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March 2010
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May 2010

Pressure Drop

Brewing up with Billy BraggThe Wellcome Collection is one of London’s hidden gems. It's so well hidden, in fact, that I was barely aware of it until last year. Its permanent collection of Sir Henry Wellcome's medical curiosities is a wonder to behold: its temporary exhibitions take a series of interesting diversions into topics related to healthcare and wellness. And it's generally all free to visit. If you haven't been there before, you need to check it out smartish.

If you go there before May 13th, though, you'll have to pay some money, because its main exhibition space has been turned into a performance area for a play called Pressure Drop. As part of their ongoing Identity Project looking at what it means to be us, Mick Gordon's play looks specifically at what it means to be English. (Which is why half a dozen of us ended up seeing it on St George's Day. That's what we're like.) It's being advertised as part gig, part play, and part installation – that's a lot of parts, and they don’t really fit into a wholly satisfying whole. But this isn't the sort of site that believes overambition is in itself a bad thing, so let's concentrate initially on the parts that work.

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Duck Rock

C30 C60 C90 Go! Malcolm McLaren's been dead for two weeks now: his funeral's today, in fact. Thousands of words have been written and spoken about his life, but there's one thing very few people have been able to agree on: what did McLaren do, exactly? Given all the areas he dabbled in, what occupation could he possibly have put on his passport if they still did that sort of thing?

I think I've got the answer: 'collage artist'. McLaren freely admitted that he didn't have much artistic talent of his own. What he was great at doing was identifying interesting things that were happening in the culture, and bashing them together in unexpected combinations to see what would happen. From the mixed and (mis)matched clothes he and Vivienne Westwood were selling in their shop SEX in the seventies, to the 'musical paintings' he was displaying in Newcastle as recently as last Christmas, collage was what he did best. (Yeah, I know I've gone two paragraphs without mentioning the Sex Pistols. Well, some of his collages were made out of people.)

It was inevitable that he'd be one of the first Brits to embrace hip-hop culture, given its overlap with his own artistic concerns. So in 1983, McLaren released a groundbreaking album that combined hip-hop with African pop to devastating effect: it was a huge popular success, and was the record that most radio stations reached for when the time came to broadcast his obituary. It was called Duck Rock, and for some reason it's no longer in print.

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Joy Division Oven Gloves

Nero fiddles while Gordon BurnsChart-manipulation campaign of the week: as part of the ongoing protest against the proposed closure of BBC 6 Music, you've got until Saturday April 10th to buy a copy of Half Man Half Biscuit's indie classic Joy Division Oven Gloves. The aim is, somehow, to get it to number 6 in this Sunday's singles chart. Which strikes me as a tough one to pull off: but anything that gets more HMHB out there is always going to get my vote. So do it, now.

Read the details
Buy the song
Watch the video
Harangue the BBC Trust (politely, mind)
Hear the station
Check the charts


Santa Claus Is Coming To Toon: Christmas In Newcastle

Fog, on the Tyne. (c) me 2009 Anyone who uses the word ‘staycation’ in my presence will get a punch up the bracket from me.

But yes, I take your point. After previous Christmasses in Copenhagen and Prague, going to Newcastle in 2009 seems like a bit of a comedown by comparison. And the reasons why we ended up there were the same reasons used by anyone else who’s taken a holiday close to home recently: uncertainty about the money situation, coupled with a last-minute booking that limited our options somewhat.

Does that make it a bad Christmas? Does it hell. After all, if we’d repeated our plan from the last two years and travelled on the Eurostar on the Saturday before Christmas, who knows how we’d have ended up. Not to mention the revelation a few days later of the risks of travelling on planes to America with cockbombers. No, a train to Newcastle (courtesy of the newly-renationalised East Coast Rail) suited The Belated Birthday Girl and me just fine, even though everyone we talked to beforehand made the crass assumption that we had friends or relatives we were visiting up there. We haven’t: it’s just a city we’ve always liked the look of but never visited, and it’s got plenty of the sort of stuff going on that we like to talk about here.

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Simian Substitute Site for April 2010: Fleabag Monkeyface

Fleabag Monkeyface MONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2010

Internet: If you regularly follow the right-hand sidebar of this site, you may have been surprised to see The Unpleasant Moblog recently spluttering back into life again. It's partly driven by the retirement of my Nokia 7610 cameraphone, and its replacement with a Nokia E72 featuring five times as many megapixels (i.e., five). So expect an increase in the number of photos of mine you see on the web, either on the Moblog or, erm, somewhere else I haven't told you about just yet.

Movies: Exit Through The Gift Shop is easily the funniest movie I've seen so far this year. Banksy's street art 'documentary' works on that same satirical high frequency that Chris Morris uses - without explicitly saying so, he makes it obvious to the audience that he's taking the piss, while allowing us to feel smarter than the people on camera who fall for it. It's more reliably funny than, say, Kick-Ass, which is so desperate to demonstrate its edginess that it spunks away virtually all of its best jokes in a couple of red band trailers.

Music: March was a good month for live music in London. Started it with Jaga Jazzist at Islington Academy, where they took their slightly noodly tunes and added big hairy bollocks to them in live performance. Finished it at the O2 with Peter Gabriel, whose voice is still holding up magnificently, although the amplification required to balance it against a 50-piece orchestra inevitably meant some of the subtleties were lost. Looking ahead, we'll soon have Here Lies Love, a musical version of the life of Imelda Marcos featuring David Byrne, Fatboy Slim and 20 guest female vocalists. It's released on April 6th, and until then you can hear the whole damn thing streamed for free courtesy of NPR.

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