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My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.
On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The welcome return of Kevin Ayers.
Long-time readers of this blog will already know of the special place in my heart that is reserved for the music of Kevin Ayers, whose work I have been consistently enjoying over the past 32 years - even though he hasn't actually released any original new material for the past 15 of those years.
Until now, that is. The expression "stunning return to form" is possibly the most over-used and debased in all of popular music journalism (particularly with reference to every successive release by Prince since, ooh, Diamonds and Pearls or thereabouts), but Ayers' sparkling new comeback album The Unfairground, if not exactly a "stunning" return (for "stunning" is not really his stock in trade), is certainly delightful, welcome, and wholly unexpected. Having lived with the album for nearly a month now, it is also, in my sober assessment, easily his best work since Yes, We Have No Mananas in 1976 - and that's me being cautious.
What makes The Unfairground succeed where other latter-day releases have fallen short is this: for once, Ayers doesn't sound as if he has let the hired hands walk all over him. As with the best of his 1970s solo work, he is once again surrounded by a gifted bunch of collaborators, who sound in tune with his ethos and both willing and able to do his songs the justice which they deserve. This sense of collaboration, commitment and sheer enjoyment permeates the whole album.
And what collaborators! Here we will find old friends such as Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and the long-lost Bridget St. John working alongside younger admirers such as Euros Childs (whom I saw last night - see below), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Candie Payne, and members of Architecture In Helsinki, Ladybug Transistor, Of Montreal, Noonday Underground, Trashcan Sinatras and others.
Here's a track from the new album (featuring Euros Childs, Norman Blake and Bridget St. John on backing vocals, along with the string section from the Tucson Philharmonia), which was sent to me by Kevin's manager (Tim Shepard, who also drew the cover art pictured above) for the express purpose of making it available on this blog. Hope you like it.
Walk on Water - Kevin Ayers.
(Order The Unfairground from Amazon UK / Amazon US)
A quick word in support of the long-awaited Joy Divsion biopic Control, as I was lucky enough to attend a press screening for it earlier today down at the Broadway Cinema, in advance of its "gala screening" this evening.
Joy Division might have been a Manchester band, but there's a strong Nottingham link to the movie; lead actress Samantha Morton was born and bred here, a large chunk of the funding came from the East Midlands, and most of the film was shot in the city. The concert scenes were filmed inside the Ballroom of the Marcus Garvey Centre, with crowd extras recruited from the message boards of LeftLion magazine; the Derby Road council flats behind the Savoy Cinema are easily recognisable; and the supposedly Mancunian kids in the opening scene have suspiciously local accents.
The film marks the directorial debut of rock photographer Anton Corbijn, perhaps best known for his work with U2 and Depeche Mode, who also worked with Joy Division in the late 1970s, helping to define their oh-God-I-hate-using-this-word iconic (bleurgh) image. Not surprsingly, the visual aesthetic is closely aligned with Corbijn's signature style, all monochrome austerity and pared down moodiness. As such, it's completely in line with the band's existing iconography - almost to the degree of being an extension of their brand, were I minded to be cynical.
Which, to my relief, and despite niggling early doubts (with every shot exquisitely composed, was the art direction in danger of drowning in its own sumptuous "perfection"?), I'm not. For the tightly controlled visual aesthetic actually serves to preserve the band's mystique, even as the drama seeks to examine the circumstances which led to singer Ian Curtis's suicide, aged 23, in May 1980. Or, as I put it on Twitter earlier today, on my way back from the cinema, the film "illuminates the story without puncturing the legend". It's a tricky line to walk, and some slightly clunky initial wobbles notwithstanding (or maybe it's simply impossible not to giggle at the first sight of the earnest young actors playing Barney and Hooky, and at the sight of "Tony Wilson" in a daft wig), the balance is admirably struck.
(Thus, to give one example, you gain an almost literal insight as to how Curtis's emotional state inspired the lyrics of Love Will Tear Us Apart, without running the risk of permanently devaluing the personal experience that you might get from the song.)
Ah yes: Tony Wilson, whose serious illness was well known amongst the cast and crew, and whose death less than two months ago casts an extra shadow over what was already a distinctly murky drama. His character provides a couple of the film's rare comedic moments - the lack of which was also noted, with some measure of disappointment, by Curtis's widow Deborah (darned if I can find the source, but this article by their now grown-up daughter Natalie provides some fascinating background). Control thus becomes something of a dual memorial, as well as making some of the links between Ian Curtis's and Kurt Cobain's respective states of suicidal despair all the more explicit (I'm thinking of one concert scene in particular, which shows Curtis no longer able to control the widening gap between what his audience expects and what he is capable of providing).
Highly recommended. Go see.
Euros Childs, Nottingham Bodega Social Club, Tuesday October 2nd.
(An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.)
Since the break-up of Welsh indie-pop stalwarts Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci in Spring 2006, lead singer Euros Childs has thrown himself into his solo career, with a rare vigour that sits at odds with his laidback, dishevelled anti-image. Remarkably, he has managed to release three albums in the space of just eighteen months, whilst also finding time to contribute to the splendid comeback album by his musical hero Kevin Ayers.
The new material is a natural progression from the richly melodic, gently understated pastoralism that defined the Gorkys sound. Alternately romantic, whimsical and wry, the tight, traditionally constructed songs rarely reach out and grab you. Instead, they creep up from behind, charming you by stealth.
Last night’s set focussed on the most recent album The Miracle Inn, with the rollickingly catchy recent single Horse Riding setting the good-natured mood and the older Dawnsio Dros Y Môr keeping the Welsh contingent smiling. While most songs hovered around the three minute mark, the album’s title track – an ambitious sixteen-minute song cycle, during which we were politely asked not to applaud – inevitably stood out as a highlight, as did a crunching version of The Sweet’s (and Tony Blackburn’s) endearingly ridiculous glam-pop oddity Chop Chop.