20,000 days on Earth; a review.


Nick Cave is a very special musician.  In fact musician may be the wrong descriptor.

He’s a very special writer that specialises in music.  He has Warren Ellis and his many collaborators to dial up the music side of the equation.

in this documentary, that looks like a movie, that, yes, he co-wrote, you find yourself immersed in the mind of a genius for an hour and  a half as he discusses his life, his loves, his inspirations and his deep internal psychology in something approaching forensic detail.

He is a very beautiful man.

He talks painfully honestly at times about everything that is true to him.  His ‘muse’ – his wife Susie who lies, back turned to camera in bed with him as the film opens.

We see half glimpses, stolen moments of her off and on through the film but little more.

We see a  photo of her projected on the wall of his archivist’s office.

She is as beautiful as he is.

Later, we see Cave guzzle pizza with their twin sons, arm around the shoulder of one of them, devoid of comment/emotion, almost voyeuristically.  It also spells L.O.V.E.

We see him kiss Warren Ellis full square on the lips as he visits his musical ‘muse’ on the occasion of a casual lunch of eels in black pasta.

More love.

Cave carries an aura of love around with him. Yet he’s often labelled with hate (partly because of the baggage The Birthday Party have burdened him with.)

We see him in the recording studio.

Gold dust. (Watching drummer Thomas Wydler as he twitches and mouths the rhythms is mesmeric.)

We see him crafting lyrics.

Gold dust.  (His notebooks are works of art in their own right.)

We see him performing live.

Now, this is the thing.  Anyone who has been to a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig knows that no band on earth put in the same level of emotional comitment to their music;  (perhaps with the exception of his faux-misogyny project Grinderman) Ellis all crazy violin fury, Cave all emotional connection.

It’s this latter point that made the movie for me.  He talks about how he ensnares individual audience members and then demonstrates it with a live performance of Higgs Boson Blues that reduced his female ‘victim’ to tears.

Me too.  It was all too much.  All too emotionally engrossing.

And then there’s the craft…the soundtrack (obviously) the direction and the cinematography are all sublime.  A special shout has to go for Editor Jonathan Amos.

And the cameos; Kylie, Ray Winstone and Blixa Bargeld.

I’m left with a tantalising question. Is this the greatest film ever made about music?  I think it has claims on that.  Notwithstanding School of Rock.

Nick Cave.  {I love you man.)

Latest listening. Yasmine Hamdan. Ya Nass.


Take one part Fado singer Mariza, to that add a dash of Shiela Chandra, mix in a decent dollop of Susheela Raman and you won’t even get close to how transfixingly beautiful, evocative and enthralling the singing of Yasmine Hamdan is.

Now underscore with music that comes from West End Musicals, The Pet Shop Boys, Warren Ellis and traditional folk music and again you won’t have nailed Yasmine Hamdan.  If you liked the very best of Ethiopiques I would suggest this will be to your liking.

That probably makes it sound like a pot pouri of ill fitting musical styles.  Don’t you believe it.

This is extraordinary music that has a rare beauty to it.

Now, the thing that nails it for me is, like Tinariwan, who sing with startling ethnic embellishments and words totally unfamiliar, so too does Hamdan, but her source is Arabic, because she hails from Beirut, although now lives with her husband in Paris.

Before a week ago I had not heard of Haman (despite his significant back catalogue under the band name Soapkills) but after seeing her blow away all and sundry on Jools Holland’s show I sent immediately for her debut album.

Rather than a strictly new release it appears to be a Western catch up of some previously released materials that we haven’t yet come across.

She sings defiantly in Arabic because the youth of Lebanon eschew their roots favouring, like many other countries, transatlantic sounding pop.  The result is that this is music I have never quite heard before but is stunningly complex and enthralling from start to finish.

Please don’t approach this as “World Music” which to so many is a pejorative genre definition.  It is just beautiful and no more so than on the albums opening numbers, Deny (straight out of Homeland), Shouie (surely the most plaintive lament you’ll hear in a long time), Samar (with its Indian sounding, slightly syncopated, early Depeche Mode feel) and the monumental Enta fen, again (swooningly beautiful French noir thriller soundtrack material if ever I’ve heard it – Think Diva).

The ship’s foghorn that introduces La Mouch only creates a further layer of intrigue. Nediya is a Morodoresque synth-driven torch song.  (But that only sells it short.)

This is not throw away pop.  It’s truly great contemporary music worthy of any year end top ten list.  I confidently predict you will witness this.  Not least on mine.

Right now?  It’s way out there on its own.






The werewolf

I had the great pleasure of seeing Grinderman live on Tuesday night at the Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow.  Nick Cave was electrifying, Warren Ellis insane and the “other two” held it all together with aplomb.  It is a unique experience (and my first) watching and listening to Nick Cave in action.  He has an intensity that I’ve never seen any act match in my history of gig going and Warren Ellis as his stooge is quite awe inspiring.  At one stage Ellis was smashing, and I mean utterly battering the fucking life out of, a Hi hat with a pair of marracas that looked life threatening to the front row of the audience.

So lupine is Cave’s performance that you expect him to gorge on the flesh of one of the few female members of the audience at any point in the show.  Howls and roars whilst looking for the moon through the Barrowland’s hallowed ceiling are frequent.  He was honoured to play here as one of his legends, the (not so sensation in my view) Alex Harvey had strode these boards in his youth.  Cave is in his 50’s now, but acts as though he is in his 20s.

Grinderman’s songs are tongue in cheek misogynistic maelstroms.  Women are disparaged, objectified, lusted after, loved, hated, disparaged; you name it.  This is not balladry this is death metal on acid.  But, as I say, it’s tongue in cheek.  It’s full of humour and it’s priceless.  No pussy Blues, an anguished cry for some pussy action despite every form of wooing known to man sums the band up and it was performed brilliantly.  The highlight of the night for me though was the eponymous Grinderman that echoed Jim Morrison set to a hypnotic bass and drum rumble that could easily have been the Doors.

It was wonderful, loud, musical extremism that had my ears tingling with Ttinitus well into the morning hours.


The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I confess, I’ve been slow getting round to this.  I was given it on DVD for Christmas and what a gift, because this is one masterpiece of a movie.  As it progressed it became clearer and clearer to me that the brooding and grumbling soundtrack (all instrumental) sounded distinctly like Nick Cave and so it transpired; written as it was by him and his Bad Seed partner Warren Ellis (the Big Beardy one).  The soundtrack is only one of the great perfections of this movie, because like everything in it it sticks like Araldite together in perfect symmetry.

Let’s turn to the cinematography by Roger Deakins.  This is photography at its very finest and he won an Oscar this year (but not for this which was surely the runner up).  He won it for No Country For Old Men which I have raved about elsewhere.  What sets the photography apart here is that he introduces a strange stressing of the picture at certain points (when the narrator speaks mainly I think) and my guess is that this is to reflect Jesse James’ failing eyesight which is referred to early in the movie.

Now the casting.  You will surely never see a greater Brad Pitt performance and Casey Affleck as the Coward Robert Ford who first idolises and then vilifies James is quite outstanding and rightly was Oscar nominated for the performance.

The story is a little tricky to follow because a lot of characters are referred to in contexts that one might not understand if not a student of Jesse James; which I’m not.  Anyway, it hangs around James’ final days in which he’s taking more risks than he should.  His gang is breaking up and his loyal recruits ain’t as loyal as they used to be.  James knows this (or at least senses it) and you see him become increasingly paranoid in a way that Daniel Day Lewis totally overblew it in There will be Blood (for my money this a far better movie with a far subtler exposition of madness and the pursuit of a different kind of power).

As the film progresses the young (19) Thomson becomes completely disenamoured of his erstwhile childhood hero (for many, James was the Robin Hood of America) and sees instead only James’ self driven anger and thirst for revenge.  To gain the £100,000 bounty on his head Ford and his brother Charlie (also brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell) plot to overthrow him.

In the end the moment of execution is an anticlimax for the pair (but not the viewer) in that James seemingly surrenders and takes a bullet to the back of the head.

At first lauded (mildly) Ford soon sees the backlash as America proclaims him not a hero but a coward for killing an unarmed man by shooting him in the back of the head.  Ford’s life is ended in a further revenge killing and the whole futility of it all becomes apparent.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough.  Long it may be (2h 40min) but it’s all the better for that because we never really wanted it to end.