Tuesday 21 February 2017

Vula Viel review

Vula Viel

Yellow Arch
10th Nov 2016

I arrived at Yellow Arch with chattering knees on a bitterly cold evening, largely wanting to stay in and hug the radiator all night. I’d also spent the day sawing loft installations and my eyes were red and sore. So, the gig could have happily not happened for me as I shuffled uncomfortably in my seat in 10 layers of clothing. Not even willing to take my bobble hat off.
Within the first 30 seconds though, I knew I had made the right choice as I was quickly warmed up by this rhythmic five piece from London.
Vula Viel translates as good is good, and it’s hard to argue with that. Here was an ensemble of talented musicians playing infectious, traditional Ghanian music with aplomb.
Delivering an intensive and energetic performance that even pushed the performers physically to the edge. In particular; saxophonist George Crowley playing to the point of pain as he let out small yelps from squeezing every last breath out of his lungs. Which, without sounding masochistic, is just the commitment you wish to see from a band on a cold Thursday night.
People playing with real heart, soul and love, and this was evidenced no more so than through the leader of the group, Bex. Who energetically bounced on stage and made bashing the Gyil (a type of xylophone, since you asked) look the most fun instrument in the world to play.

My only disappointment was that it was sit down gig. For, as much as the band are at home in a jazz club, there’s no doubt with their soulful, danceable vibe they would storm a sweaty festival tent or club. More than capable of making anyone lose their proverbial digestive tract.
They certainly raised the roof here, even with my adroit loft installation skills.

Pants in my QUIZ


Every Monday I don ladies flower print tights, a sparkly waistcoat, a Fez and a Charlie Chaplin moustache and go into pubs across Sheffield. This isn’t because of some fetish or mad shaman ritual (although in many ways it is), but to host a pub quiz.

The Quiz in question is Quizarama-rama; a ramshackle evening of nonsense questions, parlour games, crafty club endeavours and charity shop boutique effects. It’s a sort of Crystal maze on crystal meth, Blue Peter for excluded kids, or Robot wars without the robots. In essence it’s a quiz for folk that don’t like quizzes. An attempt to stretch out what can be done with the humble pub quiz. Turning it into a spectacle that makes people take off their spectacles and rub their eyes in disbelief.

This was my hope. It’s also a great excuse to wear tights. When I think about it, the number of people over the years that have unconsciously or consciously seen more than my full veg shop through those lycra stretchys would make Ron Jeremy blush.

Not that it is a blue show. If anything it’s a part of my childhood being re-enacted to a group of strangers. The sort of pretend show you would perform in-front of your teddies but here I perform in-front of adults and my teddies and puppets take up prominent supporting roles.

Some people think it take balls to do this sort of thing but as they can see from the silhouette of my tights this isn’t the case. It’s more that I take a sort of impish delight in knowing that Keith, the pub regular of 20 years is completely baffled at the sight of grown man holding up a stuffed lion and pretending it can talk.

This fires me up. Although what I mainly enjoy is just seeing adults playing. Forgetting they have serious jobs that involve emails, photocopying, coffee runs and instead have them complete equally absurd tasks like rolling lemons or sucking on Polos or making a Cupid costumes from newspaper and sellotape and singing a made up countries’ national anthems.

It’s a pleasure to see adults doing something silly because we don’t often get chance to. Being silly is empowering. It turns its nose up and sticks its tongue out to embarrassment; that most pernicious form of state control. Where you allow another’s opinions of yourself to creep in and take providence over your own. Sabotaging your own sense of fun and self worth. It’s a vile and ugly thing: embarrassment.

So, if dressing like an idiot and putting on voices helps others to embrace their inner idiots then all the better. 

For me I don’t want to put on a quiz where someone can show off how smart they are and then make some people feel stupid.I want one where everyone feels stupid and then embraces it. To show that success can be very random and that you can win a quiz like in life by just having fun, letting go and rolling a few lemons.

Quizarama-rama takes place on Mondays at the Cremorne 9pm



Wednesday 9 November 2016

Spotify the dog

I am and forever will be an anti-establishment kind of bean even at the expense of my own happiness and convenience. I hate chain stores, I hate supermarkets, I hate online dating and hate large corporate monopolies.
I hate monopolies so much that if I play monopoly I just head straight to jail, wait it out. Safe in the knowledge that I am not engaging in a system that tries to place a monetary value on the basic human right of housing, and where 2nd prize in a beauty contest will only win you £10. That’s probably why no one plays with me.
Saying that, I do love Spotify.
I get that some people hate it, ‘It’s killing music, they pay musicians a pittance’ stick it to the man, fight the power, Corbyn for PM’, but even with all that righteous anger brimming in my ears I still think it’s great.

It’s not that I’m opposed to buying music. I spent all my formative years buying CDS. When others spent their money on more practical things like driving lessons and drugs I bought CDs.
I had lots, all the greats and I very much defended the position of buying music. Before Spotify, when folk had to download music from the internet illegally I recoiled in horror. How very dare they. The swines, purloining from the pockets of those poor hard working musicians, and why when I try to do the same is my computer smothered in a stable full of malicious trojan horses?
I didn’t want any knock off Nigels, or Hooky henrys I wanted to real Mccoy, the physical artefact in my hand with a coloured booklet to peruse at my leisure.

However, by the age of 26 I figured that I had heard everything and owned every CD I needed to own and I was bored of music.
Trying to discover new music before Spotify was like looking in a wool factory
for cotton buds.
Once you found a band you liked, mainly through happen-stance. You then researched what bands they liked or other more tenuous links like finding out who the bassoonist was that played on the final track of their coveted D-side album. Then you trawled the markets and record shops. Breadcrumbing your way in search of these hallowed new bands, return home, play the CD, feel disappointed, return to the shop and swap your Clash ‘London Calling’ CD for the best of the Cranberries. In hindsight this wasn’t a good swap but we didn’t have hindsight back then we had the best of the Cranberries.
Sometimes this process was sped up by a compilation CD. Many new bands discovered through the glory of the Shine Indie CDs but it was all so time consuming and ball breaking and by my mid twenties I couldn’t care less any more. Happy to play the same albums on a loop until that final karaoke gig in the sky.
Spotify rescued me from this Sisyphus drama. It really is a dream for those that wish to devour the fruits of new music. Their weekly compilations based on tracks you already like is a marvel. I pick and choose my faves, usually only one or two but then by the end of the month I’ve discovered 10 new acts without even exerting any effort whatsoever.
There’s also the Spotify trail where you start with a band you like, it then suggests 20 other similar bands, you follow them and build it into your own playlist and hey presto. Suddenly you are in a position where you know what classical composers are not shite and you know all their greatest hits.
‘Do you like Debussey’s Clare de lune oh you should try Christian Sindig’s Symphony no3 III movement: Allegro’.

That’s some solid smarty pants party repartee you’ve just learned to guff out of your mouth. That’s the brown triangle of trivial pursuit covered all because of Spotify.
And it doesn’t stop me purchasing music. It’s just now, music has to be exceptionally good. I don’t just settle for any old average tosh. I’ve already had to listen to each track a 100 times before I can then unequivocally say it’s the bee testicles and I need it in several different formats including on a key ring.
The only irritating thing is the adverts but when have the Mcdonalds, Tesco, Greggs Sports direct, adverts ever ruined anything really?

It's got leather seats and a CD player player player

"It’s got leather seats, and a CD player, player, player..."

The best place to listen to music is in a car. Apart from maybe live, if the band is good and no one is spilling beer over you, and some jerk isn’t rubbing his sweaty gut into your back, and there’s a chair nearby. Sod it, the best place is in the car.

Not everything is better in the car. Sex seems like it would be fun, but ends up with the gear stick risking becoming an unintended sex aid and there’s nowhere to stretch either party’s legs comfortably. Music, however, is better.

Cars and music seem to have to grown up together, a mutual individual experience intertwined into each other’s lives. I mean, where would Bruce Springsteen be without an automobile and a stretch of open road? His output would be reduced to a song about cream cheese and being born in the USA.

In a car, on your own, music just sounds better. Partly because you are the DJ, spinning the disks in a mobile disco of one, but also because you listen more closely. You focus more on the rhythms, the words. You sing louder, not holding back from those lung-busting numbers, safe in the knowledge that on the motorway no one can hear your flat F sharp. Plus no one cares, everyone wrapped up in their own little bubble. Unless you get too close to their little bubble, at which point they make you fully aware of their presence, and never with a song.

A car without music is like a swimming pool without water. God knows what people do without a radio in the car. I can’t think of a greater horror than being stuck alone, on a motorway in an endless traffic jam, with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy me. You can’t sleep it away, you can’t chat on the phone, you can’t read a book, and you can’t really engage with deep conscious thought because half of your brain is occupied with the task of not driving the car off the edge of the road, even though secretly you have a twisted desire to do so.

Without music or anything else to occupy you, you would have to acknowledge one of the most difficult existential dilemmas: aloneness. The haunting feeling that you are separate from other people, living out a solipsistic existence where no one else really exists but you. No place is this feeling more present than while driving alone.

Trapped in a metal shell, surrounded by other people in their own metal shells, on a journey that you can’t escape from. There’s no freedom, only the illusion of freedom. Yes, you choose the roads, but you are tied to where those roads go, stuck on journeys that are pre-determined.

It is a unique feeling of solo drivers. Maybe you’ve felt that isolation at other times, sitting at home staring at Facebook profiles of cats, or in a club surrounded by drunk people when you are the designated dickhead. But with those scenarios there are ways out. There are solutions. There are no such options when driving on a motorway. You’re stuck until the torture ends, trapped in a mechanic malaise.

Heavy stuff to ponder when driving back from a mid-Welsh town where you have been pretending to be a French waiter all weekend to perplexed members of the public. The only spiritual remedy is music.

This awareness of your own separateness can be curbed through music. Music can distract, it can lift you and help remind you of something bigger than yourself. This is why people fill their boots with massive stereo speakers: to block out the noise of their despair.

Yet music can also aid in the acceptance of this realisation. Cars can be cathartic spaces, where you shut out the world around you and allow yourself to feel, letting emotions flow out like milk across a linoleum floor. Music helps turn on the taps.
This is why I have sympathy for Jeremy Clarkson. It’s not driving he loves, but an opportunity to feel something, to vent emotions he feels too twisted up to acknowledge in life outside of cars. Clarkson is probably the world’s saddest man. All his racist and steak dinner violent dramas are actually calls for help, a desperate plea for someone to rescue him from his own vast melancholia.

So if you have a car, ride out in it. Drive long into the night, until the motorways are empty and you are alone. Let those feelings in, those otherwise dangerous thoughts. Let yourself experience delicious sadness and learn to be comfortable with it.

Music, gently whispering over the sound of an engine, will never sound as sweet.

Stan Skinny

Thursday 25 August 2016

Francis Drake's Pop Armada

Francis Drake Pop Armada

I have been cast adrift onto a tiny floating island made from Adidas popper trousers, Fat willy t-shirts and Sony Walkmans. Stretching out into unknown, uncharted, mythical waters, away from a mainland that was once so familiar. Forced into a maritime exodus all because of the Pop star and fellow seafarer Sir Francis Drake and his recent seizure of the Music charts, which has now become a distant sun to me. 

For how the hell have I not heard a song that has been No1 for 16 weeks. How? How can the most popular song in the country that has surely been played thousands of times on the radio, that has been sung along to on mobile phones at bus shelters, that on the evidence of a 16 week chart domination, a sizeable chunk of the population must know and love. How have I not come into contact with it?
Have I been counting Acolytes in deep caverns for the past 4 months? No. Have I spent the last four months inspecting my ears with my fingers while humming the Coronation Street theme non stop? No. Have I been in a coma after a foolish decision to ride a baking tray down a flight of stairs? No

So how has this happened? How could I be that much out of the loop of popular consensus? Surely a 16 week no1 song is inescapable, unavoidable slipping perniciously into the public consciousness like a celebrity sex scandal. Played relentlessly in every shopping centre, television montage and aerobics fitness class.
How have I missed this and isn’t Francis Drake dead? I thought he died of dysentery, fending off the Spanish navy somewhere near Panama? When did he launch both a thousand ships and a hit record? When?
It’s not that I’m immune to historical figures having smash hits. I remember the Robin Hood song. I remember it well. Massive it was, everyone sang it, you couldn’t escape it. 18 weeks at No1. ‘I know it’s true, everything I do, I do it for you’ ruining every 90’s wedding going, but I knew it.
Also it’s not that I’m adverse to the big hits. I was there with the Wet Wet Wets, ‘Love was around me’ that summer. Four weddings but the song refused to die. And I knew Rhianna’s song about selling umbrellas. All over that like a rash, bought a ton of umbrellas that summer, and a Parasol.
And it’s not that I was completely out of touch with the Modern charts even without Top of the Pop tarts I still had a foot in.
I knew the recent Justin Bieber songs. I may have hated myself for liking them so much, but fling enough shit at someone and eventually they forget their own smell. So, Why am I not covered in the content of Drake’s dysentery ridden bowels? Why?
And why sea shanties? How did that become the latest music trend? Maybe I could learn, ‘Ro Ho Ho, and a bottle of Rum’ and all that, I could try.
Oh who am I kidding? I’m a lost dog holding his missing poster, there’s no hope left. I’m so far off the musical map now, I buried deep in the page crease.
All because of a Sailor, a dead sailor, whatever next?

The only option now is to drift off to find new shores. Search for a forgotten time. Where hopefully there are people that when you ask them do you know Timmy mallet, they don’t look at you perplexed that there was once was a man that hit you with a foam hammer and that was children’s entertainment at it’s finest. Somewhere faraway where Robin hood is still No1.