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‘Elegantly wasted’: Stool Pigeon’s A-Z guide to music journalism bullshit
04:37 pm


Stool Pigeon
music journalism

Is this what “elegantly wasted” actually looks like?
My god, I fucking LOVE Stool Pigeon. Amid a sea of mediocre freebie music press in the UK, Stool Pigeon stands out for being wildly opinionated (like the classic music press of yore, where debates about class, politics, gender and sexuality would routinely erupt) and steadfastly NOT subservient to PR companies and their demands. And make no mistake, PR companies do have a lot of sway in the world of street press.

I have seen friends’ reviews in free music publications changed and upgraded, as a bad review would put the mag in a promo company’s bad books, and risk removal from any future mailing list or free concert opportunities. In effect, opinions have had to be brought in line with a PR company’s wishes, and any real self-expression or valid counter-opinion has had to be neutered. Not only does this smack of the worst kind of corporate whorism—which, granted, exists in many media spheres—it seems illogical to me that a publication that doesn’t rely on a paying consumer audience to survive could treat its readers (and the artists it covers) with such ridiculous condescension.

Once upon a time music journalism was a necessity, a valuable tool for keeping up to date with your favorite acts, and for finding out about emerging talent. For gig listings, for records and concert reviews, for keeping in touch with other fans, for bitching out people and music you really hate. But the Internet has made the printed music press irrelevant, another out-moded business model within the music industry, yet another middleman whose role is not necessary any more. So why is everyone playing it so safe? Well-written and researched debate and opinion pieces should be a free paper’s USP, no?

Which brings me back to Stool Pigeon. It seems to give its writers free reign to write whatever they want, without sacrificing non-mainstream opinion at the altar of “edginess.” It’s not desperate to seem “relevant” or “on it” like so many publications, and it doesn’t try to be so alternative-to-the-alternative that it ends up being square. No, it’s simple really. It’s just written by people who are passionate and really care about music and its reportage. 

In fact, so good are they on calling out crap, Stool Pigeon has put together a handy A-Z Guide To Music Journalism Bullshit. You know, tired old cliches that make your eyes bleed. This kind of thing:

Whiskey-soaked vocals

Which translates as:

English lit polytechnic graduate, now based in Warrington, seriously wishes he was Tom Waits

Here are some more of my favorites, all beginning with “S”:

Set the blogosphere alight” — Well done! Your innovative blend of Fleetwood Mac, nineties R&B and Sade — a singer you’d never even heard of before The xx started banging on about her — has “set the blogosphere alight” with your brand new track, featuring artfully NSFW video. That Pitchfork BNM’d is surely in the post.

Sixth-form poetry — Snarky put-down reserved for artists whose literary aspirations are perceived to be shallow or juvenile. Which might almost be fair enough, if ‘music critic’ wasn’t a job that could only be considered cool by people under the age of about 15.

Songstress — As opposed to what, ‘songster’? Reading between the lines, this faintly kinky usage is a subliminal reflection of male music hacks’ rampant castration fear. See also: chanteuse.

Sophomore — Ridiculous, US collegiate term used as a stand-in for “second” when describing albums, e.g. “The Stone Roses’ second album The Sophomore Coming was a let-down for many.”

It’s about time somebody did this, and with your help it could well become the definitive list, as Stool Pigeon are asking readers to submit their own worst music journalism cliches. I would like to add these two:

Number 1 in an alternate universe” - made irrelevant by the theory that there are infinite alternate universes, hence any song ever recorded is number one in an alternate universe somewhere.

Year Zero” - as applied to any and every genre from punk rock to acid house to dubstep, but surely the correct term should be “Year One”?

If you have any music journalism bullshit to add to the list (and I know you do!) you can write it on the Stool Pigeon Facebook wall, or leave it in a comment here.

You never know, you might set the blogosphere alight.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
David Bowie: Extracts from his first TV drama ‘The Looking Glass Murders’

When his debut album flopped in 1967, David Bowie thought his pop career was over. The years of practice and ambition had sadly delivered nothing but the indifference of the public (who preferred The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s) and the bewilderment of critics, who could not quite understand this young singer (who sounded like Anthony Newley) and delivered such diverse and original songs. Bowie had discovered the width of his talent, but not its depth. Understandably, disheartened, Bowie considered packing it all in and becoming a Buddhist monk at the Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, but fate played a hand and he soon found himself under the influence of a charismatic fan - the brilliant dancer, performer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp.

Kemp loved Bowie’s first album, and used one its tracks “When I Live My Dream” for one of his shows. Kemp offered Bowie a new career - as dancer, actor and member of Kemp’s dance troupe

On 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders at the New Theater in Oxford. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and co-starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:

David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….

...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.

The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempts to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968….

More on Bowie & Kemp in ‘The Looking Glass Murders’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Soundtrack for a Suicide: Marc Almond’s musical masterpiece, ‘Torment and Toreros’

When asked to name my top favorite albums of all time, Torment And Toreros by Marc and the Mambas, Marc Almond’s early 80s Soft Cell side project floats effortlessly into the top five, although to be honest, it’s not something I play often. Come to think of it, I may not have even played it at all in the past five years.

There’s a reason for that: Torment And Toreros is one of the most harrowing—yet exquisitely gorgeous and lush-sounding—listening experiences you could ever hope(?) to have. It’s the sound of a nervous breakdown captured in music, as Almond himself has remarked about the record.

You wanna talk about BLEAK? Torment And Toreros is the bleakest, darkest, most depressing album, probably of all time. It makes Lou Reed’s Berlin or Joy Division sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. If ever there was a soundtrack to slitting your wrists to, this is it, especially “Black Heart,” now regarded as one of Almond’s signature tunes. It’s probably the best song ever to listen to on repeat when you’ve really been fucked over badly.

Quite an anguished cry from the heart, ain’t it?

Marc Almond has always been a little bit of a “love him or hate him” proposition and even gay male friends of mine who like what he stands for, still seem quite divided on the matter of his voice. Me, I think he’s one of our greatest living vocalists, bar none. It’s how he sells the song. It’s about the emotional wallop he’s capable of delivering. The personality that comes through every note he sings.  He’s the ultimate male diva, the torch singer of torch singers. Who else could even come close? His voice is as unruly as it is under his firm control. He can sound anguished like no one has since Jacques Brel. If you’re into Judy Garland, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Cher, not to mention Scott Walker, how can you possibly resist Marc Almond? And Torment And Toreros is his masterpiece.

Instrumentally, Torment featured a lot of instrumentation not typically heard in such outre post-punk outings, including Annie Hogan’s stunning grand piano work and the string section of The Venomettes (Annie Stevenson and Gini Ball). Future Banshee Martin McCarrick and The The’s Matt Johnson are also present. There’s a really sophisticated musical vision going on, incorporating elements of camp cabaret, flamenco, classical music and showtunes (Torment ends with an unhinged version of “Beat Out That Rhythm on a Drum” from Broadway’s Carmen Jones).

I’ve been a lifelong fan since the Soft Cell days and have paid fucking ridiculous amounts of money for Soft Cell and Marc bootlegs ‘back in the day’ (In fact, the most I ever spent on a record was a fan club only 12” of Marc and the Mambas’ “Sleaze”). The material of his that I find the strongest is not actually what he did collaborating with David Ball in Soft Cell—as brilliant as it is—but the range of albums he made with Annie Hogan (seen in clips with bleach-blonde teased up hair on piano) as his musical director. They must have had a major falling out because how otherwise to explain that a musical partnership this profound could dissolve, irreparably?

The brilliant Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons has said Torment And Toreros was an important influence on his own work and it definitely shows. When Antony curated the Meltdown festival last year, he was able to convince Almond to do the album in its entirety—which I am sure was just an astonishing performance—at the Royal Festival Hall, but sadly (and I do mean, sadly!) it wasn’t professionally videotaped, at Almond’s request.

That’s what makes Three Black Nights of Little Black Bites, a limited edition CD/DVD combo release of Almond’s three-night stand at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1983 all the more essential. Shot with a VHS camera by the later Peter Christoperson (Throbbing Gristle, Coil) the document is somewhat ragged, but still quite watchable. Musically, the band seem under-rehearsed, but nevertheless, were such talented, passionate musicians that it holds together in a very interesting way, almost like like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, on another end of the musical spectrum. (My only real complaint is the one guy loudly singing his background vocals so out of tune, but he only ruins a few numbers. The sound man must have given him his due, I guess…)

In his liner notes, Almond takes great pains to point out that the quality is what it is, basically, and I can surely understand why he feels that way, but for a fan of Torment and Toreros for some thirty years—god, I’m getting old—this release is nothing short of a reason to jump for joy. Admittedly, I’m firmly in the target audience, but if you trust my taste in music—and especially if you’re presently nursing a badly broken heart—take a chance on Torment and Toreros, I think you’ll be extremely glad you did. I suspect that of the (brave) readers who do opt to try that album on for size, a subset of them will go on to become total fanatics for Torment and will also want a copy of Three Black Nights of Little Black Bites (be warned, I read that they only pressed up a thousand copies).

Although in the CD booklet Almond says that Peter Christopherson’s videotape was the sole visual representation of the band, maybe of an entire concert, but there are some pretty tasty clips of Marc and the Mambas on YouTube, provenance unknown.

A bravura take on Jacques Brel’s “In My Room”:

After the jump, more Marc and the Mambas…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Notes From The Niallist: That’s so CVNT, a ‘Future-House’ voguing mix
12:30 pm


house music

I have a new house music project, and it’s renewing my faith in this whole “making music” malarkey.

It’s called CVNT TR4XXX, or if you don’t mind bad language, CUNT TRAXXX. If you;re wondering why I chose that name, the c-word has been used in drag and gay circles for quite a while as a compliment, and CVNT (for short) is dedicated to VOGUING and the culture that surrounds it, which is heavily gay, trans and femme. 

As the picture I use as a logo states:

CUNT: (adj) a term used in gay slang to describe someone who is impressive, original or fantastic in regards to style or demeanour.

This week the London-based fashion label Long Clothing have uploaded a CVNT mix I put together showcasing some of my sounds, and a lot of others who operate in roughly the same ballpark.

For too long, house music has been perceived as a European-dominated scene (which it is to an extent) but it’s important to remember the roots of this music, and that it was born in the ghettos of Chicago, produced mostly by black and queer kids messing around with drum machines and boxed-up synth modules.

Not to mention house music’s spiritual home of New York City, the town that gave birth to voguing, and that, in the early 90s at least, spearheaded an assault of queer/black/latino/drag culture on the popular consciousness. Madonna didn’t start that shit, you know.

For those of you who don;t know, voguing was not just a fad, it was and still is a unique and complex culture in its own right, and it lives on, stronger than ever. That’s the real inspiration for starting CVNT, watching clips of various new way vogue dancers competing on YouTube and dreaming up a soundtrack to make them go wild to.

There’s some other kinds of house on this mix too, most notably “Jersey Club”, which features a distinctive 5-kicks-to-the-bar rhythm, a little bit of a “B-More”/Baltimore influence (similar to Jersey Club but with breakbeats) and “ballroom”, which is essentially house music for new way voguers and combines elements of B-More and Jersey Club with a heavy dose of 90s diva realness.

I call all this stuff “future house” because these genres are taking house music in a different direction, but one that is still very much connected to the black/gay undergrounds where they started. This music has got very little to do with dub, or spending hours tweaking a synth patch to sound good in a k-hole. This is defiantly DANCE music, designed to make you MOVE. Most of it is based around the rhythm, cutting up tiny samples of speech and music and arranging it around quick-fire patterns. This is music from the MPC generation, where you don’t get money for anything, but the synths are free.

Besides, I’m SICK of boring bloody minimal, ploddy bro-step and electro-house! As “EDM” takes more and more of a foothold in the American consciousness it’s worth reminding people that YOU GUYS INVENTED IT. You still have PLENTY of homegrown talent pushing these genres forward right on your own doorstep, but possibly not in the places you’d expect to find them. 

If I can point anyone in that direction, then it’s a start.

Here’s the mix for Long Clothing, which you can download from their website. The tracklist is here.


Here’s a couple more tracks for good measure, from the Death Drops EP:


You can hear more productions on the CVNT TR4XXX SoundCloud page.


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Peter Sellers vs. Spike Milligan: ‘The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film’, 1960

Peter Sellers was bored. It was 1959, and he was tired of appearing in The Goon Show with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.

While The Goon Show was still the biggest and most influential comedy show on British radio, Sellers was now a movie star, with a successful stage and TV career, and the offer of a tenth Goons series was too much to contemplate. He said:

‘I think we should leave it now before the standard goes down - we [Sellers, Secombe & Milligan] aren’t adding anything new and the original drive and enthusiasm has gone.’

Sellers was more of an anarchist than Milligan. Sellers wanted the unfettered life, to be free of all responsibilities. Milligan was far more predictable, he was enthralled by the success of his legacy.

Sellers pretended not to give a fuck. While Milligan’s ambitions meant he was often a shit to those people closest to him.

When The Goons first started, the rivalry between Milligan and Michael Bentine forced the latter to leave the group. Similarly, when Milligan worked with Goons co-writer Larry Stephens, he did everything in his power to belittle him. ‘Larry Stephens was small beer…’ Milligan once said:

‘He was never really a writer…Larry would occasionally think of an idea, but by then the show was over.’

TV writer, biographer and Goons expert, Roger Wilmut disagrees with Milligan’s opinion about his co—writer.

‘Stephens’s plots tend to have a beginning a middle, and an end; whereas Milligan’s tend to have a middle.’

Milligan was great at coming up with original, often brilliant ideas, but he needed someone to help structure these ideas into a coherent script. At first he had Jimmy Grafton, then Bentine, Stephens and Eric Sykes. He also had his producers, like Peter Eton who later said:

‘Spike used to have the marvelous lively extrovert ideas, and Larry used to bring them down to earth. Larry was the strong man. Spike used to have these paradoxical ideas and wrote them down in the form of one line gags. Most of it was rubbish, utter rubbish. It was Larry who used to pull it into shape and make sketches out of it.’

The seeming anarchy of Milligan’s Q series now seems like a collection of unfocussed gags. Yet, I have always preferred Q to The Goon Show.

By 1959, Stephens’ untimely death (he suffered a brain hemorrhage while driving a car, and died in hospital days later) left Milligan to write the final Goons series on his own. As he later viciously said:

‘Larry Stephens died conveniently, it was very nice of him, and I went on to write them on my own.’

Milligan’s response to his past life often depended on his mood, he also claimed (falsely and tearfully) that Stephens had died in his arms at a restaurant.

With no Stephens to fret over, Milligan turned on his fellow Goons, in particular Peter Sellers, whose film career, and successful stage and TV work, had greatly dimmed Milligan’s own success. It was up to Harry Secombe to act as peace-keeper.

Sellers wanted to do something new. Something different. Something with film. He bought a camera for £75, and suggested to Milligan they make a short movie together. The tried the camera out at Sellers home, then asked Dick Lester to direct, and over 2 days The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was made.

When released in 1960, it was an incredible success, award-winning no less, and a direct influence on The Beatles to hire Lester to direct (and ask Leo McKern to star in) their fab movies.

But Milligan wasn’t happy. The success of The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film niggled, and he felt aggrieved over who was the real talent behind the film. Of course, he had to wait until after Seller’s death in 1980 to claim the film as his own:

I said to Peter [Sellers], ‘Look, films are being made for millions - I think we can make one (not very long) for - what’s the cost of the cameraman?’ He said, ‘Seventy-five pounds.’ So we paid that, and the sound engineer was fifty.

We had about twenty ragged characters in a van and we just drove up the Great North Road until we saw a suitable field…

We just went to the hill, and I wrote the script out, what I wanted roughly, and we had just to improvise how to do it.

Milligan also claimed, at a Goons Appreciation Society meeting, that he had in fact directed the whole thing.

So, that is Milligan’s version of events. What actually happened was that Dick Lester directed and operated the camera, and the script was a concoction between Sellers, Lester, Milligan and Mario Fabrizi (an actor and friend of Sellers), which included some re-workings of sketches lifted from the TV series The Idiot Weekly Price 2d, A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, which had been the first collaborations between Lester, Milligan and Sellers.

The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was shot over 2 days, with Milligan only in attendance for one of these days. It was then edited by Lester and Sellers in a bedroom at the actors home.

Inevitably, because of his incredible influence on British comedy, The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was ( and still is by many) considered mainly a Milligan film, when it truth, it should be seen as a film devised by Peter Sellers in collaboration with Dick Lester, Spike Milligan and Mario Fabrizi.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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