Friday, 29 July 2016

Once Upon A Time...

I caught some discussion on Facebook yesterday about the paintings of Roger Dean, the great English fantasist, and it jogged a memory of a West German Lou Reed/Velvet Underground compilation LP I own which features the kind of sci-fi artwork that would be better suited to a prog rock outfit. I first thought the sub-aquatic adventure pictured below might be a Dean painting but on closer inspection it falls a little short. Unfortunately no artist is credited on the album sleeve but opening the gatefold, it seems the album was part of a Polydor compilation series called appropriately enough, Once Upon A Time which also included Cream, The Who, Eric Burdon & The Animals and James Brown, all packaged with similarly fantastic artwork showcasing surreal and primordial landscapes. It's not terribly visible in the blow-up of the gatefold sleeve, but the James Brown edition of the series must rank as the strangest covers design ever to grace a James Brown album. Despite the obvious fantastic flavor, the unknown artist gave this a sly political bent, with the image of a black panther stalking an urban landscape...

Front cover
Inside gatefold - James Brown edition second row, far left

Monday, 25 July 2016

Einstein on the Beach

Listening to Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach to mark the 40th anniversary of the opera’s premiere which took place on July 25, 1976 at the Avignon Festival in France. I’m disappointed the four and a half hour performance filmed in 2012 at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris has yet to find its way to Blu-Ray. This record of the opera, the only time it’s been filmed, was available to view online at one point but has since been taken down. (There’s a 4.77 GiB pirate copy doing the rounds but it’s a little too much data for my limited set-up). Brilliant as Glass’ music is, Einstein on the Beach would be best appreciated accompanied by Robert Wilson’s visuals - I’m currently on the second disc of the 3CD Nonesuch edition (the pic below of the 1978 4LP Tomato edition is window dressing only), and it is admittedly a demanding work. In the absence of the Theatre du Chatelet film, the 1985 documentary Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Face of Opera is still the best place to get an idea of Wilson’s large Metropolis-like sets and innovative lighting. This excellent hour-long film can be viewed here:

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Live Suicide

I've been contemplating Suicide these past few days, re-visiting the first two albums, and the real job of work, the mammoth 2008 boxset Live 1977-1978 which features 13 complete live shows spread across 6 discs. A bruising year in the life of Suicide, the concerts, taped in NYC and various cities across Europe (supporting Elvis Costello and The Clash), include 23 Minutes Over Brussels, the iconic show which ended in complete disarray - after 23 minutes - when one audience member grabbed the microphone from Alan Vega while the crowd chanted Elvis! Elvis! Elvis! The Brussels concert is the only performance that ends with an ambush but the mood is confrontational throughout these sets, with much of the hostility frequently directed at the audience. "C'mon, I'll kill you, you fuck" screams Vega at some pissed up punks demanding three chord thrash at a show in Paris. At a show in Germany, he calls the crowd "a good bunch of Nazis". What's most revelatory about this collection though is the music which is tremendous despite the abysmal lo-fi sound quality. Suicide played the same set on most nights but no song was ever performed quite the same way, and there are thrilling renditions of Frankie Teardrop and astonishing throat-shredding Harlem's. Incidentally, at these shows Vega frequently introduces Suicide's cover of 96 Tears with a certain offensive racial slur, which been bleeped out for the boxset, at the request of Vega himself, according to the accompanying liner notes.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Throbbing Gristle at the AIR Gallery

Listening to Throbbing Gristle's live debut which took place 40 years ago today... On the 6th of July, three months before the group's official launch at the "Prostitution" show at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chris Carter, Peter Christopherson, Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti performed for the first time as Throbbing Gristle at the AIR Gallery on Shaftesbury Avenue. The AIR Gallery itself is worthy of a mention. Located near St Martins College Of Art and the Slade, the AIR (which stood for Artists Information Register) was a space for new artists to display their work, the gallery positively encouraged artists "whose work breaches traditional boundaries". Prior to TG's performance, Cosey Fanni Tutti performed a highly visceral solo COUM action entitled Woman's Roll. The group's debut was witnessed by about 30 people although witness may not be the correct term as TG performed in one room, with the sound relayed to an adjacent room where the audience was gathered.

As for the music itself, the AIR Gallery concert is one of the group's most minimalist sets, an entirely instrumental 38mins of dark brooding, low end bass-guitar noise, sheets of distorted electronics, heavily amplified plucked violin strings, and layered throughout with pre-recorded tapes of chugging rhythms and eerie synth lines. The quality of the official recording is murky (reminiscent of bootlegged Les Rallizes Dénudés shows), the cassette recorder sounds far removed from the source which may well be an accurate facsimile of what the audience experienced. Incidentally, 8min or so of the AIR Gallery show was included as part of the Best of...Vol 1 tape and much later, a lengthy and significantly cleaner sounding excerpt from the performance, appropriately titled Raw Mode of Life, was included on the unofficial 1997 Dossier CD release Kreme Horn.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Psycho a Go-Go

Currently reading Robert Bloch's Psycho novels as part of my Hitchcock season… Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho is pretty much business as usual, the film stick so closely to the original text that apocryphal stories of Hitchcock buying up paperback copies of the novel might well be believed. Unfortunately Bloch’s writing is rather pedestrian and has little of the black comedy of Joseph Stefano’s screenplay, but there are some interesting details which didn’t make the transition from page to screen such as a peek at Norman Bates’ library which includes girly mags, De Sade’s Justine and surprisingly, an occult bent courtesy of Aleister Crowley and Joris-Karl Huysmans’s 1891 novel Là-Bas

Bloch’s novel Psycho II is a far more eventful read, having nothing to do with Richard Franklin’s film. Instead the book begins like a re-thread of Halloween (complete with a guilt-ridden psychiatrist) and mutates however unlikely into something akin to Scream 3, with Norman Bates relocating to Hollywood to terrorize the cast and crew making a film about…Norman Bates. The sequel is a breezy and entertaining read, very much in the yarn-spinning style of Stephen King. What emerges most strongly from the novel though is Bloch’s obvious loathing of slasher movies and what he once referred to as the “bloodbath tactics” of Hollywood - the novel was first published in that epochal year 1982. Interestingly Bloch wrote the director of the fictional Bates biopic as an Italian and I had to wonder if this was a dig at the outrageously violent Italian Horror films that were washing up on American shores at the turn of the decade ?