Sunday, 29 April 2012

Horace The Gentleman - Art and Blues at St Pauls Gallery

One of Horace The
Gentleman's Beijing trip
inspired paintings.
Horace The Gentleman is the bassist from The Specials, and an artist. We said hello at the preview for an exhibition for his work on Friday, and can confirm that he is officially the most charming member of a two-tone band we have ever met. The 'Gentleman' epithet has never been better applied. Also, he performed with Blues to Go, a blues and rock n roll band, rocking out a Chuck Berry cover and a great version of Standing On Top of the World.

The Specials are a bands who have been passed down to current twenty-somethings by their original fans. We're now in a mid-generational flux where we will be able to see if these bands like this will be carried further. Far fewer people with parents who grew up the 1940s have intergenerational music appreciation than the children of baby-boomers. Since the regular explosions and implosions of popular culture from the 60s onwards, passions have been handed down to children and carried into adulthood. Elvis Presley is an early example, Aretha Franklin, Nick Drake,  Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Queen, The Who, The Ramones, The Specials, Madness... Are the children of the first few years of the 21st Century going to inherit a passion for Oasis, Blur and Nirvana (even the Spice Girls) from their 90s-raised parents, or are they going to listen to The Beatles and Rolling Stones like their grandparents and parents?

Pop culture is often criticised for a lack of depth, for a transience that means it burns brightly, then leaves nothing behind. There is something more than nostalgia for an ephemeral joy, however, about passing down a musical act to your children. It is about creating a sense of family when the media tells us daily that we are fracturing - if we don't sit around the piano anymore singing the latest manuscript, we can at least debate whether Paul Simon's work was better solo or with Garfunkel, then listen to Graceland.

A major inspiration in Horace The Gentleman's recent paintings is a visit to Beijing to see his son, who was living out there.  Sitting five feet from Horace as he played the bass, surrounded by these paintings, gave us pause for thought about this. We urge you to call your Dad or someone else you care about, and talk to them about the music you both love.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Chinatown/Gastown - Wandering through Vancouver

Gastown is the oldest area of Vancouver, a city that can otherwise seem to be a gleaming clutch of skyscrapers held between the mountains, forest and ocean. Like areas in many cities where there is poverty and homelessness, low rent also means the growth of an artistic community. 

We took an early evening wander down Main St, through neighbouring Chinatown, then explored the three parallel roads that form Gastown: Powell Street, Cordova Street and Hastings Street. The extraordinary thing about this trio is that whilst Powell and Cordova seem to be succumbing enthusiastically to gentrification, West Hastings had enough openair drug taking, prostitution and street selling to make it seem like Hamsterdam in The Wire. 

Instagallery at Kee's Laundry

There are sides to the area to be celebrated, however. Our first stop was Kee's Laundry, where Instagallery, a very timely exhibition of Instagram images of Chinatown opened today. The exhibition is interactive - images are pulled from the #ChinatownYVR hashtag - and they are already showing over 600 entries.

Just around the corner was The Board of Trade, a great new independent clothing shop. It had a really minimal layout that made it feel like an exhibition space, and co-owner Eunice Quan is rightly proud of their menswear offering, much of it handmade by business partner David Lin. It felt a lot like what Liquor Store are doing in Birmingham, but with more of a focus on small designers. A favourite in womenswear was the collection from Priory of Ten.

The Board of Trade
Heading into Gastown, Gallery Gachet was showing Drawuary, the result of 14 artists making one drawing every day in February. The results were reminiscent of the work of Guo Fengyi we saw at Vancouver Contemparary Art Gallery last week. Collected together, the drawings were like pages from a scrapbook, with the timescale of the project making them seem like cryptic diary entries.

Drawuary at Gallery Gachet

 Finally, we pressed our noses against the Royal Canadian Snowflake Factory. Housed in a heritage building on East Cordova Street, Robert Chaplin casts snowflake shapes in silver, and just like real snowflakes, each piece is unique.

A Royal Canadian Snowflake

What seemed to link Instagallery, Drawuary, the Royal Canadian Snowflake Factory and even The Board of Trade, was a real clarity of vision; each is a simple concept executed with quiet confidence and style.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Everything Sounds Like Phil Collins

Two songs have been receiving heavy rotation on the LIFB stereo recently, and there is a disturbing pattern emerging. Over both 'Some Nights' by New York band fun. and 'Vase' by Sweden's Miike Snow, the legacy of Phil Collins looms large. 'Some Nights' has inspired spirited renditions of 'True Colours' over the top of the whoa-oh-oh bits, and there is something about the treatment of the vocals in 'Vase' that make them sound just like like they are being performed by Collins himself. 

Miike Snow - Vase:

The idea that 'prog is back' has been around for a while now, powered by a gradual increase in releases of concept albums and the stamp of Gallic cool on a number of prog-ish releases - a Genesis t-shirt popped up in the video for Justice's On'n'On - but nothing has sounded quite like it could have been discovered on a late period Genesis album than these two.

Following years of painstakingly sifting through vinyl bargain bins we have become familiar with Collins' face. He is a 75p box regular - our theory is that the people who buy his records aren't actually fans of music, but because buying records is what people do, they buy the blandest stuff they can find, then when they get older they dump him en-masse. Because his face - usually in terrifying close-up - adorns almost all of his solo albums, he's become a guardian of the cheap second hand records. His impassive stare is that of a bouncer, assessing your suitability to buy a scratched Tina Turner best of or A Night At The Opera. 

Listening to 'Some Nights' and 'Vase' however, we see that his stare is really one of patient contemplation. We made a collage of all of his albums this afternoon that you can see at the top of this post, and the power of his compound stare proves conclusively that Phil Collins knew this was going to happen. At this rate we'll be wading in middle-of-the-road prog until the net generation break free from his clutches. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fierce Festival 2012 - Dachshund U.N and Love Letters Straight From Your Heart

We had a grand old time out on the town last weekend, picking out two highlights of Fierce festival - Birmingham's annual performance art jamboree.

First up was Bennett Miller's Dachshund U.N. - a performance / installation hybrid involving a recreation of a U.N. office with dachshund rather than human representatives. Aside from the pleasure gained from the surreal nature of the performance, the best part of this event was witnessing the culture of West-Midlands dachshund owners. The U.N. representatives were recruited entirely from their ranks, and dozens more turned out to support. If only the real U.N. was quite so convivial...

Secondly, Love Letters Straight From Your Heart was a touching piece of theatre that mixed audience contributions and short scenes to celebrate what it is to express love. The show veered close to schmalz,   but avoided it through a sense of honesty that was reflected in the use of TROVE, a superbly ramshackle and versatile venue, as the setting. Cava was poured, dedications read, and there was a brilliant bit involving Kate Bush. We defy anyone to leave this show without becoming at least temporarily misty-eyed.