Category: art

Review of Fiende Fatale live at The Horn, St. Albans

By Daniel Margrain

In Steven Shea’s 2013 cult horror-adventure parody, Fiende Fatale, an assortment of DNA-cloned monsters and weirdos reconfigured from the carcasses of vampires, zombies, demons and others, find themselves confronting government and terrorist forces in a dystopian world devoid of meaning whose citizens are out of control.

As well as working at the level of a spoof, the short film mainly succeeds as a metaphor for a world spiraling ever-deeper, both spiritually and figuratively, into decay. With the enemy as much internalized as a result of the tactics of divide and rule, and brute force increasingly becoming the norm, the urban proletariat see violence as their only form of salvation against the tyranny of government – a kind of subterranean ‘fight club’ for lost souls.

The dark and claustrophobic venue, ‘The Horn’ in St. Albans fits neatly into this cinematic narrative. When headline band, Fiende Fatale, took to the venues small stage last Saturday evening, against a backdrop of the ever-present sight of ghouls, vampires and zombies in the run up to Halloween, the scene was set perfectly.

From two songs in, it was clear that the band are not easy to pigeon-hole. This is a testament to their creative and musical flair. Attending the same school, the north London ensemble have clearly imbued a multitude of influences – Lou Reed, Stooges, Sex Pistols, Roxy Music – among them.

The groups defining aesthetic is nevertheless one that is reminiscent of the art-rock and post-punk scenes of the early 1970s and early 1980s respectively. Indeed, the manner with which the group merge these influences seamlessly into their work is extremely impressive.

From the opening chords, the bands music, to this critics ears, doesn’t sound derivative, contrived or forced but rather discombobulating which is a mark of their distinctive musicality and artistic creative impulses.

Underneath the clever and often witty lyrics given free expressive reign by lead singer and guitarist, Matthew Magee – whose intensity is equal to Ian Curtis, and whose theatrics are reminiscent of Dave Vanian – is a band that musically, as a unit, are as tight as The Fall without Mark E Smith.

All the while, guitarist, Rolph Edwards regularly skews the formal structure of the groups sound to the point of cacophonous informality rooted in Captain Beefheart and the post-punk of say, the Gang of Four, while Alex Wright’s meaty bass and Dom Bowmans manic but disciplined drumming ensures that the spine of the sound remains intact.

Unfortunately my close friend and me had to leave during the bands rendition of the catchy ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ in order to catch the last train back to London so we missed all of the set. My one criticism is that the group do perhaps veer at times too much towards pop for my taste, but regardless they are talented musician’s who are keeping the spirit of rock and roll very much alive.

Fiende Fatale play The Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, Thursday, 30th November.

 

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Hard Times On Benefit Mall

By Daniel Margrain

For many years the media have portrayed the lifestyles of what they have termed the undeserving rich who inhabit Britain’s Benefit Malls, as feckless wasters and a burden on the tax-paying public. There have been signs over recent months that their attacks on this largely invisible minority in society are beginning to take their toll.

So extreme have these attacks on some of Britain’s most privileged elite been, that many within the gold-vaulted communities of Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Kensington, often under the cloak of anonymity, have decided to fight back. One such individual is a young woman called Beatrice Ferguson, 28, who some have alleged is a princess.

Claiming that her lifestyle has been regularly vilified in the media, and following in the footsteps of her father, Beatrice has recently starred in the Channel Five reality show, ‘Benefit Mall’ where, among other things, she has been filmed getting drunk on gin and tonics in her local public house, the Duke of York, named after him.

Allegations

The allegations that Ms Ferguson has consistently abused the benefit system continue to be stringently denied by the alleged princess. One of the most serious accusations relates to the claim that Beatrice set herself up as a business matchmaker after having secured a high-profile client in the shape of would-be stock market debutant, Afiniti.

It was reported that a member of the Zia Chishti entourage, who is said to have accompanied Ferguson to meetings and parties at the World Economic Forum in Davos, including to a lunch for many of the most senior figures in British business, phoned the DWP in the UK anonymously.

Undercover

When challenged by undercover journalists, Beatrice was reported as having said that she informed her local Job Centre Plus in London’s Bayswater Road that she intended to take a week’s holiday abroad to which she claims she was entitled:

“I phoned the DWP three days in advance informing them that I would be taking a foreign holiday for a week which was agreed at the time by my work coach. This was not a working holiday”, she said.

But this version of events was contradicted by what has been claimed are her clients, the advisory board members of the company that is headquartered in Washington DC, comprising no fewer than 21 senior figures. An account relayed to investigators by one of these figures, BP chief executive Lord Browne, however, appears to support the benefit claimants version of events:

“The notion this young lady owns a company called Afiniti or that I am one of her clients is absurd. I recall that she was at a party I attended as a guest. The fact that Mr Chishti, who previously co-founded and brought to market a company that makes transparent braces for teeth straightening, is merely coincidental”, he said.

Spotted

Beatrice, who some in the media have dubbed Britain’s version of a Kardashian, has in previous years also been spotted taking to the water on Roman Abramovich’s £1 billion super yacht, Eclipse, which is docked off the Spanish coast near Ibiza. Asked by reporters how the alleged penniless royal could afford to rack up seventeen holidays in eight months on a weekly Job Seeker’s Allowance of £73.40 since giving up her 20k a year role at Sony, Beatrice claimed the trips were paid for using savings accumulated in her Barclays Instant Saver account.

Responding to accusations that her lifestyle is excessive, Beatrice snapped back at the media by saying that Channel Five’s Benefits Mall programme was a cheap attempt at smearing people like her on benefits which she claimed was indicative of a culture that “treated elites like me as though we are animals in a zoo.” The reality star added, “If I knew then, what I know now, I would never have agreed to do this show.”

Beatrice exclaimed that chalking up three skiing holidays on top of multiple hot weather breaks and repeated trips to New York, “is my human right”. She continued: “People are jealous that I have saved up some money that funds a lifestyle to which I’m entitled and that I regard as being normal. When I visited New York, it was to see my sister, Eugenie”, said the streetwise hustler from downtown Belgravia.

Last November, the DWP claimed she visited the United Arab Emirates for a “business engagement” with her father, the Duke of York, which she categorically denies. She also claims that people driven by jealously conspired against her by falsely claiming she subsequently attended a lavish party on board a Polynesian themed party yacht.

Private jet

Later that week, Beatrice admitted to investigators she flew on a private jet with her mother, Sarah Ferguson, to Beijing for a wedding, paid for by her father which she claims didn’t break DWP rules since she was able to sign-on the following week. Moreover, she claimed she was able to prove to her job coach that she had spent a sufficient amount of time actively seeking work. She put her late attendance that day down to heavy traffic along the Bayswater Road and that the 148 bus she was travelling on had broken down.

Serious questions, however, remain with regards to Beatrice’s whereabouts during Christmas 2016. Having failed to turn up to a 2pm appointment previously arranged with her work coach who had planned to run through her CV with her, Beatrice claimed she phoned Job Centre Plus saying that she was too sick to attend.

However, I was subsequently contacted by a member of Beatrice’s entourage who alleged that after enjoying Christmas lunch with the Queen at Sandringham, the Benefit Mall star jetted off to Verbier to stay at her parents £13m ski chalet. My source then alleges she flew off to the Caribbean where she saw in 2017 relaxing on a yacht belonging to billionaire Lakshmi Mittal.

Jimmy Carr

Having made a quick trip back to London to sign on, it is claimed she spent time on another yacht in the company of, among others, comedian Jimmy Carr. After a double holiday in the Caribbean, she then took a trip to New York.

With the authorities becoming suspicious of her increasingly erratic lifestyle depicted on Benefit Mall, the DWP finally made the decision to suspend the reality TV stars Job Seekers Allowance. The suspension of her housing and council tax benefits swiftly followed. After complaining vociferously to TV executives at Channel Five about the manner in which the programme-makers had characterized her, and by extension, their demonizing of her class in Benefit Mall, Beatrice flew back to her parents place in Verbier.

After spending a short time with them, she clearly felt that she needed another break from all the stress. So she decided to fly out to Florida for her twelfth holiday in five months. Beatrice was subsequently spotted in the Gulf State of Bahrain as a guest of it’s Prince whose father helped put down pro-democracy protests. Clearly, Ms Ferguson loves to hang out with nice people.

Great Guana Cay

In September, Beatrice flew to Florence before jetting off for her third Caribbean jaunt where she was photographed lounging on a beach in Great Guana Cay that’s home to just 150 people. It is also blessed with a five and a half mile stretch of sandy white beach, virgin forest and pristine coral reefs.

With Ms Ferguson having apparently set up home in Great Guana Cay, the authorities back in London are keen to interview the reality TV star regarding unanswered questions that reportedly involve her failure to report a change in her circumstances. Some other independent journalists are also seeking answers to similar questions.

Isn’t it about time the mainstream corporate media also began asking searching questions about the activities of royal benefit scroungers like Beatrice? They might begin by asking how her father, who has a modest naval pension, can afford a £13m property and pay for regular private jet flights?

“The Royal Family is still guarding secrets that we the people should know about”, says the Guardian. These secrets include how the royal benefit spongers manage to screw the British tax payers of their hard earned cash to the extent they do in order to fund their extravagant lifestyles without serious challenge in the media?

Answers on a post card to Daniel Margrain, c/o the Palm Fringe Savoy, Bahamas.

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The Penniless Philanthropist

By Daniel Margrain

Sculptor Drew Edwards (second right) unveiled his moving work Children of the Mediterranean on campus with the help of Syrian refugees now studying at MDX

Actor and sculptor, Andrew Edwards, has been dubbed the ‘penniless philanthropist’. The 51 year old’s life-affirming sculptures, mainly created from tonnes of granite, are a labour of love for Edwards who neither receives, nor asks, for a penny in return for his efforts.

I’ve witnessed the artist toil for hours on end in our communal garden sculpting his creations with a hand grinder. The man often suffers for his art – sometimes, in the physical sense, literally. Last summer he nearly lost a finger and more recently he suffered a deep wound to his leg – the hand tool almost severing a tendon.

The rewards for Edwards is the knowledge that he is making a difference – no matter how small – to help shift the public’s consciousness in terms of bringing to their attention the plight of the some of the most desperate souls on the planet – refugee children driven from their homes by the ravages of imperialist wars who are then exploited by criminal gangs.

Edward’s remarkable story culminated in the recent unveiling of his latest creation, a 91-piece installation entitled ‘Children of the Mediterranean’ – dedicated by the artist in memory of refugee children who were drowned or have been trafficked crossing the Mediterranean sea.

The 91 figures represent the percentage of children who have made the perilous journey unaccompanied. It is the first major piece of art to be erected on the Ritterman plinth in the centre of the new prestigious £18m Ritterman building at Middlesex University’s north London campus.

Edwards began his two year long ‘Children of the Mediterranean’ project after seeing the lifeless body of a small Syrian boy washed up on a beach. The image was captured by the corporate press and printed on many of their front pages, It was subsequently used by Western governments as justification for implementing their regime change agenda in the country.

The image of the dead child brought back disturbing childhood memories for Edwards. At the age of eight, the artist remembered watching the TV documentary series, ‘The World At War’. Edwards was haunted by the image of small children imprisoned in a concentration camp. The nightmare of this experience and the terror on the faces of the children and those who had survived the Mediterranean sea journey, are represented in the faceless stone figures that comprise his most recent creation.

“I didn’t want these children to be forgotten”, said Edwards in his statement to those who attended the recent unveiling of the piece. He added: “This is my way of ensuring this doesn’t happen. News coverage of these kinds of tragic events are often transient in the minds of the public. Hopefully, my work offers a sense of permanence. I think the piece is self-explanatory.”

The logistics involved in moving 7 tonnes of granite into a relatively small outdoor space in the university campus space where the plinth is located was a feat in itself. But having done so, with minimal support, is a testament to the artists commitment to his work.

All the effort was worth it. It’s a stunning piece. The clamor of various sizes of granite stone pieces are packed together in close proximity to one another – a community of lost souls bound together metaphorically and literally by their shared sense of resilience to survive against the odds.

Among them is a solitary figure of white marble, and hidden amid the bodies, is one of the sculptors trademark angels – perhaps symbolizing hope for the future. The entire piece is enmeshed in rusted encased chains that invoke in the viewer an emotional connection to the helplessness of human beings imprisoned by an endless ocean.

Invited by the event organiser to say a few more words during the unveiling, a self-effacing Edwards continued:

“I feel the piece will now have a life of its own. I can’t say for sure where it will be next or where, if ever, it will end up.”

Edwards has other pieces of his dotted around the capital city. Two months ago, the artist was so moved by the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, he donated a statue to the shrine in memory of the victims. It now stands among the flames and tributes at the entrance to Notting Hill Methodist church. Entitled, ‘Grieving Figure In Stone’, it was gratefully accepted by the minister of the church, Rev. Mark Long. and it is hoped it will become a centrepiece in a future garden of remembrance.

Edwards, who is dyslexic and suffers from Grave’s disease, turned to sculpting three years ago as a means of remaining creative between acting jobs. He left school at 15, and at the age of 24, paid to go through drama school and become an actor. Unfortunately, he also became an alcoholic and drug addict but has been clean and sober for the last 20 years.

The artist, whose last role was in the Meryl Streep film, Suffragette, began sculpting by creating angels. Largely inspired by the paintings of William Blake, Edward’s creations have a contemplative and ethereal quality to them. Much of his work seems to hint at themes of spiritual yearning and of the vulnerability of the human condition in a world that is seemingly spiraling out of control.

His first major work was a 20-foot high ‘Memorial Angel’ of recycled wind-blown oak and stainless steel that he donated to the Finchley Memorial Hospital. It stands outside the children’s cancer unit and attracts a great deal of attention from children and passers by.

He donated the sculpture as a thank you to the doctors and nursing staff at the hospital that saved his life when he developed septicemia 18 years ago. He has also donated another sculpture – ‘Mother and Child’ – to the Memorial hospital. It is carved from recycled granite and stands on the approach to the reception area. A third, almost finished piece, is in memory of a nurse at the hospital who worked in the cancer ward and sadly died of cancer herself.

Edwards has a further five granite angels ready to be donated or auctioned off for worthy causes and is presently working on a huge sculpture to be donated to the London Borough of Barnet – a 40-foot high piece entitled ‘Angel of North London’. The council have been extremely supportive of the sculptors work by allowing him the use of a work yard, and local builders have made it possible by supplying granite.

The artist wouldn’t have been able to create his work had it not been for those who assisted with transport and equipment. “They all knew I had very little money and it was the drivers bringing the granite who gave me the nickname of the penniless philanthropist”, he said. “I never thought of myself that way, but I do take it as a compliment.”

Edwards has previously said that he will consider at some point in the future to move ‘Children of the Mediterranean’ to a safe stretch of the Thames where, as the tidal water recedes, the ghostly stone figures will appear. “I would like the installation to remind commuters on their way across the Thames that children are the most vulnerable and defenceless members of society. With the ongoing conflict in Syria, and also beyond in a myriad of other places, it’s vital we don’t forget them”, he said.

Edwards concluded:

“The more we see clips of children drowning and fleeing conflict zones throughout the world, the more numb we become. It’s media fatigue. The unforgivable has become palatable. I hope it will make people ponder for a moment how privileged we are to live in one of the richest and safest democracies on earth, and perhaps consider how they can help more.”

‘Children of the Mediterranean’ will be on view at the Ritterman plinth, Middlesex University, for six months after which Edwards hopes it will be bought and the money donated to a children’s charity of the sculptors choice. If not, Edwards will probably relocate it to the banks of the Thames, although he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of it being moved abroad providing he receives the required funding.

Further information from Andrew Edwards:
E mail drewedwards@hotmail.co.uk
Tel: 07957234346

Tom Petty

By Daniel Margrain

It wasn’t cool to like Tom Petty in the late 1970s. British music critics couldn’t quite pigeonhole him and his band, the Heartbreakers. Among the others of his peers they couldn’t put into a box who emerged from the cultural wasteland of the mid -1970s and who made a name for themselves this side of the Atlantic, included The Patti Smith Group and The Pretenders.

As was the case with these artists, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers transcended the narrow confines of the punk and new wave movements from which the likes of The Ramones, Sex Pistols and Clash belonged. Thus Petty and his band were to punk and the new wave what Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band were to the Delta Blues. For a start, Petty was a far more accomplished musician than many of his more fashionable peers. His music struck the balance between harmony and melody that was simultaneously catchy, visceral and solemn. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were a class act.

The group provided the bridge between the formulaic hard rock radio friendly groups of the 1970s, the West Coast Hippy vibe of The Buffalo Springfield, the quintessential American roots music of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the US pop-rock of the new wave. Many of the bands – The Cars, The Knack and The Runaways etc – that emerged out of the latter scene were invariably inferior musicians who produced weak songs.

By contrast, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers stood out among many of their contemporaries. Unlike the British punks, they were not sloppy but serious musicians who crafted their songs in such a way as to exude emotion and intensity whilst also managing to marry the spirit and attitude of somebody like a ‘Highway 61 Revisted- era Bob Dylan.

Tom Petty was at heart a folk-rock musician – a great songwriter – who produced a succession of brilliant melodies. But he was also an artist who wore his heart on his sleeve and he expressed his angst with a quirky sense of genuine raw emotion. Like Patti Smith and David Byrne, when Petty had something to say, you had better listen. A visceral punk aesthetic was nearly always below the surface of the folk-rock rhythm of the The Heartbreakers music.

The groups first three albums – the debut, ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ (1976), ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ (1978) and ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ (1979) – were masterpieces that have stood the test of time. With the former, Petty is respectful, not only of the music and traditions that influenced him, but seemed determined to want to educate a generation of young punks that a dehumanizing attitude on its own is essentially an exercise in futility if its devoid of authenticity.

Bruce Springsteen, another artist of the period who bridged many genres from different eras, also preached a similar message. Petty, Springsteen and Patti Smith were there to remind those who would care to listen that alienation is rooted in something more profound than merely the slogan. Neil Young understands this too, so does Bob Dylan and so did Lou Reed.

While in a song like ‘American Girl’, Petty deliberately played on crude US stereotypes with humour and pathos, on others like ‘Breakdown’, ‘Luna’ and ‘Fooled Again’, he paints an atmosphere much darker that’s a cross between the work of the band, Television and the ruminations of Neil Young at his most cerebral and psychedelic. The punks at the time didn’t get the message but they, not Petty, were the ones who were the losers.

Petty’s follow-up, ‘You’re Gonna Get It’, maintains the winning formula of the first and is perhaps even smarter than its predecessor. Although the electric jingle-jangle style of the Byrds and the visceral garage-blues of say, The Yardbirds,  is evident throughout the record, there is enough modern variation on established themes and originality in the terms of the delivery of the message for the group to avoid being labelled as mere imitators of their heroes.

At the time of the release of ‘Damn The Torpedoes’, Petty was riding a wave of popularity and artistic credibility that was comparable to Springsteen’s which further alienated the punks. Petty’s third masterpiece was an illustration of how he was able to transcend the claim by some that he was a one trick pony.

With songs that are a series of powerful melodramas, particularly ‘Refugee’, his work took on an aura of sophistication that was both classic-sounding and elegantly produced. Still grounded in the sixties, the songs are nevertheless modernist masterpieces – delicate, serene and dreamy. Petty was to produce a succession of other great albums – Southern Accents (1985) and Full Moon Fever (1989) among them, but they couldn’t quite match the supreme quality of his earlier works.

One of Petty’s most memorable and intimate live shows was when he and his band performed at the Bridge School in 1994. It was the last time the original lineup played together. ‘Freefallin’ from Full Moon River is arguably the greatest live version of the song ever performed. The group delivered a particularly delicate and emotional rendering of the song. The lyrics, “I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for awhile” have of course, taken on an added poignancy since Petty’s death.

Petty wasn’t an innovator but an impeccable craftsman, who like Springsteen, Young and Dylan, chronicled the internal struggles of what it is to be human in a way that the punks could not. I never got to see Tom Petty live and was annoyed to have missed his concert at Hyde Park in the summer. Sadly, their won’t be another opportunity. I’m gutted at the news of his passing.

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Sam Shepard & the Holy Modal Rounders

By Daniel Margrain

On July 27, 2017, the world lost a prestigious talent. The US actor, playwright and musician. Sam Shepard, had written at least 55 plays, acted in more than 50 films and had more than a dozen roles on television. His play Buried Child, won him the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1979.

As a key figure in helping to rejuvenate American theatre in the 1960s, Shepard is perhaps best known for Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983) where he received a best supporting actor nomination, and Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978).

What first drew my attention to Shepard was not so much his acting, as great as that was, but his writing, particularly the screenplay he had part-penned for the Wim Wender’s film Paris Texas (1984), a fascinating metaphysical study of self-discovery and disillusionment.

Ry Cooder’s haunting score and the superlative performances from a terrific ensemble cast, provided the space for Shepard’s hallucinatory words to breath. In my view the interplay between Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in the following scene is one of cinemas finest moments.

The above scene has Shepard’s underlying naturalistic and suspended sense of trauma, mystery and grief written all over it. These ghostly and introspective themes, reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, haunt Shepard’s work.

Probably less well known was that Shepard collaborated with John Cale and Bob Dylan, notably his part-penning of “Brownsville Girl,” from the latter’s 1986 album “Knocked Out Loaded”. But arguably his most creatively fertile inroad into music was as a drummer with The Holy Modal Rounders, one of the most obscure and underrated groups of the 1960s.

The band also comprised Peter Stampfel on vocals and electric fiddle, Steve Weber on guitar and vocals and Lee Crabtree on piano and organ. Probably best known for their beautiful expression of freedom, “If you want to be a bird” that was included in the Easy Rider (1969) road movie soundtrack, the band were one of the most distinctive and original sounding artists of the time.

Their inventive deconstruction of US country-folk traditions and blithe send-up of musical Americana, was even more eccentric and anarchic in terms of its execution in their masterpiece, Indian War Whoop (1967).

While mining the Americana tradition, the group introduced wild and zany virtuoso turns on acoustic guitar, banjo and violin. “If you want to be a bird” was one of their later relatively conventional sounding records highlighting the vocal dexterity of Stampfel and Weber in addition to the haunting piano of Crabtree.

Dissonant and chaotic, with a cutting political edge that underscored a deliberate lack of respect for the vocal harmony tradition, the groups Fug’s style acid-folk had a devoted live following across the United States.

“Soldiers Joy” from Indian War Whoop is a masterpiece of irreverent and maniacal abandon. Stampfel’s electric fiddle is a political weapon in his hands. Country-folk traditions are fused with epileptic-sounding psychedelic marching band music with Shepard’s brilliant, frenetic drumming driving the madness along nicely.

Hardly any of the mainstream obituaries mentioned Shepard’s contribution to one of America’s greatest bands, and the few that did only mentioned it in passing.

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The twentieth anniversary of Radiohead’s ‘Ok Computer’. But is it any good?

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for pics of ok computer

I stopped reading the New Musical Express (NME) not long after writers of the caliber of Julie Burchill, Steven Wells, Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray stopped writing for it. Anton Corbijn’s stunning and memorable monochrome photography added to the mix of art, politics and music that made the paper special. For many people my age, the post-punk and new wave era, corresponded to a golden age in rock music and rock music journalism.

The NME seemed to have more credibility than its main rivals, the Melody Maker and Sounds. It’s music journalism was acerbic, if at times irreverent and pretentious, but as teenager and twenty-something I couldn’t do without my weekly fix.

Indicative of a great deal of what continues to pass for rock music journalism in Britain, it’s flaws were that it was probably too colloquial in its outlook, disproportionately praising UK bands at the expense of those in the USA.

The emergence of the stupefying Brit-pop scene in the early 1990s marked a nadir for the paper. The genres iconography was as reactionary as the music was derivative and bombastic. The paper’s content began to reflect this superficiality. Among the ubiquitous genre of Britpop artists to emerge during this period were the British band, Radiohead, who unlike many of their contemporaries, the NME were largely indifferent to.

Proving to be more of a critical and commercial success outside Britain than in it during the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the release of their third album, OK Computer in 1997 that the group received widespread critical acclaim. The album initiated a stylistic shift toward a more atmospheric and melancholic sound of rock music whose abstract lyrics touched on themes of urban living, alienation, technology and modernity.

The music journalist at the NME whose words I paid close attention to more than any other during my youth, Nick Kent, wrote in Mojo about Ok Computer:

“Others may end up selling more, but in 20 years time I’m betting [the album] will be seen as the key record of 1997, the one to take rock forward instead of artfully revamping images and song structures from an earlier era.”

Twenty years since Kent wrote his piece, it’s perhaps worth considering whether his enthusiasm for the album is justified? I listened to it again for the first time for many years yesterday (July 19, 2017). My indifference to the work hasn’t changed.

The recording opens with Airbag, a kind of meticulously crafted and structured post-modern form of psychedelia updated for a generation unfamiliar with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Musically, the piece is rather dull, a theme that sets the tone for much of the album.

Paranoid Android is marked by the shift towards early Roxy-Music-esque prog-rock, hard rock and Gothic and blues elements that invoke a curious merging of Van der Graaf Generator and the Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet. Although its a slight departure from the opening track, it’s no less boring.

The self-confessed attempts by the group to emulate the disturbing atmosphere of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew in Subterranean Homesick Alien fails to capture the dense and chaotic magma of that piece, but instead is closer to the relatively conventional jazz of Herbie Hancock sprinkled with the transcendentalism of Pink Floyd.

The Romeo and Juliet-inspired Exit Music (For a Film) illustrates quite a clever use of vocal, acoustic guitar, mournful choir, electronics, renaissance-sounding mellotron and distorted trip-hop bass that is quite effective in its way, but hardly innovative. Nevertheless, this solemn requiem is one of the few successful and interesting moments on the album.

Let Down is basically a trance track featuring a subtle use of electronica that overlays some of the bands David Crosby-ian influences from their second album, The Bends. With a melodic chord progression reminiscent of the Beatles Sexy Sadie, the albums sixth track, Karma Police (inspired by Sgt Pepper), includes a pleasant Elton John-style romantic piano motif that eventually dissipates into a black hole of effects. Again, not a bad piece, but it’s not something I would necessarily have any desire to hear again either.

Fitter Happier is a short throwaway piece of sampled musique concrete, while Electioneering is heavy rock reminiscent of the groups debut, Pablo Honey. The next track, Climbing Up the Walls, is layered with a string section, ambient noise and repetitive, metallic percussion, while the renaissance-infused mournful hymn of the Beach Boys-inspired No Surprises, whose use of glockenspiel in the refrain reminiscent of a music box, is probably the best known cut on the album.

The penultimate apocalyptic, orchestral and choral, Lucky, is as languid and overblown a piece as the worst excesses of Pink Floyd. The album closes with The Tourist, a meandering waltz for the blues.

The album has its moments but there is simply a lack of quality in the structure of the songs and too much of it is filler. The melodramatic dirges and vocals are too hard to take after a while, especially during a single sitting. Ultimately, there is not enough interest to justify its length.

Production values can only sustain interest up to a point before the limitations of what lies underneath are exposed. This was true of Sgt Pepper and Dark Side as it is with Ok Computer.

Ultimately, Radiohead’s “art” in Ok Computer, like David Bowie’s, is the personification of artifice. As one independent critic, Piero Scaruffi, argued:

“[Ok Computer] embodies the quintessence of artificial art, raising futility to paradigm, focusing on the phenomenon rather than the content…of concentrating on ‘sound’ to the expense of “music”.

The leading creative force of the band, Thom Yorke, openly admitted in an interview in Mojo that the appropriation of other artists ideas – The Beatles, REM, Beach Boys, P J Harvey, Can and others – acted as the catalyst and provided the inspiration that culminated in the creation of the records “sound”.

There is nothing wrong in artists admitting  influences and sources. On the contrary, it is an admirable position to take. But as influential as the work of peers might be to an artist, it doesn’t necessarily follow that great art emerges from these influences. OK Computer, whose whole is not, in my view, greater than the sum of its parts, is a case in point.

That the album is regarded by many critics to be the best of the last 25 years; is included in many of the ‘best of’ lists including Rolling Stone and is even ranked by some to be the best rock album of all-time, is in my view, a gross overstatement of the albums artistic historical significance.

According to Tim Footman:

“Not since 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, had so many major critics agreed immediately, not only on an album’s merits, but on its long-term significance, and its ability to encapsulate a particular point in history.”

This kind of a simplified critique arguably says more about how corporate music journalism operates and the limited parameters it sets, than it does about genuine creative and artistic worth of pieces of music.

The “artistic merits” of Ok Computer relate to the extent to which the public and critics alike buy into the illusion that its production excesses are art and that these excesses don’t detract from the mediocre quality of the content.

The concept of style over substance embodied in pop and rock music can be traced back to the Beatles Sgt Pepper album in 1967 where the role of producer, George Martin (the fifth Beatle), was widely regarded as being at least an equal, if not a more important figure, than the musicians.

It’s no coincidence that Thom Yorke (who outlined how important producer Nigel Godrich, characterised as Radiohead’s “sixth member”, was to Ok Computer), cited Sgt Pepper, particularly, A Day In the Life, as a major influence on him. It also explains why Tim Footman cited above, holds both Sgt Pepper and Ok Computer in equally high esteem. 

Radiohead upped the ante. But beneath the artifice there really isn’t much substance to their “art” and precious little for critics to write about the groups songs or the competency of the musicians who perform them.

The fact that twenty years on from the release of Ok Computer, not a single corporate critic has alluded to the fact that the album is a masterpiece of “faux avantegarde”, as Piero Scaruffi put it, or that the group who made it are one of the most hyped and overrated bands probably since U2, is a reflection of the lack of good quality independent music journalism in this country and abroad,

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My Review of the opening episode of the BBC3 Comedy, ‘Fleabag’

By Daniel Margrain

Photo: Amazon

There is likely to be nobody who detests the vast majority of what passes for BBC comedy output more than I do. From the unedifying spectacle of Mrs Brown’s Boys to the stupefying banality of Miranda, what the sheer dearth of quality output over the years highlights is the importance teams of writers are to the production of quality comedy. This explains why American comedy’s invariably hit the mark but on the whole, their British counterparts fail.

But once in a while, something extraordinary hits our television screens. I witnessed such a moment the other night thanks to a recommendation from Victor Lewis-Smith. As somebody who appreciates the quirky character-led observational and acerbic comedy canon, I knew I was going to be in for a treat from the opening sequence. One of the early scenes in which the boyfriend of Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge left her due to her habit of masturbating to Barack Obama speeches, was genius. This was one of the many inventive and inspired tragic-comic sequences that punctuated the shows 26 minute duration.

Firmly set within the confessional territory of Bridget Jones, Waller-Bridge’s first person monologues to camera, which hint at its Edinburgh fringe origins, were repeated throughout the episode. While these sequences were not original – having been seen in Woody Allen films (most notably Annie Hall) – they were nevertheless brilliantly executed.

What we quickly learn is that Fleabag is the epitome of a woman constantly on the verge of having a hyperventilating nervous breakdown in what is an increasingly dysfunctional world. As she navigates an urban terrain of awkward men while struggling to bond with her sister, it soon becomes obvious that her nihilism and inability to deal with personal relationships is an expression of a melancholy that’s rooted in personal tragedy, money problems or both.

We soon learn that somebody close to her had suffered an untimely death and that she lied to her financially successful sister about her financial situation as a front in order to get her approval. Her father (Bill Paterson) appears as a distant and peripheral figure in her life while her stepmother (Olivia Coleman) who tells her how awful she looks, has the potential to be as venomous a character as Julia Davis’ in Nighty Night whose magnetic on-screen presence Waller-Bridge manages to equal, if not surpass.

As with Julia Davis’ character, Waller-Bridge pulls off a woman, whose ferocious self-loathing is out of control and whose life is in a state of perpetual chaos, with great aplomb and technical skill. But unlike Davis’ character, Fleabag’s method of dealing with these frailties is to not take anything seriously.

In contrast to the derivative and telegraphed pratfall farce of a sit-com like Miranda, the sense of pathos and melancholy in Fleabag is never far from the surface. After having watched the opening episode, I get the feeling that a number of tragedies will unfold as the series progresses in which underlying themes of alienation, loneliness and loss look set to be developed.

All the performances were first class, but particular congratulations go to Waller-Bridge whose front and centre role stole the show. I was never quite sure what she was about to do or when she was going to do it – real edge of the seat stuff. I was mezmerized by her which is a testament to the brilliant writing, inventive set pieces, casting and strong characters.

Those responsible for taking the decision to commission this brave and fresh work of art are to be commended for their risk-taking in bringing Fleabag to the small screen. We need more of it.

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