Thursday 27 April 2017

Portugal: Lisbon's graffiti and street art guide

The Portuguese capital has long held a reputation for eye-catching street art. The city is awash with tags and paste ups thanks to its endless winding alleyways which offer plenty of wall space. This isn't an exhaustive guide, just a few eye-catching spots.

If you are hunting street art royalty, start at Avenida Fontes Peirera de Melo (round the corner from Parque metro station, by the huge gardens where I left my wife and son enjoying the spectacular views). Here you'll find this huge scene by Os Gemeos, the Brazilian twins who've become global graffiti superstars. 

Their work is adjacent with that of Italian artist Blu, whose Big Oil character is sucking the world's resources through a straw. 
I love how the distinctive yellow figure has the slingshotted man clasped. 
The whole block is stunning.

Elsewhere, a trip to the trendy LX Factory provides good finds. Go on Sunday to enjoy the market, it's a short walk from Alcantara-Mar station, which has an impressively decorated subway itself. 

And some more from around the city:

And if you daytrip to Sintra the short, 40 minute, journey from Rossio station provides plenty of more interesting tags. And when you get there, it's an adult's Disneyland:

Sunday 17 January 2016

Desert Isolation Discs: Ninja Tune champion James Heather

Another great guest on my podcast Desert Isolation Discs this month in James Heather. 

Whether it's tinkling the ivories or tapping the keyboard, James Heather is a master in his endeavours. By day, he promotes some of Britain's most innovative artists as head of communications at record label Ninja Tune. By night he works on his own fantastic compositions. 

It's a pleasure to turn the spotlight around on the man who has spent the last 14 years bigging up the likes of Bonobo, Cinematic Orchestra, Kate Tempest, Wiley and Young Fathers to talk about his own life. We discuss the secret to promotion, the joys of touring, his football fever, being posted on lookout for the threat of Somali pirates and overcoming a life threatening accident. 

We also pontificate over his own music - originally inspired by listening to Beethoven under the bed covers. It can be found on Soundcloud or Bandcamp

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Desert Isolation Discs: Radio queen Ruth Barnes

I've been busy over on my other blog, Desert Isolation Discs, in which I quiz my guests on their favourite tunes.

My latest interviewee is broadcaster Ruth Barnes. After a career spent largely in music radio – she knows how to pick a tracklist. With an all-female playlist on her Amazing Radio show The Other Woman and through work with everyone from BBC 6Music to Resonance FM, Ruth has adeptly curated choice cuts for years.

She’s achieved an absolute shedload – working as a continuity announcer for BBC One and Two, voicing long reads for the Guardian and Economist and creating documentaries for Radio 4. She’s also worked hard to further the cause of women in the male-dominated radio industry. The Independent described her as a "pop pioneer who knows what women want".

Over a pint of Guinness, she talks women in radio, her most interesting interviewees and what she wants to do next. And all with a special guest – her daughter Roisin! Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Acast or stream it on Mixcloud.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Photos: The street art of Valencia

On a sojourn to Valencia this week I was struck by how prolific and inventive the southeastern Spanish city's street art scene is. An already beautiful place with an historic old town with clusters of impressive buildings (a nip up the Torres de Serranos and a  swing by the ceramics museum are musts), the graffiti lifts the experience still further. 

Its university's central location - including a design school which has a shop well stocked with spray cans - doubtless plays a big part. Almost every available spot in the hipster hotspots of the centre's northwest side and its successor Rassafa are taken up with incredible throw-ups, recurring yet interesting tags/stencils and paste-ups. 

Like Madrid, the most startling images are found in both Valencia's tourist-filled heart and tired backstreets. There are loads of recurring themes ("Are you dead yet?" is repeatedly stencilled up) and artists whose work is familiar, probably from the pages of VNA, but I'll let the pictures do the talking. I took loads more, so give me a shout if you'd like to see them.





Monday 25 May 2015

Snapshot: New York's Adult Mom

As Adult Mom prepare for their debut album to begin telling tales of lipstick marks and Meg Ryan to the world, we take a look and listen. 

Who are they?
Steph Knipe leads New York's Adult Mom - a band name that would be a Googlewhack if dodgy sounding porn flicks weren't included in searches. The State University of New York student, with the help of bandmates Bruce Hamilton, Jen Sinski and KT McManus, has been gigging hard. I Make Boys Cry, Knipe says on one of their many catchy tunes - I believe her. Knipe used her music to come out and talks a lot about the confusion of a “queer” identity and her relationship with her parents as a result.   

What do Adult Mom sound like? 
Knipe's strong American twang and stripped back sensibilities give the band's songs a country-feel but Knipe's spiky lyrics make them a far more edgy prospect (*I got time to lie  and for sex that's trite/I'll take back what is fucking mine and you won't get a single dime*, she sings on One Night Stands). Her chirpy, child-like voice takes in everything from Diane Cluck's sharp edges to Cat Power's silky tones. She also talks of playings Rilo Kiley covers and definitely explores some similar themes on relationships as Jenny Lewis' lot. 

What have they done? 
Last year's debut EP on Miscreant Records followed a string of Bandcamp releases and a maiden record, out on Tiny Engines, called Momentary Lapse of Happily is out on July 28. Their touring has largely been restricted to the US but her twee sensibilities mean us Brits will doubtless be clamouring for Knipe's appearance soon enough. Survival, the catchy lead single from the new album, is a particular highpoint - get it. 

What are people saying?
“[The band's] confidence comes through on the lush and cushiony Momentary Lapse Of Happily, whose clean-cut sound recalls Jenny Lewis, or contemporaries like Frankie Cosmos and Waxahatchee. The instrumentation usually bounces around in a way that the lyrics decidedly don’t, bolstering anxious feelings with an infectious, disarming energy.” - James Rettig, Stereogum 

What does Steph look like creeping through the woods?

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Serial podcast: Which cases should Sarah Koenig investigate next?

Serial is back. Well, almost. 
Love this artwork from Serial's creators

A very welcome email drops into the ShadowPlay inbox declaring that, having sifted through 1,500 submissions for cases worthy of her attention, Sarah Koenig and her podcasting team have chosen a case for series two of the hit podcast. 

The phenomenal success of the first series (nearly 80 million downloads) sent earthquakes through the podcasting world. New companies are being set up to house the scores of new podcasts - with money and support flowing into what looked a niche and fading industry. The world was hooked on the case of Adnan Syed - no, really - only Eritrea and North Korea failed to register a listener. And even if its outcome was somewhat ambiguous (another podcast, The Undisclosed, has just launched attempting to solve the same case), the anticipation for a follow up is rife. 

The nature of the subject for the second series - which as yet has no air date - have been debated long and hard in the pub. Well, the kind of pubs I go to. Opinions are divided as to whether Koenig and producer Dana Chivvis should gun for an unsolved case, an attempt to overturn a guilty conviction or a completely different crime. Here's a few options:

The Babes in the Wood 

Perhaps Koenig and the team could cross the pond to attempt to solve arguably Britain's most famous unsolved case. The murder of young girls Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway after being snatched, sexually assaulted and strangled in Brighton sent the nation into shock in 1986. Chief suspect Russell Bishop was acquitted but is serving a life sentence for another, similar attempted murder. 
Could Serial prove his guilt or innocence?* 

The case of the disembodied feet 
This Canadian case has puzzled Canadian police since feet began washing up in Vancouver in August 2007. Four left feet and one right, still wearing trainers, have appeared. Everything from a 2005 plane crash off nearby Quadra Island to victims of torture have been suggested as the cause. With the case closely watched, many would welcome a podcasted resolution. 

The Somerton Man
Australia's conspiracy theorists have enjoyed more than half a century puzzling over the 1948 find of the body of a man known only as 'T.Keane'. Many believe the man, who washed up on Somerton beach in South Australia, was a Cold War spy or a poisoned murder victim. A suitcase was found at Adelaide railway station containing clothes that matched his alongside Persian poetry that said 'it is ended'. The book from which it was ripped was found in a doctor's care along with letters written in some kind of code. The various leads, including a mysterious nurse, in this case would doubtless tempt Koenig. 

The case of Edgar Coker
Edgar Coker pleaded guilty to a charge of rape in 2007 to avoid going to adult prison. The teenager suffered a 15-month sentence and being listed as a sex offender for six years after an accusation by a then 14-year-old. Coker and his accuser both have IQs in the lowest 5-10% of the US population. This case has actually been solved - by the University of Virginia Law School Innocence Project, which has helped out Serial - and Coker has been removed from the register after his accuser revealed she lied. However, the Koenig touch to another case involving young people - given the listeners won't know the story - may appeal.

The Loch Ness monster
Well, if someone's gonna get to the bottom of it (the Loch and the mystery), it's this lot. Don't take podcasting equipment into the water though Dana… 

Jack the Ripper
At least some crusty historians and east end accents could make amusing appearances. And I'm sure there's a Cockney MailChimp ad in the making. 

*A macabre footnote in the tale is that Katrina Taylor, who played Fellows in a Crimewatch TV re-enactment of the murders, was found stabbed to death in a graveyard in 1996 in another unsolved murder.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Desert Isolation Discs: Music critic and musician Everett True

Jerry Thackray, or rather his pen name Everett True, is a name synonymous with quality music journalism and rock'n'roll spirit. The Chelmsford-born music journalist's life is a stream of guitar music's biggest names from performing the first single released by Alan McGee's Creation to pushing Kurt Cobain - whom he is rumoured to have introduced to Courtney Love - on stage in a wheelchair before Nirvana's seminal 1992 Reading Festival performance. 

His ability to put himself at the centre of his interviews or reviews - from writings in his fanzine and the NME to Melody Maker and The Guardian - have given his work a unique and ever-engaging style. He's written books on numerous bands including Nirvana, The White Stripes and the Ramones. With Careless Talk Costs Lives and later Plan B magazines he gave over meaty space to cult bands and emerging heroes. He now lives in Australia with his wife and three children, teaches and writes for his excellent website

Here, he picks the eight tunes he couldn't live without when thrust into the lonesome desert and talks me through his early years, the changing face of music journalism, why he was sacked from NME, his relationship with Nirvana and which bands he has started fights over. Stream the show below or download is as a podcast here and subscribe to the podcast by typing 'shadowplayboys' into iTunes or equivalent.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Serial: Could the crime podcast solve the case for radio's future?

Serial host Sarah Koenig
Ambridge’s cockerels could soon be shrieking their final crow, with former Home Secretary David Blunkett, saying he “was losing the will to live” over BBC Radio 4’s The Archers' plot lines this week. But the phenomenal worldwide success of new podcast Serial
may signal a changing of the guard in audio entertainment as millions of listeners wait on tenterhooks for today’s edition.

Serial, a spin-off from US radio show This American Life, is hosted by former Baltimore Sun journalist Sarah Koenig who sets out the case for and against Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, aged just 17. Koenig turns the case like a Rubik’s cube in attempting to discern the student's killer, guiding listeners through holes in the conviction and Syed’s story.

Listeners have taken to Reddit to attempt to solve the case and are hosting listening parties for each episode.

Serial producer Dana Chivvis tells me the conclusion is not set in stone: “We have a vague idea, but we also know we could uncover some key piece of information tomorrow, and the whole thing could take a sharp turn. Or not.”

With many in the UK coming to Serial late, this thriller has triggered a spate of binge listening amongst commuters and those attacking the household chores. Marathon DVD boxset and streaming sessions are now a firm part of our televisual culture, but could this be the tipping point for radio and podcasting?

“This is the first break-out podcast,” argues Matt Deegan, creative director at radio consultancy Folder Media. “Serial could be to podcasting what House of Cards was to Netflix.”

Chivvis adds: “People want to binge listen because they want to be able to immediately scratch that itch of ‘what's gonna happen?’ But also because it’s so engrossing to live inside the world of this story, the same way you don’t want to look up from a really good book or go to the bathroom in the middle of an epic movie.”

Serial is not the only podcast charming hordes of fans keen to consume its wares in one gorge. Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s long-running BBC Radio 5 live film review show treats podcast listeners to exclusive content and regularly reports missives from listeners stocking up on episodes for long haul jaunts to Japan or Himalayan treks.

“We often get emails from listeners who have discovered us three weeks before and listened to all 300 episodes,” laughs Helen Zaltzman, whose Answer Me This podcast has won a clutch of awards. “Consuming large quantities in one sitting is one of the attractions.

“Video streaming sites were originally worried that putting whole series out at once would kill the sense of anticipation around new episodes. But if you look at Orange is the New Black, people are still dissecting it online months later.”

Radio listening figures remain healthy but the popularity of the traditional drama serial is in question. Podcasters are trying to re-invent the medium and have found their own darling – Welcome to Night Vale.

The deliberately weird drama is set in the fictional town of Night Vale and presented in the manner of a local news broadcast. First released in 2012, its popularity stepped up last year when fans took to Tumblr to share artwork of how they imagined characters, including a levitating cat, would look. It now enjoys more than 150,000 downloads an episode and the show's creators are amid a sold out European tour.

Meanwhile, Zombie podcast We're Alive has enchanted a legion of fans keen to have their brains munched by its audio delights.

Amazon’s Audible, the established player in the online audiobooks market (which also began sponsoring Serial this week), is also making waves, commissioning original content on everything from naughty romance to crime dramas.

But is a Lovefilm-style audio model a commercially appealing proposition? “Audio is still cheaper for advertisers and if they see the success of Serial, they may be tempted in,” says Deegan. “In the US, listeners are also used to stations asking for donations to support high quality speech radio.” Indeed, podcast network Radiotopia is steaming towards success in a $650,000 Kickstarter campaign to release a raft of shows including an edition of The Truth by Groundhog Day screenwriter Danny Rubin.

The radio industry has its ear pressed to the speaker attempting to disseminate the impact of Serial, but one question hangs heaviest in the air, who did kill Hae Min Lee?

Saturday 8 November 2014

Buck 65 at the 100 Club: The chirpiest heartbreak you ever did see

I'll keep this short and sweet as Buck 65's place as ShadowPlay's All Time Favourite Artist is well documented and firmly assured*. A surprisingly chipper Richard Terfry was on fine form at London's historic 100 Club this week.  

A short chat at the merch stand prior to the gig confirms he remains the affable, charming and funny soul we've come to know and love over the last two decades (well, one in my case. It was heartwarming to find he remembered my favourite ever interview at the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham with him in 2004). On seeing Buck at The Garage in Islington last year I wondered whether his forthcoming album would be his Blood on the Tracks, documenting, as it does, his break up with his wife. 

Terfry had come back from tour to find a note saying 'don't forget to feed the cat' and his wedding ring. And indeed the record, Neverlove is a cathartic effort ('That's the Way Love Dies' and  'Love Will Fuck You Up' are standouts) but still with Buck's inimitable perky style ingrained within it. It combines his usual hip-hop/folk style with his popiest edge yet and, in all but a couple of cases, is complemented well by a series of female vocalists. What's more, it's his best outing since 2003's celebrated Talkin' Honky Blues, mixing clever wordplay, some well worked duets and effortless changes in tone. 

Before the set, he tells me he's had to talk a lot about his split from his wife in conducting media interviews for the new album. It's been like a psychoanalysis session, he explains. Indeed, he sought help for panic attacks experienced after his divorce. 

But his 100 Club performance displays little of this torture. Dressed in a sharp suit, Buck is his usual playful self, making quips about laundry and culminating his set with a dance suggesting there's an explosion in his crotch while singing about having cake and sex on his birthday. There's snatches of crowd favourites including Indestructible Sam and Roses and Bluejays and ultimate classics including Centaur and Wicked and Weird are given full run outs. He largely steers clear of the more mournful songs from the album and uses his duets with Tiger Rosa to muck about and encourage her to spank him with her belt. He drifts off to remind us he's a great scratch DJ then nips back to the mic to tell a funny story about a girl downing a glass of milk. 

Buck 65, whether in his guise as a radio host or simply as Richard Terfry, a man who has been through a lot, remains one of the most talented musicians on the planet. With his latest offering, he's also reminded us he remains one of the most musically relevant. 

*Oh ok, yes I failed to keep it short and sweet.

Sunday 19 October 2014

A breathy Scotsman is better than any melody

Arab Strap's Love Detective pleasantly re-emerged in my head from the blue this week, but is paranoia an underused musical emotion? A few obsessive re-listens attested what the internal stereo had suggested, that this slice of weirdness - from The Red Thread and released as a single in 2001 - is compelling listening. 

The short story of a man who discovers his partner's sex diary in a red cashbox is as unusual in its delivery as its dark content. Aidan Moffat is in fine form, sounding deliberately breathy and removed he carefully delivers each sentence over an incongruously jangly, upbeat backing. 

The combination of an intriguing story and its status as just-about-a-song works well. It also makes you wonder why - despite loads of great music being made on drugs - paranoia and jealously feel under-used (with notable exceptions like Jolene, suggestions welcome). This sits among Arab Strap's finest work of their 11-year career, a mixtape stalwart and a remarkable piece of musical innovation.

Arab Strap - Love Detective (lyrics)

We slept in this morning and she had to get ready in a hurry - no time for her usual attention to detail - and she ran out the door, slamming it behind her, leaving her keys swinging and jangling. I stayed in bed until I heard the downstairs door shut, then peeked through the blinds and as soon as she was out of sight, I went for the keys. She never tried to make a secret of the box or the fact it was locked or even where she kept it. But as I said at the time - "If you've nothing to hide, why hide it?" 

It's one of those wee red cashbox things and she keeps it in a drawer by the bed, under some pictures and books. Every key she has is on the same keyring - it took me a while to find the right one. I don't know, I suppose I've had my doubts for a while. There's been hushed phone-calls virtually every night, her friends stop talking when I come in the room and they look at each other, and I don't know, it's just a feeling. Anyway, I eventually found the right key and it fitted perfectly in. I put the box on top of the bed and opened it up... 

There were these pictures of friends and ex's, letters, postcards, doodles, nothing bad - and then I found some sort of sex diary and I went to the latest entry. It explicity detailed a recent adventure up the park with a boy she said she had forgotten about... 

And it got worse as it went on. The dates never made sense, there were people I had never even heard of. Eventually I had to stop reading it because I started to feel sick. So I put everything back the way I found it, shut the drawer and phoned you. See, I don't know what to do. I keep having fantasies about leaving her dictaphone under the pillow or following her when she goes to work. I've been lying about where I'm going, just in case I can bump into her.