TOTALLY WIRED Launch party

VIVID ARTS is no more, long live TOTALLY WIRED!  Taking their cue from the events started at lancaster Library, but spreading their net across multiple venues and formats, TOTALLY WIRED is Lancaster’s newest Arts Event.

moll

This Monday they held their official launch party at The Book Room on Meeting House Lane and I was one of those lucky enough to be invited along.  30-odd people (or 30 very odd people?) filled the shop to hear TW’s frontperson Richard Davis introduce Totally Wired and their forthcoming events (I am Kloot at The Yorkie, Ottersgear et al at The Storey, a Childrens Event at The Greggie, and projects lined up here at The Bookroom and maybe the Library after the refurb.).  Neil Simpson from Storey Creative Industries Centre also added his thoughts, whilst Richard’s cohorts Mary Lockwood, Claire Joynson and shop owner Jill Johnson dispensed drinks and excellent cakes at the back.

There was music too, superb sets from some of Lancaster’s great array of contemporary talent: Ponies’ acoustic hardcore balladeering kicked thinsg off, then Moll Baxter (with harmonies from partner Rob) did her acoustic literary songstress thing, the exuberant, impassionede Mikey Kenny, the delightful Jo Gillot and then the thoughtful Stephen Hudson rounded things off.  But there was time left, spectators including Dan Haywood, Kriss Foster, Holly from The Lovely Eggs etc couldn’t be dragged forward, so each act did a bit more.  You had to be there, hopefully if these acts get their due in years to come everyone will claim to have been there the night Jo or Mikey or Tom or Steve or Moll played to the chosen few in the Book Room.  It was that good, and Totally Wired have set themselves a task if they are to surpass it.

You know what though, with their enthusiasm and abilities shown so far, I think they might just do it.

Check them out at www.totallywired.org.uk or pop in to the shop (which is an intriguing and stimulating place anyway).

Mollie Baxter at Spotlight April

Listening to prose isn’t easy.  There can be long passages without obvious rhythmic hooks, rhymes or meter to keep the focus.  Mollie Baxter is, off course an experienced performer as musician and as a writer.  At this Spotlight she wore her author’s hat, offering up an extract from a story about a writer. 

Stories about writers struggling for words, fighting blocks, finding ways around their story are not unusual, but frequently too clever for their own good.  The meta-fictive nature of a story like this one, where characters come alive and confront their author needs a sure touch and a genuine raison d’etre if it is to work well.

 

So in this case, and I’m not sure Mollie told us its title, a struggling author suddenly feels a presence in his room, a gun at his head.  ‘Write’ he is ordered.  ‘Write me.’  A future, unwritten character, a gangster in the Ray Winstone mould it seems, is fed up waiting his turn.  He wants his time in the limelight, and he wants it now.

 

To make this work as performance, Mollie had to adopt the voices, of course.  The cockney/mockney of Gangster Moll contrasting with the effete author nicely, and generating a few laughs too.  Without the voices, the humour and the dynamic between the characters this story would fail on any level, but read aloud it would be a disaster.  Fortunately this extract managed to just about maintain momentum, repeated itself on the odd occasion, but it worked. 

 

It was, however, an extract, Mollie outlined the scenario first, and perhaps there is material here unsuitable to read aloud.  One wonders, without seeing it, whether that also means its material the story doesn’t need at all.  Which leads to the other problem I often have with hearing a story like this: I want, afterwards, to read it, not just hear it, to find the nuances I missed, to see if the clues were there, if the story was just a nice, amusing performance piece, or something with other layers.

 

 

Stuart Anthony — House Of Sun CD

house-of-sunIt’s fair to say that Stuart Anthony wears his influences on his sleeve. The inner sleeve of his new album, House Of Sun, to be precise, with photos that are close to slavish Nick Drake images. Opening track ‘Legacy’ does little initially to dispel this feeling. It isn’t until the middle section that a voice that might be Anthony’s own appears. And then he references ‘Pink Moon’. Pleasant though it is, at this stage things aren’t promising. More distinctive is what follows, the jazzier tinged intro to ‘House Of Sun’ and its delicate bassline suggesting more than a copyist at play, and drifting gradually into warm, mellow Tim Buckley territory. Plangent violin from Mikey Kenny, and clever use of space definitely improve this song. That summery, west-coast folky vibe runs on through the album, gradually overcoming my reservations. ‘Easy Sky’ hints at a big epic sound but holds back on the cusp. Brief instrumental ‘The Only One Left’ showcases Anthony’s guitar technique, before the soulful ‘Angels & Devils’ which initially confused me. Why, I wondered was he singing about ‘the days of British Rail’ ? It was only on a closer hearing that I recognised the lyrics as ‘you blaze a pretty trail’. Right across this album Stuart Anthony sings what are almost stories, there is a hint of background, a hint of progression, and some nice pithy lines. Importantly, he manages to convey these in a well-judged tone that meets the music and blends lyric and melody suitably. Accompanied by various other Lancaster luminaries (Mikey Kenny, Harvey Lord, Paul Walmsley and others) Stuart has crafted a balanced, homogenous album. That homogeneity is both strength and weakness perhaps. I have to say that on first listen, late at night, not totally focussed, it was nice, pleasant and a little too uniform. On the other hand, a second, devoted listen showed subtlety and grace notes. The Nick Drake-ian inflections that crop into the odd phrase are excused by the range and warmth of his voice, and the outstanding musicianship really does pull you in. It is an album of hints, of depths and of unpretentious experimentation. And then it concludes with a big Ian McNabb-ish ‘Left You Like Judas’ and you don’t feel betrayed at all. So, at its worst, House Of Sun is pleasant, relaxing, background music. That’s not a bad thing at all. At its best (the title track, the way the slide-tinged ‘Soul & Desire’ leads into the Hammond frill of ‘Falling Star’) this is quite remarkable.

SimoN Baker at The Spotlight Club 17.4.09

In the past I’ve really enjoyed Simon Baker’s humour. He often veers close to that line between hilarious and offensive but usually pulls it back from the brink with a self-deprecatory twist.

Introducing the April Spotlight however he got it badly wrong in my eyes. He went too far and didn’t pull it back, it was as though this time he meant it.

Being the Friday after Easter Simon decided to take swipe at Christians. Easy target that, in these days of Dawkins and those factually innaccurate bus ads.* My favourite riposte was the cartoon of a man stood shivering in the rain outside a church where the notice board read ‘There’s Probably No Bus!’.

So Simon had picked up a card from the Christian Bookshop, telling the familiar parable of the footsteps on the sand. It seemed Ok at first, his little insertions were in his usual self-mocking voice. Gradually he abandoned pretense however and the bile poured out. Christ, he said, was a crutch for the weak, the pathetic, the socially-inept, and in being that crutch He prevents them every getting ‘better’.

We, yes we, Christians, according to Simon are emotionally retarded, stunted and lacking all social skills, mentally ill and sexually inexperienced until we finally find someone equally desperate. And all of this is because of our faith in Jesus. Well thanks for your insight Simon.

I’m not going to cite the millions of examples of good, successful, mature, Christians throughout history as counterpoint (well maybe just Newton, Dickens, Obama, or Nightingale.) I have a question instead:

Would it have been acceptable for Mr Baker to stereotype all women in the same manner? All the handicapped? Or all gay people, all black people or all Muslims in such hateful language? Would that have been ‘funny’? Of course not, and it is not acceptable for this ill-informed bigotry towards Christians to be promoted on a stage in Lancaster.

 

(*Factually innaccurate not because I am arguing that there definitely IS a God but because that slogan is taken from Richard dawkins’ The God Delusion, Chapter two I think, whereby he claims to have proved by logic that ‘there probably is no God’. However Professor Keith Carr has taken Dawkins’ premise and his logic and shown clearly that Dawkins’ conclusion is wrong in its own terms. Whether there is or isnt a God is not the point, the point is that Richard Dawkins atheism is founded on a failed understanding of his own assumptions. Simon Baker praised Dawkins in his vile rant too.)

A Poem & A Pint

It isn’t just the big cities like lancaster that have great arts events, out in the country they do it even better. A Poem & A Pint has been running its regular evenings in assorted venues around Ulverston for a few years now. I’ve been to a couple and thoroughly enjoyed them. This time the setting was a well-restored village hall in Greenodd and the main guests, Wordsworth Trust poet-in-Residence Adam O’Riordan and Morecambe’s finest singer-songwriter du jour, Moll Baxter.

As usual things start with an open mic session. These things can vary widely, either in quality of material or in performance. Tonight three of the four were uniformly excellent (the fourth was me, so lowered the standard slightly). Deadpan humour, poignancy and masterful technique were all on display. Unfortunately i neglected to take names.

Of course not all poetry is best heard, but some gains in performance. Adam O’Riordan’s first half was one of reading rather than performing, but his clear voice drew his words out well. There appeared to be an assortment of approaches and themes, but death (as always) and the universe seemed to recur.

Then after the interval Moll Baxter plugged in. Not exactly like Dylan at Newport but I suspect one or two might have preferred an acoustic Moll. Her lovely, impassioned singing and clever guitar work went down well with most though.

Back to Adam O’Riordan who read his lates pamphlet ‘Home’ a series of 11 thematically linked sonnets inspired by Dove Cottage. On paper these are interesting, visually and subjectively intriguing but read in sequence O’Riordan seemed to run out of steam and lost the vivacity of the first half. Perhaps the structure of these poems was less conducive to reading.

Nevertheless an enjoyable night out in Greenodd and Poem & A Pint is proof that there’s plenty on outside the cities.

Holding On:Forever at The Vault

One Of lancaster’s lesser-known secrets is its art galleries. Take The Vault, tucked away in the basement of a bar on Chuch Street, not enough people know it is there. It may not be the biggest, but its latest show is one of the more interesting things in town right now.

 Holding On: Forever is the work of Tom Ireland and Fiona Shaw, working separately yet in synch with a shared attitude and viewpoint. Self-described as a ‘series of objects as a document of self-mythologising fact at a specific moment in time’ most of the 8 pieces on show combined the manufactured and the random as well as interacting with the unique environment of The Vault.

The most striking piece is Tom Ireland’s Grissom an exploded ball of tin foil, hundreds of layers combined to huge size then literally sawn and ripped open cabbage-like. Described by one viewer as an abstract representation of a huge rotting log, I saw a silver glacier at its heart, until I heard Tom speak of his interest in space: then I knew it as a nebula.

 

That same echo of infinity lies in the placement of another of Ireland’s works, his overtly spermatozoid light piece heading into the near invisible apex of the brilliant white room. Fiona Shaw claimed only to have completed her work a few hours before the opening, and re-arranged one piece midway through the viewing. She said she was unhappy with her execution of the gemoetric structure she described as an ‘attempt at a modernist wreath’. Whilst i could see why she might think so, I am not so sure that a more precise construction would have been as effective. It’s human errors were the element of randomness to match its formality. Indeed the whole show had an air of constructed randomness, an oxymoronic blurring of the edges of exhibit and space in a most intriguing manner.

 

(Photos by Wes Martin)

3 D Tanx, Adventures Of Loki and Joyeux

Three Dimensional Tanx & Support

The Yorkshire House – 28/03/2009

 

Having recently turned 30 I decided to celebrate this feat by going to see for the 2nd time, The Three Dimensional Tanx (or 3d Tanx for short). Supporting them tonight were Joyeux who I’d been impressed with in the past and The Adventures of Loki who I’d heard of but was not familiar with.

 

Kicking off tonight’s action was Joyeux. Having seen them before, one thing I noticed is that they had expanded to a 4-piece with the inclusion of Thom Bleasdale, head honcho behind Slow Riot Records. However that was about the only change. Not much has altered at least musically. The band is still hammering out those doom laden riffs with hardcore energy. Rather in the style of The Melvins, Black Flag and The Stooges. In fact they performed a rabble rousing cover of No Fun from the latter. Thom as a relative newcomer to the band is an engaging front man, screaming with muster and running up and down in front of the stage whilst bouncing off the walls and singing in people’s faces. Curiously in bare feet. I’d even heard a disturbing rumour that he sometimes strips off a little further, one step short of au natural ala Henry Rollins during his Black Flag days. Thankfully Thom decided to exercise some restraint this evening and remained fully clothed. Thom also adds to the group dynamic by taking over lead vocals leaving Pete free to shred away on his guitar like a mad axe man.

 

After a good opening start by the mighty Joyeux, we had second band on the bill The Adventures of Loki. The Adventures of Loki formed in 2003 from the ashes of an all-girl punk trio called Angelica who made quite a bit of headway with a session for John Peel and showcase set for Steve Lamacq. Their first and only full length album was even produced by the legendary Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland. The group split with Holly Ross going on to play with The Lovely Eggs and Bridget Colton and Rachel Parsons teaming up with ex-Fifty Heads Wide guitar/vocalist Steve Wade to form The Adventures of Loki. Having heard of the group but never having had a chance to see them, I was eager to view their performance.

 

The band has a definite 1990’s alternative rock vibe to them with a slight pop-punk edge.  The trio bring to mind groups such as Therapy and Ash. You could even say there is a Pixies influence present as well, what with the Quiet/Loud dynamic. The songs are tuneful and anthemic with hooks aplenty. However by the same token the group were hardly earth shatteringly original either. They were in some ways what Nirvana was to Dinosaur Jr, a more palatable and accessible version. The songs whilst well-written were far too controlled and slick in places. They almost seemed to be resisting the urge to let rip with reckless abandon. Even The Pixies let loose once in a while. This is something the audience picked up on hence the rather muted reception.  However given the decline of indie-rock and alternative music in recent times with every band looking and sounding the same, The Adventures of Loki at least are swimming against the tide of popular taste. Albeit by harking back to the past.

 

Last up on tonight’s bill are one of my favourite local bands, The Three Dimensional Tanx. Unlike The Adventures of Loki, the 3d Tanx are certainly not afraid to let rip. The band has a very distinct image with retro 60’s haircuts and bellbottoms. However unlike a lot of modern so-called alternative bands, they have the musical chops to back this up. The band hark back to an era where bands took chances and experimented with their sound without being too concerned as to whether it appeals to the masses or not.  The band cites their influences on their MySpace page as Amon Duul, Spacemen 3, Can, Neu and The Velvet Underground. One would be hard pressed to dispute these comparisons. That said the band manages to incorporate these influences whilst remaining stunningly original. The songs themselves are quite long and take you on something of a musical journey. The music is incredibly mesmerizing and hypnotic and you could say that I almost had something of an ‘out of body’ experience. The best bands captivate your attention throughout and force you to pay attention to them. The 3d Tanx managed this in spades on this particular evening. The band was intense and played with a passion and fire that I haven’t seen in that many local groups so far. The sole complaint was that the bands set were so short at some 40 minutes. I could definitely have heard more. So come on lads, play longer next time!

 

Reza Mills (this review also appears on www.DiversityFM.co.uk  reviews page.  Thanks to all.)