Saturday, December 31, 2011

THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS (Peter Sís / The Penguin Press 2011)

I first came across the work of Peter Sís in an exhibition of children’s illustration at the Imperial Stables of Prague Castle in 1998. This show was split over two huge rooms; one containing the work of 50 of the finest illustrators working in the Czech Republic; the other dedicated entirely to Peter Sís and featuring the stunning large originals from all of his books to that point. It was an eye opener that these original (and often dark) Czech illustrators were respected enough on a domestic level for such an event to be staged. Internationally, children’s picture books were rapidly becoming the domain of bad celebrity authorship or product franchise instead of existing as creative works. That made the impact of Peter Sís’s work so much more remarkable. His pivotal book at that stage of his career, THE THREE GOLDEN KEYS, captured the arcane and labyrinthine Prague of his childhood in a way that was still visible (in January ’98) once the dense, freezing night fog hit the cobbles. It seemed like the perfect snapshot from the city and it was the first book of his I ever bought.

Peter Sís is now a towering figure of ageless illustrated literature so it’s somewhat surprising that THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS is considered his first book directed towards adults. It transpires that this is dictated by the marketplace rather than by Sís himself, who makes no such pointless distinctions. This new book is based on the celebrated 12th century Sufi poem by Farid ud-Din Attar and concerns itself with the transformation of the poet Attar into a hoopoe bird, a symbol of virtue in ancient Persia. He gathers “all the birds of the world” to a great conference and makes a declaration that they should seek the king of the birds, Simorgh, for answers to “ the troubles happening in our world! Anarchy – discontent – upheaval! Desperate fights over territory, water and food! Poisoned air! Unhappiness ”. (The mythical winged Simorgh - also simurgh, simurg, simoorg, simourv - appears in a number of ancient Iranian fables including one where it uses its beak to perform a life saving cesarean section. These are the type of things you learn from lurking round the scrolls in the Chester Beatty Library). After the great conference and a period of doubt in which many creatures question their involvement, the birds of the world set out in an immense flock across seven valleys: Quest, Love, Understanding, Detachment, Unity, Amazement and Death. Many get lost, sneak away or die in the course of the journey and a small number of survivors finally reach the mountain of Kaf, home of Simorgh for the spiritual finale.

Peter Sís expertly depicts this over 160 pages in a manner that’s part ancient manuscript, part contemporary art and part classic Sís. The primarily earth-toned pages alternate between sparse illustrations, abstract mandalas and masterful full spreads. These map the initial flight of the birds in trademark Sís dot work as well as graphically striking wallpapers flooded with avian silhouettes. As the book progresses, particularly in Part IV (the Seven Valleys section), it depicts a world of strange cartography littered with weird hillocks, erratic tidemarks and a generous scattering of the author’s omnipresent abstract rubber stamps. These landscapes are hellishly lifeless. With the flick of a page they suddenly contain a flash flood of birds in a somewhat Hitchcockian manner. Each valley contains a different maze, starting with a Cretan Labyrinth and progressing through variations and convolutions of ancient maze designs. There are obviously many levels of symbolism at play here. The varying complexity of each maze is noteworthy as doubts, calamities, deaths and ravages take their toll on the flock. It’s those sort of contemplative keys that project a wealth of graphic narrative, parallel to the main text, in much of Sís’s work. There’s also an eerie beauty about the flow of birds as it diminishes to a trickle across the Valley of Death. The Mountain of Kaf sequence is initially represented by a colourful mandala against a large black backdrop, dwarfing the silhouettes of the 30 remaining birds. It then progresses through to the end in a graphically stunning and somewhat hallucinatory full circle.

Attar himself was a travelling pilgrim, an herbalist and poet who was excommunicated as a heretic and eventually killed by rampaging Mongols. They obviously cared little for his enigmatic teachings and inward looking theologies. What Peter Sís has done with Attar’s poem, rather than simply taking the original text and illustrating it, is interpret the story in his own unique way before translating it into something which is primarily visual. His detailed pacing and spatial arrangement is nothing short of outstanding and the book itself is printed on canvas textured paper to augment a tactile, archival feel,definitely an inspired move - try doing that with Kindle! To call this a graphic novel would be an insult. It is a work of art, plain and simple. - BOZ

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SOLAR FIELDS - Until We Meet The Sky (Ultimae Records 2011)

The Solar Fields output over 10 albums has been eclectic, amorphous and impressive, shifting vehicle every couple of albums and facilitating a pick’n’mix outflow of high grade downbeat and ambient sound. At one point it strayed into trance (EARTHSHRINE - 2007) and it appeared that Magnus Birgersson was wrangling with too wide a sonic spectrum. Notwithstanding a personal allergy to trance, this just did not seem like something I particularly wanted to hear mixed up with the other grandiose and ethereal tones I had come to associate with Solar Fields. Perhaps this direction would have been better suited as a side project. Whatever the case, it was wisely abandoned and in its place a new sonic cycle began, advancing headlong into deeper expanses of ambience. This latest offering, fresh from the well-respected Ultimae camp, is an album of remarkable content that could well be the best Solar Fields record to date.

UNTIL WE MEET THE SKY is designed as a continuous piece broken into 12 phases. The first of these, FROM THE NEXT END, commands immediate attention as something new emerging from a chrysalis. Instead of a habitual beat-based fare, this is an immense and protracted opening of drifting subtleties. BROKEN RADIO ECHO is like a modern take on Eno’s vintage atmospheric inclinations with very restrained piano phrasing. This continues into a longer phase, SINGING MACHINE, with layers of melody and a rising diffusion breathing an airy luminosity across the track. It cuts like a valve being shut as a tribal beat momentarily fades in and out of the resonance and ebbs straight into AFTER MIDNIGHT, THEY SPEAK, an ambient habitat riddled with foreground and distant punctuations. These leave themselves open to interpretation as either the frolicking of night critters or the subservience of busy gadgets... or both. Once again the roaming piano motif briefly appears like a lost fragment of a complete piece long dispersed over the multitude of swelling phases. WHEN THE WORLDS COLLIDE ascends over a sparse and economical drumbeat that seems to gather percussive fragments of space junk as it cruises through its six-minute phase. DIALOGUE WITH A RIVER is a Tonto’s Expanding Headband title for a track if ever I heard one, although musically there’s little similarity. This commences with some delicate electronic plumes before resonating into a dark shapeless drone. Just after the six and a half minute mark, the first prominent downbeats of the album appear, chunky yet strangely unobtrusive amongst the flows and splashes. FORGOTTEN is shorter and sporadically unleashes emblems of melody from it’s amorphous structure which break loose like spores dispersing from a golden age of electronic music. Elements of Cluster and Popol Vuh come to mind. NIGHT CITY TRAFFIC starts out on a low Kraftwerkian throb with glitchy pace making subdued under a wash of effects. This develops into a heavily progressive journey, venturing through a multifaceted landscape of weird rhythmic sounds, micro melodies and crystalline sequences. Without a doubt it owes much in concept to Autobahn, but this is very much its own thing and is immaculately constructed... a definite album highlight. SOMBRERO sounds positively urban and almost funky in comparison. I half expect it to break into a club beat but it remains pacified and dulcet, momentarily deviating from the greater sonic mantle of the album without jilting it off in an unnecessary direction. LAST STEP IN VACUUM is another slow swell of harmonic mist with subtle sound effects germinating in its catchment. This fuses with UNTIL WE MEET THE SKY’s vibrant euphony and very distant industrial beat. EPILOGUE completes the cycle of phases by revisiting elements of the album’s melodies in one last drift and connecting sonically right back with FROM THE NEXT END.

Magnus Birgersson is firmly in the Scandinavian ambient heavyweight league (along with Biosphere and Carbon Based Lifeforms) and the Solar Fields oeuvre of floating sound and slow motion is a hugely important part of that ambient renaissance. Whatever it is about the far northern hemisphere (those long twilights maybe?), a superior understanding of where to guide this music has been radiating from that loose geographical direction for the last few years. UNTIL WE MEET THE SKY, in particular, successfully evolves the audio genetic spawned on MOVEMENTS (2009) and it ventures well above and beyond the call of duty in finding new ways to galvanise and invigorate this species of electronic music. For best results, play loud with the lights off - A truly excellent recording. – BOZ

Sunday, December 25, 2011

CAFÉ DE L'ENFER - Marchant A Quatre Pattes Au Devant de la Redemption ( Steinklang Industries )

With a stubbornly stereotyped path of military insignia, rabid samples of mid-20th century dictators and the same tone of brooding pomp over and over, the world of Martial/neo-classical music deserves greater evolution than it currently enjoys. I can’t help thinking that a considerable volume of entities working in this area picked up on the Laibach genetic and mutated it without understanding it’s underlying intelligence. In the glut of it all, something truly original occasionally strikes a tangent and Café De L'Enfer’s obscure and enigmatic debut is a fine example. The title roughly translates as “Walking on all fours towards redemption”. Even the project name, referring to the late 19th century hell themed café in Pigalle, Paris, evokes a curious individuality. This originally appeared as a four track demo in 2010. Here, it is expanded into a fine eight track album and issued by Austrian industrial label Steinklang.

JE NE VEUX PLUS ETRE PIEUX (I Do Not Want To Be Pious) is an extravagant start with its undulating arrangement and séance-like chants of subdued horror. Comprised predominantly of synthesised orchestration and a rolling beat, this is an antique musical box gone wrong. LA FORET OBSCURE’s (The Dark Forest) signature melody slowly builds and advances around a disquieting French narration. It threatens to break into something majestic and huge, but opts for subtlety in a musical genre often severely lacking in that very quality. L’EVANESCENCE DE TOUTES LES POSSIBILITIES (The Evanescence Of All Possibilities) is similar but has the distinction of a creepy classical lead piano which deviates in several directions throughout the track’s eight and a half minutes, teasing out an opulence as the vocals develop a growl towards the end. The title track, MARCHANT A QUATRE PATTES AU-DENANT DE LA REDEMPTION, has a particularly militaristic quality about, progressing from a horror soundtrack into a march with baritone chorus vocals and industrial percussion. Sprawling and martial in every sense, this is sonically the most genre typical track here. L’AUTOMNE (Autumn) is baroque and neoclassical and like much else on the album, it recalls the play on pessimism captured perfectly in Elend’s WINDS CYCLE (just before they collapsed under the weight of continually financing a full orchestra!). Everything here is so firmly rooted in a 19th century central European sense of itself that I wasn’t expecting the English narration on MESSALINE. This transpires, somewhat unsurprisingly, to be an Aleister Crowley poem and is a moody gothic passage with a slow burning martial stomp and minor chord piano melody. Something that sounds like a harpsichord through a distortion pedal interjects the noisier moments and contributes effectively to the doom of it all. The sinister machinations, malignant growling whispers and misty backing vocals of LES TRISTES CIRCUITS (The Sad Circuits) play out over a ten minute tragedy and A SIX MILLE MILLES (Six Thousand Miles), the closing track is a creepy piano hook, again reminiscent of Elend’s later work. There’s a vocal interplay between and an innocent childlike voice and the same ominous one that inhabits previous tracks and this seems to be the focus of the finale, but as my knowledge of French has disintegrated to “pathetic” status, I cannot be subjective about the content.

There’s very little public information about this project anywhere: no official website, no real web presence at all and just a random scatter of reviews. Whether this is part of the macabre enigma or general disorganisation is presently unclear. Whatever the intention behind it, Café De L'Enfer’s blend of weird post romanticism and martial music is a revitalising step away from the bullish and totalitarian themes that plague this music and while it doesn’t make for particularly joyous listening, there’s no shortage of intrigue here. - BOZ

Thursday, December 22, 2011

GARY NUMAN – Dead Son Rising ( Mortal Records )

It’s been 5 years since any manner of recorded noise has seeped from the Mortal Records orifice. The interim has seen the REPLICAS anniversary tour in all its nostalgic recapitalisation fanfare, but now that the “classic album” binge has been and gone, (I can’t imagine that he’ll be giving I, ASSASSIN, or anything subsequent, the same treatment), the only direction for Gary Numan to go is either forward with a vengeance, or away completely. Apparently this album was initially spawned out of leftovers and reheated ideas that didn’t make the cut the last time - some manner of surrogate release for the next “proper” album. As it was tweaked and brewed and dismantled and rebuilt, ignored for a long time and finally returned to, something worthy emerged. This is no doubt an unorthodox and time draining method of creating, but it has provided Numan with a strikingly individual trajectory – at this stage there’s little to be gained in continuing to chase the young guns that cite him as influential. So, what we’re left with is an inventive, restructured and reassured Gary Numan, neither in the shadow of Nine Inch Nails, or indeed Gary Numan anymore. This long sought detachment from the 80s pop star tag-line can only be a good thing and DEAD SON RISING (his 16th album) certainly follows it’s own compass. 

RESURRECTION slowly breaches the surface, evolving from electronic desolation into unsettling stabs of distortion and a signature evoking a collision of ancient and modern. A dark and tense journey ahead is immediately apparent. The next track contorts to a grainy synth bass line and a voice alternating between a low rant and a whispered vocal - “ Did I ever tell you what happened before? I was followed by the vision of my god, did I ever tell you what happened before? I was hiding in a dead soul ” - But it’s when the chorus kicks in on BIG NOISE TRANSMISSION that the utterly unique and instantly recognisable vocal tones of Numan really engulf everything. If there’s one track that carries the album thematically, it’s DEAD SUN RISING. This is where deism and atheism clash to the chorus of “ I've seen gods bleeding, I've seen worlds burn, I've seen stars falling, and I've seen a dead sun rising ”. There’s something vague here reaching right back to the infancy of Numan’s recorded output that I can’t quite pin-point... perhaps he’s re-entering that same creative slipstream for the first time in decades. WHEN THE SKY BLEEDS, HE WILL COME straddles a fragmented rhythm and like much of the album has that creepy ambiguity about it, walking a knife edge between one thematic dystopia and another - “ Falling from heaven, looks like a nightmare, coming to save me, I don’t believe it ”. FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE is a driving, industrial slow burner with textures of shrill synths that could be from any part of Numan’s career. With much of this album based on very definite song structure, avoiding mindless electronic chugging, what’s remarkably obvious about Numan’s vocals is that they have retained their distinctive quality – part vocoded whine, part snarl, residing somewhere between Bowie and the wonderful Fad Gadget. In fact, the later springs to mind on NOT THE LOVE WE DREAM OF, a piano ballad trapped inside an electronic membrane. One of the most prominent tracks on the album, THE FALL, stomps along at a grinding pace with merciless walls of noise. This is the very thing I imagine when I hear the phrase “ electronic punk ” being casually bandied about, mostly by people who quite simply shouldn’t speak or write about music - ever. A surprisingly acoustic drum sound is the backbone to WE ARE THE LOST, providing a jagged rhythmic frame around which whispers of vocals and a sparsity of synthesised noise seem to be draped. An Eno styled ambient piano and assortment of distant drones revisit the melody of FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE ( reprise ) giving the album a soundtrack quality and strange equilibrium where it should probably appear disjointed. This metamorphosis continues through the final two tracks - INTO BATTLE and a further piano version of NOT THE LOVE WE DREAM OF, which sounds like a Hans-Joachim Roedelius creation - A subtle and unorthodox ending.

Gary Numan is on firmer ground now than he has been for a long time. Although his output post-‘82 was increasingly shocking in it’s pandering futility, and his industrial years in the late 90s until recently were not quite as industrious as proclaimed, the ears of the world are now at a comfortable watershed. It’s a time when the strange anomalies of his catalogue will shine – when records like DANCE (’81) sound good and can openly be remembered with fondness. Previously you might have been given a dead leg or disowned for admitting such things. Ultimately, if the likes of John Foxx can frequently reconstitute himself with glorious strides of credibility, then there’s plenty of shelf life left for Gary Numan. A lifetime’s worth of mistakes have already been made so as long as he never again duets with members of Shakatak, or attempts to convince us that he is glass or an eater of dust, then he has a good chance of remaining on an even keel. - BOZ

Remembering D. Boon and Joe Strummer

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

YURT - ARCHIPELAGOG ( 2011 ) - FREE HQ album download.

On this, the occasion of the winter solstice 2011, the sonic elders of YURT bestow upon you a construct - ARCHIPELAGOG. Conceived in cryopreservation and auricularly manifested through progressive oscillation, this wretched behemoth hereby receives a terrestrial presentation for your listening pleasure. The sonic elders of YURT have spoken.

Download for free HERE in a variety of HQ formats MP3, FLAC & more...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

DAVID LYNCH – Crazy Clown Time ( Play It Again Sam )

Caution was taken in approaching this item as I have unerring faith in this man. What he has injected into the cultural climate of the last 30 years is surrealistic hope against a barrage of stultifying mediocrity. No stranger to the audio process, David Lynch has been a lyricist for Julee Cruise, frequent contributor to the soundtracks of his own movies and has his name on several odds and ends projects as an unorthodox guitarist. The central roll that music plays in his creations shows meticulous instinct so it makes perfect sense that, during his directorial sabbatical, he should finally find time to release his first proper solo album. Slothful journalism based on the spearhead single “Good Day Today” suggested that it was going to be an electro-pop based excursion. This is, of course, complete nonsense. The full spectrum of Lynch’s discordant surrealism couldn’t possibly be realised through such a pinhole. Whatever else was thrown into the cauldron, this was always going to be a tense fusion of bizarre pop, eerie leftfield experiments and shimmers of THAT slow twangy guitar...

...and CRAZY CLOWN TIME does indeed twang open with PINKY’S DREAM, immediately “Lynchian” in it’s delivery, ( think Audrey Horn in a pencil skirt dancing by herself on red and white diner tiles ), with a wonderful lead vocal from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. This is the sort of 60’s flavoured pop that didn’t actually exist during the real 60s but sits firm in David Lynch’s asphyxiating cinematic version of it. It wouldn’t be out of place on Lykke Li’s last album. GOOD DAY TODAY, the single, comes in the guise of brazen pop with a strobing guitar wash, repetitive programmed drums and some heavily vocoded nasal drawl. After a fine start, SO GLAD is whiney and throwaway but things are quickly back on track with NOAH’S ARK, a minimal metronomic passage with whispered vocals and understated layers of sound rising and retreating through the mix. FOOTBALL GAME is another unsettling, reverberating twanger, This time the vocals are delivered in a sort of trailer park slur... an effect Mr. Lynch no doubt achieved by filling his cheeks with cheap Styrofoam breakfast cereal... at least that’s what his attention to detail suggests. I KNOW has an underlay of organ against a slack drum beat with very economic fragments of guitar and vocals which come across as improvised. STRANGE AND UNPRODUCTIVE THINKING is a bizarre vocoded transcendental rant, which begins with “ Bearing all the aforementioned dialogues we discover the possibilities of the curve towards progressive behaviour and the ultimate realisation of the goal of evolution...” and continues on for some time before wrapping up with some strange theories on dental hygiene and a refrain of “ Strange and unproductive thinking ”. Given Lynch’s involvement with transcendental meditation, it’s hard to know whether he’s taking the piss or generously sharing some clandestine knowledge with us. THE NIGHT BELL WITH LIGHTNING is very much a slow burning incidental backdrop with more of that sparse signature guitar. Again, it stirs clear memories of so many different classic and obscure on-screen “Lynchian” snapshots – some psychoanalytical moment involving log ladies and coffee. STONE’S GONE UP is another helping of whispered vocals over a drive time drumbeat which almost threatens to breach normality except for a ‘noir’ undercurrent. CRAZY CLOWN TIME, the disturbing title track features a high pitched whine, murmurs of backward voices and lyrics that suggest sedation and hysterical entrapment – the sort of social gatherings featured in many Lynch’s movies where guests are present under duress, often drugged up or held at gunpoint. As for the crazy clown... I’d rather not speculate.  At this point it’s worth noting that there’s a highly unsettling undercurrent in most of the lyrical matter. It’s the same landscape that all the characters of Lynch’s oeuvre have inhabited – A lost, bruised and dismantled America where sugary innocence always falls foul of prevailing and wilful evil. THESE ARE MY FRIENDS recounts the frail scramble for the crumbs of life by an involuntary player in the unforgiving David Lynch narrative - “ These are my friends, the ones I see each day, I’ve got a prescription for our problems, Keep the hounds at bay ”. SPEED ROADSTER is the voice of a vengeful stalker with some unhinged plans. MOVIN’ ON evokes that solitary late night driving shot that has been a repeated motif throughout Lynch’s work. The Final track, SHE RISE UP is bleak, crawling to a vague and hissing electronic cymbal, leaving the album hanging. In a dark and unforgiving coda, the last inhabiting character comes away empty handed... there’s no happy ending here.

It seems fitting that this album sits among alumni on Play It Again Sam Records ( Front 242, Butthole Surfers, Young Gods, Soulwax etc... ). While having little in common sonically with any of those entities ( except maybe a very heavily sedated Buttholes in places ), the sympathetic and experimental environment shields it from a sewage outfall of what might be classed as throwaway celebrity albums. But this was never going to go badly awry or be utterly uninteresting... like Lynch’s celluloid output, repeated consumption yields new layers and far from being wilfully obscure gibberish, it’s mostly a cohesive album. There are a couple of tracks that wouldn’t lopside it by their absence but that’s more or less the sole criticism. This is, after all, the work of a renaissance man and if Da Vinci can hop from painting to science to inventing helicopters, then it is perfectly normal for David Lynch to make movies, paint and release albums. I’m guessing this whole exercise is also going to save a whole lot in licensing fees whenever he dusts down the director’s chair. - BOZ

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WRETCH FALAFEL ARCHIVES - THE DICKIES - Interview with Leonard Graves Phillips 3/6/99 - Originally appeared in NOSEBLEED 19

In terms of significant historic US pop punk, the forerunners will always be the Ramones and the Dickies, and while the bowl-hair freaks from Queens have the crown wrapped up pretty much forever, their one regret must be the lack of at least one international hit single. The Dickies achieved this with their rendition of the Banana Splits theme tune, reaching *7 in the UK charts in 1979. One of a long line of helium pop covers, the alleged tributes began with their debut single, PARANOID (by some other drugged up legends) and continued as an almost equal charade of dismantlements to some of the bands wonderful original material. Long after the A&M dissolution, the decline of commercial punk rock, the dawn of synthesiser and invitations to appear on Top Of The Pops, Leonard Graves Phillips, Stan Lee, and whatever cohorts they could bully and enslave soldiered on regardless, peddling juvenile travesty, weird sex, penis puppetry and two minute epics about cripples to the legions of fuck ups willing to believe that a world without REM could exist. If the music world didn't need the Dickies, then the Dickies certainly didn't need the music world either. To this day, well worn classics like " Nights In White Satin ", " Sounds of Silence "and" Eve of Destruction" go hand in hand with such flawed gems as "Hideous", "Give It Back" and "You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)". Very few bands in history have such a modest claim to their credit!

BOZ - I was just talking to Dickie Hammond... do you reckon you're in good hands with him as your tour manager?
LGP - Yeah ( laughs )... yeah, he's alright.
BOZ - I wanna talk about your new LP... I read somewhere that it's just covers... is that true... what sort of stuff is on it???
LGP - Well, the reason for doing it was strictly a money thing... I was in Portland, Oregon and I'd fallen in love and thought if I had some quick record company advance, I'd be able to fix my life, you know, and close the deal from a bar stool... so it wasn't 'til later that we decided... the Dickies are kind of well known for certain covers that we do... so instead of it being a record of what you would call formula Dickies covers, we decided to do what a lot of bands do... basically find songs that we liked a lot that we thought we could do well with the arrangement of and just do our little tribute to them... but it's everything from... a cover of a Weirdo's song, which is a local LA band we liked in the early days, and as far as the other songs... we covered The Beatles, Iron Butterfly, Uriah Heep, the Hollies, Donnovan and The Knack...
BOZ - It's a good mix.
LGP - Yeah.
BOZ - It's like what the Ramones did a few years back...
LGP - Yeah, that ACID EATERS record, right? I think the theme of their thing was primarily 60s and psychedelic and we didn't really intend for the record to have that theme, but a lot of the music that ended up on it was indeed from the 60s.
BOZ - Have you had much of a press reaction to that yet?
LGP - Well, not a lot... I mean, it's on Triple X which doesn't get that much copy, but yeah, I've read reviews of it and most of them are good.

BOZ - Yeah, I was just about to mention TripleX Records... I didn't even know that label still existed... Do you find that people in Europe approach you to say that they can't get the stuff... you definitely can't get shit here...
LGP - Oh yeah, yeah... I've known that for a good few years... the distribution for them over here is terrible... hopefully that will be different with the NOFX thing... with the Fat Wreck Chords thing.
BOZ - What's happening with that?
LGP - Well,  we're closing a deal with them. Our next album is going to be on their label. We're supposed to get on that when we get home.

BOZ - There must be so many people who don't even know you exist any more... maybe beyond the odd billing like "Holidays In The Sun"... for the ill informed, what exactly have you been doing since SECOND COMING?
LGP - Well... after SECOND COMING... let's see... we had a couple of years of non activity and then we did a record for Triple X called IDJIT SAVANT which I'm very proud of... it's arguably our best record... I think our best record is either that or DAWN OF... and I like it a lot. We also did the last thing for Triple X....The DOG FROM THE HARE THAT BIT US thing... and we put a single out for Fat Wreck Chords called MY POP THE COP... and as far as recorded material goes, we just contributed a 30 second song for Fat Mike who's putting out a record with 101 different bands all doing 30 second songs... The Offspring and Green Day and Gwar and shit like that on it... Nomeansno and the Damned have a tune on it... we contributed a song to that... we've got half of the next record demoed and we did that 30 second song with Jerry Finn, the guy who produced Rancid and Green Day and he wants to do the next record.

BOZ - Yeah, I'm curious about that song HOWDY DOODY IN THE WOODSHED on the short music compilation...
LGP - Oh... you know about it? ...yeah....
BOZ - because it's the first new material that I've heard in years... at least since the Killer Klowns thing...
LGP - I don't know how difficult it is to get it but if you can find a copy of IDJIT SAVANT... it's good... it's actually good.
BOZ - Well, can you tell me about the 30 second song, 'cos strangely enough... it's probably going to introduce the Dickies to a lot of people for the first time...
LGP - Well... it's just a very sick song and it's 30 seconds and it involves having sex with puppets... basically that's the deal with it... it's very very twisted...
BOZ - A lot has changed in recent years stateside... are you reaping any of the benefits?
LGP - Yeah... well yeah, the interesting thing is that 20 years ago we considered ourselves the end result of any sort of influence that was available in pop, or what you call punk rock culture, and now, 20 years later there's bands out there that actually cite us as an influence, you know, and when we got signed 20 years ago, of course all the major labels were banking on the fact that punk rock was going to be the next big thing... which of course it wasn't... it took about... whatever the fuck... about 20 years for it to kind of find a back door through alternative music... and now punk rock has become it's own little burgeoning industry, which is interesting... it's its own little level of conformity now.

BOZ - So how do your crowds compare with before the whole Epitaph/Fat wreck chords thing took off??
LGP - Well yeah... what's lacking now is that when we do shows now, there's always a contingent, albeit however small, of teenagers and of kids in their late teens or early 20s who will show up off the strength of a Fat Wreck Chord compilation, or the MY POP THE COP single so if the next Fat Wreck Chord album comes off OK there'll probably be a lot more young Dickies fans again.
BOZ - And a lot of people will probably think you're a new band...
LGP - That's right... I mean hopefully they'll get some sort of quick education on us and we'll be perceived as the Aerosmith of punk or something like that and we'll be redeemed somehow.

BOZ - If that happens is there going to be anything done by way of getting the old material back out into the market?
LGP - Boy... I don't know... I don't know... Epitaph was interested in licensing the A&M stuff and Fat Mike was... A&M, for years wanted way too much money to license it... but now that they're dissolved and they're, what... Interscope, maybe there's a chance for that some day.

BOZ - Have you been doing much touring in the states... just internally?
LGP -No... basically in the states, every now and then we'll go to the east coast... we'll do the west coast and the east coast and leave out the middle.
BOZ - What sort of newer bands have you been playing with??
LGP - Travis, ( to the drummer ) can you field that one? 
TRAVIS - Well the last US tour we did, we played some shows with Degeneration from New York city and... we haven't had a support band come with us 'til this year, which is Caffeine from London... it's just been here and there. We did a show with Zeke a couple of weeks ago. We've done some shows with the US Bombs.

BOZ - Obviously, for people who actually know, the test of time has put you kinda up there with the Ramones... like the original gene. What about the newer bands, are there any that you like... any that you feel you have something in common with?
LGP - To be perfectly frank, no... not that I profess to know a lot about whatever the flavour of the week is or who the newer punk rock bands are... The thing about the Dickies was that we were essentially a pop band masquerading as a punk band and always had a hard time receiving any credibility from either camp. The pop bands consider us a punk band, the punk bands consider us a pop band so... still, most of the affinity we share is with 70s type punk bands.

BOZ - What about their reaction to you... are you like legends to these people or just these fucking old freaks with nothing better to do???
LGP - Well, probably both, you know... I think in some circles we're kind of a musicians band because people like... whoever the fuck... Courtney Love says glowing things about us or... Noodles, the guitar player in Offspring... Stan Lee was his idol or some shit like that, but I don't know... I know that basically, when we play with a lot of younger bands, they always come up and say..." It's an honour " and " You're the first record I bought "... you know, that kind of shit.
BOZ - And what's interesting is, if someone was to go out and look for those records, the place they'd probably find them is some collectors shop in London or something for massive amounts of money.... are you in a situation where you see your records at stupid prices a lot?
LGP - Yeah... yeah I see that a lot and it really pisses me off cos I don't have any of that stuff.
BOZ - Why... what did you do with it?
LGP - Sold it all for drugs years ago.
TRAVIS - Costs about 50 dollars for a copy of the first album in the states...

BOZ - Where are the Dickies hotspots... the ones where you can rake in the cash??? It strikes me that you're probably massive in Japan?
LGP - Yeah... you know we've never been to Japan...
BOZ - Really?
LGP - Never... never fucking been there... we're hoping to do that with the Fat Wreck thing.
BOZ - With the Triple X thing, what sort of record sales can you clock up with any given release...
LGP - I have no idea. They're so slippery with the books that we'll never get a real accounting from them,but I would think... maybe about 20,000 in the states and maybe the same in Europe.
BOZ - So, with Fat Wreck Chords... is that something that's been a long time coming... like you've got to do your time with Triple X?
LGP - Yeah... I'm glad that's done.
BOZ - What about the single for Fat Wreck Chords?
LGP - Well... the IDJIT SAVANT record....'94... '95... that's when that came out... and I don't know, did they even do a single off that Rick?
LGP - Oh, that's right... PRETTY BALLERINA, ROADKILL, MAKE IT SO... and the Fat Wreck single... that's only available on vinyl, and I hear that's kinda hard to get just because Mike put it out that way... he wanted it to be real collectible.....
BOZ - Obviously Fat would serve your purpose better in terms of getting your music to the people who want it???
LGP - oh yeah... absolutely... I mean there's such a sense of tribal unity where kids buy records just off of... what would you call it... label recognition or whatever... which I've never understood... I mean, I've generally bought a record because I like the band... but yeah... apparently they will move hundreds of thousands of records just because it's a Fat Wreck Chord... so that's a good thing.
BOZ - And do you think that move will get you out of the circle of dodgy promoters?
LGP - Yeah, we're banking on all of that.

BOZ - What's the greatest misconception about yourselves that you've come across... ever heard any great rumours about yourselves???
LGP - Well... the greatest misconception about me is that, I'm sorry to say this, is that I like punk rock music ( laughs )... that's one of the big misconceptions... I mean, people come up to me and say, "Do you like Bad Religion"... do you like this, do you like that... and it's not that I dislike them, or that I don't like them... but I generally listen to really conventional sappy pop music. I tell some Dickies fans that I was listening to this jazz record and they get this look on their " Say it isn't so! "...
BOZ - That's like that interview footage of the guys who were in the Cockney Rejects telling some guy they liked Uriah Heep and this skinhead guy sitting there crying...
LGP - Yeah...( laughs )

BOZ - Looking back at your material, what are your own favourites... would it be more the covers or originals?
LGP - Well... my favourite cover now... we covered a song called PRETTY BALLERINA... that's on the IDJIT SAVANT album... that's probably my favourite Dickie cover... second to that would be NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN... I thought that came out really well... as far as original stuff goes, I don't know, one of my personal favourites was MAKE IT SO. I thought it was just a great composite Dickies song... it's another song on IDJIT.... I think FAN MAIL is a really good song too.... and ROSEMARY, that's a very well written Dickies song... I'm not too happy with the production of it, but i think it's one of the better songs I've written.

BOZ - Ok, what about bands from when you were first around... there are people who can put their greatest hits roadshow together after 15 years and be more successful than a band that stuck with it... is that annoying or do you care??
LGP - What... that they do that? I say more power to them... you know, I don't have any problem with it... I'm a total capitalist... I'm still wondering when the Clash are going to reform.

BOZ - What sort of impact did you have on other bands that were around in the late 70s... and have you done gigs with any of the other old bands recently?
LGP - I don't know how much we've impacted them... I know the Jam had a pretty funny attitude towards us. They used to slag us off and call us trendies... we were trendies... and we would do the RONDO tune for an encore and they thought that was real music... they'd go " That's a great song.... you should put that in the set "... I saw Captain Sensible in London for a bit... Joey Ramone said something really cool to us, either the last or the second last time we played in New York... they'd finally officially broken up and before we went on stage he said, " You guys have got to carry the torch now ", which was a very sweet thing coming from him.

BOZ - read in an old interview when you were over here in the early 90s touring with the Senseless Things that you had this idea that you were gonna do this rock opera... kinda like your answer to Tommy by the Who... whatever happened to that???
LGP - It's still on the chalk board... it's called GOGMOGOG and it's half written but there's no way could I have gotten the Fat Wreck Chord deal with it... no fucking way would Mike have gone for that. Mike wants a good classic Dickies album so I've got to give him that.
BOZ - So if you produce the goods for a couple of poppy punk rock records, you might be able to squeeze that out of him?
LGP - Yeah, that's right... that's the plan if we start moving records for him, maybe he'll finally let me do it... I know Triple X would let me do it but I don't want to fucking go there...

BOZ - I know you were in Belfast last night... how was that???
LGP - Aw... that was wacky... it was this little squat...
BOZ - The Warzone?
LGP - Yeah, the Warzone... there was vegetarian only food which rubbed me the wrong way... so we asked them would they be so kind as to go out and get us some lunch meat of some kind and they said, " Yeah, but you can't bring it in here "... which really cracked me up,you know, there's piss in the corner, vomit on the walls but you can't bring, like, you know, a nice fresh piece of turkey in there...
BOZ - That's very much a throwback from the 80s... the crasstafarian thing...
LGP - Yes... a very very crusty scenario... but the show went good...
BOZ - Is that something you see in the states?
LGP - Not to that degree, no... I mean I know it exists, but I tend to stay away from whatever sort of hardcore scene there is in the states now...

BOZ - Is there any end in sight... what's the future for the Dickies????
LGP - We do this next record and see what happens... it's just that simple... and at some point, if I stay true to my ambitions, I'll finally do one record of progressive rock... you know, progressive rock music under the guise of the Dickies... and just completely burst everybody's bubble and come full circle... and we'll be done with.
BOZ - So you'll keep that and go out with what everyone would perceive as a stinker?
LGP - Exactly... and what they would perceive as a stinker would be my blaze of glory as it were!

Monday, December 12, 2011

WHERE WERE YOU? – DUBLIN YOUTH CULTURE & STREET STYLE 1950-2000 ( Garry O’Neill / Hi Tone Books 2011 )

The prevailing habit of documenting Dublin’s youth has always been to roll out tales of stale bread, carbolic soap, ten to a bed and death by TB before the age of 5. The stuff of hard spuds, hard warts and hard guilt in the grey old parish of Ireland reached well into the 1970s and still makes for column inches, not-so-great Irish novels and short filler TV series. There’s no doubt whatsoever that these depressing vignettes of a pitiful past are important, but the endless waves of them suggest that nobody in Dublin had anything but hemp sacks and a mantle of drudgery to wear until some time around 1979 ( when they all got clothes because the pope was coming ). For those of us who have childhood memories reaching beyond that, there’s always been a niggling that this might not actually be the case: observing weird hair do’s and strange shoes in old family photos, finding Byrds albums in your friend’s dad’s record collection or recalling that large piece of bootboy graffiti on a boundary wall of the green pebbledash portacabin national school you went to.

Covering Dublin youth culture or street style in any media sense was often limited to in the realm of novelty: the odd picture of punks on Grafton Street in a national newspaper or auld dears on the radio reminiscing about gangs of skinheads in St. Anne’s Park in the early 1970s wreaking havoc by pushing innocent roller skaters down the hill into the pond. Prior to that, who knows? – But it must have been a daunting task digging into a world of sepia to find out.

In this highly impressive 304 page photo book, life crawls out of the pondweed and into the Brylcreem some time around 1956. It’s a world of moderately content expressions, floral print dresses, pencil skirts, primitive quiffs and suggestions that the first wave of rock’n’roll migrated here in a staggered but orderly fashion. The late 50s and early 60s are punctuated by newspaper clippings about the evils of teddy boys and later, ads for BSA motorbikes, reflecting reliance on imported cultural ideas. This is also indicative of the first era of disposable income and a slightly widening gap between childhood and adulthood. Smarter dress creeps in towards the mid 60s and there’s and abundance of street photographer shots capturing young couples ( in what was probably their only finery ) on O’Connell Street. By ’65, the girls hemlines and hairstyles appear shorter and shorter and the boys, when not suited up, start to look like low rent versions of the pop stars of the day, eventually graduating towards the trappings of beat fashions. This is the point at which something of genuine individuality seems to finally come alive and includes a lot of looks that have been exhaustively reheated as “vintage” many times since.

The dawn of the 70s brings with it the first skinhead and bootboy photos. One in particular, of 3 kids in Weaver Square, Cork street ( pg 98 ) has a gloomy but fascinating Dickensian air about it, more Oliver Twist than Fred Perry. There’s also a spread of photos from a motley bunch called the Bridge Boot Boys, apparently notorious in their day and some other watered down versions of the same look as the 70s move on into long hair and denim. This seems to be the enduring pattern until the short lived habit of safety pins through cheeks signals Dublin punk in it’s infancy. For several pages this wind of change is illustrated to varying degrees of understanding, culminating in a tendency towards a toned down street style rather than early shock clichés as the decade closes. There are also small glimpses of concurrent trends: Dublin’s rock’n’roll revival, mods and powerpop/skinny tie types.

These elements of youth culture spill over well into the 80s section of the book in advancing forms. Certainly, punk fashions take on a harder edge which outlast the decade, as do successive generations of scooterboys, metallers, and skinheads and rockabillies. What comes new with the era are brief glimpses of new romantics ( ...maybe there just weren’t that many around. Good. ), some great photos of breakdancers ( both in competition capacity and as young suburban hopefuls with a square of lino ), mid 80s B-boys and goths/cureheads. The later seem grossly underrepresented given the volume of them that were kicking about at the time. The same can be said for trashers who, apart from one page, have suffered severe revisionism. Or perhaps they just never had cameras.

What’s interesting about the 90s is that very little is new at this point. Tribal demarcation mostly remains the same until much of it is swallowed up by dance culture and homogenized into a glut of ecstacy sweat, Vicks Vaporub, whistles and some sham selling you a wrap of athletes foot powder. Elements of many older subcultures still carry themselves through successive generations and waves of popularity in the 90s, albeit in smaller pockets.

There’s a hazardous tendency towards romanticism when it comes to such an impressively curated wealth of images. While the photos don’t squabble about facts, neither do still snapshots of the past explain how shit things might have been at any given time. Most of the people pictured as they are here have moved on, some haven’t, others are deceased. If there’s any common thread from beginning to end, it would be difficult to compress it into a single digestible sentence. Perhaps there isn’t one other than the evolution and devolution of tribal affiliation, but where a greater text / anecdotal content might have augmented this to great effect, it would take another book the same size or larger to explain everything. As it stands, it’s a compelling, obsessively foraged and beautifully presented archive. - BOZ

The first run of WHERE WERE YOU in hardback format is apparently sold out so steal off a friend or wait for a reprint.

( ISBN: 978-0-956949-30-1 )