What does she see in him?

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What does she see in him? He certainly doesn’t know. Her mam thinks he must be controlling. Her sister thinks he must be great at oral. Her friends go for pop psychology: he’s the manifestation of her low self-esteem, she doesn’t rate herself high enough to find a fella who’s actually attractive, or funny, or successful in any way. She wants to be wanted and he’s hopelessly needy.

They’re all wrong.

Look at them, sitting together on the bus: he fills a bit more than half of the seat, he’s got a summer cold and keeps sniffing honkily, you can see the roll of belly fat bulging in his blue t-shirt. He yawns, and at the peak of the yawn he also burps. She’s cuddled up beside him hugging his arm, with her blonde dye-job, brown roots, style-statement tilt-cornered glasses. She’s talking in his ear about nothing – oh look, the petrol station’s closed, was that one Maxol, nice new houses there, used to get off here to visit Lisa, did you ever meet Lisa, ah she’s gas, great craic altogether, in Manchester now or is it Bradford. He’s braced against his headache, leaning into the pain: left forehead, left sinus. He kept off the booze last night but at what cost. Trying to be a better man. Which man would that be, then. Continue reading “What does she see in him?”

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The Basics, “In the Rude!”

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At the start of The Basics’ new live album you hear Wally De Backer say “This’ll be a little different”. Happily it’s a complete lie. They’re as much fun as ever. Though there are some songs on here I don’t think they’ve played live very often, for a fan of the band it’s very much a convivial evening with old friends. For a non-fan of the band – well, that’s a mindset I don’t have much insight into…

The album is released to celebrate the band’s fifteenth anniversary and was recorded at The Howler, Brunswick, on 27th December 2016, one of only a couple of gigs they did that year. Their first live album, /ðə’bæzɪtʃ/, was an exercise in “bringing the studio into the live show”; it has all the bells and whistles, including keyboardist and horn section, and came after a period of intensive touring. (They’ve also done a concert DVD/CD, released in 2013.) In contrast, In the Rude! is an unpolished reunion gig, but it’s loveable in its dodgy moments – and there are some, and not just the one the band loudly point out to each other near the end (e.g. what’s happened to the bottom of the chord at 1:22 of “Memory Lane”?). It’s warm and human, and beside the rougher sounds there’s not only rock’n’roll energy but tenderness. At the end of “To Think of You”, a quiet, poignant song, you can hear the hush before the crowd break the spell to applaud; and listening to the album you get a little piece of that special moment.

Some highlights: one of the pleasures of live albums is being given a different angle on tracks that maybe stood out less in the studio albums. Here “Bitten By the Same Bug” emerges as a really engaging combination of tongue-in-cheek ska plaintiveness (in the verse) and rollicking rock (in the chorus). There’s a flash new video to accompany this version.

It’s well paired with “Time Poor”, which is funny, shouty, and clearly a blast live. It’s great to hear “With This Ship”, here sounding darker and leaner than it does on Keep Your Friends Close, and “I Could Go On”, the opener from their first album, Get Back. The best track of all, for me, is the performance of “Home Again” in the encore. It’s an audience request and Kris reveals they haven’t rehearsed it, “but give us a second and we’ll do it really well”. And it has a tentative quality, especially at first, but it’s a song about homesickness and what-ifs, and the delicate approach – the way it softly assembles from sketches of its former parts – really suits it. Plus Wally’s singing is beautiful. He has the lion’s share of lead vocals on the record and they range all the way from gentle and reflective, as here, to the style he once elegantly described as “screaming my nuts off”. He’s certainly prepared to put everything on the line for music.

The CD is available in two different packages, both with photographs by Barry C. Douglas, who also made the videos for “Bitten By the Same Bug” and “With This Ship”. I love Barry’s photos: he takes honest, unglamorous and yet beautiful shots and they perfectly complement the immediacy of the music. In The Rude! is the sound of three men having fun, playing some stonkingly good songs, taking the piss out of each other, making themselves vulnerable, and connecting with their audience. And I’m enjoying it very much.

On sale from Waterfront.

Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline

Dot writes:

sometimes a niche collector’s item can also be a lovely thing in and of itself. This is true of Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline, the first release from the new Forgotten Futures record label set up by Wally De Backer (Gotye).

Perrey was a pioneering electronic artist, the sole virtuoso of the early vacuum-tube-based synthesiser, the ondioline, and in the 1960s one of the first users of the Moog. The music for which he is best known is often comical and boisterous and frequently makes use of tape loops of animal noises and other odd sounds. In albums such as The In Sound From Way Out! (1966, with Gershon Kingsley) and Moog Indigo (1970), he presented both catchy melodies of his own and cheeky reinventions of older material, such as the updated version of the Cygnets’ Dance from Swan Lake on In Sound… and, on Moog Indigo, a recording of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ using samples of real bees.

The A-side of Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline collects rarities, many previously unreleased, from the early part of his career, when he was often not playing his own compositions but contributing his skill on the ondioline to the work of others. Having recently read Dana Countryman’s biography of Perrey, Passport to the Future, I get the sense this album could be the answer to a Perrey fan’s wish list: many of these pieces of music are mentioned in it as episodes in Perrey’s colourful story. Here is ‘L’âme des poètes’ from 1951, on which he and his ondioline supplied Charles Trenet’s wish for ‘the sound of a soul’ (Countryman, p. 25); here is the theme from Dandelion Wine, the 1967 musical based on the novel by Ray Bradbury for which, again, Jean-Jacques played ondioline (the composer was Billy Goldenburg: Countryman, pp. 126-7). However, despite the range of dates and composers, and despite the obscurity of some of the tracks – dug up from personal archives, often painstakingly restored from acetates – the resulting album is far more than a collection of curiosities. All the tracks are engaging, some are truly beautiful, and they are skilfully sequenced to present a cohesive progression of tone and mood. In contrast to Perrey’s better known albums, that mood is often one of wistful sweetness.

L’âme des poètes’ quickly became my main earworm from the album. I was struck by how the ondioline in it doesn’t sound so much like a violin as a very early recording of a violin. I wonder if it already sounded that way in 1951? Because this is a song about how the echoes of art linger sweetly through time, and that nostalgic sound seems immensely appropriate. Of course now the song itself, in its style and the smoky recording, is deeply nostalgic and evocative of mid-century France (a context known to me chiefly through film and through shorthand signals such as this type of music). Layers upon layers of gentle longing and memory.

Next but one before ‘L’âme des poètes’ in the running order, ‘Danielle of Amsterdam’ sounds like the theme song for a 1970s sitcom (it was actually the theme from a film), narrowly holding onto its dignity; following it, ‘Cigale’ has more poise, of an old-fashioned, ballroom-dancing kind: purple rinses on holiday in Blackpool. ‘Chicken on the Rocks’ is irresistibly exuberant and funny, as is ‘Barnyard in Orbit’ (a different version to the one on In Sound From Way Out!, with, according to De Backer, a sprightlier performance; I also notice a different style of stereo mix with less hard panning to left or right). ‘Visa to the Stars’ and ‘Pioneers of the Stars’, the second and last tracks on the A-side, both have a brave quality with galloping guitar lines evocative of westerns. ‘La Vache et le Prisonnier’ and ‘Dandelion Wine’ are both fragile, yearning melodies. ‘Sérénade à la Mule’ is cautiously jaunty. ‘Mars Reflector’ is sustained more by sparse texture and disjointed angles of sound than by melody and effectively portrays the floating strangeness of outer space.

The second side of the record is taken up with a demonstration disc of the ondioline, restored from the single known copy. Perrey takes us through some of the sonic possibilities of the instrument and it’s a fascinating insight into its huge range of tones, as well as a chance to hear his voice speaking out of the past. If only we could see exactly what he was doing with the controls. The slider marked ‘D’ seems to be popular.

All of this comes in a physically beautiful and (joy of joys) richly informative package. The booklet offers a wealth of photographs, an introductory essay by Simon Reynolds, and notes on each track by De Backer. The essay outlines Perrey’s early career and positions him as an electronic pioneer concerned not so much with ‘alien zones of sound’ but with connecting new technologies back to human emotions; we’re given a small thesaurus of terms to alert us to what Perrey offers: ‘humour, romantic yearning, wistful nostalgia, insouciance, and frivolity’. The track notes burst with enthusiasm but also with detail. One has a sense of the patient work that has gone into all this – the exploration of boxes and artefacts, the labours of engineers – and of the tempting wealth of further material waiting to be quarried.

Wally De Backer has been promoting Jean-Jacques Perrey’s music with performances (at National Sawdust in Brooklyn in November 2016 and at Moogfest on 18th May), radio appearances (2nd November and 16th November), and a Spotify playlist. His Facebook post about Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline is worth a read. From his remarks at Moogfest, it seems another Forgotten Futures release, a reissue of Perrey’s album of sleep music, Prélude au sommeil, is almost ready to go.

Off with the fairies

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Her hat and gardening gloves were on the bench, but Granny was nowhere to be seen.

“She’s wandered off again,” called Anne.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Martin called back from the conservatory, without looking up from the paper.

“I thought you were keeping an eye on her,” replied Anne.

“She’s fine,” repeated Martin. “Stop fussing. She wanted to do some weeding.”

“Well she isn’t weeding and I can’t see her anywhere in the garden. She wasn’t behind the bushes when I went to throw the scraps out. I’ll have to check the back lane.”

“She’ll turn up. Don’t worry about it.”

“Or maybe she’s gone off down the shops. On Tuesday she bought five boxes of After Eight Mints and a loo brush. You could at least help.” Anne had come back in and was standing over him reproachfully.

“Like I said, she’ll turn up. She always does. She’s indestructible.”

“She’s certainly vigorous. She’s stronger than me. But mentally – completely off with the fairies. It’s impossibleand just when I was starting to cook dinner. Look, Martin, she’s your mother. I’ll check upstairs in case she’s – I don’t know, painting magical swirls on the wallpaper with lipstick or something, and then I’ll go to the shops. You do the back lane.”

Sighing, Martin folded the paper. He stood up slowly. He went to the door, opened it, and ambled down the path to the sheltered arbour where, as it turned out, his mother was sitting on the bench with her hat on her head and her gloves in her lap.

“There you are, mum,” he said. “Perhaps you should come in now. Anne is fretting.”

“I’ll come when I’m good and ready,” said his mother.

“Fine, fine,” said Martin. He went back to his paper.

Granny waited a little longer until she was sure the sparkles from the portal behind her were completely gone and it was safe to get up from the bench. She patted her pocket. Wonderful stuff, this magic dust. Perhaps it was reckless to get the habit at her age, but it made her feel brilliant and my goodness she needed it living with that pair. As she walked back to the house she calculated she could nip to the shop after dinner. This time, the fairies wanted Milk Tray.

Sure you know yourself…

Dot writes: it’s strangely hard to write short stories as an English person in Ireland. Stories do best with a rich sense of context. The author at least, if not the readers, needs to know where everything is and what it looks like and how it fits together. For me that’s most easily done in Dublin, where I live, so my characters tend to walk down the roads I know and stare at the views I stare at. Their commutes take them to Tara Street and when they go to the beach it’s Dollymount Strand.

But the problems start when they open their mouths. It’s not that I don’t know any Irish expressions now. I know plenty. I know my characters will “bring” their children shopping, ask “will I put it in the press?” not “shall I put it in the cupboard?”, have a “nasty dose” when they’re ill, say it’s “Baltic” when it’s cold, bravely face the drizzle of a “grand soft day”, and fear “losing the run of themselves” or “getting notions”. If someone apologises for being a nuisance they’ll reply “ah no, you’re grand”, and they might stick “so” on the end of their sentences: “I’ll see you then so”. They probably won’t say “howyeh” when they meet their friends as they’re all painfully middle class, and nor will they say “I’m after making the dinner” because the “I’m after” construction is one of the few I knew before I got here and that makes it seems corny, even though I’ve often heard people use it.

However, this is of limited use when the topic I actually need my characters to discuss is, say, their feelings about meeting someone they’ve seen on television or the embarrassing dream they had about their mother. (Who might be their “mam” but might equally be their “mum”, and using “mum” makes me feel less as though I’m hanging a huge flashing sign over their heads saying “look how Irish I’m being”.) How do they talk when they’re not talking about Baltic weather or nasty doses? When they’re just talking English, but as Irish people?

My problem is that I know how to make the characters, where it fits, signal their Irishness, but I don’t know how to avoid signalling my Englishness. Well, I know not to have them refer to a man as a “chap” or use obscure words of Norfolk dialect, but that’s about as far as it goes. Where is the part of the Venn diagram where the overlap in the middle between things any Irish person would say and things I would say stops, and it’s just the British part on its own?

It would be so much easier to write about this country if I spoke the language.

P.S. Earlier in March this blog quietly passed its tenth anniversary. A whole decade of blogging! Happy anniversary to us.

What’s up duck

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On Noah’s Ark the ducks had started a jazz band and it was almost unbearable, though perhaps marginally easier to deal with at close quarters than the African Large Mammals’ Morris-Dancing Collective (to whom, after initial resistance, Noah had yielded the use of the foredeck every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. The rhinos were persuasive negotiators). Mr Duck had recently taken up the saxophone, while Mrs Duck fancied herself as a sultry crooner. They had recruited the moorhens, the geese, the female flamingo and a coot to be the rest of the band, with, on drums, a platypus from whom they would soon part owing to irreconcilable creative differences. They practised assiduously and promised to put on a concert as soon as they were ready.

 

“Is there any sign of land yet?” Noah asked Mrs Noah, as they huddled in their cabin, doing their best to relax with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

“My budgie had a look around earlier,” said Mrs Noah, “and she says there’s still twenty feet of water over the highest mountain top and aggressive mer-people have colonised the city of Uruk.”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you learn from tweets,” said Noah. “But the dove said the same yesterday about the twenty feet of water. I wish I could get off this boat. The noise is appalling.”

“The hedgerow birds’ choral singing is quite good,” said Mrs Noah, who believed in positive thinking and was also slightly deaf.

“If only they didn’t do it at dawn,” groaned Noah. “Whose stupid idea was this ark nonsense, anyway?”

“It was God’s,” said Mrs Noah.

Continue reading “What’s up duck”

The Saved

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“I want to do burlesque,” said the hen. “A striptease. I’ll take my feathers off, one by one. Would you like me, like that? Would you think I looked tasty?”

The cat said nothing. Why did she have to say these things? It was the sacred rule of the Ark, the foundation on which everything rested – you didn’t eat your fellow passengers. Look, there was the lion, lying down with the lamb, not even drooling.

“Or a magic trick. Saw the head off the lady. I’ll keep on dancing. Oh, how beautifully I would dance, if I couldn’t think.”

“It’ll be over soon,” he said, without looking at her. “The waters are already receding. You can lay your eggs and raise your chicks and be happy.”

“Oh yes, of course. Repopulating the earth. The brood-mother of nations. What an honour.” She laughed bitterly.

“Look, we didn’t ask for this,” said the cat quietly. “We aren’t to blame for our luck or for what happened to the others. What kind of a world is it going to be if all we do in it is mourn?”

“I don’t want to mourn. I want to dance. I want to die of music.”

 

There were songbirds on the gunwales, blackbirds, starlings, swallows, finches, rising and calling and fluttering over each other with a constant rippling motion; below them, the sunlight dazzled on the water. There was no sail, because there was nowhere to go. Noah and his family were busy with the work of the ship, sluicing and scrubbing and tending their stores.

 

“I was a temple cat,” said the cat, “in the city of Uruk, at the temple of Ishtar. The front of the temple was faced with coloured tiles of white and blue and the white steps to the gate were washed each day. The statues were gilded and the temple women wore circlets of gold wire and gold rings in their ears. Men came to couple with the women, in honour of the goddess, and to make sacrifices. They killed doves and lambs. Then the bones and scraps were thrown on the refuse heaps at the back of the temple, which grew bigger every year and stank, swarming with rats and buzzing with flies. The dark ooze seeped from the rubbish and ran down to the river. There was always sickness in the city, but the people went on worshipping Ishtar, who brought them prosperity and made things grow.”

“It sounds horrible,” said the hen.

“It was a good life for a cat,” said the cat. “There was plenty to eat and the women were kind to me. There was one I remember. She would stroke me and share fish with me when she had some. She was trying to save the trinkets the men gave her so she could buy an inn when she was too old to work in the temple – she’d put them in an old oil jar she kept in the corner – but she never managed to save very much; she kept shaking the trinkets out again and exchanging them for new sandals or wine.”

“Was there music in the temple?”

“Oh yes, lots. Voices, flutes, drums, harps. Formal music for the goddess, worksongs for cooking and washing, lullabies for the babies, story-songs for the fireside. But mostly love-songs, because Ishtar is the goddess of love.”

“Will you sing me one of the songs?”

“My singing was never encouraged. But my point is, it was always going to end. They knew it. The woman I told you about knew she couldn’t live that life forever, that her youth was passing; and everyone knew that the stink and the filth were getting worse and worse. They talked about cleaning it up, they had a lot of quarrels and arguments, but they never changed anything. So, in the end, the change simply happened. And I suppose we have to make the best of it.”

“All my life I’ve loved music. I used to like to sit at roost and hear the people singing in the evenings. Entertainers would come to the village and I’d dream of all the places they’d been to that they were carrying in their music. I’m really not suited to be the mother of all hen-kind, you know. I’m dreamy and impractical, I was always quite low down the pecking order…”

“You’ll be fine,” said the cat.

“I wonder what we’ll find to eat, when we get off the boat? I just used to follow the flock, before. I guess there’ll be loads of, what do you call it, alluvial mud, and that makes things grow, doesn’t it? And bugs coming up, like after the rains? Well, it is after the rains.”

“I’m planning to stick close to the humans. There’s always something to scavenge where the humans are.”

“Yes, all the mice and little birds and things will stay around the humans. Have you ever had a bird as big as me?”

“To be honest I was more of a mouse man. And just stealing things and getting treats from the women.”

“Don’t you want me?”

“You’re a very fine hen.”

There was a silence and then the hen began to speak once more.

“It’s going to be hard, starting again. I’m frightened but I’ll simply have to try, because there isn’t any other way. There won’t be much time to think, I suppose – the humans will be building and sowing and chopping and making, and I’ll be fussing over my chicks and learning to forage for whatever there is to eat, wherever we end up living. But I want you to promise that one day you’ll come to me, when the sun is setting, and you’ll sing me the songs of Ishtar. I’ll dance for you, and then I’ll lie down, I won’t struggle at all, and you’ll eat me all up.”

“I promise. I’ll savour every bit.”

“I’m glad we’ve had this time together.”

 

Noah’s family had finished their chores and the sons sat down to rest on the deck while the women went below to cook the evening meal. Noah had gone into his cabin. Now he came out with a dove on his hand. He whispered in its ear. Then he raised his hand and sent it forth, and it went out to search the face of the waters, looking for the first rebirth of land.