At David & i

BOWIE PHOTOGRAPHER EXHIBITS IN NORTH OXFORD. MINI PROPS A BONUS

Managed to get a ticket to the Oxford showing of the David & i exhibition, which was on Wednesday night.

Which David?

Bowie, of course. Which i?

That’ll be Denis O’Regan, David Bowie’s official photographer for around ten years through the 80s and you WILL have seen some of his pics, no question. The blonde years, the megastar years, the critically revered… OK, but by capturing the Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider tours, O’Regan definitely got BOWIE: THE HEALTHY YEARS on film. And to see 40 such images – all approved by Bowie – is to Watch That Man and celebrate his life, regardless of era.

davidandi brochure 1

Catalogue and Melbourne Carousel, 1983

How has this happening come about? Promoted by Off Beat Lounge, the David & i exhibition has been out on tour visiting select Mini-supported locations, ie Mini showrooms. Funny that. Works well though, nice and light with all those showroom windows.

Bowie and green Mini

How did that happen? Bowie test drives Mini

In the Q&A session at the start of the night, O’Regan said that it was seeing Ziggy Stardust that made him want to be a photographer. A few years later, he was taking pics of the punk bands – easy access, no Rock Star Barriers – and got a job with the NME, and the first official photos he took of Bowie were up in Newcastle City Hall in 1978. He somehow wound up being official photographer on the Serious Moonlight tour a few years later.

Some gig, eh?

Other mini (sorry) nuggets from David & i:

  • O’Regan hates heights and categorically won’t do photography from up yonder scaffold, but is fine in a helicopter without doors (he can’t explain it either).
  • Bowie would try any food.
  • O’Regan would dispose of hundreds of images that Bowie never even saw. When asked one day – by Bowie – about what happened to them, Denis said he just put them in the bin. In his hotel room. Got a major tom-bollocking for that one.
  • The last photos he took of Bowie were in 1994 (I think), when Bowie had a tiny tiny beard. He didn’t say if it was the beard wot ended it, though.

So, even though the O’Regan prints are well out of reach – need a few hundred quid to make that leap, hallo spaceboy – it was a pretty cool thing for a Bowie fan to wander around and get immersed in for an evening. Go along next time there’s one going.

links:

 

 

 

COPELESS IN CARDIFF

FEBRUARY REWIND: LOST GIGS, THRASHERS’ ROMANCE AND BOWIE’S LAST PLAN

Beer-fuelled tunes, trusty mellotron, acoustic guitar – possibly some lurid shade of green or orange – and piss-funny visionary tales from a shamanic rock-onteur perma-decked in shades n’ leathers with lashings of YEAH MAN! optimismo…that’s what you’re heading for when you get a ticket for J Cope 2017. Out on tour in support of Drunken Songs, he’s wrapping it all up at the Globe in Cardiff on Feb 26, which is where we find ourselves reading a just-posted note that sez NO GIG.

Shit.

And without the Archdrude on stage, there’s not much else to report from February. Let’s hope all is well in the Cope camp.

LOVING THE DISEASE

When did you last hear Caught in a Mosh on daytime radio? Never? Then treat yourself to a nice little old-school buzz with Mark Radcliffe’s Valentine Day show with Scott Ian and Frank Bello. Top fellas, ace chat, find it at 1 hour 35 minutes into the show, listen on a weekday afternoon for max pleasure (expires March 14th). Death Angel, Pantera, Sepultura and Slayer also played, as are Powermad – straight outta 1989, vintage frash par excellence.

NO PLAN FOR BOWIE

The last tracks recorded by David Bowie finally got their non-Lazarus physical release this month. No Plan, Killing a Little Time and When I Met You all follow the Blackstar vibe, and Killing… is especially turbulent heavy like the reworked Sue. What an ending.

Otherwise, it was Drore and OHHMS blowing out the Cellar that was the Oxford highlight and we’ve already covered the gig, so that’s it for now a very short REWIND, time to get outta here.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

2016: the worst, the best

Festive salutations and a happy new year!

Hope the bigfella Claus delivered the goodies, but whatever delights came spilling out of his magic sack, 2016 was a tough gig. What a remorseless cull of rock and pop names, and it didn’t even break for xmas – George Michael on Christmas Day, Rick Parfitt on December 23rd. Surely there’s got to be a little bit o’ room for a little bit of Quo in everyone’s collection, so how about spinning a handful of harder-rocking SQ to celebrate Parfitt and keep the party going at the 12 bar, even if it’s only in your head? Mystery Song, Don’t Drive My Car, Over the Edge and Is There a Better Way will all do the trick.

So, another bit of chat about the music events and highs of 2016? We’ll list a few, right after the shortest of December Rewinds.

REZNOR’S RETURN

Nine Inch Nails came back in recorded form with a new EP. Not the Actual Events appeared earlier in December and a first listen to Burning Bright (Fields on Fire) shows Reznor and soundtracker-turned-bandmate Atticus Ross on slow-grinding, doomy form. More to follow in 2017?

SHOCK of the year

David Bowie. Not over that one, even a year later, and Blackstar is still a difficult listen. The upcoming new Five Years documentary in January will no doubt be the most fascinating, and the most emotionally-charged, of the lot as it covers his last years.

TRACK of the year

OK, so the track came out in 2015, but Bowie’s Blackstar is a highlight for ANY year, as is the re-tooled Sue (Or in a Season of Crime). Iggy’s American Valhalla and Nick Cave’s Anthrocene are right up there for edgy atmos. And for something more manic, Spit Out the Bone is on heavy rotation over here too – fast and melodic Metallica with Hetfield in his most convincingly aggressive voice since the Black Album.

MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep that you really should have gone to. And in Oxford a few weeks ago, that was Primal Scream. Why a no go? Fear of too much Moving On Up and Rocks and Country Girl, not enough Vanishing Point Xtrmntr Evil Heat aggro. What did they play? Moving, Rocks, Country, but also Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Swastika Eyes and Kill All Hippies. ‘KIN ELL… ludacris decision making on my part. Kiran Leonard also a bad miss.

LUCKY MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep by a band you don’t know but, coz of who’s involved, you’ve got innerest piqued. Step forward Honky, the band of Butthole Surfers and Melvins bassist Jeff Pinkus. Check the music online – not great. Reject gig. Wonder if gig ended up being one of those ‘should have been there’ moments. Check trusted review source (Nightshift page 10). It wasn’t.

NEW SOUNDS of the year

Still getting into these new-to-me discoveries, but semi industrial groove psyche dealers Blackash from Birmingham and Belgian avant noise punks Raketkanon are doing the job nicely, as are Blackstar band leader Donny McCaslin – beefy modern jazz with a drummer who absolutely kills it – and downbeat electroni-cists worriedaboutsatan, who also have their music making its mark in Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation. Lofty company for the satanworrieds. Three Trapped Tigers and The Comet is Coming brought explosive prog math and Heliocentrics-fuelled heavy beats jazz-ish respectively.

ALBUM of the year

The old guard put out a lot of great great stuff this year, and the top 3 are linked by maturity, mortality and death: Bowie, Iggy and Nick Cave reached new highs in heavy themes, and Blackstar is the peak. Once January 10th revealed its scalp,  Blackstar became forever more than just a record.

Others: FUCKINGMETALLICA, Mogwai, Melvins, Crippled Black Phoenix, Kandodo and McBain, Cult of Luna w/Julie Christmas, Thee Oh Sees

PRINCE of the year

Prince. ‘nuff said. Check this clip, worship non religiously, then get a music fanatic’s view of Prince’s passing from Henry Rollins in what is one of his best LA Weekly missives of the year.

FISHY MEDIA FEATURE of the year

Did you see this feature in the Guardian back in the summer? Fishbone. Yes, Fishbone. Why??? Don’t know. But if, like me, you never got round to actually buying their albums when Swim and Freddie’s Dead and Everyday Sunshine were doing the rounds, here’s the prompt you need to pick up The Reality of My Surroundings and Give a Monkey a Brain…. the only downside is the 20-odd years without these phenomenal heavy funk rock ska metal explosions tripping out the (monkey?) brain.

BIG 3 AT 30 of the year

Three of the Big Four put out their meisterworks thirty years ago: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, 1986. Anthrax shunted Among the Living out a few months later, in 1987… heady days for head bangers, right?  Some, if not all, are ingrained so deep that we don’t even need to press play, but when DID you last press play and listen to Master of Puppets, Peace Sells and Reign in Blood end to end?

There’s nothing to say about Puppets. It’s pretty much perfect and reveals much less on a new listen, precisely because it was THE album of that bunch. Some say it needs a remix but nah, leave it – keep the mud on. Peace Sells and Reign in Blood can still bring surprises, though. With possibly the best opening track of any major thrash record, Megadeth’s #2 sounds even more accomplished today, and you can feel the chaos darkening the vibe. As for Reign in Blood, this is still the anomaly because it’s the least metal of the classics…way more disturbing and a truly diabolical force summoned in 28 possessed minutes. Still deadly.

Happy new year, have a great start to 2017. ‘til next time!

DAVID BOWIE: Earthling

A man runs down a New York street, a figure of intimidation, or maybe a product of paranoid overimagination. He’s chasing, but he’s no sprinter. His target is older but more nimble. Whip thin, dashing.

Johnny’s an American?

***

In 1997, there was big interest in the Dame. He turned 50 that January – has anyone else kept An Earthling at 50 on video, taped from the tellybox but now without any means of watching it? – but even though Earthling went top 10, the reviews weren’t top mark, not that I can recall anyway. Bowie back then, unlike 2013 and definitely unlike 2016, was not critic proof. His rehabilitation was still tentative, and his new direction raised questions: was it a bit forced, this Earthling appropriation of the Metalheadz rhythm pushers? A bit middle-aged desperate?

Not a bit. Earthling is a vivid technicolour assault from a prolific Bowie era that now seems less about reinvention than rediscovery – rediscovering confidence, artistry and those all-important New Sounds. Two years earlier it was Outside‘s hour and a quarter of artsome perfection that had fired Bowie from Black Tie/Buddha Suburbia clubfunk reawakenings into alt-rock’s contemporary orbit, bristling with distortion and aggression yet never at the expense of melody and experimental rock nous. The Outside album was/is Bowie at his (then) modern-day best, and a co-headline world tour with Nine Inch Nails shunned the safety of a megahitsbestof, stringing itself up instead on the new-age visceral. ‘twas bold and darkedge, gothy even. Bowie was 48.

Earthling, however, bore none of its predecessor’s interludes and art-murder narratives. Earthling gets back to songs – a lean 10 – all of ’em packed with Bowie hooks but jammed and comped with loops, cut-ups and electronic beats. Earthling has no space. Dense sensory overload is queen.

What this means is that even now, just about 20 years after its release, the

hypertwitching drumnbass bigbeat skitter of Little Wonder hits hard like no other opener in Bowie’s back catalogue (Blackstar excepted, but for very different reasons). With his zeitgeisting muse fully open and receiving, Earthling was the last of his records – again, until Blackstar – that really pushed it, form-wise. Must have scared the shit out of the Bowie casuals, though they probably weren’t listening too hard anyway. Who was?

David Bowie: Earthling

Earthling: db does dnb (a bit)

Young Lollapalooza and Sub Pop heads, surely – the 90s coming-of-agers, the naive souls who had no truck with Tin Machine’s Under the God, the NIN fans getting  a kick out of the crossover. It’s those (us) who’ve got the hots for Earthling, and we don’t understand those who haven’t.

Little Wonder and I’m Afraid of Americans are the best known tracks, and for all of Little Wonder’s beaty thrill, it was Americans – the most overt hook-up of Bowie and Trent Reznor – that really planted an alt slant on the album. Trent-man appeared in the video, bloated and looking like shit – his Fragile years – but in the studio was peak-condition lean, forging six I’m Afraid of Americans mixes for an album-length maxi single including a radical 11-minute ambient deconstruction. Ice Cube and Photek got drafted in as well, making it a satisfyingly experimental listen in its own right, but even the original Americans – from the album, not on the single – has an abrasive NIN-jection, souping up the Pretty Hate Machine-ry with industrial production.

Seven Years in Tibet is the album’s sole nod to something calmer – sleazy mechanics lurk under clean chords (like Reznor’s Closer?) – with sax to soften, but for the chorus, the Earthling Overload Factor does a wreak-and-destroy job that exposes the lyrical noir all the more:

Are you ok?

You’ve been shot in the head

And I’m holding your brains

the old woman said.

Yeah… Bowie’s having an absolute blast on this record. It/he is urgent and nicotined and caffeinated and PLAYFUL, and so is the band. Cut-up non-sequiturs a la Burroughs, la-di-da lyrical tail-offs and guitar assaults from Reeves Gabrels (see Battle for Britain, you’ll know) combine to blow pretension and self censure clean off … no subtlety here, and Gabrels’s fireworking solos are built for the self-sampling chop-ups we got going. The Last Thing You Should Do has THE most violent eruption of guitar in a Bowie track ever. Probably. Heavyweight euphoria, total fucking release, go bask in its sprawling crunch after the 2nd chorus. Gabrels stamps all over Earthling, but then again, so does everything. It’s that kind of record.

David Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans

Be afraid: the remixes

Got to mention Mike Garson as well, doing his thing as un-usual since Aladdin … check his whacked-out plonk at the end of Battle. Does it blend? No. Does it work? Same as it ever did: YES.

Dead Man Walking beats a hi-nrg path to club night (is it true that the F-to-G riff was shown to Bowie by Jimmy Page back in the day and then used on The Supermen?) and Telling Lies takes the drum-bass flavour up a notch, but what about the last track, Law (Earthlings on Fire)?

Possibly the most overlooked track of an overlooked album, Law shifts Earthling’s balance. Without Law, we’d have had a neat I’m Afraid of Americans finale and a taut 44-minute record. With it, we get a paranoid streak of dark danceable menace that takes the self-sampling ethos of the album to an OTT climax: EVERYTHING is in here … robotic bass, disco hi hats, clipped guitar funk, heavy metallic chug, retro futuristic keyboards and, through it all, the endless repeat of a paraphrased Bertrand Russell:

I DON’T WANT KNOWLEDGE. I WANT CERTAINTY.

Prescient stuff. The soundtrack to a chase.

Is Earthling the album Bowie shouldn’t have made? Listening to the classic forms he returned to, you could say that it was a step too far – but I don’t believe that. Earthling isn’t the seamless immersion in a genre that Young Americans and Low are, nor is it the creative totality that Station to Station, Heroes and Outside are. It can be a bit leaden at times, BUT…

…man, Earthling’s exciting. And for a production-heavy electronica-heavy record, it’s raw and alive with enough balls to rough things up. Earthling’s got an energy that has not waned – it STILL sounds tooled up on Red Bull and cigarettes. With no complex layers, no hidden meaning (though I suppose you never know) and no ballads, it’s like the brash younger sibling of Outside that you can rock out to. And again, true to Bowie form, it’s an album that sounds like no other in his back catalogue …another satisfying one-off from the Master.

Need convincing? Check a couple of live renditions right here.

RIP RIP RIP RIP DAVID BOWIE

Where are we now?

REWIND JANUARY: TOTAL BOWIE IMMERSION 

Has there been anything Beyond Bowie this month?

Well, there’s news of an Iggy Pop/Josh Homme album – Post Pop Depression – in March, and a post Vesuvio hook-up between archdrude Julian Cope and arch low-frequencer Stephen O’Malley, but that’s it as far as amp-heavy music goes. January has been Bowie, nothing else. New listenings of old albums, hearing more with every spin and becoming ever more spooked by the timing – the sad, immaculate perfection – of the man’s exit from Planet Life. Real life fiction.

Tony Visconti said Bowie’s death was a work of art, and it looks more and more like it was – the act of an artist who, having no control over cANCER and its dignity-stripping debilitations, took total control of whatever he could – and this is because he could – to create work and create space that helped him to leave on his own terms. Nothing was gonna mess the final act. It was like a choreographed last dance, an Outside death/art subplot come true.

Bowie’s influence in life, in popartrock terms, is without question. Will he influence in death too – as in, the way musicians sign off? Is the Death Statement, aka the Blackstar, gonna be a conscious direction for those who know they’re eyeballing their end time?

Wouldn’t be surprised.

’til next time

 

David Bowie

Listening to David Bowie. Again. Sixth straight day now – nothing but Bowie, except for Iggy Pop’s The Idiot last night, which has DB within and all over anyway.

Man, what a week. No one saw that coming, did they? And yet here we are, a week in to a world without David Bowie, a week that started just hours after Blackstar emerged as a vigorous statement of presence and life.

It seems odd to feel this saddened and moved by the death of someone you never knew – it’s not grief, but it is loss of some sort, and the scale of comment and tribute to David Bowie means that it must be valid, it must be real. Listen to Marc Riley open his evening show on the day of Bowie’s passing and you’ll hear a seasoned broadcaster who struggles to hold it together. It’ll bring a tear. It did to me.

With Blackstar topping the charts, many people will have had it on heavy rotation this week. Me, I can’t bring myself to play it again just yet. It was the last music I played on Sunday evening, 10th January, and that exploratory first proper listen had good omens – not surprising given the Sue, Blackstar and Lazarus teasers ahead of the launch, all of which led to us being just a bit fckn excited by the Bowieotherness of this new music. Like everyone, I looked forward to sinking into Blackstar as an album after two months of trying not to hear the singles too often. Wanted to save some of freshness for the right context.

Waking the next day, we hear that Blackstar’s creator had died. Day by day the insights and revelations started to unfold with touching, revealing comments and tributes from the likes of Tony Visconti, Brian Eno, Mike Garson and Henry Rollins who, as usual, pens a precise, impassioned piece of reportage, fanaticism and insight. He writes about music like the fan that he is, like the fans that we all are.

With Bowie though, we’ve all got our own version, haven’t we? No-one really knew who he was but he made connections, not just with people and listeners but with ideas, scenes, forms, genres, literature, cities even. He connected on a distant yet inexplicably deep level with us, so much so that you could pick him up at any time in his career or your life and still have him mean something massive. You didn’t have to have been there in his reputation-defining decade, transfixed by a full-beam Starman on the telly. Death of Ziggy? Nope – wasn’t around, read about it as an adult. Low, Heroes? Same deal. My earliest memories are a TOTP Ashes to Ashes vid and a lingering oddball imprint of Bowie in front of a mirror turning himself into a baldy alien – spooky as fuck. Still haven’t worked out how I saw that.

So he was part of the pop years of early childhood with Let’s Dance, Absolute Beginners, Under Pressure and the like, but when you reach adolescence and leave pop behind because you’ve been punched in the guts by rock, metal, Big Four thrash, Seattle and the alt/industrial bloom of the early 1990s, how do you find David Bowie?

You don’t.

You don’t find Bowie because, unlike Zeppelin, Sabbath, Motorhead and other relative elders, he just doesn’t figure in those scenes. He’s irrelevant. Meanwhile you get busy with Soundgarden, Faith No More, Ministry, Tool and Nine Inch Nails, whose Broken becomes a big deal. So aggressive. The Downward Spiral becomes the best new album you’ve ever heard, and that’s when it all starts: Trent Reznor cites Low as an influence.

And you’ve never heard of Low but you can’t believe Bowie the Popstar could ever have informed Nine Inch Nails.

And then you discover the Stooges, and see Bowie’s name on Raw Power.

And you see that Nirvana’s Man Who Sold the World was not written by Nirvana.

And around the same time you hear some industrialised rock on daytime Radio 1, but there’s a proper singer and avant piano that your youngadult ears don’t understand … surely not NIN with a vocal transplant?

No. It’s Heart’s Filthy Lesson, and the Outside album – dark, vital, bold, conceptual, heavy and one of Bowie’s best – is the one that marks the start of a beautiful, labyrinthine journey with the man who took a permanent leave of absence from our world this week. 1995 was my Real Time convergence with the path of Bowie’s restless star.

So it wasn’t so much that I or people like me found David Bowie, but that – somehow – Bowie found us, and what he did in the next couple of years cemented his presence: tour with Nine Inch Nails, appear on Reznor’s Lost Highway soundtrack, bang on about Photek and drum n bass and fuse it all into Earthling (fckn great record, don’t know why it gets a so-so from cr*t*cs), sing on Goldie’s Saturnz Return album, become a player in the art world, publish a fake book that hoaxes the art world… and that’s just the stuff I either have or remember from a sliver of time in what were supposed to be his past-it years. Can you imagine how warp-speed the 1970s must have felt?

And can I say again how essential Outside and Earthling are?

But, like Blackstar, they haven’t been played (yet) this week … instead, solace has been found in the post-Earthling run of ‘Hours…’, Heathen and Reality, records that slightly underwhelmed on first listen but grew – like new Bowie pretty much always does – as soon as you accept that it is what it is, and it’s not what he was. Those albums, all air-conditioned cool and surface calm, give you SPACE to luxuriate in the lost man’s voice and do it far away from the mega hits that covered the news and the radio this week. Hours… may be the slightest of the three but even there, If I’m Dreaming My Life and What’s Really Happening are Bowietimeless. Black Tie White Noise, Buddha of Suburbia, All Saints Collected Instrumentals and Tin Machine (never understood the full-on trashing they got) have also all done the job this week. New detail is revealed with every listen, which is one reason why we end up with our very own strange fascinations of this far-reaching artist: he gave – no, gives – so much that we can always learn and will never, ever catch up.

David Bowie. Transmitter, seer, creator, and truly an artist of both sound and vision. A more significant rock music loss is impossible to imagine.

Earth, Godflesh and a mint skirmish

REWIND NOVEMBER

After all the live action and new discoveries from Audioscope, here’s a swift round-up of some new-ish listening from a couple of genre heavyweights.

When you find that Justin Broadrick and BC Green have revived Godflesh after more than 10 years apart and finally got some tunes to gift to the world, all you really wanna know is whether these morsels of new ‘flesh – a pre-album EP – are true to the big G’s legacy.

And, of course, they are. Decline & Fall is as Godflesh as you’d dare hope: four tracks of mechanised yet human heavy-industry beats, deep-stained by social decay, dereliction and absence – at least, that’s what comes to my mind (the true heirs to Sabbath?). Playing with Fire is an especially hope-less highlight in an EP that’s reassuringly stark and Godflesh pure, and all bodes well for A World Lit Only By Fire (in my tape deck – yep, cassette it is, why the bloody hell not? – awaiting a grim grey day for a first play).

Dylan Carlson’s posse seem to switch modes with almost every Earth record these days and they’ve done it again on Primitive and Deadly. Cello is out, big rock action is in, and it’s a beaut. Reviews have made reference to Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, and you can see why, but this record is way bigger. While Pentastar came out only three years after the radically insular Earth 2, Primitive comes off the back of all that AND Earth mk II – Hex, Bees, geophysical Americana, wilderness spirit, Angels I and II, drcarlsonalbion – and the five tracks swell to bursting with full-bodied rings, elemental drones and life-affirming amplification. Makes you feel good to be alive.

Right then. Who’s heard of Franklin Mint?

No, me neither, but a track of theirs (Emperor of Everything) got aired on 6 Music’s Freakzone the other week and I swear it coulda been fired out of the 90s on an Alternative Tentacle. Less hyper-maniacal than Nomeansno but channelling some of that restless post-hardcore prog-ness, these Bristol Misters impressed and could well be a name to check.

No such anonymity for David Bowie and the music world is a better place with him back in it. Bowie’s resurgence continues with new track Sue (or In a Season of Crime) – seven minutes of wired skittery jazz being chased down the lost highway to his boldest-sounding stuff since Outside and Earthling … and that is very much a Good Thing. More please, Mr Jones.