Letter From London March 2005


Our resident wise man and soothsayer gives his opinions on, well, just about anything and everything this month. Enjoy!


There was going to be a clever over-riding theme that pulled all of this together into one seamless whole.  A thread that would snake and meander like a river twisting through a dusty land, leaving readers guessing and counter-guessing what would happen, before pulling together all loose strands at the end.


However, Calliope did not appear, no matter how long I stared at the flickering screen and a pile of used gig ticket stubs, willing her on.  The deadline from Incendiary Towers loomed large (and you never want to mess with those boys) and the subjects to be covered so diverse, so instead you are going to be treated to the journalistic equivalent of 'American Pie - The Wedding' – a series of enjoyable but seemingly random set pieces strung together with little or no narrative thread.


2005 has barely begun and already so much to report and comment on.  Like everyone else I couldn't help but get swept away with the hype emanating from the Brits (I was actually bothered about who won anything for the first time in years) and the NME Awards.  Of course, Franz Ferdinand swept all before them – quite rightly too.  I have written before noting caution about the new crop of bands coming through but one afternoon a daydream came to me.  A collection of free thinking and creative UK bands manning the barricades and slaying manufactured bands and reality TV singers.  (Busted and Blue down – only McFly to go, but look out for solo careers and the news of a slew of indie-lite girl bands that are apparently due to be unleashed later in 2005.)


All we needed was someone like Simon Price (am I alone in thinking he looks the like the boss from Dilbert?) to come up with an all embracing name and we would have a movement, led from the front by Franz Ferdinand. 


The movement will be called something snappy like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM for brevity).  Amazing what you can learn on the internet - apparently this is how American music fans lump together bands such as Saxon, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead and (crossing himself as he types) the Tygers of Pang Tang.   Hopefully it will be better than "nu-shoegazers" which I noticed the Engineers have been saddled with.  Great single – terrible tag, but I guess it isn't their fault.


There is already a C-86 style compilation in the form of "Future's Burning" on Nude records, featuring just about every hotly tipped British band.  Apparently, the owner of Nude was so inspired by the new crops of bands that he decided to pull them all together on one CD, or so he told Music Week.  A cynic might spot a cash-in but if nothing else, it's been a long time since anyone wanted to put out a high profile CD ambitiously showcasing a whole range of new British bands.  There seems to be so many new bands coming through that some of them are bound to stick.



Anyway, it was in this frame of mind that I saw the London leg of the NME tour – Killers, Bloc Party, Futureheads and Kaiser Chiefs all under one roof.  Admittedly, the echoes of post-punk were never far away but it was a fantastic night out.  I loved the way the Kaisers looked like a composite group celebrating music from the 1960s onwards – the singer dressed like Ian Curtis, the guitarist in a blazer like Bruce Foxton, the keyboardist looking like Jerry Dammers and the bass player resembling a member of a 1960s British invasion band.  They sound like they never got over first hearing "You Really Got Me" when children and played a noisy and sharp set with the two latest singles sounding especially good. 


Next up were Bloc Party, who were the weakest link of the evening, I'm sorry to say.  They seemed a little nervous, despite the press courting them as the stars of the bill.  Maybe it was playing a bigger venue than before, maybe it was because it was a home-town gig for them, maybe it was because they music is perhaps a little more subtle and less all-out guitars and tunes than others on the bill.  Don't know.  Like nouvelle cuisine, they looked the part but did leave me a little disappointed – maybe I was missing something.  The Futureheads rocked (even though they all look about 15) but the stars of the evening were the Killers.  I wasn't expecting them to be nearly so good.   As you would expect from a band from Vegas, they were brash, loud, polished and obviously having a great time. Great tunes, Keith Moon-inspired drummer, loud guitar and 80s soft rock keyboard breaks – they look and play as if (in their minds) they are already half-way to selling out their first stadium tour.



Last weekend saw me Janus-like looking forward and backwards, during a couple of evenings with two very different brother and sister themes.  First up, a glorious blast from the past with the MC5, who played with the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Royal Festival Hall.  OK, it wasn't the same as being in Detroit's Grande Ballroom in 1968 but as the next best thing it was still loud, fun and full of attitude.  There was brilliant guitar work from Wayne Kramer (which was a surprise until it occurred to me that he had had 30 years perfecting a pretty small back catalogue.)   They rocked out all of the songs you would have expected, backed admirably by Lisa from the Bellrays, Handsome Dick Manitoba and Gilby Clarke from Guns n Roses.  The power and radical nature of the songs still came through loud and clear, even without Fred Smith and Rob Tyner.


Whilst Friday night was a homage to those who have served, Saturday saw me enjoying a brand new band, which for once deserves all of the hype they are attracting.    Made up of two sets of brothers and sisters, the Magic Numbers were superb.  An unlikely looking four piece, they held the audience in the palm of their hands.  Fantastic guitar, brilliant tunes, haunting melodies and all delivered with a self-depreciating smile.  The crowd couldn't help but sway, clap and tap their feet as they delivered heart-warming harmonies and a brilliant encore of "There Is A Light and It Never Goes Out."   They sounded like a real talent for the future - can't wait for them to deliver singles and an album, and the sooner the better.



Before we get dreamy eyed reflecting on a show of unbridled creativity let's take a trip back to the real world, in particular the business side of the music business.  Not every day I will say this, but I actually read something which made me feel a little sorry for Coldplay.  They are feeling the strain of recording the new album.  Expectation is massive and not just from critics and fans.  Apparently EMI's share price actually fell with the news that the new album might be delayed.  Call me a romantic fool but what a thing to be saddled with as artists. Also read that they have worked together with Kraftwerk (after writing to them in German) for one of the new album's tracks.  That's right – Kraftwerk who are famous for refusing all requests to collaborate with anyone including Michael Jackson.  Should be an interesting listen...not something I usually associate with Coldplay.


Other commercial stories which seemed to good to pass up on: Goldie Lookie Chain designed a limited edition Hi-Tec trainer (run of 100 only) complete with You Knows It written on the side.  One of the briefs for the design: the wearer must look good in a fight.  Not to be out done, Franz Ferdinand are each having a special edition bottle of Irn-Bru made just for them, after the band admitted they all packed bottles of Irn-Bru when travelling abroad.  A memorabilia specialist estimated that each bottle will be worth a whole £100 in the next five years, so at least they have got something to fall back on if this whole music malarkey doesn't work out for them.


Elvis fans were also up in arms at the altar of Mammon – to celebrate what would have been the King's 70th birthday, bakers Kingsmill created a bread shaped so that each slice has a side profile of the singer complete with quiff.  The Daily Mirror ran a list of Elvis songs connected to bread, of which the pick was "In the Ba-ghetto".   The website Elvisly Yours countered with a campaign urging a boycott of Kingsmill bread saying the bakery insulted the memory of Mr Presley and that the initiative was sick.  Apparently the man behind the website met with a representative of Kingsmill's advertising agency and was told "I Don't Care What Elvis Fans Think!"  All seems a bit harsh over a basic grocery staple – whilst I myself never wish to court controversy, I have a loaf of the limited edition bread, which is currently causing a domestic incident but taking up half of the freezer.  Maybe in the next Letter from London, I will devise a way to distribute it slice by slice to anyone who wants one – so long as those Elvisly Yours dudes don't find out where I live.


Other stories to tickle the fancy: Pete Doherty going from "Indie Crackhead" to "Kate's Crackhead" after a brief courtship with Kate Moss, which involved mutual tattoos.  Net result is hardly a day goes by without him being in a daily newspaper – even the Daily Telegraph ran a comment piece about him saying he burns so brightly, he is putting everyone else in the shade.  Factor in his winning back of Kate Moss and losing her again, a custodial sentence and fluffed bail incident, gigs of varying degrees of success and his drug addiction and it seems that Pete is going to remain tabloid fodder for the foreseeable future.  


By contrast, Alex from Franz Ferdinand turned Kate Moss down when she tried to get backstage at a concert at the Astoria last year.  .  Shame really as new female magazine, Scarlet, reckoned that Alex looks like he'd be a dirty f**k and that they would like to talk smut and drink absinthe with him while he reclines naked on a red velvet chaise-longue.  Now that is a mental picture that will never ever leave you alone.


Unlikely tabloid star number 2 is Happy Monday's factotum, Bez, after he won the recent Celebrity Big Brother.  Of course I was rooting for him to win (well, more than that I rang and voted for him) – there were just so many great Bez-related moments.  Bez sitting in a hot-tub with Caprice and Brigitte Nielsen, Bez asking Germaine Greer what she did, Bez explaining to a 60 year old TV racing pundit about the rise of E culture in the late 1980s and reading about Shaun Ryder's admission that they planned to smuggle drugs into the Big Brother House – up Bez's bum.  Not to mention the Sun's kiss and tell story from an ex-lover with the headline "Bez shook my maracas all day and night." Priceless.  Unlike Andrew WK who lost what little modicum of respect I had stored up for him, when he attended a party in Washington to celebrate President Bush's inauguration.


Where has all of the time gone?  Just enough left for a final catch-all sentence in which we breathlessly cover P. Diddy's alleged abuse of penguins in Florida, the amazing British Sea Power gig I saw in a barn (okay it was a room designed to look like a barn) in Tunbridge Wells, mention a heartfelt RIP to Arthur Miller, Hunter S Thompson and Danny Sugerman and of course wish Edwyn Collins a very speedy recovery...