Monday, 16 March 2015

Sons Of The Stage, Part 4: Shirley Punx

As previously discussed, I'd been a passive member of Southampton's punk rock community since 1994. I'd been to (plenty of) shows, bought locally-produced records and zines and made friends, but the only things I'd really contributed were a couple of columns for the STE Bulletin. However, once my skills had been made public by my membership of The Gilamonsters, I became a much sought after musician. OK, not quite: said skills were clearly pretty rudimentary. And it would be truer to say that the local scene was totally inclusive; by announcing myself as someone who could play, I was merely entered into the pool of people available for bands. Either way, at some point in 2000, I was able to tell Jimmy "I think I've just joined Evil Is Never In Fashion."

I hadn't, though, not exactly. Evil Is Never in Fashion had featured local luminaries Ross (a prime mover in the STE at this point), Clive (out of Trophy Girls), Dingo/Matt (banjo thrasher in Minute Manifesto, though on drums this time round) and Adam (making his Southampton band debut but previously responsible for Brighton's Mr Poohead zine, later to be relaunched under the slightly more sensible name Remains Of A Caveman). After one show at an STE festival, Ross had left, leaving a vacancy to line up alongside Clive in what was surely the UK's most significant dual guitar line-up since the glory days of Priest and Maiden. Dingo asked if I was interested, and, having switched to bass for The Gilas, I was glad to have an opportunity to flex my six-string muscles for the first time since the days of Carp Fever.

We practiced in Art Asia, a little community centre which was, conveniently, on my street. As was often the way back then, losing a member meant a new name and repertoire. At some point, we were going to be called Caleb, but eventually went with Kids That Kill, taken (I think) from the name of the sort of documentary which has only grown more common in these prurient times (random aside: Art Asia was only a stones throw from the road recently immortalised on Channel 4 as, ahem, Immigration Street).

I'm not sure I was ever entirely clear on what sort of music we were going for. Thrash - of the Los Crudos/Limp Wrist style - was definitely present, but this was also the beginning of an era of fascination with metal which has endured in the punk scene to this day. Back then it was mainly led by the aggro sludge of Iron Monkey and the misanthropic doom of Electric Wizard. Certainly, during my fumbling attempts to work out parts to sit alongside his, Clive was known to complain if what I was doing didn't sound metal enough! In addition to the Art Asia practices, Clive and I would sometimes head round to Adam's house to learn riffs on unamplified electric guitars, which always sounded pretty skiffle.

Our name made it onto the flyer for the STE's festival that year (which I'll be writing about sometime soon), but we were in no way ready, and, as it turned out, we never would be. After Kids That Kill faded out, there was briefly talk of forming some extended ensemble. Six or seven of us met up at Adam's house, shared with Ross and Jamie Festo, in the Southampton area Shirley. For some reason, a lot of the punk scene had ended up finding accommodation in this district, self-mythologising in a sarcastic was by referring to themselves as Shirley Punx and giving this chapter its title. As far as I can remember, all of Kids That Kill were to be involved, along with (possibly) Sweet Mat out of Minute Manifesto and (definitely) a guitarist called Alex. I think Festo was around too, but maybe only because he lived there. Again, there was some bedroom skiffle action (ooer, missus, etc), but this mooted supergroup never got to the stage of having a name, let alone getting to an actual stage - or even practice room.

There was only one thing for it: I'd have to join Cello Band.

Cello Band had been going for a while by the time my services were required. As I wasn't there at the beginning, I'm going to have to assume two things: that the band name was a temporary project name that stuck, and that the original intention might have been to form a post-rock band of the kind then coming out of Canada and Chicago (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Rachel's, that sort of thing). As it happened, the band ended up a rather more jovial outfit than the ones just mentioned. There were cover versions of 80s theme tunes, there were comedy hats, and there was the farewell gig when our drummer Ed got too stoned and/or drunk to make it to the show and the guy I'd replaced had to rejoin in the ensuing one-off reshuffle.

Although Adam was the only member of Kids That Kill that I hadn't already known before joining the band, we became firm friends; he even moved into my house for a bit after moving out of Shirley when Festo and Ross left town. He was itching to start another band, and to that end pooled together me on guitar, a guy from Winchester called Rob on bass and Saul out of legendary Southampton anarcho punks Haywire on drums. It's often said that the talent of a drummer can make or break a band, and with that in mind we definitely owed a lot to Saul, particularly given my rudimentary skills. He also owned a van, which would come in handy.

This gathering of misfits was christened xMitchbuchananx (if I'm honest, I was never sure what letters should be capitalised!). This was, of course, named in tribute to D.Hasselhoff's seminal turn as a lifeguard in Saturday teatime favourite Baywatch. The x's were a nod to the trend for straight edge bands to declare their abstinence by bookending their monickers with the universal symbol for their subculture, and on our part were just as much a pisstake as the name they enclosed - I think Rob might have been SxE at the time but the rest of us definitely weren't. Later, the x's were dropped - or, at least, became optional.

Musically, we once again drew on thrashy sounds, but the main difference between xMBx and kids That Kill was that we actually managed to get our shit together and play some shows The first was as support to the American band Strike Anywhere at The Joiners, a pretty great way to kick things off. They were on great form back then, as recognised by Saul, who spent our night's pay on one of their hoodies. Essex melodic punkers Travis Cut also played that night, and when their frontman broke a string and asked if anyone in the room could lend him a replacement. I duly grabbed my guitar - the one with the red lightning/crackle finish which I'd been playing since I was 15, and which had frankly seen better days. He took one look at it and said "I can't play this!" Frankly, I don't blame him.

One show I got us was something of a Gilamonsters family tree revue. Headlined by our Winchester friends Black Blue Fish... Very Beautiful, the bill also featured Ben and Steeny's blues rockers The Bullycats and Jimmy's London wreckheads Blood Valley. Mitch Buchanan opened, and I think this would have been the show I actually discouraged my workmates from attending, by letting them know that we were on first and our set was less than ten minutes long - which was true. It was rare for our tunes to exceed a minute, and unheard of for them to make it to two. And I think we ended up with seven songs in all.

Our most interesting shows were in London, when we played two squat gigs at a place called the Bacon Factory, somewhere near Waterloo, in late 2002 or early 2003. (I remember one of them was on the same day as the big Anti-War march in London, which would have made it Feb '03). I think the first time we might have played with Boxed In, who featured Dingo on guitar, and the second was headlined by an Australian band called Headless Horsemen, but I didn't stick around to catch them, preferring to get home that night. This was after staying the first time and not being able to get out to leave for work, as the squat had been locked up for the night; turned out the dude who'd told me to wake him up to let me out was not keen on being woken up after all...

In 2003, Adam left Southampton for his native Brighton, and in June of that year I headed in the same direction. Mitch Buchanan played our last show at the King Alf in Southampton, which might have been as support to Dutch thrashers Skulls & Flames. Kids stormed the stage during our last song and my guitar got unplugged - it was a suitably messy, chaotic end to a messy, chaotic band.

Once in Brighton, Adam and I tried to start another band, and did a practice or two with a line-up featuring our friends Ralf, Si and Maya, but didn't get anything off the ground. Adam would go on to join Constant State Of Terror, while it would be five years before my next foray into music with Gorse...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2014: New Dark Ages

Well, 2014 was another year of ups and downs. In terms of the latter, we spent the first four months of the year in a one bedroom flat without a bedroom, thanks to the lengthy process of fixing the damp I no doubt discussed this time last year. It then took five months from accepting an offer on (the now fixed) flat to actually getting to move in to our new house in Portslade. But as these misfortunes contributed to my only writing one blog post this year, I'm not gonna waste time banging on about my woes here. And anyway, my troubles have been put into perspective by the amount of truly shitty things friends of mine have had to deal with, not to mention everything that's gone to pot across the world. You know the roll call already, and if you want to read about it all from someone wittier than I, check this link for a reminder:

So, onto the good stuff. One plus of the much delayed move was that we got to hang out more in The Signalman with Emily and Burton. And we did, eventually, get to move, so we can now enjoy the space of having an actual house, with rooms and stairs and everything. I also got to celebrate my Dad's 70th with family who I see all too rarely. But one of the definite highlights of the year was the gig I put on for my 40th. Massive thanks to Anna, The Demons, the Gorse family, The Gilamonsters (even if the show hadn't happened, just hanging out with those fuckers for a couple of practices would have been a highlight), The Green Door Store, Emily and Wayne for doing the door, everyone who bought me a shot, Tom for pointing out when my guitar lead had fallen out (unnoticed by me, perhaps due to the aforementioned shots) and, well, everyone who made it along. Sorry I couldn't invite more folks, but even as it was I didn't get enough time to have proper chats with all my guests.
As well as that show, Gorse played a few other times, at Sticky Mike's, The Cowley and The Green Door Store, and special thanks to Mel for getting us onto the line-up of Drill festival.

Anyway, as is by now semi-traditional, here's a round-up of all the cultural baggage which has got me through the year. I know everyone's bored of end-of-the-year lists by now, but as discussed in years gone by, I cling to the idea that I might hear one last great record before the year's end.

Dedicated to anybody who lost someone this year.

1. Swans, To be Kind

2. Henry Blacker, Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings

3. Godflesh, A World Lit Only By Fire

4. Architects, Lost Forever // Lost Together

5. Iron Reagan, The Tyranny Of Will

6. Midnight, No Mercy For Mayhem

7. Mogwai, Rave Tapes

8. Run The Jewels, RTJ2

9. Thurston Moore, The Best Day

10. LostAlone, Shapes Of Screams

11. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness 

12. Orange Goblin, Back From The Abyss

13. Today Is The Day, Animal Mother

14. Kemper Norton, Loor

15. Lutine, White Flowers

16. Marmozets, The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets

17. Blues Pills, Blues Pills

18. Eagulls, Eagulls

19. Yob, Clearing The Path To Ascend

20. Pallbearer, Foundations Of Burden

1. Godflesh, Shut Me Down

2. Fat White Family, Touch The Leather

3. Ten Walls, Walking With Elephants

4. Hudson Mohawke, Chimes

5. Swans, Screen Shot

6. Ubre Blanca, Hyperion

7. Orange Goblin, The Devil's Whip

8. The Icarus Line, Leeches And Seeds

9. Godflesh, New Dark Ages

10. Henry Blacker, Your Birthday Has Come & Gone

GIGS OF THE YEAR (alphabetically arranged)
Against Me! @ Download 
Anacondas @ Sticky Mike's & The Green Door Store

Architects @ The Haunt
Bellowhead @ The Dome
Black Shoals @ The Green Door Store, Bleach & The Haunt 

Conan @ The Albert 
The Cosmic Dead @ Campbell Road Studios
Cowtown @ Campbell Road Studios 

The Dillinger Escape Plan @ Download
11Paranoias @ Sticky Mike's
Father Murphy/MXLX/Slow Listener @ The Caroline Of Brunswick
Gallows @ The Green Door Store 
Godflesh @ The Haunt

Kemper Norton/Lutine @ The Caroline Of Brunswick
King Buzzo @ Oslo 
King Goat @ Sticky Mike's
The Koffin Kats @ The Albert
Larry & His Flask/Crazy Arm @ The Albert
Lower Slaughter @ The Albert 
Marmozets @ The Komedia
Melt Banana/Kogumaza @ The Green Door Store

Mogwai @ The Dome
Orange Goblin @ Download
Lindi Ortega @ The Haunt
Pissed Jeans @ The Haunt 

Chuck Ragan @ The Haunt
Daniel Romano @ The Albert
Royal Blood @ Download
Sea Bastard @ Sticky Mike's, The Albert & The Green Door Store
Sturgill Simpson @ The Palmeira
Skid Row (!) @ Download 
Slint @ The Old Market
Sly & The Family Drone @ Sticky Mike's, The Albert & Campbell Road Studios
Status Quo (!!) @ Download 

Swans @ The Old Market
Twisted Sister @ Download
The UV Race/Sauna Youth @ Bleach 
Vincent Vocoder Voice @ Campbell Road Studios
War Wolf @ The Green Door Store
Witchsorrow @ The Green Door Store
Workin' Man Noise Unit @ Sticky Mike's
You're Smiling Now...But We'll All Turn into Demons @ Campbell Road Studios, The Albert & my birthday!

A little clarification about why I include a TV list on here. I'm always reading books, but rarely in their year of publication. I hardly ever make it to the cinema, so usually don't see films till well after they were released. So the old idiot lantern is the only area besides music where I make a fair stab at keeping up to date with what's going on. Even here, there are some glaring omissions: yeah, I know I should have watched Happy Valley. And I just got True Detective on DVD, but haven't started it yet. Also, I have a taste for mid-level trash; not scripted reality or talent shows (although Caroline Flack's Argentine tango on Strictly was genuinely great), but shows like Under The Dome, The 100 and Gotham, none of which I would try and justify beyond the fact that they're watchable, entertaining and bloody easy to watch. So they're not on this list, but these things are:

It's rare to find a show which doesn't drop off somewhat on its second series. The Bridge's neighbour The Killing didn't manage it; more recently, The Fall couldn't maintain its quality across another six episodes. We'll see whether Broadchurch can do it. The Bridge made it seem easy, though. The chemistry between Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia continued to be a delight, providing humour even as the dark plot twisted its way towards its high stakes conclusion. Saga's backstory came into focus, while her attempts at fitting into social situations balanced humour and sadness. Martin's own life crumbled, his eyes and smile not always matching. Oh, and some eco-terrorists tried to spread some pneumonic plague while wearing animal masks. With a conclusion that was uncompromising but perfectly in keeping with the characters' personalities, this was a series that lingered in the heart and soul far beyond its closing shots.

OK, maybe it's not that rare to find a show which doesn't drop off somewhat on its second series. The Bridge kept the same high standards between series, but Line Of Duty arguable bettered its 2012 debut with one of the year's most discussed shows (at least, until Happy Valley and True Detective turned up). Where last time out we knew Lennie James' Tony Gates was corrupt from the get-go, Series 2's Lindsay Denton, played so well be Keeley Hawes, was a far more ambiguous character, and this sense of uncertainty was brilliantly maintained throughout. Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar reprised their Series 1 roles, but this time all their characters found themselves compromised and implicated, making these particular waters enjoyably muddied. Also notable for possibly the most unexpected and brutally sudden killing of a character on telly this year, and for Craig Parkinson as the improbably named "Dot" Cottan being a right shifty bastard.

Right, there's something of a theme going on here... except Utopia couldn't hope to match the lurid thrills of its first series. The opening episode was a bold departure, set in the 1970s and therefore with none of the same actors, revealing how the entire plot to create the Janus virus started with great turns by Tom Burke and Rose Leslie. After that, the rest of the series turned into a variation on the first, with a band of characters on the run from the ruthless Network. There were twists, of course: characters changing sides, a mysterious old feller whose identity was guessed by everyone except the people in the show, and the unlikely reappearance of a character thought dead, allowing for some more gleefully surreal violence. But while Series 2 couldn't help but pale in comparison to its predecessor, it remained one of the best shows on telly, and ended with such a cliffhanger that it seemed to demand a Series 3. Which, apparently, isn't gonna happen. Bastards.

Yet another second series... but I never watched the first series of Peaky Blinders, so for once I can't compare and contrast. Who cares, though: this was swaggering television that knew it had a great cast, brilliant costumes and at least one Nick Cave song a week. Cillian Murphy's cold-eyed beauty was made for the role of Brummie gangster Tommy Shelby; Sam Neill glowered Oirishly about the place chewing scenery; Helen McCrory staked a claim to being the most underrated TV actress of her generation with her portrayal of Polly; Joe Cole's blank-faced baby face made perfect sense; Paul Anderson's off-the-rails Arthur was very nearly the scariest character involved, but that role inevitably went to Tom Hardy, who turned what was scarcely more than a cameo role as Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into one of the year's best telly turns. He made you laugh, but with the nervous sense that something vary violent was, if not inevitable, then certainly on the cards. He also managed not to let his character tip into racial caricature, which you probably couldn't say about Noah Taylor as his Italian rival Sabini. Rarely for this sort of show, it genuinely felt that nobody was safe, and at least one of the characters mentioned above won't be back for the already commissioned Series 3. But let's hope that Hardy can be encouraged back from Hollywood for it.

For a change, here's a third series. Sherlock remains a delight, proof that you can make a mainstream hit without dumbing down or pandering to audience expectations, never more evident than in the first episode's refusal to provide a definitive answer to the conundrum of how Sherlock survived his little tumble at the end of Series 2. With all the recurring characters back, there was a lovely sense of getting the old gang back together, with the inspired addition of Amanda Abbington as Watson's wife and Lars Mikkelsen (Troels out of the first series of The Killing) having fun as the Big Bad of the series. With the closing promise of a certain rascal's return, we're going to have to wait until Christmas 2015 to find out - or not - how they're going to explain yet another mystery.

The antidote to endless panel shows and Live At The Apollo blandness, Stewart Lee returned to the telly as on point as ever. By now, everyone surely knows where they stand on Lee, and this series of Comedy Vehicle delighted his fans without any attempt to appease the folks who just don't get his routines, filled as they are with repetition, digressions and not always obvious punchlines. He also managed to eviscerate UKIP far more successfully than anybody else, for which he should probably have been number one on this list.

It's nice to have a Doctor who's older than me again. As is customary, some episodes worked better than others, but at its peak - Listen, Flatline or the Dark Water/Death In Heaven closers - this was still able to go far deeper and darker than Saturday night telly would normally countenance. Admirably, few episodes relied on time-worn enemies - there was the obligatory Dalek episode, of course, and the Cybermen showed up for the finale, while (SPOILER ALERT) Michelle Gomez's batshit crazy Missy turned out to be a new incarnation of somebody we've seen a fair few times before, but it was nice to give the Weeping Angels a break. Jenna Coleman came into her own as Clara this series, but I'm not sure why she was made to stand like this in the official promo shot.

Incidentally, if you want a rather more in depth, not to mention critical, appraisal of this series, heartily recommend my friend Will's excellent blog. Here's what he had to say about the finale:

8. INSIDE No.9
The League Of Gentlemen/Psychoville chaps Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have never been shy about admitting their influences, so I would hope that they wouldn't mind my saying that Inside No.9 felt like a homage to Tales Of The Unexpected, with a hint of classic horror portmanteau flicks (particularly in the closing The Harrowing). Each self-contained episode was set in a house with the number 9, but beyond that they ranged across a range of stories and styles. A Quiet Night In was the most technically impressive, a mainly dialogue-free slapstick tale of housebreaking, Last Gasp - concerning the contested ownership of a pop star's dying breath, as contained within a balloon -  was the most satirical, while The Understudy and Tom & Gerri took familiar themes of unravelling mental states and made them fresh again. The distinctive blend of comedy and horror perfected way back in the League days worked a treat throughout.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine followed most of the usual roles of sitcom, cross-pollinated with the case of the week structure of telly cop shows, but didn't suck largely due to the array of genuinely funny characters and great performances. As with Parks & Recreation, you could argue for ages about the best characters or funniest lines; the former would certainly include needy Boyle, perma-scowling Rosa, panic-prone Terry (Terry Crews sending himself up something rotten) and the deadpan Captain Holt. Oh, and Gina. And Scully.

Seriously, man, Caroline Flack's Argentine tango was incredible.