Wednesday, 20 June 2018

My Favourite Men

My favourite men are those who in this time of crisis (football) are not staying at home watching sports but those who are sitting in bars where TV sets show ancient movies about American gangsters. These men are alone, drinking Laphroaig and smoking expensive cigarettes and their tilted backs keep oozing stories if you are willing to look at them. 

Look, not even listen; there is nothing more poisonous than to listen to a man who chose to spend the night on his own. He will never attempt a conversation, because whatever has happened to you - it has happened to him a million times over.

My favourite men are very much like my favourite buildings. They are few and far between. Sometimes it may seem that they are about to crumble under pressure - but they don't. And at some point around midnight, they will get to their taxis just fine. I have seen this time and time again: my favourite men never fall. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

travelling notes (lviii)

Inside ancient cathedrals, I am often mesmerised by confessionals. Those beautiful, half-abandoned brown boxes trampled down by a million sinful knees. I am moved. Moved to the point where I want to confess all my sins, past, present and even future, but inside ancient cathedrals - you do not stand a chance: the priest is nowhere to be seen.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Malvasia del Salento

There is no such thing as 'comfort wine', nor should be. Having said that, I have always liked the idea of coming into a wine store, seeing a familiar bottle of white and thinking to myself - oh well, this is my wine and why would I be looking elsewhere?.. 

Your wine is, of course, something you should work on. It comes after countless exhausting rehearsals and mind-crushing experiments, but then suddenly it will hit the one spot in your mouth which has been crying for it for years. A million girls can tell you a million beautiful things, but there is one girl who will do more by just hitting the one spot that matters. Accidentally. Or so it would seem.

This wine arrived more than a year ago now, in the form of Italian Varvaglione Malvasia 12 e Mezzo. The winery is located in Salento, the 'heel' part of Italy that sports such underrated beauties as Bari and Lecce. 12 e Mezzo is intriguingly inexpensive, though you would not be able to tell it from the slightly acidic petals of roses, to say nothing of some exotic pineapple gone beautifully off.

They could of course be telling you this wine is perfect for summer, and while I would not argue with that, I have not yet encountered a season where this wine would not raise a smile on my face and not make me think - oh well, to hell with experiments, this is my wine and I am not going home with anything else. 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

travelling notes (lvii)

There isn't a sight more uncomfortable than the sight of Parisian beggars. God knows, you want nothing else but to dress them in the world's most elegant suits and let them dine in the best restaurants of the city. That's what they always did - or else, that's what they were made for.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Album of the Month: I SOMETIMES DREAM OF GLUE by Luke Haines

Luke Haines went insane in 2010. (Understand, please, that I use the word 'insane' affectionately.) This was the year when he stopped fooling around with whatever passes for normal and released Outsider Music which was 50 copies of him performing the same set of songs fifty different times. That same year, I wrote a crazy wish in some shoddy blog post I hope has long been washed away by the Internet; basically, I expressed a wish for Luke Haines to release a new album each year. 

Little did I know.

- 2011: concept album on British wrestling.
- 2012: concept album telling an alternative history of Great Britain.
- 2013: concept album about Gene Vincent, Nick Lowe and Jimmy Pursey imagined as a cat, a badger and a fox.
- 2014: concept album on the New York music of the 70s.
- 2015: concept album about secret nuclear bunkers in the city of London.
- 2016: non-concept album, miraculously.
- 2017: nothing, although you did get to hear five songs from the aborted Property musical released as the fourth part of his solo box set.
- 2018: concept album called I Sometimes Dream of Glue.

(Note that I did not include a mini-opera on Screwdriver and Mark E. Smith, an electronic album released as part of a music magazine and 75 copies of another one-off project titled Raving.)

I would say be careful what you wish for - but, truth be told, I loved pretty much all of them. I was a bit critical of New York in the '70s back when it was released (citing some slight lack of substance) and I still do not believe that British Nuclear Bunkers will go down in history as a Haines classic, but I would argue that outside Robert Forster, Luke Haines is the world's greatest living songwriter.

And he is raving mad. 

I Sometimes Dream of Glue (has to be a reference to Robyn Hitchcock's I Often Dream of Trains) tells the story of an imaginary English town inhabited by people as tall as a blade of grass. These small people are horny mutants who spend most of their time having sex and dreaming of Airfix glue. The story also involves the second world war and is quite possibly some clever allegory on modern Britain that I would not advise to take too close to heart. 

The album clocks in under 30 minutes, and is basically folk music with a morbid lyrical edge. This folk music ranges from beautiful to ugly (although it's worth remembering that the whole point of Luke Haines is to make ugly sound beautiful). The second part of "She Was Ripe As A Meadow" could well be lifted directly from Rock and Roll Animals, but the wild shrieking of the seagulls brings the inevitable sense of unease. No, this is not a record to be played for your children. This is fucking dark stuff. 

And the songs, albeit short (the hardest rocking "At It With The Tree Surgeons Wife" is barely three minutes long, and it's the longest piece here), are still timeless. It is just that they are of a lesser scope than the ones that - and Luke Haines would probably hate me for this - were part of 21st Century Man. Apart from the infectious single "Everybody's Coming Together For The Summer", I count three all-time Haines classics: "Angry Man On Small Train", "Oh Michael" and "We Could Do It". If you manage to stay mute to the lyrics, you might consider marrying these songs - they are that beautiful. 

Instrumentally, this is Luke Haines playing everything. Mostly acoustic guitars, but there are flutes, harmoniums, recorders and even a few colourful flashes of the electric guitar (second part of "Everybody's Coming Together" is quite notable). In fact, my absolute favourite moment on the album comes one minute into "I Fell In Love With An 00 Scale Wife" that has a line 'I did it, man...' followed by this heavy wailing electric guitar sound which literally comes out of nowhere.

Ever since my vinyl arrived, I Sometimes Dream of Glue has proved to be a wildly addictive album for me. It's that sizzling combination of beautiful and bizarre that I value above everything in art. And you get it here in its purest form. After all, it is easy to be this mad eccentric once in a while, and it is quite a different matter when you do it every year and you do not even have to try. We are fortunate to have this man.  

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Factory Radio

My entire life in music could be encapsulated in a factory radio.

Or, rather, it was a radio hoisted outside a factory of some kind, and I would see it going home or sleepily groping my way to the University studies. It was not the highest point of engineering. It was a megaphone hanging from a pole, a very Soviet-looking artefact. 

But it looked so out of place. Everything else could be explained, from the half-empty parking lot to the newly-built trade centre, but you could never quite crack the mystery of that radio. It looked so out of time.

Down to the fact that whatever music it was playing, I would perceive it as something written and recorded ages ago. The vocals gave the impression of a vinyl needle running havoc and every modern pop tune sounded like it was sung by Anna German or Mark Bernes. The music was uniformly bad, there was no getting around it, and neither German nor Bernes could save it. 

Still, the effect was mesmerising, and I was never able to pass the factory radio without making a mental note: yes, but... what will it play next? It was just so incredibly intriguing; whatever the radio was playing now, whatever it was playing yesterday and whatever it was playing three months ago, I was always looking forward to the next song. What will it be? 

Oddly, I fantasised about "Venus in Furs" by the Velvet Underground. In my mind, it was entirely possible - to hear Lou Reed's voice oozing sneeringly through the factory radio, going on about whiplashes and shiny boots of leather. I was ready to wait, I had all the time in the world. And besides, when it finally happened (not 'if' - 'when'), wouldn't that make it all worth it?.. 

But of course - it never did happen. 

Years later, the place is overflowing with things that can be explained: newly-built parking lots and half-empty trade centres. The old radio is no longer there, replaced with the impeccable sounds of headphones, portable speakers and music from the cars. Everything seems to be in place, and it's become a challenge to try and find that mystery, that sense of anticipation. These days, I can only conjure it up occasionally - when I think of the factory radio.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

travelling notes (lvi)

In city streets, I love seeing religious people in their religious clothes. I love the glorious abandon with which they briefly visit random public places. I can never quite grasp this but... it's like they give a new dimension to what they barely inhabit.