Friday, 28 November 2008

Transport For London - Building a Bypass for Music

I was gutted to hear that THREE of my favourite venues all got a cyanide pill in the post today. Transport For London have issued The Astoria, The Astoria 2 and The Blow Up Metro Club with compulsory purchase orders, and all three must cease trading on 20th January (Oh and a Merry Christmas to you too TFL).

It's hard enough as it is to find 'proper' music venues these days, without three being trashed in one fail swoop. But there must be a good reason for it surely? Oh there is... Soon Tottenham Court Road tube station will have a much bigger and nicer entrance. Great.

I've been a big fan of the Metro Club since it was brought out of moth balls by Blow Up in 2001. Since then it's become one of the most important, independent 'grass roots' venues on the circuit (honest to goodness original new acts for a few measly quid), giving some of today's biggest indie names a foot on the ladder in the process.... The Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, I Like Trains, New Young Pony Club, The Zutons, Babyshambles, The Killers, Black Mountain, The Pigeon Detectives, Bloc Party, The Kings of Leon, Mika, The Bravery, The Darkness, The Duke Spirit, The Editors, The Feeling, The Scissor Sisters, Futureheads and many more all played early gigs there.

It would have been easy to turn the Metro into a lazy 'tribute act' venue, filling it night after night with Abba, Bowie and Blondie-alikes. But the people behind the Metro are real music fans, and have been promoting new acts just about every night of the week for the last 7 years. Time Out magazine even voted it their 'Venue of the Year' in 2003.

The Astoria is also a great size venue, it's 2000 capacity just right for those bands who are breaking through. Built on the site of a pickle factory, the Astoria cinema was opened in 1927. In 1976 it was converted for theatrical use and has remained one of London's best 'middle-sized' venues to this day.

The sweaty, atmospheric, dark and dingy venue is an endangered species, and if we are not careful, our ONLY options will soon be plastic, soul-less corporate hell holes like the O2 and Wembley, constantly regurgitating Elton John, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. And what venues will be left for new talent to cut their teeth? Like they always say, you don't miss it till it's gone.

Good luck to everyone involved at these 3 venues, especially those at the Metro, you will be sorely missed. I look forward to seeing you create an even better venue in the future.

Read the Metro Clubs statement on their closure here


There has been a lot of press reaction to the forced closure of these venues. Particularly interesting is the article published on Music Week. Check out the 'comments' section where someone has implies that Transport for London are using the Crossrail Act without actually having the funding in place for Crossrail. Read the full Music Week article here

Links to other press reaction here

Monday, 24 November 2008

When Rock Stars Go Bad

My first proper blog post was a piece titled 'When Bands Go Bad', about the heartache an embarrassment that can happen when a band you follow inexplicably go crap! I also did a post a while back on the music of Charles Manson and the guilt trip that goes with listening to any of his material. Re-reading these two posts the other day got me thinking about the whole protocol of following an artist, and exactly where the 'cut-off' point should lie.

Over the years, all sorts of music artist have fallen foul of the law (yup, Bowie, Kid Rock, Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison, Sinatra, Jack White, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Sid Vicious, Axl Rose, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby and many more have all found themselves pissing in a bucket for a night or two), anything from drunk and disorderly (which only seems to increase their popularity in the eyes of the fan), brawling and punching photographers, right down to under age sex. Some of them rise to much bigger stars after the event, whereas other (Johnathan King anyone??) can never return. But there is no guide for us poor fans, on how we should react to these misdemeanors. Let me elaborate...

As a kid I was a big fan of Gary Glitter, in fact the first record I ever bough was one of his. Then when I got to my early 20's the 'ol nostalgia buzz kicked in, and I started going to his shows and playing his music again. Everyone knew I was a fan, and I even organised a coach trip at work one Christmas for most of the office to go see him live. Then in 1999 he got caught with a load of child porn on his PC, when he took it into PC World for repair... but it was me left picking up the pieces!!! The accusing looks over the desk the next morning at work almost had me down as his accomplice!!! The opening bars of 'Rock n Roll Pt I' used to send shivers down my spine (admittedly I was usually well tanked up on lager and Mad Dog at the time), but now on the rare occasion I hear it, it makes me feel physically sick.

So when one of your favourite artists fucks up, what do you do? Immediately dump all the CDs, books etc? Hang on to them all but never play them again? or stick it out and carry on regardless? It's a moral dilemma with no hard and fast rules. But if you're struggling with one at the moment, with tongue firmly in cheek, and in the best tradition of all the worst Sunday tabloids, here's my hastily lumped together decision chart (coz people cant make their own minds up anymore apparently)....

You may need to click on the chart if a magnifying glass is not handy!

Finally, here are a few of those rock star Police 'Mug-shots'...


Saturday, 15 November 2008

Men In Coats!

I'd forgotten all about these guys until earlier today, when I was searching YouTube for something completely different and this clip came up as a possible answer.

Mick Dow and Maddy Sparham are 'Men in Coats' and I bumped into one of their shows a few years back at the Edinburgh festival, and was left with tears in my eyes and a very painful stomach! Their visual humour is inspired by Tommy Cooper, Jacques Tati and Loony Toons cartoons. This video of them is a treat, and is jam packed with clever visual gags. Be sure to see it through to the end though, as it just gets better and better!


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Charley's War

Armistice day seems like a very appropriate day to write about a series of books I've been completely immersed in these last few weeks...

Charley's War was the most successful story ever to appear in British comic 'Battle'. It debuted in the 200th issue (6th Jan 1979) and ran until 1986. Battle was one of those 'serious' comics that I used to flirt with as a child. If I'm honest, at that time I used to prefer the lightheartedness of titles such as Whizzer and Chips, Buster, Krazy, Monster Fun, Whoopee, Cheeky etc etc. My dad used to bring me home the odd copy of Battle from time to time, but as many of the stories used to continue week-on-week, it wasn't really the sort of title you could really dip in and out off. So although I was aware of Charley's War, I never really got into it at the time. To be honest, I wasn't that crazy about war comics anyway, particularly those small 'Commando' comics... they all seemed so one dimensional with fearless Brits up against Johnny Foreigner, and at least 5 "Gott in Himmell" speech bubbles per issue! But here's the twist, hidden away in the pages of Battle, Charley's War was the ultimate 'anti-war' story, full of scared shitless 'Tommies', men and boys caught up in the terror of World War I.

Written by Pat Mills (creator and editor of 2000AD) and incredibly drawn by Joe Colquhoun, Charley's War is nothing short of a masterpiece, in fact it has been described as "the greatest British comic strip ever created". The attention to detail is stunning, and Mills went to great lengths to ensure the factual accuracy of the script, and although the tales that unfold did not happen to any one person, they DID all happen. Yes, 100% of what you read in this harrowing 'kids' comic strip actually took place, and that is perhaps the most powerful thing about it. Unlike the gung-ho attitude of Commando and other war comics, Charley's War deals with many of the cold realities of WWI such as fear, death, mutiny, execution, pacifism, class struggle and the appalling treatment of fellow human beings.

In 1916, sixteen year old Charley Bourne lies about his age and signs up for King and country. Within days he finds himself in the French trenches, just weeks before the Battle of the Somme. Charley becomes a rather unusual comic 'hero', no macho bullshit here, just a frightened boy, with no idea what he had signed himself up for. Mills never pulls his punches, as Charley goes through just about every battle of WWI.

These books should be mandatory reading for every schoolchild, as a factual, social document on the horrors of war, and it's in a format that is likely to appeal too. The irony of it is of course, the graphic, and horrific nature of this story would not even be allowed to be published in a comic for our delicate little kids these days.

If you get the chance, I can't recommend them enough.



Charley's War is currently being re-printed in full, in beautiful hardback books by Titan. Volume 5 was released last month. You can buy them all at Amazon here

Neil Emery has built an excellent website devoted to Charley's War here

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Now HE is One!

If you're a regular, then you know I very rarely throw in a 'self centred' post. So i'm hoping you'll let me get away with one just this week??!

Following close on the heels of the blog, my wee fella Tommy was one year old last week. I know everyone always says it, but it seems impossible that a year has gone by this quickly. The oddest thing is that i can't really say that I noticed him change from a chubby faced baby into the little lad you see on the left! it just kinda happened day by day!

What also freaks me out is the incredible development that has gone on in such a short space of time. When I think how we (well ME anyway..) bumble around from year to year, not realing feeling any more inteligent than last year, just maybe a bit more haggard and tired... this chap has gone from a helpless tot to a little lad with a smattering of teeth, who can crawl at almost the speed of light, feed himself snacks, happily hold and drink his own bottle and waves like a good un! Throw in the odd 'dad-dad-dad-dad' and 'daisy' when the cat walks in (to be fair, when ANY of the cats walk in!) and that's some progress in twelve months. I'm also vaguely annoyed that in this short time he's also managed to become a hit with the ladies, and has set himself up with at least two girlfriends.

To think he may well be toddling by Christmas, and be a fully fledged 'little boy' by this time next year blows my mind! Happy Birthday Son!

Normal service will be resumed next week!