Alfa Mist’s mood music

Alfa Mist

Concorde 2

Brighton

May 14

alfa mist

Hailing from east London, pianist/producer/rapper 
Alfa Mist arrived at his cool jazz style by way of fiery hip-hop and grime. As influences, he cites Miles Davis, whose legacy is inescapable, alongside the more obscure film scores of German composer Hans Zimmer. He has been building a steady fan base for the last four years and his gift for lush, moody arrangements may yet propel his talent into the mainstream.

On stage at the Concorde 2, Mist was a laconic, self-deprecatory presence. His shyness suited his circumnambulatory compositions which gave the impression of an urgent messenger pushing through a jostling crowd.

Drawing on three widely-praised releases – Nocturne, Antiphon, and Structuralism – Mist and his talented band unspooled languorous, quizzical phrases, teeming arpeggios, and passages of breathless staccato improvisation.

Drummer Jamie Houghton was an essential sturdy element, underpinning the cool grooves with rapid swelling and subsiding rolls, machine gun rim shots and solid bass-drum beats. Bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke held the songs together when they threatened to spin off the road with single note melodic lines which rebuilt shattered harmonies.

Highlight of the night was Jjajja’s Screen which brought trumpet player Johnny Woodham’s talents to the fore. He played with an exceptional clarity, demonstrating a muscular, confident tone.

Mist confessed to being a “lazy” rapper and it is true that he avoided the verbal pyrotechnics of fellow grime performers, but the approach paid off with a more thoughtful delivery which was equal to his chosen subjects of mental health and self destructive cycles of behaviour.

This article was originally published in The Argus

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Jann Wenner: no stone unturned

jann wenner

Sticky Fingers: the life and times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone magazine

By Joe Hagan

(Canongate, 547 pages)

 

In the spring of 1967 a group of hippies based in San Francisco got together to form the Council for the Summer of Love. Their founder was a man called Chet Helms who had discovered Janis Joplin and organised psychedelic light shows featuring The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and other bands that would come to typify the West Coast sound of that time. Helms also had an idea for a music magazine which would be sold through record stores. He asked a friend, a 21-year-old Berkley drop out, if he was interested in becoming the editor of the fledgling publication. That friend’s name was Jann Wenner.

 

According to Joe Hagan’s thoroughly researched and engrossing biography of the founding publisher and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, Wenner’s wife Jane spotted Helms some years later, working behind the counter in an ice cream shop. Hagan quotes her as saying: “He was smart enough to be at the right place at the right time, and he just couldn’t do anything.”

 

As this book makes abundantly clear, Jann Wenner was cut from more entrepreneurial cloth. He took the germ of Helms’ idea and grew it into an international brand that promoted, exploited  and undermined the values of the counterculture. It is hard to grasp 50 years on just how oddball Rolling Stone magazine seemed when it first hit the stands. Rivers of ink dedicated to the work of hairy musicians no-one had heard of; the stoned mumblings of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix published verbatim as if they represented the fons et origo of revealed wisdom; song lyrics analysed with a seriousness formerly reserved for the poetry of WB Yeats and TS Eliot. Who the hell would stump up 25 cents for this stuff? Hagan reveals that an eighteen-year-old New Jersey kid called Bruce Springsteen, for one, snapped up the first issue – and there would eventually prove to be thousands more like him.

 

Hagan points out that the successful formula did not spring fully formed from the head of Wenner. The title for the magazine was suggested by veteran jazz critic Ralph Gleason (sparking a long-running copyright dispute with breadhead-in-chief Mick Jagger, which Hagan documents in minute detail). The obsessive attention paid to obscure bands was already a feature of ‘underground’ magazines like Crawdaddy! and International Times. The unfussy design and newsprint format was borrowed from a muckracking publication called The Sunday Ramparts where Wenner had briefly worked as an editor. The trick of combining what Hagan calls ‘pot-tinged’ articles with a straightlaced look was spotted in the early 70s by the then editor of the Sunday Times, Harold Evans. In “Newspaper Design: an illustrated guide to layout”, Evans wrote: “The words are printed – such regression – in black ink on white paper. They are laid out with a subtlety that evades most other papers, above or below the ground.”

 

It was the scale of Wenner’s ambition that would propel the ragbag of borrowed ideas and esoteric journalism into something truly transformative. Hagan quotes a letter Wenner wrote to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, in 1971: “We are in a key and strategic transition now in the way  the ‘outside world’ views us. Are we some temporal (sic) ‘Woodstock Nation’ sheet or a serious and worthy new kind of publication that will be around for some time to come?” There was no doubt in Wenner’s mind as to how his question should be answered.

 

In a new documentary for Netflix called The Center Will Not Hold, Joan Didion says that for her, and for many of her friends, the freewheelin’ 60s ended abruptly on August 9 1969 when Charles Manson and his fanatical followers embarked on a killing spree in an upscale neighborhood north of Beverly Hills . Wenner knew better than that. He realised that the perceived spirit of the 1960s could be endlessly recycled, and when a hard drinking 6’ 3’’ shaven-headed writer from Kentucky burst into the Rolling Stone offices spouting obscenities while clenching a cigarette holder in his teeth, Wenner knew he had the man for the job. Hunter S Thompson’s drugs and booze fuelled accounts of how the idealism of the 1960s had been hijacked by charlatans were devoured by baby boomers whose taste for hedonism was as deep as their commitment to political activism was shallow.

 

Thompson was no one-off, however. As Hagan puts it: “Wenner looked east to the successful magazines of Manhattan publishing – Esquire and New York, the Medici of the New Journalism – and vowed to best them on their own turf by publishing the greatest work by the greatest writers.” He prodded and provoked Tom Wolfe into writing about the depression suffered by astronauts and published the result in a four-part series that would form the basis for Wolfe’s best known book, The Right Stuff. The roll-call of brilliant, if wayward, writers – Nick Tosches, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Matt Taibbi – is impressive. It is also all-male. Hagan points out that the late Ellen Willis, the New Yorker’s first pop music critic, refused to write for the magazine because she believed it to be “viciously anti-women”. She wrote to Ralph Gleason: “To me, when a bunch a snotty upper-middle class white males start telling me that politics isn’t where it’s at, that’s simply an attempt to defend their privilege.”

 

Another male journalist whose talent was spotted by Jann Wenner is Hagan himself. The pair both live in upstate New York and met by chance in a local cafe. One social meeting led to another and in 2013 Wenner asked Hagan to write his biography. Apparently he is not happy with the result, telling The New York Times: “My hope was that this book would provide a record for future generations of that extraordinary time. Instead, he produced something deeply flawed and tawdry, rather than substantial.”

 

Wenner is likely to be alone in that assessment. Hagan knows his subject well, he has delved deep into Wenner’s personal archive and has conducted more that 240 interviews with, among many others, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. For his part, Hagan told a reporter at Columbia Journalism Review: “I like Jann. I have an affection for him, enough to write 500 pages about him. I understand Jann, I think, in some ways that he doesn’t even understand himself. But I knew I had to write a book that would make him live on the page. And this is the life he lived. Even his own sister, Merlyn, said she didn’t know how Jann would deal with the book, because part of his story is that he didn’t always treat people right.”

 

Last year, Wenner announced he was selling his stake in Rolling Stone and  was looking for a buyer “with lots of money”. Chet Helms died in 2005. A concert in his memory was organised in Golden Gate Park featuring many artists from the San Franciscan summer of love. Attendance was free.

 

This piece was first published in the Times Literary Supplement.

 

 

 

Laughter in the dark

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Comic Boom

Brighton Komedia

January 31

 

***

 

Any self-respecting reviewer of a motley crew of funny folk is duty bound to use the word smorgasbord at some point, so we might as well get it out of the way early. The range of delicacies on offer at the packed Komedia included a comedy trombone act, an angry man on the edge of reason, a self-effacing Irish man and a very tall teacher with an eye for small details.

 

Holding the buffet of buffoonery together was MC Laura Lexx who was the true star of the show. She engaged the good natured audience from the start and created a warm atmosphere, finding humour in dark subjects – mental health, weight shaming and maternal conflict may not seem the most fertile ground for off-beat observation but Lexx’s aim was true and her delivery confident.

 

The unenviable task of opening the show went to Jack Harris who drew on his experience of teaching to strong effect. “A lot of teachers find parents evening pretty difficult. Personally I find it pretty easy, because what I do is bring my own parents along with me,” he quipped.

 

Faye Treacy perhaps relied too much on her musical talent and not enough on her sharp gift for skewering family conflicts. Unless you are Bill Bailey, there are finite laughs to be found in a medley of show tunes and national anthems.

 

Third on the bill, and given far to short a spot on stage, Mustafa Fecto had the audience on his side with self-deprecating charm and a winning manner while Roz Ryan highlighted the pretensions of life among the yacht owners of Brighton Marina: “My boat is a yacht in the same way Theresa May is a woman.”

 

Neil O’Rourke kicked off his set with a quip about entertaining stag parties but by the end of his routine he was convinced that the lagered up lads were probably less intimidating than this night’s boisterous audience.

 

The show closer was Garrett Millerick, a large, shouty, sweary, sweaty Essex man who made no attempt at nuance – when Millerick delivers a punchline it stays punched.

This article was first published in The Argus.

Six strings, one vision

screenshot_2018-11-02-14-52-35-1Guitars Save Lives

New Note Strummers

Komedia

Gardner Street

Brighton

30 September 2018

 

 

 

****

 

This was an evening which indelibly demonstrated the power of music to change lives.

New Note Strummers is a guitar group whose members comprise people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. They are also a kick-ass rock combo.

One example will have to suffice to illustrate all the inspiring back stories of each player. Bassist Pat (subs – no surname) was street homeless in 2017. As he told the packed audience tonight, he was sleeping in the doorway of Robert Dyas on Western Road because it had a CCTV camera which afforded a measure of security from attacks. He was drinking heavily and he had never picked up a guitar in his life. Through Pavilions, the city’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation service, he found the New Note Strummers practice sessions, which happens every Friday in St Luke’s church in Prestonville. He now provides the rock solid underpinning for the band’s set of fiery covers – a skin tight rendition of Primal Scream’s ‘Moving On Up’ in particular lit up the audience – alongside well crafted originals.

The evening also included a fascinating interview with Jon Stewart, guitarist with 90s Britpop band Sleeper. He regaled the audience with fairly predictable anecdotes of rock and roll hedonism but also had truly insightful things to say about alternative recovery methods for people who find the AA 12-step programme too reliant on God and abstinence.

An uplifting night was rounded off with the veteran bass player Herbie Flowers who joined local group Sweet and Low Down for a gentle canter through some of the best known tracks he has played on. If the most famous of them all, Walk on the Wild Side, now sounds more like a stroll by the seaside it was also a sweet reminder that a long life might slow you down but it is infinitely preferable to the alternative.

This article was orginally published in The Argus.

Working on a dream

shestreet

 

The She Street Band

The Haunt

Brighton

 

October 3, 2018

 

 

****

 

This all-female Springsteen tribute band is no novelty act. On the first date of their UK tour, the seven-piece outfit provided a joyous celebration of the life-affirming power of the Boss’s back catalogue.

When your set list includes Thunder Road, Hungry Heart, Badlands, and Born to Run, among others, all you have to do is nail each one down to be pretty much guaranteed a fired-up crowd. Calie Hough (drums), Mara Daniele (guitar), Lynn Roberts (keys), Clare McGrath (glockenspiel), Isabel Lysell (lead guitar) and Yasmin Ogilvie (sax) and Jody Orsborn (bass) did this and then some.

Formed after Orsborn was bowled over by Bruce at Wembley in 2016, the band had no reservations about showing the crowd at The Haunt that they were having a ball and their exuberance was contagious.

After a tremendous version of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, an audience member was moved to shout: “Better than Bruce!”

“Leave!” Lysell commanded.

During Dancing In The Dark, Orsborn provided a neat twist on the famous video when, instead of pulling a member of the audience up on stage, she jumped off to join in the fun that everybody else was having.

There were really no serious misfires. If Jackson Cage sounded lacklustre to these ears, it could well be because it has never been one of my favourite tracks.

Highlights included powerhouse performances of Because The Night and Candy’s Room.

Special mention goes to Ogilvie who channeled the spirit of Clarence Clemons with lyrical phrasing that brought tears to the eyes on Thunder Road.

These songs have provided the backdrop to the most significant moments of many people’s lives. The She Street Band delivered them with wit, energy, and love.

 

This article was originally published in The Argus.

Camille O’Sullivan’s identity issues

camille

 

Camille O’Sullivan
Theatre Royal
Brighton
November 26, 2018

 

 
***

 

 
Who does Camille O’Sullivan think she is? She opened this gig wearing a sparkling self-made catsuit covered by a cape and delivered an ironic version of “No Surprises” – the first of a brace of Radiohead songs. But by the close of the evening, following a number of costume changes, she looked like the bedraggled survivor of an office Christmas party while she sang David Bowie’s apocalyptic “Five Years”.

 
The incongruity was also apparent in her wayward stage craft. Her choice of material drew on the aforementioned icons of glum rock plus Leonard Cohen, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave – but in between the musical sturm and drang she cracked wise with a guileless Irish wit. At one point she indulged in a bit of slapstick that would not have looked out of place on Saturday night at the Palladium as she clowned around trying and failing to climb off the stage and into the audience. You wouldn’t catch Kate Bush or Florence Welch abandoning their meticulously wrought personas in such a carefree manner.
O’Sullivan’s voice is not her strongest suit. It ranges from an arch whisper to near-shouting, so the success of each performance relies on theatrical mannerisms. She is more actor than singer. Her panoply of emotions traced an arc from Satanic to insouciant, as she flailed and whirled, popping her eyes and curling her mouth into a pugnacious sneer at some points, an ingenue’s plea for approval at others.
Her band – drums, keyboard and guitar – provided a reliable, if rarely incendiary, backdrop.

 

The highlights on this evening included an acapella version of Jacques Brel’s ‘Marieke’, Nick Cave’s ‘Darker With The Days’, and Bowie’s ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’. On the downside, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’ is over familiar and gained nothing on this outing. O’Sullivan has garnered a cult audience which clearly relishes her every move. But if she wants to broaden her fan base she will need to decide whether she is a dark chanteuse or a bright spark – and stick with that choice. Her fans clearly favour the former. O’Sullivan herself, on this night’s evidence, seems conflicted.

This article was originally published in The Argus.

No happy ending in site for Brighton’s Hippodrome

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For those who are new to the drama surrounding the fate of the Brighton Hippodrome (where have you been? Stuck on a late-running train?) let me bring you up to speed.

Last year the city council gave Alaska Development Consultants the green light to turn the former bingo hall into an eight-screen cinema operated by the Vue chain. Then a grassroots protest group called Our Brighton Hippodrome launched an online petition and inevitable Facebook campaign to block the plans. The petition attracted thousands of signatures.

On Sunday the sudden appearance of the Pavilion constituency’s parliamentary candidates standing alongside the protestors in Middle Street alerted onlookers to the fact that a bandwagons was rolling. Our Brighton Hippodrome claimed that new landlord had dropped the curtain on the cinema scheme.

But, as fans of farce will know, all was not what it seemed. At the end of the week the city council released a “clarifying statement” which was anything but. It read: “The property is still under the ownership of Kuig Property Investments Ltd. Alaska are aware that Kuig Property Investments did invite bids at the end of 2014 for the purchase of the Hippodrome, however that process has not yet concluded. We have had no involvement or dialogue with potential purchasers so unfortunately we are unable to provide comment on what their future plans for the buildings might involve.”

The theatre group’s victory looks to be Pyrrhic.

A district valuer’s report has concluded that the development of the building as a theatre would not be commercially viable, making an annual loss of £250,000.

The protesters have called the report flawed but have not said why this is so. They have yet to produce a detailed, realistic and viable scheme of their own.

Last August, Samantha Johnson, inspector of historic buildings and areas at English Heritage’s south east office wrote to Maria Bowen at the Department of Communities and Local Government to underline the fact that English Heritage believed the plans for the cinema complex represented “the best chance to conserve the heritage asset.”

She said: “In summary, English Heritage considers that the proposals, while harmful to the significance of the grade II* listed building, are justifiable in policy terms because of the public benefits they would deliver, the principle one of which is securing the future of what is now a very vulnerable building at risk.”

For a city that likes to see itself as ahead of the curve, Brighton and Hove is remarkably resistant to change. The seafront remains littered with stalled projects. Marlborough House on the Old Steine, a fine late 18th century villa, has long been empty and unloved. I may be wrong but I do not expect the new owners of the Hippodrome to unveil any dramatic ideas.

Development in the city has long been in the grip of opaque profiteers. Despite the cheers of the conservationists there is no happy ending insight.

This article was first published in The Argus on January 17.