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News, Plans & General Prattle, 2017

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7 March 2017
15 April 2017
17 June 2017
7 August 2017
17 August 2017
7 September 2017
16 October 2017
29 December 2017

A quiet start to the year, albeit with an early highlight. Thanks to the beautiful people of the Flutlicht Fussballfilm Festival in Basel I ended up in the splendid Gare du Nord to discuss a BBC documentary about the troubled footballer Paul Gascoigne with the German publisher Christoph Beutenmüller and festival co-organiser Philipp Grünenfelder.

The year began to crank into action, at last, with a trio of invigorating interviews. Apart from Spoon's Britt DanielDeep Purple's evergreen drummer Ian Paice (a deadringer for my computer wizard guy David Scott, by the way) and the sharp and friendly Yasmin Hamdan, I also met Hot Chip's Joe Goddard to talk about his new solo album. We met in his studio, surrounded by vintage hardware.

Another highlight was a trip to Norwich to meet the Swiss footballer Timm Klose, a defender for Norwich City. Timm was friendly, relaxed, witty and wonderfully generous with his time and his stories. The results will be published in the next issue of the very excellent Zwölf magazine.

I also went to a few football games, all of which were cold and wet: Arsenal v Hull, Watford v Middlesbrough, and Watford v West Ham. Arsenal looked shaky, Hull better than their position in the table, Watford were hard grafters, and West Ham vastly improved from earlier in the season.

February ended with some brilliant news from Zurich. Miller's Studio has secured the sponsorship deal that enables us to start a monthly British comedy night. The first date will be 10 October. Now it's down to me to put together the programme. My plan is to book three comedians for each night, one somewhat better known headliner, and two support acts. And we'll have a fabulous live band, too.

I happened to pass through Arundel last weekend and discovered an excellent old-school record shop. It's called A Ray of Delight Records and seems to pecialise in rockabilly, psych and garage 45s. There's plenty of other vinyl and CDs, too, though. I bought three albums. Here they are:

I must confess I was daunted about my meeting with Blondie's Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. A German colleague had posted a scathing report on Facebook about his own encounter with DH. It didn't sound pleasant. I was even more daunted when Chris Stein suggested that I sit between him and Debbie - who wasn't in the room just then - on a cosy sofa so I wouldn't have to travel far with my arm to shift the microphone from one to the other. Debbie, too, looked rather dubious when Chris, upon her return, repeated his suggestion to her.

As it turned out, both of them were perfectly civil, even good-humoured. It turned out that both had a collection of works by the late, great H.R. Giger, their good friend from Zurich. It was then that Chris explained to Debbie that her picture of the inner album sleeve he had created for them was the original. "I thought it was a copy!" exlaimed Harry. "Where have you BEEN?!" sighed Stein. I didn't dare to ask to take a picture, alas.

And here's three chaps sharing one wig.

M4music was the customarily great occasion it is every year. This time I had the pleasure of interviewing Rough Trade shop-co-owner Nigel House about record shops in the 21st century in general, and his shop in particular. I, for one, totally enjoyed the chat - it gave me the chance to ask him all the questions we'd never had the time before in the actually shop. Because of all the talking I didn't get to see much music. Of the acts I did see, I thought Mario Batkovic was mesmerising.  Loyle Carner, on the other hand, was friendly enough but still rather boring with just a decks-man for company on stage. I thought Hyperculte - Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp's upright bassist plus Massicot's guitarist playing drums - were great with their powerfully minimalist kraut-punk. Soybomb's post-Sparks art pop was damned good too. I quite liked Fai Baba but I would have liked him a lot more if only he'd trim his guitar stuff a bit and stop moping about on stage as if he was preparing breakfast with a hangover.

The Cooking Vinyl book keeps bubbling away. The first draft was finished before christmas, now it's company founder Martin Goldschmidt's turn to do some fact checking and add his own suggestions. Alas, the man's just so busy, what with him helping to launch the Palestine Music Expo

A recent live highlight was without a doubt the 12-day Intakt Records improvised music festival at the Vortex. Both, the Vortex director Oliver Weindling and Intakt-founder Patrik Landolt were very happy not just about the remarkably consistent turn-out, but also the artistic result of various previously untried combinations of musicians. Most evenings, a younger act would open proceedings, followed by some establish artists to draw the crowds.

I was particularly impressed by Weird Beard whose new album I'm really looking forward to. They were followed by Julian Sartorius and Steve Beresford who met for the first time on that stage, that night. Now, I won't lie: Sartorius's hyper-active style of perma-rattling percussion reminds me of the worst of prog.-rock virtuoso excess. Hearing and seeing him do his self-regarding and -indulgent thing makes me come out in an inner rash of near-murderous rage. Beresford's somewhat wittier presence didn't alleviate my acute sense of not-wellbeing.

Another percussion man I enjoyed much more: Pierre Favre, a few days before his 80th birthday, played for the first time ever in the UK, and it was mesmerising. He was followed by Sylvie CourvoisierMark Feldman and Evan Parker, and, for the encore, Pierre Favre. This was a thrilling evening indeed.

I've done a few interviews since the last time I was here. Alt-J were as friendly as I expected but they do like to talk about the minutiae of the recording process with an unusual level of intensity and care: practically every time one of them says something, he will then ask the other two if they agree with him.

Jane Weaver was rather unexpectedly completely down to earth when we met in a pub in Manchester. Unexpectedly, because her music is so "kosmisch" (to use the correct English term) and ethereal. Although, of course, the Hawkwind influence of pounding rhythms also helps to keep it grounded. As always when I'm in Manchester, I tried to visit the L.S. Lowry museum. I nearly didn't make it. Somehow, the tram didn't take the route I remembered from the last time, and all of a sudden I was in a place called Eccles. I presume eccles cakes were invented somewhere around here but I didn't see any bakeries.

I also met Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes, THE Steven Wilson, and Bruce Dessau, the Evening Standard's comedy critic. I knew Bruce from my very early days when he was the music editor at City Limits for whom I wrote the occasional story. He kindly let me pick his brain about the present-day comedy scene, in preparation for my weekly comedy night at Miller's in Zurich which starts on 10 October. My first night is complete, by the way: We'll have Ben van der VeldeMasud Milas and Simon Munnery.

The lovely and excellent Laura Barnett sent me an invitation to the launch party at Tottenham Court Road Waterstones of her new novel, "Greatest Hits", the follow-up to the gripping "Versions of Us". The concept of the novel is neat: the story of an elderly singer/songwriter in the Joni Mitchell-mould, though British, is told in a number of chapters that correspond with a song and a stylistic phase. And, together with singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams, Barnett has actually recorded an album to go with the novel! It was a most enjoyable event, with Barnett and Williams providing some chuckle-worthy entertainment. Oh, and I was introduced to Stevo, the man who used to run Some Bizarre, the coolest record label of the eighties. He said: "If my kid said he wanted to get into the music business, I'd tell him I'd kill him if he did." 
Tomorrow I'm off to Krems in Niederösterreich for my yearly two days at the university, talking about writing about music. Then on to Zurich, a two-hour Sounds! programme on SRF3 on Monday 26 June.

From Krems and another bunch of friendly music business students to Vienna where I spent a fine balmy evening eating some kind of goulash al fresco with an excellent bunch of friends. The next morning I treated myself to a dollop of Viennese café culture, plus the Museum of Angewandte Kunst before travelling on to Zurich.

The robot who can't blow out her birthday candles
Various interviews: Simon Munnery, my first headliner for my Brit-Comedy night at Miller's in Zurich. A very funny chap indeed. I'm very much looking forward to seeing him live in action on 10 October, together with the very wonderful Ben Van Der Velde and Masud Milas.

Next was St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, the shape-shifting New Yorker whose new album at the time was still so fresh and secret she wasn't even allowed to tell me its title. A strangely distant interview partner, possibly to do with her jetlag, combined with the fact we were talking in the foyer of the Wellcome Collection.

Holidays in France. Marseille...

...on to Béziers...

...with a day trip to the lovely Pézenas. Where they have a museum of doors and a museum of table ware! Both brilliant places, of course.

The football season started with Fulham v Norwich (1:1), followed a week later by the breathless chaos of a 4:3 at Arsenal v Leicester.

And then I had a great two days in Copenhagen, thanks to The National. They were doing their interviews for the new album in Denmark because the Dessner Bros are regularly organising a festival there. The band demonstrated a refreshingly novel approach to interviews. Instead of having each member individually chatting for thirty minutes to one member of the press, they insisted that everyone spoke to everyone. Thus, I met Matt Beringer and the Devendorf brothers first, and twenty-five minutes later the Dessner twins. Which made for two very different perspectives on the band's activities - and the Dessners manifold extra-curricular enterprises. Oh, and the album's great. Released 8 September.
The rest of the day, I did a lot walking. Still have the sore toe to prove it. I was very taken by Copenhagen, I must say. Found some spooky houses.

A visit, at last, to Dominik Scherrer, the Ivor Novello-decorated film composer, in his studio in the Truman's Brewery, Brick Lane. Followed by an excellent curry. They do still exist, the good curry houses near Brick Lane!

And another trip. This time to Margate to talk to Ghostpoet about his splendid new album "Dark Days + Canapés". We met in the sun outside a tiny pub/café on the pier. An hour and a half was over in a flash. There's a beach in Margate. Lots of fat seagulls. And the Turner Gallery with four Turner watercolours.

Of course I signed the petition to "Save Tin Pan Alley"! Denmark Street is tiny, maybe a hundred metres long, running off Charing Cross Road on the edge of Soho. For seventy or eighty years it's been a hive of musical activity - publishers, managers, song writers, rehearsal studios, shops, etc. The Stones recorded their first album here, the Sex Pistols rehearsed in one of the houses. However, in recent years, various establishments - including the much-loved 12 Bar Club venue - have closed down, developers have moved in. The Save Tin Pan Alley campaign sought to halt these developments in order to create a modern hub of musical acticity instead. 
Having looked into the matter in depth for a story in NZZamSonntag I'm no longer so sure there is actually much of a point to the campaign. First off, the street and its buildings was in an awful state before the present owner of 80% of the buildings moved the builders in. Secondly, many of the businesses have moved out because the music business has shifted to the internefet and home offices, and the studios are no longer needed - or because they were crooked (like Andy's guitar shop about which many a bad story still hovers over the area). And thirdly, just round the corner, the new Tottenham Court Road crossrail station will soon bring many more people into the area - it was inevitable that property investors would descend on Denmark Street and drive prices up. Personally, I think it's a shame the Street will be "cleaned up" for purely nostalgic reasons. However, many of the buildings are protected, and the developers assured me they were doing their best to keep the music shops in (a new guitar shop has just opened, for instance). I've never been particularly interested in so-called "heritage sites" of rock music. I don't get a great thrill out of knowing that I'm standing in front of the house that Elton John wrote a couple of hits when said house looks like a nondescript hovel. Reseaching the story I came to the conclusion that I'd rather have a couple of newly refurbished warehouses in East London bursting with musical creativity than a museum street on the edge of Soho - which has been pretty much emptied of music anyway, thanks to said developers. Gentrification is a terrible blight on the once liveliest parts of London, no doubt. However, since it takes an awful lot of energy and an unfeasibly lafrge amount of money to combat these developments effectively in the present cultural and political climate, it seems to me a better and more hopeful use of resources to build new centres of activity elsewhere. Footnote: the 12 Bar Club was an old building, but a music venue only for about 20 years.  

It's been an eventful couple of months, starting with the Fachklasse Grafik from Lucerne and their yearly two-and-a-half weeks London project. Clockwise from top left: co-teachers Markus and Silvio; group thinking at base, with co-teacher Patrina on the table; car park pop-up-hipster-restaurant in Peckham; Tate Modern.
On the very day that the students flew back to Switzerland, I travelled to Austria to take take part in the Sprachsalz Literature Festival in Hall near Innsbruck. It was my first such event as a participant, and I loved every minute of it. The writers, twenty or so, lived in the same hotel. Most of the readings took place here, too. We were all made to feel incredibly welcome and comfortable, which meant several very late nights in the bar, and a lot of laughter. It was a massive pleasure to spend time with Petra PiukPeter K. WehrliRolf LyssySacha BatthyanyGuntram VesperDavid VannJosh Weil, Burkhard JahnRolf Lappert (who'd had such a great time as a reader the year before that he returned as a guest, together with his partner), the actress Brigitte Zeh (who helped AL Kennedy with her German) and many others. Plus, of course, the wonderful hosts of the festival, Heinz D. HeislMagdalena KauzElias SchneitterUlrike Wörner and Urs Heinz Aerni. I was given two reading spots. First, late on Friday night, I read from my book about Michael Jackson fans, "Der Thriller um Michael Jackson". To my delight, this produced much more laughter than I had dared to hope. On Saturday afternoon I read one of my new stories about life in Kilburn which went down really well, too. The whole event was a hugely encouraging experience for me. In Can's words: I want more!   

Impressiions from Sprachsalz in Hall, top: the view from my hotel room; hpk in action. Middle: AL Kennedy; David Vann organising his private life; the best Schnitzel I've ever eaten. Bottom, left pic, from the left: Sacha Batthyany, Rolf Lyssy, Urs Heinz Aerni, Judith Pouget. Right pic, from left: the Wehrlis, Brititte Zeh, Petra Piuk. 
Shortly after returning from Austria, I saw the worst football game I've ever had the pleasure to attend, Queens Park Rangers v Burton Albion. God, it was awful. Ended nil-nil, of course. Gloriously grey entertainment.

A surprise telephone call out of the blue, Thomas Nellen in town! Amongst many other Hollywood things, Thomas is Jeff Bridges's preferred make-up person. He was in London for a press junket to promote his latest film (sorry, I forget the title). Great to catch up over duck and mash in a fine Soho hotel. 
Back to Zurich on 2 October in preparation for the premiere of our monthly Brit Comedy-night on the 10th  at Miller's Theatre in Zurich. We had a lot of good advance publicity, and the theatre was practically sold out. Ben Van der VeldeMasud Milas and Simon Munnery all did a sterling job and went down extremely well. The bar tab afterwards was very nearly ruinous, though...The next show is on 21 November with Gordon SouthernPeter Brush and Shazia Mirza.

I was practically at the airport on the way home from Zurich when I had a message from Universal Germany: could I do an interview with Beck the next day in London, to be distributed to German radio stations alongside his new album, "Colors". Naturally, I said yes. We only had 15 minutes, eked out to 20 thanks to a crafty last question which Beck found irresistible to reply to at length...He is much smaller than I remembered him from an interview 20 years ago, trim, with finely chiselled features, dressed in black. Interestingly, he explained that he had recorded a lot of music at home with no plans to release it. "Innovation" wasn't at the top of his priorities list, but communication was. Thus, he kept the "music you could call innovative and which sounds like nothing else" for himself and his friends, focusing on his official releases on immediacy and a connection with the audience. Scientology as a topic of conversation was off limits. However, this focus on "communnication" is very much a feature of scientology thinking. At least that's what I seem to recall from my very brief expedition into scientology thinking in the mid-1970s, following a concert in Zurich by the then very communication-friendly Incredible String Band.

Photos: Michelle Ettlin
Ben Van der Velde
Masud Milas
Simon Munnery

Here's a few photos I took when the Young Gods came to London for the first time in the mid-1980s. The band was brilliantly innovative then with their unconventional line-up of vocals, electronics and real drums. It still is. I found this out one fabulous weekend in November when they played live at the Red Bull Music Academy in Zurich with two thirds of their original members, Franz Treichler and Cesare Pizzi. To my great delight I was invited to conduct a public chat with them, and they proved to be wonderfully witty and generous interviewees. It was also the launch event of a book, "The Young Gods / Documents 1985 - 2015" which contains just about every snippet written about them, and every photograph taken - except mine.  

Pix: Hanspeter Kuenzler

Back in Zurich, I was just in time for the great unerhört!-Festival for improvised music beyond genre. A real discovery for me was the Kukuruz Quartett at Schlosserei Nenniger (photo above) - four pianists playing works by the late Julius Eastman. Minimalist and repetitive in essence, the four pianos gave the music an incredible depth of sound and warmth, suffused with subtle grooves and unpredictable melodic twists and turns. I also very much enjoyed pianist Aki Takase in a duo with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, "celebrating Thelonious Monk". Footnote: Laubrock regularly used to play at the Jazz Session in the Black Lion Pub in Kilburn High Road after she had left Germany and landed in London - now she's in New York and plays and entirely different kind of jazz. Irène Schweizer, too, I really got into - she, too, was "celebrating Thelonious Monk".

A totally different kettle of noise was Dorothea Schürch whose performance of grunts, snorts, sucks etc I found very nearly unbearable. This was followed in the same room - Werkstatt für Improvisierte Musik - bei Jacques Demierre (piano), Axel Dörner (trumpet) and Jonas Kocher (accordion) whose helter-skelter assortment of violent noise, trumpet farts and accordion cluster sounds I found pretentious in the extreme. At the end, which took hours too long to arrive, I felt only regret for having chosen a corner seat which made it impossible to escape. 

The next instalment of my Brit Comedy Night at Miller's Studio once again went rather well, even if I say so myself. Gordon Southern gave a splendidly flexible MC, Peter Brush really clicked with his splenetic male Cinderella act in only his second appearance on foreign soil, and Shazia Mirza topped it all off with a wonderfully sharp and focused performance fizzing with surprising turns. Not forgetting the glorious house band, of course, the Duo Belvedere, who treated us to a terrifically lacrymose San Remo-style tribute to the retiring Gigi Buffon. 

I came past this amusing little accident in Edgware Road. Someone had driven through the portals of a Faroush juice parlour. Someone else just happened to have the right sort of mannequin to hand to give the scene a decorative flourish. 
There were a few interviews, too. As usual, I forgot to take pictures. First off were the freshly blonde Alex Kapranos and new member Julian Corrie  from Franz Ferdinand. To start with, I showed them a photo of a Glasgow bookshop I had recently fallen into - and they instantly recognised the scene. Regulars there, it seems.The new FF album sounds totally fresh, with much more electronic input than before. Nothing to do with their involvement with Sparks, apparently.

Ezra Furman was a little more difficult to talk to - not because he would have been uncommunicative or unfriendly, quite the contrary. However, it's an inbuilt difficulty of the interview scenario that you're expected to go from zero acquaintance to total immersion in the "real sources" of the other's creative juices within minutes. To achieve this is relatively easy when the interviewee has an uncomplicated biographical story to tell. In the case of someone like Furman, whose work is so directly inspired and directed by questions of gender identity, faith, and personal conduct, the task becomes almost hopeless. I felt like an intruder even as I was asking the sort of personal questions that needed to be asked as they arose directly from Furman's music, lyrics and appearance. When I left the room - in this case the manager's flat - I felt oddly out of sorts and dissatisfied, as if I had failed pretty badly at some undefined task. A feeling that lingered on for several days...
...even though on the same day I also met Robert Finley, the impossibly tall 64 year old blues and gospel singer from Louisiana, who has just released a juicy second album - "Goin' Platinum" - which as produced by Dan Auerbach. Robert couldn't have been easier to talk to, happy to recount for the umpteenth time the story how he had to give up carpentry due to suffering from glaucoma, turning to music and being "discovered" thanks to an impromptu guest spot at a local festival and a Tuesday night season at a crayfish restaurant. 

And thus, another year is ending...see you on the next page.