Saturday, February 28, 2009


A subject that occasionally rears its head is the one concerning favourite albums, groups or music. An ultimately futile exercise, of course, but fun because it can lead to discourse, a clash of opinions, shared epiphanies, anecdotes and excitement, or a sense that one might not be alone in the belief that some obscurity is of far more ‘value’ than the very records, passions and interests which may have led to its being unearthed from anywhere ranging from a record shop’s dingy basement to a dead uncle’s attic in the first instance.

Whatever, music that remains at the core of your very being does so for a whole gamut of different reasons. Nostalgia, the idea of looking back to certain records or more especially songs in order to return to moments long dissipated, and the feelings it can quickly dredge up like a sugar rush, may well make for a huge and significant underpinning, but objectivity can play an equally important role. Better still is when the thrill and excitement of a certain record not only stirs up the very same emotions as ever but has the added bonus of objective opinion kicked firmly into the black too.

For me, it’s always hard to truly pinpoint favourite records without considering the original effect they had on me, the feelings they can still evoke, and whether or not, outside of this, they are actually ‘good’ in the first place. Perhaps the latter point negates the subjectivity of the former two, but I’ve now spent almost three decades attacking so much of the crap we’re surrounded by I’d contend my intuition is now finely honed. Yes, what constitutes a ‘good’ record for me likewise lays itself open for debate, but there have always been outside factors governing my decisions.

When I first heard ‘Public Image’ at a local disco held every Friday night in a village outside of Canterbury, aged 13 or 14, it sent such a rush through me that it had a far more profound effect than all the ‘punk’ I’d heard prior to it. Those very same emotions are still stirred every time I hear Rotten’s opening cascade of hellos and Wobble’s mighty bass rumbles, and yet – outside of this – the song itself is everything the Pistols had promised: a glorious suckerpunch of molten rock drenched in negative-to-postive energy and barely contained cynicism; and all within the framework of a 'pop' song! Three years later and Public Image Limited’s Flowers of Romance impacted on me in exactly the same way. Partly, I was at an age where I could generally only afford 7” records, so this was one of the first LPs I bought (taking its place alongside some Blondie, Stiff Little Fingers, The Cure, Crass and suchlike, I faintly recall). Secondly, the album’s title song, cut for a single, blasted my consciousness apart like so little else that I simply had to have the album. An album that then proved itself to be unlike anything I’d ever heard or even imagined before. Only Rotten’s voice and some occasional stabs of noise were akin to the ‘punk’ I’d long become used to. The rest of the album just threw me so hard towards a place I’d never previously visited that, as with ‘Public Image’, I knew I’d never recover. Not even if I’d actually wanted to, that is. And, again, the revisits I’ve paid since have never failed to reward me. On many counts.

So, when I am asked about my favourite records, I’m drawn towards those that not only mercilessly seeped through my very being, or indeed ripped it apart, but those that can hold their own when placed alongside anything else. The moments they captured, and can still capture, plus their rightful places on a map I personally believe in, intertwined so well that it’s completely and utterly irreversible.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Fine Art of Giving a Damn (Expanded)

Here’s a slightly expanded version of an entry I placed several weeks ago when only half-formed (and now deleted...). (Note to myself: learn to stop placing posts when they are not ready and, indeed, learn even from the sentiments in this one!)

Reflecting on how I have changed towards the music I'm personally involved with recently, I realised that the attention paid to everything now is not only greater but radically different. With my old band, Splintered, we'd invariably rehearse once or twice a week and then record at a local studio once we felt some songs were ready for it. There'd always be a certain amount of room left for improvisation and new ideas during the recording sessions, of course, but we'd at least get to the stage we felt we were ready to go there before parting with our money for the sessions themselves. And because we played live regularly, it was imperative we got together frequently to ensure we still had some chemistry between us as much as go over or expand on old songs or see if any new ideas would bubble up. At certain points, there wasn’t even a guarantee we’d get on together still, never mind commit our time, energy and money to much beyond.

Theme, on the other hand, do not generally rehearse and, in turn, spend far longer labouring over ideas and sounds. We get together and record ideas immediately within the confines and comforts afforded by a home studio. Afterwards, we spend months, or even years, returning to these ideas and tweaking them into a shape we are finally content with.

Ultimately, despite this shift in demographics, a lot of time has always been spent working away at the recorded work I’ve been involved with over the years and teasing it to the point it was felt ready to unleash on those who may be even vaguely interested.

Although the approach to creating music, and tackling its inherent problems during this process, has changed as much as the music itself over the years, I strongly feel a vast number of groups and artists operating elsewhere within this field could learn a thing or two from all of this.

I have always failed to see the point of putting one’s name to anything if the sense of pride or achievement ranks a second place to either a simple spurt of ability or the many dubious motives spiralling from this…

The lack of effort I continue to hear in most music these days almost makes me wonder why the fuck I care so much about this most communicative of art-forms.