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Simply the best gigs I’ve ever been privileged to attend

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My pal Pete, and I, were discussing our all time favourite gigs after we gushed about Anohni on Wednesday night at the Edinburgh Festival.

He’s a massive James and Rolling Stones fan and said it even beat James.  I was more cautious.  Whilst I gave it a full five star rating and said it was in my all time top ten it’s had me thinking all week.

So with much consideration here are my all time top 20 favourite gigs.  Each in different ways was a five star performance.

In no particular order, because that’s too hard.

The Clash.  Edinburgh Playhouse. (Combat Rock tour)

Sufjan Stevens. Edinburgh Playhouse. (Carrie and Low tour Edinburgh International Festival – simply the best sound I have ever heard)

Anonhi. Edinburgh Playhouse. (Edinburgh Festival, this week)

Siouxsie and The Banshees. Edinburgh Playhouse. (around the time of Israel)

Kraftwerk. Edinburgh PLayhouse (front Row.  Computer Love Tour)

Kraftwerk.  King Tuts Stage (T in the Park – 3D tour)

Bill Nelson. The Nite Club (Upstairs from Edinburgh Playhouse)

Faust.  The Citrus Club (original one in Edinburgh Grassmarket (set fire to the stage with Petrol)

Simple Minds (supported by Positive Noise).  Tiffany’s, Glasgow.

Simple Minds.  Barrowlands Ballroom, Glasgow.( 5 x 4 Tour)

Chic. West Holts Dance Stage (Glastonbury)

Massive Attack. The Other Stage (Glastonbury)

Nic Cave and the Bad Seeds. The Pyramid Stage (Glastonbury)

John Grant. The Park Stage (Glastonbury)

Savages.  Williams Green Stage (Glastonbury)

Melody Gardot.  Voodoo Rooms

Emma Pollock. Voodoo Rooms

Laurie Anderson.  Queens Hall (possibly the O Superman tour, certainly around that time)

King Creosote performing From Scotland with Love at  The Hub Edinburgh (Edinburgh Festival)

Frank Sinatra.  Ibrox Park (Glasgow 1999 headline spot).  I’ll never forget him say that “I never thought I’d hear every single member of an Ibrox crowd cheer a Catholic”

One major point to note.  Only one single stadium gig.  The last one.

Some of the greatest were in the smallest venues; Pollock, Gardot, Bill Nelson, Faust.

Who did I never see that I wished I had?  Magazine, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, Steely Dan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Belle and Sebastian, Cocteau Twins, Can, Velvet Underground.

 



The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

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Unless you are French I suspect you have not read this book. (Most English speaking reviewers will have done their best to dissuade you from doing so)

Not surprising, because it’s a 974 page tome in 9 point type with no real para breaks.  974 pages of wall to wall reading littered with German second world war jargon.  It’s written in French and translated into English. It’s enough to put anyone off. And some describe its content as the pornography of violence.

Whilst an award winning bestseller in France it barely sold 17,000 of its initial English language publishing.

I’ve probably had the busiest six months of my working life which is why it has taken my fully six, maybe eight, months to complete the task of reading it.

But it was worth every second.

Let’s get the flaws out of the way first.  Apart from the dense structure and German jargon, which one eventually overcomes, Littell has a tendency, in parts, to be rather florid in his descriptions and at times elements of the plotting are fanciful and a bit Bourne Conspiracy and his writing can be untidy.  He goes off on one from time to time.  He’s obsessed with bodily functions, particularly of a scatological nature, and he writes without an ounce of sympathy.

But put all that to one side and the rest is complete and utter magic.

Magic if the likes of Hungarian movie, Son of Saul, can be described as ‘magic’.  Anyone who has seen that compelling movie will be lured into this in the same horrifying way.

This book fully deserves the description; masterpiece.

It concerns the ‘memoirs’ of an ageing French lacemaker as he reflects specifically on his role in the War as an upwardly mobile German SS officer.

The title refers to a trio of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus in which “the Kindly Ones” are angels of vengeance who track and torture parent killers.  This reflects a sub-plot in which the lacemaker (Dr Max Aue) is doggedly tracked by a pair of vaguely comical policeman after the death of his mother and stepfather in France.

These particular deaths are but two of many (26.6million to be precise) that this book celebrates.  I use the word celebrates because, for many reviewers the novel (and although it is historically extremely accurate it is a work of fiction) was felt to almost pornographically dissect the Final Solution and the Battle of Stalingrad and the repugnant end of WWII in Berlin.

As an SS Officer Dr Aue, is intimately involved in the extermination of the Jews but he considers himself removed from the action.  Indeed, for much of it, he seems almost to be a sympathiser, desperately seeking ways to extend the lives of concentration camp workers (haftlings) who are being literally starved to death on atrocious rations in inhumane hygiene conditions.  His motivation is purely practical though.  To get more out of the workforce for the Fuhrer.

The book is broken into seven parts (each named after a Bach dance suite) that capture different aspects of the war and proceed in chronological order, slowly and painfully in minute detail.  Perhaps the most compelling is his time on the Front in Stalingrad as the bloody and atrocious battle comes to an end amidst chaos.  His reason for stationing there is that he is suspected (rightly so) of being a homosexual.  Elements of this are graphically detailed in short interludes.  But his real love is his sister and he desperately desires to continue his fumbling childhood sexual liaisons with her.  She does not share his wishes and it creates huge emotional turmoil for him.

Some of the descriptions of ‘Aktions’, Concentration Camp conditions, Battlefront scenes and the fall of Berlin are gruelling and heart rending but described without emotion reflecting Dr Aue’s view that he is only carrying out a job.  He has no remorse (but some regret) for his actions, but stoutly defends the role of the SS.

For many this could deeply offend and that’s why I recommend it with some conditions.

Indeed this is what Michio Katukani had to say in his review in the New York Times. (It’s a view I can understand but do not concur with.)

Whereas the heroes of the play “Good” and the movie “Mephisto” were ordinary enough men who out of ambition or opportunism or weakness turned to the dark side and embraced the Nazi cause, Aue is clearly a deranged creature, and his madness turns his story into a voyeuristic spectacle — like watching a slasher film with lots of close-ups of blood and guts.

No doubt the author intends such remarks to convey the horrors of the Holocaust, but “The Kindly Ones” instead reads like a pointless compilation of atrocities and anti-Semitic remarks, pointlessly combined with a gross collection of sexual fantasies. That such a novel should win two of France’s top literary prizes is not only an example of the occasional perversity of French taste, but also a measure of how drastically literary attitudes toward the Holocaust have changed in the last few decades.

Clearly Katukani takes the view that Littel is unsympathetic to the Jewish situation.  I take precisely the opposite view that he is bringing to life, albeit dispassionately, a period in world history that cannot be forgotten.

Jason Burke, in The Guardian, shares my reasons for finding the book so important

Yet it would be wrong to value The Kindly Ones only for its contribution to history. The novel is also a gripping military adventure story and a study in collective pathology. Above all, it is a sophisticated exploration of issues of morality, evil and luck.

The novel as a whole brilliantly shows how “ordinary men” become killers. Through its first 200 pages, we follow an Einsatzgruppen about its grisly work. Though many of its members are vicious antisemites and sadists, most are distinctly normal. As massacre follows massacre, they are progressively brutalised. At first, some balk at shooting unarmed civilians, but soon such reluctance becomes a thing of the past. The men eat sausages and drink beer in pauses during the “Aktion” at Kiev, which saw more than 30,000 Jews killed in two days. Their commanders have difficulties holding back volunteer shooters. By the time Aue arrives at Auschwitz, this process of collective desensitisation has reached a new extreme. Industrialised death on a vast scale, conceived in part to spare troops direct involvement in mass killing, is seen as a rational, indeed inevitable, solution to “the Jewish Problem”.

It is a sombre (not a jot of humour peppers its pages) exploration of what it might have been like to be embroiled in the horror that was WWII in Germany as part of the ‘machine’ that executed the Final Solution and it’s because of this that I was totally immersed in its horrific inevitability and foolishness.

And we are left dwelling on this fundamental consideration of Aue’s personality.  Is he a Sociopath or is he, as Littel has him say; just a guy, doing a job?

“I am a man like other men, I am a man like you.”

 

 



Froome at the Tour De France

Shot next to the Louvre in the final countdown to his victory.Froome.jpg

Go Chris.



Um Chagga Lagga by The Pixies
August 5, 2016, 3:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is mightily awesome.

 



The Neon Demon: review

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This is a marmite number I would say.

In Drive, Nicola Wynding Refn made a stonewall classic that was so cool, so violent it just oozed class.  No real reference points although I think some people found it reminiscent of Heat.

In this latest outing however Refn is wearing his influences on his sleeve and most obvious of them all is David Lynch (in his Twin Peaks/Mullholland Drive era).

Again it oozes class thanks to the superb cinematography by Natasha Braier and this astonishing electronic soundtrack (following up his Drive opus) by Cliff Martinez.

It’s achingly slow partly so that Braier can seduce the film’s lead ( a very young looking Elle Fanning) with her camera,  and boy can she look stunningly beautiful (albeit verging on Lolitaesque).

The violence is slow in coming but eventually it does with an ending that smacks a little of Heathers.

The story is slight.  The theme is around natural beauty that only Fanning possesses. Her rivals on the catwalk world, that she breezes into in LA, have been nipped and cut to blazes in a vain attempt to preserve their once natural beauty.

Needless to say, they hate her; the new Queen Bitch.

Overall it feels  a little voyeuristic.  The treatment of Fanning verges on the uncomfortable and the plot is pretty weak.

But it’s a thing of beauty.  An artifice.  But so what?

Sometimes art survives on artifice alone.

This does.



Corbyn. Where now?
July 7, 2016, 1:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

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Jeremy Corbyn sidestepped the opportunity to carve Tony Blair into pieces yesterday.  What he didn’t say was as damning as what he did.

He described the outcome of Blair’s misleading of parliament as;

“an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext”.

He went on to annihilate the decision made by the House on the basis of fabricated evidence that Blair used to make his case and this further ripped asunder the already flimsy bonds that are holding the Labour Party together.

I deeply admire Jeremy Corbyn but I fear he is unelectable now and his days must be counted as leader of the party as it currently stands.

Certainly the PLP despise him.  But the membership do not because the membership, that core of what Labour stands for, are not really Neoliberals, they are socialists and so the outcome is inevitable.

The Labour party will split.

This, then, it seems to me, is the greatest ever opportunity for the regenerating Liberal Party.

I saw Vince Cable speak on a news debate a couple of days ago.  He ungloatingly predicted the return to relevance of a proper Liberal (not Neoliberal) party as the two ‘new’ Labour parties; one unashamedly Old Labour, under Corbyn, and one unashamedly New, New Labour, under whom I care not, split their already diminished vote.

The disaffected , who are neither, will HAVE to vote Liberal and if the Liberals can assume a proper Liberal centrist stance they could attract the non right wing Tories in droves.

A hope, I think,  rather than a confident prediction.

I’ll be there if this happens.



Tony Blair. Post Chilcot. The shame.
July 7, 2016, 1:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

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Tony Blair spoke to the cameras yesterday.

As he did so he shed voice tears.  Broken speech.

Declaring shame.

But not for what he did.

Not for unilaterally declaring a war that lost at least 150,000 innocent people their lives.

No, for what the others did. (Under his jurisdiction.)

The others that killed 150,000 innocent human beings.

He was unrepentant about what set this horrendous set of dominoes into motion, because he said;

“I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer.”  

How can he honestly believe the world is a safer and better place when we witness almost daily ISIS attacks on innocent human beings?  From Bangladesh to Baghdad.

He took responsibility for the decision, yes, but not the implications, or the outcomes.

“Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein, I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.”  

The words of a megalomaniac.

A Sociopath.

Instead he blamed others for the outcomes when he said

“I will take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse.”

i.e. military mistakes, not his calamitous strategic, sociopathic decision.

Chilcot concluded that the UK (Tony Blair) chose to attack Iraq;

“…before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.  Military action at that time was NOT a last resort.’

One mother called Blair “the world’s biggest terrorist”.

I think this is a step too far.

Yes, terrorists may be sociopaths, but sociopaths are not necessarily terrorists.

I believe Blair wanted to go down in history, like many of the great leaders of this country for defeating an enemy: winning a war.

But to win a war he had to start one first.

Oh by God he did that, did he not?

And like many great sociopaths he has a place in history.

A significant one.

Shame on you Tony Blair.

 

 




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