The Basics at The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston, 23 July

Dot writes: this is partly a diary post and partly a blatantly partisan* gig review. Should anyone be reading because of an interest in The Basics, you might want to skip the bit about me at the start. Those who read for our diary posts (hi Mum, Mairi, Helen, Laura!) may want to skip the part where I try to recall the set list. The people who come to this blog for what Ken has to say about Anatoly Boukreev or beer – perhaps you would enjoy thinking about mountaineering ethics/dry-hopping even more if you listened to some top quality Australian rock’n’roll at the same time. Just a suggestion.

Diary part

I realise this blog gives the impression that recently I’ve been doing nothing but listen to The Basics and Gotye. This is not the case: I have also been listening to the John Butler Trio, The Tea Party (Canadian band, not right-wing loons), Tjintu Desert Band, Missy Higgins, Tash Parker, Laura Jansen, from our pre-existing collection Midnight Oil and the Warumpi Band, and, in a preliminary way on YouTube/Soundcloud, Machine Translations, Spender and Mike Dawes. (Some of these aren’t even Australian.) And I’ve been feeding the children, and trying to write a chapter about the Old English Boethius. The only bonus of Ken living away during the week is that I get to choose all the records.

However, I have indeed been listening a lot to The Basics and Gotye. Regular readers may recall (or not) that back in May I learnt The Basics were going to play a gig in London on 23rd July, but of course I couldn’t go to it. How could I, given it was on a Wednesday and I’d be the only adult in the house? I liked the band enough that, had they been playing in Dublin, I’d have certainly bought tickets, arranged a babysitter, and browbeaten some friends to come too, though it’s been years since I went to a gig of any kind: it’s never been one of the things Ken and I did together – it was more a feature of my relationship with my previous boyfriend – and then when we had children going out immediately became much more pricey and complicated. Going to London and being away overnight really seemed a bit much. But I mentioned it to Ken and he said, bless him, that he wouldn’t mind taking a day off to be in Dublin. So then I bought three tickets, asked my friends Patrick and Charlotte, who live in St Albans, if they’d put me up and come to the gig with me (they said yes on both counts), and booked my flights. Something that had seemed obviously out of the case fell into place really neatly, and didn’t even turn out especially expensive.

On Wednesday morning I flew out. I spent the afternoon productively in the British Library so I didn’t feel I was skipping too much work. I dropped my things with Patrick, came back into London with him meeting Charlotte on the way, and had a very pleasant meze with them in a Turkish restaurant in Dalston that I’ll always remember as Cafe Evil (actually Cafe Evin, I think). Then we went to the gig and it was great. And then on Thursday I was extremely girly and saw the exhibition of wedding dresses in the V & A before flying back to pick up the boys after creche. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

About the actual gig

In another example of the way things fell beautifully into place, it turned out that Patrick knew exactly where the Shacklewell Arms was because he regularly attends meetings for a charity he volunteers with in a school just across the road. He’d never been in, though, and it looked a bit shabby and scuzzy from the outside. On the inside it was still a bit shabby and scuzzy, but it served craft ale and Pimms (not in the same glass) and had a minuscule beer garden out the back. The venue itself, a room labelled ‘Dance Hall’, wasn’t massively bigger than the bar. I’ve never seen such a fantastic band in such a tiny place. I guess people just haven’t heard of them.

The support act were some nice little boys – alright, some nice young men, but they were awfully sweet and young and I think biologically at least I am old enough to be their mum, sob – called Lovepark. I had checked them out a bit beforehand and been only mildly interested, but in performance I warmed to them. The singer sounded rather like Morrissey and several of their songs made use of a choppy kind of style with all the instruments, drums, two guitars and bass, playing the same syncopated rhythm spaced with silences. The guitar tone was clear and sort of early-eighties; they had a post-punk vibe to my mind, though I daresay someone with wider musical knowledge would be able to think of a better way to pinpoint them. They didn’t speak much apart from the singer intermittently announcing “we’re Lovepark”; about the third time he did this it started to make me giggle. Their drummer is called Aramis.

After Lovepark had finished and disentangled their little sample-playing wotsit (technical term) from the drum kit there was a pause, during which we edged forward, knowing that it was about to get more crowded and that there is always a person taller than yourself (if you’re my height) who comes and stands exactly in your sightline. After a bit Wally quietly wandered on stage and started tinkering with the drum kit. At this point it occurred to me that, quite nearby and behaving perfectly normally, was a man I’d seen all-but-naked on the internet. This produced a sensation of extreme oddness, but it passed. There was a bit more tinkering and setting things up and hanging around conferring on the part of the band, all in unobtrusive-private-citizen mode. Then Wally came back on, sat down behind the drums, looked right at us all with an enormous happy smile and said – well, something appropriate to the occasion; I wasn’t taking shorthand notes. Hello or words to that effect. And they got started.

One thing that really struck me about The Basics, especially (perhaps unfairly) in contrast to Lovepark (who are perhaps more out-there when they are headlining), was that they are fabulous at talking to an audience. If they have a front man it’s Kris (the bassist), but really the whole band is the front man. They engage with each other in a way that projects this extremely strong, confident, friendly personality; they show us that they like each other, love playing music, and are including the audience in the fun they are having. They were too big for the tiny stage. In fact, they were physically too big for it: Wally had to do a sort of limbo dance under his microphone stand to wriggle in behind the drums, and I was vaguely worried that Kris, who is pretty tall, would crack his head on something, maybe a light.

Kris was keen to tell us that he wasn’t in great form; they’d been burning the candle at both ends, mixing their new album and doing other stuff, and he was horribly tired. However, this didn’t stop him singing and playing with gusto and also offering his bandmates useful advice. For example, after a song (possibly The Lucky Country? – like I said, I didn’t take notes) with an exceptionally vigorous drum part:

Wally: I’d forgotten that was so hard. I need to go to the gym for three weeks before playing that.

Kris: Well, you’ve been cycling everywhere. Why don’t you play it with your legs?

There was also some discussion of Tim (guitarist) getting bits wrong (not that I could tell).

Kris: What key exactly were you playing that in, Tim?

Tim: There are so many good keys, I couldn’t decide.

This is their style – chatty, informal, drawing attention to the bumps, which is something you can afford to do if you still actually sound really good. They didn’t have a set list as such, though Tim had a bit of paper he periodically consulted which may have been a list of suggestions; instead they conferred apparently via telepathy (i.e. off-mic) (can you mic telepathy?), and also invited requests. They played my request, indeed, once somebody louder also shouted for it. This was Better; Kris said that Wally didn’t like to sing it any more, “because he gets all emotional behind the drum kit”, but Wally sang it, though he did hit a very high note slightly earlier than I was expecting in the wordless section at the end, and then thought better of it and came back down a fourth, finishing up lower than he does on the live album. I think it was a fourth. As I said, this is reconstruction from memory.

What they played, as far as I can recall: they opened with their most recent single, So Hard For You. There was plenty of material from Stand Out/Fit In: Better, Hey There, Just Hold On, Three Cool Cats, Have Love Will Travel, Rattle My Chain. I love Rattle My Chain, for several reasons: it has a stonking riff, it’s one of their most rock tunes, and the lyrics are feisty (message: bloody hell, you’re annoying), but at the same time it betrays the mindset of nicely-brought-up people. “It’s so hard for me to be polite to you” – I can’t imagine Axl Rose worrying about that. Back to the list: only one song from Keep Your Friends Close, the most hard-rocking one, No. 1 Cause of Death Among Young People Today. Yeah Yeah (in which Kris and Tim did a little dance) and Second Best (which has a fab drum opening). Someone requested Wait For You; Kris said they hadn’t played it for years, but it came together fine with its jaunty chromatic guitar riff. Hey Rain, with just Tim playing a minimal guitar part to accompany the three-part harmony singing. Another cover was Besame Mucho, which appeared in medley with something else, I don’t recall what, as did Can’t Get No Satisfaction. They played three tracks from the forthcoming album. First of the three was The Lucky Country, an angry song about Australia (“Tony’s going to buy you a brand new car”). To Think of You, a quiet and melancholy little love song sung by Kris, had two false starts, first because Wally wasn’t quite happy with his drumming in some way – he’d not brought his brushes and had decided to play with his hands – and the second time because Kris got the giggles. The only song of the evening that I hadn’t heard before was announced by Tim as Curious Andrew. The other two looked slightly bemused and we gathered that it was actually called Coward Heart or something of that sort. The verse had Wally and Kris singing in close harmony and I liked it.

I came to the gig already loving the band’s songs and prepared to enjoy myself, but I was still struck by how good they are. They have so much to draw on: a large repertoire of both cover versions and tight, catchy, classic-sounding original material; three extremely talented instrumentalists; gorgeous vocal harmonies; three lead singers, one decent, one excellent and one amazing. Tim only sang two leads but there are plenty of bands who would be glad to have a singer as good as Tim – he is just right both for the dry, humorous quality he brings to Hey Rain and the show-off, rather forced rock of Have Love, Will Travel. For Tim music seems to be a language he likes to make jokes in; he was having a lot of fun with the effects pedal in his guitar solos. Kris has a strong voice for his more upbeat numbers and a lovely melancholy edge for the contemplative ones. And Wally can sing anything,** but I particularly enjoy the way Basics songs give him the scope to let rip and also to develop a really full tone in his midrange, as the Gotye material often doesn’t. And damn but he works hard. It’s not as though he comes up with minimal drum parts to leave him more energy for singing.

At one point in the gig, noting that the audience was between him and the door, Kris remarked that they’d have to hide behind a pillar until we all left, and in fact this is pretty much what they did, since once the performance was over they wormed behind the screen of arches that bisected the stage and started unplugging things. I took this opportunity to suppress my middle-class horror of bothering people and ask Tim, who was still at the front, if he would autograph my copy of Stand Out/Fit In, and he very nicely passed it back to Wally and Kris as well. So I am now the proud owner (hooray for cardboard CD sleeves, by the way) of an album signed by Tim Heath, Squiggle and Squiggle. I went away very happy. Mostly because of the music rather than the squiggles, but they’re a bonus, aren’t they?

Just to show it’s not just me: Patrick hadn’t checked out the band before coming to the gig, but he said afterwards that he could tell why I would travel from another country to see them.

*In the sense that I was predisposed to like it, not that this post is written from the perspective of civilian insurgents.
**Probably not opera, thrash metal or the bass parts in Russian orthodox chant.


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Dot’s Birthday Today

Ken writes:

Dot is turning ahem cough cough… today but the celebration is somewhat muted because she’s just getting over a vomiting bug that first got Frank and Hugh. Mercifully, it passes quickly. It is taking the wind out of her sails a bit. Happy Birthday and Get Well soon Dot!


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Slightly defensive dad venting

Ken writes:

I took the boys swimming today. They found another boy there and they all had a great time splashing each other, playing tag and jumping into the pool. There was a life guard who had to tell them off for running once, but didn’t tell them off for jumping into the pool.

But I had to endure sighs and looks from a number of mothers who had their babies in the pool at the same time. For the most part, they huddled in the corners of the pool and I was careful to tell the boys off for splashing or jumping near the other bathers, but I think I was right not to stop the boys from horsing around and having fun in the pool even if it made the mothers and other bathers uncomfortable.

You can tell I’m feeling a bit chastened here (though no one actually said anything to me) and feel the need to justify myself. But I think I actually can give good reasons for my latitudinarian stance.

1. The boys were playing in the shallow end. The mothers with their babies could have gone into the main pool. The babies have floating arm bands and can’t touch the ground wherever they are in the pool. The mothers can stand on the ground in the main pool just as easily as they can in the shallow end. The only swimmers who potentially benefit form the shallow end as such are young independent swimmers, like the boys.

2. The boys were having fun. We take the boys to properly structured swimming lessons during term time, but they won’t take it as far as they could unless the learn to enjoy being in the water. And I think fun helps that.

So, my defence is that by allowing the boys to have fun in the pool I am taking the necessary preparatory steps to making them good swimmers, which is important for their future. And I had to do that in the shallow end where it was safe.


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We apologise for this delay, which was caused by a temporary disturbance in the weft of reality

Dot writes: I’ve just been looking through some photos uploaded from my phone, as we have posted incredibly few photos this year (our digital camera is broken, which may have something to do with it) and I was thinking of making a bit of a catch-up post. About half the photos were taken by the two boys on a DART journey when I let them play with the camera function to pass the time. Mostly they took photos of each other’s bottoms, but they also captured this curious image:

bendy railway

Maybe the DART line is always as wonky as that and I’m so numbed by commuting I’d never noticed.

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Baywara: The Film


Dot writes: Facebook currently shows me Gotye’s updates rather more reliably than those of my actual friends (see earlier post). On Thursday he posted this funding appeal for a film/music project that he is involved in and helping to finance. It is a documentary focused on an Australian Indigenous leader and maker of didgeridoos (yidaki) named Djalu Gurruwiwi; I have been musing on it and want to share some of my ponderings. I’ll say at the start that I made a donation, because I’d really like to see this come to fruition, but at first the clip made me feel uneasy in a number of ways. Unfortunately I am having problems embedding it, so please follow the link and watch or the rest of the post is going to make no sense.

Profound thought number one: I wish Wally would get a haircut, because he’s starting to look like someone who was thrown out of Hawkwind for washing. (None of my business, of course.)

Profound thought number two, now that’s out of the way: in what way does the hearing of Djalu’s story compare with the hearing of a Gotye song on YouTube? What does it mean anyway to say that Djalu’s voice will be amplified? More people might come to know his face, but getting a pop song stuck in your head (or, indeed, repeatedly viewing a man being covered in paint in stop-motion animation) is a rather different thing from trying to understand the worldview of someone from an indigenous culture. The clip asks ‘are you ready to listen?’, but I wonder what exactly we are going to listen to – ancient cultural knowledge, which is surely in some ways rather local and specific and hard to translate, or a story about Djalu and his culture, dressed up for its applicability to the modern world? Being an annoying academic type I also can’t help questioning this idea of a message being passed down through 60,000 years, since oral cultures are usually pretty adaptable and orientated towards the now, even and especially when they talk about the past, and however stable they may be materially. And, of course, we hear as we learn to hear, and in particular we decode stories in the light of all the stories we have heard before. No message, even within a culture, is simply transmitted as a whole package, unchanged. So I thought the clip was a bit naive, though who can blame it given a length of just over 2 minutes, and moreover it prickled for me with the crudity of fame and all those familiar uncomfortable questions about power and representation.

However, I also started to think a bit more about the functions of story and song in different cultures, and here I felt the incongruities might start to say something rather interesting. The clip tells us that Djalu Gurruwiwi transmits his spiritual and cultural knowledge through song. This seems to speak to a much more central place for music and a much less propositional conception of knowledge than most of us chiefly operate with in the Anglophone world. One wonders again whether the audience for the film will be equipped to hear what a man like this would want to say – I can’t help feeling that a documentary is not the obvious way to transmit such an active and embodied kind of knowledge – but on the other hand it challenges us to think about how we trivialise such powerful elements of our own culture. Of course we have categories of ‘high’ art, but we still tend to put the arts, especially pop music, in a box marked ‘entertainment’ and/or ‘luxury’. I work in a literature department so I have more exposure than most to discourses that take the arts seriously. Such discourses tend to be heavily defensive, and they also find it hard to validate knowledge that isn’t verbal, since words are their substance. Perhaps I am misunderstanding and romanticising Aboriginal culture, but it’s an intriguing train of thought.

Those were the kinds of things I was mulling over after initially viewing the funding appeal, but my ideas shifted as I started to explore a bit further – I admit that this was no further than I could easily be taken by Google. For one, I was confronted with the fact that some of my worries about power and representation were born of what are really rather patronising and stereotypical ideas of indigenous Australians. If Djalu is a last remnant of a stone age tradition (and I’m not sure why everyone seems to think it will die with him), he’s an awfully well-travelled and outgoing one. His family sell (or sold) yidaki through a handsome if somewhat out-of-date website. He has toured in Europe and the maker of the Baywara film, Ben Strunin, first met him in London. He has been the subject of at least two films before (a 2003 one for the Discovery Channel called Yidaki and, seemingly, a 2011 (?) one called Why is No-One Listening, which was also crowd-funded, but I can’t find much trace of it apart from the funding appeal). All this gives more weight to the emphasis Strunin places on how much of what he is doing reflects Djalu’s own wishes and priorities.

From the outset, Djalu has always maintained that if we can make an effective film showcasing his ability to crossover and communicate the integrity of his culture in a Balanda (non-indigenous) environment, then it would work on different levels and help sustain his culture; for example the next generations in his own community back in Arnhem Land can watch the film and can see that there is love and respect for their culture overeseas, then they might be inspired to have greater self-esteem and pride in keeping their own culture strong and perhaps even to travel themselves and see the wider world.

On the flipside the Balanda will see that Yolngu people are willing to share their culture in a collaborative way that helps mutual understanding.

- Ben Strunin interview in Little White Lies

This is where Gotye comes in, and also the artist Ghostpatrol, whom I hadn’t heard of before but whose stuff looks amazing. Clearly the publicity angle is useful and being consciously exploited, but the texts make it clearer than the clip does that collaboration and new creation are central, not simply amplification. It also makes a lot more sense of the involvement of Gotye specifically, beyond him having this big lump of fame. (I did wonder for a terrible moment whether someone thought ‘here we have an old man with body paint, so let’s involve this young man with body paint’. But I quickly abandoned that notion.) After all, the sample-based techniques that he uses are all about taking sounds from different places and making them talk to each other; and it is founded on being an extremely good listener, who can find corners of interest and beauty where others don’t even bother to look. Just to digress a little, this sense of good listening is in a different way also something I like about The Basics: when they do their genre-hopping thing they give an impression, which I find really infectious and appealing, of having loved the music they listened to so much they wanted to get right inside it and walk around. It helps that the tunes they write are very catchy too.

So, Baywara: The Film seems like a project with excellent intentions and I hope it manages to achieve at least part of what it aims for in the way of creation and communication. For me it has ended up connecting back to my recurrent preoccupations with, you know, life and the world and everything: how do we make something positive out of our relentlessly destructive consumerist culture? Emphasise the culture rather than the consumption, I think. Do more listening, looking and making and less buying and using up. Of course everything takes money, including a project like this, and is thus implicated in our economic system and its extractive basis, and there will be plane journeys with carbon emissions and whatnot, but I like the idea that something as notoriously disposable as pop music might be put to the service of memory and renewal and human connections.

What a serious post. Hope it doesn’t come across as pretentious. Here, have a nice cheery Gotye clip from 2007 to lift the mood.


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In which Dot finds she has a future as Norman Bates’s mum

Dot writes: Hugh likes to become sad and tell me how much he loves me. He is melancholy about my absence from his school sports day (I had to meet the Vice-President of Memorial University, Newfoundland, but I still feel guilty). He wants to be assured that I will continue to live with him after he gets married. (I tell him I will if he wants me to. That seems safe.) Also, he talks quite a lot about my death. I rather wish he wouldn’t.

A couple of nights ago he told me that, if I died early, he would put my grave in his bedroom and sleep next to it. He would go out to earn money and use that money to buy me breakfast, dinner and lunch. “And maybe God will help you eat them.”


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Breathless update

Dot writes: stuff has been happening, but I keep on failing to write about it, so I’m going to have to gallop through it for the record. I ran the mini-marathon (10 km) on 2nd June in 1 hr 4 mins and 20 seconds, which was a cause of some pride to me as it took me around 1 hr 14 minutes last year. It was also impressive as I’d had recurrent insomnia through the past week, and only by heroically foregoing a mums’ night out on the Friday had I recovered sufficiently to do the mini-marathon at all. No, really – by Friday morning I’d had enough bad nights that I was feeling a bit sick and couldn’t manage breakfast, quite apart from having lost the top layer of my brain. But an early night and resolute avoidance of caffeine, chocolate and alcohol more-or-less sorted me out. (I am still tending to wake around 5am. It is just so light at the moment.)

Anyway, I ran my 10km, felt pleased with myself and also raised 220 euros in sponsorship for Hugh’s school. I went out again in the evening to a recorder practice. Then I came back a bit before 10pm to be greeted by the au pair telling me she was leaving on Friday. Her boyfriend had rung her over the weekend to tell her he’d been cheating on her; she was miserable and wanted to be with her family.

Poor girl. I was sympathetic. But also, I had to find a new childcare arrangement in slightly under a week, just before the end of term. Frank was not so hard to accommodate as he could switch to full-time in his creche, but Hugh was harder: the creche has never picked up from his school, so I needed to find something else. I tried asking Julie, in case she wanted the work (following her stint as our au pair she stayed on in Dublin to do a PhD and still does occasional evening babysitting for us) but it was too many hours for her to commit to, especially as she doesn’t live very near us. Through a friend I got the number of an after school club in Raheny and contacted them with my slightly desperate plea. Happily they could accommodate Hugh. After that the woman who runs the creche offered to pick Hugh up after all, but I stayed with the after school club, since I’d already got them to do me a favour and it was also a chance to scope the place out.

I think I will have to get another au pair in the autumn. The after school club has a pleasant atmosphere, and every time I have picked Hugh up from there he has seemed to be enjoying himself, despite swearing afterwards that he hates it; but I can’t bring myself to leave him there for more than absolutely necessary, and the effort to get him as early as possible each day is not very good for my work. On the one hand, he is doing proper non-television activities, arts and games and so forth, with trained childcare workers. On the other, he is stuck in one room for hours with no outdoor play space. He has been very fretful and difficult in the evenings this week. He isn’t very good at change at the best of times, and it’s the meltdown season anyway at this stage in the school year.

So, a busy and rather stressful couple of weeks. The au pair has emailed from Spain and seems to have cheered up considerably; it seems that going back there was the right decision for her. Hugh will cope and it is only two weeks now to the end of term anyway (the school year is short in Ireland). I have planned out a chapter of my book but not managed to start actually writing it; I’m hoping that momentous step will be taken on Monday.

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