Archive for March, 2017|Monthly archive page

The nonsense of anti-trade union legislation

My trade union, the UCU, is in dispute with my employer. My employer seems reluctant to discuss the issues at the heart of the dispute, so the Union organised a ballot if members managed by the Electoral Reform Society, the experts in balloting and the law. The result was a legally acceptable (relative to current law) percentage of members agreeing to take strike action. The Union then called a two-day strike only to find that under the new law, before labour can be withdrawn, two weeks’ notice has to be given to employers. The strike had to be postponed.

We are getting close to the Easter non-teaching period. To withdraw one’s labour in a non-teaching period is a bit of a waste of time (and money). But to leave it until the start of the new term renders the ballot void. So, here we have a piece of legislation that forces members to strike in order to keep the legal mandate to strike. So, at the end of the coming week, we are going to withdraw our labour – symbolically – for half a day in order to strike on another two days later in late April. Brilliant.

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Two gigs in a week – the Handsome Family and Austra

Life is good with a colleague who extends an invite to gig featuring a band you’ve never heard of. On 3 March the Handsome Family (left) straddled the stage at Concorde 2 in Brighton to present their brand of – what I am reliably informed is called – goth country. That does not mean to say that they turned up dressed in black with white faces.

The Handsome Family are essentially a husband and wife team, Brett and Rennie Sparks who sing songs about things like frogs, holes in the ground and murder. Brett Sparks’ deep voice bosses the songs with Rennie Sparks offering harmony. The show is punctuated by choreographed bickering between the two, for example, whether today’s sandwich had the right filling.

Rennie Sparks provides the lyrics, bass and autoharp (banjo is also in her armoury, but was absent from this performance); husband Brett does the music, guitar and keyboards. Touring as a four piece, the drummer did sterling work; the fourth member was a multi-instrumentalist. Largely playing guitar, but this being country he flirted around with a steel guitar and bizarrely a keyboard instrument that seemed no bigger than a 1970s stylophone! The climax was an extraordinary duel between the two guitars, culminating in Brett Sparks requiring a major re-tune of his guitar before he could give an encore. Rennie Sparks narrated this activity expressing her own bemusement of her husband’s guitar abuse. Presumably it happens every night.

Anyone wanting to hear more try this link. The tour goes on.

Austra is the music vehicle for Toronto’s Katie Stelmanis. I became aware of Austra in the days when the Guardian newspaper had live sessions. Me and my beloved caught up with the band in its extended form in Munich in 2011; they did a short BBC Music stage performance at Latitude in 2013, we saw that. I got a sneak preview of the new album, Future Politics, when in November 2016 Stelmanis did a free gig/Q&A at Kamio in London. And then on 9 March Austra appeared as a foursome at Ampere in Munich. Stelmanis, I understand, had opera training for her voice. It is extraordinary – it hurts just thinking about how she uses it. But she is also politically engaged. It is like that she could sing fascists into submission, much like Slim Whitman saw off the Aliens in Mars Attacks!

This tour is about the third album, Future Politics (left). I still have not fully digested it lyrically, but Stelmanis is open about its allusions to humanity’s failure to place itself as a carbon life form on a finite planet (Gaia). This leads away from Utopia – her call to a plausible brighter future. Stelmanis is also hugely melancholic about relationships. Her second album, Olympia, was over-burdened with this melancholia; for example, an unfaithful partner on Forgive Me. Future Politics’ relationship dystopia comes out in I love you more than you love yourself. “There is nothing in your soul tonight, I only see darkness” sings Stelmanis. However, in contrast to the Olympia album, Stelmanis manages throughout this album, irrespective of the lyrics, to evoke the positive, even to the ability to dance to the song. And what is more it sounded so much better live. That is why I would recommend seeing Austra live and not rely on the recordings.

As  a foursome, they create a lot of sound. In Munich, Stelmanis’ voice did not have enough amplification, but Maya Postepski’s percussion was awesome (right), and the two male supports (Dorian Wolf on bass and moog, and Ryan Wonsiak), chalk and cheese as they were, ensured no one left melody-less.

This was as good a gig as I have been to. The tour continues:

MON 13 MARCH
Astra Kulturhaus, Berlin, Germany
WED 15 MARCH
BikoMilan, Italy
THU 16 MARCH
Les Docks Lausanne, Switzerland
FRI 17 MARCH
Dampfzentrale Bern, Switzerland
SAT 18 MARCH
Gloria Theater Cologne, Germany
SUN 19 MARCH
Uebel & Gefährlich Hamburg, Germany
TUE 21 MARCH
Patterns (formerly Audio)Brighton, UK
WED 22 MARCH
Village UndergroundLondon, UK
THU 23 MARCH
Summerhall Edinburgh, UK
FRI 24 MARCH
The Deaf Institute Manchester, UK
SAT 25 MARCH
Button Factory Dublin, Ireland
TUE 28 MARCH
Le Grand Mix Tourcoing, France
WED 29 MARCH
Les Trinitaires Metz, France
FRI 31 MARCH
Le Trianon Paris, France
SAT 1 APRIL
Le Metronum Toulouse, France
WED 5 APRIL
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Gas Natural Fenosa (MAC) La Coruna, Spain
THU 6 APRIL
Teatro Barcelo Madrid, Spain
FRI 7 APRIL
La Rambleta Valencia, Spain
SAT 8 APRIL
Sala Apolo Barcelona, Spain
TUE 11 APRIL
Mascotte Zürich, Switzerland
WED 12 APRIL
L’Epicerie Moderne Feyzin, France
THU 13 APRIL
La Sirene La Rochelle, France
SAT 15 APRIL
Le 106 – Club Rouen, France
SUN 16 APRIL
AB Box Brussels, Belgium

JPS does brash

Back in Munich, I find cigarette advertising in rude health. JSP is back, relinquishing beautiful people and men with spanners, in favour of a brash 40 per packet, just to help the chronic disease on a little bit.  “Outside large, inside awesome” goes the modest strapline. I think it is time for a return to cigarette cases – decanting a few from the packet to avoid looking like a desperate smoker.