BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Monday, February 27, 2006

MP3s: What are they good for?

Sunglasses you can listen to... what is the point in that?

A global revolution in the music industry was dramatically highlighted last week as the world's biggest online music store celebrated its billionth song download. An unsuspecting 16-year-old from Michigan made history on the iTunes website by downloading Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" - which cost him 99 cents. The landmark purchase edged record companies closer to a new era where online sales threaten to overtake sales of CDs in shops. (Click here for original source).

I have mixed feelings about the MP3. On the one hand, it is helping bands to finally take control of things for them selves, enabling them to get their music out there without having to deal with money grabbing record companies. It also enables people to share music in a high quality format and when combined with the wonders of the Internet it means you can share music with people on the other side of the world at the click of a mouse. So on the one hand, I am fully supportive of the DIY potential of MP3s.

On the other hand though, the ease of it all has made it a little bit TOO easy, convenient and, lets be honest, disposable. I have not quite gotten over the old thrill of rushing home after finally finding an album I had been hunting for months, opening it up, feeling the two ounces of plastic, holding it at the edge, hands twelve inches apart, placing it on the turn table and putting the needle on. Then as the stylus heads off on it’s journey through that long spiral scratch, sitting on the bed to closely inspect the artwork and sleeve notes on the cover.

OK, so it is a long time since I have done that, I converted to only buying CD in the early 90s. I remember my daughter recently saying that she was amazed how many vinyl LPs I had, when I told her that when I were a lad they had not invented CDs she did not believe me. She then pulled out the first Stone Roses LP and looked at the date, 1989. I chuckled to myself when I told her that CDs had been around since the early ‘80s but I was not convinced they would catch on… which was actually true.

But even in this day and age of CDs, holding a well packaged CD by one of your favourite bands is much more of an ‘experience’ than MP3s on you hard drive or you i Pod, or even a copied CD burnt by a mate.

And half the pleasure of music is the hunting down that rare or lost album, then savouring it when you have it. I used to get home from the record shop, and play my new album over and over again, till I knew every word on every track. With MP3s, you can download dozens if not hundreds of tracks in one night; the thrill of the hunt is gone and you do not appreciate and treasure your collection. I read an article recently, which stated that a university had done research into it and come to the conclusion that because of MP3s, music was loosing its ‘aura’. Not sure why we need a professor to come out with this, to me it is pretty obvious.

But it is not all bad; MP3s provide an opportunity to ‘try before you buy’. Through the net I have come across many bands that I might otherwise not have heard, and the ones that I have really liked have resulted in me going out to buy the CD. Record companies are finally starting to wake up to this, for years they have been complaining about MP3s or home copying killing the industry but they are finally starting to realise the opportunities presented by MP3s. The recent phenomenal first week of release sales of the Arctic Monkeys album, which had been much touted on the net, being a case in point.

I have stated before that I believe music is an art form and the music ‘industry’ is a parasite that we will be better off without. So, taking everything into consideration I think the fact that MP3s can put things back into the hands of the bands and the fans, on the balance of things I have to put my retro ideas of nostalgia to one side and say MP3s are a good thing.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

JIMMY DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE: Radio Two, cr@p, but not as cr@p as it used to be.

I still have difficulty turning the dial to listen to Radio 2, I still think of Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan and the music my parents liked. It has come on over the years though and plays stuff that… well… me kids parents listen to!

I rarely listen to it live because to be honest, a lot of it is still cr@p, but they do knock out a few documentaries that are worth listening to. You can listen to them for a week after they have been broadcast on-line. I am currently listening to ‘The Story of New Wave’, which has some interesting interviews with some of the best ‘post punk’ bands, bringing the story up to date (never thought I would hear killing Joke and Crass on Radio 2).

Check out the documentaries page, but be warned, things don't stay on there for ever!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

UNDER A GRANGE END STAR: Why i like the worst view in the ground

The view from behind the goal
I was supposed to be in Brighton this weekend, but the plans fell apart at the last minute. So what should I do, no kids, no work and Cardiff City at home?

I headed down the A470 with Flyscreen's 'Council Pop' blasting out of the car stero and hit the big smoke. I went down a little early and nipped into Spillers and grabbed meself the ‘Welsh Rarebeat’ compilation and a few bits and pieces, then made my way on to the Grange End.

The Grange end is something of a rarity now, a standing area at a football ground. Since disasters like Heysel in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989 standing areas have all but been phased out. Having everyone sat in a seat eliminates overcrowding and acts a barrier to hooliganism. They are going to have to put seats on the Grange End soon, but while it is still standing it will remain my favourite part of the ground.

When I was going regularly in the 1980’s the Grange End was reserved for away fans and I always stood on the ‘Bob Bank’. At that time the Grange End had not long been reconstructed as a roofless concrete monstrosity. Prior to that it had been a massive wooden stand that was the heart of the ground, it was legendary in the football league and echoed to the chants of “1,2,3,4,5, if you want to stay alive, keep off the grange End”!

I never went in the old stand, and as I say used to stand on the ‘Bob Bank’, which is now all seated, except for a section at the front which stretches beyond the roof so aint a great place to be unless you know it aint gonna rain.

I stopped going when they put seats on the ‘Bob Bank’, an event that happened to coincide with me becoming a dad. After the divorce I was persuaded to go back down the city and all the memories came flooding back. I have been going quite regularly since, though not as regularly as I used to. After sitting on the Bob Bank a few times, an experience I find a little sterile, I started going to stand on the Grange End and have been bitten by the bug.

It has a roof now, and is used for both home and away fans. A welcome addition since the ‘80s is a bar underneath the stand so you can have a pint at half time.

The Grange End is behind the goal, which has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is a pretty crap view of what is going on, especially when things are happening up the other end, but on the positive side when city are playing into the Grange End you get a great view of the goal mouth action.

I like standing up at a game, because you can mingle and even if you go on your own, as I did today, you can meet up with friends you had not planned to meet. It also means if you are in a gang you can all stand together, not worry about sitting apart because you bought tickets at different times. Sitting to watch football just does not feel right anyway, being confined to a small space restricts the jumping up and shouting and waving fists in the air.

Because of the restricted view it is slightly cheaper which has traditionally meant it is an area where the more ‘working class’ element hangs out, which therefore means more of an atmosphere and the Grange always out-sings all other areas of the ground.

But the Game is in front of you lads!
Because the away fans are also in the Grange, there is an area nearest to the away fans, where a ‘youthful’ element stands and spends most of the game goading the travelling fans. This adds to the excitement and atmosphere, but having stood among them a few times to soak up the vibe, I would not fancy their chances if it kicked off, most of them are school kids and would run a mile if the away fans took up the offer to “Come and join us over here!” It would be a brave firm that did have a go though, because behind the CHAVs are the hardcore of City’s loyal, with an average age of about 40 they have been about a bit and although on the whole they have grown out of looking for ‘agro’ they are not likely to run. These are the lads that make up the bulk of City’s away following and are the reason City’s name is feared throughout the football league.

Anyway, I am starting to sound like a hooligan now, which I aint. The important action today occurred at the wrong end of the field for us to get a decent view, as Cameron Jerome banged in the only goal of the game up at the Canton End. There was a bit of excitement in front of us as Neil Alexander made a few incredible saves (my man of the match), but on the whole City dominated the first half and most of the play was in the Hull City half. In the second half City took their foot off the pedal a bit and there were a few hair raising moments, but in the end they managed to hold on and came a way with three points to keep us up their vying for a place in the play offs. Then it was back to the car and head back up the A470 listening to Papa Brittle.

City are hoping to build a new stadium in the next year or so, they will never replace the atmosphere of Ninan Park, and in particular, the Grange End; the Roar of the pies, the smell of the crowd... make the most of it while it lasts!

Check out the Urban 75 views on the Grange End.. click here
Detailed report of game... click here (Official Site) or here (Western Mail)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

FORWARD PLANNING: Strikes and travels

Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, Prague
Went to a union meeting tonight to ‘rally the troops’ for a yes vote on the forthcoming ballot for industrial action. Slightly more exciting was paying for me airfare to Prague in September to watch Wales in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

WET WEEKEND IN ABERYSTWYTH: Curry, beer, walking boots and camera.

Saturday night was spent in Aberystwyth, a town with a long history but today revolves mainly around the fact that it has a university. Again, it is a Victorian resort, but being tucked away on the west coast of Wales it only attracts the most dedicated of kiss me quick aficionados. Its remoteness could have condemned the town to obscurity but because of the University it is one of the liveliest towns in Wales.

On Saturday night we went for a drink in one of the town’s many lively pubs and then sat down for possibly the nicest Indian meal I have ever had (and I have had a few in my time).

Sunday morning we were greeted with the sight of rain and wind howling in from the Irish Sea. This could have spoiled things but I always believe that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. We donned our walking boots and big coats and headed out on our mini tour.

We started off by jumping on the funicular railway that takes you to the top of Constitution Hill and had breakfast in the café that overlooks the town. After breakfast we had a walk around the hill then headed back down to sea level for a walk along the Promenade. Half way along the Prom we dropped down on to the beach and took some photographs under the pier. Once off the beach we walked around the castle, through the town and eventually headed for home.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

COLD WEEKEND IN LLANDUDNO: 24 hours in a Victorian holiday resort

Today I attended my union’s regional AGM in Llandudno. Not exactly thrilling, not exactly a spectator sport and not the most exotic of locations. The only thing that made it any different from any other AGM was the fact that we had a mini demonstration outside to publicise the pending strike action.

Snuggled up against the Great Orme, Llandudno is the archetypal Victorian Seaside resort, with a long beach fronted by row upon row of Victorian Hotels. As holiday destinations go it is pretty old fashioned but some how it has managed to avoid becoming an Eastbourne style retirement town and can be quite lively on times, and the Friday night had turned into 'crawl' around Llandudno's pubs.

After the meeting I went for a bit of a walk along the Victorian pier to take a few snaps, then headed south.

Visiting the Valleys you could be forgiven for thinking of Wales as being densely populated, but the reality is that once you move away from the M4 corridor, you find yourself in a mountainous rural landscape. From Merthyr to Blaina Festiniog it’s over 150 miles of mountains and the ‘trunk road’ is a windy, twisty little affair, often going through little villages that are not wide enough for heavy vehicles. Because of this, the 200-mile journey can take up to 5 hours.

Many people hate the journey, but I actually enjoy it. The scenery, especially when you get into Snowdonia is nothing short of breath taking. In the dark though it is nothing short of a nightmare so a couple of us decided to break the journey by stopping off half way and having a night in the university town of Aberystwyth.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I AM NOT A NUMBER: A walk around Portmeirion

Had to go to Llandudno for a meeting this weekend. Despite the fact that it is only 200 miles away, it takes five hours to drive up the A470 so to get there in time for the meeting we had to set out on the Friday.

Me and me mate Squirrel decided set out early on the Friday and stop on the way and have a look around Portmeirion

Portmeirion is something of a folly. It is an Italianate resort village on the coast of Snowdonia in Wales, used as a location for many films and television shows, notably The Prisoner. Despite repeated claims that it was based on the real town of Portofino, Italy, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion's designer, denied this, stating only that he wanted to pay tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean.

Williams-Ellis designed and constructed the village over the period from 1925 to 1975. He incorporated fragments of many demolished buildings, including works by a number of other distinguished architects. Portmeirion's architectural bricolage and deliberately fanciful nostalgia have been noted as an influence on the development of postmodernism in architecture in the late twentieth century.

Visiting it out of season has its obvious advantages in that you avoid all the crowds. Today was a beautiful winters day and although cold the skies were clear and the low winter sun cast some interesting shadows.

I have wanted to visit there for sometime and am really glad I have now been there, but now I have, beautiful as it was, I am in no rush to go back. Apparently the gardens are something else in full bloom, so if I do go, it will be in the spring/summer

Sunday, February 05, 2006

JOHN PEEL R.I.P: Right time, right place, wrong speed

John Peel died today and it brought a tear to my eye. Ok, so he has been dead for over a year now, but this morning I got to the bit at the end of his autobiography where he died (obviously he did not write that bit) and found myself crying. I cannot remember any book making me cry before.

The book, Margrave Of The Marshes, was partly written by the big man himself before his untimely death and then completed by his widow, Sheila Ravenscroft AKA the Pig. This is the book he deserved; it is ten times better than the unofficial biography that was rushed out straight after his death.

Peel himself turns out to be as much of a genius with the written word as he was on air and his self depreciating humour make the first half of the book a treat to read. It was with no little trepidation that I started on the second half, where the pig takes over, expecting an anti-climax. No such anti-climax took place though; The Pig is quite a wordsmith herself.

Peel takes us up to his early DJing days in his own words, although his meandering style of reflection takes in more contemporary memories. This is quite useful in that no-one else could have written that half of his life. The Pig kicks in where her life and Johns started to entwine, and given the closeness of the relationship her reflections tie in very neatly. The two half’s of the book compliment each other perfectly. Needless to say, one cannot help wondering what the book would have been like had he finished it himself, but that will never be.

The Pig uses extracts from his diary and columns he wrote in the press, so his fingerprints can be traced all the way through the book. We do not get to Teenage Kicks until page 300, so it would be reasonable to assume that had he finished the book himself it would have been at least 50% longer. The outline of the book sent to the publisher and added as an appendix confirms this theory.

I have only ever cried at the loss of two ‘celebrities’; the first was Joe Strummer, the second was Peel. It sounds like a cliché, but Peel's style of presenting combined with the fact that through his show I discovered a huge swathe of music that changed my life, I felt like I knew him. Although I had the honour (and I do not use that word lightly) of meeting Strummer on several occasions, I never met John and I remember a sinking feeling when I realised I never would.

Yet again a cliché, but true, I remember listening to his show as a teenager under the blankets with a small ‘portable wireless’… eons before the Sony Walkman had been invented. It was odd, lots of the stuff he would play would be un-listenable nonsense, but you always knew that there was a possibility that the next record would change your life. Stuff that would not be played on any other show, or if it was he would be months if not years ahead of anyone else. Stuff like Young Marble Giants, Half Man Half Biscuit, Aphex Twin, Extreme Noise Terror and many more. He was the first to play bands like Pink Floyd and The Sex pistols, long before anyone else would touch them. This was as true during the punk era as it was throughout the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, right through to his departure to the great DJ booth in the sky.

Back in the ‘90’s when I was still married and before my then wife could drive, I used to have to go and pick her up from work some 45 minutes away. As I left the house I would press play/record on my tape machine to record Peel’s show, and even set my alarm clock to kick in 45 minutes later so as the one machine stopped another would start. I would then listen to the two tapes as I drove around in work. This sounds very ‘sad’ and geek-like, but such was the possibility that he might play something awesome I did not want to miss out on a minute of his show. This enthusiasm was obviously unsustainable, but looking through my record collection, worthwhile. I cannot help thinking of the Mariah Carey lyrics "Last night a DJ saved my life".

I can remember the last time I listened to his show; I was in my caravan parked up in Tintagel in Cornwall in August 2004 the night before the Shambala Festival (the night before Boscastle, 5 miles away, hit the headlines when a massive flood all but destroyed the village). He blew me away with one awesome ‘big beat’ track, 'slash dot slash (dot com)'; I was gutted when he informed me it was by Fat Boy Slim, I had hoped I had discovered something new.. I suppose I had though, having given up hope Slim would make another decent record a year or two earlier. I say that ‘he informed me’, because that was always how it felt, like he was talking directly to me.

Only Peel could get away with so frequently playing records at the wrong speed, but in doing that it was like being around a mate's house and he was playing you some new record he had found. The show became more personal through these little mistakes and was enhanced by them. It has to be said, some of the tracks he played were so off the wall it was difficult to tell what speed they were supposed to be played at, some of the hardcore techno for instance sounded right at either speed!

I found it sad that after his death the BBC celebrated his life with such vigour, given that when he was alive they treated him like sh*te. They did not realise what a treasure they had in thier midst.

Even now, a year on, I feel a void because someone I never knew is dead. I doubt there will ever be anyone else I do not know that will have that affect on me.

ZOE IGUANA RETURNS FROM NEW YORK: Not bad for first trip with camrea

Zoe is back from NewYork. I am now proud owner of a genuine New York Dolls T-Shirt all the way from New York and 150 pictures of the Big Apple.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

PEATBOG FAERIES: Proof that Afro Celtic Dub Diddly folk Rave aint dead yet.

Faeries picture from e-festivals
The latest Peatbog Faeries CD, ‘Croftwork’, landed on me doormat today. It has set me off thinking about Afro Celtic Dub Diddly Folk Rave, and other such things.

Until the arrival of the Pouges I thought folk music was crap, and even after that there were very few bands that people would describe as ‘folky’ that I would give the time of day. The along came the Tofu love Frogs.

The Tofu Love frogs blew me away completely. Although what they were playing was basically Celtic jig about music, the speed at which they played it and their anarchic attitude to wards life was more punk than punk.

This was around the time I was starting to put gigs on, so I made myself known to them at a festival in West Wales and within a few months they were close friends and did several gigs for me. Through them I started to get to know similar bands on the festival scene; Doo the Moog, Headmix Collective, Tarantism, P.A.I.N., and many more. These bands were not happy with sticking to the rules and were throwing things into the mix that on paper should not mix. Bagpipes, didgeridoo, fiddle, penny whistle, drums and bass should not be played all at the same time on one record… but they were doing it and making a jolly good noise while they were at it. Tarantism even managed to throw in saucepans and those tube things that we used to wave around our heads when we where little (bass whistle?). They were mixing trad folk with ska, dub, blues, egyptian, gypsy music and anything that took thier fancy with no respect for the rules of musical genres.

Much of this was going on underground, at parties and festivals, but it was a movennt that was also making waves nearer the surface of the main stream with the emergence of the ‘Afro Celtic’ thing, bands like Baka Beyond, Afro Celt Sound System, Tribal Drift et al, were also opening up my mind to new things. Some of them concentrating on live instruments, some throwing samples and drum machines in.

Just when I think I know all the bands on the scene worth knowing about, something new keeps cropping up, mainly at festivals. I was introduced to the delights of Shooglenifty at the Larmer tree festival in Dorset a few years back by the late Mez (rest his soul); Young upstarts Pronghorn have taken over where the Tofu’s left off (musically at least) with their own take on ‘cow punk’ (country and western mixed with punk) and at Glastonbury about 4 years ago I came across Celtica and Peatbog Faeries.

The boggy ones are based on the Isle of Skye, have released four albums and have played to audiences all over the world. They mix bagpipes, fiddles, mandolins and all sorts of other things that might be found in a beardy workshop at the ‘Isle of Skye Aran Jumper and Real Ale Folk Festival’ if such a thing existed, with keyboards, samplers and guitars.

The early results would have sat nicely at any traveller free party rave up, especially the classic ‘Folk Police’. Albums since have tended more towards the rock end of things, culminating in this album, ‘Croft Work’, which is probably their most accomplished for a while. It even dares to tread its toes into the pool of Jazz in places.

Just when I thought the whole Celtic fusion thing was petering out, this album comes along and demonstrates there is life in the old sheep yet.

also check out
Contintntal Drifts (label and booking agents set up by ex Tofu Love Frogs geezer Chris)

JAH WOBBLE IN THE AREA: Mu arrives @Iguana HQ

Perfect timing, after me rant about punk the other day, Jah Wobble's latest album landed in my lap yesterday, to prove that the original punks were about far more than shouting for two minutes.

Jah Wobble was one of the original members of Public Image Ltd (PiL), though he was always going to be overshadowed by the fact that the band was fronted by John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten. It was only when he left the band in 1980 and struck out on his own did he gain the recognition he deserved.

Since then he has worked on a bewildering and myriad range of projects, working with everyone from German experimental rock group Can's Holger Czukay and Jaki Leiezeit to The Edge. Wobble was light years ahead of his contemporaries in his exploration of new and interesting sounds. His embracing of Eastern and World influences predated Peter Gabriel and other's excursions into those areas by well over five years.

'Mu', realesed in 2005, is a far cry from those PiL days, still has some dubby vibrations floating through it, but its inteligent mix and mash of stylyes from around the world makes it sound more suitable for WOMAD or a Whirl-y-gig, than a night at the Roxy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

LOBBY OF WELSH ASSEMBLY: Gearing up for strike action

Unions gathered today outside the Welsh Assembly offices in Cardiff Bay to lobby Members over the proposed attacks on the Local Government Pension Scheme.

In terms of actually changing anything, the demo did not do anything, and indeed COULD not do anything.. given that AMs are not in a position to change anything, although they can pass on thier feelings to thier colleagues in Westminster. The whole point was to start raising the profile of the campaign to protect the pension scheme. I would not bother to mention it, but it looks to be heading for a major strike in the next two months; with over 1 million people involved this would be the biggest strike in the UK since the General Strike of 1926.

Interesting times are ahead.