I’ve invested in a National Art Pass this year (having taken advantage of their offer of 3 months for £10 last summer). I took advantage of it on a recent trip to London, visiting the Andreas Gursky retrospective at the newly re-opened Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.
Gursky’s Mega-photos have been on my radar since I spotted one at Tate Modern and saw this documentary (BBC’s The Art Show, back in 2002).
The German photographer’s work is in hyper-real high-definition, often a lot trickier than it at first appears. The starkness of the images really suited the Brutalist architecture of the Hayward, a gallery that should be cold and car-park like, but somehow manages to be light and spacious and perfect for contemporary art.
I enjoyed the show, but this particular photo, of JMW Turner paintings, made me start looking at how the pictures were hung and who was looking at them…
The Afghan Whigs, Ed Harcourt – Rescue Rooms – Nottingham – 15 August 2017
Billy no mates at the Rescue Rooms. My friends can’t make it and I have two spares, but no one comes to gigs like this on spec anymore.
The Afghan Whigs are a band back from a 16 year hiatus for a second phase, with two great albums in recent years back on top form. I’ve seen them three times before. Once circa 1999, when I’d play their then new album “1965” whenever I got a turn on the decks in the record shop where I then worked.
I saw them again at the Electric Ballroom in 2014, I happened to be passing through London and managed to buy a spare on the door.
This year, in May, I went to Manchester hoping to see them play The Cathedral. In the wake of the Arena bombing the show was moved to the Ritz, becoming all the more powerful for harnessing the defiant mood of the city less than a week after the atrocity.
Their albums “Do To The Beast” and this year’s “In Spades” have taken up residence in my headphones (when other records get dumped from the over-burdened memory.) They’ve become go-to listening for late night journeys. The Whigs world is a dark one, but full of soul.
Outside the venue too early to go in, three blokes loiter by the door, this band’s version of a queue. Hair that might once have been a quiff, band t-shirts carefully chosen. We are the walking wreckage of our former selves. And only when it’s nearly too late do we realise we were actually alright all along.
I chat with a couple who share my table. The geezer talks over his wife to demonstrate his knowledge of obscure tracks (even though, I discover, he’s not actually got around to seeing the band before). I ration my beer, hide in my notebook, I’m early for doors. I’m trying to raise some takers for my spare tickets, but the demographic is such that using social media is a fool’s errand. You don’t see many young people (unless they’ve been dragged along by their parents) at these shows. But we’re all Zineagers.
Say what you like about the over 35s, they’re efficient with their time. I’m either spectacularly early or so late I arrive only just in time for the very first note. Less concerned about cool too, not to say there aren’t a few very cool looking folks here, suited and booted.
These days I’m getting jaded, skint. Picky. I have time to get another beer, deposit the spares on the door with the instructions to give them away to the last to show up (employing what I like to think of as Ticket Karma) and I still walk straight to the barrier!
Ed Harcourt is touring as opener and also playing as an honorary Whig. He constructs a loop and plays “Occupational Hazard” from 2016’s “Furnaces”, he picks out notes on a Beastatone guitar, layered and stark. He’s become a good fit for the headliners, tattoo’d and cowboy booted. Black-clad and ready to explore the dark side. He announces that he turned 40 yesterday and warns that he’s facing “the fear” after 48 hours of drowning it out. But he rises above it, crooning “Until Tomorrow Then” to a “blue birds on my shoulder” glissando finale.
Greg Dulli, Whig in chief, sets the ball rolling. Picking his way onto the crowded stage to replicate “In Spades” opener “Birdland” (complete with audible sniff) before the rest of the band join him for a breathless trilogy – “Arabian Heights”, “Matamoros”, and the ever sexy “Somethin’ Hot” (which for lesser bands would be peaking early). They’re funky in a low down fashion, no nonsense without clichés that aren’t their own, blending the older material with the new like they never went away. They lead a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Harcourt, and play their ominous and faultless cover of Pleasure Club’s “You Want Love”.
“You want to go back?” asks Dulli, “I’m willing to go back half my life for you.” And they play “Honky’s Ladder” from 1996’s “Black Love”.
Dulli stops and summons a couple of women from the crowd to the front. “You and you…” he reaches over and hands them what at first look like dubious packages, but as they pass over my shoulder I realise that they are freshly wrapped earplugs from a stash in his pocket. Volume dealt with they plough on.
Between legs of this tour, long-time guitarist and fellow member of Dulli’s other band The Twilight Singers, Dave Rosser, passed away after suffering from cancer. “Can Rova”, a song about leaving, becomes a tribute. “You don’t see me any more.” Rosser will always be with them (and still gets to take his applause at the end of the show).
Dulli takes to the piano for three more songs, including their take on the Bonnie and Clyde story (somewhere between Serge Gainsbourg and Beyonce & Jay Z’s version) “Going To Town (Slight Return)”. They go way back to their debut LP for “Son Of The South”, sprawling and epic and storm the place with “Into The Floor”.
Telling off someone in the balcony for filming, this is a strictly no flash photography gig, Dulli says, “Pay attention, this might be the last time you ever see us.” I hope not, I hope they’re here to stay.
Use your time wisely, for one day you will be too old for this, but not yet. Not quite yet.
Back for more, making us work for it, the encore treats the loyal with “Summer’s Kiss” and “Faded”. I hope someone used my spares.
The name Jason Evans rang a bell but it was not until I arrived at the opening of this show that I realised from where. Evans is a photographer who works in music and fashion, and years ago I’d met him briefly when I was Japan, he was photographing that band that I like…
At the opening I couldn’t resist introducing myself and this blast from the past rather freaked him out, he remains something of a Radiohead insider. Aside from this weird coincidence, I was drawn to the work in the exhibition, especially the re-contextualized shop signs and the vivid narrow boat-style sign writing taking up a whole wall.
After visiting, I got involved with Meeting to make ends try (Philip Hagreen t-shirt action), as I’ve been working (casually) in the library service and met the criteria of “public facing” worker. Lots of other volunteers around Nottingham have been photographed by Evans and these pictures have been shared on social media with the hashtag #youregonnaneedabiggerboat
The image is one of a series of 16 wood engravings which featured in the exhibition. Philip Hagreen made them in the 1930s-40s for Catholic political magazine The Cross & The Plough and they are now held by the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.
Going back to the Bonington for the closing walk-through with Tom Godfrey and Jason Evans opened up some of the themes of the exhibition, and I’m glad I returned for a closer look.
Jason Evans lives on the Kent coast and his own contributions to the show were very much influenced by flotsam that he finds on the beach. The central piece, Wool and Clay, was made up of his living room rug and eroded bricks. The unrecognisably smooth shapes matched the colours of the carpet. The piece played with ideas of ownership, houses and mortgages. Bricks are made near Pegwell Bay, said Evans, people are moving out to the coast as they can no longer afford to buy houses in London, when it comes down to it, all you’re left with is bricks… “Pegwell Bay is the place where the Romans first landed in Britain, where Christianity first landed in Britain and where the band CAN arrived to support Black Sabbath… it has significance…” A pleasing, to my ears at least, echo of Psychogeographical ideas about place, connections and coincidences .
With no wall text, just a fluorescent hand-out sheet with a short note and the names of the works, interpretation was left to the viewer, Evans wanted the work to be open to the community, not just the usual contemporary art crowd. Styling himself as a photographer and curator rather than “an artist”, Evans fretted that he might be straying into Jeremy Deller territory, but I see nothing wrong with that. So much contemporary, conceptual work feels cut off from a more general experience of the world. This felt like a show that welcomed you in, had moments of familiarity, moments of nostalgia and even of participation – the aforementioned T shirt project and an in-gallery photo opportunity, inviting interaction with a found object, a large length of rope washed up by Hurricane Doris on the Kent coast earlier this year, now sat on the gallery floor bearing the title Metaphor.
The other work collected here all comes, in some way, from the working world. Clark Brothers’ retail signs (“There are no brothers, just one man in his shop in Manchester”, notes Evans, “it just sounds better.”), Sign-writer Dick Hambidge’s albums of photographs of his work photographed in turn by Evans, and Nottingham-based Narrow Boat Painter Robert Naghi’s painting, blazing the title of the exhibition on the wall at exaggerated size. This is creativity used in the service of small-scale commerce from a pre-digital, pre-internet age. On the one hand it makes those of us of a certain vintage yearn for a world now almost completely disappeared from 21st Century Britain, but conversely it also makes appealing visual material to be captured by the Instagram generation. (As you can see from the state of my photos, I belong to the former group.)
Do the “digital natives”, the young art students of NTU, experience the same nostalgic melancholy that these works inspire in people who can remember when hand painted signage was all around us? “Photo albums are always a little bit sad,” says one younger visitor. Another points out that in Latin American countries, where the signs are still hand painted, these crafts are still ongoing.
This show felt like a celebration of these specialised trades as well as an elegy for a time before absolutely everything was in the business of just selling you something. That said, I left with an overwhelming desire to go into Clark Brothers and buy some signs next time I’m in Manchester.
After a pint with their Literature Correspondent, when I was still in somewhat of a state of post-tour euphoria, it was decided to feature my Radiohead blog in Nottingham’s premier cultural free paper, Left Lion.
I’ve been going to see Radiohead live since 1993 and I’ve been writing about them ever since. Prior to the tour dates in May 2016, I’d been compiling my experiences into a blog, from which I will be publishing extracts. First, my report on the three gigs they played at London’s Roundhouse Thursday 26th, Friday 27th & Saturday 28th May 2016.
Radiohead have been opening their recent live sets with an excerpt from an interview with the great Nina Simone.
Interviewer: “What’s ‘free’ to you?”
Nina Simone: “What’s ‘free’ to me? Same thing it is to you, you tell me.”
Interviewer: “No, you tell me!”
Nina Simone: “It’s just a feeling, it’s just a feeling… I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – No fear! I mean really, no fear!
I’d been to see the opening shows of this short Radiohead tour in Amsterdam, then been home for a couple of days.
I find myself calling 999 for a man making a delivery at work, we think he’s having a heart attack. I stay on the phone, relaying instructions, watching colleagues give him CPR. I can’t panic, everything moves too fast and is too important. Ambulances and a helicopter arrive and he is whisked to hospital, it’s quite possible that he just died in front of us, may not come round, even though they have forced him to breath again.
It’s shocking and sobering, too much fucking perspective, but oddly after something so awful gets lifted off you, there is a feeling that anything can happen. That anything is possible and that you should do it now, for you could go at any time.
I head to London and to the Roundhouse for the first of three more shows.
At Chalk Farm (Camden) the queue is still fairly small by 4pm. I see old friends who have been travelling the world for this band, for years, but not as many of the usual crew because the tickets have been so hard to come by. Security are checking ID and wrist-banding people in the queue, ready to enter and have tickets scanned inside.
Through the magic of Radiohead we end up at the front of the crowd. I’m in the middle of the barrier, which no matter how much I try to convince myself is not the be all and end all, is the best thing that could have happened. The Roundhouse is a lot smaller inside than I expected, the stage taking up almost one third of the space. After the ambulance adventure yesterday, I’m almost preternaturally calm, which is a strange feeling. I try to stay loose through Holly Herndon’s set, but being at the front, right in the middle, makes you self conscious.
Radiohead play the first five tracks from A Moon Shaped Pool as they have each night of the tour so far, then Lotus Flower, and Talk Show Host – a much loved, and exceptionally funky B side. They drop My Iron Lung, like they know what I like. Gloaming. Exit Music (not a personal fave but always a bit of a moment in the set, Phil audible on backing vocals). Separator (which for some reason has been really hitting me on this tour) Identikit, The Numbers, a down and dirty Myxomatosis, a minimal Reckoner, ravey Idioteque and a broken up Everything In Its Right Place.
They go off and come back on. “Shall we just stay and play everything? You don’t have anywhere to be right?” This band are more relaxed than I’ve ever seen them. Magpie, 2 +2 = 5, Nude…
A harmonica noise comes from Jonny’s side of the stage and Thom chides him; “What’s up boss?” They start again, not missing a note. Planet Telex pleases this old fan and still sounds great. There There… and there is more.
Back for The Present Tense – “We’re gonna play a new song coz it’s like hitsville” says Thom, then they drag the piano out for You And Whose Army and finally Paranoid Android“before your vegan kebab”.
The crowd is as into this as the band are, making final bows to us in the centre, Thom mimes going to sleep. Like a douche I’m trying to wink and shut my eyes. I’ve missed something. The Italian girls next to me squeal and my friend, Keiko, nudges me, Thom just pointed at me. Yeah well, I have been here a few times before!
I can’t explain how this feels and heaven knows I have tried. It’s the same feeling back again, THIS, the most important thing. And they know.
Late afternoon I head back to Camden. My ticket for tonight has been bought by another old friend who won’t arrive until 5pm. I decompress in a pub near Camden Lock and “The Wibble Factor” kicks in; I talk fast, my hands shake, my eyes are wide. Things are out of my hands tonight and I’m nervous in a weird charged way that only happens at Radiohead gigs.
We hole up in the Roundhouse bar, check which entrance we have to use, and order more beer. I try to relax a little and talk to some long time fans. It’s easy to start trading stories once you discover what this band means to people.
We arrive in the auditorium half way through the support set, but saunter over to the far end of the stage, Jonny-side. The view is not as good as last night, but we’re still enough in the thick of it to see and to feel part of the show. It hurts less, not having to stand completely still, being able to get in and out and to move.
The new songs are getting into my system. Then they blow it up with Airbag and Kid A. Separator doesn’t kill me this time, but No Surprises tries.
Then Glass Eyes, just Thom on electric piano. Pyramid Song (one of my favourites) with Jonny bowing his guitar. National Anthem, The Numbers, Identikit, Myxomatosis again, Thom enjoying the rant of it, smiling like I’ve never quite seen before, he’s free up there. Bloom, Present Tense, Everything, Tinker Tailor, Arpeggi… they go off and back on for Bodysnatchers, Jonny punishing his guitar, trying to beat the ghosts out of it.
They end on Karma Police, the others leave the stage but Thom stands on the lip, still clutching his acoustic, willing the audience to keep singing (has he ever done it quite like that before?). He wants us to keep going. For a minute there I lost myself.
We tumble to the foyer, oh look up there is Nick Cave looking for a place to smoke his fag. I run into Jonny who says I looked like I fainted last night. I refute the accusation – I was just bending my knees. “You look like you’re enjoying yourselves up there”.
“Yeah,” he says, “We realised it’s fun at last.” We spot the actor Toby Jones, in a pork pie hat (apparently there were more famous folk somewhere else – reports of Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Benedict Cumberbatch do the rounds later).
Stumbling out into the night, rather soaked in gin, I pass a man in biking gear talking on his phone. Double take and realise it’s Chris Morris, and he’s just exited the back of the Roundhouse. Wonder if he’s been in the back talking Blue Jam with Thom?
I don’t have a ticket for tonight, but I call in a favour and show up in time for doors opening to wait and see if one can be made to appear. We feel it will happen. The same girl from security is on the gate, she is used to me by now. I hang around, standing back to let the increasingly star studded guest list inside. Samantha Morton, Polly Harvey again, at least two Peaky Blinders and a ridiculously cool looking fella, who on second glance is Mad Men’s John Hamm (in mirrored shades, jeans on just right, he couldn’t look more like a movie star if he tried).
They’re closing the gates and I’m starting to lose hope, when my contact comes to ask if I have cash on me. I’m whisked to the box office and sold one of the very last tickets in the place. The door staff are starting their final countdown to stage time and I just have time to rush to the toilet (my need to pee was becoming stronger than my need to see the band at this point) and they spark up Burn The Witch just as I make it inside.
A Saturday night crowd in full effect: I’m stuck at the periphery of the space where people are drinking and talking, not necessarily as enraptured as those nearest the stage. It’s frustrating but at least I’m in. I try to see, I try to hear, I try to get out of the way of the bloody pillars that hold the roof up. I get beer and dodge other people, trying to have MY gig, but surrendering to it being THEIR gig. I nearly have a stand up row with two blokes in front, who are incessantly talking. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they were saying something meaningful but it’s a pub chat, a slight disenchantment with the new songs. I pull faces until one of them turns on me.
“I just want to know why you would pay £65 to talk to your mate?” I ask. He does that thing which middle aged blokes do, and tries to sound like he knows better than little old me. They saw Richard Ashcroft here last week from the front row, and this is crap compared to that. I want to ask him why the hell he’s bothered coming. Getting tickets for this show was an effort for everyone. But I hold myself back. I could tell him how many times I’ve seen this band, but I don’t want a conversation, I want some fucking respect.
I move to the bar and find myself among more cheerful types, who hug me when they find out I’ve been at all three shows. They sing along, are happy to hear the old ones, I let it wash over me, I dance, I stop straining to see. They can’t top last night and I don’t want them to. But there’s Like Spinning Plates and there’s my boys again.
I meet some more of the old crew, their kids now grown up and at the gigs with them. More drinks and I get a bit emotional, it always hits me at the end. I should keep my eyes open. It’s just a feeling, it’s just a feeling. Radiohead gigs are where I am most alive and where I am completely free – so don’t tell me where to stand, don’t drown out the best voice of his generation, don’t push me around, because you can’t hurt me, you can’t spoil it.
“Half my life, no fear,” says Nina in the interview.
“Half my life,” says Thom, backwards at the end of Daydreaming.
Half my life (well a bit more) I’ve been coming out for this band, and they still hit me harder than anything else.
What is free to me? THIS THIS THIS.
This blog was originally published by The Zine, creators united by passion!
Afterword: The casualty mentioned in this blog is now thankfully recovering.