Queens Park Music Club Vol. 1

Queens Park Music Club

Glasgow International (GI) is in full swing and the project I worked on with Queens Park Railway Club has been launched.

Queens Park Music Club Volume 1 – a digital publication comprising artists’ responses to questions about the role of music in their practice – featuring playlists, essays, illustrations and meditations on the theme – is now available to download.

Queens Park Music Club

There was a lot of discussion about what form this collection of work should take – should we embed playlists? If so what form would they take? In the end it was settled that links to the music would be placed within the text – leaving it to the internet to provide the music – rather than curating a podcast or compiling a mix. With so many issues around copyright, ownership and piracy tied up with listening to music online it was detracting from the focus of the project. I feel it demonstrates the effect that the internet has had on the breadth of people’s musical taste – almost everything is available if you can find it, indeed we found that to be the case, with the exception of only a couple of the pieces cited in the publication.

In the end, I didn’t write for the project myself but, in researching the form it would take, I did compile a piece of my own which I present below with a Mixcloud featuring the tracks under discussion.

QPRC Playlist 1: Live Tracks by Queensparkrailwayclub on Mixcloud

Live In Concert.
 

 

*track 1* Joe Cocker  – Delta Lady (Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Live Album 1970)

“Delta Lady it is my love,” With his Sheffield showing, Joe Cocker launches the closing track his 1970 live album. I have a clear memory of the gatefold sleeve, full of circus imagery and Cocker’s sweaty, crazed, stoned, gurning face in my parent’s meagre vinyl collection when I was a kid. The sound of all the drugs the band took, all the life they were living is captured on this record.

“Rock ‘n’ roll!” Cocker chuckles, like he’s almost surprised. I remember not being allowed to play with my parents records – I must have looked at the sleeve while my dad played it on the big wooden box of a hifi. My parents had some history with Cocker, attending his early pre-fame, pre-America gigs. They tell a possibly apocryphal story about him singing while standing on a table in a working men’s club. There’s another tale that they never finish involving Cocker disappearing to the toilet mid-set, presumably partaking in some recreational pursuit that parents don’t want their children to know about.

Is this where I get my need to follow bands from?

In my head I’m at some dream-version of the gig, it doesn’t match the tour film with Cocker’s crazed battery bunny drumming dance. Worn out, one more time, feeling it. The big finish. The reprise, pushing it just that bit further. They don’t want it to end.

They’re playing so hard there’s not much left of the song – that shriek, that voice almost falling apart. No meaning left but the moment. Good live albums which capture the essential transience of live performance are rare. Live albums that make you feel like you’re at a gig are rarer still. It’s impossible to talk of ‘authenticity’ after all this is a Yorkshireman singing the blues.

*track 2* Radiohead – The National Anthem (I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, 2001)

When I hear this, I am sent back to the Buddokan toilets. When Radiohead played in Tokyo in 2001, I was there. The gig that night started early and like the other shows on that tour they opened it with The National Anthem and it felt like a threat. That bass, that noise, the whole round place shook with the shiver and the panic of it. And we weren’t even in the auditorium yet. It was the manifestation of my touring anxiety dream (I get lost, I can hear the band but I can’t see them).

The way they were playing that song at that time went beyond the dark album version, it becomes something purely physical.

My muscle memory makes me twitch, I don’t hear this one I feel it. Aggression and fear and anger and all the things I take from those gigs. It’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach.

 *track 3* The Jesus & Mary Chain – Reverence (Live in Bristol, 1992 from BBC Radio Live in Concert album, 2003)

Lying in bed with headphones on in the dark. The year my taste was formed. The Mary Chain are something forbidden, their name (to a Catholic school girl, afraid of everything) the dirtiness of their noise, the sexy confidence of it. If this was a gig, then I had to go to one.

I know now that the Mary Chain wear their influences on their sleeve, but then it was my gateway to The Stooges, to Jonathan Richman, to the Phil Spector Wall of Sound. JAMC got to me first.

I was too young to go their gigs that year, and I never got the chance to see them before they split. They’ve played a few gigs in the last few years but I they’re the last band I’m yet to see. I joke that I’ll book them myself if that’s what it would take for me to be able to see them play The Barrowland.

*tracks 4 & 5* Patti Smith – Babelogue/ Rock n Roll Nigger (Easter, 1978)

Though these are from a studio album, they sound live. When I saw her play in Amsterdam, in a moment of serendipity, she adjusted the lyrics of the spoken word Babelogue to become germane to the evening. Never having seen her before, I was astonished by her energy. I thought I got it. I didn’t really get it until that moment.

It’s a call, a summons. There was unity in the room, beyond that of a mere live music show. I am a little afraid of Patti Smith, her life force amid all her tales of dead friends is an astonishing creative power.

*track 6* The Clash – The Magnificent Seven (live in Boston 1982, from From Here To Eternity: Live, 1999)

This live album was released around the same time as Joe Strummer’s first Mescaleros album. I saw that band live, but I’m too young to have seen The Clash, they’re still a massive band in my life. This album always comes out in times of crisis. It’s a fantasy gig from several recordings making up a survey of the band’s career in a way that none of their actual real gigs would have been. Its a protective cloak, an invincible strength.

*track 7* Nina Simone – Sinnerman

Just one of many tracks I could have put in by Nina Simone, another act I will never get to see play live whose work I treasure. At this fantasy concert I am in the audience and it doesn’t matter if this was recorded in a studio or at a concert because it sounds like it’s happening in front of you. “Power.”

*track 8* Jeff Buckley – Je n’en connais pas la fin (Live at Sin-e EP, 1993)

I saw Buckley play live a couple of times, when he was being lauded for his first records. Even if he’d lived, the gigs would have been special. He was ridiculously handsome, funny, with a vocal range that none of the other indie acts of the time came close to. His studio albums have that edge of over production and “classic rock” which was against my religion, but this acoustic EP was a thing of rare beauty. Every note Buckley committed to tape seems to have been released as a “special edition” it’s a cliché, but the music is immortal.

*track 9* Talking Heads – Life During Wartime (Stop Making Sense, 1984)

This is from the album of the concert film. Not really a filmed concert, more a concert as a film. There is another Talking Heads live album (The Name of This Band Is) but Stop Making Sense is the perfection of the form.

 

BBC 6Music Steve Lamacq Britpop Timeline: Radiohead & Blur in 1993

A while a go I wrote about the first gig I attended at the Barrowlands for Walking Heads, after taking their audio walking tour of Glasgow’s music venues.

A producer from Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6Music show emailed me having found the blog, and asked me to take part in their on-going feature marking 20 years (20 years!) since the wave of UK music that came to be known as Britpop came to prominence. Lamacq’s Radio 1 Evening Session show was seminal in forming my music taste back then and his 6Music show continues to play both new music and the artists that he’s always supported. I’d been in touch with the show a few years ago, having taken part in their ‘Good Day, Bad Day’ feature, and offered to report on some Radiohead gigs I was attending. In the end that came to nothing – but I did meet Steve at one of the gigs – however  his producer remembered me and thought I’d be ideal to record an eye-witness report of the 1993 gig (I remember that the Evening Session actually recorded it for broadcast at the time).

I spoke to Phil, the producer, on the phone a few weeks ago and the results were on the radio yesterday. The idea of the Britpop Timeline is to build an online archive of reminiscences from bands and fans, so I was happy to add my own part of the story to it.

Click the image below to go to the 6Music page and listen to my contribution.

Britpop Timeline Radiohead & Blur 1993
Click to go to the clip of me talking on the Steve Lamacq show

Steve introduced me as “blogger and DJ” which will hopefully spur me on to carry on writing up my Radiohead adventures and maybe do some more radio myself…

 

20 Facts About The Barrowland Ballroom

This weekend was Doors Open Day in Glasgow and I volunteered to be a tour guide around one of my favourite Glasgow places – The Barrowland Ballroom. It’s 20 years since I first went to a gig there, and about 20 years since I first moved to Glasgow, so this felt like a good way to mark the occasion. It’s a unique place – still owned by the family who established it and the market it covers over – it has a very Glaswegian personality all its own. Here some Barrowland facts I put together for my tour:

Mrs Margaret McIver, 1955
Mrs Margaret McIver, 1955

1. The Barrowland was built in 1934 by Margaret McIver – the matriarch of a family of nine children, who originally bought the land and established the market for traders and their “Barras”. The market was covered in 1926 and completely enclosed by 1931. She instructed her builders Hunter and Clark that the ballroom “should not encumber the ground,” and it was built on stilts above the market. It was a ‘Palais de Danse’ with a big band and became the venue for the traders’ annual Christmas party.

2. Due to enormous popularity the ballroom was extended in 1938. The original sign on the roof was a man pushing a barrow, imported from the USA, it was believed to be the first animated neon sign in the UK. A flash mechanism gave the impression of spinning wheels.

002 Original Exterior 1935 City Archives
Exterior 1935, showing original neon “barrow boy” sign

3. The original building was destroyed by fire on 19th August 1958 (just a couple of months after Maggie McIver died). The McIver family rebuilt it and dedicated it to her memory. It was reopened on Christmas Eve 1960.

4. Over the stairs as you enter the present building, there is a cartwheel – from the original neon sign – is the only remaining fixture rescued from the fire.

5. The present neon sign was completed in 1985, it is possibly the largest of its kind in the UK (but no one kept the paperwork) and apparently it costs £1.10 per hour plus VAT in electricity to run!

6. An extra floor was added to the 1960 building. There are 18 vertical columns and cross beams which were added in the late 1980s to reinforce the fabric of the building and accommodate the change of use to a rock venue – 1900 people jumping in unison on the floor above.

7. On the floor of the “crush room” (the additional middle floor which houses the cloakroom, merchandise stand, toilets, support dressing room, production offices and Barrowland 2 bar) is the musical score of the opening line of ‘I Belong To Glasgow’ (written by Dundonian music hall star Will Fyffe in 1920).

The "Crush Room" with musical score on the floor.
The “Crush Room” with musical score on the floor.

8. The area by the ladies which is now closed off used to be the powder room – with alcoves and lots of mirrors for ladies to fix their hair before going upstairs to dance – some used to arrive in their rollers and put the finishing touches to their hairdos before doing upstairs to dance.

The rescued barrow wheel, from commemorative programme 1960
The rescued barrow wheel, from commemorative programme 1960

9.The production rooms and support dressing room. Donald MacLeod of Glasgow promoter CPL says “You canna trash a Barras dressing room because there’s f-all in it!”

10. When The Saw Doctors supported the Waterboys over two nights in 1989, they slept in the support band dressing room on the floor. When they later returned as headliners they requested the support room for old times sake. They’ve since headlined here 36 times – more than any other band.

11.  When Barrowland 2 was Geordie’s Byre in the 1960s, it was home to Glasgow’s first disco – with a DJ. It has been redecorated several times since and now plays host to unsigned bands.

 

12. A team of paranormal investigators spent the night in the venue and claimed that “a man called James with a scar on his face and not much of a home life” was present… according to the staff, there used to be doorman answering that description…

Newspaper advert for the Barrowland, 1944
Newspaper advert for the Barrowland, 1944

13. Upstairs in the main hall, the dance floor is made of specially imported Canadian Maple – underneath is criss-crossed batons to give the floor its springy quality. In its heyday it was considered the best dancefloor in Glasgow. The octagonal lay out is for sequence dancing so dancers can see their place on the floor. Choreographer Michael Clark was intrigued by the floor’s geometry and incorporated it into his Barrowlands Project which took place here in 2012.

14. The stage used to be on the opposite side of the hall but was rebuilt in its present position in the early 1980s. The pillars, made of Australian Walnut go round the back of the present stage.

Interior 1960, from the commemorative programme.
Interior 1960, from the commemorative programme.

15. The oak prize boxes that used to flank the stage – for all manner of games and fun that the band leaders used to involve the audience in – are now in the People’s Palace.

16. In the 1930s, throughout the year the ballroom was rented to bandleader Billy (Bobby?) Blue and the Bluebirds who held regular dances, but canny Maggie McIver saw the queues for the dance nights and could see there was money to be made. She approached the drummer Billy McGregor to form a big band of his own and work for her. And so Billy McGregor and The Gay Birds become the house band. They continued to be the house band well into the 1960s.

17. The Ballroom was rediscovered as a rock venue in the early 1980s, after a stint as a roller disco – when Simple Minds choose it as the location for the video for their song ‘Waterfront‘, filmed there in 1983.

18. The stars on the walls of the main dressing room are often taken as souvenirs by bands – so often that the staff now make their own to replace them. David Bowie is alleged to have one in the bathroom of his Paris home.

19. The crew, many of whom came over from The Apollo when it closed in 1985, include Bill Gunn aged 66 – they’re famed for being able to get even the heaviest of gear up all the stairs without a lift.

Ticket for Simple Minds, 1983
Ticket for Simple Minds, 1983

20. The Barrowland’s first wedding took place on Saturday September 21 2013 (in the middle of the Doors Open Day weekend) when author Nuala Naughton married Dave.  The ceremony took place in the dressing room and the reception was held in Barrowland 2. Nuala’s book, Barrowland: A Glasgow Experience, was launched over the weekend and is the source of a few of these stories, it also contains a list of all the acts to have played at the venue since the relaunch in the 1980s.

 

Thanks to all at the Barrowland, especially General Manager Tom Joyes, the hardest working man in Glasgow!

 

Steve Reich Radio Rewrite: Part Two: Steve Reich In The Afternoon

The second part of my Steve Reich odyssey takes place five days later in Glasgow. He is here for one of the Royal Concert Hall’s UNESCO Inspiring Encounters, but first there is time for a late addition to the programme. My Name Is… (1967) several members of the audience say “My name is” and their first name into a microphone.

Steve Reich at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Ensemble member Joby Burgess demonstrates how far technology has come since the work was conceived by immediately converting the sampled speech into a version of a piece that used to have to be meticulously pieced together from spliced tape. The names dissolve into a wormhole of repetition, words become noises, losing then regaining their sense.

Steve Reich warms to this theme and talks about how technology has caught up with his ideas. Dead pan, he talks confidently and assuredly about his own process. Clearly from a “classical” background, it’s interesting to hear a contemporary take on the art of composing from someone so clearly aware of his place in the musical lineage. Reich is a good talker, a harsh self-critic and disarmingly human for someone who takes their work so seriously.

He offers the invitation to the listener to get lost in the web of counterpoint. His phased work is all about patterns of rhythm, small variations make the sound ambiguous and the ear reassembles the patterns in different ways. There is some relationship to meditation, but he refuses to simplify his ideas to suit preconceived notions.

To a rock listener’s ear, it is a leap to contextualise this music without it being the soundtrack to a film. The grammar of performance is so different. Drumming, an epic piece involving tuned bongos, marimbas, glockenspiels, a piccolo and two female voices, is performed by The Colin Currie Group.

The resonance of the rhythms is such that I find my ringing ears have started to fill in the sound of instruments that aren’t actually being played. I swear I can hear horns. The intensity of the piece is a truly transformative experience in a way that rock performances have the potential to be, but so rarely are.

World famous composer, Steve Reich
Steve Reich in Glasgow. Image: Angela Catlin, thanks to Glasgow Life.

If you get the chance to see it, the BBC series The Sound And The Fury is a great introduction to 20th Century composers. I’m currently working my way (slowly) through Alex Ross’s epic history of 20th Century music, The Rest Is Noise, which I’d also heartily recommend.

Steve Reich Radio Rewrite: Part One: Everything In Its Reich Place

Last month I went down to London to hear the premiere of Steve Reich‘s Radiohead-inspired piece Radio Rewrite at The Royal Festival Hall.

Image: Angela Catlin
Steve Reich. Image: Angela Catlin

My crash course in the music of Steve Reich begins in London. My visit is to attend the premier of his new piece inspired by the music of Radiohead, performed by musicians of the London Sinfonietta.

We live in an age of musical convergence, and it seems only fitting that the man described as “the single most influential composer of the late 20th century” should bridge the gap between contemporary and popular music in such a way.
This is not the London Sinfonietta’s first association with Radiohead. They collaborated with Jonny Greenwood (along with Thom Yorke and the Nazareth Orchestra) for 2005’s Ether Festival and have often performed Greenwood’s pieces for orchestra, Popcorn Superhet Receiver and Smear.

It was a meeting with Greenwood that sparked Reich’s interested in Radiohead’s music. The guitarist performed the composer’s Electric Counterpoint at a festival in Poland. Impressed by Greenwood’s interpretation of his work, Reich found time to listen to Radiohead and was drawn to two songs in particular: Everything In Its Right Place and Jigsaw Falling Into Place.
It is fitting for me to be back at the Royal Festival Hall for this performance. This is the same stage on which I saw Radiohead perform material from Kid A at 2000’s Meltdown Festival, the first UK performance of those songs.

Kid A draws on electronic and minimalist musical influences and is regarded as a breakthrough for a band who transcend simple description as a “rock” act. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, after all this is the band that used Olivier Messiaen’s stark Quartet for the End of Time – written when the composer was held in a World War Two concentration camp – as intro music for their shows way back in 1995.

To my rock-trained ears Steve Reich’s precise, tightly notated works, performed in the rarefied atmosphere of the symphony hall, seem a little clinical. Clapping Music, using the technique of subtly shifting the phase of rhythm, is deceptively simple; Electric Counterpoint, here performed by Mats Bergstrom, is made up of shimmering guitar chords over a prepared backing; 2×5 plays with a rock band format while fitting into the Reich’s classical music lineage.

There are sounds that remind me of Tortoise and other “math rock” bands in 2×5 yet it is “chamber music for rock instruments” driven by bass and piano rather than drums. For Double Sextet, Reich mans the mixing desk in his distinctive baseball cap.

Radio Rewrite comes in the second half. I can catch the melodies more easily than the harmonic progressions, there are shadows of the Radiohead songs as it moves from slow to fast, from Everything In Its Right Place to Jigsaw and back. Threads of the songs remain but they’re hard to spot. These are not two songs I would have linked together, but certain chords ring out as similar to Reich’s other works, there are moments where you can identify Radiohead but as channelled through Steve Reich’s ears.

My experience of Everything In Its Right Place is as a visceral live concert closer. I’ve stood in a huge crowd numerous times and clapped the off-beats to Phil Selway’s drums and it’s astonishing how the same piece of music can inspire such utterly different reactions and interpretations.

Steve Reich talks briefly about the work at the end of the show, the structure of the song, the way it is dissonant while still having a tonic… I don’t have enough theoretical language to explain it but I understand what he means. It is EVERYTHING.