Tuesday, 15 December 2009

sunn is funn. O))).

if i was to interrupt this blog for a spot of how's-your-father, chances are i'd head to the stereo and stick on some sunn o))). those guys know a thing or two, i can tell you. they mostly hail from the good ol' USA, which we all know is the land that invented loving--just ask philip larkin, or the president of the united states.* we all like to have fun, don't we--as long as it's safe. and sunn's blade-hatted laser-fingered mind-goblin singer attila csihar is no different. but don't take my word for it. i'll give the last word to the boys in the band. the band sunn o))).

*I didn’t say his name because he might change, and then I’d look like a ninny.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

gigsplurge 25: tompaulin, vigilance black special & servant, november 2000

Tompaulin, Vigilance Black Special, Servant, Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, 30 November 2000

Finishing off the year with a trio of gigs GMS' gang booked at the Bully. Haven't a clue about Servant.

Vigilance Black Special were second only to the Workhouse amongst the Oxford bands of the time. Rarely, for a local outift, they sounded like grown-ups: dark Lee Hazlewood soul mixing with a countryfied take on Henry's Dream-era Bad Seeds. They now live dotted around the country, but are "keeping the band going", I'm glad to hear. Perhaps they might keep the band going in Oxford sometime soon.

The idea was for promising Peel-types tompaulin to be introduced by Tom Paulin--the sort of personal touch you'd expect from imaginative types like GMS et al. Sadly, the self-parodying Keats-misunderstanding late-night lit-pundit (who is surprisingly huge in person) sold us down the river for a date with Mark Lawson and that lot. He missed a cracker: tompaulin were likened to Belle & Sebastian at the time, but unlike a lot of imitators, they preserved the wit, range and occasional bile of B&S, while also being imaginative and versatile in their own right.

I hope they won't mind me nicking a lump from their myspace page: interesting stuff, in the context of this series:

Tompaulin formed in a bedroom in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1999. We loved records and wanted to make our own. Our first single was self-financed and released on a local label, Action Records. We had never even played live when 'Ballad of the Bootboys' sold out in a week. We borrowed some money and recorded another two singles with our friend Vinny Peculiar in Liverpool. 'Slender' and 'It’s a Girl’s World' also sold out very quickly. We were in the NME and all the music papers, and everyone contacted us wanting to sign, represent, remix and re-define us. We didn’t have a clue what was going on. Simon didn’t even have an amp. Vinny used to lend us all his stuff.

We signed to Uglyman Records in a pub in Blackburn. Guy Lovelady was the only person who came to Blackburn to see us and we were fed up with going to London every week. So we signed and made an LP, 'The Town and the City,' with him. It got good press and favourable radio play for the single, resulting in two Peel sessions and a gig at Glastonbury. More people came to see us live and we continued to receive great press and reviews, except we were surrounded by people who talked about units and strategies, features and angles and while all this was going on, the world went Strokes and White Stripes mad.
Our manager told us we were finished.
We didn’t feel finished.

We contacted Jim Reid from our beloved Jesus and Mary Chain records and went in the studio and recorded a new EP.

'Give Me a Riot in the Summertime' did very well for us, the Guardian Guide said we were on to something and we thought so too. We compiled all our singles on a CD we called 'Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.' Chris Roberts, writing for Uncut called it, "A revelation."

With the money we made from that we bought a small studio of our own and recorded 'Into The Black.' We asked Jim Reid back, this time to sing on 'Seams.' The Clientele, Ben Lurie (JAMC) and loads of other people came in to hang out and help and we had a good time recording it, despite the downbeat tone of the record.

Mojo and Uncut gave it four stars and all the usual press loved it, except the NME who ignored it.
The record label said, "Can’t hear a single."

We were fiercely proud of 'Into The Black' and decided to start playing live after two years off. We toured Germany and Scandinavia to sold out shows and came home to headline a sold out 'POW! To the People' mini-festival for Track and Field at the Barfly in London.
Then we split up.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

the basics

60s stuff. appalling interview. 80s stuff.

gigsplurge 24: six by seven, december 2000

21st birthday spent with the punishing indie-drone misanthropy of six by seven. 30th birthday later this week, to be spent in the company of fuck buttons. if you've come here for damascene moments, the exit's that-a-way. if you've come here for lil' wayne, be my guest. underrated band that sounds like spacemen 3 of the decade?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

gigsplurge 23: queens of the stone age etc., november 2000

Queens of the Stone Age, Snake River Conspiracy & Backyard Babies, Astoria, London, 23 November 2000

Live venues enjoyed mixed fortunes across the decade. Increased revenues from live music masked a shift in the balance of payments in favour of the bigger venues and bands. In Oxford, half the small venues already mentioned have folded, ceased promoting new bands, or re-emerged under new management. In London, the Astoria was the most high-profile casualty.

Its closure was initiated by populist Mayor Ken Livingstone, but caused only a minor ripple of nostalgic protest. Its rivals had more obvious qualities and friends in higher places: it could not be defended as part of a community's musical heritage like Camden's striking Roundhouse; nor was it among the elite of Newsnight Review crossover venues like the ICA, the Barbican or the RFH--attacks on which would have the boradsheets editorialising on cultural decline; nor was it even a particularly nice venue, like the Brixton Academy or the Union Chapel. Yet it performed a key function in the career cycle of a certain class of band. The Astoria's claim was to be the biggest toilet venue in Britain: hosting bands with an NME buzz, one-and-a-half hit singles, and a shot at the big-time on the back of a national tour.

It felt, too, like an overgrown indie boghole. A strange, dank smell. Sticky floors. A shitty 'Star Bar' covered in cack-handed, unsettling portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon, in which errant members of Three Colours Red could be spotted sipping warm lager from plastic pint pots. A weird tension between indie drudgery of weeknights and the second-rate pop acts booked for the G.A.Y. nightclub on weekends. Unfortunates flyering in the rain for nightclubs offering, appealingly, "indie / metal".

For all the mediciocrity of the venue, I'd seen some great gigs there: Pavement in their pomp in 1997; Machinehead playing heart-punchingly loud in 1998; Mogwai lifting the roof off in 1999. This gig was not among them, but it was sort of archetypal of what I remember about the Astoria. All three bands were typical fag-smelling "indie / metal" nightclub fodder. Backyard Babies were a 'glam / sleaze' metal band from Sweden, who wore sailor hats and leather and said lewd things into the mic. They didn't have any tunes, or any redeeming sense of humour, and hence weren't the Darkness. Snake River Conspiracy fulfilled the "indie / metal" quotient: Kerrang pin-up lady singer, flabby industro-metal blokes, laughable cover of 'How Soon Is Now'.

Queens of the Stone Age would go on to produce one of the best records of the decade, and to assemble one of the best live bands I'll (eventually) write about here. But in 2000 they were the familiar Astoria headliners, one-and-a-half singles in, nearly there. The Astoria gave them a big stage--the sort that they'd eventually fill with Mark Lanegan's howling vocals, Dave Grohl's irrepressible drums, and Josh Homme's weird, sideways take on stoner rock. On this night the skewed funk riffs broke up the flow; Oliveri and Homme never gelled; the band poised uncertainly between indie and metal, lacking the confidence and swagger to forge their own sound. The Astoria was a staging post: rarely the scene of triumphant victories, never an all-expenses-paid consumer experience, but consistently interesting and engaging as a place to watch the music scene change.

the basics

rural pursuit. portly grunger.
beer labelled beer.

the basics

all the basics. and then some.
"a pot from spaho ahmetovic".
goose towel.

Monday, 7 December 2009

the basics

lariat. arm drag takedown. spinning toe hold.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

the basics

blurry stuff. big hair.
rocking out in a warm coat.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

the basics

darkened room. space nymphs. worried look.
ground control geek hat.

Friday, 4 December 2009

gigsplurge 22: penthouse & monkey island, november 2000

Penthouse, Monkey Island, Oxford Point, 11 November 2000

The New Rock Revolution which the NME heralded at the start of the decade promised to re-inject sneering, swaggering, snotty rock'n'roll attitude into a directionless music scene. Of course, it did nothing of the sort. Beyond a few good debut albums, the scene opened up new possibilities for hair-care salesmen, mobile phone companies and teen drama scriptwriters, while closing down opportunities for rockers too sick, ugly or funny to market.

Penthouse (renamed Fifty Tons of Black Terror after legal action from wealthy pornographers) were far too nasty a proposition for selling leather goods to pre-teens. By which I mean they sounded like the Jesus Lizard dressed as the Bad Seeds playing Pussy Galore records in a dustbin. As did Monkey Island.

I miss these guys, and fellow travelers like Groop Dogdrill and Gallon Drunk. But I get a rare pleasure from reading the names of bands they moved on to (via Gin Palace's Penthouse page):

Jon Free is now playing in GIN PALACE, plus does occasional stints with Country Teasers and London Dirthole Company (ex-Headbutt).
Charlie Finke
now fronts THE CESARIANS , featuring ex-members of Gretschen Hofner, The Auteurs, Monkey Island and even Christian Death!

Tim Cedar
went on to found the uber-heavy PART CHIMP, and primal electro-droners DIE MUNCH MACHINE

Esme MacDonald
has a new band called, laughably, 'THE HORN'. He sings and plays bass in this band. He tells me Lunasound ('home of the has-beens') are going to put out an album by them next year...

Graeme Flynn
left the band in June '99. He is currently playing in an outfit along with Jim Jones from Thee Hypnotics. Previously called BLACK MOSES, I have it on good authority that they have changed their name to the (rather presumptuous) 'LICENSED TO DESTROY!!!'

Thursday, 3 December 2009

the basics

pouch for the tie.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

gigsplurge 21: the workhouse, caretaker, union kid, november 2000

The Workhouse, Caretaker & Union Kid, Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, 11 November 2000

Great music inspires great writing.

Local rag Nightshift on the Workhouse: "a sonic cathedral of sound".
Drowned in Sound on Union Kid: "dynamics which can be best described as dynamic ... But when Union Kid are sad, their music is sad. As you listen to the heartfelt lyrics and the music has been slowed right down, you can almost feel a frown coming on."
Skippscage--apparently--on Caretaker: "The sound of Caretaker tonight was fat - really fat - no… phat!"

Of all the nights our outfit organized at the Bully, this may have been the most enjoyable, in that it was Peel-tastic, short, and headlined by Oxford's greatest band.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

the basics

2CV. leggy blonde. playing the trombone on a bridge.
"i'm not a astronaut."

gigsplurge 20: digital hardcore records, november 2000

Alec Empire, Nic Endo & ec8or, Oxford Zodiac, 7 November 2000

Listening to Atari Teenage Riot in the late 90s was like hearing the Wu-Tang Clan five years earlier. Not nearly as good, of course, but in both cases the music sounded like the work of dangerous, unpredictable nutters whose live shows might descend into violent mayhem in the blink of an eye.

For the Wu, this proved deceptive. Travelling to see them in Brixton, GMS fully expected to be run out of town like a common pygmy, only to find a crowd far friendlier than most indie gigs. Atari Teenage Riot, though, courted confrontation, inciting trouble if it didn't find its way to them naturally.

A worthy stance, perhaps, against far-right agitators in the German techno scene, or against heavy handed police on the Continent; and always wedded to a thrilling amount of noise and righteous energy. But in Britain their confrontational approach always seemed blunted. At the LA2 in 1999 they had goaded ageing punkers until one pushed Alec Empire off a speaker stack; in a support slot at Brixton Academy, they had offended Foo Fighters fans with a barrage of white noise; on record, Empire had pre-empted Dangermouse by flaunting copyright and tearing up Elvis records. Amusing enough, and always worth the asking price; but the band might have sought out some more threatening, less conservative targets: Eastbourne on a Sunday would have been a place to start.

This gig--a showcase of DJ sets, preaching to the converted--abandoned even the confrontational posture. Frustratingly, enigmatic frontman Carl Crack skulked by the t-shirt stand all night, while Nic Endo tortured a small black box, Alec Empire showcased his burgeoning nu-metal inclinations from the DJ booth, and one of them other ones--ec8or, I'm thinking--provided a tidy set of chaotic techno. An intruguing, occasionally brilliant band tailing off not with a bang, but with a really really loud whimper.

why women make good money for such a finger

GMS welcomes and encourages commenters. By heck, our posts exist to spark discussion, maybe even to challenge your preconceptions. Isn't that, at the end of the day, what the internet is about, reader?

As a genre, our favourites are Portuguese men selling electrical goods, and Americans preoccupied with the End of Days (not the film, the real one).

Regular readers will be keen to know more about the engaging Japanese conversation currently underway in response to provocative November post, 'join me on a magical journey'. Our faithful Japanese correspondent, Dave, has provided the following translation:

Married woman
H socializing with their wives, of course socializing practical-minded and OK! Here are their wives to taste erotic frustration. Immediately met, a young wife, celebrity, Mature, SM wife, secret, six more women want to play Please select from one genre

Side business
Million - 5 per day offers you can get a side business. Female celebrities nymphomaniac the next man he met on the Internet people are lying about eating with the power of money. Why women make good money for such a finger

H Checker
H Checker everyone to enjoy! Only the hidden answers to your questions in a simple frequency H is known to tea! Now try to diagnose Chau Muttsuri like him more than once Bale

The recent trend away from home message boards, and wrote many messages are runaway girl is walking around the Internet cafes, etc. stay. They are going to stay as soon as the men he met at the bulletin board at the house I have no money. Why even write you back an answer

I'm not sure where this conversation is going. But isn't that, at the end of the day, what the internet is about, reader? Don't click on the commenters' links, though: there are pictures of naked ladies!

Here's Shonen Knife, obviously:

Monday, 30 November 2009

the basics

black clothes. fag smoke. stamping.
"a gargle was essential."

Saturday, 28 November 2009

the basics

high kick. bow tie. smoking drummer.
trousers match the guitar.

the basics

white suit. cowboys. wandering bass.

Friday, 27 November 2009

the basics

beard. shorts. costume change. gob.
drop the shoulder, burst of pace.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

gigsplurge 19, mansun & my vitriol, october 2000

Mansun & My Vitriol, Oxford Brookes, 19 October 2000

2000 didn't look like a fun year to be in a band, if eking out a career was your bag: stranded at the arse-end of Britpop, before the Strokes and White Stripes provided a coherent new model for indie types to work towards or against. This gig found two bands on opposite trajectories--Britpop somebodies Mansun in freefall, emo nobodies My Vitriol looking for a break--but united in glum resignation. Not a joy to watch.

Mansun never quite fitted the Britpop mold, which seemed to suit them fine. Blending baggy swagger, early-Verve psychedelia, Bowie shape-shifting, Oasis sneer and Blur cheek, they looked set to outlast the Casts and Sleepers of the mid-90s scene. They were a hard band to warm to, lacking much that was sympathetic beneath the artifice, but their ability to wring five singles and several EPs from their debut album was at least impressive.

The bursting of the Britpop bubble left Mansun without a scene less interesting than themselves. Their prog-disaster of s second (concept) album, Six, left them a laughing stock. By 2000 they were hawking its successor the "RnB-influenced" Little Kix. A couple of years before rockers started citing Timbaland as an influence--however spuriously--this was a pointless left-turn by a band that no longer cared.

My Vitriol (grrr) were also, perhaps, a little ahead of their time, peddling a spiky, glossy type of emo complaint rock. At the time, the only major point of comparison was Ash, who were already off the boil. The emo credentials were in no doubt: My Vitriol played like someone had insulted their shoes. Teenage angst? Touring with Mansun? Paying dues? Playing the blues? Nobody's smiling.

Monday, 23 November 2009

gigsplurge 18: webb brothers, trail of dead, autumn 2000

The Webb Brothers, The Point, Oxford, 20 October 2000
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Oxford Zodiac, 30 October 2000
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Oxford Zodiac, 5 December 2000

Three galactic mysteries that can't be solved.

Did GMS see the Webb Brothers in October 2000? The odds are good, given that they'd just released Maroon, their one genuinely decent album. But I can't remember pondering which one was Christiaan with two 'a's, as in that Glenn Campbell song written by their dad, and which was the other one, as you might do when watching a set of consistent, dandyish, retro indie-pop. So maybe not.

Likewise, it's unclear how many times AYWKUBTTOD played Oxford in this period, and how many times I stumped up for them. My guess is that the first one was cancelled because of a 'bust-up' about one of their members' 'intense drug problems' and so forth, or they'd broken all their guitars and run out of money.

At any rate, this was between Madonna and Source Tags and Codes, so it's safe to say that whenever and hoewever often they did play, it was right loud and angry and good and that.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

gigsplurge 17: blighted buzzbands at the bully, autumn 2000

In 2009 "buzz" is measured in blog postings, the apex being a snarky deflation on Hipster Runoff. In 2000 it comprised a 50-word puff-piece in indie bog-roll The Fly, and a word-of-mouth endorsement by gravel-voiced Bullingdon Arms promoter the Sarge. GMS saw an awful lot of bands at the Bully in the autumn of 2000, in the process of organising our own gigs. Each and every one had a buzz about them; let's see where that got them.

Holy Roman Empire were an endearing, confusing, local version of Bis. The girl on keyboards looked the indie-hairgrip part; then there was a bloke in YSL shirt who looked a bit out of place; then there was a chap in eyeliner with a string vest, something like Richey Manic crossed with Alec Empire but somewhat less than the sum of the parts. One of them banged a gong, which was big at the time on account of the Flaming Lips. No idea about the name.

Samurai Seven were also local, and did things like guitar windmills and scissor kicks. One of them made the local news as the victim of a drive-by with an air rifle. He survived, you'll be glad to hear, though I'll bet it hurt like a bugger.

Twister and Remote Control were on most of these bills, and are indistinguishable in my memory as the sort of bands who'd describe themselves as "glam-punk sluts", fronted as they were by balding men spooned into leather trousers on the basis that Placebo were still selling records "in Europe".

Foil were a couple of notches above this lot, having had a couple of reviews in Kerrang, comparing them to people like Kerbdog and Tribute To Nothing. Likeable though not thoroughly enjoyable, they were kind of hardcore tinged with Sebadoh.

Nought were (are?) an Oxford band who played guitars with drills and made a lovely great headache of a noise.

Marconi's Voodoo had massive basslines, buzzsaw guitars, gurning faces, bugger's grips and orange trousers, like a goonish version of Billy Mahonie. Or was that Rock of Travolta?

Fiver were like a miniature version of Beulah, in that they were thinner and named after a plucky rabbit.

Mote no idea.

Seafood had Sonic Youth guitars and Pavement left-turns and Sebadoh melodies and Uresei Yatsura, erm, bits. The sort of band to have a string of NME singles of the week, back when that was the case, they were proper enough to make a record with Steve Albini and go on tour with Kenickie. I think that means they win this post.

Lights were a clumsy indie-soul band that made me wonder if it was all worth it. They were supported by the Afternoons, who weren't that other band called Afternoons.

War Hen were fucking awesome.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

gigsplurge 16: mclusky etc., october 2000

Mclusky, Cubare & Wingnut, Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, 12 October 2000

The second in our series of self-promoted evenings at Oxford's glamorous Bullingdon Arms. Can't remember anything about Wingnut, though I have a hunch they were a group of people's dads from Abingdon. Cubare were, I think, a bit Pavement (I'm going out on a limb here).

Mclusky were, of course, that insane Welsh band that Pitchfork still rave about years after their demise like they were a sort of Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock version of Tupac. Their feted status puzzles me--at the time, they never graduated from playing the Bully every second month--although it's entirely gratifying, given that they were one of the best punk bands Britain ever produced.

GMS is off to see Mclusky's successors, Future of the Left, in a couple of weeks. Can anybody guess where? Here's the barmy moment when someone let Mclusky on a telly show.

gigsplurge 15: jj72, october 2000

JJ72, Oxford Zodiac, 7 October 2000

Lacking the hollow bombast and naked ambition of Muse and the pompous banality of Coldplay, JJ72 were in the more likeable half of bands touted as the new Radiohead. One of the few bands I saw purely on the strength of a press officer's bribe, they were a surprisingly canny live band; they did nothing much that 80s-tinged falsetto complaint-rockers like Geneva or Puressence hadn't done before, but Gene Pitney-esque Thom Yorke mini-me frontman Mark Greaney at least knew his way around a chorus.

They also marked the point at which bands started getting younger than me. They certainly seemed it: dreadfully serious and lyrically clumsy (see below: why, indeed, won't it snow?). But GMS felt kindly disposed towards the band, in the way you imagine one might when faced with earnest youngsters facing up to a career in a vacuous industry at the start of a vacuous decade.

I'm staggered to learn they carried on until 2006, and am not altogether convinced that they aren't the Subways.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

gigsplurge 14: billy mahonie & mo-ho-bish-o-pi, june 2000

Billy Mahonie, Mo-ho-bish-o-pi & Silverback, Bullingdon Arms, 8 June 2000

At the time, GMS and a couple of friends were writing the music section for a now defunct "internet magazine". We got sent a lot of records to review, some of which were worth keeping, some of which were worth selling, some of which were by Lolly.

We booked this gig as a launch party--someone must have said "why not?" at some stage. The magazine never took off, but the gigs did: organising them, in conjunction with the team at the Bullingdon Arms, was surprisingly easy, and gigs tended to be better when you were allowed to name the headliners. The headliners of this particular gig tell you something about our state of mind at the time.

This series prompts questions about how music has changed across the decade. I couldn't say how much booking on the live toilet circuit has changed, as we only did this for around 12 months. It was entirely done with a landline and through addresses found on the back of 7" singles we liked. Other than that, I'd guess the principles haven't changed much.

Part of the agreement was that the Bully's in-house promoter, Mark 'The Sarge' Sargeant, could book one or two bands on the undercard--favours to mates, as our nights generally brought in a decent crowd, by the pub's standards. Silverback came via this route, and I can't remember a thing about them.

Billy Mahonie and Mo-ho-bish-o-pi were giving me hope about off-kilter British indie at the time. Along with Mclusky, they would have been ATP regulars if the festival's focus hadn't shifred Stateside. The Mahonie played lurching, bass-heavy, jazz-chords post-rock. They were the only band of their ilk that you could (sort of) dance to; small, tight, and kinetic where Mogwai had taken the genre big, expansive and elegiac. They should have succeeded and Explosions In The Sky should not. Mo-ho etc. played fast, shouty, Pavement frenzy, like Mclusky without the sick jokes and bile; good fun.

gigsplurge 13: a hundred reasons etc, june 2000

A Hundred Reasons & some other Brit-rock ordinaries, The Elm Tree, Oxford, 3 June 2000

Curly hair, big shorts, and loose limbs, A Hundred Reasons were a chundering, gurning Brit-rock band--the sort of thing you'd like if your big brother was into Feeder. Seen early in their careers and in a tiny venue, they had a good deal of energy, which counted for something, but not a lot. At the Drive-In and Cave In were big news at the time, and they made AHR sound extremely pedestrian. But they had a middling career, around the Kerrrang/Reading festival axis; a few years later, they might have been bracketed as emo, though they'd have needed a stylist.

This was something of a Brit-rock all-dayer, organised (I think) by the recently-formed The Club That Cannot Be Named--now a successful promoter of louder gigs in a number of cities. I can't remember who played, but at a guess, there would have been Black Candy, who played loud and ugly without thrill or joy; Jor, kids who wanted to be Korn; and Faith in Hate, whose name never fails to make me laugh.

The Elm Tree, then a god-on-a-string pub, is now a cheerful Chinese eatery. In fact, check out the Lan Kwai Fong on Cowley Road--it's cheap, the staff are friendly, and they have cider on tap.

gigsplurge 12: bellatrix & coldplay, twist, may 2000

Bellatrix & Coldplay, The Point, Oxford, 22 May 2000
Twist, The Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, May 2000

According to youtube, Bellatrix is either the UK female beatboxing champion, or a Japanese "electric-classical" quartet, or Helena Bonham-Carter. I'd like to find out more about the world of attractive crossover-classical musicians: I'll bet it's brutal. Bellatrix was also a Scandinavian indie-pop group signed, I think, to Fierce Panda. They must have had something to recommend them, as the co-headliners were bloody Coldplay again. But I can't remember what.

Twist were also all girls, and also disappeared without trace. They sounded like Hole and weren't all that bad; but they had a row on stage and one of them ended up sat on the pavement outside, crying. Not worth it, ladies.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

gigsplurge 11: doves, oxford zodiac, may 2000

Doves, Oxford Zodiac, 20 May 2000

A month after the release of Doves' debut album, Lost Souls, Jimi Goodwin was the happiest man in music: genuinely overwhelmed by the opportunity to entertain people by playing songs, and to travel round the country in a big bus, which he breathlessly showed to GMS before the gig (hey--I'd never been on a bus that big). Understandable, given that their previous careers as techno producers in Sub Sub had culminated in a fire that destroyed three years' worth of work.

Lost Souls was Big Indie with a heart, rather than a cocaine habit; I haven't seen them since, nor listened to anything beyond 2002's Last Broadcast--I gather not much has changed, and I'm guessing Jimi is more than happy with how things turned out. But the show in 2000 was intense, drawing on the band's youths spent as Hacienda regulars, transforming bleak Northern ballads into Screamadelica epics.

gigsplurge 10: yo la tengo, neil innes, sonic boom, may 2000

Yo La Tengo, Neil Innes & Sonic Boom, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 19 May 2000

Scrupulously tasteful in everything they do, Yo La Tengo assembled support acts to complement their two halves--a smirking, literate take on classic pop from 70s spoof-mesiter Neil Innes, and noisy noise from Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom.

Sonic Boom made feedback while sitting down, which I confess, was a novelty, though not a particularly enjoyable one. Neil Innes, backed by Mr Boom and the Tengo, gave an entertaining set of tracks from Rutland Weekend Television projects like the Rutles and Pommy. Having successfully sued Oasis for plagiarising 'How Sweet To Be An Idiot' on 'Whatever', Innes seemed in particularly good spirits. Several videos to follow.

Yo La Tengo played amidst plastic plants and led the audience in a funny dance to 'You Can Have It All'. Elderly ushers looked on with polite concern as awkward hipsters gingerly danced in the aisles. Mild, is the word we're looking for.

gigsplurge 9: brassy, april 2000

Brassy, The Point, Oxford, April 2000

Reviews at the time suggested Brassy got where they did (which was nowhere, really) because singer Muffin Spencer was Jon's sister. Not so. For instance:

This one sounds like the Ting Tings, which suggests Jay-Z would have signed them, if he wasn't busy making The Blueprint.

While this one is bloody appalling, which suggests Grand Royal would have signed them, if they didn't already have Luscious Jackson.

In fact they were signed to Wiija, home of Bis. Truly, April is the schmindiest month.

gigsplurge 8: groop dogdrill, april 2000

Groop Dogdrill, The Point, Oxford, 28 April 2000

If there was a fight, Groop Dogdrill would win. Born in the wrong country, ten years too late, these guys should have been signed to Sub Pop and sent on tour with Tad. Nirvana's gain.

gigsplurge 7: hefner, beulah etc, april 2000

Hefner & Murry the Hump, The Point, Oxford, 15 April 2000
Beulah, Butterflies of Love & Pluto Monkey, The Point, Oxford, 21 April 2000

Encouraging thought the launch of ATP was, 2000 was the year of the schmindie credit crunch. Later in the year I was sent not one but two books giving retrospective accounts of Alan McGee's Creation Records. The Creation model--that one Oasis would fund investment in dozens of long-shot indie weirdos, one or two of which might become another cash cow--had become accepted wisdom during the Britpop boom of the late 1990s. The collapse of market confidence triggered by Be Here Now meant that by the turn of the millennium, major labels were foreclosing their indie loser divisions faster than you could say Northern Uproar. Pre-Myspace, the fallout provided an opportunity for old-school, postal-address-on-the-back-of-a-7" indie labels. Tow of them--Oxford's quaint Shifty Disco and London's Too Pure--sent tours GMS' way in April.

Dawn of the Replicants were a notable victim of the crunch: signed to Warners subsidiary East-West on the strength of brilliant Peel-fave 'Cocaine on the Catwalk', they never cracked the top 50 and were dropped within two years. Pluto Monkey were goonish frontman Paul Vickers' response. Displaying signs of incipient mental breakdown, Vickers donned a dress and recorded a set of loopy electronica Shifty Disco. Watching Pluto Monkey was bloody torture, but missing most of Butterflies of Love's quietly underwhelming set to listen to Vickers recount the peaks and troughs of the schmindie apocalypse was at least enlightening.

Headlining the gig were Beulah, Elephant 6's pudgy, well-meaning uncles, who released several UK-only 7" singles through Shifty Disco. The medium dates them, but the music didn't. Beulah's breezy, Neil Young-ish psychedelia would have them blog-buzzed as a squarer Grizzly Bear in 2009.

Uber Peel-faves Hefner never took major label money, though Darren Hayman's knack for a pop hook makes it likely there were offers. 2000 album, We Love the City, tipped its hat towards commercial success, beefing up their sound and channelling their self-loathing / girlfriend-loathing wit outwards on 'The Day Thatcher Died'. The girls in hairgrips and blokes hugging their pints preferred the early records--particularly the peerless Fidelity Wars--as did GMS, although they remained a vital live act until their split in 2002.

Support band Murry the Hump had graduated from Shifty Disco to Too Pure where they were touted, amazingly, as the Welsh Hefner; one of the cheeriest bands I've ever seen, the loveable Hump replaced Hefner's dark wit with aimless pop songs about dope. They split in 2001 to no great fanfare.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

gigsplurge 6: mogwai etc, april 2000

Mogwai etc., All Tomorrow's Parties, Camber Sands, April 2000

Alphabetical post-rock nostalgia your way comes:

Arab Strap typical festival band, rolled out all the hits; sales of The Weekend Never Starts Round Here saw a spike the following week.

Bardo Pond failed to live up to a rather high billing as stoner post-rock legends, were but reasonably spooky and diverting; side projects, I gather, include Harsh Jar Tempo and Prairie Dog Flesh.

Delgados sat down so nobody could see them and played cellos really quietly.

Fly Pan Am were the guitary chaps out of Godspeed; they started loud and got louder until they finished. I'm dead keen on Fly Pan Am.

For Carnation started quietly and got quieter. Various other ex-members of Slint also played, sparking rumours there would be a reunion--which did eventually happen at ATP in 2005. At the time this was simply curious, though not quite curious enough. I spotted John Peel looking fed up: God bless the dead.

Gorkys Zygotic Mynci had tunes, which would have made them more than welcome on any ATP line-up. They ought to reform, and maybe play ATP.

Godspeed You Black Emperor had been on the cover of NME the previous year. At the time, the magazine frequently reviewed post-rock albums with descriptions like "sounds not unlike the Sonora Pine". I'm guessing a lot of 'paymasters' breathed a sigh of relief when Conor McNicholas turned up. Godspeed were staggering: preceded by two of their side-projects, marching to the stage through the crowd, blowing out speakers. What on earth happened to them?

Hood played, as did Pram; one or both played frosty British post-rock, not too far removed from the third Portishead album. But which?

Labradford were a sign of things to come for ATP, by which I mean, the sound of whirring fridges.

Ligament were a slightly dreary hardcore band, kind of like Sparta but without the massive air of disappointment.

Mogwai My Father, My King (Live at ATP, 2000) Listennnnnnn!

Molasses were the strings bit of Godspeed, as opposed to the guitars bit. Pretty much the parts of the sum, which is no faint praise.

Papa M popped up with various bands across the weekend; his own set consisted of a 20-minute version of 'Turn, Turn, Turn'. On a scale of one to 'Slint reunion', this ranked pretty low.

Pram played, as did Hood; one or both played frosty British post-rock, not too far removed from the third Portishead album. But which?

Radar Brothers had the tunes; sleepy, sleepy tunes, but tunes they were.

Scott 4 are much missed.

Shellac went on to curate their own ATP, and to play most days of most festivals, until they were politely shuffled off to make room for Bon Iver. Taut, horrifying and, pleasingly, extremely witty, they were the perfect bar band for beardos with, you know, souls full of agony and rage.

Sigur Ros soooop soooop sweeeep sweeep; this was a bit feeble, really--though harmless. I never quite got why they won; possibly by singing about elves, rather than the New World Order.

Snow Patrol were a likeable, slightly shit indie band before they started writing Lou Barlow songs with X-Factor choruses for car companies. This was a likeable, slightly shit performance.

Sonic Youth spent this gig blowing trumpets into guitar pickups. I’m glad I saw Sonic Youth when they were behaving, too.

Stereolab did their thing; you can't knock Stereolab, after all.

Super Furry Animals were still the right side of Status Quo at this stage.

Ten Benson pork sausage … rock cottage! This project has just caused me to discover that Ten Benson have reunited. I am screaming inside. See them.

Trail of Dead sounded like Sonic Youth covering the Who at this stage. Presumably they broke some stuff. I could do with seeing the old Trail of Dead again.

Two Dollar Guitar belonged to Steve Shelley out of Sonic Youth and were precisely that whelming.

Wire reformed before it was profitable, but still got the headline slot; everybody came to see them, and adopted a serious look.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

gigsplurge 5: all tomorrow's parties curated by mogwai, april 2000

All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Mogwai, Camber Sands Pontin's, 7-9 April 2000

This was the first All Tomorrow's Parties (though, technically, not the first indie-hipster holiday-camp shindig: that honour went to Belle & Sebastian's Bowlie Weekender, 12 months before). Since 2000, ATP has become an unavoidable, faceless fixture on the indie circuit. Festivals on three continents; four in the UK this year; a series of standalone gigs, and the 'Don't Look Back' concept--a licence for anybody from Rodan upwards to print indie money. The final instalment in gigsplurge will cover their tenth anniversary festival, due in December.

At the time, festivals were failing: Phoenix, one of the big four, disappeared completely. The others narrowed their focus: Reading as a naff punk-metal showdown, with an occasional rap or pop act for throwing bottles of piss; Glastonbury as a Sunday-supplement bonanza; T in the Park as a bland boozefest. Right now, festivals are failing: the mid-decade boom of micro-festivals contracted quickly, with numerous outfits folding over the past two years through lack of bands, or lack of audience.

What did ATP do right? Their development is closely mirrored by the expansion across the decade of Pitchfork, with whom they are now closely involved. ATP followed Pitchfork's canny refinement of critical vision. Not always to the good: in a narrowly nationalistic sense, the 2000 festival was the only one which gave more than a cursory presence for British bands--though moving elsewhere hasn't hurt the business model. For the first half of the decade, ATP was frustrating for the overbooking of unlistenable post-rock nonsense; it's now frustrating because of a surfeit of highly competent Canadian side-projects.

The signs of impending enormity weren't immediately apparent in 2000, though that shouldn't reflect badly on the organisers. Postponed from September 1999 due to poor ticket sales, this was still as smoothly-organised a festival as I'd seen, and on a relatively new model. Casino was on telly from 3am. Nonetheless, compared with ATP's plush, colourful new venue at Butlin's Minehead, Camber Sands was cold, sandblown, and fuelled by electricity tickets sold from a front office disguised as a tree.

It was also in the middle of nowhere--although on a particularly tune-free morning the GMS team did make it as far as Rye, where we bought a board game based on Neighbours and the best of Kenny Rogers. The Kenny cover was beautiful--an artist's rendering of the big fella in an open blue tracksuit with nothing on underneath. If I could find it on the internets, I'd share.

Reviews to follow.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

gigsplurge 4: capdown & king prawn, april 2000

Capdown & King Prawn, Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, 3 April 2000

Militant ska punk, indeed. I'm happy to believe kids still get down to this sort of fun and always will. Not that Capdown seemed too pleased about how things had turned out, the last time I saw them. Capitalism's Downfall, to give them their due (I think), were a pretty straight-ahead safe-bet on this occasion, though, hoping hard for 'change' when they weren't rollerskating or pulling at their trousers.

In this most serious of genres, though, a little fun goes a long way--something the mighty King Prawn worked out early. Regular stand-outs on those mix CDs sold in Camden millinery outlets, rubbing shoulders with bands called things like Dub Skeletor and Bumface, King Prawn spent ten years as the most energetic band on the toilet circuit, pitching up halfway between 'Check Your Head' and the first Rage Against the Machine album, and with a beserk bearded bald bassist to boot.

This show was in support of third album, 'Surrender to the Blender'. A bid for a modest amount of crossover success--lead single 'Day In Day Out' turned up on the soundtrack of Channel 4 drama Teachers, for real--the album also saw them begin to trail off.

Never too confident with an idea that lasted longer than a kick-ass riff or merry horn solo, King Prawn failed to make the leap to producing records people wanted to buy, splitting in 2003. A late single sounded a bit like Linkin Park--not that people begrudged buying the odd Linkin Park record. In a venue too small for their demented energy, though, not to be beat.

gigsplurge 3: gallon drunk, march 2000

Gallon Drunk, Oxford Zodiac, March 2000

Here's where the memory starts to falter. GMS talked to Gallon Drunk frontman and occasional Bad Seed James Johnston in the service of 'music journalism' prior to this gig. It transpired that Gallon Drunk were big in Greece (possibly still are--why not?), and Johnston was preoccupied with Greek toilet roll commercials.

In my memory, this was because the Drunk had recently licensed a murderously-brutal ode to the bottle to a Greek advertising company, enabling them to continue as Britain's hardest-working underrated swamp rock outfit for another few months. Perhaps Johnston was simply weighing up an offer. Perhaps he was inveighing against selling out to advertising execs, after Groop Dogdrill beat him to the Huggies contract. Can anyone enlighten me?

Anyway, a good gig by a greasy band with four brilliant albums under their belt, at which, futuristically, I used a digital camera. Gallon Drunk are still going, you know.

gigsplurge 2: coldplay & terris, march 2000

Coldplay & Terris, The Point, Oxford, 13 March 2000

This was a proper bloody stinker. The two bands had been hyped by the NME as, respectively, the new Radiohead and the new Joy Division, on the strength of an EP and a single. Both niches made sense: Radiohead's release of Kid A a few months later left a gap in the market for a band willing to write tunes for teenagers, rather than dirges for opponents of globalisation; borrowing from Joy Division proved a successful formula for bands throughout the decade.

No joy. Chris Martin pratted and yodelled in curly fright-wig and baggy jumper. Terris, long-forgotten, provided more cheap thrills. Less a 21st-century Joy Division, more a post-punk Bon Jovi from south Wales: tunes-free and anxious, with plenty of arm-waving--co-ordinated on the choruses, otherwise not.

What separated these two lousy outfits, such that one became the UK's biggest musical export in decades (Coldplay, for those not following), while the other sank so fast, and earned so little affection, that there is no trace of them even on youtube (...Terris)?

The difference between Coldplay in front of twenty blokes in an Oxford pub and Coldplay in front of 20,000 couples in the Reese's Peanut Butter Arena, -----sville, appears to be little more than refinement. Out went the baggy jumper and curly 'fro, in came singing lessons, natty jackets and the odd piano line. Someone clearly saw the goblin in the marble on this one, and he's a richer man than I.

Monday, 9 November 2009

gigsplurge 1: primal scream, jan 2000

Primal Scream, Oxford Zodiac, 19 January 2000

A belting start, at least. Primal Scream missed a trick by not splitting up at the beginning of the decade. With three-and-a-half good-to-great albums from Screamadelica to Xtrmntr they would have been prime candidates for reunion money and the 'Don't Look Back' treatment.

This gig was big news at the time: a secret show by a band at the height of its powers, warming up for much bigger venues. By the end of a decade in which they did nothing of particular relevance or elegance, the 500-ish capacity Zodiac looks about their size.

Not that terminal decline seemed likely at the time. The band was augmented both by Mani from the Stone Roses, and My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields on, I guess, rhythm guitar. A supergroup without an ounce of bloat or self-indulgence, this line-up was only rivalled by Song For The Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age.

What happened? Over-driven guitars, deafening house beats and agit-prop sloganeering seemed as decent route as any out of Britpop, avoiding both string sections and ideas nicked from Pavement. A couple of lousy bands followed their lead--Cooper Temple Clause and Kasabian spring to mind--but within a short time, listeners opted for backward-looking guitar bands with more modest ambitions. And, indeed, for the band featuring in gigsplurge 2....

join me on a magical journey

Oh Word threw down the gauntlet, and GMS picked up the baton. The baton, if you will, of blogging about gigs.

Yes, patient reader, between now and the end of the year, GMS aims to write about every gig we have seen this decade. Around 600 bands and counting.

Why? This decade is nearing an end, and lists loom. The worry is that condensing these experiences into a list of ten - or even fifteen - of the 'best' would confirm my suspicion that I was wasting my time with the rest. So, instead, an open ended tapestry in all its warty glory.

Will lessons be learnt? I assure you they will not. Have no fear that this will resemble anything like a personal journey: one that starts by accidentally watching Coldplay and ends by deliberately seeing Dananananackroyd shows little capacity for self-examination or redemptive awakening.

Nor is accuracy promised: gigs will be missed, venues and support bands invented, dates mangled. Not even the internet can confirm whether I have seen the Modey Lemon twice or just once.

Be it as it may. Please do add points, counterpoints, clarifications, memories, and adverts in the comments section, if so moved. Let battle commence.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Monday, 31 August 2009

"should have stayed on the farm"

The artwork for rap artist Ghostface's forthcoming album, The Wizard of Poetry, takes as its inspiration L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's fable, The Wizard of Oz, in which a young American girl, displaced from her rural home, must travel to the Emerald City to obtain assistance from a kind-hearted wizard. The girl acquires a small band of companions, whom she helps to overcome various personal failings while traveling to the city. However, at journey's end, Dorothy comes to understand the simplicity and goodness of the moral values associated with her agrarian upbringing, and wishes only for a return to the homestead.

The use of the Wizard of Oz has its antecedents in popular culture. Elton John, whose association with hip hop stems from an unlikely collaboration with public homophobe Eminem at the 2001 Grammy Awards show, and from 'Ghetto Gospel', a 2004 duet with the late 2pac Shakur, which reached the number one spot in the UK, Ireland and Australia, used Oz's central motif - the Yellow Brick Road along which Dorothy journeys - as a framing device for an album about the voyage from innocence to experience [Ed's update: the title track of which is sampled on the final track of Raekwon's Only Built For Cuban Linx II, an album which, suspiciously, hit the internets just hours after this GMS investigative post]. The album's mawkish lead single, 'Candle In The Wind', was revised in 1997 as a tribute to Diana, a 'fairytale princess' whose ability to articulate a 'down-to-earth' morality endeared her to the public as much as it provoked friction with the British royal family.

'Candle In The Wind' was released in the same year as Puff Daddy's 'I'll Be Missing You', a similarly sentimental tribute to a recently deceased celebrity, which also appropriated a middlebrow hit single by a wealthy Englishman - in this case Sting, with his post-punk band the Police - as a strategy to lend the tribute a sense of gravitas and permanence. Just as 'I'll Be Missing You' featured R'n'B singer Faith Evans, one-time paramour of the dead subject, as a counterpoint to the rapping of Sean 'Puffy' Combs, so The Wizard Of Poetry promises a suite of 'RnB collabos', finding their artistic drive in the interplay between female singers and Ghostface - who, like Elton John and 2Pac, used modern technology to collaborate with his dead contemporary and sometime rival, the Notorious BIG, on the 2006 track 'Three Bricks'.

The Wizard of Oz has been descirbed as 'the first American fairy tale', and while it draws on several European folk traditions, and on the work of Northern European compilers such as the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen, its themes speak directly to first and second generation immigrants, adjusting to the mixture of hardship and promise provided by the plains of the midwest. Nevertheless, the tale lends itself to reconfiguration, as is underscored by the 1978 musical adaptation The Wiz, which presented Oz as a tale relevant to a black, urban audience.

Employing the idiom of the blaxploitation movies which are a recurrent theme in Ghostface's studio albums, the Wiz starred another recent celebrity casualty, Michael Jackson, whose music Ghostface has sampled on several occasions. Jackson claimed an affinity with Diana, and P. Diddy, who performed his tribute to the Notorious BIG at the 1997 'Concert for Diana', also contributed a verse to 'Better on the Other Side', a hastily-assembled tribute to Jackson, helmed by the Game, sometime labelmate of Ghostface's frequent collaborator, Chef Raekwon.
Jackson's co-star in the Wiz, Nipsey Russell, has also been the recipient of a hip hop tribute in the form of Nipsey Hussle, an upcoming West Coast rapper who has also worked with the Game. Russell, a comedian and regular on Hollywood Squares, was known as 'the Poet Laureate of TV'.

Unlike his fellow member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man, Ghostface is not known for his TV work, but his album title makes his concern with poetic form clear. Likewise, the centrality of the
Emerald city in the artwork signals associations with Irish culture, which esteems poets and the poetic tradition. Dexys Midnight Runners, a second-generation Irish group who named their string section 'The Emerald Express' on their Celtic-themed sophomore album, Too-Rye-Aye, share with Ghostface a reverence for classic soul, forthright seduction techniques, amphetamines and dungarees.

More firmly within the Irish tradition, poetry is often deployed as a response to the socially corrosive effects of violence, and as a way to reformulate identities fragmented by colonisation, mass emigration, and the diaspora. Just as Yeats spoke of 'a terrible beauty', so rap has often been upheld as a cultural space in which those denied social or economic power can make sense of their experiences, and can build a sense of pride, purpose, and a community not of letters, but of words - a 'slang democracy', in the words of Raekwon. Hence the 'street' becomes the Yellow Brick Road, New York 'the Emerald City', as seen across the river from the impoverished housing projects of Ghostface's native Staten Island, with Central Park foregrounded on the album cover, a leisure-space of sexual opportunity where the trappings of status and class are in one moment leveled on the picnic rug.

This opulent and optimistic visual language is out of step with Ghostface's conventional artistic choices. Unusually for a rapper, two of his solo albums locate him in a live music environment, while four picture engaged in professional work: for his debut, Ironman, he is employed in a colourful shoe factory; his third album, Bulletproof Wallets, sees him in the role of a chef, while two later albums, Fishscale and More Fish, pivture him as a fishmonger, once a profitable and respectable working class profession in the port city of New York. Ironically, of course, Irish immigrants formed the backbone of the incipient New York Police Department - a recurrent bugbear of Ghostface's street-level narratives. Their descendants are often themselves policemen, not just in New York, but in the immigrant towns of the Eastern seabord and the northern United States - as was recently emphasised by the Wire, a series which drew parallels between white and black working class communities in urban America, and which featuring Method Man as a mid-level Baltimore criminal.

HBO, the channel which commissioned the Wire, also played host to a long-running prison drama entitled Oz, which feaured a high-security prison known to the inmates as the Emerald City. Oz offered journeys of personal discovery and occasional redemption for its characters, but generally without the female companionship that Ghostace's vision suggests. Nevertheless, it has found appreciation in the hip hop community: fellow New York rhymer and former Def Jam labelmate NORE identified himself as "Adebisi", a powerful black rapist from the series, in his 2002 single 'Nuthin'.

Ghostface's most recent album, the Big Doe Rehab, signalled a move towards more aspirational and less masculine concerns, featuring Ghostface attended by a buxom nurse and surrounded by medicine and piles of money. Nevertheless, The Wizard of Poetry marks a new departure in being the first Ghostface solo album not to feature the visage of the once-masked rapper. A similar facelessness was a tactic of the prog rock band Pink Floyd, whose Dark Side of the Moon - released just months before Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - is popularly rumoured to have been composed as a soundtrack to the Wizard of Oz. Certainly, the album's cover, which illustrates a monochrome light beam broken into a rainbow by a prism, echoes the film's most popular song, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', while also paying tribute to MGM's innovative use of technicolour.

An appreciation of colour distinguishes Ghostface from many rappers, particularly of the 90s generation. In a skit on Raekwon's debut album, Only Built For Cuban Linx, Ghostface details his technique for dying shoes, his favourite combination being "blue and cream". A similar do-it-yourself aesthetic informed the album covers designed by Pen-n-Pixel studios, which combined colours, visual effects and luxury items beyond the budgets of regional rap performers with computer trickery, and towards which the fantasia scenery of The Wizard of Poetry knowingly nods.

Just as Pen-n-Pixel juxtaposed poor, disenfranhised black artists with diamonds, bejewelled goblets, neo-Georgian mansions, luxury motor vehicles and exploding helicopters, so the Wizard of Poetry emerges at a time of economic strife, which has affected not only the poorer neighbourhoods that Ghostface often 'represents' in his raps, but also the more affluent sections of his audience - consumers on whom popular musicians depend, and who play as much a key role in shaping the contemporary cultural landscape and the artists themselves.

The choice of the Wizard is apposite, casting as it does a link not only to the agricultural depressions of the 1880s and 1890s - the first to affect the global economy - but also the Great Depression of the 1930s, from which MGM's colourful musical version offered both a respite, and a note of hope that personal courage and traditional morality would overcome the 'whirlwind' of economic collapse.

Many critics have seen in The Wizard of Oz a political allegory - a fear that economic strife may lead to political injustice and misrule. It has been suggested the 'Oz' itself is a reference to the ounce, signalling a support for the charismatic Populist leader William Jennings Bryan, who advocated bi-metallism as a response to the economic crisis, inflating the currency and thereby relieving small farmers encumbranced by debt and unable to borrow on future earnings. Bryan's famed 'Cross of Gold' speech was dense in its biblical imagery, as is much of the most successful American rhetoric, black rights leader Martin Luther King's speeches being a case in point.

Rap, too, draws on biblical and religious themes to highlight personal and social struggles. Although Ghostface has never recorded a religious song as direct as Kanye West's 'Jesus Walks' or as recondite as the works of Wu-affiliate Killah Priest, Ghostface has often deployed the language and lore of the 5% Nation of Islam in support of his musical perspectives. Perhaps more directly, Ghostface links the 'ounce' of Oz, and the 'brick' of the Yellow Brick Road (he revisves his own 'Three Bricks' theme with a guest appearance on Raekwon's Only Built For Cuban Linx II, entitled 'Ten Bricks'), to the hard-nosed rationalism of the drug trade where, indeed, "a kilo weighs a thousand grams".

Like Jennings Bryan, and indeed like many modern populist opponents of the complex world of high finance, Ghostface harbours a suspicion of the parried and fluid realities of stock dealing, which is implicit in his artwork: the journey provides the heft of the story, but it is the return to a fixed neighbourhood, where values are static and frequently reinforced, that provides the logic of the pilgrimage.