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Archive for November, 2009

Smash Hits used to be cutting edge, including a free condom for each reader.

Let me take you back to your childhood (cue horrendous memories of shellsuits, Michael Barrymore, novelty board games and – if you’re lucky – images of the twins from Pat Sharp’s Fun House). Chances are that Sunday nights meant sitting in your room with a shitty tape recorder listening to the top 40, index finger cocked, ready to punch record when your favourite song was played. If not, you must have been one of those losers who watched Heartbeart, which attracts an even greater level of social stigma. While sounding easy enough, taping tracks from the radio was a tricky business and the success or otherwise of each Sunday night depended on a keen appreciation of timing, and a good element of chance. More often than not, panic would set in and I would press record too early, thereby taping ten seconds of jingles and high octane introductions, before getting to the goods. If done while the countdown was still in the thirties, the pressure would build for the rest of the show and by the time I was in the top five, I’d be a nervous wreck, pressing multiple buttons every few seconds with no concept or understanding of what the hell I was trying to achieve.

This nostalgic trip down memory lane was prompted by Sting’s recent verbal barrage against reality TV juggernaut, The X Factor. In some shameless PR rant to coincide with the release of yet another piss-poor album, the tantric shagger branded The X Factor “a preposterous show” that has “put music back decades.” While he was right on many levels (and simply repeating what any half-intelligent being already knew), Sting’s claim that The X Factor has put music back decades was intriguing, as it implied that popular music was once in rude health. My gut reaction was to think that the charts in my time were pretty good; however a sustained period of recollection allied with some research informed me otherwise.

Below is a list with video links to some of the most shameful singles of all time, largely derived from my youth, and also from more recent times. I’ve deliberately stayed away from some of the more obvious choices, for example La Macarena, the Crazy Frog, anything by Meatloaf/Bryan Adams, as mere references to those songs/”artists” bring me out in a cold sweat.

10. Blazin’ Squad – Flip Reverse

For those unfamiliar with this seminal UK band, Blazin’ Squad (we’re dropping the ‘g’ ‘cos we’re FUCKING hard) were a collection of ugly, horny chavs who sung about shagging. Key to their appeal was hair product, derivative crutch-grabbing and over-sized T-shirts. Against all odds and despite widespread derision, they sold some records including the horrific Flip Reverse, before one of them appeared on Big Brother and lived out his life’s ambition – shagging Jodie Marsh.

9. Scatman John – Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)

Imagine a world where the only things that exist are you, Scatman John, a desert island, a CD player and a copy of the Scatman. To make things worse, let’s assume that you accidentally killed Scatman John’s wife in a fishing accident, so he doesn’t like you very much. Overtaken by rage, Scatman John decides that he’s going to torture you. Rather than conventional torture, the wily Scatman adopts a long game and ties you to the only tree on the island, puts the Scatman on loop and leaves it tantalisingly close, but ultimately away from your feet, forcing you to listen to this utter cack until you draw your last breath.

8 Lisa Maffia – All Over

The self-named “First Lady of garage” and So Solid Crew member managed to creep into the top 15 with this tale of Crystal popping club action, featuring the extraordinary lyrics “if you no cook you get no dinner” (what about restaurants?) and “ladies in the club shake your booty like dice” (is it possible to dislocate your own buttocks?). The video remains one of the most amusing things I’ve ever seen, largely because of the joker with the Burberry visor who screams “tiiiiiight!” and “diiiiiiice!” at the chorus, and the little kid at 3:58 who dances like an out-of-control epileptic. Gold.

7. The Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe

Words fail to do justice to this musical aberration, where a bunch of pissed hicks bang some drums, massacre a violin and sing the same two lines over and over again. It transpires from a bit of internet research that “The Rednex” were in fact a Swedish techno band (featuring a member called “Ace Ratclaw”), which makes one wonder how such a racist piece of work ever got into production. This view is compounded by the video, which features long-haired peasants with no teeth, a bird in a bikini riding a motorised bull and a wooden sign saying “horses outside”. Most alarmingly, the band is still going, with an eagerly anticipated new album – Saturday Night Beaver – due for imminent release in no stores near you. If you’re blind deaf and dumb and like Cotton Eye Joe, have a listen to their follow-up, Old Pop In An Oak, which doesn’t feature drums or a violin and definitely doesn’t sound anything like Cotton Eye Joe. Honest.

6. Romeo Dunn feat. Christina Milian – Its All Gravy

The second UK garage sensaaaaaation on the list. Like Ms Maffia, Romeo Dunn is So Solid Crew alumni, spitting one of my favourite comedy lyrics (“two multiplied by ten plus one, Romeo Dunn”) in breakthrough song 21 Seconds. While 21 Seconds was fresh and not unpleasurable, this duet with American grinder Christiana Milian is unadulterated toilet; the kind of depressing by-numbers R&B fodder that populated MTV and the airwaves at the start of the millennium. When I first heard the title, I thought the song was a ripping yarn about Romeo’s failure to buy chicken for a Sunday roast. Having read the nonsensical lyrics, it still could be. The video sees Romeo wearing a ghastly array of jackets before resorting to type and getting his six pack out. According to Wiki, Romeo’s second album, announced for release in 2008 “has not materialised”. Shame.

5. Outhere Brothers – Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)

I remember buying the “explicit lyrics” version of this song from Woolworths (wipe away nostalgic tear) and listening in my room, with rampant disappointment, as my mother baked cakes in the kitchen, unknowing of the filth – lyrical and musical – that was corrupting my eardrums. The song starts off promisingly, but then goes dramatically downhill when you realise that there is no discernable difference between the beginning, middle and end, however the bit when the singer hurriedly says, “wiggle wiggle”, as if he’s overdosed on helium and being sexually assaulted by Dawn French , moderately amuses. Subsequent releases included the ludicrously titled and equally horrific, “Pass The Toilet Paper ’98”. Needless to say, it didn’t trouble the charts.

4. Whigfield – Saturday Night

I love the comments posted on YouTube videos. One of my favourites can be found on the link to this barrel-scraping slice of Euro-trash, which simply says, “I’d fuck Whigfield.” No musical appraisal, just a primal cry from a lone wolf surfing the net for semi-attractive nineties idols to add to the wank bank. Bleak. My loathing for this song dates back to a school trip to Spain where we were forced to perform “the Whigfield dance” for no reason other than our teachers’ sadistic sense of humour. The dance itself was a routine number involving much thigh-slapping, a few hand claps and some pelvic thrusts. Such was the trauma caused by this event, even the passing of a wig shop fifteen years later is enough to trigger an involuntarily bout of air shagging.

3. Michael Jackson – Earth Song

“What about elephants, have we lost their trust?” posses philosopher Wacko in this tawdry, never-ending eco-ballad, singularly responsible for the ubiquity of the key change in modern pop music. Personally, I struggle to recall the good old days when my elephant friend used to come up to me in the pub, gently rest his trunk on my shoulder and say, “thanks for babysitting last night, it’s great to have someone in the neighbourhood whom we can trust; fancy a leg of darts?” but then again neither did I have a pet monkey called Bubbles and a snake called Muscles. Check out the HOO HOO extravaganza at 5:34.

2. Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

Previously unheard extract from “the making of the X-Factor” – “Ok, guys, we’ve hit the jackpot here. Check out the working class family in the lobby sat behind Dermot. I’ve just spoken with the father and his wife died last week after being eaten by a badger. He was just about ready to blub but I told him to save it until the cameras were rolling.” Everyone leans forward while the researcher looks smug. “But it gets better. The youngest son has one leg, masturbates to Countryfile and thinks he’s Barry Chuckle, while the singing daughter is a mute who only ever speaks when she sings.” “This is gold, people, fucking gold,” says the head producer, “Lisa, get the Snow Patrol CD out of the car; this is gonna last three ad breaks.”

1. Black Eyed Peas – My Humps

After staring at the screen for nigh-on half an hour, unable to articulate the bowel-retching horror of this piece of musical leprosy, I’ve devised the below formula to do the job for me. Simply pick one option from Sections A and B and insert in the gap which appears in following sentence, “I’d rather [A+B] than be forced to listen to this shit.”

Section A Section B
   
Play twister with Fred West
Stick my genitals in Pat Butcher
Tell a bed time story to Mr Motivator
Go to work dressed as Louis Walsh
Stroke and cuddle Keith Chegwin
Go out on the piss with The Krankies
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5 Outhere Brothers – Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)

I remember buying the “explicit lyrics” version of this song from Woolworths (wipe away nostalgic tear) and listening in my room, with rampant disappointment, as my mother baked cakes in the kitchen, unknowing of the filth – lyrical and musical – that was corrupting my eardrums. The song starts off promisingly, but then goes dramatically downhill when you realise that there is no discernable difference between the beginning, middle and end, however the bit when the singer hurriedly says, “wiggle wiggle”, as if he’s overdosed on helium and being sexually assaulted by Dawn French , moderately amuses. Subsequent releases included the ludicrously titled and equally horrific, “Pass The Toilet Paper ’98”. Needless to say, it didn’t trouble the charts.

4 Whigfield – Saturday Night

I love the comments posted on YouTube videos. One of my favourites can be found on the link to this barrel-scraping slice of Euro-trash, which simply says, “I’d fuck Whigfield.” No musical appraisal, just a primal cry from a lone wolf surfing the net for semi-attractive nineties idols to add to the wank bank. Bleak. My loathing for this song dates back to a school trip to Spain where we were forced to perform “the Whigfield dance” for no reason other than our teachers’ sadistic sense of humour. The dance itself was a routine number involving much thigh-slapping, a few hand claps and some pelvic thrusts. Such was the trauma caused by this event, even the passing of a wig shop fifteen years later is enough to trigger an involuntarily bout of air shagging.

3 Michael Jackson – Earth Song

“What about elephants, have we lost their trust?” posses philosopher Wacko in this tawdry, never-ending eco-ballad, singularly responsible for the ubiquity of the key change in modern pop music. Personally, I struggle to recall the good old days when my elephant friend used to come up to me in the pub, gently rest his trunk on my shoulder and say, “thanks for babysitting last night, it’s great to have someone in the neighbourhood whom we can trust; fancy a leg of darts?” but then again neither did I have a pet monkey called Bubbles and a snake called Muscles. Check out the HOO HOO extravaganza at 5:34.

2 Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

Previously unheard extract from “the making of the X-Factor” – “Ok, guys, we’ve hit the jackpot here. Check out the working class family in the lobby sat behind Dermot. I’ve just spoken with the father and his wife died last week after being eaten by a badger. He was just about ready to blub but I told him to save it until the cameras were rolling.” Everyone leans forward while the researcher looks smug. “But it gets better. The youngest son has one leg, masturbates to Countryfile and thinks he’s Barry Chuckle, while the singing daughter is a mute who only ever speaks when she sings.” “This is gold, people, fucking gold,” says the head producer, “Lisa, get the Snow Patrol CD out of the car; this is gonna last three ad breaks.”

1 Black Eyed Peas – My Humps

After staring at the screen for nigh-on half an hour, unable to articulate the bowel-retching horror of this piece of musical leprosy, I’ve devised the below formula to do the job for me. Simply pick one option from Sections A and B and insert in the gap which appears in following sentence, “I’d rather [A+B] than be forced to listen to this shit.”

Section A Section B
   
Play twister with Fred West
Stick my genitals in Pat Butcher
Tell a bed time story to Mr Motivator
Go to work dressed as Louis Walsh
Stroke and cuddle Keith Chegwin
Go out on the piss with The Krankies

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Smash Hits

Smash Hits used to be cutting-edge, including a free condom with each edition

Let me take you back to your childhood (cue horrendous memories of shellsuits, Michael Barrymore, novelty board games and – if you’re lucky – images of the twins from Pat Sharp’s Fun House). Chances are that Sunday nights meant sitting in your room with a shitty tape recorder listening to the top 40, index finger cocked, ready to punch record when your favourite song was played. If not, you must have been one of those losers who watched Heartbeart, which attracts an even greater level of social stigma. While sounding easy enough, taping tracks from the radio was a tricky business and the success or otherwise of each Sunday night depended on a keen appreciation of timing, and a good element of chance. More often than not, panic would set in and I would press record too early, thereby taping ten seconds of jingles and high octane introductions, before getting to the goods. If done while the countdown was still in the thirties, the pressure would build for the rest of the show and by the time I was in the top five, I’d be a nervous wreck, pressing multiple buttons every few seconds with no concept or understanding of what the hell I was trying to achieve.

This nostalgic trip down memory lane was prompted by Sting’s recent verbal barrage against reality TV juggernaut, The X Factor. In some shameless PR rant to coincide with the release of yet another piss-poor album, the tantric shagger branded The X Factor “a preposterous show” that has “put music back decades.” While he was right on many levels (and simply repeating what any half-intelligent being already knew), Sting’s claim that The X Factor has put music back decades was intriguing, as it implied that popular music was once in rude health. My gut reaction was to think that the charts in my time were pretty good; however a sustained period of recollection allied with some research informed me otherwise.

Below is a list with video links to some of the most shameful singles of all time, largely derived from my youth, and also from more recent times. I’ve deliberately stayed away from some of the more obvious choices, for example La Macarena, the Crazy Frog, anything by Meatloaf/Bryan Adams, as mere references to those songs/”artists” bring me out in a cold sweat.

10. Blazin’ Squad – Flip Reverse

For those unfamiliar with this seminal UK band, Blazin’ Squad (we’re dropping the ‘g’ ‘cos we’re FUCKING hard) were a collection of ugly, horny chavs who sung about shagging. Key to their appeal was hair product, derivative crutch-grabbing and over-sized T-shirts. Against all odds and despite widespread derision, they sold some records including the horrific Flip Reverse, before one of them appeared on Big Brother and lived out his life’s ambition – shagging Jodie Marsh.

9. Scatman John – Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)

Imagine a world where the only things that exist are you, Scatman John, a desert island, a CD player and a copy of the Scatman. To make things worse, let’s assume that you accidentally killed Scatman John’s wife in a fishing accident, so he doesn’t like you very much. Overtaken by rage, Scatman John decides that he’s going to torture you. Rather than conventional torture, the wily Scatman adopts a long game and ties you to the only tree on the island, puts the Scatman on loop and leaves it tantalisingly close, but ultimately away from your feet, forcing you to listen to this utter cack until you draw your last breath.

8 Lisa Maffia – All Over

The self-named “First Lady of garage” and So Solid Crew member managed to creep into the top 15 with this tale of Crystal popping club action, featuring the extraordinary lyrics “if you no cook you get no dinner” (what about restaurants?) and “ladies in the club shake your booty like dice” (is it possible to dislocate your own buttocks?). The video remains one of the most amusing things I’ve ever seen, largely because of the joker with the Burberry visor who screams “tiiiiiight!” and “diiiiiiice!” at the chorus, and the little kid at 3:58 who dances like an out-of-control epileptic. Gold.

7. The Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe

Words fail to do justice to this musical aberration, where a bunch of pissed hicks bang some drums, massacre a violin and sing the same two lines over and over again. It transpires from a bit of internet research that “The Rednex” were in fact a Swedish techno band (featuring a member called “Ace Ratclaw”), which makes one wonder how such a racist piece of work ever got into production. This view is compounded by the video, which features long-haired peasants with no teeth, a bird in a bikini riding a motorised bull and a wooden sign saying “horses outside”. Most alarmingly, the band is still going, with an eagerly anticipated new album – Saturday Night Beaver – due for imminent release in no stores near you. If you’re blind deaf and dumb and like Cotton Eye Joe, have a listen to their follow-up, Old Pop In An Oak, which doesn’t feature drums or a violin and definitely doesn’t sound anything like Cotton Eye Joe. Honest.

6. Romeo Dunn feat. Christina Milian – Its All Gravy

The second UK garage sensaaaaaation on the list. Like Ms Maffia, Romeo Dunn is So Solid Crew alumni, spitting one of my favourite comedy lyrics (“two multiplied by ten plus one, Romeo Dunn”) in breakthrough song 21 Seconds. While 21 Seconds was fresh and not unpleasurable, this duet with American grinder Christiana Milian is unadulterated toilet; the kind of depressing by-numbers R&B fodder that populated MTV and the airwaves at the start of the millennium. When I first heard the title, I thought the song was a ripping yarn about Romeo’s failure to buy chicken for a Sunday roast. Having read the nonsensical lyrics, it still could be. The video sees Romeo wearing a ghastly array of jackets before resorting to type and getting his six pack out. According to Wiki, Romeo’s second album, announced for release in 2008 “has not materialised”. Shame.

Part II to follow…

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Would you believe me if I said it was shaving foam?

Mrs. Gloop: [Augustus is covered in chocolate] Augustus, please don’t eat your fingers!

Augustus Gloop: [licks his fingers] But I taste so good!”

– Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.    

Ah, little Augustus, synonymous with children’s love for chocolate. I can still remember sitting in the back of my mother’s car, driving past the local sweet shop, and announcing that when I was old enough to earn money I would spend it all on Mars bars and nothing else, except maybe the odd Bounty (a criminally underrated item of chocolate). As I child, I used to love chocolate, perhaps only marginally less than championship manager, table tennis and pornography. How times change (except for the devotion to table tennis, of course).

In my ascent towards thirty, chocolate no longer has the appeal it once did; chocolate has been replaced by real ale, darts and second-hand books. Sure, I’ll tuck into a Cadbury’s Double Decker every once in a while, but rarely more than twice a month which seems ludicrous compared to the lustful times of my youth. However, last Friday I relapsed and gobbled a Double Decker at lunch, followed by a Crunchie from the work vending machine during the afternoon. As I opened the wrapping for each bar, I found myself doing something unusual – I studied the consistency. The Double Decker: half biscuit at the bottom, nougat at the top; the Crunchie: pure honeycomb, no other constituents save for a tawdry layer of chocolate. OK nothing wrong, per se, with the established combinations, but it got me thinking – what defines a chocolate bar?

In the evening that followed, myself and a colleague discussed the issue at length over an Indian and several pints of Kingfisher, trying to identify the characteristics that distinguished a chocolate bar from, say, a chocolate biscuit or chocolate wafer. Sparks flew, fists were nearly thrown and the following were identified. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t know how to party.

Size of the bar

To qualify as a chocolate bar, a rectangular size is essential. A Crème Egg will, of course, not cut it, although the recent Crème Egg bar will pass through security. Potential flies in ointment include a Toblerone with its knobbly pyramid top, but this is just a smoke screen as the object is clearly a rectangle. Other comestibles excluded from the club include Maltesers, Minstrels and M&M’s, which are best described as entry level chocolate, before the student moves onto the serious world of Bourborn, and Fruit and Nut.

Why will only a rectangle do? Well, consider the chocolates received at the end of an Indian meal: sugary, hint of orange, nasty taste in the mouth, proud gold trim wrapping, and always square – a chocolate every time, lacking as they do the phallic girth to qualify as a bar.

Another problem area is the recent introduction of “duel bars”, a shameless marketing rip-off aimed at duping the consumer into thinking they have two items of chocolate, when the combined duo is exactly the same size as an old-school single bar. In any event and while arguable whether one part of a duo bar would be considered a chocolate bar on its own terms, one has to consider the two as a whole, as that is the way they are sold – ergo, clearly a bar.

Content

Assuming the item delivers on size, the next stage is to review the substance. If the bar is encased with chocolate, the fat lady’s loosening her belt and ready to squeal; however, it at this point that problems arise.

Chocolate Biscuit – Take the example of a Club Bar – a staple morning break snack for children of a certain generation boasting a satisfying array of flavours including my personal favourites, orange and fruit (incidentally, type in ‘club biscuit flavours’ on Google and marvel at the level of description in some of the entries, one of which describes the current Club biscuit as “a shadow of its former self” with “the glamorous packaging, which lent itself to not one but two small origami dogs, now a cellophane sachet”). Despite formerly having a generous chocolate coating, the middle is pure biscuit and cannot be considered a chocolate bar.

Chocolate Wafer – Wafer bars are generally gash, the best example being the Blue Ribbon – the Lidle of childhood snacks; if you had one of those in your lunchbox, chances are you spent most of the week ravaged by hunger, applying Clearasil to your face and getting beaten up by the lockers. I remember my mum trying to sneak one into my bag on occasions and I told her in no uncertain terms to buy me a bag of Trios. The problem with the Blue Ribbon was both the feebleness of the wafer, which dissolved in the mouth without effort, and the shoddiness of the chocolate. While that’s not to say there aren’t one or two good wafer bars out there (Turnocks), they definitely aren’t chocolate bars.

The rule, then, comes down to the percentage of biscuit or wafer. Where the biscuit/wafer comprises 50% or more of the entire product, I would submit this to be a chocolate biscuit; for example, a Boost has always been known as a chocolate bar and if you tally up the weight of chocolate and caramel against pure biscuit, the level of biscuit probably falls below this threshold. A Kit-Kat is a little more controversial, but most likely a chocolate bar as the amount of wafer is minimal compared to the total amount of chocolate coverage, even with a Kit-Kat chunky.

As for Wagon Wheels, answers please on a postcard.

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A breezy refrain bellows unexpectedly

Within this deserted vacuum.

Only a faceless few are left now.

The suited man, I have decided, is a workaholic

In the throes of a traumatic marital breakup.

His face is stern, captured in a

Generous film of sweat;

The brow is furrowed, folding away his troubles,

Whilst a shaky left hand sources his top jacket pocket

For a filtered cigarette.

He takes one tentative step forward,

Coughing violently into his crumpled handkerchief;

A present, perhaps.

I look openly into his diluted eyes

For I can be no more than five feet from

His drunken silhouette.

My back aches from the lousy support

Offered by a half-eaten chair peppered with cigarette burns

And blemishes of discarded chewing gum.

Without the safeguard of his office place

He can lie to his mind no further;

The loving words, the mistress and the failed promises

Breach his false divide and pull a heavy tear

From his self-pitying conscience.

As the train pulls into the platform,

His shadow leaves this emotive portal;

The truth exposed, the darkness lifted,

Paving the way for new proposals.

I turn away from this scene and look for my ride.

The light is dim and tempered.

I try to find my way past the panic-stricken mother

Who stands rooted, like a statue of inconvenience,

In my path to the ticket barrier.

She leans to her right-hand side with certain poise

Wise to my exit strategy,

While her scruffy child runs amok in the distance,

Wriggling on the floor and silent to his creator’s cries for calm,

Cries that are swept up by the chugging sound

Of my night escort, ready to relieve me

From this macabre scene of chaos and breakdown.

I take matters into my own hands.

My arms extend horizontally and then lift to

Push the women forcefully out of my eye line.

Her mouth opens briefly before my growl tells her

To walk away, to tend to the hooligan child that she volunteered

Into this world and continues to fail.

Its midnight, the air bites and pricks at my

Shirtless arms and I can’t be fucked to be civil to these people,

Not here.

I breach the turnstyle and smile meekly at the paper stall man

He nods courteously before packing away tomorrow’s history

Into a battered wheel barrow, as if taking out the family rubbish.

The carriage is close now;

My feet rapping rhythmically with every step.

I quicken my pace, feeling the eyes of all

Who have passed through the bowels of

This station settling upon me, offering

Their darkest secrets.

I scrape away the moisture from my top lip

And pull the rucksack close to me.

Turning behind, I see a train departing and

I think of the people inside and what will become of them.

I close the door behind me and pick the

Nearest place from the choice of empty

Seats and breathe heavily.

I cannot help but feel that something profound

Has happened to me here,

Something lasting.

I flick my fingers on the drop down table and

Try to engage in the mundane and normal,

That most horrid of things – the routine.

I think of the weeks ahead but my mind

Clouds over and a sickness builds in my gut.

After what seems like an age,

A ghostly whistle finally pierces the dank hush;

The train creaks forward, reluctant to carry

Its cargo away into the dark covers of the night.

I hope never to come back here again.

– 2006

 

This was written on the train coming back – late at night – from London Paddington. I recall feeling a great sense of loneliness walking through the vast station alone, with night settled and odd characters shuffling about in ones and twos. I then began to think about all of the stories and personalities that must have passed through this portal at various points in time, including the tears, the joy and all other emotions fixed to those moments – all of them ghosts from the past.

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Music Reviews

Welcome to a new feature of the magazine, where I report on the good, the bad and the downright ugly of recent live music in Exeter, with an eye on lesser known artists, rather than household names. Thankfully, there was little of the “ugly” in the performances reviewed below, and – with upcoming gigs by The Acorn and Art Brut to name but a few – I’m optimistic for the months ahead.

Kid Canaveral & Ono Palindromes

Exeter Cavern Club, 8th March 2009

Kid Canaveral

Having opened for cult-folk hero King Creosote and current indie darlings Glasvegas since forming in 2004, Scottish pop quartet Kid Canaveral clearly know the merits of keeping good company. Seemingly oblivious to the small Sunday evening crowd, the two boy/two girl combination cheerfully delivered a faultless one hour set of joyful, catchy, guitar-driven indie-pop to suggest – luck permitting – that it won’t be long before they reach a wider audience.

Much of the night’s focus was on Canaveral’s permanent smile-wearing front man, David MacGregor. Singing in a rich Scottish accent, MacGregor’s vocals infused Canaveral’s songs with honest warmth and led the many pitch perfect male/female vocal harmonies that dominated the evening. Comparisons with The Magic Numbers are obvious yet unavoidable, but the clever lyrics of Smash Hits and pounding drums on Couldn’t Dance suggest that Kid Canaveral have more strings to their bow than their bearded counterparts, while the influences of fellow Scots Belle and Sebastian and The Delgados are thankfully noticeable.

This is a band which deserves to be heard. With the release of their debut LP this summer, they might not have much longer to wait.

A word on Totnes art rockers Ono Palindromes (formerly Young Sensations) who offered support. Attired in red and blue trousers and sounding like a moody Art Brut covering The Arcade Fire, they are certainly an acquired taste but not devoid of a good tune, with Beautiful Noise a fine example of playful, leftfield pop. With greater quality control and a less knowingly-kooky band name, they could do very well indeed.

Joscho Stephan Trio

Exeter Phoenix, 12th March 2009

Joscho Stephan

Pick up a venue’s listings guide and you will invariably find a batch of over-hyped musicians assigned the labels “genius” or “maestro” (the woeful Nick Harper, for example) in the hope of luring us – Joe Public – into flittering away our hard-earned cash. With German Gipsy Jazz guitarist Joscho Stephan, however, such superlatives are not only fully merited, they probably don’t go far enough, and the privileged few who turned out to see Stephan, his father (Gunter – rhythm guitar) and Max Schaaf (bass) were treated to a genuine musical master class.

As the title of his third album (Django Forever) confirms, Stephan’s music is steeped in the style pioneered by legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt; a style that combines faultless chord rhythms with complex and innovative single note fret work, all delivered at breakneck speed with assured brilliance. Having opened with the magnificent Django’s Tiger, other highlights of the hour and half long set included a playful yet complex interpretation of Mozart’s Ronda (alla Turca) during which his left hand danced manically like a drug-addled spider along the fret board.

While Stephan’s playing was the fulcrum of the performance, mention must also go to Max Schaaf who oozed class on the bass.

In view of my comment about labels above, I’m loathed to call Stephan the world’s greatest acoustic guitar player. However, what can be said is that he is part of an elite group – Clive Carroll among them – who are capable of taking your breath away.

For the diary

A brief list of highlights for the coming months:

Jonah Matranga, Exeter Cavern Club, 1 April 2009 – Talented American singer-songwriter. Check out the fabulous Not About A Girl Or A Place on his myspace page, which borrows the hook from Ryan Adams’ Someday, Somehow. If you like what you hear, try the album musicforthemorningafter by Pete Yorn.

Art Brut, Exeter Phoenix, 5 April 2009 – Hilarious art rockers specialising in sharp lyrics and minimalist but infectious riffs who, against all odds, have gained critical acclaim (5 star reviews in the Guardian, no less). A captivating live band, front man Eddie Argos is a natural comedian and worth the admission price alone.

The Quails, Exeter Phoenix, 25 April 2009 – Teignmouth based band specialising in generic indie fare. After a few drinks, you’ll forget the terrible name and the fact that they sound like the Kooks, and find yourself bouncing along with a smile on your face.

The Acorn, Exeter Phoenix, 10 May 2009 – Evidently, the credit crunch is having an adverse impact on band names, but don’t let this put you off. Currently touring with Elbow and the Fleet Foxes, this Canadian outfit play wistful alt-folk with the emphasis very much on the alt: think the rebel child of the Fleet Foxes, Wilco and My Morning Jacket; a little too self-indulgent in places, but otherwise brilliant.

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Music Reviews

Two thoroughly enjoyable gigs reviewed below, and some great music coming up, including Idlewild, Pulled Apart by Horses and a range of artists at the Phoenix’s Acoustica Festival.

The Acorn

Exeter Phoenix, 10th May 2009

The Acorn

Imagine, as I often do, a world where Jake the Peg had no extra leg, or Scaramanga was just another Bond villain with two nipples – it would be rubbish. If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube and watch Rolf’s third leg in action without grinning. It can’t be done.

Musicians know the merits of an extra appendage, too with the Grateful Dead, early Genesis and ace Detroit rockers The Dirtbombs all dabbling with a second drummer in their live line-ups. To that list can be added inventive Canadian outfit The Acorn; a move which is logical considering the band’s reliance on infectious tribal rhythms on their breakthrough album, Glory Hope Mountain.

The results are stunning, with both percussionists competing against the other amidst a fusion of beautiful guitar hooks and handclaps on standout tracks Hold Your Breath and Flood Pt.1, and delivering a level of intensity only hinted at on the album versions. Keeping everything together is charismatic frontman Rolf Klausener (responsible for vocals and much of the guitar work), who is clearly as revered by his band as he is the audience (“he’s the guy that writes the songs”, says the bassist at one point, all puppy-eyed with admiration).

Klausener is undeniably a talent and his sincere vocals are a revelation, delivered with tender warmth and emotion no more so than on the affecting Oh Napolean, a song recounting his Honduran mother’s experiences with domestic violence, and which echoes Sufjan Stevens at his best.

If you don’t yet own Glory Hope Mountain, it’s time to make amends.

The Handsome Family

Exeter Phoenix, 31st May 2009

Handsome Family

Not many bands write music about a milkman who falls in love with the moon, or the loneliness of magnets, but for husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks – aka The Handsome Family – such playfully dark songs are ten-a-penny.

Their music appeals on many levels: Rennie’s lyrics – Lynchian life observations on anything from love and suicide to cement mixers – are mysterious, sincere and funny; the music, written by Brett, ranges from up-tempo country (think Johnny Cash at San Quentin) to rootsy folk while Brett’s booming baritone infuse the words with life.

The intimate feel of the Phoenix perfectly suits the laid-back Handsomes. Unlike the forced banter of tonight’s support act, The Smoke Fairies, the exchanges between Brett and Rennie are heartfelt and welcome, with Brett beating down many of Rennie’s quips about his domestic productivity, with a dismissive “Sha, right!” before taking a slug on an ever-present bottle of Budweiser.

While Brett dominates (literally) the centre of the stage with his bear-like frame and imposing vocals, Rennie (a diminutive Morticia Addams, dressed all in black) happily stands to the side, protectively cradling her omnichord and crooning wistfully in the background.

Most of the highlights come from the band’s latest album, Honey Moon, a collection of love songs marking their 20th wedding anniversary. When You Whispered is straight up country, all banjos, harmonies and tales of shared moments, while Darling My Darling perfectly captures the band’s appeal: a love story about two bugs wanting to eat one another, which is both funny and tender.

Long live gothic country music.

For the diary

A short list of highlights for the coming months:

Pulled Apart by Horses, Exeter Cavern, 9 August 2009 – Much tipped punk rock outfit from Leeds with a distinct sound: yelping vocals, macho riffs and occasional disco drums. Cool name, too.

Ben Taylor, Exeter Phoenix, 4 October 2009 – The spawn of Carly Simon and James Taylor is best described as a poor man’s Jack Johnson. While a competent musician, his is the kind of music that your mum would tap her feet to and ask, all surprised, “who’s this, dear?” which is surely not a good thing.

John Smith, Exeter Phoenix, 19 September 2009 – Highly accomplished and innovative folk guitar player hailing from Devon, who is yet to get the recognition his talent deserves. Check out his great cover of Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows” on myspace.

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