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Sunday, 27 November 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: The Decline Of Western Civilization(prt 1)

Perhaps the only true cinematic representation of the early (U.S.) Punk scene, Penelope 'Waynes World' Spheeris' 'The Decline Of Western Civilization' may not be anything like a definitive word on the subject but it remains a fascinating, funny, and sometimes horrifying, look at the earliest days of Punk music in America.

Shot in and around Los Angeles in 1979, and mostly on handheld cameras, the movie has a certain Cinema Verité quality that really takes you in amongst the audience, and the bands when at home or rehearsing. The film was heavily criticised when first released for appearing to be shooting at sitting ducks; many fans are interviewed as talking heads under a single lightbulb, often spouting nonsense or incomprehensible drivel. As we often don't hear the questions asked, this shows the interviewees in a bad light and could be deemed subjective editing. However, as we now know that Spheeris was a fan of the music and the scene, this seems unlikely and we should just accept that this is what those interviewed were generally like.

And what of the music?
Well some of the music featured isn't very good at all to be honest, although it's energy and anticonformism makes it really refreshing. The bands featured include The Germs, Fear, X, Circle Jerks and a pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag.
Black Flag are shown living in a grimy squat where they rehearse, as well as live and sleep. The music hasn't quite reached the levels of quickfire intensity that would burst out when Henry joined them, but there's still a scratchy, nervous energy about them that must have really stood out in the blissed-out, coke-heavy, LA music scene.

The Germs provide the most interesting section of the film, all for the wrong reasons. The band onstage are AWFUL, mostly due to vocalist Darby Crash being completely out of it. Virtually unable to stand upright, Crash continually falls on his backside, slurring gibberish into the mic and allowing people in the crowd to scrawl all over him in black marker.

We later cut to him at home as he prepares breakfast, and he comes across as a nice-but-dim goofball, all softly spoken and wide-eyed innocent but with occasional flickers that lead you to suppose he may be a little damaged.

Tragically, Darby died before the movie was even released. What is known is that,
shortly after the live footage of him was shot, he went to London, following in the footsteps of his idol Sid Vicious. While in London, Darby allegedly saw the pre-fame Adam & The Ants with whom he became quite smitten. Back in LA, Darby changed his look and image and came out as gay, something he had always tried to hide, always leaving clubs with girls etc. It's believed by those who knew him that he was never able to accept fully that he was gay and that this led to his suicide. When the movie was released, the poster featured Crash lying on his back, eyes shut, and with the mic cable in his mouth. This was seen as absolute bad taste by some, but it was pointed out that the poster had been designed before Darby had died, and that his family and friends had okayed the decision.

Next, we drop in on the creators of Slash fanzine, one of the first Punkzines in the U.S. Edited by Frenchman Claude Bessy, we see how a fanzine was put together in the days before mobile phones, the internet or even word processors. There seems to be a real vibrant energy about the staff collating the info, but you get the impression that Claude may well be just a little long in the tooth and is merely a 60s burnout trying for a second youth.
Claude also sings in the band Catholic Discipline who are actually very good (if already drifting into what we would call New Wave), and feature on guitar Phranc, who would later become a major voice in Lesbian music and who was much beloved of Morrissey, even opening for The Smiths on one of their American tours.

Aside from Black Flag, X are probably the most well known of all the bands who appear in the movie. Led by Exene Cervenka and John Doe, who have both had long careers in music as well as films, they are almost without doubt the best of the bands featured in the movie. And while being interviewed they also come across as more sussed and savvy than any of the others featured, although you do get the feeling that maybe they are underplaying their music slightly for the Punk audiences and that they can't wait for Post-Punk to happen so that they can make the music they truly want to make.

And then Fear come to town!
I don't really know much about Fear, and I don't think they really caught on much beyond the Californian Punk scene, but it's obvious that the audience have been waiting for them; not to cheer and support them, but to indulge in bad tempered badinage. I have never seen audience/band interaction so nihilistically aggressive as when Fear take to the stage. Spitting, insults, fistfights (including girls being punched and kicked) all breakout before the band have even played a note. But it appears the band's reputation goes before them, or certainly before their music, for once they eventually start playing, the end result is quite disappointing. Straight (almost Pub-)Rock played by ill tempered men who are clearly older than they are pretending to be, you can't help feeling that Fear are mere fakes.

And this is the overall problem with the whole movie. Obviously, nobody at the time knew that Punk would have such a lasting influence over music or culture, that there is a dismissive attitude by almost evetyone involved, on either side of the camera, or even on or off stage. Punk is seen as a cipher for bored teens to let out all their rage and bitterness, but not against society or authority, but upon each other. It's obvious, to me at least, that Americans saw Punk in an entirely different light to that which we in Britain did. That's why the energy of the early (American) Punks led not to such things as Post-Punk, Two-Tone, Industrial Music, the New Romantics or BIG Pop, but instead became bogged down in self indulgent Art-rock, or humourless one-dimensional hardcore. Instead of using Punk's energy to propel itself forward, it imploded into self-loathing and vitriol.

Sadly, the movie doesn't exist on DVD at the moment, but bootleg copies are fairly easy to track down, the home-made quality often adding to it's scuzzy appeal.
Not exactly a movie for music lovers then, but a fascinating document of a movement in it's genesis.


I Misplaced It At The Movies: Of Pasta & Politics - Face To Face

As I mentioned in my Blog regarding the Spaghetti Western 'Little Rita Of The West' (see here), Italian Westerns tend to fall into three categories; The Stylish, The Political and The Weird (some even manage to be all three). So, I'd like to share some Blogs on the more Political of these movies, as these tend to be the more interesting, and the more involving.
Let's start with a look at Sergio Sollima's 'Face To Face' from 1967.

If there is one thing that Sergio Sollima is fond of, it is the Political allegory, and 'Face To Face' is no exception, being seen by critics as an analogy on the rise of European Fascism. More importantly, how Fascism seemed to flourish, in Europe especially, amongst those who had actively taken part in Socialist Politics but had become unenamoured with it's apparently motiveless priorative actions. The point being, when one ceases to believe in Socialism, one doesn't gradually adopt Right Wing practices, but in fact swings violently to the Far Right.
'Face To Face' is a movie of silly haircuts and even sillier character names; Professor Brad Fletcher, Solomon Beauregard Bennet, Zachary Shot, Maximillion De Winton, Charlie Sirringo to name but a few. The film stars Italian method actor Gian Maria Volonté, famous for his roles as the bad guy in both 'A Fistful Of Dollars' and 'For A Few Dollars More'; and Cuban actor Tomás Milian who appeared in many Spaghetti Westerns and who is still acting today, sometimes in big productions like 'JFK' and 'Traffic'.
Volonté was a blacklisted Communist and Left Wing activist, and it was Sergio Leone who defied the blacklist and gave him the roles he is most famous for. He would later appear in the Italian movie 'Sacco é Vanzetti', a film about the unfair Political trial of two anarchists which led to their much contested execution. The different acting styles of the two leads gives the movie it's dynamism; Volonté's slow-burning intensity colliding with Milian's twitchy, deliberately hammy over-enthusing.

In 'Face To Face', Volonté plays Brad Fletcher, a consumptive professor who quits his job and heads West for the cleaner air and warmer climate. Upon his travels he is attacked by bandit Beauregard Bennet (played by Tomás Milian), a long haired thug who travels with an (equally long haired) commune of rogues. The long hair and communal living, coupled with the Robin Hood-esque nature of their banditry, is clearly both a depiction of the long haired youth of the time, and a way of engaging with the hippy audience.
Fletcher is a Professor of social history, and while recovering from his attack within the very group who mugged him, he begins teaching Bennet about social upheaval, the injustices of the class system, and how force can sometimes be used for good. Bennet somehow falls under Fletcher's spell, reading Fletcher's books on history and politics and deciding to use his gang for proto-revolutionary purposes. Fletcher on the other hand begins to enjoy the the rush of the violence and becomes more and more maniacally aggressive, even taking over the gang, much to Bennet's now passive indifference.
As I'm sure you can imagine this leads to flashpoint where both men have gone from enemies to comrades and now back to enemies again, but this time on different sides of the (moral) law.
And as the two men come face to face (there's your title) for the final showdown, it is obvious that both men have become both sides of the same coin. They now also so resemble each other that director Sollima blurs some of the final shots to deliberately cause confusion and drum home the point that both men have become as one. This echoes the previous year's film 'The Shooting', Monte Hellman's existential Western starring a young Jack Nicholson in his first manic role, and Warren Oates as a gunman who appears to be stalking himself, until a last minute reveal leaves the audience quizzing "Who, exactly, shot whom?". And this being 1967, Sollima throws in some trippy acid spangle effects to the final showdown which add further confusion but probably found favour with the hip audiences of the time.

Critics have always been very sniffy about Spaghetti Westerns, complaining about them being formulaic, violent and incomprehensible, but 'Face To Face' is a prime example of how good the genre can be when it's in the hands of good actors and even better directors. Even if it is only a smokescreen for a politically motivated director to hide his message behind!


Saturday, 26 November 2011

Playing catch-up with The Streetlamp - No. 2

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I will be involved in strike action at work next Wednesday, along with several million other UK public sector workers. You will also not be surprised to learn further that I am, right now, up to my ears in producing leaflets, painting banners and making placards in preparation for our showdown with the government. As a result, I have had to cancel a good few blogs which I've not had time to sit down and write. To make up for this, I'm making tonight's blog one of my 'Playing catch-up with The Streetlamp' pieces in a vain attempt to shoe-horn several bands, songs and pieces of information into one manageable, easily-digested form. Apologies to the artists involved for not giving you my usual fulsome coverage, but I'm sure you understand that the political struggle must always come first.

So, first up is a piece of news that I promised you back in October at the release of Stanley Odd's 'The Day I Went Deaf' EP (see 'here'). In that piece I hinted that a major show was in the offing for Stanley Odd in January but could not yet be confirmed. I can now confirm that they are playing in the O2 ABC in Glasgow on January 29th with the Peatbog Faeries as part of the Celtic Connections festival. If you're surprised at that bill and the union of what seems rather a strange mix of styles, then you're not alone. When I asked Stanley Odd frontman Solareye about it, he told me:

"Yup , we're playing O2 ABC with Peatbog Faeries. I agree it's quite an unorthodox lineup but we're really looking forward to it.
We actually played Solas Festival last year just before the Peatbog Faeries and it was a brilliant gig, so hopefully peeps will be kind to us as ABC."

I, for one, am certainly looking forward to it and I'm thankful to the eclectic nature of Celtic Connections that it can throw this sort of night up. See you there!

And staying with Scottish hip-hop for a bit, the next item I want to bring to your attention is the release of '.​.​.​Escape The Network' by Vizual Pupil & Th!nK. You will, hopefully, remember me writing previously about the smart and righteous taster track 'Madness' (see 'here'). Well, now the complete 7-track album is available as a free download on their bandcamp page, and is well worth checking out. Have a listen to the excellent 'Blade Running':

Blade Running by uncon

At the beginning of November, Gordon gave us a frank and honest article about his own, long-time struggle with depression (see 'here'), which like many sufferers he characterises as 'the black dog'. Coincidentally, at about the same time, Kevin P. Gilday , the knowing and witty, Glaswegian poet and musician (previously on The Streetlamp 'here'), released a fine, spoken-word track called 'Black Dog Days' . As usual, this is available as a free download from his soundcloud site. Have a listen:

Black Dog Days by Kevin P. Gilday

And speaking of poetic, introspective, spoken-word songs, there is a new album available from New Orleans Swim Team; the solo project of Alberta based, self-taught, multi-instrumentalist Jacob Ulickij ('here' previously on The Streetlamp). This latest work is called 'To be Something, to be Anything' and is available as a free download from the bandcamp page. Here's a track to get you in the mood:

Last, but not least, I'm delighted to say that the fine, young, Edinburgh-based indie-pop band The Spook School (see 'here' previously on The Streetlamp) have, at last, released some new material. A two-track, home-demo single 'Are You Who You Think You Are?' is now available as a free download from their bandcamp page. I think it's really rather good and find myself drawn to the rough-hewn nature of the songs in their demo form. Have a listen:

Well, I'm afraid that'll have to do for the time being, some of us have a class war to win, you know. Apologies to the artists involved in this roundup for my enforced brevity. I'll make it up to you in the future.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Songs in the Key of Griff; Both Sides, Now

Welcome to the latest installment in the 'Songs in the Key of Griff' series, in which I attempt to provide meaningful analysis to the lyrics of a song which has come to have a very special meaning for me (see 'here' and 'here'for previously featured songs). Tonight's song is 'Both Sides, Now' one of the best-known songs written by the Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Most of you will be familiar with this track, as it was written way back in 1967. Shortly thereafter, in 1968, and before Mitchell had even released it herself, Judy Collins' recording of the song reached Number 8 on the U.S. pop singles charts. That same year, Collins' recording reached Number 3 on Billboard's Easy Listening survey and, sadly, that has often been the story of the song since; killed by the dead hand of mainstream music. Just think of an 'easy listening' artist from the last 30 years and then Google to see if they've released a cover version of this song. Yep,they're all there; Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Roger Whittaker, Clannad & Paul Young (in the ultimate double whammy of blandness), Doris Day, Ronan Keating and (Oh, the Horror!) Susan Boyle. So, why on earth am I mentioning this song on 'The Streetlamp'; I mean it's hardly our usual fare, is it?

Well, actually, I like to think that it is. 'Both Sides, Now' is truly a magnificent song, and that's evident when you hear Mitchell's own versions. However, most artists cover it like it's a facile ballad from a West End musical when, in my opinion, it's nothing of the sort.And when you hear the right artist perform it in the right way, then the subtleties of meaning can be teased out and the song can be truly special again, as you will hear; but more of that later.
Firstly, let's have a look at the lyric.

Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I've looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds at all.

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real; I've looked at love that way.
But now it's just another show. You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know, don't give yourself away.

I've looked at love from both sides now,
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall.
I really don't know love at all.

Tears and fears and feeling proud to say "I love you" right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say
I've changed.
Something's lost but something's gained in living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall.
I really don't know life at all.

On the surface, this is a song, as so many of Mitchell's are, about loss - loss of innocence, loss of love, loss of self. But there's something deeper at work here too and a good interpretation can tease it out. When I hear this song; or any song with an often missed 'deeper' theme, like Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen; properly interpreted I'm always reminded of this passage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis;

"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation."

So, what am I talking about, and why an I quoting C.S. Lewis, and more importantly, what do I think is going on in this song? My feeling is that Mitchell is taking us here on a trip into the world of the mystic. In particular, she seems to be invoking the concept of Maya (illusion), an idea central to many Indian religions. While Maya has multiple meanings, its basic premise is centered on the fact that we do not experience the environment itself but rather a projection of it, created by us; the universe as a dream, if you will. Now have a look at the lyric above again. I love the central conceit of this; the comparison between the nebulous, intangible clouds and life and love. This along with the realisation at the end of the song that our perception of things, both emotional and physical, must always be a less than perfect conception of an unattainable ideal make this, for me, a song of true depth and artfulness, and Joni Mitchell's finest song in a career of fine songs.

Now, I want you to hear a version of this song from an artist whom we've previously lionised here as writing songs which are "profound dense, implicative and pregnant with myth and meaning... (whose songs) bear repeated listenings as slowly and magically the full hidden treasure of each is revealed."

I am referring, of course, to long-time Streetlamp favourite Syd Lane (see 'here'). If you're not familiar with Syd (where have you been?) you should know that she is a prolific, Dublin-based writer of pyschedelic-flavoured dream-pop songs and that she releases all of her material for free on her bandcamp site. The good news is that Syd has just released her latest album 'With Your Shield Or On It', and that, as usual, it is chock-full of wonderful, fragile pop nuggets. The really, really good news is that the final track on the album is a cover of...yep, you guessed it, 'Both Sides, Now'. Talk about the right singer and the right song; this is a marriage made in Heaven. I embed it below, for your pleasure, with only this for comment about Syd's version;

She has looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she has read there a different incantation.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

No More Heroes: The Old Order Changeth...

It was the Autumn/Winter of 1984 and the Miners Strike was in full effect. In those days I used to work at the shop until 12:30 on a Saturday, and on this particular Saturday I finished on time and walked across the road to get the bus home. As I stood waiting, I could hear music and chanting, and then from the corner of Port Street emerged a march of hundreds, maybe even thousands, in support of the miners. And as they marched up to where I was standing, I could see at the head of the procession the man who was then, and who remains my political hero, Tony Benn. As he passed in his grey raincoat, pipe in mouth, he looked directly at me and I raised my fist in a show of support. He nodded and gently clapped his hands together a couple of times in acknowledgement. It's not often in life I ever get starstruck, but that was certainly one time.
In my own humble opinion Tony Benn is the greatest politician of the last 50 or 60 years. A purist Socialist, he fights tirelessly for human rights, freedom and democracy. He is the very embodiment of 'old' Labour, and quite possibly the greatest Prime Minister that this country never had. He represented the soft spoken, overcoat wearing 'warm' Socialism in a similar vein to Harold Wilson, and appeared the antithesis of Tory bully-boy slugs like Norman Tebbit or Michael Heseltine.
He once said "The Conservative Party is the enemy of Democracy", and protested loudly against the Falklands war, the war in Kosovo and, in railing against *spit* 'New Labour' he decried the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as 'imperialist wars'. A thorn in the side of Tony Blair, Benn lambasted his own party's decision to become a mere lapdog to America, stating "Britain is now in effect, an American colony, seen in Washington as an unsinkable aircraft carrier".
Over the years, I have read his books on political theory as well as his series of Diaries, and have always believed in his views on democracy, the power of the working classes, and shared his opposition to war's class-based injustices. Indeed it is probably because of Tony Benn that I have clung so long to the belief that the Labour Party is still the party of the people and the only political system I would give my life to defend....much to Griff's chagrin it should be added.
The Labour Party now, under Blair, Brown and Miliband does not represent the the views or beliefs of Tony Benn which is probably why he retired from the party in 2001, but he remains an impassioned campaigner on many anti-war, human rights and freedom of speech issues.

As I glumly continue ticking the box for Labour at elections, I know full well that my views and beliefs are not being met the party I 'support', but often I feel that I have no option as there never appears to be any full-on Socialist alternative to the Tories.
I often feel depressed that there are no political heroes any more. In these gruesome 'X-Factor' worshipping days it seems almost ridiculous to have such things as political heroes; but whither this generation's Clement Attlee, Nai Bevan or even Arthur Scargill? Those revolutionary, reactionary days of yore when radical politics were all the rage seem to belong with the dinosaurs.
There are NO political heroes today!!!

Well, except maybe one.....

If the Middle East is currently experiencing an Arab Spring then it could be argued that Latin America is in the throes of a Chilean Winter. The youth of Chile are beginning to find a new political voice having become disillusioned with La Concertación, the coalition which oversaw the removal of the corrupt government of General Augusto 'dinner-guest-of-Thatcher' Pinochet. And that voice belongs to the president of Chile's leading student body, the Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (aka FECH), Camila Vallejo.
A mere 23 years old, Camila has already been seen as a new, major political force in Latin American politics, having led demonstrations calling for better and cheaper education for the masses, and for taking part in televised debates on the state of democracy and government within Chile and its surrounding neighbours.
In less than a year, Camila has gone from anonymous Geography student to something of a Latin American folk hero, followed by hundreds of thousands of Chilean teens, adopted by the students of Brazil as figurehead for their own demonstrations, had glowing tributes paid by Bolivian vice-President Álvaro García Linera, and is the recipient of a multitude of songs, odes and visual tributes on Youtube. There's almost no getting away from it, Camila Vallejo is the darling of the politically aware in South America.
And we may as well address the elephant in the room, for there is almost no doubt that a major part in Camila's popularity is that she is unquestionably beautiful. It seems almost ludicrously patronising to suggest that her popularity is the purely down to her attractiveness, but this seems to something that Camila herself is totally at ease with, going as far to comment "You have to recognise that beauty can be a hook. It can be a compliment, they come to listen to me because of my appearance, but then I explain the ideas. A movement as historical as this cannot be summarised in such superficial terms".
And this is exactly the point; Camila's looks are the Wooden Horse in which she hides her (metaphorical) political hand-grenades, by catching the eye of Chile's youth she can spread her message much more quickly and easily.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in left-wing politics of course; take for example the Baader-Meinhof Gang whose very photogeneticity gained them massive support among Germany's radicalised young. Likewise, look at Ché....the very embodiment of sexualised political icon. Would all those red teeshirts bearing his image, those posters in every student bedsit, and all those berets have been sold if he'd looked like Boris Johnston? Methinks not!
Camila's own politicisation no doubt stems from the fact that both her parents were members of the Chilean Communist Party who vehemently opposed Pinochet's dictatorship, becoming involved in the Chilean Resistance. When Camila was 18, she enrolled at the University Of Chile, quickly becoming involved in leftist politics and joining the Communist Youth of Chile whose ideals include better living conditions for those in the poorer regions, as well as strengthening the welfare of students and lowering the cost of further education.
Camila's support among the youth of Chile, and her part in the organising of protests against the government have almost predictably led to threats against her life, yet she remains upbeat and focused and never shirks from public or televised appearances. Her popularity has led to an number of songs devoted to her, as well as video pieces like this charming montage of images set to English-born Spanish language singer Jeanette's early 70s track 'Soy Rebelde'.

In an age of massive worldwide political upheaval there appear to be very few genuine heroes at the forefront, certainly none to rival the likes of Zapata or Ché, or even Attlee, Bevan, Benn or Jimmy Reid. So we look on with eyes of anticipation towards this new voice of the left, this TRUE hero (heroine?), and we hope that Camila is the first of many!
¡No Pasarán!


For further reading on Tony Benn, a rather superb unofficial website can be accessed here

And you can follow Camila Vallejo's own personal Blog here

Friday, 18 November 2011

Griff & Ray say; Join the bicycle revolution!

We have a bit of a novelty for you on The Streetlamp tonight in the shape of a joint blog by both Griff and Ray. Keen readers will recognise this duo as the lycra-clad cycle warriors of The Streetlamp revolutionary army (see 'here'). You know those cyclists who smugly scoot past the endless line of stationary traffic and who like to continually evangelise about their healthy and sustainable mode of transport? Well that's us!

So, tonight we wanted to tell you about the clever and energetic UK cycling campaign and use that as an excuse to point you in the direction of some lovely, free, cycling-related music.

Let's start with the lowdown on This is the brainchild of Carlton Reid, a cycling journalist and author who, like every cyclist in the country, has heard more than once that familiar motorists' refrain: "You don't pay road tax – why are you on the roads?"
Unlike most of us, however, Carlton didn't limit his response to a bellowed, "Fuck you, dickhead!" or rude gesture but decided to set up a web campaign to educate cyclists and motorists alike to the truth of the matter. So, what is the truth? Read this from the site:

"Road tax was abolished 74 years ago. Road tax doesn't exist. Vehicle owners pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), which is a tax on the vehicle, not a pot for collecting monies to be spent on road building or road maintenance. The distinction between ‘road tax’ and VED is very important, much more important than most people think. It’s possible that lives have been lost because of the use of an antique phrase. Some motorists believe ‘road tax’ pays for roads so cyclists, as freeloaders at best, tax-dodgers at worst, shouldn’t really be on “their” roads at all. This sometimes leads to ugly and dangerous aggression against cyclists, with some motorists taking the ownership of the roads fallacy a little too literally.

Many motorists – perhaps even the majority? – still believe that ‘road tax’ exists, and demand that the duties paid by motorists should be ploughed into fixing potholes, widening dual carriageways and adding to the UK’s motorway network. In reality, everybody pays for Britain’s roads via general taxation.

Motorists do not pay for use of the roads, motorists are taxed on buying and using their vehicles. VED is not a tax on roads, it’s now a tax on emissions: cars which spew the most CO2 pay the most Vehicle Excise Duty. Cars which spew less CO2, pay less VED. Cars in VED band A pay zero duty. VED is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists would pay £0."

Seems pretty clear, right? Well, unfortunately, as both of us, along with all Britain's other cyclists can testify, not simple enough for the average UK motorist to understand. Have a look at this video by one of Ray's heroes; well-known, Glasgow-based cyclist Magnatom, who films his daily commute to work on his 'helmetcam' and posts any incidents on his Youtube page. In the video below, a woman motorist, who has been sitting in bumper-to-bumper congestion, is seen to tell him, in a rather rude fashion, “Go and pay some road tax, you’re holding everyone up!”

Unbelievable, right? Well it happens every day, as any cyclist will tell you.
So, what can we do about it? Easy, just spread the word about the ironically-named site or, if you're feeling flush, helps spread the message by purchasing one of their eye-catching, sloganeering cycle jerseys.

Now, for some music. Ray has made a couple of videos for two acts that Griff selected as representative of The Streetlamp's musical spectrum; one with a mellow, acoustic, folky vibe and one with an upbeat, boisterous, poppy vibe. Both songs are available as free downloads too.

The first song is Lets Ride Our Bikes!! by Feel It Robot who, sadly, seem to be no longer with us but who specialised in slightly subversive electro-pop songs about robots and cycling, some of which are still available as free downloads on their page.

The next song is The Bicycle Song by David Rovics. This rather fine chap is an indie singer/songwriter and grassroots political protestor from the United States. Like us, he is also fond of his bike. His music is most accurately described as protest-folk and concerns topical subjects such as anti-globalisation and social justice issues. Some of these can be freely downloaded from his page and many, many more are available on his own site.

Keep cycling!

Griff and Ray

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Griff says; Burn, baby, burn! It's Mykonos Flame.

I may be junping the gun a bit here, as tonight's band seem to be in the process of gradually releasing a debut album in dribs and drabs and have, up until now, only released four songs from it. However, I decided to write about them anyway as;
Firstly, as regular readers will know, I love to write about mysterious, unknown bands who have very little presence on the internet.
Secondly, I'm proud of The Streetlamp's reputation for sniffing out a quality band and giving our readers the chance to get into their stride before other blogs are even out of the starting blocks.
And third, this band are too good to sit on any longer, I just have to tell you about them.

The band is called Mykonos Flame and what follows is absolutely all I know about them. The band members are: Kao Kazlauckas (known to his friends as Kao Johnny), Daniel Schimdt, Daniel Falcão, André Falcão, Alex Baratinha and Danilo Mouragrandson

Kao appears to be the main song-writer and frontman and is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, although his family is of Eastern European extraction. He has since relocated to The Netherlands, and that is presumably where he picked up the rest of the band. Due to his family background and nomadic lifestyle Kao's musical heritage is rich and eclectic, as is immediately obvious from his own sound. He grew up with influences from MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), as well as from more avant-garde artists, such as respected left-wing political activist and composer Caetano Veloso (The Streetlamp salutes you!). As a teenager, Kao was influenced by the freak-folk and new weird America movements. At 26, while living in the Netherlands, he discovered the ukulele, banjo and the folk music of Eastern Europe, thus bringing his story back to its beginnings.

So, how would I describe the music of Mykonos Flame? As you should have gathered from the above, their style is characterized by a merging of international and Brazilian folk-styles and rhythms (in this, the influence of Veloso is apparent).The way they cross-pollinate their numerous influences, including MPB, pop, indie-folk, samba and the dance music of Eastern Europe is quite delightful and I genuinely believe that The Streetlamp readership will be just as smitten as I am. In fact, I sincerely believe this band could go on to have substantial crossover appeal. Think of other recent musical hybridisation successes like Beirut, DeVotchKa or Andrew Bird to get where I'm coming from. Anyway, just remember, you heard them on The Streetlamp first. Below are a couple of tracks, available as free downloads from their soundcloud page, to give you a flavour of their style. Check out their page for more tracks and more free downloads.

Jeanne D'Arc (official album version) by Mykonos Flame

Tutti (official album version) by Mykonos Flame


Sunday, 13 November 2011

~Kitten Wine#30~: The Incident In The Smoking Carriage

One of the strange things about pop music is the way it attaches itself, limpet like, to specific memories; the way notes, lyrical phrases, or chord structures can trigger off all kinds of long dormant reminiscences. I suppose if, like me, you thrive on the romantic pull of music coupled with hazy rose tinted views of your own past, then the combination is often lethal. There are many songs, as you would imagine, that I cling to like a lifebuoy of nostalgia, and tonight we're going to look at one particular song, by The Pastels, and how I can simply NEVER listen to it without it causing flashbacks to the incident in the smoking compartment of the Glasgow to Aberdeen train, some 20 odd years ago.

So strap yourself in, it's going to be a bumpy ride.....
I was probably somewhere between 20 and 22 at the time, and it was during a period when I used to get every second Tuesday off work. I used these days to go up to Glasgow on the train, mostly to buy records, or sometimes books, comics, or shirts that screamed "Look at me! I'm pretentious!!".
So, on this particular Tuesday afternoon, I had gotten everything I was after pretty quickly so I was able to head back for the train that went to Aberdeen, which meant there was only one stop before Stirling and it only took about 35 minutes.
Back then I, rather embarrassingly, used to smoke and was going through a Gitanes phase, purely for no other reason than to be poncey! So, I got a seat in the smoking carriage (quite easily as this train was unusually quiet) and began sifting through the myriad purchases I had made. I sparked up a cigarette, put my coffee in it's Styrofoam cup on the table, and clicked on my Walkman.
And it was then that she walked into the carriage....

She was petite, quite mousy, and was wearing one of those Tweed jacket and skirt combos that women going to church, or bygone age schoolteachers used to wear. She looked mature, probably late 20s, or maybe even a coffin-dodging 30....but there was something about her!
The boy who followed her in I, at first, assumed was her son. He wasn't mousy....he was about 6' 2", looked like he was around 17-18 years old and had the whole James Dean thing going on; greased blonde quiff, black leather jacket, white tee-shirt, black 501s. And when they started kissing, it was obvious they weren't mother and son. The kisses were long, passionate and hungry, and I felt a little embarrassed by this graphic public show of affection. Except of course that it wasn't too public as there weren't all that many people in the carriage, and I appeared to be the only one who was facing them. I used the headrest of the seat in front of me to obscure any view that they might have of me, and found I couldn't stop looking at them, my eyes drawn to their obvious differences, and to the fire that was raging between them.
Side One of my cassette finished and the machine went into Autoreverse to begin playing Side Two. It was during the silence of the changeover that I heard the guard blow his whistle to alert all passengers that the train would be leaving any second now....

As the first song on Side Two began, the boy stood up.
The scuzzy, scratchy guitar intro of The Pastels' rather inappropriately titled 'Sit On It Mother' kicked in, lacerating itself like a knife wound across the inside of my head. As they kissed one final time, the Velvets style drumming pounded like a second heartbeat, and he walked out of the carriage. "I knew some girls from round my way// Burn me up with their evil stares". He stood outside the carriage and placed his hand against the window...."They're jokers but I'm not laughing// Only mention it in the passing"....she did the same, placing her hand against his, parted only by the glass...."I don't want in but open your gate// And let me get to the bottom of it"....rogue drum beats explode through the cavernous production....As the train slowly pulled away they held this pose, looking unflinchingly at each other, until it became impossible and he turned away with a wave...."Laura Lovett went in orbit// Just to get her an astronaut"....the woman turned back facing into the cabin, her hands by her sides; I studied the icy, quizzical yet contented look on her face...."She keeps her hand in her pocket// Saving up for a big blue rocket" I began to puzzle out the relationship whose brief extract I had just paid witness to (were they teacher and student, was the affair illicit and behind some husband's back, why was some young buck so clearly obsessed with such an older woman?), she suddenly looked straight at me...."She's always one planet ahead// Looks real cute in her pink spacesuit"....I felt like I had been shot! It was like an electric shock had ripped through my chest...."Hope she gets that astronaut!"....she looked, at that moment like the most beautiful woman in the world. She turned her gaze away from mine and looked forward into the carriage. I sucked in some Gitanes smoke to try and calm the pounding in my chest....."I know a girl from NYC// Walked on out on her baby"....I couldn't take my eyes off her, it was like she had become the sexiest, most desirable woman on the planet and I had fallen under her spell. I swigged some caffeine but all it did was pump my adrenal glands...."Hitched a ride with her lover// A shit-kickin' Momma, female trucker" mind was racing, wondering if she had this affect on all young men. The unnaturalness of the situation fuelled the suffocating feeling I was experiencing in my chest. It made me wonder if the boy she'd left back at Queen St station was just one of many conquests she enjoyed, or if she really was as demure and sweet natured as she appeared...."They're close like a pair of pros// And I don't need any more of those" the tape spooled on I was becoming self conscious that I was staring at her, even though I was partially hidden behind the headrest. As I tried looking out the window I was already fantasising about her suddenly coming over and sitting beside me, talking to me, luring me into her web of desire....a mad harmonica was filling my head with starry, blued-eyed wonder, "Trudi Bell from Rocky Springs// Has a certain way with things"....but, of course, she didn't. OF COURSE, SHE DIDN'T!!...."She's freewheeling, open dealing// S-s-say it once, and once with feeling"....when the train arrived at its first stop, Falkirk, she looked me straight in the eyes again, but probably only to see if I was one of those getting off at this stop...."Sit on it Mother, I ain't no witch// Working me up to a fever pitch" the train crawled, as it always did between Falkirk and Stirling, I looked at her again, knowing I was coming to the end of the road...."Now, some girls are quite obscure//And some boys don't get the truth" we arrived in Stirling I was surprised to see that she got up from her seat too. I waited until she'd left the carriage before making my own way out...."They see each smile as an emblem// A promise of sex on a sunny day" I stepped from the carriage I saw her small figure stroll confidently among the throng of people milling about on the platform. And then she was gone, vanished into the crowd, and I never saw her again...."I'm trying to make a connection// But don't look up when the sun comes down..."

The bus journey back home was spectacularly uneventful as you would imagine. And as I retreated to the solitude of my room with the intention of playing my newly acquired records, there was something niggling at the back of mind; a deep rooted desire to hear just one song in all of my collection. As I slipped the 7" single onto the Dansette, my head and heart were already clattering ahead of me....a scuzzy, scratchy guitar, Velvet's style drumming, "I knew some girls from round my way"....I could taste the Gitanes, I could feel the caffeine pounding through my bloodstream, and I could see into they eyes of a woman who had me completely under her spell, if even for less than half an hour, and I imagined her life with this inexplicably lucky teenage boy who I was now green-eyed to the point of madness with.
And then the record stopped....
And I laughed out loud at my own foolishness.

And that's what certain songs or records can mean to me; emotional and physical snapshots of a time, place, and state of mind where the music becomes an ever self-replicating canvass of memory. And some twenty odd years later that same song can still elicit carbon copies of all those long-savoured reminiscences.
But it's still only a song, right?

Hope she gets that astronaut!


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Griff says; Get in touch with your feminist side

Some of you may recall that during the Summer, at the height of the fatuous absurdity that was the Royal Wedding (spit), Gordon lamented at the lack of positive role models for young women within music, or indeed culture itself, these days (see 'here'). He then went on to pose the question;
'Where have all the strong feminist Pop/Rock icons gone?"

After running through the best of feminist-inspired music from the past, his article finished with this plea;
"We really hope that readers will get in touch and tell us of some Radical Feminist bands that we are unaware of. Hell, we even hope some of the said bands will get in touch so we can write about them and enjoy their music".

Well, he's been eagerly awaiting the deluge ever since. But, sorry to say, it hasn't come. So that's why I'm so pleased to announce that I'm about to blow his socks off with, not just one but two, excellent all-girl, punk-pop trios with outstanding feminist credentials.

First up is Gaffa (pictured) from Tábor in the Czech Republic. Yes, that's right, they're real-life Bohemians. Anyway, the band line-up is;
Petra Podlahova - voice, keyboard,
Marie Adamkova - guitar, voice,
Silvie Zelenkova - drums, voice
and they play a brand of guitar-driven, pop-punk much reminiscent of uber-influential, Swiss, post-punk legends Kleenex/LiLiPUT. Have a listen to the brash and bouncy 'george'n'tracy'.

That song is track number 8 on their newly-released album Na Značky (this appears to translate as 'The Brand'), which is available as a free download on their bandcamp page. Unfortunately, there seems to be a slight problem with the download from there at the moment unless you download each of the tracks individually, so the Streetlamp is also providing an alternative free download 'here'. We strongly suggest you do so, as this band, as well as abounding with fine poppy hooks, also furnish their songs with smart, sassy lyrics, many containing a strong feminist message. Have a listen to track 9 'Dilettante's Delight' with its subtly acerbic list of modern roles for women:

Fine stuff indeed. In 2009 Gaffa also released a 7" single which they split with tonight's other band, First fatal Kiss. For this venture, Gaffa provided the songs Otevřeno and Prstík. These can be downloaded from bandcamp or, alternatively, the whole EP is available as a free download 'here' courtesy of The Streetlamp.

First Fatal Kiss (pictured) from Vienna, Austria, are also a three-piece and describe themselves as 'queer! kitsch! punk!'. The current line-up is;

Birgit Michlmayr (drums, violin, keyboard, vocals)
Maria Reisinger (bass, drums, vocals)
Renée Winter (keyboard, bass, drums, vocals)
They also have been known to throw in a bit of kazoo and recorder into the mix when the spirit takes them. Their sound is not as guitar driven as Gaffa's and the tunes are mainly built on the framework provided by a 1980's keyboard, giving them a less rocky and more retro post-punk vibe, which is rather pleasing to these ears.
They provided the catchy sloganeering tracks;'No Boys! No Girls!' and 'No Government!' to the 7" split with Gaffa. Have a listen:

7" split with Gaffa (2009) by first fatal kiss

Since then, First fatal Kiss have released an album 'Danke Gut'(2010), which you can purchase on the Zach Records site.

They also released this amusing video 'How To Play A Very Good Punk Song', which should be required viewing for all 16 year olds in our opinion. Ray and I were also pleased to see in the video that they turn up for rehearsals on their bikes. Just as it should be!

I hope you enjoyed both these fine feminist bands, and remember if you know of any others who you think we should be covering get in touch.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Winter, Come She Will: Laura Watling

Yesterday, Saturday the 5th of November, saw yet another ~Streetlamp~ expedition to Scotland's REAL capital, Glasgow. We found ourselves skittering about in the East End this time, walking around the People's Palace, an extraordinary building on Glasgow Green, right in the shadow of The Gorbals (where my Grandfather was born and raised!). After that it was visit to Trongate 103 for another viewing of Griff's favourite, the Sharmanka Theatre (see previous blog). Then it was the customary Guinness and spicy chips in the 13th Note, and it was as we left there and made our way back along London Road, against the flow of people heading towards the Green for the fireworks display, that we really noticed that Winter is "Icumen In".
The thin hazy sunlight of earlier was now replaced with that icy crystal clear blackness, plumes of breath filling the air like a freezing fog....
And it was as we felt Winter take its first grip that I pondered on the music of Winter, and how there weren't that many artists whose music seems to capture the very essence of that season. Of course Summer has it's minstrels in abundance from the Beach Boys to virtually any happy-clappy rave tune that holidaymakers adopt when visiting sunnier climes. And it could be argued that artists such as Simon & Garfunkel or The Mamas & Papas had an Autumnal quality, but no one really seems to capture that pure embodiment of the Winter months...

Except maybe Laura Watling!
It may seem odd that someone who hails from the sunbaked swelter of South California could ever encapsulate the coldest season, but take a listen, for starters, to 'Barney & Me' below....

Well? Did you hear it? Doesn't it have a Winter vibe? Couldn't you hear the snow falling, or the trudge of boots on compacted ice? Not only does the music have a chilly vibe to it, but Laura's voice just has such an icy resonance to it. Whether it's intentional or not, I really don't know, but I can think of no other artist whose music captures such a frosty feel without sounding Christmassy.

Laura's musical career started back in 1996 when she was part of So Cal's Indiepop cult legends The Autocollants who specialised in an American take on Sarah Records blueprint with some considerable artistic success. The band only lasted a little over a year, releasing a handful of fine EPs, some tracks of which can be downloaded for free at their page.

The Autocollants music may have a slightly warmer vibe to their sound, but you can already hear a 'sweet but distant' tone in Laura's vocals.
It was around the year 2000 that Laura first began releasing her own solo recordings through the wonderful Shelflife Records, home of such ~Streetlamp~ favourites as Evening Lights, Days, The Proctors and A Smile And A Ribbon.
I find her songs so uplifting, yet in a strange way so detached. Her songs sound like what I hoped to hear every time I bought a new Sarah release, or whenever I purchased a 7" single in a wrap-around sleeve from the records shops on the Byres Road in Glasgow.

Perhaps the best example of Laura's 'Wintry' music is her mini album '25', which unfortunately I cannot bring you any examples of tonight as none appear to be available in either video or Soundcloud form, but which you can download here.
I find this album to be the pinnacle of her solo songwriting; the glacial sound of 'Under The Ice' capturing a frozen white vista in it purest form; the almost too aching melancholy of 'Cleaning', tambourine tinkling like snowdrops; the spectral ambiance of 'This River Will Never Run Dry' wrapping you up like a warm jumper and a mug of hot soup. Of course all of this is meaningless if you haven't heard the songs, so I urge you to download the album and give it a listen.

Here's a couple of others just to give you a taster.

Laura Watling - One More Way To Amuse Myself by Sebastian Johann


You can also download her 'When You Didn't Come' EP here

And if you visit her page there are some full tracks to listen to, and a couple of Free Downloads as well.
So, with meteorologists predicting a 'Siberian Winter' hitting Scotland in a couple of weeks, I guess the best thing we can do is snuggle up with Laura Watling!

Well, we can but dream!


Who's Afraid Of The Big Black Dog? Me!!!

This month, November, finds me celebrating a rather unhappy anniversary. For it was 20 years ago this month that I first came face to face with the Black Dog. It happened completely out of the blue and totally turned my world upside down. No...more than that, it changed me and my life forever....

It may seem like stating the bleeding obvious, but depression is a truly horrible thing to go through, and in turn to have to live with. It changes everything, including your life, your personality, and your view of the world. A lot of people who suffer from depression actually attempt or even commit suicide during the first attack, because they cannot comprehend what is happening to them , nor do they know if it will ever end. I guess, therefore, that I was 'lucky'....I got through that first bout and sought help. But it would recur several times over the years, sometimes in minor attacks, sometimes a full blown savaging in the jaws of the Dog.
And on many of those occasions I did nothing about it....just suffered in silence while all around me nobody knew a thing about it. I became very adept at hiding and masking the depression, something which most specialists will tell you is both foolish and dangerous.

When the Dog came sniffing around the last time, September 2009, it came ravenous and with its teeth and claws sharpened. It was one of the worst I had ever experienced. It became too difficult to hide. It became too dark to avoid. In a fit of desperation I joined up with an online OCD forum, which did genuinely help. I should point out that I am not talking about the 'comedy' OCD that characters like Monica from Friends suffers from, but a more debilitating and harmful strain that dominates your every waking moment.

So....this online Help Forum really worked for me, but I promised myself that if (and indeed WHEN) the Black Dog comes a calling once more, next time I will not only use the Online forums, but also seek full medical and psychiatric help, no matter who knows about it. It really isn't worth disguising all that turmoil.
And so it was that I was gladdened to hear about the Mental Health charity SANE's 'Black Dog Campaign'. Backed by celebrities such as Rory Bremner and Stephen Fry, the campaign aims to give a physical embodiment to the 'Black Dog' and therefore to try and help reduce the stigma that has become attached to depression, and indeed all mental health issues. The campaign also hopes to raise awareness, especially to the families of those afflicted and create a greater understanding of the illness.
To read more about the campaign, or indeed to get involved in any way, please visit their website here and, as you would expect, The Guardian have a splendid article about the capaign here
On a similar note, can I please direct you to The Black Dog Project; this is an Australian based website that encourages those who suffer from depression, or even just those currently experiencing a bad time, to express their thoughts and feelings through art, stories and poetry. Again, I cannot recommend this site highly enough, even if you are luck enough to never have been afflicted, as some of the poems, writing and artwork are just extraordinary.
And remember, a Black Dog is for life.....unfortunately!!


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Griff says: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

I've a nice little Scottish hip-hop track for you tonight that combines fine beats with social commentary - and it's not from Stanley Odd! The track in question is Madness("Escape The Network") by the Edinburgh-based duo of Vizual Pupil, of whom I know almost nothing, and Th!nk - who is a producer/MC also from Auld Reekie. The track is available now as a free download on bandcamp and serves as a preview of what's to be expected from their debut EP 'Escape The Network', which comes out on the 11th of November. The EP will also be the first release on the Unconscious Collective imprint, and is available 'here' from 11/11/11.

I hope you enjoyed that. Stay tuned to the Streetlamp for more information on the duo as it becomes available to us. I must admit, one of the reasons the song appeals to me is the sample of Peter Finch as newscaster 'Howard Beale' from the 1976 film Network; a darkly comic satire of dumb infotainment TV, which has become more and more relevant with each passing year. If you've never seen the film, and the youngsters among you probably haven't, you can find the most famous scene embedded below. In a 5 minute frenzy of scenery-chewing madness, the Howard Beale character starts a rant on the general awfulness of modern life before finally concluding his tirade by admonishing his viewers to;

"Stand up wherever you are, go to the nearest window and yell as loud as you can, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore".

As the discredited neoliberal project collapses in ruins around our ears and the intellectual midgets who form our government solemnly prescribe 'more austerity', we have one essential piece of advice for our readers who are sick of being taken for fools by a lying, self-serving, hypocritical, millionaire elite:

"Stand up wherever you are, go to the nearest window and yell as loud as you can, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore".