Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lorries and Loungers

Lyric sheet of Helen McCookerybook; photo by Val PhoenixBack from another show, a mixture of giddiness and exhaustion. I did my good deed for the day by pointing an errant Viennese lorry driver in the right direction, lest he send his load of Tische und Stühle crashing into a low-hanging bridge. He was very grateful for my efforts, as he didn't speak English. Finally, finally, the German lessons are paying off...

Last night was quite enjoyable, a worthwhile hike to the wilds of northwest London to see the debut of Club Artyfartle (still not sure about the name), an assemblage of five singer-songwriters showing off their new wares. This took an unusual form of all of them lining up on the stage and playing one song per "set", but with three sets. The mystery performer turned out to be Viv Albertine sporting a bloody finger, courtesy of some dangerous potato peeling.

Viv was the only one to play electric guitar, which is perhaps cheating, but she seemed at home among the acoustic stringed set: Martin Stephenson (very funny banter), Acton Bell (delicate playing), Katy Carr (massive voice, tiny ukulele) and club promoter Helen McCookerybook (good tunes and elaborately written lyrics--see above) all performed new material, with the odd fluffed note to prove it.

Aside from the music, I quite liked the cakes and casual conversation, especially as among the guests was Gina Birch discussing her new-found passion for knitting bags. Things I gleaned: more Raincoats gigs are coming and Gina is now blogging. I also met a cousin of a Mo-Dette, who told some great stories about being on the road with them back in the day.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Showers Likely

Seeking some shelter from another cold, wet day in the Big Smoke and finding myself in the City, I stopped in at my favourite attraction, the Museum of London. Perhaps it is its location, enmeshed in the old London Wall, or the fact it tells the story of the capital and retains an air of sentiment, in my increasingly jaded outlook.

In any case, truthfully, the museum is not looking at its best right now, with new galleries under construction and not due to open until May. As it stands, the history of London stops at 1666, with the Great Fire, the subject of which forms a rather camp 6-minute film that I viewed, along with an elderly couple and a bored family, who left half-way through, before the fire finally stopped and the rebuilding process began. What a nailbiter.

The place was thronged with schoolkids taking a tour of the Roman Gallery and I managed to keep one step ahead of the screaming hordes until they caught up with me just by the Great Fire, thwarting my efforts to try on the fireman's (sic) hat. Pesky kids.

I did, however, spot a rather fetching leather jerkin in the Mediaeval section. To die for, but too small for me. The caption said it was for a young boy. Ah, that would explain the rather limited bosom area. Nice buttons, though.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Girl in a Thunderbolt

Girl in a Thunderbolt at Witches Hat Club, London; photo by Val PhoenixWitches Hat Club
12 February

As a hotbed of creativity and musical inspiration, Norwich has, up until recently, escaped my attention. But, thanks to Grrrl Sounds, I now know how much this humble East Anglia burg has to offer in the way of bands.

One such exemplar is Girl in a Thunderbolt (Maria to her friends), who appeared on a bill of otherwise folky bearded types on Friday night, a bit of an odd pairing, but she is used to it, declaring she has become a singer-songwriter almost by default. A devotee of DIY, old things and blogging, she has been playing in bands since 2005 and has been solo the last couple of years, recording at home and playing gigs around the UK and Europe.

In her short seven-song set one heard a hint of weariness, but her voice grew stronger as she progressed, sampled acoustic guitar and tambourine accompanying her distinctive vocals, the odd break adding piquancy. "Irate", delivered with some slap guitar and heavy breathing, was a highlight. On "Dopamine" she switched to her vintage Omnichord for a cautionary tale of sleeping with friends.

Before the gig, we conversed briefly and she explained in her soft-spoken manner that she has an album recorded in Norway, but isn't sure of its time or manner of release. The four songs on her EP, Songs for Modern Lovers, give a flavour of her vast musical influences and the capabilities of her home studio. I am particularly partial to "Old Bones" and "Volatile". Girl in a Thunderbolt is back in London on 18 February.

Monday, February 08, 2010

How It Is

Just back from a brief trip to the Tate Modern, braving snowstorms and screaming schoolchildren, who seem to be swarming the south bank, lucky them to have so many attractions to visit within a short distance: Shakespeare's Globe, London Eye, Southwark Cathedral, etc. But not, presumably, Vinopolis.

In any case, said bairns were positively gleeful entering How It Is, Miroslaw Balka's installation in the Turbine Hall. From the back it looks like an upturned crate. From the front, more like a cattle car, with a steep ramp leading into the mysterious blackness. The kids screamed their heads off, while my guest and I merely peered inquisitively in, looking for signs of life.

Sniffing the air, I found it rather cool and sweet-smelling. I spotted some light-coloured shapes in the dark, identified them as people and vowed not to step on them. Venturing through the middle, we didn't actually make contact with anything until we bumped into the back wall and understood why the shapes were so low down: they were sitting against said wall.

And from the inside, it was a nice bit of people-watching, as the silhouetted forms rose up from the ramp and joined us. Very Close Encounters. Briefly, we pondered our places in the world and the difficulty of moving forward. My friend went back out and came in, offering: "It doesn't work the second time." So, first impressions are everything.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Winter in Wien

Hot chocolate and Gender Check brochure; photo: Val PhoenixSo, just back from a quick trip to wintry Vienna, just enough time to work in some exhibits, interviews and even a few gigs. Very productive.

First up was Gender Check, the mammoth exhibit of Eastern European depictions of gender, currently at MuMok, but also running in Warsaw in March. As it happened, Cornelia Schleime, one of the exhibiting artists, was in town for a talk, so I stayed to see that, making it a 12-hour shift for me at the museum. Turns out she doesn't consider her work to have any relevance to gender roles, so a bit off-message there, but always entertaining. And I found out: blondes do have more fun.

Scream Club at Brut: photo: Val PhoenixNext up was the launch of the new issue of Fiber, so a chance to meet some of the folk behind this fine publication, as well as hear some readings from some incredibly nervous writers. I can't be smug. I have never read my work aloud. So, well done to them.

Then it was PARTY TIME with Scream Club, in town for the night and in fine form at Brut. Hot, sweaty fun and a new album due in the spring.

Amanda Palmer at Arena: photo: Val PhoenixAfter an absolutely freezing walk through the out-of-season (and amazingly atmospheric) Prater, it was off to see Amanda (Fucking) Palmer put on an astounding show at Arena. Wow. Making her entrance straddling a balcony while performing some piece of Schlager nonsense by 1950s teen idol Heintje earned her massive kudos and it went on from there. The choice of covers was inspired: Michael Jackson, The Sound of Music, Grauzone, Radiohead (off-mic and on ukulele; see below) and, finally, Leonard 'Laughing Boy' Cohen's "Hallelujah", which was rather a downbeat end to an upbeat concert, but the locals say that Vienna is rather a depressive city, so perhaps it all made sense.