute: artistic recognition. Of course, as with all risky ventures, you tend to win some and lose others – Tin Machine, anyone?

The reason why I am ruminating on the subject of diversity is that I have just bought a CD of the best of Kirsty MacColl and the first thing that strikes you about its contents is the sheer range of styles on display. In a career spanning some twenty odd years before her tragically early death in 2000, we are treated to songs in virtually every style imaginable. Pop, country and western, folk, dance and latin are all covered with varying degrees of success. She is also extremely adept at covering others’ material as her reinterpretations of Billy Bragg’s ‘New England’ and the Kinks’ ‘Days’ attest. It is always the sign of a strong character that artists can make others’ songs their own.

But a propensity to diversity is an unpredictable trait and although her biting wit is apparent in virtually every song, there is definitely a hit-or-miss quality to the collection. In other words, some work brilliantly and others are average at best and dire at worst.

But I can live with all this because the highs are very high indeed and the remainder justifies the reason why ipod playlists were invented. There is something heroic about those that go out on a limb and try a different style in the face of potential public desertion that deserves our support. True, not everything works to plan but there is always the chance that a gleaming nugget will emerge to brighten our world. Funnily enough, many of my most cherished albums are not ones that are consistently good all the way through, but have a reasonable number of real crackers of tracks amongst the also-rans. In the days of vinyl, these were difficult albums to play but in the age of the skip button, they have made a comeback.

I never imagined that I would welcome Latin American into popular music but then I’d never heard ‘In These Shoes’. It is the brave and the bold that show us what might be. Rest in peace, Kirsty.