Sunday, 6 April 2014

Podcasting: An intriguing medium

As podcasting marks its tenth anniversary, it's a useful time to reflect on the unique spoken word episodic medium. A self-confessed addict as well as a podcaster myself, I've always enjoyed the freedom they can bring to offer specialist radio shows on niche subjects. 

Podcasts like Answer Me This, The Football Ramble and Richard Herring's various offerings have allowed presenters to carve out a distinct voice for a dedicated audience. They also allows fans to build up an archive of shows to enjoy at their leisure. 

However, their long term future - with streaming speeds stepping up and little momentum behind promoting new 'casts from dominant technology giant Apple - is in doubt. I've written more on the subject for The Independent here.

And speaking of podcasts, it's a pleasure to welcome one of my oldest friends and music obsessive Mr James Lambert to my aural adventure, Desert Isolation Discs. You can hear which eight tunes he picked to take with him to survive in a desert by streaming it here or below or downloading the podcast here

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Desert Isolation Discs: Hello Thor co-founder Anders Knight

Barcelona-based record label head honcho and talented marketer Anders Knight is my latest guest over at sister blog Desert Isolation Discs. He became the lynchpin in the arts and culture scene of Nottingham when based there through his excellent stewardship of craft night Jumpers for Goalposts (my former charge), promoting gigs with Super Night, as co-host of the Pretty Dandy Flea markets or enticing us to watch great films at the Broadway cinema. 

His record label Hello Thor - co-founded with fellow friends of the blog Tom Whalley and Nick Lawford in 2008 - is host to a raft of exhilarating acts including Fists, We Show Up on Radar and Anxieteam. You can listen to the interview with Anders below.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Desert Isolation Discs: Designer and mother Heather Lawson

Over at our sister sister site Desert Isolation Discs we have a very special guest… my mother! She was part of the reason I set up the blog and our mutual love of hearing everyone's favourite eight tunes meant I couldn't not interview here for it.

Head over the blog for full more detail and full songs or listen to the interview below.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hastings: A south coast snapshot

A trip to Hastings for a January pick-me-up proved just what the fun-doctor ordered at the weekend. I first visited the small town on the Sussex coast a couple of years ago to the incredulity of those from nearby who hadn't seen its charm underneath the multitude of pound shops and dilapidated seaside amusements. 

On my previous visit, we had to cut short our stay as our vintage mini looked in danger of being snowed in and on this occasion heavy wind and rain did their best to attack our bobble hats but not before enjoying the friendly locals and interesting sights. I mean, you even get to pass a bar named the 'Route 1066' en route! 

Hasting's charm is in the Old Town, effectively two roads - the High Street and George Street - in which antiques shops stuffed with great records and odd finds, book shops with stacks higher than their owners and plenty of great pubs can be found. I stayed at The Old Rectory, the sister bed and breakfast to Swan House, both of which are highly recommended, stylish and comfortable.

The Jerwood Gallery, a box-y shaped building which stands on the seafront, had opened since my last visit and the works contained within, taken from businessman and philanthropist John Jerwood's own collection were interesting if slightly patchy. The gallery was also a tad pricey and I was interested to spot signs outside for an amateurish but passionate protest site - The highlight was John Piper's The Churchyard which I found a fascinating mix of colour and movement. Here's a few snaps from my trip to the town where battle once commenced.

The AG Hendy and Co Home Store, which dates back to the 19th century, is a fascinating combination of incredibly well put together stylish products and an amazing rickety building. Just being within its wonky walls makes you feel happy.

AG Hendy and Co Home Store

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Julianna Barwick: Six reasons to love Brooklyn's finest

Brooklyn-based soundscape artist Julianna Barwick has been enchanting listeners with her abstract sound for four years. ShadowPlay takes a look at what's caught the ear of a global audience. 

1. Barwick's music is a combination of classic ethereal sounds which melt away like candy floss to the tongue and a more uncomfortable, mournful tone. Whether it's slowly shredding a violin or carefully introducing her piano, Barwick builds up incredible loops which prove mesmeric. 

2. Barwick first released a mini-album, Florine, in 2009 featuring more conventional song structures and built on it for her 2010 release, The Magic Place, which honed her reverb heavy sound. Her latest album, Nepenthe, gave her worldwide recognition and featured in plenty of end of year lists. Highlights included Labyrinthine and The Harbinger. 

3. She grew up in rural Louisiana and a farm in Missouri and, as the daughter of a preacher, allowed the choirs in her church to influence her music later in life. As a kid, she harmonised with random sounds like the echo emanating from a giant tree.

4. She translates her sound well live to leave audiences in her thrall. He she is playing Offing.

5. Barwick has worked with a fistful of musical royalty. From members of múm and string quartet Amiina to Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers, she's made a name for herself among the upper echelons of the aural establishment. Oh, and got to record in Sigur Ros' swimming pool studio, Sundlaugin.

6. Barwick has also worked with Radiohead, remixing their tune Reckoner in 2010. In turn, her work has been remixed by the likes of Diplo and Prince Rama.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Desert Isolation Discs: Betty in the Sky

Over at our sister site Desert Isolation Discs I've been lucky enough to host renowned podcaster Betty Thesky as she selects her favourite tunes of all time.

Betty has featured in USA Today, The New Yorker and even hosted her own BBC World Service documentary since hitting the air and the airwaves with her unique podcast. She is a flight attendant for a major US airline and recounts tales of her escapades in her addictive podcast Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase.

Head over to Desert Isolation discs to hear her selections.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Desert Isolation Discs: Alex Lawson

Over at our sister site Desert Isolation Discs I've been indulging in the rather enjoyable vanity project of picking my favourite tunes of all time.

Hope you enjoy and have had a fantastic 2013. I'm very keen to interview people for Desert Isolations so get in touch if you fancy it.

Hear the tracks in full here or listen to the interview with me below.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Soul Jazz founder Stuart Baker and critic Jon Savage on the rise and fall of punk

Stuart Baker, Alexis Petridis and Jon Savage (l-r)
If there's one thing old punks like discussing - it's when punk began and when it died. And so it was that, amid a talk at Rough Trade East primarily about punk 45 sleeves, Soul Jazz records founder Stuart Baker and punk writer Jon Savage turned to the rise and fall of their beloved genre.

Savage's opinion was that, by the Sex Pistols released Never Mind the Bollocks, the buzz around the band synonymous with the genre had already begun to dissipate. Baker, who was a younger punk at the time, believed that while no punk bands sold out, the zeitgeist simply shifted on.

The event itself was an interesting one. To mark the launch of a new book, 'The Singles Cover Art of Punk 1976-80', a collaboration between Baker and Savage featuring some fantastic, iconic imagery.  Everything from the Voidoids to the Stooges feature although Baker's favourite sleeve - featuring a man with his head stuck in a fence - could not be found, he says.

Baker and Savage, marshalled by Guardian journalist and chair Alexis Petridis, also discuss influences on punk design including Pistols sleeve honcho Jamie Reid. The audience features plenty of first generation punks and one pointedly asks whether the genre will die with them. While there's plenty of nods, Baker believes the spirit of a genre which ripped up the rule book, and some of the landmark tunes that went with it, will go on for generations. I tend to agree.

Jon Savage and Stuart Baker debate when punk ended.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

In focus: French graffiti artist Miss Van

Miss Van originally moved from canvas to the walls of her home town of Toulouse to "boycott" the conventional art world, but she is increasingly defining just that. One of the most famous graffiti artists worldwide, Vanessa Bensimon, known as Miss Van, has divided opinion with her army of doe-eyed femme fatale characters.

Like Banksy and Os Gemeos before her, she has created a cluster of characters which riff on the central theme, in her case sexualised, buxom bodies. Feminists have criticised Van's work, originally honed in partnership with Mademoiselle Kat before the former relocated to Barcelona, and its depiction of women. However, this sentiment is in stark contrast to Bensimon's feelings in creating the work. 

"Painting on walls allows me to keep my freedom; as it is illegal, there is no censorship. It is also a challenge, since each time I paint on a wall there is the risk of seeing my work erased," she explains on her website. "Since I like moving around and meeting people, so I prefer painting in the street. It also enables me to make my art accessible to a larger public audience."

This audience has been enhanced by collaborative shows with the likes of Shepard Fairey, Banksy and Mike Giant. Her location in Barcelona allows her fresh work to complement the city's stunning modernist style - crafted in part by Antoni Gaudí. 

Personally, I feel Miss Van is one of the most prolific and innovative contemporary graf artists and in creating a motif of feminine characters she has driven equality in an often male dominated graf scene. 

All images courtesy of Miss Van. See her in action here.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Blog: A day with Shane Meadows

It's not often I get ill and even more rare that I'm able to sit still for very long. However, a heavy cold laid me up today and gave the perfect excuse to enjoy a day with my favourite short tubby man from Uttoxeter, Shane Meadows. His semi-autobiographical films, often set or filmed in Nottingham, where I'm from, have always struck a chord through a simple combination of unusual but likeable characters, identifiable backdrops, machismo and incredible music. 

I once had the immense pleasure of meeting Mr Meadows at Sheffield Documentary Festival and, I'm sure, came across as the kind of super fan who may, say, spend an entire day watching his films and write live updates on  them. Which is exactly what I've done below. One for fans really, I decided to cover four of his main films I watched from about lunchtime but his 30 shorts are also well worth a watch. 

Twenty Four Seven
Concept: Darcy, played by Bob Hoskins who would later become 'that bloke from the BT ads', tells the story of a likeable fella who sets up a boxing club for lads he's trying to prevent from turning to crime. It's short in beautifully grainy black and white and came out in 1997.

12.28pm - We're introduced to Tim who's 'getting shit 24/7' via our narrator, a unique technique in a Meadows film. Van Morrison - Still on Top booms out as Bob Hoskins is getting ready and practising dancing. Woody the dog appears, we'll meet Gadget later - odd names for Meadows to pick twice.

12.51pm - James Corden appears with some cracking curtains, taking tea from a flask. Takes a thump in the boxing gym. Bruce Jones shows why he was a class act as Les Battersby in Coronation Street with an aggressive performance as Jim's dad. 

13.03 - Darcy tells the lads they're going to Wales ahead of big match. They look at him like he's just produced a Mongoose from his trousers. 

13.08pm - Meadows Montage Alert. Music - Charlatans - North Country Boy. Running up hills. Bashing stuff with sticks. Wellie wanging. 

13.27pm - Darcy puts his hand on the handprint Jo has made on the shop counter. First tears of the day.

13.46pm - Tragedy strikes when Darcy loses his temper. Second tears of the day.

13.54pm - Weller sings 'Like pebbles on a beach, kicked away, displaced by feet' over the end credits. Can't believe it's over.

Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee 
Concept: This 2009 film took the Spinal Tap mock rock-u-mentary to a new level with the majority of those on screen playing themselves. Paddy Considine excels as down-and-out roadie Le Donk attempting to get his act, rapper Scor-zay-zee, a opening slot at an Arctic Monkeys gig.

13.57pm - Existential crisis over what to watch next. Plump for Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee as can't take more heartbreak straightaway. Instantly happy with decision at first sight of the day of Considine, wearing two hats stepping out of a van.

14.07 - Scor-zay-zee admits his real name is Dean.

14.12 - Olivia Coleman reveals Le Donk's name is Nicholas. "Not in front of Shane!" he says. 

14.27 - Scor-zay-zee considers doing 'a Beth Ditto' and belly flopping into the Old Trafford Cricket Ground crowd. 

14.42 - The talented duo cram into a revolving door. Sides hurt.

14.50 - Le Donk talks of a sexual encounter after a night at a Bernie Inn. Thought of Mike Tyson to last longer. Scor-zay-zee, with a towel round his hair, nods. 

15.05 - Le Donk is a dad! Calm down Mork and Mindy. 

This Is England
Concept: Meadows' 2006 masterpiece aims to flip the imagine of fearsome skinheads as 13-year-old Thomas Turgoose as Shaun joins a gang after being bullied at school. A skilful art in characterisation, Meadows sets the scene of disenchanted youth robbed of parents by the Falklands war who turn to the National Front.

15.34pm - My copy of This Is England has an advert for that annoying US film Brick with a quote from 'Ain't It Cool News'. The jar from Meadows-world is horrible, I fast forward quickly until the 1980s montage set to Toots envelops me in images of Maggie Thatcher at a computer and the first CDs being pressed.

15.49 - Shaun shoots his catapult at some polystyrene while Gravenhurst lilts in the background. Such a perfect juxtaposition. 

15.57 - Shoe shop scene. Just glorious. "Because these ones are special and from LONDON they don't have the Dr Martens sign on. "
"They say Tompkins in them," Shaun moans.

16.01 - Meadows Montage Alert. THE montage with Louie Louie set to the gang strolling looking fucking cool. So jealous. (see left)

16.15 - "Who drinks a brew that big?" As Banjo stands outside slurping. 

16.45 - Shaun asks Smell to be his girlfriend. So tender amid aggression and tension.

17.01 - My girlfriend bustles in just at the climax to The Scene. Not great timing from a squeamish type.

A Room for Romeo Brass
Concept: Romeo and best friend and neighbour Gavin befriend Morell (Considine) and older oddball intent on winning the affections of Romeo's sister. However, the bond between Romeo and Morell has unfortunate circumstances in this 1999 picture.

17.21 - Funny to see Andrew Shim as a kid in Room for Romeo Brass. Shane Meadows rocking a cracking wig behind chip shop counter to the sound of The Specials. Great little amusing opening with fight for chips. 

17.38 - That shell suit is class.

17.52 - Where in Nottinghamshire is that hanging car?! Considine getting in the swing of things, character beginning to dominate. 

18.09 - Meadows Montage Alert - Gavin rehabilitates to the sound of Donovan's Colours.

18.25 - Tuck into some Rice Krispies just as Considine shows Ladene his pants. Pleasant. 

18.38 - Weird how tables turn and am pleased to see Romeo's dad as Morell losses it.

18.44 - Stone Roses close us out, a mere 14 years before Made in Stone comes out. 

18.56pm - I roll off the sofa to dig out a LOT of records.