Wednesday, November 28, 2007

She Talks To Rainbows Part 3: Yellow Fever

"And it was all yellow"


Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
Black, Red, Yellow - Pearl Jam
Blue and Yellow - The Used
Bright As Yellow - The Innocence Mission
Don't Eat The Yellow Snow - Frank Zappa
Double Yellow Line - The Music Machine
Eighteen Yellow Roses - Bobby Darin
Fiery Yellow - Stereolab
Forever Yellow Skies - The Cranberries
Girl With Yellow Hair - Betty Curse
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
I Found My Yellow Basket - Ella Fitzgerald
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - Brian Hyland
Lemon Yellow Black - Jets To Brazil
Little Yellow Spider - Devendra Banhart
Little Yellow Town - Rickie Lee Jones
Mellow Yellow - Donovan
Moon Was Yellow - Frank Sinatra
Read Yellow - Read Yellow
The Yellow Princess - John Fahey
The Yellow Rose Of Texas - Mitch Miller / Waylon Jennings
Tie A Yellow Ribbon - Tony Orlando and Dawn
Truckdrivin' Neighbours Downstairs (Yellow Sweat) - Beck
Wild Yellow Bloom - Cranes
Yellow - Coldplay
Yellow Balloon - Yellow Balloon
Yellow Bird - Arthur Lyman
Yellow Butterfly - The Scorpions
Yellow Daffodils - Malia
Yellow Fever - Fela Kuti
Yellow Fever - The Bloodhound Gang
Yellow Fields - Eberhart Weber
Yellow Guitar - Kate Campbell
Yellow Ledbetter - Pearl Jam
Yellow Like Cheese - Yellowman
Yellow Magic (Tong Poo) - Yellow Magic Orchestra / Senor Coconut and His Orchestra
Yellow Moon - The Neville Brothers
Yellow No. 5 - Heatmiser
Yellow River - Christie
Yellow River Piano Concerto - Xian Xinghai
Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
Yellow Submarine In Pepperland - The Beatles
Yellow Sun - The Raconteurs
Yellow Sunshine (Explosions In My Head) - Hilt
Yellow Taxi - Matt Costa
What are your additions?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kristin Hersh releases 'Slippershell' via CASH Music


Kristin Hersh has just today released her inaugral recording for the project known as CASH Music - the Coalition of Artists and Stake Holders. With this venture, she endeavours to "blur the line that's traditionally stood between creators of content and the consumers of that content".
Kristin intends to write, record and post a song each month. We, as the consumers, are free to share this song as we wish - it is licensed through Creative Commons.
So what's the catch? Well, there isn't one. No, really. Listeners are, naturally, encouraged to contribute/donate money in support of CASH, in order to enable the project to grow, develop and reach more listeners. The amount donated is at the individual's discretion.
Another aspect of CASH is that conversation between artist and audience is encouraged. Hersh hopes to build a community - she describes a "read-write", as opposed to "read-only" culture, i.e. she would like to receive comments on the songs that she will be posting...she says that she will read them all...and reply too!
Not only does she invite sharing of these songs for our general aural pleasure, and of course the commenting, she advocates remixing, reworking, re-recording, and indeed the sharing of any creative output assisted by listening to this music. In the future, her intention is to release a CD containing all these songs, which she hopes will include stuff by her fans...now that's cool (I wonder how quickly I can learn to sing, play guitar, etc. etc.).
This is the very inception of CASH. Other artists will be joining in on the fun and its scope growing organically.
As for the song released today...
It is called Slippershell. It is every bit as good as Hersh's album songs, is rousing and very much worth a listen...I have it on repeat currently! You can download it directly here:

Slippershell MP3

...but I would also encourage you to visit the CASH Music website (the link is to the Kristin Hersh page, but there is a 'home' icon you can click on there too), as it promises to get quite exciting over there!

So, go on, make your friend a CD, slip (ha ha!) this baby on there...they'll thank you for introducing them to great new music. Enjoy it...and remember to give Kristin your kind words and support.

I shall leave you with a quote Kristin included in her e-mail, which embodies the intended memetic effect of CASH, and indeed blogging culture, very nicely:

"a blues player walks a song from town to town, playing on street corners, in dance halls, at parties and bars. The song stays when the musician leaves, adopted and adapted to suit various personalities, voices and life stories."

Monday, November 26, 2007

She Talks To Rainbows Part 2: In Orange


Working our way through the rainbow, here are some songs with 'orange' in the title (this was way more of a struggle than red, so I'm guessing that there are lots more that you can add in the comments section).

Agent Orange - Tori Amos
Aging Orange - The Vandals
Blue Burns Orange - Hawthorn Heights
Bruised Orange - John Prine
Cod Liver Oil And Orange Juice - Hamish Imlach
Evolution Orange - Earth, Wind and Fire
L'Amour Des Trois Oranges - Prokofiev
Once An Orange Always An Orange - Al Stewart
Orange - 10,000 Maniacs
Orange - David O'Doherty
Orange - John Spencer Blues Explosion
Orange - Orange
Orange And The Black - The Boils
Orange Blossom Special - Johnny Cash
Orange Coloured Sky - Nat King Cole
Orange County Lumber Truck - Frank Zappa
Orange Crate Art - Brian Wilson
Orange Crush - R.E.M.
Orange Juice Blues - Bob Dylan
Orange Moon - Erykah Badu
Orange Pony - Hilt
Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit - Sonic Youth
Orange Skies - Love
Orangefield - Van Morrison
Oranges And Lemons Again - Jools Holland and His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with Suggs
Pink Orange Red - Cocteau Twins
The Power Of Orange Knickers - Tori Amos
Trip On An Orange Bicycle - Orange Bicycle

Given that this list is so short, how about some tenuous ones?

Tangerine - Led Zeppelin
Tangerine - Moist

Or even...

Let's Tango - The Delilahs
Tango - Throwing Muses

Nope? Oh well, just a thought!

The Witches of Elswick hang up their broomsticks



On Saturday night I was a disgustingly drunken Divinyl...hence the hangover and the delay in posting this!

It was the final ever gig of The Witches of Elswick at The Cumberland Arms in Byker - and what a send-off! There was free bubbly, balloons and sweeties (I am a lass that can definitely be won over with a chocolate eyeball or two!) and general good cheer.

Who are The Witches of Elswick? They are (or, I suppose, as of Saturday night, were) a four part folk vocal harmony group. They sing a capella. They are splendid! Working mainly with traditional folk songs, their arrangements are often complex, but work brilliantly. And with good humour galore.

Becky Graham (top left in the photograph above), Gillian Tolfrey (top right), Fay Hield (bottom right) and Bryony Griffith (bottom left) formed their coven in 2001 when they were all sharing a flat in Elswick, Newcastle (hence the name...a play on The Witches of Eastwick). They have since appeared all over the country and at various folk festivals. Hell, Fay even sung on Eliza Carthy's album Rough Music (her partner, Jon Boden, is one of Carthy's band The Ratcatchers). That's pedigree for you...and also links us neatly to a previous blog of mine >>> The Imagined Village.

Although the group is now no more, they have left a legacy of two albums, Hell's Belles and Out Of Bed. You can listen to snippets of a decent length from the latter here, download three of its tracks from Amazon.com, and hear a 2004 interview with them at the BBC website (which includes the great song Honey For The Bee in full). Enough to convince you to make a purchase I'm sure.

But back to Saturday...

It was 'one of those nights'...and I place the blame firmly on the shoulders of that ludicrously strong honey ginger ale (or at least I would, if ale had shoulders!). It was delicious, but just too easy to drink...and get drunk on! I very rarely get drunk, but on this occasion I was well and truly plastered (which turns me into a dick who talks complete crap!). Example: I lost my wallet, which I was reunited with by the bar maid who, at that time, I couldn't have loved more! I was also abandoned, without so much as a goodbye, by the friends I had gone with. This didn't seem to bother me too much, however...nope, I was outside smoking and chatting chatting chatting to all and sundry!

One of whom was a lovely man called Simon...part of the sword dancing troupe we had seen on stage earlier and the husband of Becky Witch. Somehow he ended up inviting me to the party that they were having back at he and Becky's flat...and what could be a better idea when you are alone, know nobody and are hammered?? (Yes, yes, getting in a taxi and going home to sleep it all off, I know...spoil sports). I would talk random shite to Simon and a woman who was even more drunk than I, Ingrid, well into the morning.

Five hours later (6.00am!) I was in a taxi headed for my bed. A thoroughly cracking evening...but I do hang my head and apologise for being 'that' twat of a party crasher...who repeated herself over and over I'm sure (chosen topic on this particular night = Fay Hield. I was bewitched! I just wish I hadn't insisted on telling her how hot I thought she was (ridiculously!)...unnecessary!). Still, I had a lot of fun, it was refreshing to meet some new people...and they were a lovely crowd indeed...who, sadly, I will probably never see again (far too drunk to swap mobile numbers or e-mails!).

The Witches of Elswick: Women who seriously know how to have fun! Best of luck for the future ladies.

What a night!

Witches of Elswick MySpace page

Skinnimalinks Music

Saturday, November 24, 2007

She Talks To Rainbows Part 1: Red Heaven




From Blood Red Shoes to songs with the word 'red' in the title. I plan to continue this thread (as you may have gathered from the title), but there were so many of each colour that I thought it best to start at the start (of the rainbow, that is).
99 Red Balloons - Nena
Ballad Of The Boy In The Red Shoes - Elton John
Black, Red, Yellow - Pearl Jam
Blood Red River - Beth Orton
Brick Is Red - Pixies
Cherry Red - The Bee Gees
Flaming Red - Echo and The Bunnymen
If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags) - Maria McKee
I'm Painting The Town Red - Billie Holiday
Into The Red - Tina Dico
Lady In Red - Chris de Burgh
Little Red Corvette - Prince
Little Red Riding Hood - Sam The Sham and The Pharoahs
Little Red Rooster - Sam Cooke
Little Red Shoes - Loretta Lynn
Low Red Moon - Belly
My Red Self - Heavens To Betsy
Not The Red Baron - Tori Amos
Ol' Red - Blake Shelton
Old Red Eyes Is Back - The Beautiful South
Pink Orange Red - The Cocteau Twins
Red - Belly
Red - Elbow
Red Alert - Basement Jaxx
Red Balloon - Dave Clark Five
Red Bandana - Merle Haggard
Red Barchetta - Rush
Red Blooded Woman - Kylie Minogue
Red Clay Halo - Gillian Welch
Red Dirt Road - Brooks and Dunn
Red Dress - Alvin Stardust
Red Dress - Jad Fair
Red Dress - The Sugababes
Red Guitar - David Sylvian
Red Headed Stranger - Willie Nelson
Red Hill Mining Town -U2
Red Hott - Gossip
Red House - Jimi Hendrix
Red Letter Day - The Pet Shop Boys
Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured - The Arctic Monkeys
Red Light Means Go - Massive Attack
Red Light Special - TLC
Red Light Spells Danger - Billy Ocean
Red Mosquito - Pearl Jam
Red Rain - Peter Gabriel
Red, Red, Red - Fiona Apple
Red, Red Wine - Tony Tribe
Red Right Hand - Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Red River Rock - Johnny and The Hurricanes
Red River Valley - Arlo Guthrie
Red Rubber Ball - The Cyrkle
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes - Elvis Costello
Red Shoes By The Drugstore - Tom Waits
Red Silk Five - Sam Phillips
Red Spot - Le Tigre
Red Vines - Aimee Mann
Redneck Friend - Jackson Browne
Redneck Woman - Gretchen Wilson
Rednecks - Randy Newman
Redskin Rhumba - Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra
Redwing - Hem
Redwings - The Guillemots
Ruby Red - Heather Nova
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry
Run Red Run - The Coasters
Sweet Rhode Island Red - Ike and Tina Turner
The Good Red Road - Devendra Banhart
The Kid From Red Bank - Count Basie
The Red Lagoon - Devendra Banhart
The Red Rooster - Howlin' Wolf
The Red Shoes - Kate Bush
The Woman In Red - Stevie Wonder
They're Red Hot - Robert Johnson (or Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Under The Red Sky - Bob Dylan
Who Drove The Red Sports Car? - Van Morrison
Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon - Willie Nelson
You're More Than A Number In My Little Red Book - The Drifters


That's me officially giving up for now...but I'm sure there are tonnes more, so over to you, dear readers...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Blood Red Shoes


Video = It's Getting Boring By The Sea


Blood Red Shoes are a Brighton-based two piece outfit who categorise themselves on their MySpace page as grunge/punk/disco house. This is noisy (in a good way!) female-fronted drum and guitar music. As Q Magazine put it, they are "Like The White Stripes in reverse" - the female of the band, Laura-Mary Carter, on guitar (and main vocals) and the male member, Steven Ansell, on drums (and vocals). They formed in 2005 and named themselves in honour of Hollywood actress Ginger Rogers who, during a filming session, had to repeat her dance moves so many times that it made her feet bleed, turning her white shoes red!
Their debut album, Box Of Secrets, is due for release in early April 2008.

Free, full, download tracks from their website:
mp3 : can't find the door
mp3 : stitch me back
mp3 : meet me at 8
mp3 : victory for the magpie
mp3 : bless his heart

Website
MySpace - where you can also download a further mp3 (How To Pass The Time)

Listen to if you like (or check out if you like this and haven't heard of the following): Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Elastica (my favourite songs by them, Connection, Waking Up and Car Song are not, however, on their MySpace page), Erase Errata, The Long Blondes (who again fail to include my favourite song by them, Appropriation, on their MySpace page), Giant Drag.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I have been memed

I'm not sure Bamboo Blitz realised the anguish she was about to put me through when she did this (seriously, I will agonise about my responses for eternity), but I shall try my best. I desperately wanted to join in on A Guy Who Talks To A Pigeon Called Frank's idea about the soundtrack to his life, but I just couldn't commit myself...my brain was so boggled by the enormity of the task that it nearly burst! And so, to my response to this particular meme (disclaimer: I have responded to this immediately, or I will worry too much about it, be editing ad infinitum and never get round to it, so these are by no means definitive answers...this is a 'top of my head' response!):
8 things I am passionate about:
- MUSIC!
- Film
- Good, and intelligent, conversation
- Literature and good books
- Writing - my ultimate dream would be, one day, to work as a print journalist
- Equal opportunities and rights
- Healthy debate (those lacking in sense of humour need not apply)
- Art and architecture (at a pleb/layperson level)
8 things I want to do before I die:
- Visit Tokyo, Canada, New Zealand, Austin and SO many other places!
- Overcome my phobia of needles (therefore allowing me, also, to expand answer number one)
- Live, at least for a time, in San Francisco
- Achieve some modicum of respect as a writer/journalist
- Know what it is to truly be happy
- Find the courage to be a club singer for a night!
- Have my dad really understand just how much he means to me...I'm pretty sure he has no idea just how great I think he is, even though I've tried to tell him
- Find someone who loves me for me (and because of, not despite, my faults), and in turn find someone I can love deeply and with all my heart (yes, sappy, I know)
8 things I often say
I struggled with this one, and therefore I have used my prerogative and changed it to:
8 experiences that have changed the way I view the world:
- The Staatliche Museum in Amsterdam - I was so overwhelmed by being in a room with paintings by Mondrian, Kandinsky, Van Gogh all at once; it was absolutely mind-blowing (and no, I was not on any mind-altering substances!)
- Visiting San Francisco for the first time - I have honestly never seen a city (or a place at all, for that matter) so beautiful
- Realising that I LOVE country music!
- Amoeba Music - the mother of all record shops (the second time I went to San Francisco)
- My first experience of love (as in romantic love)...and my first experience of serious lust - the latter has never, I don't think, quite left me; I left the former!
- The first time I heard The Pixies
- Ditto Tori Amos (at the age of 12 or 13)
- Discovering Asian, particularly Japanese, cinema - Tartan Asia Extreme rocks my socks...Ringu, Tetsuo and other films have changed the way I view film in general...as has Ichi The Killer
8 songs I can listen to over and over again:
(This really is just an initial response, and is in no particular order)
- Touch the Hem of His Garment - Sam Cooke
- Fever - Peggy Lee
- Protection - Massive Attack
- Down Under - Men At Work
- Anything by Paul Simon! (Ok, so I cheated a little with this one!)
- Ladyfingers - Luscious Jackson
- Abraham, Martin and John - Marvin Gaye
- Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison
(and only just booted off the list was Why'd You Come In Here Looking Like That? - Dolly Parton)
8 things that attract me to my best friends:
- They are genuine, honest and trustworthy
- Great sense of humour
- Intelligence
- Quirky individuality
- Lack of pretence or BS
- They 'get me', or if not, accept me as I am and find my foibles amusing and endearing!
- Easy conversation - by this I mean someone I can chat to until the cows come home!
- Passion - it doesn't matter what they happen to be passionate about, as long as they are passionate about something
Phew! So are the rules that I have to tag a further 3 people?
I don't 'know' very many people in the blogosphere, but the three names I am going to proffer are:
and
Do your worst!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Imagined Evening?: I have shaken the hand of Billy Bragg!!

...and Martin Carthy! And Simon Emmerson! And I have also been complimented on my coat by none other than Eliza Carthy! I am high as a kite...as the excessive use of exclamation marks may well betray!
I have just returned home from a truly magical evening; and evening spent in the company of The Imagined Village. As per my previous post at the time I booked my ticket, I have to admit that, somehow, this project had previously slipped under my radar. Yes, I knew Eliza Carthy (although not personally!), yes I knew Martin Carthy and, yes, of course I knew Billy Bragg...and Benjamin Zephaniah and Afro Celt Sound System. But together, all on one stage (with the exception of Zephaniah - with us via the medium of film), all at the same time? You're kidding me, right? I was more than a little excited at the prospect of this!
And I really wasn't disappointed (so much so that, rather than my usual agonising over posting, my drafts and edits etc., I had to type it all up straight away, sod the imperfections!). My seat was excellent...practically on the stage, so that was a good start. It was an evening of energy, love of music and heritage and, in the greatest of folk traditions, communion. This supergroup was like some almost unimaginable (except, perhaps, in the Waterson-Carthy household!) get-together of family and friends for a good old sing-song around the piano...well, except for the fact that there was no piano!
...The piano being just about the only instrument not present, however - we had fiddle (naturally), guitar, drums, bass, sitar, cello...and I'm sure others too that I have neglected to mention, or that I couldn't even name! I was completely and utterly captivated throughout...and that is really saying something of me and my ludicrously short attention span!
The premise is to take a modern view of traditional folk music...updating it for today, for a multicultural society, and incorporating non-traditional elements from other musical realms...and what better hands to entrust this to? Billy Bragg was very dapper indeed, bedecked as he was in a moleskin suit festooned with pearlized buttons along every seam (in recognition of his, as he put it, "vernacular garb" - a tribute to the forerunners of London's pearly kings and queens). Carthy Junior was, as expected, stunningly good (her fiddle-playing really is magnificent, and her presence here couldn't be more fitting - she is the riot grrrl of folk, steeped in folk music as a way of life, totally respectful to it, yet a modern young woman who appeared on early CD covers with facial piercings and brightly-dyed hair) and, pleasingly, danced and strutted about the stage like a woman possessed by the sounds of the evening...this music is her blood.
Speaking of which, the proud looks from her dad (and let's not forget that her dad is none other than Martin Carthy!) kept sending her way were touching and human. He has a lot to be proud of...and she a lot to be grateful for.
So far I have only mentioned those musicians with whom I had previously made some personal acquaintance (at home with a CD - they knew nothing of this connection!), but each and every member of this troupe was exceptionally talented...the playing, and singing, was flawless. And, therefore, credit also needs to be given to Sheila Chandra (whose solo work I shall be having a look into - and who is absolutely beautiful), Andy Gangadeen on drums, Francis Hylton on bass (he so doesn't look like a 'Francis' - another almost unnaturally good-looking individual), Johnny Kalsi on percussion, Barney Morse Brown on cello, and Sheema Mukherjee (of Transglobal Underground) on sitar. And I haven't even got around to mentioning Chris Wood yet, who provided vocals and a second fiddle (ha ha!)...and the warm-up act (I cried like a fool at the song about his daughter).
And these are just those contributors who were actually on stage this evening...Paul Weller is on the CD!
If you get the chance to see this esteemed group of musicians, I urge you to do so. This was an evening that left me truly twinkly-eyed and open-mouthed. It was like going to the theatre...as much about the performance, the 'players', the coming together, the being witness to this evening as it was about the music itself. Which was outstanding.
Afterwards I bought myself a CD and took my place in line to get it signed. Knowing that Billy Bragg was just up ahead was terrifying! I get so nervous and star-struck that I find myself tongue-tied and blether nonsense, so I had decided the less I said the better. By the time I got to the panel of heroes, I was shaking and could feel myself starting to sweat, so I was as swift as possible (although I'm sure I still managed to come across as an idiot!), but just to have met them has left me giddy as a kipper. I have a signed CD and tour programme (I didn't even have to ask for the latter to be signed...Ms Carthy offered! And then shoved it under the nose of Mr Bragg. Her life must be amazing, the musicians she gets to meet, work with and know! Hell, she is the progeny of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy! Lucky, then, that she is also brilliant at this whole folk music shebang!), a big grin on my face, and a spring in my step.
Oh, and when I got into my car to drive home Walk On the Wild Side was playing on the radio! Superb!
I HAVE SHAKEN THE HAND OF BILLY BRAGG!
Initial standout tracks (from the performance...I have yet to listen to the album): England Half English, which epitomised the very point of The Imagined Village (but which, disappointingly, I have just noticed is not on the album...they were also selling a four track CD, which I neglected to look at amidst the bustle, so I'm guessing it is on that); Tam Lyn Retold (a Benjamin Zephaniah reworking of an old mythological folk tale); and Hard Times of Old England Retold.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Music you didn't know you love: The Waifs




Hailing from Albany, Western Australia, Josh Cunningham and sisters Vikki Thorn and Donna Simpson are The Waifs.

Their sound is contemporary folk-pop, with acoustic-y guitars, catchy songs and idiosyncratic lyrics. It is all very mellow, with great harmonies.

They have been going since 1992, releasing their first (self-titled) album in 1996. Their most recent album, Sun Dirt Water, was released in September this year. You can listen to (very short!) snippets from that at their website (you will find the music player to the top-ish right of your screen). But it would seem that they are little known outside of their native Australia. This is a great shame, in part due to the fact that they are, despite the album releases, essentially a live band.

For which reason I would recommend introducing yourselves to their music via the 2005 live recordings CD A Brief History. I know what you are thinking...live CDs are often dreadful, right? In this case it conveys what they are about perfectly, containing 32 of their very best (and best loved songs)...my personal favourites being the two featured here, as well as The Waitress, Billy Jones and Gillian. It's a purchase I couldn't recommend more highly...I have even done some internet scouring - the cheapest I am able to find this album is at CD Wow, where it (at the time of writing this) is only £9.49. For a double CD with 32 tracks? BARGAIN!


Check them out...I challenge you to be disappointed!!

Below are a couple of their songs for the aural pleasure of you lucky buggers:

Video for London Still:



And a download of a wonderful song (any song with the line "You mean stuff to me" has got to be good):
Download 'Sweetness'
Although I can't find an MP3 or sample of the song The Waitress to share with you guys, here are the lyrics, to give you an idea of their quirky lyric-writing style:
I thought I’d move to Sydney to get a little piece
Of the city life they talk about in the 90’s
Where everyone I meet don’t want to know my name
They want to know what I do for a living
My songs don’t earn me money or fill my pockets with cash
Every time I go busking I make more in hash
Everything I want is getting further out of reach
Like that funky little apartment down on Bondi
I’ve been getting cozy with a Kiwi boy
He’d kill me if I said he was sweet as apple pie
He’s going to leave me and hit the road
He’s touring with the theater – if you see him say I said...
All the birthday money that my parents sent
Was spent on the phonebill and paying my rent
Frijole, guacamole anything you want
I’m working as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other Tim Burton goodies



The above picture comes from Tim Burton's 'The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories'. I love the dark humour of Tim Burton ('The Nightmare Before Christmas' is simply one of my favourite films...so inventive) and have long been a fan of his stories and animation. I am here to talk about a simply gorgeous website dedicated to the book.
The site was created by an Irish guy called Wayne and is absolutely beautiful and faithful to Burton's work, which contains such entries as 'The Boy with Nails in his Eyes', 'The Girl Who Turned into a Bed', 'Brie Boy' and 'Jimmy, The Hideous Penguin Boy'. You can buy the book, and read reviews at Amazon.
And, just to treat you, here's Mr Burton's short animation 'Vincent':






You can also check out Burton's six part series 'Stainboy' on Atom Films...he is an unusual kind of superhero (all links below open in a new window). Keep an eye out for characters from 'Oyster Boy'!:
Stainboy #3: Bowling Ball Head (my favourite of the six)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The coolest watch in the world?




I have just ordered this turntable watch (my nickname here is because I love vinyl records so much)...will I be the coolest kid on the block or what?
Oh, and whilst I'm on a design tip, check out this great website...free flat pack toys for you to print off and build! How ace is that? I just wish I had a printer...harumph!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yet more free music! 14 tracks by up-and-coming country artists...

People.com are offering 14 free downloads by new country music stars in honour of the Country Music Awards 2007. For each artist there is the facility to stream the song on the website before deciding if you would like to download the track. I have dutifully listened to each of them and will give you a quick low-down on my personal hits and misses.
The list of available downloads is as follows:
1. Luke Bryan - We Rode In Trucks
2. Rissi Palmer - Country Girl
3. Jack Ingram - Great Divide
4. Jennifer Hanson - 73
5. Eric Church - Sinners Like Me
6. Katie Armiger - Make Me Believe
7. Trent Willmon - There Is A God
8. Sunny Sweeney - Ten Years Past
9. Danielle Peck - Kiss You On The Mouth
10. Lady Antebellum - Love Don't Live Here
11. Ashton Shepherd - I Ain't Dead Yet
12. Laura Bryna - Make A Wish
13. David Nail - Missouri
14. Miko Marks - The Son My Daddy Never Had
My favourite of the lot were Ashton Shepherd and Miko Marks, and I also downloaded Jennifer Hanson and Rissi Palmer (although I think I might wind up finding this one a bit annoying - too 'pop').
Most of them are really pretty good, just not all to my taste (country-pop doesn't generally do a lot for me). For the record (ha!), I would say the ones to unequivocally avoid are Trent Willmon and Laura Bryna (truly dreadful...three and a half minutes of my life that I can never get back!)...not keen on David Nail either (and I spent the whole song thinking he was singing 'misery' until I checked the title!).
So I would say that there are at least a good five out of fourteen worth a download...which isn't bad for zilch!
I have neglected, thus far, to mention my ABSOLUTE favourite...but that is only because I am already a big fan, and the others were new to me. The hands down winner, in my book, is Sunny Sweeney!! This woman is fantastic! Buy her album...you won't regret it! The only reason I didn't download this one is because I already have a SIGNED album. In fact it was she who tipped me off to these free downloads...nice one Sunny, ta duck! :o)
If you like country music, some other great recent acts that are seriously worth checking out are Sam Baker, Adam Hood, Old Crow Medicine Show and blacktopGYPSY (samples of these artists' music available at lonestarmusic.com). That should keep you going for now...

Whilst we are on the subject of weird short films...


RABBIT

Truly dark, but very nicely done. The creators' website is at http://www.runwrake.com/.

For more seriously disturbing, but brilliant, animation, check out Salad Fingers.

Death by robo-penis: My thoughts on Tetsuo (1989)


Wow! This film is amazing! I have had it on dvd for a while now, and kind of knew I'd love it, but have only just got around to watching it.

Before I start, I shall say that I deliberately wrote this blog before reading anything that other people had to say, as I wanted to make up my own mind, have my own ideas, and form my own theories (this film begs consideration of its symbolism and the societal issues it seems to be focusing on). But I will be heading across to the IMDB message boards after this to have a look at other peoples' theories!

And so, to the blog proper...


"Fuck you. Don't you understand?
Your future is metal."

Shot entirely in black and white, the dark and grainy look of this film is juxtaposed with strange and jarring sounds, punctilious attention to detail (almost like a haunting, but oddly beautiful, montage of still photographs), shocking imagery and stop-motion animation. The 'look' of the whole thing brings to mind the work of artist H. R. Giger, and his explorations of the interaction between / fusion of man and machine and depictions of dark, threatening, biomechanical landscapes.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is very industrial in appearance. It can be extremely confusing and difficult to follow, but the plot, broadly, is that a character simply titled Fetishist (a metal fetishist...we see him, very early in the film – a shocking image – purposefully inserting a metal rod into his own thigh. He then notices that the wound is riddled with maggots and runs, screaming, out into the street) is hit by a car. The driver of this car winds up with a metal plate stuck in his head and is told that to remove it would kill him. Thereafter he gradually morphs into the titular Iron Man, the metal assimilating into his body, growing and using his flesh like a parasite to propagate itself. The beauty of the camera shots and the fact it is in black and white make the contrast with the lurid, turn your stomach, imagery even greater.

Anyone who has arrived here via a Google search for Ted Hughes may well be disappointed!

This film is disorientating (but definitely disturbing) and can seem desultory and fitful, but the whole thing is visually mesmerising and, using only a very small budget, very precisely brought into being (the director, Shinya Tsukamoto, is also credited for screenplay and art direction, lighting direction, editing, special effects and co-photography – as well as starring in the film as the Fetishist). There is obvious attention to detail in every shot, exciting (and exacting) camera work and editing...this is like a short film that is 67 minutes in length.
In places it looks like an expertly choreographed ballet. In other scenes it is some kind of pop music video (I'm sure Michael Jackson has taken some inspiration from this, only with a much larger budget...and I'm not even going to get into the whole 'transformation' side of the debate!) or, with help from the soundtrack created by musician Chu Ishikawa (click here to download the soundtrack...just click on the 'free' column), an industrial metal (metal...ha! How appropriate!) or dark electronica video (think Aphex Twin). It might even remind you of (and therefore may have influenced) The Terminator (admittedly, fucked-up Japanese style!), except inverted – here the metal is on the outside, the man trapped inside and engulfed.
Special effects-wise, this looks like Videodrome, or even Re-Animator or Peter Jackson's Braindead. And the gradual transformation of the Salaryman (Tomorah Taguchi) is every bit as memorable and, in my opinion, successful as the metamorphosis in An American Werewolf in London. It does not (indeed could not) rely on CGI or massive budgets, as do more recent films. The images here are urban-industrial-futuristic and the film, despite being dark in atmosphere, look and tone, is frenetic in pace. The anime influence in terms of the story and the violence is also clear to see.
Here are some of my own theories about the issues it might be addressing, the questions the film might be asking etc:

Might it be about the advance of technology, our relationship with it, and the way it is encroaching into our lives? A warning about relying on technology or letting it take over (CCTV, 1984's 'telescreens' - “Big Brother is watching you”, or perhaps even controlling you...from the inside! Not to mention more recent discourse over microchips, ID cards and general governmental surveillance)? Or could it be about the machine, or other emblems of technological advance, as status symbol and, beyond functionality, the anthropomorphism and sexualisation of the inanimate, e.g. cars and motorcycles?
It could equally be a comment on our hidden sexual desires, our id suppressed and concealed from society. Tetsuo is certainly very much about the sexual being – at times bordering on some kind of mechano-porn or cyberotica (even the relatively comedic / light relief elements of this film come in the form of a giant, spinning, motorised penis - “You want a taste of my sewage pipe?”)! Is it a nod to the fact that we never really know what is beneath the surface of the 'normal' man? We could be seeing the Salaryman's hidden core forcing itself to the surface; his darkest desires, his yearning for some sort of power and recognition. Is it, therefore, about the monster within each of us (the high-school shooter who 'flips' and those closest to him could never foresee that he was capable of such acts)?
Which leads me to thinking about the film's possible observations on society itself. Are we being lead to reflect upon the factory-line conveyor-belt of workers expected to look, dress and behave in the same way, i.e. the mechanisation of an individual in a conformist and regimented society? If so, surely it is relevant that none of the characters in this film are given names and that this all happens to a workaday, business-suited, 'average' man. Or perhaps it references the alienation people feel, our disenchanted / disengaged / desensitised / phlegmatic / anaesthetised / delete as appropriate* youth; part of a society where the constant onslaught of media imagery, video games and casual violence and sex (both on and off screen – consider the recent 'trend' for filming assaults on mobile phones) has narcotised them. Discursively, then, it could be about individuality and acknowledgment of peoples' different aspirations and expectations – for the Salaryman this is dystopia, for the Fetishist the achievement of nirvana.
As for the need to be recognised as an individual, it could even be seen as alluding to our relationship with our own bodies – we often feel as if betrayed, that we are not in control (Salaryman's transformation could even be an analogy for the ageing process, thrust upon us against our will). Is it questioning modern trends for plastic surgery and body modification (piercing, tattoos, implants, branding, scarification etc.) and asking where this will all end?

I don't know the answers to any of the above questions, but I definitely don't remember the last time a film made me think and hypothesise so much! Ultimately, we don't even know for sure whether this film is showing us dreadful nightmares or startling 'realities'.

Ok, so finally to some reasons you might not like this film: it is gruesome and shocking in parts; it is low budget and you will have seen technically better special effects (but that's so not the point); it can be confusing and disorientating; it doesn't hand you all the answers; there is barely any dialogue at all – it is mostly an abundance of raucous, angular industrial sounds and loud music; the scenes where the camera is chasing through Japan are at head-fuck speed (and totally look like they were inspiration for the Madonna video for Ray Of Light!).
It's going straight on my list of great films!
I would LOVE to hear what you think of the film, what it made you think about and, indeed, if you thought it was a complete waste-of-time-piece-of-rubbish! Does anyone know if Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is also worth seeing?

File under: Horror, sci-fi, cyber-porn!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Free Game Download - Sam And Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die!

Can you see yourself in the Oval Office? Want to control the US budget and, er, send Abraham Lincoln's credentials to a dating agency? Then this is the game for you!
On November 5th, Telltale Games announced that they were releasing Sam and Max Episode 4 for free download. Season 2 of the game is just about to be released, so this is presumably to stump up some publicity...and it's working, because it's not something I had ever heard of before (I found this courtesy of Jay Is Games).
As I have said, this game is completely free...and it kept me entertained for a good few hours...even though I am an impatient soul and sourced for myself a walkthrough (really not in the spirit of things, I know, but my attention span is short! I'm sure I missed some good bits in doing so). This game looks great; the graphics are really nice and the interaction very easy and natural (it's all just point and click, so you only even need one finger!). It is really quite clever in parts and sports a healthy dose of cynicism (N.B. At times this could offend some, and is not suitable for young children).
My favourite bits: Self-loathing Weekly magazine on sale in the shop; the suggestion of putting a parking garage in George Washington's forehead at Mount Rushmore; the US flag with one extra star stuck randomly on the top for 'West Dakota'; 'Urine Shrimp' Buy One, Get One; and...the song! I won't spoil that part...it's very Team America.
Ok, so (I think) we've established that this is worth having a shufty at, given that it is free, but there are also bad points to note.
The loading times between areas on this game can seem interminable...it can make it pretty tiresome moving between scenes to try things out. Be prepared to spend a lot of time clicking on things that don't help you progress (but which can still be quite amusing)...there's a lot of trial and error in this, unless you are a bit fat cheater like me! You will seriously need some patience and time on your hands. The little rabbit, Max, can also get somewhat annoying (I got particularly sick of him saying "Where we goin', Sam?" and that's not to mention his 'wise' cracks!).
Saying all of this, you are able to save progress at any point, so when your clicking finger gets RSI and your eyes turn square, you can leave your computer and have a bit of a break...no, really!
You can download it here (and for you other party poopers out there, here is the walkthrough that I resorted to).
So what are your favourite bits?
P.s. I have just discovered StumbleUpon!!! How did I miss this wonder before? Exactly how addictive? Why not come and befriend me at http://divinyl.stumbleupon.com/ ?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Alice Smith - For Lovers, Dreamers & Me




Apologies for the gap between postings (I am full of cold and can't seem to concentrate enough to put in the effort I usually put into my blogs...and I don't want to just post tosh for the sake of it!)...I shall return with one of my more customary, longer blogs soon.



Today, however, I am just stopping by to tell you about the above album. I've been having a bit of a mooch round MP3.com, which really is a great website...tonnes of free downloads, free album streamings, reviews etc. etc. (No, I don't work for them!). On my travels I came across Alice Smith, who I have never heard of before.

This album is excellent. Admittedly I have only listened to it in full once so far, but it held my attention, whereas most of the others I would click away from after half a song. Her voice is kind of India Arie/Jill Scott/Erykah Badu-ish, but this isn't just bog standard modern R&B (which often fails to move me at all). The tracks are really varied and all of a high standard. I shall definitely be listening again, and will even consider making a purchase (which, after all, is the reason they offer us a listen for free eh?).

Rather than just rehashing the MP3.com information to tell you more about her, I'll just link across there in order that you can peruse for yourselves >>> Alice Smith.

Let me know what you think and, if you already know about her/like her/despise her, perhaps you could share that in the comments...as I say, my knowledge of her is currently limited to the small amount of information on that one website...although I may well investigate further.
Edit: I've subsequently found out that this album is only available from 12/11/07 (i.e. Monday).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Limitless Potential - Free Nine Inch Nails Remixes

I haven't had chance to listen to them all yet, but thought I would let you guys know that Nine Inch Nails are offering 21 free to download tracks on their website. These tracks are all remixes of their songs submitted by fans, and the 21 offered are the winners out of almost 200 entries.
You can download individual tracks, download the lot as an album via Torrent, or stream it in an MP3 player...and the tracks are completely open source, so are free to share as you wish.
Get in on the action here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pass the dutchie on the left hand side

Weeds is an American television show about the life of a suburban 'mom' who, following the death of her husband, tries to bring in some extra money for her family as a marijuana dealer. The main character, Nancy Botwin, is played by Mary-Louise Parker (Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Cafe, Boys On The Side, Angels In America, The West Wing), and it has guest starred others such as Carrie Fisher, Mary-Kate Olsen and Snoop Dogg. It all takes places in a fictional suburb of Los Angeles, known as Agrestic (meaning rural, pertaining to fields or the country, and also lacking in sophistication, unpolished, uncouth - Dictionary.com). The show, now on its third season, was first aired in 2005 and won Best Performance By A TV Actress In A Musical Or Comedy at the Golden Globe awards in 2006.

But I am not really here to talk about the show itself...I am here to talk about its title music. The song is Little Boxes, which was written by folk singer-songwriter and political activist Malvina Reynolds in 1962. Inspired by the houses in Daly City, California, the song is all about tell-them-apart-if-you-can, chocolate box house, suburban living and its values and expectations of conformity. The song is best known through the performance by Pete Seeger.




In the first series of the show, the original song (video above) aired as the title music for each episode; however, by series' two and three, a different artist or band was being used for each separate episode. Apparently the impetus behind this was because series producers were initially unsure as to whether they would be able to use the original, and therefore had several artists record the song before deciding which one to use. It has now got to the stage where performers are requesting to be included...and the role-call holds some very big names!

There has been an orchestral and instrumental version (by Maestro Charles Barnett - Season 2, Episode 5), a Spanish version with a disco feel (Kinky - Season 3, Episode 3), a rap version (The Individuals - Season 3, Episode 7), and even one sung partly in Russian (Persephone's Bees - Season 3, Episode 12).


Here are my top five in order of appearance (the clickable links are to the video for each on YouTube):


1. Death Cab For Cutie - Season 2, Episode 2

Death Cab For Cutie are Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer, Jason McGerr and Chris Walla. They were formed in Bellingham, Washington in 1997 and took their name from a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song, which appeared on their 1967 album Gorilla and in The Beatles' film Magical Mystery Tour. Their best known track is probably Transatlanticism, from the album of the same name - this song was used in the HBO show Six Feet Under, and several more have featured in The OC.

This version of Little Boxes is a pretty straightforward reading with a male vocal. The backing is catchy guitar-based, indie band pop, with some nice drumming. It feels very upbeat.



2. Kate and Anna McGarrigle - Season 2, Episode 4

The McGarrigle sisters, who are of Canadian and Irish origin, hail from the town of Saint Sauveur des Monts (where I had a pen pal as a child!) in Quebec. They record in both French and English and their songs are based around folky vocal harmonies and often unusual timings.
This version of the song is in French and is quite a sedate affair filled with their trademark harmonies and minimal, mostly string-based, backing instrumentation. You can find the whole song (3 minutes 38 seconds) on The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2 - If I Had A Song.



3. Regina Spektor - Season 2, Episode 10

Can this woman do no wrong? Born in Moscow, Russia, moving to The Bronx, New York aged nine, Regina Spektor studied classical piano from an early age. She now makes quirky (typified by relatively unusual techniques such as the glottal stop) folk-influenced music, claiming to have written over 700 songs...although neglecting to write them all down!
You can listen to full songs at her website...go to http://www.reginaspektor.com/, select 'music' and then 'launch radio player'. She is also, if you get the chance, excellent live.
This cover is very Regina...it is kooky and not simply a note-for-note copy. The timing is individual and has a different personality to many of the other versions used, incorporating some changes to a minor key and, of course, Spektor's very pretty voice.

4. Angelique Kidjo - Season 3, Episode 2

Kidjo was born in Ouidah, Benin and grew up in the port village of Cotonou. In her early 20s she moved to Paris, due to the political conflicts in her home country, where she began performing. She is fluent in Fon, French, Yoruba and English (I haven't even heard of all of these languages!) and often uses traditional African vocal styles, such as the zilin technique of her native Benin, alongside jazzy stylings.
This episode's Little Boxes is possibly my favourite of the lot. The African influences are there for all to see, with Kidjo being backed by a group of singers making sounds more than singing the words of the song. Initially a capella, about half way through some backing music kicks in, which is very Caribbean-feeling, carnival-type music. Seriously, this sounds really good!


5. Joan Baez - Season 3, Episode 9

I'm sure Joan Baez needs little introduction...what a coup, getting her to sign up to this! Just in case...Baez is a Mexican-American folk singer and songwriter who, due to her father's job, grew up all over the US, Europe and Middle East (she was born on Staten Island). She is a soprano with a three octave vocal range and performed at 1969's Woodstock Festival. Baez is well known for singing songs with political and protest-based lyrics. On her live CD Ring Them Bells, reissued this year as a collectors edition, she is joined by many other big names, including Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who also appear in this Top 5.
This one is again fairly straightforward, but unmistakably Joan Baez. There is acoustic guitar backing and great use of the snare drum.




Also worth a listen (in my rather humble opinion) are:
  • Elvis Costello (The Man!) - Season 2, Episode 1
  • The Submarines - Season 2, Episode 8 (nice backing to this one)
  • Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice - Season 2, Episode 11
  • Randy Newman - Season 3, Episode 1
  • Man Man - Season 3, Episode 8

And I haven't even mentioned that others have included:

  • Engelbert Humperdinck (!) - Season 2, Episode 3
  • Donovan - Season 3, Episode 4
  • Billy Bob Thornton - Season 3, Episode 5
  • The Shins - Season 3, Episode 6
  • The Decemberists - Season 3, Episode 10

Is it 4.20 already?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Carrie Brownstein blogs at NPR

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monitormix/

There are, thus far, only two entries, as she only started this on November 4th. You lucky, lucky people can get in with the cool kids early!

Monday, November 5, 2007

A beautiful and intimate friendship - Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith




"The Passenger and those he leaves behind, connected for a time by a long
unwinding ribbon. A streamer cast and caught with joy."
Patti Smith - The Coral Sea (1996)


Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith met in New York in 1967. First communing over a mutual love of William Blake, they became lovers, despite Mapplethorpe living the majority of his adult life as a homosexual. They lived together for around five years in all, a key time being their period at The Chelsea Hotel (after a brief stay at a loft on Delancey Street and then The Allerton Hotel). During this time Smith inspired Mapplethorpe, then a sculptor, to experiment with photography; he, in turn, encouraged Smith to perform her poetry live. He was also responsible for financing her first single - a cover of Hey Joe, with the B-side Piss Factory, in 1974.
Smith was the first person that Mapplethorpe photographed and became something of a muse to him. The most iconic of the resulting pictures is that used for the cover of Smith's debut album Horses in 1975. This photograph is multi-faceted, to my eyes showing Smith as strong yet vulnerable, androgynous yet undeniably brimming with female sexuality. The rapport between photographer and subject is tangible, and there is no pretence - exemplified by Smith's direct look at the camera (and therefore viewer/audience). Mapplethorpe described taking photographs of Patti Smith as "like taking drugs; you're in an abstract place and it's perfect."
In 1978 they made a short (13 minutes) black and white film together, entitled Still Moving. The film had its premiere at The Robert Miller Gallery, New York. Mapplethorpe is said to have wanted to capture Smith's "presence" on film and record her poetry and love of literature. Prior to this, in 1971, they had also been captured on film together in Sandy Daley's Robert Having His Nipple Pierced.
Smith and Mapplethorpe were close friends and inspiration to each other ("my friend, my compeer, my beloved adventure", Patti Smith) for 22 years, right up until his untimely AIDS-related death, aged just 42, on March 9th 1989. Smith was devastated by his death (and suffered three further significant bereavements over the course of the next five years). She spoke at his memorial service in New York and, in 1996, wrote The Coral Sea - a book of poetry about Mapplethorpe, and in his memory. All royalties from this were donated to The Robert Mapplethorpe Laboratory For AIDS Research at New England Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Smith has been photographed by many over the years, with notables including Annie Leibovitz, yet it is the pictures by Mapplethorpe, her close friend, that really seem to capture some truth, some "presence" (as Mapplethorpe himself put it) that is far greater than any picture by another photographer. Through Mapplethorpe we as viewers/listeners/audience/fans are gifted a small window into Patti Smith's soul.
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE November 4th 1946-March 9th 1989



















Sunday, November 4, 2007

A picture to make you smile...




Louis Armstrong's smile always blows me away! I melt.
Bless your soul Satchmo.
(Back with more soon!)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What The Folk?: The Imagined Village

I booked tickets yesterday to go and see The Imagined Village at The Sage. Somehow I've missed out on hearing about this ensemble before getting an e-mail about it from The Sage, but it looks awesome! Billy Bragg, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Simon Emmerson (of Afro Celt Sound System) and others all appearing on stage together! I can't wait!


http://www.imaginedvillage.com/

Kate Rusby - My Young Man

Whilst we are on a trad folk bent, I shall return again to Kate Rusby (who, if you have been reading for a while / have looked back in the archive, you will know that I have blogged about before). She is another folkie with an amusing and endearing repartee...and surely what simply must be the best voice in the business! She is so good that I can't really find the words (and that's saying something!).
I found a great video, whilst browsing YouTube, of her song My Young Man. Elfman101 is, I think, responsible for the photo montage that accompanies it, which is just stunning.
Coal mining (the subject of the song) was a massively important industry in the region in which I live; it was the backbone of local communities, from which the heart was ripped when then pits were closed, resulting in massive unemployment and economic depression, not to mention the toll it had taken on miners' health.
It's something I wrote a poem about (a very quickly-written poem, I hasten to add) on 27/01/05...The Day The Last Pit Closed:
The day the last pit closed -
Like prisoners released
into the big, wide world.
Blinking and unable to adjust,
the freedom too much to bear.
So unnatural.
60 years passed since the Holocaust.
Harold Shipman's inquest.
They hardly get a look-in,
this community torn to shreds.
This industry.
Our industry.
Deceased.
And only on the local news.
Kate Rusby puts it, ahem, somewhat better!
Here's the song...and thanks for the brilliant video Elfman101:

Friday, November 2, 2007

"Currently celebrating 37 years of successful anonymity" - Vin Garbutt

Last night I went to see Vin Garbutt at The Sage, Gateshead. It cost me the princely sum of £3.50! Not bad to see two acts (support came in the form of Jez Lowe) in a beautiful venue methinks. This was the third time I have seen Vin live - my first as a child dragged along by my mother (I think she had a spare ticket or something) - and he never fails to impress.

The title of this blog is a line he came out with during this recent gig, and a prime example of his inter-song witticisms. This, unbeknownst to me beforehand, was his 60th birthday concert and so, as he took to the stage, he was greeted by most of the audience singing Happy Birthday.

So, I hear most of you ask, who on earth is Vin Garbutt? Well, he is a folk singer from Middlesbrough. Born in South Bank (still Middlesbrough, not London!), he became a professional musician aged 21 and has been slogging away ever since. He tours the world each year and sells out gigs across the globe...the one last night included.

Yet most people never seem to have even heard his name. Unless they are particularly into folk music...Vin is a big name, probably one of the biggest, on the British folk scene. He even won the Best Live Act at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2001. And he is a proper shaggy-haired, penny whistle-playing folkster; this is trad folk (yet not just trad songs...most of the songs are written by Mr Garbutt himself). These are songs about real people's lives and hardships, which tackle the big issues out there, such as asylum-seeking, working for pennies, nature (and its destruction), and coal and potash mining.

The lyrics are intelligent and thought-provoking, as well as humorous in places. My favourites on this occasion were from Land Of Three Rivers ("In the land of three rivers I'm longing to be/Where the Tyne, Wear and Tees meet the North's rolling sea") and Punjabi Girl ("I never thought I'd fall for someone from another world/Until I met and fell in love with a dark Punjabi girl").

As someone who comes from my home town (which, although recently voted the worst place in Britain by Location, Location, Location, I am very fond of and nostalgic about. It does have its merits - beautiful countryside and seaside towns nearby, friendly people etc. But I digress...this is not the intended topic of this blog post!) and sings about it proudly, I always find the 'local' lyrical references particularly poignant. The first of the above quoted lyrics exemplifies the pride people feel in this region...their region; affinity with it really means something to people of the North East (despite what the otherwise lovely Kirstie Allsopp might have to say). It is a region that is truly in our hearts.

Punjabi Girl I found really quite touching as, despite being lovely, warm people, the folk of Middlesbrough are not a people I consider to be (obviously I generalise hugely) especially open-minded in their cultural beliefs. This song, therefore, evoked for me the sentiment of someone overcoming the preconceptions he had previously held...sadly, in the song, their families were not able to do this, but love still reigned :o) I seriously struggled not to cry on several occasions during the gig.

I laughed too. As I said previously, Vin is a very witty and likeable man. The one that made me laugh the most was:

"...my current cd. I'm one of very few artists to sell flavoured cds"

This obviously works best aloud due to the homonyms, but I'm sure you can imagine.

There was also a great cover of the song Teesbay by Bob Fortune, which evokes an image of a city on the sea, made up of boats and liners...a city that is always in flux, but always alive with sparkling lights.

He's an excellent live act and I will definitely go to see him again in the future (and hope that he sings my favourite song of his, If I Had A Son, which he didn't on this occasion). Perhaps, however, as a friend I bumped into observed, this was not the best venue for him. The Sage is absolutely stunning, but there just isn't that proper folk club sing-along atmosphere...it feels too formal.

Try to catch him and see what you think...I seriously doubt you'll come away unimpressed (or even without a cd in your hand - I never seem to! This time it was his latest Persona...Grata). And no excuses about where you live...this man has played everywhere!

Vin Garbutt's website

Vin's MySpace (I can't believe he has a MySpace profile! Check out the song Philippino Maid on there)

And a (sometimes quite cheesy) video to give you a better idea of who he is: