Thursday, 25 June 2009

Steven Wells RIP

This won't mean much to anyone but me, really, but indulge me for a minute or two.

When I started writing (real) music reviews for my university newspaper, the person I idolised the most was Steven Wells, writer for the New Musical Express. He knew practically nothing about music, hated most of the bands I loved and nothing he ever wrote could be believed (such as the time he wrote an editorial saying anyone who knows more than two sporting facts should be locked up as mentally ill, about a decade before becoming a sports writer for the Guardian). But every Wednesday, when I got the NME home, I'd scan through it for articles by Swells (as he was known) and laugh myself silly at his brilliant reviews and articles.
Whenever I've written anything since, I've tried to follow the rules I imagined he did: even if the readers don't agree with your opinion, it doesn't matter so long as you entertain them. One of my favourite comments about my music reviews in the Warwick Boar was "I totally disagreed with your review of the Stereophonics single, but I couldn't help but laugh at it".
Sadly, Swells died yesterday, having been suffering from cancer for some time. The last piece he wrote for the Philadelphia Weekly (his local newspaper since he moved to America some years ago), published today, showed a man who knew his time had come, and who was ready to face his end. I feel I should celebrate the man who inspired me to write this stuff on my blog, and if one day - God forbid - I ever make a living out of sitting poised over a keyboard, trying to think of another witty simile, it will be due to him.
Godspeed Swells, you cranky, crossdressing, vitriolic, unashamedly socialist, Belle-and-Sebastian-fan-angering, Daphne-and-Celeste-loving bloke.
A typical Steven Wells piece, from a Nine Inch Nails live review:

Mr Trent Reznor, I’m sure you’re a wonderful guy, I bet you love small children
and dogs and are a warm and sensitive lover. But onstage you are about as much
fun as Christmas in a genital cancer ward. An evening watching your band is
about as pleasurable as three-way sex with Mr and Mrs Himmler.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

I have returned

Hello loyal readers! I am back from my sojourns in the good old Kingdom of Unitedness! My liver is sore, I am in danger of having a Cornish Pasty overdose and my cor blimey guv'nor levels are off the charts. But what a great time I had!

Sadly, I have come back to a lot of work that has built up in my absence. Now Toronto Magazine, for example, have removed a lot of the offensive graffiti I put up on their building, which will have to be replaced. And, of course, I have a lot of things to review. But in the meantime, until my new ones are written, I thought I'd give everyone a chance to see one of my favourite old reviews, one that I wrote long before I had any readers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my review of Hats!

New Hats, (September 2007)

Wow! There are so many new hats available this week that I had to review some of them! Huzzah for hats!

The first hat that I will review is a blue hat. It is about six inches tall with a furry bit on the top. The furry bit is slightly darker than the rest of the hat, which is lighter than the furry bit. The blue is a very nice colour. This hat is a nice hat!

Ooh! Next I've seen a small hat. I don't like the small hat. It won't fit on my head! Why is this hat so small? What were they thinking? Stupid hat. Too small.

Round red hat: The round red hat looks funny, so I like wearing it. It has a lovely tassle on the top for swinging the hat around your head. The round red hat with tassle can be thrown at cars, donkeys or clouds. Hat!

My favourite hat of the week is the Woolen hat. The woolen hat is very warm in winter, and makes for a lovely centrepiece in summer. You could use it as a teacosy! Woolen hats are good for the environment because removing wool prevents sheep from getting too big and taking up all the fields. Woolen hats save the planet! (Earth)

Today I saw a man wearing a Baseball cap with a funny slogan on it. I can't remember the slogan but it made me smile and forget all the bad things that have happened to me recently, like the dog that gave me a funny look and the earth-shattering despair that has grabbed hold of my soul and is squeezing the life out of me. The cap was, therefore, my favouritest cap ever, since the woolen hat, which I already said was my favourite.


Friday, 19 June 2009

Apologies for my absence

I am staying in England until next week.

There will be no time for reviews as my days are full of the following:

The weather is lovely, as you can see:

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Wine wine wine wine WINE!

As summer approaches like an angry stepfather, a young man’s thoughts turn to wine. Ah, what could be more pleasant in the warmer months than sitting on someone’s cottage roof with a box of Sauvignon Blanc and a catapult? Nothing, that’s what. Here I will sample some of the new white delights and assess them with impartiality, except in one case where I have accepted a kickback.

The 2007 vintage of Chateau Le Bronjames Semillon has finally been released from captivity, and the prospect of tasting it is making everyone lick their lips like chapstick tasters. It certainly is excellent on the nose and rigid on the tongue but sadly it is also disappointing in the ears. There are overwhelming indications of carbuncle and mimsy in the aftertaste, and it does incur a tendency to be sodden in the backsplash. This wine gets a score of sixteen.

Dizzy Hipflask Wineries have just started exporting their Nomenclature Pinot Gris, which has a picture of a whelk on the bottle. After tasting it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a bad wine, really; it has just fallen in with some bad Pinot Noirs that have led it astray somewhat. It’s nothing that a good grounding – and, failing that, military school – won’t fix. C plus, with no prospect of parole.

The latest 2008 White Zinfandel Special Edition from Australia’s Sprightly Sprocket vineyards comes with a host of extras, including a making-of documentary, grape profiles and a wonderful series of winemaking bloopers. Bonus material aside, this wine holds its own extremely well, which is handy for those of us who have run out of wine glasses. A good slosh in the mouth produces a scintilla of trustworthiness and oak. Twenty-nine points (subject to change).

Fans of utterly awful wine will be thrilled by the latest crap from Ted and Frank Shufflebotham Wines of Distinction and Quality and all that other stuff that Wine People Want. Their new Sauvignon Blanc is like drinking a cup full of battery acid and sorrow. The bouquet has elements of primary school janitor’s jockstrap and sick, and the lingering aftertaste is like waking up in bed with your brother’s girlfriend and having no recollection of the previous night after the point when you decided to split up the taxis outside the club. Nul points.

Finally, there’s a new winemaker on the block: Pierre De Fenestration. Wow, he’s so cool and mysterious! Does anyone know anything about him? He makes all the other winemakers look dull and boring…I wonder if he has a girlfriend yet? I heard he has a motorcycle and told the Vinyard Inspector to “shove it”. Sigh, he’s so dreamy. Eighty-four points.

All of these wines are available from your local booze emporium, or that man who smells of chips and cigarettes in the park. If you are under 18, please get a passing stranger to purchase your wine for you. Contains sulphites.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Concert Review: Freestyle Open Mic Night at the Royal Conservatoire

For an inexpensive evening of music, Open Mic nights are usually an interesting way to experience a variety of styles and performances, from folksy guitarists to up-and-coming rappers. This week, I grabbed myself a table at the Royal Conservatoire of Music on Bellhop Drive, where the Freestyle Open Mic Evenings are becoming somewhat legendary.

The R.C. has been home to some of the most talked-about events in open stage history. Who could forget the hardcore cello battle when L’il Stradivarius publicly called out V-Valdi from the stage in 2004? And nobody who witnessed it could forget the historic surprise appearance from Des Dead Prez in 1999 when he previewed his as-yet unreleased sonata for solo harpsichord.

With these memorable moments in my mind, I was full of anticipation when the first act took the stage. He was a talented young bassoonist called Shoo-Bert, and it was clear from his combination of flicking and venting techniques that he’s going to go far. He had total control of the crutch, and his glissando was anything but wack. Keep an eye out for him in future!

Next up was a freestyle duet between timpani and triangle. God, that was dull. It was like refereeing a sprint between a comatose snail and an asthmatic sloth.

Sadly, regular performer Bach Daddy was only able to rock the mic with his extreme piccolo skills for about a minute before excessive heckling from another area of the crowd forced him off the stage. It seems that BD’s crew – the BaRoqckers – have been in a violent turf war with the Renaissance Renegades, and this latter group were responsible for the interruption. Both groups were ejected from the Conservatoire for the disturbance, and I’m told that a fight broke out in the car park straight away. Apparently several reeds and violin bows were damaged in the melee.

While the fight was going on outside, within the RC we were being treated to a great performance by the locally popular Tuba-ng Clan who performed from their excellent Enter the 36 Chamber Music album. The twenty-three members all worked the stage with their French Horns, Tubas and Clarinets, ad-libbing and freestyling like old pros. This was a wonderful show, made even better by some excellent honk and response that really got the crowd involved.

Finally, the attendees at the open mic night were blessed by a truly remarkable performance by an amateur glockenspiel player. I wasn’t able to see the crowd’s reaction to this stellar young artist’s recital, but judging by the stunned silence that accompanied his incredible playing I’m betting that they were impressed. So awed were they by his amazing command of the glockenspiel that they even maintained a reverent calm after his performance had finished, during the time when they’d usually clap and cheer. In fact, when I – whoops, sorry, I mean he – came off the stage, he was greeted by the international symbol of “great show!” Yes, everyone was covering their ears with their hands and looking pained, obviously to tell me him that when I he stopped playing, they felt a pain in their souls.

The Freestyle Open Mic Night at the Royal Conservatoire is highly recommended for all B-Boys (the ‘B’ stands for ‘Beethoven’!) and flygirls who can’t get enough of that crazy French Horn madness. I’ll be there next week; will you?

Freestyle Open Mic Night is every Wednesday at the Royal Conservatoire, Bellhop Drive, Toronto. Doors open at 7:00, but you’re still not allowed in until 7:30, when the building has warmed up. Bring a xylophone and lay down some dope ass tinkles.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

New Art Exhibition: Lost Cat by the Wilson Family

The Wilson Family is a guerrilla art collective based out of Prentice Drive in Toronto whose exhibitions across the city are garnering much attention from the establishment. Their previous works include the much-lauded Garage Sale on Saturday exhibition and the limited edition piece entitled Please Do Not Park Here. Their latest work, Lost Cat, is their most ambitious yet.

Lost Cat takes the same form as the Wilsons’ previous projects: 8 x 11 inch paper in the portrait orientation, stapled to various telegraph poles and fences around the Prentice Drive area. Fans of the Wilsons are encouraged to seek out the artworks in a four-block radius of the Wilson abode, as there are four different posters, each of which appears to have been duplicated and displayed at least fifteen times.

The subject matter of Lost Cat differs from Garage Sale and Please Do Not Park Here. Whereas the previous two were scathing commentaries on capitalism, property ownership and personal space, Lost Cat is a poignant paean to loss and regret.

The first artwork that I found was delicately stapled to a wooden telegraph pole. At the top of the work was the title, “Lost Cat”, and underneath it was a black and white photograph of an adult tabby. At the bottom of the paper was information on the cat’s name, age and a number to call if we, the viewers, see this feline. The other three posters in the series all conveyed similar information, with slightly different wording and pictures.

The first thing to strike me about this artwork is that it truly captures the sadness and disappointment that comes with loss. Here, the loss of something precious has been conveyed through a beloved family pet, but the artists could so easily be talking about the death of a relative, the theft of an heirloom or the pain of a love gone astray. When the thing can no longer be found, and when it is something that is not responsible for its own non-being, then we are forced to try and find it ourselves, and here the exhibition evokes a new emotion: futility.

The more posters that one sees displayed in this exhibition, the more one feels the sense of desperation and ultimate failure that the Wilsons are trying to convey. The wording of the posters, with their plaintive ‘please’ and ‘reward offered’, also creates tenderness, false hope and a sense of impending mourning.

The pictures of the cat are a wonderful masterstroke. He looks for all the world like a regular household pet, lounging in that way that cats are wont to do, ostensibly in better times, when he wasn’t ‘missing’. The viewer is brought in by this added layer of interaction, our mind’s eye can picture this poor, lost feline trying to find its way around the city, not knowing where its favourite blanket is. Extend this mental picture to a vision of a deceased loved one or forgotten romance, and it become all the more sad; we see the cat as a representation of our doomed affairs, and it becomes clear that we will never again have that innocent love.

I also love the placing of the artworks. Each is held up by a single staple, showing an almost tactile fragility that could allow it to be blown away in a strong wind. The breeze creates a movement within the pieces that bring us closer to them. This movement and fragility also shows us how fleeting our relationships are; how quickly they can be taken from us.

I would certainly recommend that anyone in the Prentice Drive area check out this exhibition, which is running until all the posters are covered by ads for roofing companies, or until Ruffles is found, whichever comes first.

Admission to the Lost Cat exhibition is free. If you have any information about the whereabouts of Ruffles, please call the Wilson family on 416-555-5055.