Recent Listening: Penguin Cafe, The Imperfect Sea.


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Not to be confused with The Penguin Cafe Orchestra that disbanded upon the untimely death of its leader Simon Jeffes in 2007, the Penguin Cafe is actually a different band, although it includes some of the previous members and is led by Simon Jeffes’ son, Arthur.

Live, The Penguin Cafe play many of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s favourite pieces and it has been my privilege to enjoy them live twice (Usher Hall, Edinburgh and Glastonbury) but they record in their own right and The Imperfect Sea is their third, and best, album.

I read that Arthur was concerned that this latest recording was taking them to new places and ran the risk of disaffecting long term PCO fans.  I can reassure you Arthur that you have done no such thing.

It’s a bobbydazzler.  It really is.

It’s far from imperfect.

The sound, as my good friend and long term PCO aficionado, Jon Stevenson, said to me the other day lacks some of the humour of the PCO and he is right. The Penguin Cafe are a more serious bunch of musicians and their output is perhaps more orchestral than the PCO which was more folky in totality, but this matters not a jot when the quality is so high.

I’ve listened to The Imperfect Sea 5 or 6 times in the last few days and there is nary an off note.  Sure, the first time I listened I was riding my bike and the constant ‘ping’ of cycle bell on Cantorum was a mite discombobulating, but it’s endearing also and hearkens back towards the PCO’s playfulness.  (It has a small debt to pay to the mighty Telephone and Rubber Band).

Ricecar, the opener, is a classic of sequenced music and is certainly of the PCO school.

Overall this is a mighty addition to the PC/PCO canon.

Fully operational hi-fi.


To regain full use of one’s hi-fi is a first world delight.

My turntable has been operating on a semi-functional basis for some time until I bit the bullet and took it to Hi Fi Repairs – a one man operation on Clarke St in Edinburgh.

£48 later.

The man is a genius.

He can repair anything; including my 30 year old Castle speakers and now my 30 year old Ariston Q Deck. (It seems it does go on and on and on and Ariston.)

So I have christened it with Talking Heads, Remain in Light.

Not a bad choice.  Please enjoy with me.

 

 

T2: Review. So much better than the original.


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On the day that the infamous ‘Banana Flats’ in Leith were accorded ‘A listed’ architectural heritage status I was in the cinema to see the sequel to the movie that contributed to the Brutalist building’s cultural credibility.

Trainspotting left me cold in 1996. Danny Boyle’s casting of Ewan McGregor as Renton sat extremely uncomfortably with his characterisation in Irvine Welsh’s mind-blowing source novel.  The stage adaptation that featured both Ewen Bremner and Susan Vidler was much more mind-blowing and credible than the movie.

A public schoolboy from Creiff simply did not fit my vision of an, albeit relatively educated compared to his peers, junkie from West Granton.

The low budget special effects were largely corny.

The baby on the ceiling?  Come on.

The filthiest toilet in Scotland?  With crystal clear water?  Come on.

But the music was outstanding and it clearly nailed a cultural moment (I hesitate to say zeitgeist).

So, my expectations of a sequal, especially of a cult youth movie, twenty years on, were hardly sky high.

They should have been, because in my view this is everything that Trainspotting was not.

“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family…. “ Renton’s cynical rant in the original is a sardonic take on the AIDS campaign that fitted so perfectly with the drug addled HIV capital of Europe  moniker that Edinburgh ‘enjoyed’ in the mid 1990’s.  The city’s unique needle-sharing skag culture had contributed to a minor epidemic, and choosing life was  not a decision, merely a potential outcome.

This underclass had zero control.

Zero choice.

Only Renton (who at least had supportive parents) had the wherewithal to escape; not just from the vicious circle, but from the country itself. Set up with £12,000 of his mates’ money, the proceeds of a London drug sale that he had, admittedly, part funded (That gets overlooked and is a slight plot-hole for me.) he escaped to Amsterdam and a new life.

That he chose.

T2 opens on Renton’s return to the Promised Land, an Edinburgh where the airport meeter greeters are Eastern European.  A family without his mother (he didn’t make the funeral).  A Leith that is part-gentrified, although Sick Boy’s Salamader Street flat symbolically overlooks a massive scrap metal yard, the graveyard of dream cars.  A metaphor for life’s finite span.

The movie (very) roughly adapts Welch’s Porno, but with many flashbacks and additional scenes from the Trainspotting novel that could have been in the original (not least the scene in Leith Central Station).

The budget is six times the original and it shows.  In a good way.  The cinematography bristles from start to finish (Anthony Dod Mantle) and the script bristles with comedy and tragedy in almost equal measure.  The scene in the King William Bar (1690) is a classic.

Not all the characters have fared as well as Renton.

SickBoy, although lithe (thanks to the Charlie) owns his Aunty’s boozer (the beautifully named Port Sunshine – Hibees ya bass) it’s a doss house and in need of investment. His Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika is the only new character to join the fray and cleverly plays the tart with, half, a heart.

Spud’s still a, now suicidal, junkie.

Begbie’s still a fucking bampot on the run from the jail.

Spud, Sickboy and Renton join forces to turn the Port Sunshine into a cultural heritage landmark in Leith attracting considerable public investment.  (For cultural heritage read brothel, sorry, sauna.)

It turns into a hilarious revenge thriller with Begbie on the rampage.

In a turnkey scene Renton sits with Veronika in the fancy Harvey Nichols Forth [sic] floor restaurant.  He reminisces on the Choose Life soliloquy but reframes it, every bit as cynically, for 2017.

“Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse …”

This is the point of the movie.  I don’t think it’s about nostalgia as so many reviews have said.  What was great about the foursome’s life in 1996?  Fuck all.

No, this is about regret and the search for middle aged redemption.  A new opportunity to escape the cycle of shit that the trio (Begbie couldnae give a fuck) have immersed themselves in.

It’s an echo of the 1996 dream that, for Sickboy and Begbie, was stolen from them in that London hotel room.  But you know, deep down, it’s not going to work out.  Is it?

Danny Boyle and John Hodge have created a monumental movie.  Poignant, funny, beautifully nuanced and reflecting (not nostalgically) their acknowledged masterpiece of 1996.  The weaving together of three generations of the key chartacters’ respective lives is effortless and the music mirrors that extremely subtly.

Ewen Bremner is the real star with his beautifully sad performance as Spud.  Ewan McGregor has grown into Renton’s skin and can finally be forgiven the original miscasting. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie just manages to steer clear of charicature, and delivers moments of high camp scary bastardness.

The whole thing is a fucking blast.

Go see it.

By the way, credit to Harvey Nichols for granting the rights to use, and adapt, their outstanding shoplifting commercial as part of the movie.

La La Land: Movie Review. The greatest movie musical ever made? No spoilers I promise.


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A bold statement I admit, when you have to size it up against West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain.  But from the first bar of Another Day of Sun  – a huge Busby Berkeleyesque number – that erupts on the gridlocked freeways of LA you know you are actually in heaven.

The two central characters, Mia and Sebastian, are introduced at its finale and we set off on a love story like no other.  (Are there even any other actors in the film.  I’ll have to look next time.  Oh yes.  John Legend completely taking the Mickey out of himself.  Tip your hat to him for that.)

Well, it’s like the Umbrellas of Cherbourg actually, but better, so so much better.

There are only actually 7 songs in it.  So it’s quite an unmusical, musical.  And neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone can really properly sing.  But that’s beside the point.

Writer and director Damian Chazelle (Whiplash – another magical movie about jazz) subverts the musical genre by having almost no music in the third and fourth acts.  But it doesn’t matter because now he has a story to tell.

Emma Stone is nothing short of mesmerising.

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Those eyes.

That cinematography.

Those costumes.

Ryan Gosling.  A fault free cinema superstar.  He rises eloquently  and handsomely to the occasion.

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But even though they are both brilliant this is Damian Chazelle’s movie.  He has the mark of a master with his direction and storytelling.

It even has tap dancing.

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I won’t spoil it for you by sharing the full storyline as I knew nothing of it before I went to see it but I confess I was worried about the hype and the knowledge that the leads can’t sing.  There was no need to worry and you shouldn’t either because this movie is about the unique vision of Damian Chazelle.  He is clearly a scholar of big studio big budget musicals and has used the power of Whiplash’s success to create a dream that no-one has been allowed to tamper with.  It’s a deconstruction and reconstruction of everything that makes great musicals great but with the twist outlined above.

City of Stars has already picked up a Golden Globe, and rightly so,  but it’s not even the best song in the movie.

It’s difficult to go much further without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

Probably the best musical movie ever made.  I led the applause and went to buy a ticket for the showing immediately after the one I’d seen but circumstances prevented me from watching it back to back.  I’ll have to wait until later this week when it opens properly.

Put it this way I’m now extremely jealous of the 99% of the world’s population who have yet to see La La Land and I beseech you to follow my actions.

A straight 10/10.  No question.

Super Furry Animals at The Usher Hall Edinburgh: Review


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Usually with bands I prefer their early work before they ‘sell out’.  So this retrospective set of 1996’s Fuzzy Logic and 1997’s Radiator should have got me going.

But, see, I likes their later stuff. 2000’s Myng, 2001’s Rings Around the World and 2003’s Phantom Power.

There was nothing particularly wrong about this rendering of their two debut albums.  Not from the band anyway.

But the sound.  Oh my sweet Lord.

Helen Keller wearing an aqualung could have put on a better performance than this.

Go to your next gig wearing a parka with your hood up, wrap your head in a duvet and then get a dog to piss on it and you’d be getting close to experiencing what went on the Usher Hall last night.

Rubbish. And, consequently, boring.

Another great example of why Edinburgh is crying out for a good mid sized venue (it was only half sold out) because the Usher Hall is putrid for rock and roll.

1 star.