Chi-Signs Festival 2015

Chi-Signs Festival 2015
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Early rumours are unnerving. Baritone Chichester legend and Chi-Signs Festival opener Mike Fry is apparently lost on some lonely Sussex highway, destined not to perform or compere as scheduled due to unforeseen technical difficulties – his car suffered an internal haemorrhage on its way. The omens are bad and the crowd are restive, until the anticipatory throng witness the charming and eccentric Emily Cotton bounce onto stage.

With her proud golden red locks and assured picking, Cotton breezes through her half hour set with dainty confidence. English baroque folk treasures such as her own ‘Lost’ and ‘Blame’ sit easily alongside half-rapped, half-sung contemporary pop standards, until with a coy wink she’s off, having seduced and intrigued in equal measure.
Ominously named The Crashing Bores are indeed sedate and reflective, but never tedious, as you suspect they well know. Les Black’s plaintively sung tales of loss and beautiful dejection are sensitively accompanied on acoustic guitar by enigmatic sidekick Steve Roche, subtly highlighting the sepia tones of Black’s stateliness. The Chi-Signs II compilation standout ‘Birds’ is achingly tender in the mid afternoon sun.

An abrupt change of pace as Southampton’s Pondlife bring their coruscating, surf twang buzz punk to The Chichester Inn. Adrian Edmondson lookalike frontman Jules Faux is a stage-right rock as his merry bunch politic and bounce through a loose but edgy six string Chi-Signs Festival 2015noise, clattering through joyous versions of ‘Knife In Your Back’, with its euphoric backing vocals, and the fantastically sweary ‘Stupid Song’, and it’s all over before it seems it’s even started.

An hour’s filmic space now as the line up re-orientates itself for the evening session, and the hypnotic washes of Ettuspadix (Beautilator) soothe the audience into a surreal trance. Found sounds here, a glacial synth stab there, all brought together in the understanding that Ettus never plays anything twice, and he’s controlling the whole sound from under an umbrella in the sun-baked garden while smoking a pipe.

Young Chi bounds in, as surprise guest and multi-instrumentalist Chris Cox rattles through a brief clutch of impassioned, perfectly executed covers of the likes of Ben Folds Five and Stevie Wonder, before getting behind the drums for the electrifying Open Plan Panic Room. The thinking indie fan’s favourite of the day, frontman ‘Sexy’ Paul Dickson charms the cameras and the ears via gems like ‘Something To Keep’ with the band’s Foos meets QOTSA discipline – and the female contingent of the crowd duly swoon.

Discipline is cheerfully tossed off for demented chaos as The Wrong Uns bring their ramshackle, energetic racket to possibly the biggest cheers of the day. Irrepressible and possibly sectionable frontman Johnny Wrongun certainly lives for the moment, as Clash and Jam covers compete with a dysfunctional iPad for attention. The Wrong Uns are many things, but boring is not one of them, and at least Johnny left his famed blow up doll at home (this time).
New Tropics are worthy heirs to local Fatcat-signed heroes TRAAMS, and within their insular unit and rigidly focussed, be-afroed frontman Tom Herrington, they rip a twenty-minute new one in the Chiinn. At The Drive-In meet Lightning Bolt in a Milton Keynes shopping centre via their blisteringly intense, blink and you’ll miss it set.

Dusk falls over the South Downs, and a besuited gentleman twirls an imaginary moustache, strikes a 50s muscle man pose and gives the audience a suave wink. Mikey Georgeson (otherwise known as The Vessel from David Devant and his Spirit Wife) is Lit rock personified, artfully balancing on a high wire taut between postmodern glam and chamber pop. Echoes of Ed Harcourt, James Cook and Rufus Wainwright are all heard in his Wildean chicanery, whether by guitar, electric piano or mandolin. A post ironic man about town, his wonderful ‘Industry’ charmed the festival…with only his bona fide classic ‘My Heroine’ tantalisingly left out of an intrigue-filled set.

Ex-cohort of Chrissie Hynde, the New York Dolls, Sid Vicious and charismatic bearers of brilliantly colourful tales, the Steve Dior Band bring the sleaze rock to town. Americana, swamp blues and classic punk fuse together through Dior’s formidable band, the Ladbroke Grove via CBGB’s legend himself resplendent in open red military jacket, lean buff tan and crazed blue-steel stare hypnotizing an enthralled crowd. Recent single ‘Song For The Wicked’ is followed by perfectly executed riff after ecstatic harmony, until the SDR drift into the high summer night, bottle of Turkish red under arm, swaggering towards who knows where.

After this roots epiphany, another kind of rootsiness approaches as local brass funk heroes Beatroot, with what looks like about fifty members onstage. Their perfectly oiled machine effortlessly bumps and grooves the night to its conclusion, rushing the nearly spent craniums of the audience with late night sax, trombone, sunglasses and hats. A warm and wonderful finale to a day-long festival of wildly oscillating colour. See you next year…

By Sean BW Parker

Lit-rock now

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Since the Blair-raped turn of the millennium, British music has seemed like it’s in a seamless, anonymous, tepid, regurgitated stream. That the music produced were bad would be something to talk about, but the rise of Tech, social networking and old-fashioned politeness have coincided with music that across the board is all right, not bad, take it or leave it. Long gone are the media-created hypes of Britpop, rave, punk or Beatlemania, and all their cross-bred cousins.

The old school media rivers have turned into an endless digital delta. Where once David Bowie putting his arm round Mick Ronson would electrify staff rooms and playgrounds the following day, now thirty likes under a funny meme will suffice (at least they’re your friends and they love you, right?) or a garbage right-wing politician gaffs again and gets a few hundred thousand YouTube hits.

Clocks Go Forward album coverClocks Go Forward album coverClocks Go Forward album coverClocks Go Forward album cover
Clocks Go Forward album cover

There is another, subtle, powerful movement at work though. There is a strain of literate, socially conscious, super-aware creatives who are as far away from Liam Gallagher or Jay Z’s money and celebrity-worshipping ethos as it’s possible to get. You could call it the postmodern left, or you could realise that it’s decency and depth that unites them, as they are no less in thrall to classic pop magic and showmanship as Oasis or the Bling d-evolution. There’s also nothing elitist about them, as listening to the songs themselves will bear out.
The “forefathers” of these artists might be identified as Nick Cave or Luke Haines of The Auteurs, to name but two – songwriters who cherish the nuanced word as much as the perfectly deployed bass riff. The Godfather of Lit Rock as is now though is Ed Harcourt, gently laying multi-layered music over coruscating wordplay solo for over fifteen years, and inspiring others through his reversion to the rules of nature while keeping common decency intact. Often with a pocket watch and in tails.

James Cook
James Cook

These are people who love tunes, rock mayhem, and the crowd togetherness that is the hallmark of great music. Ageism and locationism have been disregarded, thanks to the mighty, gently tyrannical hand of Silicon Valley. Following Harcourt’s lead come the brilliantly wry Everything Everything, combining perfect British pop tunesmithery with oblique lyrics conjured up to keep you guessing for weeks, without being able to shake the tune you heard them set to. Dapper man-about-town, regular on The Mighty Boosh and Michael Palin lookalike James Cook brings his own brand of knowing razzle-dazzle juxtaposed with Joe Strummer’s social ire to the dancefloor.

Record labels Seraglio Point Productions (soon to release Alphabet Saints, Scalaland and Catwalk mainman and legendary writer Chris Roberts’ new record, Clocks Go Forwards “A Generation of Rain”) and Rocket Girl have unknowingly brought these artists together, not under any particular plan other than a tenuous link between London and Chichester. The Cure producer Dave M. Allen’s The Magic Sponge, Holland’s De Staadt, experimental musician Ettuspadix and even Thomas Truax and Ariel Pink can find themselves in good company, copious booze and deep thought finding themselves as comfortable alongside sex, drugs and rock n’ roll as at a TED lecture. Ex-Boo Radley songwriter Martin Carr, and Chi’s own Fonsleberry and The Wolseys also deserve a place at the table.

As much as any other just-bubbling-beneath-the-surface collective, this Lit Rock set knows something is up, and something is to be done about it. Social networking has funnily enough had the effect of making everyone better writers, and aren’t we all writers now. Well, not really, and this lot are showing the world how it should be done. Reading and listening are as important as screwing and fighting, and a lot closer than most like to admit.

By Sean Bw Parker

Never Mind the Generation Gap – The War on Music in 2015

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You don’t have to look far on social networking or in the pub to find an old punk bemoaning the fact that the kids “have nothing to say these days.” He’s well aware that it’s not the summer of 1976 anymore, but what disturbs him more is that his kids are embarrassed by his somewhat pacified antisocial aggression.

The punks are now parents and the hippies often grandparents. And that’s ignoring the majority who were listening to ABBA or The Carpenters as opposed to the somewhat more media-stoked Jimi Hendrix or The Sex Pistols at their respective times. With a dynamic online petition to stop Kanye West playing Glastonbury as the most recent of many, it’s HIS fans who are in fact upping the social ante, unbearable as he is.

Thus, white punk rebellion, somewhat away from its Trotskyite/anarcho roots has filled out, sat down, and had to accept that only about 10 percent of the movement’s output was listenable in the first place. The rest of it was simply the sound of fury, replaced less by The Arctic Monkeys or Fat White Family and more by Skrillex or Eminem. Punk spirit wears Gucci and Puma, and headbutts you in a Wetherspoons for spilling its pint or looking at its bird.

Johnny Rotten’s main target in 1977 was the older generation, when the music industry was powerful enough to take aim at other demographics or other artists, and thus to become its own media outrage industry. Blur and Oasis’s feud in the mid nineties was the dying ember of this music press flames fanning technique. Now, with digital having decimated the traditional recording industry and deadened neighbours having music venues closed up and down the country, the enemy of music has changed. The enemy is now the lack of imagination of the consumer.

The enemy now is also the corporations who insist on their logos swamping festivals; record company focus groups who insist on legacy artist reissues; a generation of musicians who see it as a career, and think the apex of artistic success is Noel Gallagher; and a public who are so dumbed-down in their listening tastes that a new Muse album is greeted with wild enthusiasm.

The parents and grandparents are more outrageous and rebellious than their progeny, and their ‘cultural revolutions’ didn’t so much fail, as were co-opted into parody. Clever. It’s a relief that Thatcher’s years are gone, sure, we’re just left with the smiling fallout – and that this century’s version of anti-war sentiment is met with Daily Mail choruses of ‘traitor’ for somehow demoralising troops in the middle-east. There is an enemy all right, but it’s not mum and dad – they’re despairing for the passivity, apathy, ignorance and politeness of youth. As long as they’re not chavs. The enemy of music and spirit is big business collaborating with the government, validated by mainstream consumers. Ever get the feeling you’ve been pacified?

Sean Bw Parker

The Myth of ‘Quality of Life’

The Myth of ‘Quality of Life’
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Daily our algorithm-frazzled synapses are bombarded with self-help memes, cat videos and outraged politically correct protest (anti-) propaganda, all surely designed to infotain our Kardashian-raped, Cowell-infested sensibilities.

Whilst bemoaning the fact that anything consumptively enjoyable will either bankrupt or kill you, we are also unremittingly told that either Iceland or Denmark for the 16th year in a row enjoys the highest standard of living in the world–with countries like Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone or corruption-addled Turkey languishing in the Hades/purgatory lowlands of the list.

These quality of life or happiness indices invariably seem to be gleaned from fairly small public polls (there’s a deadline to meet, right? Can’t ask everyone), and revolve around standards such as number of TVs per household, number of foreign holidays per year, number of naked saunas on the 2nd floor etc.

None of these standards ever seem to apply to a more mature appreciation of contentedness (happiness is a far more subjective term). Contentedness would mean a more rational quantification of acceptance of reality, adult realisation of expectations, and essentially an understanding of the value of things beyond materialism or capitalism.

With that last word, your brain may begin to glaze over with ‘oh here we go, tedious neo-Marxist rant approaching’. Understandable with as many conflicting and contradicting online articles out there as viruses. But not the case here, because this doesn’t come from politics, old or new. It comes from a question as to what defines the term ‘happiness’ as some kind of secular catch-all, and a further realisation of the fact that that end clearly isn’t enough.

Spirituality is alive and kicking, and pouring like Dove-scented sweat from the online pores of nearly every single one of your post-marriage ‘friends’, whichever sex they may be (though the heterosexual blokes in that bracket do still tend to go on about Nigel Farage/Alex Ferguson/Jeremy sodding Clarkson a bit more.)

This new online spirituality-spreading is the teenies version of Jehova’s Witnesses, tugging Prince along behind them in a hessian sack while they trouble the hard-working folk of south Yorkshire during their cosy fireside evenings. The thing is, this vague spirituality – I like that it’s vague, by the way – represents as much clutching as just about, tantalisingly out of reach straws as any of the other religions, including (especially?) the Abrahamic ones.

No one will ever get where they want to be by wanting anything – but that doesn’t rock too well in the desperate straits our late-capitalism finds itself in. More Danes (could be any number of Scandinavian countries to be honest, judging by the polls) choose to cut their life expectancy short due to the fact that comfort is reasonably worked for, expected, and then – then what?

Conflate that with a chronically sensitive disposition and access to anything else you might need/want, and psycho-spiritual trouble awaits. Your regular Turk, living his or her life through perpetual generations of struggle and low expectations, compounded by the actuality of a divine being who (reassuringly enough) does not appreciate questioning, rarely has the luxury of suicide. Getting though the day is hard enough, let alone allowing for the bored, existential angst of self-imposed oblivion.

Column by Sean Bw Parker