News, Plans & General Prattle, 2016
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The lake behind the Bad Bonn venue in Düdingen
The first interview of the year was one of the worst ever. Alex Turner and Miles Kane aka The Last Shadow Puppets just weren't in the mood for it. Or rather, they were very much in the mood, but not for an interview. For half an hour I tried to get a couple of useable sentences out of them, and for half an hour they were putting on a comedy show that would have been very funny to watch for an outsider, but to experience it from the inside, and from the wrong side of the table, wasn't much fun at all. I knew within ten seconds that I didn't stand a chance. They wanted to be silly, and if I had said anything along the lines of "look, lads...", they would have been even sillier. Nice guys, mind.
My yearly trip in January to my accountant in Taunton is always something I'm looking forward to very much. This is due a) to the perverse sense of achievment of writing down a years' worth of expenses, and b) because there is a fab record shop in Taunton, Black Cat Records. They have an excellent selection of not too expensive second hand vinyl (including two copies of the excellent Comebuckley album!), and re-release CDs. I mention this because this year's finds included a couple of special discoveries. First, I bought a live album by the Swedish psychedelic prog rockers Träd Gräs och stenar. This seventies lot were recommended to me by Death & Vanilla. I'd never heard of them until then - and all of a sudden everyone, including, of course Wire magazine, is name-dropping them.
The second album is "Afreaka!" by Demon Fuzz. This was recommended to me by Root Jackson during our first interview for the book I'm going to write about him. And it is brilliant, a funky kind of prog with African grooves woven in. Never heard anything like it.
Back to Zurich at the end of January for an appearance at the monthly "Züri Litéraire" event at Kaufleuten. Following on from the reading I did last October as part of Christoph Marthaler's wonderful "Kulturperlen unter meinem Dach" series of events, I was also invited to appear alongside the magnificent Elisabeth Bronfen on the Kaufleuten sofa to be quizzed by Monika Schärer and Röbi Koller about our writing and reading habits. It was really good fun.
Whilst in Zurich, I made a trip, at last, to the fabled Bad Bonn venue in Düdingen near Fribourg. The hills are indeed as green as promised, and the venue stands as alone and isolated amongst the trees as everyone says. Just great.
The road to nowhere (left), and what lies at the end of it: Bad Bonn.
My rendez-vous with Bad Bonn and its founders, Düx and Patrick, continued on 10 March in London when they, together with Edition Patrick Frey, celebrated the publication of their "Bad Bonn Song Book" with a panel chat and a performance by Richard Dawson at Rough Trade East. The panel discussed how much influence a venue like Bad Bonn could exert on its environment. Participants were Tom Relleen (The Oscillation, Julie Tippex agency) Luke Turner (founder Quietus), Christoph Schenk (Swiss TV), and Düx. I was doing the chairing, as it were. It all went swimmingly, around 150 people present who listened politely even if they were there mostly for the great Richard Dawson.
The book is excellently entertaining, by the way. For the last few years, Düx asked all bands who played in Bad Bonn to leave him a song. Many did, and all are different: poems, drawings, sheet music, collages and all sorts of other things from bands like Flaming Lips, Sleaford Mods, Mogwai, Sebadoh and Nils Frahm make for a most entertaining and carefully put together beer table tome.
Some interviews go much better than others. Ben Harper, for instance, whom I remembered from previous meetings as being rather reserved if not chippy, turned out to be really friendly and open. The novelist Laura Barnett - author of "The Versions of Us", a thoughtful and yet page-turnerish meditation on the effects of chance encounters and the way we deal with them - was a joy to start the week with at the Tate Modern café (I interviewed her for Orell-Füssli's "Lesen" magazine which used to be called books). Richard Dawson, too, was great company: funny, honest, and quite unique in the way he looks at things.
Finally got round to reading Andrew Mattheson's seriously amusing Hollywood Brats memoirs, "Sick on You". The Hollywood Brats were a sleazy glam band, a kind of Watford New York Dolls. They were ahead of their time, and it all ended in tears (well, it ended when they found out their management was the Kray twins...). Whilst the book is a truly exhilarating bottom feeder read all round, it took an even more surreally joyous turn for me when the band moved to West Hampstead. I began to recognise all the places and streets and pubs where they were beaten up. More than that - I suddenly realised that their guitarist, Brady, was THE Brady I used to have regular pints with at the Black Lion in Kilburn and who was a member of John Cooper's brilliantly ramshackle garage band. Brady only ever used to talk about being a member of Wreckless Eric's band. Now I know why.
They've opened Jimi Hendrix's flat in Brook Street to the public, or rather: they've reconstructed his bedroom there from photos and the memories of his partner. There's a room with a biographical overview of his time in London, too, and a room with all his records. To be perfectly honest, the bedroom isn't very different from my own as a teenager. What's interesting is his record collection, including Bonzo Dog Band, Pierre Henry and a lot of Blues. And the contrast to Georg Friedrich Händel's also public abode on the lower floors of the same house is rather wonderful.
And then I was back at the University of Krems in Niederösterreich to talk about music writing for a couple of days. What a strange and hypnotic landscape they have. Apricots and grapes the main local produce.
A lot of my time is taken up at the moment with interviewing various people involved with Cooking Vinyl Records for a book they have commissioned me to write about their 30 year history. It covers a fascinating arc of time, from the mid-1980s of Michelle Shocked and the first world music boom, to an entirely different business model with the Prodigy, Marilyn Manson and Billy Bragg.
I also met the Kills to talk about their new album - interesting album, interesting people. And yesterday I visited Viv Albertine in Hackney to prepare for our talk next Friday at M4Music. This was another truly enjoyable encounter, a woman who doesn't follow fashions and hasn't had the spark knocked out of her by the various misfortunes that have befallen her in the 90s. She says she's in the middle of writing a follow-up to her splendid memoirs, "Clothes, Music, Boys". It is a kind of prequel, explaining how her attitude to life was formed by the women around her in her childhood.
Work on the Cooking Vinyl book continues. The list of people I want to - or at least: ought to - talk to is growing longer by the day. The number of interviews with company founder Martin Goldschmidt alone stands at 16 by now. Today, I had a mini lunch with Billy Bragg at the British Library where he is researching a book about the skiffle craze at the end of the 1950s. Apart from talking about the record label he's been with for 23 years, he also spoke enthusiastically about the new record he's made with Joe Henry: taking the train from Chicago to Los Angeles, they stopped off in places like Poplar Bluff, Fort Worth and San Antonio to play and record a song from the long list of American railway songs live in an impromptu location on the platform or in the station building. The results are just wonderful.
Some recent additions to my collection of modern day churches
Here's a few impressions of Leicester where I went to see the Leicester v Swansea game towards the end of last season.
And here's me with my favourite friend in the Zürich Kunsthaus.
A couple of trips this week. First, to Winchester to talk to the singer Deborah Greenwood about her life with the inimitable, sadly departed Jackie Leven. She had some very funny stories to tell. Yesterday to Oxford where I had a couple of beers with John Wheeler before Hayseed Dixie's show at the O2 Academy. This was another hugely enjoyable encounter. John is full of stories and ideas and occasionally launches into German mid-sentence. He decided to learn German when he realised Kant and all the other philosophers didn't sound quite right in translation. I stayed for the gig - what a great mixture of hoe-down bluegrass, surreal cover versions ("Eye of the Tiger"), and sharp political comment.
Hayseed Dixie tuning up and tuning in
As I was waiting to meet John outside the venue I was approached by a Chinese man in his fifties. Very politely and in broken English he asked me: "Please, can you tell me what the word "random" means?" I tried my best. "So, what's difference between random and ransom?" Next, he whips out a handful of neatly cut rectangular pieces of paper. Each has ten words written on it. "Disseminate?" "Ulcer?" He says "thank you" and wanders off. I'm still wondering about the possible connection between these words, or what use they might possibly be to this man.
...and all of a sudden, the year was over. What's happened since we last spoke? Well, basically, the last few months were all about finishing the first draft of the Cooking Vinyl book. I had to cancel pretty much everything else apart from the odd football story. One of these sent me to Derby to meet Pascal "Zubi" Zuberbühler, for many years goal keeper of the Swiss national football team. He is now the goal keeping coach at Derby County, and I was asked to write a story about him for the excellent Swiss football magazine, Zwölf. The encounter was a real pleasure, from the exceptionally friendly welcome I was given by Colin Gibson, the club's media chief, to Zubi's own generosity with time and words.
When the work was done I asked the people in the press office for suggestions what I should/could see in their town. Like a shot it came from three different voices: "Take a train to Nottingham". Which I didn't do. Instead, I wandered through the rain for the rest of the day, at last discovering the art gallery about 25 minutes before closing time. Worth a visit, nevertheless, particularly for a good selection of Joseph Wright paintings. Oh, and I spent a long time in a second hand vinyl shop, purchasing records by Bryan Ferry, Frankie Miller and Jess Roden.
Ever since then a detail of the Roden sleeve has baffled and amused me in equal parts. The sleeves shows the two sides of the town, poverty, crime and sleazy on one side, affluence and luxury hotels on the other. Now, the luxury hotel depicted is called "Spendide", missing an L, clearly. A dry and droll joke on the part of the designer? Or a simple mistake that nobody spotted in time?
September saw the arrival of the latest group of design students from Lucerne for their yearly two-week London project. Despite - or, perhaps, because - having been given a really hard task (to put together a scrapbook each with texts, drawings, photos etc. inspired by a London novel), the students' enthusiasm was a joy to behold. On their last day, they cleared out one of their rooms to stage a "vernissage" of their latest paintings.
Several trips to Zurich were memorable for a variety of reasons. One of the very best was the fried egg with truffle grated over the top that Sebastian Ritscher treated me to at the Taverna Catalana. Another was Schweizer Musik Syndikat's symposium "Wie lanciere ich meine Musikkarriere?" at Moods which I had the pleasure to chair. The participants were Nicole Johänntgen (musician), Marion Meier (programmer, Zürich Open Air), Alex Holzwert (Booking Agent), Michael Gottfried (ACT Records), Jean Zuber (Swiss Music Export) and Andreas Ryser (Mouthwatering Records).
And then there was Les Filles de Illighadad who happened to be playing when I wandered into El Lokal to say hello to Viktor & Co. Hailing from a small village in the Sahel, these three women (and a bloke) played some truly hypnotic desert rock'n'roll. Apparently using electric guitars for the first time during this, their first European tour, les Filles were driven by the relentlessly monotonous thump of a flat sandal being beaten on an upturned bowl covered with goat hide and floating in a water tank. This, it seems, is a traditional percussion instrument in their area.
And here, to finish the year off, is another of my favourite paintings from Kunsthaus Zürich. Cy Twombly.