Midnight Oil, Hammersmith Apollo, 23 July 2017

The music of Midnight Oil is part of my youth/early adulthood. There was a time when Antipodean music was all the rage with the likes of Icehouse, Men at Work, INXS and Split Endz. Midnight Oil also belonged to a rare popular genre of protest rock. Here one found The Jam, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Chumbawamba and Latin Quarter whose Album, Modern Times, still reverberates, having been exposed to it on a rather-poor quality Radio Caroline incarnation just-about audible in Hull. These were also the days when I used to read music papers and look at the gig list and see the Hammersmith Odeon hosting countless familiar names. It was a long way from home and I never travelled a long way from home. Like the ferries from Hull that also eluded me, now was the time to go to this art decor temple of sound and vision (below right).

Being Australian, however, Midnight Oil had this additional quality – a familiarly unfamiliar history. I was once in a school musical (I was perhaps 8 years’ old) where I had to choose to be either a cowboy or an indian. The downside of the latter was that as part of the make-up, one had to be covered in dissolved Oxo in order to get a darker skin tone. Those who know me, know only too well that I dislike being sticky or being face painted, or whatever.  The idea of having Oxo painted onto my skin may have swayed my decision to be a cowboy. Not a bit of it. It was a few years later, prompted by Midnight Oil’s song, Beds are Burning, that I realised why I had elected to undergo the Oxo treatment. Indians were indigenous people pushed to extermination by, largely, white settlers. With guns.

Beds are Burning is not an ernest song; one of the problems I find with regular protest music. It is a stonking rousing tune that you can dance to. And probably should. Beds are Burning, and the album from which it comes, Diesel and Dust, is a body of work (which dominated this gig), but it is not the whole story. The lead singer, Peter Garrett, forced the band to break up in 2002 on his decision to enter politics and become a senator in the Australian Parliament (he was eventually elected under a Labor banner in 2004). But seemingly their early career relied on live performances due to the controversial nature of their lyrics and Garrett’s particular brand of outspokenness which rendered regular airtime difficult to garner. Thirteen years’ after the break, Midnight Oil are reformed and doing a world tour under a largely original lineup of Garrett, Rob Hirst – drums, vocalsJim Moginie – lead guitars, keyboards; and Martin Rotsey – lead guitars. The band’s bassist is Bones Hillman.

Beds are Burning got the audience to its feet after the relatively quiet and contemplative start with Outside World, even though the venue was all-seat. It was a bit of an anthem-after-anthem performancePut Down That Weapon, Dreamworld, Bullroarer, Sell My Soul, Ships of Freedom, Power and the Passion, Blue Sky Mine and the final encore, Best of Both Worlds. Just under two hours in total giving plenty of time to watch as well as absorb the music. What does one observe? Garrett has always been a striking figure – tall, bald and charismatic. Rob Hirst, from what I understand has, not surprisingly, been the beating heart of the band on drums and vocals. So much so that they are lugging around a giant metal corrugated bin (right) that comes into its own when he gets his rock-set drum solo during Power and the Passion – goodness knows where he gets the energy from. Moginie and Rotsey concentrate on guitarship – both being leads (Moginie is also the band’s keyboardist). Feasible, one senses, from an over-familiarity with one another, Garrett’s quirks and Hirst’s direction/conducting. This was great stuff. Another bit of my cultural history retrieved and shared with my beloved.

 

 

Advertisements

Camel Do Your Thing wtf

Camel’s Do Your Thing campaign reappeared last week in Munich with this gem. In the left panel a couple demonstrate two Camel packets, conveniently limiting exposure of the nasty death/chronic disease images that cigarette packets must legally display. On the right is the couple being tossers. That’s about it really.

German cigarette advertising update – early summer 2017

Not a huge amount to report on the cigarette company campaigns. No attractive young people having their lives ruined. Not consciously, at least. That said, one cannot get over the sheer cleverness of the campaign managers with their slogans. Take Lucky Strike, for example. Urlaub Eingereicht – holiday secured, if my translation works. Cause for celebration and anticipation? Hold on. Am 1. Arbeitstag. Not so good. A working holiday, maybe? At least we have Luck Strike. The hashtags seem to refer to the taste of the cigarette – icecold and, for want of a better word, persistent?

Then there is Jeanshemd Getragen. Zur Jeanshose (right). I think for this one, it is too subtle for me. Literally Demin shirt worn. To Jeans trousers. Double denim or long shirt not needing trousers? Whatever it means, the product is deadly, icecold or not.

Finally, JPS are sticking with the big packs. 10 Euros gets you 39 cigarettes in a megadeath box. Sorry, megabox.

University of Brighton Graduate Show 2017 – Fine Art

I have given quite a bit of attention this year to the 3-D objects. But the fine art remains the star attraction and it is fine indeed. As noted in my earlier post, I was a shade rushed, so my review is curtailed. Again, apologies to fine artists that I have not selected.

This year seems to me have been dominated by scale artwork. Big. There is also a good number of portraiture such as Jessica Zaydner’s work (above left). This is quite a face, despite its youth. There is something going on beyond the gaze, and I am not sure how good it is.

There is landscape as well, but not of the realist genre. The work of Bethany Carter is interesting here. Carter calls on influences from 1960s psychedelia to insist that we detach ourselves from our digital lives to think about the natural world. This psychedelic imagery spells out the interconnectivity between landscape and animals and what is natural anyway in the increasingly soiled environment “downtrodden” by human beings. Carter is asking a lot of questions in her work, not all of which I understand or agree with. But as a scale piece, A New Earth, works.

Next is the disconcerting work of Victoria Suvoroff (left). This piece belongs to her Phantasms show. Her work seeks to challenge gender’s social construction. The vehicle for doing this is to present body parts as phantasms (seen but not necessarily rooted in a physical reality). It is striking work.

Emily Alice Garnham’s work I picked out because of its allusions to one of my own favourite artists, Paul Nash. Nash drew on his experience of war to paint is often disembodied figures. Garnham draws from urban landscapes.

Working from photographs the finished work is not a depiction of an existing cityscape. Rather it is the creation of what she calls “an original utopian scape”. The green hue alludes to the interaction between nature and concrete.

Lucia Hamlin (left) admits to grappling with being brought up as a catholic. She nicely brings together colour, history/archaeology and superstition. The history, it seems, tells us that extended craniums were often seen as belonging to gods or God-like figures. She makes her figures deliberately offensive and immature “as a dig at the narrow-mindedness of religion, and to put across the idea that God has stopped caring and is now mocking the obsceneness and immorality of modern humanity”. Hamlin’s work is on canvas and also as 3-D structure suitable for sharing a selfie (right).

Finally, my PhD many years ago was about railways in the UK. The logo for British Railways is a design classic. Two lines with arrows oppositely directed brilliantly captured the purpose of the railways, particularly in its modernisation phase after WW2. An artist (whose name I could not find) has taken this logo and embedded it in something slightly bigger. I leave readers this year with the BR logo and the songbird (left). Naturally, my favourite piece.

 

University of Brighton Graduate Show 2017 – 3D design, textiles

Annually this show is a delight. There is always originality and discovery. I apologise to all students that I did not get to see the whole show – one needs a day of high stamina to get around all of the galleries. I had neither a full day nor stamina. But here are some of my highlights.

With regard to originality the garment on the right by Martina Stefkova Simeonova ticks many of the boxes. It is not a piece of art as I had first thought. It is very much a wearable garment. It is made of Lycra – so, probably not that easy to put together especially with bright orange stitching. The influence, according to Simeonova is vintage tennis gear. The skirt – which is probably not that practical on a tennis court – is pleated and held rigid by kebab sticks. Sensational.

Then there is the furniture. The example on the left is the work of Liam  O’Hagen Paul and is essentially cycle routes around Brighton. He argues that the journey is better than arrival. This may be youthful exuberance – as a keen youthful cyclist myself many years back I am sure I once felt the same – but if this is the collateral, then keep it up. I’d love this in my house.

And then this stunning chair. Probably not the most comfortable but beautifully made capitalising on the natural bends and imperfections of the wood. But more interestingly, perhaps, is the influence of the roof timbers of an old tithe barn. Another piece by the same furniture maker (left) illustrates this better. It is a cabinet, I think made of oak, and wonderfully arched like the tithe barn roof.

Ever wondered what a migraine looks like? I have to say that I haven’t only because I have never suffered from such pervasive pain. Jemima Bellamy has investigated the condition and has produced some visually representative jewellery that, as she argues, “challenges the visual and physical parameters to both alleviate and aggravate the migraine”. I am not sure exactly how it works, but the pieces are special (see right, for example).

Staying with the theme of health and illness, Ember Vincent represents her own experience of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME). These bowls are a fusion of ceramics and metals. Ultimately they represent the tendency of sufferers of ME and other illnesses to hide their “broken selves” behind tough exteriors. The utility of the bowls is not high. But they are wonderful.

There is always room for tea, I feel. Xufei Zhu undertook a study of Chinese and British cultural differences in relation to tea and life – in particular, contemporary living and its stresses. These are captured in her tea pots, cups and utensils. This foot shaped teaspoon is exquisite.

The next artefact to bowl me over was Teenie Connolly’s kingfisher. Made of reclaimed materials collected on walks between Brighton and Newhaven, they – and the complementary pots – represent the weaving undertaken by birds to make nests. She says that she has enjoyed a close relationship with birds in nursing a number back to health. Her underlying theme, however, is sustainability.

Next up is this extraordinary bowl made of desert ironwood and embellished with copper powder and epoxy resin. It has been precisely machined and sanded to 1200 gsm (I assume that is also precise). Because the wood is so dense it has a discrete functionality.

Finally in this section, I was beguiled by these lamps (left) by Darwin Simmonds. His theme encapsulates playfulness, childhood, fun and, ultimately, happiness. They are certainly uplifting in their bold colours and light emission.

Fine art to follow.

 

Pond, Concorde 2, Brighton, 15 June 2017

Who or what is Pond? Let me quote Wikipedia: “Featuring a revolving line-up, the band currently consists of Nick Allbrook, Jay Watson, Joe Ryan and Jamie Terry. Pond often shares its members with fellow Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala. Jay Watson is a full member of both acts, while Pond band leader Nick Allbrook contributed to both bands from 2009 until 2013. Current Tame Impala members Kevin Parker, Cam Avery and Julien Barbagallo are all former members of Pond, with Parker continuing to work with the band as its record producer.” The other member who I trust was on stage on Thursday was James Ireland on drums?

According to Douglas Adams in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,  the loudest band in the universe is Disaster Area, a plutonium rock band; probably not only the loudest band in the universe, but the loudest noise of any kind. Pond come second. Just.

I reviewed their 6th album, Man It Feels Like Space Again, a couple of years ago. Everything I said there is valid for this gig. The songs are probably not that meaningful. The lyrics are hard to hear let alone understand – originally I had thought it was Nick Allbrook’s limited voice, but I was wrong on that. He belted out the lyrics, but the other four just went for it as well. The melodies are there, the song structures are a mixture of classic symmetrics and asymmetric mini operas. Key changes galore. Compelling.

Allbrook is a performer like no other. He is a small package with a compensating stage presence. Be warned, he will throw himself into the audience with a confidence that only comes with extended youth (he’s a nightmare for venue security trying to temper audience exuberance). His guitar is one of the most beaten-up specimens that I have ever seen. I contrast his guitar husbandry with that of Richard Hawley who employs a guitar dresser to tune and pollish them before each performance.

What else did they play? A few tracks from the new album including 3000 Megatons and Sweep me off My Feet. Both wrap themselves around you – they are a Phil Spector wall of sound without the commercial hang-ups. Whilst I’d love everyone to love Pond, please don’t like them enough to force them into bigger venues. When Allbrook sweats, I need to feel that, too.

 

Vive Le Moment goes big-time summer stupid

Are you 20 something and a bit warm? Do you live too far away from the beach or pool? Why not compensate by filling up the back of a pick-up truck with water and then jump into it with your clothes on with three equally motivated souls? Vive le Moment.

Next, are you in a really good mood and also have a cool scooter that you want to trash by attempting to ride it in a squat position on the beach with your mate standing up behind you? Albeit with a crash helmet on. (Is that required in France?). Might you do this because there is are some storm clouds in the distance? Good. Vive Le Moment.

Camel and white nationalism?

Camel’s Do Your Thing campaign is back. Apologies about the picture, but a sunny day and poster is stuck behind plastic. Not great for photography.

The approach is the same, however. Person with attitude looks to camera to say, “look at me, I don’t care about your or me, for that matter”. Curious approach to promoting the brand. What always seemed to me to express some kind of exoticism now seems to promote white nationalism!

Gauloises cashing in on the summer

It’s festival time! Break out the cancer sticks of choice: namely Gauloises. So, the latest in the long-running Vive campaign – 3-day festival, 2 nights in a tent, and a moment of freedom.

A few questions, if it is real freedom, why are the bearded men showering in their clothes? Are they shy? Actually, looking at it again, perhaps it’s raining – they are showering in the rain? The two be-tented people looking on seem to be have a great time watching a couple of tossers. Whatever the situation, they need to enjoy their moment of freedom. With Gauloises, be rest-assured, it won’t last.

Dean Friedman, Hastings, 9 May 2017

I was alerted to Dean Friedman’s appearance by the White Rock Theatre only five days before, but it was a no-brainer. Of all of my teenage/early 20s influences (ELO, Devo, Blondie, Kate Bush, The Smiths), Dean Friedman is the one that provided the yearning for adulthood. The notion of love between the sheets tormented me. And that woman, Lydia, accommodating that toothbrush, dissolved away my frontal lobe. Then there was that room where a cuckoo clock tells you that you are reflected in all of the things you own. I had a cuckoo clock (but no rocking chair).

I had seen him once before at the Hull Truck Theatre, at least 35 years ago. I am generally reluctant to revisit the past. I made an important exception here. And took the opportunity to introduce my beloved to this world.

The stage hosted a grand piano, a Yamaha keyboard and a guitar. And him. Each song has its own story – and not always the obvious one. The Shopping Bag Ladies were part of Friedman’s daily commute to New York. Company, was influenced by Paul McCartney’s Blackbird (to find out how, you have to go to the show or attend one of his song-writing workshops). He did not say too much about the S&M song, but it was great to hear it. Ariel captures that youthful exuberance of discovery, being “high” and the softness of the mouth. Only Dean Friedman wrote lyrics like that, at least in my world at that time.

There is a new album available today. It is called 12 Tunes and we were introduced to a number of the songs from it. Whilst youth is long gone, the use of song to capture life’s ongoing magic and frustrations is still in Friedman’s gift. “We must have done something right” he sings in reference to his child rearing. On being too busy he asks “how does everyone do it?”. The loss of an old friend – his guitar – “This guitar can’t hold a tune no more”. Clever, witty, metaphorical, reflective.

And so to the dark side. Early in the set there was a song about a former girlfriend that he was happy to see go. It was not complementary in tone or language. It reminded me of John Cooper Clarke’s brilliant Twat. I was not expecting that. Then he lulled us into a false sense of security about neighbourly relations. To paraphrase, if we cannot get on with our neighbours, how are we supposed to get on with people from other countries? Before unleashing a wonderfully vicious song about bad neighbours and escalating tensions. Revenge, even.

Talking of which, I remember Tim Minchin discussing one of his revenge songs written about a journalist who gave him a particularly bad review, the effect of which can be significant. Power without responsibility. Friedman regaled the audience about a phone call that he got from a friend in the UK telling  him there was a song on an album by a bizarrely-named band, Half Man, Half Biscuit, entitled The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman. The essence of this song is that the narrator has to deal with learning of his origins and coping with the ridicule and shame. That same album contained a song with a lyric “why is Rod Hull alive – and getting paid as well?” Older British Readers will know what that means. Friedman, suffice to say, was in good company.

It was not absolutely clear in the first instance whether Friedman was flattered or hurt by the Bastard Son. But his song riposte had light touches and humour. Or at least the way I heard it. I think that was the point of Nigel Blackwell’s/Half Man’s original song?

I end my review with a reflection on a song that captures what Dean Friedman does best. Gone, understandably, is Ariel’s manic, rapid heart beating sprint and replaced by a matured reflection on the really important things. Prompted by the question from a stranger at a party – something which Friedman seems to eschew – “what do you do”? The answer, “I’m Dean Friedman” should be enough. But he put the answer into a mischievous song. Brilliantly. His job is to make his beloved happy (secure, loved, warm, dry,  etc.). It’s a bit contrived, we all know that. And it should be true.

Talking of being contrived, here is a picture (right) of me with Dean Friedman.

The tour continues culminating in appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.