Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Story of London

View of River Thames from South Bank; photo by Val PhoenixBoris Johnson, London's mayor (why do I involuntarily shudder when I type these words? It's been over a year!), is something of a gift to comedy writers, a blond-mopped, gaffe-prone Tory with an, uh, colourful personal life.

When he's not almost being run down by an errant lorry while "on a fact-finding mission", Mayor Boris turns his hand to other things, such as improving the cultural lives of all and sundry.

In an effort to persuade Londoners that we live in "the world's most dynamic city", the mayor is laying on The Story of London, a multi-strand jamboree celebrating The Big Smoke, "past, present and future". And there is some good stuff to be found. Not that I ever doubt London has a lot to offer. It's just that civic events tend to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and instead producing a rather tasteless gruel.

Not so The Story of London, which runs for the full 30 days of June. Each weekend has a different theme, the first on 6 and 7 June being Walking Weekend, with a series of walks conducted by Blue Badge Tourist Guides in what is optimistically described as "the June sunshine". We can only hope. I was quite intrigued by "The Corridor of Power" walk, which is only in Polish. Others are in Russian and Japanese.

Most of the walks have fees but a few are free and there are other free events throughout the month, including music, films and exhibits.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ruby Tuesday Rock Camp

Following on from the plethora of Girls Rock Camps in the USA in the last few years is the first German edition, Ruby Tuesday Rock Camp, to be held in Cottbus in eastern Germany in August.

Registration is now open until 30 May for girls aged 12-16 who would like to try out instruments, learn to scream and enjoy the company of other girls from their peer group.

I know when I was that age, I never had a chance to touch an electronic instrument or make noise. As I recall, when I expressed an interest as an 11-year-old in learning trumpet or trombone, I was told by the music teacher that those instruments were "too hard" for girls to learn and I should stick with the more gentle flute and clarinet. I never did pick up a brass instrument and I was 29 before I tried bass or keyboards.

I attended two Ruby Tuesday events when I was in Berlin, including a gig which is featured in this promo film.

Organiser Jule discussed with me the importance of girls getting a chance to play in bands, as the 12 to 16 age group is just the time when self esteem drops, body issues come to the fore and girls' development seems to shrink. She only started playing drums at 28 and doesn't see why girls should wait until that ripe old age (ahem). "I want them to know they are strong and there is a world waiting for them."

Of course, if any bands come from it, that would be great, but the main message is for girls to express themselves in a supportive environment.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

ATP: Young Marble Giants

Young Marble Giants soundcheck at HAU2, Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixNext week Young Marble Giants will take the stage at All Tomorrow's Parties in Minehead. Knowing the Great British Weather, it will probably rain. But, that's OK. YMG are probably more suited to a rainy day than a sun-kissed summer festival.

When I saw the re-formed band earlier this year in Berlin, they received a rapturous reception, running through most of the songs on their 1980 debut, Colossal Youth, and then, for their encores, re-playing the ones they'd messed up earlier. Few bands could get away with that, but they have such laid-back charm and such good will from having been away so long, that it worked. And the encored songs were better the second time around.

These days YMG don't get out much, their appearances limited to the odd invite. For their gig at ATP, they will perform Colossal Youth in its entirety, as part of the fan-curated programme.

ATP will mark the first time the whole record has been played live, as the Berlin set list left off a few songs that guitarist Stuart Moxham still needed to re-learn. The product of youth, insecurity and vivid imagination, the record still astonishes after 29 years, full of open space that allows the songs to breathe. Melancholia ages better than anger, and the record is full of wist and longing.

As a young band, they weren't so keen on performing live, being wracked with insecurity. Bassist Philip Moxham confessed to staring at the wall during gigs, while singer Alison Statton said she lacked confidence in life, let alone music.
Backstage before the Berlin gig, I asked them about their reunion and playing live.

KB: Why are you back?
Stuart Moxham: For the money.
Alison laughs.

So, it's a big post-punk minimalist sell-out?

SM: We originally thought it would be a good idea to try and do another album. We said whatever we do, we won't come back and be an '80s comeback band. But, as it happens, that is what we're doing.

Philip Moxham: It's largely, as well, because of the unprecedented enthusiasm for the record. People who have been listening to it for the last 30 years or so have said they are quite pleased to see us playing. Plus, there are a lot of younger people who are into the band.

Are there particular challenges to playing live?
SM: There are for me, because all the keyboard stuff is kind of difficult to work out. "What is that chord?" And the same with the guitar, because since this group I haven't played electric guitar, really. That's a long time ago.

How do you feel now performing the songs? Does it mean something different?
Alison Statton: It definitely means something different. In one sense it feels as if we never stopped playing and we're just a few months on, but in another way we're much more relaxed about it all. Just appreciating the music for what it is more, because we've had that time and that separation.

Young Marble Giants perform Colossal Youth at All Tomorrow's Parties, Butlin's, Minehead, Somerset, on 9 May.