Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 6th June 2012 at 8:06am
Naming your band is clearly an important and formative bit of the music-making process - not least because quite often it signifies a great deal about how a band sees itself, its influences and aspirations. Having written about music for a while now, I've come to realise just how swiftly a name impacts on me too. How I can be switched off quickly by a name which just sounds like 'something I wouldn't like' and despite my best efforts to remain open-minded about music, how fickle and easily influenced I can be. So this edition of Single Tickets is dedicated to a couple of bands where at first the names have stopped me in my tracks, but where persisting beyond my own silly prejudices has led to hearing really exciting things. I'm not for a moment saying these names are wholly bad - but for me, with my musical history and influences they don't work so well. But the music does work well, very well indeed...
I've got to say, I'm very I glad I did too because Elgin based His Name Is Codeine spin some of the most enigmatic, beautifully dark noises I've heard in quite a while. From the outset of "Before The Apple Fell" there is drama and tension in the pulsing bass and churning guitars which hint at unseen threats and potential. The band also benefit from multiple vocalists, centred the powerful lead provided by Lyn Ralph with her heart-squeezingly gloomy delivery. She possesses the uncanny and sometimes unsettling ability to leap genre from a regret-laced country drawl to a howl of frustration or vengeance. When all three voices join in, the vocals become a sort of mesmerising chant. Meanwhile the guitars work gradually up to a shimmering, shuddering screed of echo-laden noise and the drums thunder urgent, distant warnings. The raw, seemingly untamed power of this sprawling, wayward music reminds me of the much-missed Thin White Rope at times as it manages to get louder and more intense with every passing moment. Eventually it reaches a point of no return where layers of noise and melody tumble over each other, guitars solo wildly and that solid rhythm section which has just a hint of the swampy tension of The Bad Seeds just keeps thundering on apparently untouched by the storm raging around it. Clocking in at well over five minutes, this isn't a throwaway pop tune by any means, but it's a very direct and specific statement of intent. This is turblent, insistent and cinematic music which leaves me breathless - it's well worth a moment of your time and little of your cash.
His Name Is Codeine - Before The Apple Fell
It's probably clear from my ramblings that I know little else about this His Name Is Codeine, and while I could pull my usual stunt of inferring and speculating from snippets of their social networking presence, I think perhaps this time preserving the mystery is much more appropriate. You can download "Before The Apple Fell" for the curious sum of US $1 from Bandcamp - which, unless the economy has collapsed even further by the time you read this, is less than a quid and worth every single penny. There are also a few videos and demos on their YouTube channel which are well worth a watch.
There was a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the more intelligent fringes of the punk movement which was otherwise busy oafishly destroying itself, edged into a more accessible but equally challenging niche. Bands like Alternative TV and The Only Ones managed to combine smart lyrics and thoughtful songwriting with some of the edge and energy which spun out from the rapidly imploding revolution. Somehow Thank You So Nice hark back to that same combination of elements, delivering short but intelligent blasts of angular pop which are very hard not to be snared by. Having said that lead track "Let's Make Money" is perhaps my least favourite of the three here, but that's not to detract from its accomplishments. With its stuttering, theatrical chorus and complicated rhythms providing a backdrop for some bitterly twisted lyrics. It's a little too petulantly twee and directly mocking for my tastes, but there's no doubting the commitment to getting the point across here. A little rougher around the edges - and for me perhaps the stand-out among the three tracks - "Out of Time" is a fuzzy, urgent pop anthem with an appealing vulnerability and desperation in the lyrics and a stupidly catchy chorus which I've caught myself singing in several unguarded moments - anything which I manage to retain for more than a few minutes in my advancing years being a good indication of its infectious charms. Finally "You Were The One" melds a frantic bassline with fuzzed-up megaphone vocals and scratchy guitars to produce an unexpectedly effective amalgam of indie-pop and garage rock. Its a short, sharp blast which knowingly and a little teasingly leaves you wanting to hear a little more.
Given what seems to be a growing resurgence of guitar music on the east coast, Thank You So Nice fit neatly with the likes of Morris Major and The Spook School in delivering clever pop music, big on melodies and bursting with enthusiasm. But the real acid test of Thank You So Nice will be sustaining the interest contained in these three, brief but sure-footed tracks across an entire album. One is due in the Autumn and if there's one thing which can can make it stand out in a year of pretty remarkable releases to date, it's channelling the tumble of musical and lyrical ideas evident here.
"Let's Make Money" is available as a free download from Bandcamp. An album "Make Love Not Money" will follow in the Autumn.
Posted in Highbridge on Tuesday 5th June 2012 at 12:30am
A long time ago I thought about creating a site focused on where I lived, keeping my identity secret. Not because I had anything particularly controversial to say, but because ultimately I wanted the freedom to cut through the politics and frustration inherent in living in Highbridge. Instead I figured I'd have the courage of my convinctions, and conceived the only half tongue-in-cheek Highbridge Psychogeographical Association as a vehicle for my ramblings. I've not used this part of the blog quite as frequently, or even exactly how I intended - real life, a dabbling in politics and other writing about things a world away from here all taking their toll on my drive to write about home. But just now, things aren't altogether great here. In short, there is a huge stunt being pulled somewhere and there are plenty of people who are working hard to dust over the tracks of those involved. Yes, this will sound like the paranoid ramblings of some sort of local lefty - but in this case at least, it's genuinely not. Some of these people who are content to have the public entirely excluded from this process selected me as their candidate a year or two back, because they knew damn well I understood localism and community development better than they did. I can only say I'm glad that circumstances conspired to prevent me standing for them.
The whole situation hinges on the wretched, unloved Highbridge Hotel once again. It's become an unwelcome bargaining chip in a bigger game which stretches right from the River Parrett shoreline to the meadows which sit alongside the River Brue. In a nutshell, the Planning Committee is being asked to consider an application for parts of the former boatyard site on the basis that the developer will provide flood defence improvements which will unlock the ability to build on the other sites. This huge commitment of cash will effectively exempt them from any Section 106 contribution for the more traditional issues such as schools, transport and so on. So, the Planning Committee is being asked to take a 'double or quits' style gamble. Give the go ahead to the Boatyard, get the sea defences for free, and bank on the 'unlocked' development sites providing the infrastructure for the whole set of separately developed sites. We now enter a sort of quantum world of chicken-and-egg causality. The defences are needed because of the development, but the development can't be built without them. The relationship of the defences to the rest of the site is far less clear, and indeed there is no easy way of considering them together. Right in the centre of this maelstrom sits the Hotel. Still collapsing, still shaming our sister town up the road, still echoing a community's growing disconnection from the democracy which represents it.
For starters this breaches all sorts of rules and regulations, and is technically illegal. When the Committee considers an application it is required to do so on the individual merits of the case, with some consideration of how it fits with the strategic plan for the area. And that is captured in the Local Development Framework. This captures how the Council thinks the whole district should develop over the coming years, and has been subject to a ton of expensive consultation too. But its been largely discarded in this case. So, we've got a bunch of officers who are reluctant to talk to the public because they fear reprisals for their inaction, a group of councillors who (save for a notable couple) are intent on getting the deal through to rid them of an issue and cement relationships with developers, and a population which - although divided on what should happen, are increasingly alarmed by what actually is (or indeed isn't) happening on the ground.
Sometime last week, the graffiti above appeared on the hotel, complete with painted jubilee bunting. Its innocent, childlike curves beg for an answer from those who have it in their power to offer it. Is a once proud build making a pathetic bid for it's own survival? Can you put a value on collective memory and shared ideas of space when they're pretty much all a community has to use as foundations for it's future? This simple message speaks louder and clearer than most others who've considered the Hotel site in recent times - and certainly improves on the planned, heavily corporately influenced plan to put a mural on the boards. The fate of the hotel, of the last historic building standing in the old centre of the town lies in the hands of a political gamble.
I only wish I had some confidence in the steadfastness of the players...
Posted in Railways on Saturday 2nd June 2012 at 11:30pm
Everyone told me I was insane to travel this weekend, and particularly so to consider going anywhere near London. They were, on reflection probably right for a number of reasons. This trip was conceived in a desperate attempt to find something - anything - to occupy me for part of this extra-long Bank Holiday weekend. The plan I'd opted for was one suggested by a friend offering her opinion on Eastbourne. It wasn't positive - but where there is a seaside resort to visit, I'm usually up for it. Perhaps it's living in a series of blighted, slowly dying resort areas myself? So this morning didn't start well - a mild but persistent headache, the threat of rain and an argument with a cash machine dogged my journey to London. The early train was perhaps a little busier with families heading up for the weekend, but not hugely so and I was left to ponder my irritation in peace. Having resolved my financial position with some relief that the machine at Paddington willingly gave me money, my paranoia switched to considering that perhaps the ATM at home had some sort of evil skimming device inside it? I headed to Victoria via a very quiet Circle Line train, and with some time to spare decided to breakfast here. It was much busier, with all manner of oddly-hatted people heading for Epsom Downs and Tattenham Corner trains to reach the Derby, where the Queen would be making her first appearance of the Jubilee weekend. There were a lot of people here who didn't travel by train often it was clear - as they tried to insert bus tickets into the gates, and in one notably silly case where a woman bitterly complained to a Network Rail official about "YOUR pigeons attacking us and stealing our food". It all seemed so distant from last weekend - this was a reality of London of course, but not the one I knew. I found my coach in the 12 carriage service to Eastbourne which combined with a Littlehampton service as far as Haywards Heath. Even the locals seemed confused by where they should be despite clear announcements. Otherwise it was an easy enough journey, delayed a little at East Croydon by signalling issues - and passing a notably long queue of London-bound trains as we headed south.
And so I arrived at Eastbourne's rather grand terminus. I'd been this far before, on a train which called and reversed for Brighton, but had never wandered onto the interesting concourse - an odd lozenge-shaped building nestled into a road junction. It was clean, spacious and had a pleasant feel to it. I was tempted to linger for coffee but remembered the challenge, and pressed on into the town. I was immediately struck by the 'onion skin' effect here - Eastbourne has been built in layers around the station it seems. Beyond is the Old Town, mostly residential and unvisited now - so I headed along Terminus Road which cuts through the various layers of the town. The retail area is frankly depressing - it's only redeeming feature being a range of small, local traders still clinging on by their nicotine-yellowed fingertips among the national traders. The pedestrianised areas are cramped, illogical and seem to cause people to cannon into each other. Several times I stepped aside to let a pram or a wheelchair through, and was shoved hard from behind and sworn at. It seems here showing any sort of respect is to show weakness in the struggle. The older people were worst - like the other south coast excursions I've made, the volume of their voices struck me. They crowed and shouted at each other, expletives dotted their regular speech. The younger generation just seemed depressed and downtrodden, fake tan and ludicrously comic breast enhancements featured, males gripped females like they owned them. Meanwhile a foul smelling Wimpy Bar poured greasily sated young people onto the street. This was a grim, demoralising place.
The next layer of Eastbourne was more sinister. A curved ring of huge victorian villas and town houses surrounds the town, with Terminus Road cutting across it. It was quiet here, and the architecture was stunningly original seaside chic. I explored a little but soon realised that despite being a few yards from town I was in fact alone. The reason soon became clear. These huge sprawling properties, once guest houses or private dwellings had been divided into hundreds of flats, some of them were dry houses or supported accommodation, all of them looked decrepit and run down. Especially those which were still clinging on as guest houses despite the change in tone of the neighbourhood. This area felt dangerous, it's silence oppressive. I headed back to the crossing and turned towards the seafront at last. Here I encountered an odd avenue of restaurants and tat shops which led the short way to the sea. It was a little after 11am, and the restaurants - competing in the size or price of their breakfasts - disgorged tourist families, still picking rind from their teeth and wondering as in one half-captured conversation "what the fuck we're going to do until lunchtime?". Their weekend a procession of meals with empty, bored oblivion between them. I called into a shop and grabbed some lunch, the assistant smiled pleasantly and wished me a nice day - she seemed world-weary and turning to see the queue of men behind me with one can of Special Brew each, I sort of understood. The jewel in Eastbourne's crown should of course be it's seafront - and in many ways it is. Dominated by a sweep of white stuccoed houses and hotels, it's tidy and clean, and seems well used. The shingle beach is not swept by huge tides, so there is no need for sea defences, and instead there is a wide, tarmaced cycling and walking path alongside the beach. I found a spot to eat and rather liked the view - a slightly forlorn pier in the distance, decaying groynes and a churn of atmospheric sea mist. I realised here how important the sea was to me, whether I was home or in the far reaches of Fife or Strathclyde, it always called me. I noted a woman passing by, eyeing me with distrust. She did so once or twice and clearly didn't like the look of me. Clutching her sandwich, I expected her to move off and sit elsewhere, but clearly I was in her spot as she sat down feet away, and with every slowly chewed, deliberate mouthful she glared at me. This was now a battle of wills and I was determined to outstay her. Eventually, she finished the sandwich and left. I think I might, inadvertently, have ruined her day? I made my way back to the station as fast as I could. Eastbourne was just as it had been described to me, and I didn't like it at all.
My ride back via Brighton was colourful, with all manner of weird and wonderful folk arriving at the terminus for the Fat Boy Slim concert that evening. Having found myself there a couple of times lately, it was interesting to see the station respond to events in town calmly and efficiently. My own plans didn't quite work out as some sort of diagramming change saw the pair of Wessex Electrics I'd hoped to catch on the 14:49 disappear north on the 14:19, leaving me with a meagre six coach Electrostar back to Victoria. I cowered in First Class, listening to a coach full of gleeful middle-class monarchists enjoying their picnic and mid-priced Tesco wine. London had brightened up when I arrived, and I waited in the sun for a No.36 bus back to Paddington happily enough. Hyde Park was a mass of humanity, a huge screen erected and a concert of some sort going on. I was moved to think of George Gissing's novel set in the Jubilee year of 1897 - he railed against commercialism and advertising, and foretold much of what I could see from the window of the bus. I'm pretty sure he also spent some time in Eastbourne. I wonder what he'd make of it today?
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.