Sunday, 21 December 2008

Here's to brighter days

So, we made it. For the next six months, the days get longer every day. We've passed the solstice which means no more sunsets at a quarter to four again for the next year.

Unsurprisingly, the event is celebrated in Brighton. Any excuse for a party! Apparently the Burning The Clocks procession started while I was down here before. They were celebrating it's 15th Birthday this year. I guess it would have been in it's first year or two though, and even now, it's not that publicised. It's not quite as hectic as Lewes Fireworks but that's probably for the best. I don't think you'd get away with that level of health and safety risk in a town full of Christmas Shoppers, especially since you can't argue that you've got hundreds of years of history on your side. So it's all quite tame in comparison - a parade of people carrying paper lanterns painted as clocks which get thrown into a big cage on the beach which then gets lit with spectacular results:


As a new-ish tradition, I think it's pretty cool. There's no religious overtones (despite nearly every major religion celebrating some kind of festival around the winter solstice), and it manages to be family friendly without being too twee or alienating adults. And it culminates in burning stuff.

full set of pics here

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

I think I'm in love. At my age, I shouldn't be falling for pop stars, but, well...

It's probably best to start at the beginning. I've always quite liked Retro Pop. It's probably Saint Etienne's fault. Or maybe The Cardigans. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that when I hear a band being described in certain terms, I'll give them a listen, and a couple of years ago, The Pipettes were one of those bands. And they were good. Quality pop songs, unashamedly derivative, who got away with singing those songs with a knowing smile. And as well as just being a great band, with great songs, as if that isn't enough, if the stories were to be believed, they also formed in my favourite pub - The Basketmakers Arms. They had a special place in my heart.

But after one perfect pop album, things went wrong earlier this year. Of the original three girls who fronted the band, one had already moved on before they got big. Earlier this year, the other two original members also left. I doubt we'll ever be told exactly what happened. It's probably not that straightforward anyway. Maybe it wasn't fun any more. Maybe the record company execs wanted to turn them into a parody of themselves? Retro songs without the irony? Who knows.

And that was a shame, because they were great. They weren't some big cash cow built around an amazing voice singing retro sounding songs (yes, I do mean you Amy Winehouse, Duffy, or anyone else who turns up sold as "the new Winehouse"). They looked like they were enjoying themselves. They looked like they had quite a DIY ethic - they'd swap keyboards, and obviously made up their own dance moves. What you were being sold was The Pipettes, not some record company's version of an act designed by committee. It seems that nothing lasts forever though. It was all a bit reminiscent of what happened to Kenickie ten years ago - they were no more far too soon too.

Rose was the one I liked most in the Pipettes. There's no shame in saying that - in every girl group everyone has their favourites - the Spice Girls based a fair chunk of their career on it. The Pipettes had Gwenno - blonde, pretty and a very obvious choice. Too obvious for me though. Then there was Becki - glasses, nose piercing, and an obvious choice for the indie kids. A bit too alternative for my liking though. Then there was Rose. Devastatingly attractive, and seeming to relish the irony and love the pop music in equal measure. Yep - she was "my" Pipette - and no doubt several thousand other fans' Pipette across the globe. Let's not lose perspective here. That view was cemented at Glastonbury 07, when I saw her in the crowd for Gruff Rhys, singing along. As well as loving her pop, she also loved her indie too. But then she left The Pipettes, and I kind of assumed that would be the last I would ever hear of her.

Shortly afterwards though, I saw that she had started a myspace page. I don't even know how I found it, or why I was looking. She only had a handful of friends at the time I added myself, compared to the thousands she has now. No tracks were up initially, but take a look at the list of influences:

Broadcast, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Sandy Denny, The Cocteau Twins, Bridget St John, Stereolab, Eric Satie, Joni Mitchell, The Sundays, Fred Neil, John Fahey, Spank Rock, My Bloody Valentine, Buffy Sainte Marie, Hope Sandoval, Beth Gibbons, M Ward, Animal Collective, Dion And The Belmonts, Julie London, Karen Dalton, Serge Gainsbourg, Portishead, Anne Briggs, Caribou, The Dirty Three, Bjork, Pj Harvey, Life Without Buildings, Nick Cave, Donna Summer, Billie Holiday, Bert Jansch, Silver Apples, Altered Images, Francoise Hardy....

What a list! Within a few weeks, the first track was up, and it was apparent that the list of influences were actually influencing her songwriting. How many acts do you see on Myspace have a cool list of influences then sound like derivative rubbish? Fast forward a couple of months to last week, and her first solo 7" got released, and she also played her debut solo gig down here. And that's where we get where we are now. The single is brilliant. It starts with hand claps and a simple guitar line, and her distinctive voice. It's a far more adult song than the Pipettes could have ever released. There's no big hooky chorus, but that's not to say that it doesn't draw you right in. When she sings "Was it just the way that you kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss me / That showed me That I want you, I want you, I want you I want you, I want you, I want you " your heart skips a beat. Well, mine does anyway. By the end, there's hand claps, organs, synth strings and drums all swirling round taking you to another place. This is what pop music ought to be like.

And I'm pleased to report that it's not just the one song that's great too. Everything I heard at the gig was great, and a new track - May Holiday - has just been posted up to her myspace. The gig was criminally unattended - probably down to Brighton Council's draconian rules on flyering and postering - but I'm glad I went. Gwenno Pipettes was also spotted in attendance. Anyway, I had my camera with me, and I'm really pleased with the shots I took. This is my favourite:

Rose Ex-Pipettes at The Prince Albert 11/12/08

Monday, 8 December 2008

A Murmuration of Starlings

They don't tell you what a Murmuration is on the Wikipedia Page about Starlings. And while problems with starlings in Rome have been mentioned on the BBC, they don't use the word Murmuration either. So what is a Murmuration? Well, it's actually just the collective term for starlings, but the sight of starlings flocking is pretty amazing. Unlike a lot of birds, starlings flock and roost in very large numbers - thousands, if not tens of thousands - and before they go to roost, the flock swirls around the sky - masses of birds moving almost as one, with smaller flocks joining as time goes on. It's an incredibly impressive sight.

And where their starlings are a problem in Rome because of the bird mess, it's not a problem down here, because they go to roost on the remains of the West Pier, so every night over the winter, the locals get an amazing display just after the sun goes down, and last night was no exception.

So why am I writing a blog post about it? Well, it's not music, so it must be photography. The full set of my photos from last night are here, but main reason for the post is that I finally got a photo on Flickr Explore, which is their view on the Most Interesting photos. Just to give you an idea of numbers, according to Flickr just now, over 2,500 photos have been uploaded in the last minute, so to have one of mine picked as one of the 500 most interesting photos is quite an accolade. Flickr don't say what their criteria are for an "interesting photo", I guess because if they did, they'd have loads of photos contriving to become one, but I'm pleased that whatever those criteria are, mine fulfilled them :)