Friday, September 08, 2006

It is indeed loathsomely indicative of the paranoid times in which we live, cowed as we are by the fear of lawsuits or simply being misunderstood, that I feel obliged to launch my blog with a spineless disclaimer. Nevertheless, I think it is necessary to provide at least a context, if not a justification for my appearance on the information superhighway, which is that I have been rather rudely prodded into action by that treacherous and malevolent spirit known as the Impostume, who has been maligning me on his blog for nigh on a month now. I demand the right to defend myself, and thus if you object to the content of anything whatsoever that appears on this blog, please remember that essentially the Impostume is to blame.

I have for example been referred to as “Prague’s Most Poisonous Ex-Pat”, despite the fact that I have never in my life lived in Prague. I hate to be a pedant, but the somewhat inconvenient truth (from the point of view of alliteration) is that I have disdained the pleasures of the big smoke and opted to live an entirely different quarter of the Czech Republic called Olomouc – not a miserable, grey, post-communist hole as might befit a miserable, greying ex-communist (yes, I admit it, it was a very long time ago in my early teens I might add) such as myself, but actually a delightful if small university town in Moravia, some 150 miles or so to the east of the capital. “Poisonous Ex-Pat” however may be considerably more difficult to refute – but I shall struggle valiantly in my own humble manner to convince all and sundry that, contrary to everything the Impostume says, I am in fact a jolly nice man.

A vain enterprise no doubt (oh, come on, if a name like Frothing Spleen doesn’t convince you what will?), particularly if you saw my anti-Scritti Politti rant as published on the pages of the aforementioned scoundrel. I can only apologise and protest feebly that it was the content of a private e-mail and not intended for public consumption, but I was savagely betrayed, guv (see what I have to put up with, and he has the nerve to say “with friends like these..”). In addition I was misquoted – I said “treacly” take on reggae rather than “trendy”, but I surmise, perhaps magnanimously, that this particular oversight was due to the fact that the Impostume was as usual too vain to don his spectacles that day rather than the result of calculated malice. Actually, with regard to Scritti, there is a small part of me that lives in fear that I will one day hear something good by them and have to re-evaluate. However, I've successfully managed to avoid that moment for a number of decades now, and with minimal effort.

Anyway, I’ve devoted more than enough time to the Impostume (or possibly not, since other than myself he’s the only person I know of who’s guaranteed to read this page), and in any case would at least like to start off on a positive note rather than a vicious drubbing, just to prove my overall niceness and that. I begin with a belated elegy to a man about whom not a bad word can be said, the late, great Desmond Dekker. Now there, Mr Gartside (oh God, I haven’t descended into sniping already have I?), was a man who knew how to do reggae. Nothing treacly here, just sweet as a nut. Late 60s classics, such as 007, which appears on virtually every bargain bucket reggae compilation down your local HMV, are as brilliant as they are ubiquitous, and simply some of the most life-affirming music ever made.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Desmond Dekker is the way everything seemed so effortless with him, that he didn’t ever try to impress. He doesn’t sock it to ya in the manner of the mighty Toots, for example – he doesn’t have to, he’s enjoying himself too much. His music is a refreshingly buoyant celebration of life as he sees and lives it. Songs about gun-toting rude boys abound, but without any of the machismo of gangsta rap or political/moral hectoring (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with either of those, you understand), delivered instead in a really quite un-macho, almost falsetto voice, with a wide open smile.

In fact after his recent, untimely death, someone (I think it might actually have been Mark Lamarr) said he defied anyone to listen to DD and not smile. I’d add to that – the reason it’s so hard not to smile upon hearing him is that he seems to be smiling himself whilst singing (no mean feat, by the way). None of your moody, sucked-in-cheek posturing with this man, in fact no posturing at all, although he could be quite a snazzy dresser at times. No supercool, spliffed-out laid-back attitude either, just easy, infectious positivity. Innocent, unselfconscious, life-affirming, celebratory, easy-going, enthusiastic… in fact he possessed all these qualities, which I myself so patently lack, in such abundance that I can only marvel at the genius of the man.

I apologise if all this sounds rather unoriginal, since several thousand obituaries must have been written about him recently, but it would seem like an omission not to state the obvious, i.e. that he, more than anyone else, was the man to bring Jamaican music to a white, British audience, long before the ludicrously overrated token-black superstar Bob Marley, whose name has become interchangeable with the word reggae for terminally lazy dullards worldwide. Desmond, God bless him, was in a different class entirely. I and thousands more overgrown skinheads salute you DD, RIP.

Above (I hope, not quite got the hang of this techno lark yet) is a clip of Desmond a bit later on after his move to the UK, in which he’d clearly fallen under the influence of Benny Hill. Now if that doesn’t make you smile…

All right, now I’ve been a good boy and bored everyone to tears by churning out some cliché-riddled paean-by-numbers to show how nice I am, can I write about something I hate now, Mum?

Boots ON!!

Primal Scream.

I fucking hate Primal Scream. I loathe them. Their existence ranks amongst the many things that I take as a really quite personal affront. This goes way back to my teenage years, and has solidified since into a granite-hard motherlode of disgust. Let me explain.

I’d better start at the beginning, when I was still a reasonably cute and innocent young pup of 14 or 15, circa 1986, and head over heels in love with my recent discovery, “Psychocandy”, which must surely still be a leading contender for The Greatest Album Of All Time. I thought I was pretty cool being into the Jesus and Mary Chain at that age, but alas in retrospect I was not, and it was this that became my downfall. I hadn’t been doing my musical homework (partly because I was too busy with my O Level homework) – I hadn’t yet started reading the “serious” music press (something I ceased to do a very long time ago – does it still exist?) and only occasionally listened to John Peel, not only did I have to be up for school early the next day but also I confess that my young ears baulked at the prospect of trawling through the mire of all the Stupids/Napalm Death/ENT kind of guff he played back then in the hope of hearing something decent.

The upshot is that when I heard through the grapevine that Bobby Gillespie had left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front a band called Primal Scream (AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!), I was unprepared. Woefully musically uninformed as I was, I expected them to be magnificent, a mighty, misanthropic howl along the lines of “You Trip Me Up”. So I got on a train to Birmingham (there were no half-decent record shops in Coventry in the mid 80s) and spent my hard-earned wages from my paper round on a copy of their single, “Crystal Crescent”. You can imagine the scenario when I got home after a seemingly endless return train journey and rushed straight to the turntable. It was the musical equivalent of Christmas morning, when the shiny new bike you were expecting turns out to be a rusty old scooter. What do you do? You try and hide your disappointment, do your utmost to somehow accommodate, even like the despised object, whizzing around on it in a few despondent circles before plopping yourself down on the floor and bursting into tears. I gave it two, maybe three spins, but… I was bewildered and gutted. Had anything ever sounded less like a primal scream? Appallingly meek, bored schoolgirl vocals, tinny, jangling guitars, an oddly jarring lack of rhythm and not even a hummable melody, let alone the Reidesque majesty I’d been expecting. The B-side, Velocity Girl, though quite a pretty little tune, offered little consolation. Pretty little tunes, after all, were not what I wanted from a band called Primal Scream, fronted by the man who had bashed the skins with such ferocity on Psychocandy.

This, for me, was a revelation, a rite of passage of the most unwelcome kind. It would be tempting to say that a shadow was cast over my youth, but that would suggest menace and foreboding, whereas the reality was more like an infuriating smudge you just can’t get rid of. I suddenly became aware that all that glittered was not gold in the world of alternative rock n roll, and in addition of the existence of an entire other genre I’d up to then been blissfully ignorant of – that of “Indie Pop” – more on those bastards later.

OK, I accept that I’ve whinged for long enough about personal traumas I really should have got over by now, it was an inevitable process we all have to go through and if it hadn’t been Primal Scream it would have been someone else. However, the juxtaposition with my favourite band, the Mary Chain, seems particularly cruel, and when all’s said and done, Primal Scream have always been shit, haven’t they? After a number of such poxy singles they released an album called “Sonic Flower Groove” for God’s sake, a title of such stultifyingly unimaginative 60s-throwback naffness that they richly deserved to be crowned the Spinal Tap of Indie there and then.

But did it happen? Did it my arse! Instead they went on and rubbed salt into the wound by becoming absolutely huge. Jumping on the bandwagon of the Madchester indie-dance crossover, they lazily grafted a shufflingly pedestrian dance beat onto a looped Stones bassline and called it “Loaded”. Huh, you mean like, on drugs, man, cool! There was absolutely nothing about this single that wasn’t an utter rip-off. Even the quote at the beginning had been used much more effectively, with glorious abandon a year or so before by the then upcoming Mudhoney – and that led to countless embarrassed scenes up and down the country that year as the grunge kids got up on the dancefloor, their expressions turning from joyful, poised-to-headbang anticipation to consternation when the quote went on for longer than it should, and then to outright dismay when the Primals’ stuttering shower of tepid diarrhoea started up. But they got away with it. Initially people smirked and noted dryly how much it resembled Sympathy For The Devil (and didn’t it just), but after a while to mention this became passé, even bad form. Whilst somehow it didn’t become passé or bad form to play the bloody track… how come? At this point I began to suspect a conspiracy.

My rancour and paranoia continued to ferment whilst these Jacks of All Trades, Masters of None excelled at neither indie nor dance but continued to amass a huge following from both camps. The few of us who were left unmoved grumbled that this was merely evidence that they represented the lowest common denominator, but were forced to revise even that opinion with the release of Screamadelica, which incomprehensibly managed to get the hitherto unconvinced critics on their side. Could our shrinking band of unconverted have been that wrong? Sure, it contained a few references, hinting at their cool taste in music, but it all seemed so contrived, so unoriginal, so clumsily pieced together, and all this after rock and dance had already been combined much more successfully and joyously years before on AR Kane’s criminally overlooked “I”, amongst other things. They got away with it. Again. I hate them.

Mercifully they went quiet for a while after that, and not too long after they returned I left the UK, which made it easier for me to ignore them. Perhaps mellowing with the years, I wish to state that I have nothing personal against the individual members of the band, and was pleasantly amused by Bobby Gillespie’s recent prank of changing a “Make Poverty History” poster to “Make Israel History”, a sentiment I heartily endorse. This story even has a happy end – after the Primals had become huge, their early work fetched quite a bit of money, preciously cutesy as indie kids are about 7 inch singles, and so as a poor and hungry student I was able to sell my copy of “Crystal Crescent” for considerably more than I bought it for. I daresay if my business skills had been better I could have sold it for a lot more, but nevertheless I made a tidy profit (thanks Bob!). Still hate their music though.

There. Aren’t I so much more eloquent when I’m being horrible than when I’m being nice? YES!! shout all my ex-girlfriends in unison.

Oh, Christ, don’t let me get started on THEM!


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