GenderBeer Update

I am still recording and updating GenderBeer, I promise. It's just that, um well... Blimey, this is awkward... The thing is, it hasn't actually happened even once since my last update.

Which is great. Obviously.

Yay feminism and all that.

I do feel a bit of a prick now though.

Blackbeard's Tea Party. Bristol. Nov. 2011

Oh, Blackbeard's Tea Party! You are everything I have ever wanted in a band. You have two beards, a pretty one, a lady, an eleven year old on bass and a supercilious, camp as beans, frontman whose patter, vocals, and shape throwing in the fiddly bits raise you from the very good to the almost insanely awesome.

Blackbeard's Tea Party, you make me want to pogo and fuck sailors. I didn't do either, in the end; I have a chest infection and none of the men I was with would wear the hat. But by god I wanted to.

In conclusion buy records from Blackbeard's Tea Party, and t-shirts, and go to their concerts and make them rich. Because they are great.

Emily Portman. Louisiana, Bristol. Nov 2011

When we arrived at the Louisiana it seemed deserted, we bought a drink and moved upstairs to the music venue, where we proceeded to spend fifteen minutes feeling like a right pair of pricks due to being the only people there. I'd love to say that we'd arrived far too early and that, in the grand cliche of live music reviews, 'the place soon filled up' but strangely the audience never seemed to grow beyond about fifteen or twenty people.

The wet support who spent five songs singing in a dull way about the sort of thing that Larkin managed to describe entirely satisfactorily using three stanzas in Love Again did not bode well. Apparently having a crush on someone who does not share your interest can be quite upsetting. Blimey.
(Yes, the songs were so bad that they turned me into one of those internet people who measure the value of things purely in terms of their novelty. No, I am not sorry about this. Still, at least I'm not either of the two women who talked loudly all the way through his set. Not really on, that; no matter how poor the turn).

After a break for us all to recover (and brilliantly get to sit in on a long-ish chat with another quality folk musician, Jim Moray, who'd recognised my companion from his high profile blogging/wearing of garish ties and come over to say hello) the entirely lovely Emily Portman trio arrive on stage.

The trio (Portman herself, plus the equally talented Rachel Newton and Lucy Farrell) play mostly their own work, with a dusting of traditional stuff mixed in. Likely it's the nature of the songs - based mostly on fairy tales, books, films - that makes them seem familiar and strange at the same time. They feel more like the fantastic (in both senses) re-imaginings of traditional content found in something like Tunng, or the Wicker Man soundtrack. All three members of the trio are enormously talented, both as musicians and vocally; often singing in harmony, and there was at least one song in which I found myself wishing that Rachel Newton (the group's Scots harpist) had been given the lead vocal to sing, rather than the background echo. It's a testament to the strength of Portman's lyrics, however, that it never felt like they were being carried by the purity of their voices. I don't think they played a single song which wouldn't find itself at home in the repertoire of a wide variety of vocal performers.

After the encore ("a lullaby for grown ups") a Top Local Celebrity Blogger ventured that he thought it had maybe been about Maurice Sendak's 'Where The Wild Things Are'. Sadly I'd not caught the lyrics properly; but I had to admit that, in my head, that was pretty much the style that the images she'd been singing all night had been drawn in. Familiar, but scratchy and wild.

On the way out, I pre-ordered their new vinyl E.P.
I don't actually own a record player, but they were giving out a code for the title track and - if I'm entirely honest - I just wanted to buy something to commemorate the time I saw such an amazing band, in a room above a pub, with an audience of less than twenty people.

Summary: Go and see the Emily Portman Trio. They managed to write and perform a song which is about Angela Carter's A Night At The Circus, yet is not a big bag of wank.

Bob Dylan. Cardiff. October 2011.

Bob Dylan is an old man. Let's skip the part where we're surprised at that. When the friend you're ribbing before the concert about his new bi-focals could quite reasonably have been conceived to the sound of the headlining artist on the radio then any comment on their having aged is superfluous at best, disingenuous at worst.  So. Bob Dylan is an old man.

And he is fucking rocking it.

9pm, Dylan minces on stage. Blue suit. Big white hat. Tiny man. Ill advised moustache. BANG! Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. KABOOM! Shooting Star. SKIDOO! Things Have Changed. JENGA! Man In The Long Black Coat. At which point, I am not ashamed to say, we hit the first song that I recognise. Despite having heard all of them a thousand times before.

Because, of course, these aren't the same songs that I have on my hard-drive or my CD shelf. Any more than this is the same man who recorded them. These are hellfire, bluesy, swamp rock reinventions. Staccato and arrhythmic. Sung to ward off boredom by a man who has utterly and completely run out of fucks to give. And, oh! It is good.

I'm told that I'm lucky. I'm told that it's far more usual for the fidgety, big hatted, gravelly, Vincent Price looking fucker to sit behind his keyboards. Brooding, and forcing himself to trudge through his fifty - maybe sixty - minute set. Well then I AM LUCKY, because for ninety astonishing minutes I was twenty feet away from a bouncing, sweat soaked, harmonica playing, pensioner who was giving it his all.

(And Bob Dylan was quite good too).

"BOBBY! BOOOOOOBBBBBBYYYYYY!" Shouted the crowd. Over-familiarly.

"ROBERT ZIMMERMAN DON"T NEED NO ZIMMER-FRAME!" Shouted one lad. Presumably confusing the hell out of Dylan, because they don't call them that in the U.S.

"Sounds like William Shatner as a dog doing Bob Dylan karaoke covers to a presetting on an electric keyboard. If this was a cover band there would've been riots." Says an angry Glaswegian on youtube.

Bob Dylan ignores it all, of course. He may have stopped overtly distancing himself from the crowd, but he's doing any engaging on his own terms. Which, tonight at least, seem to be 'playing at being Tom Jones'. He nods straight out at the crowd, he jiggles his hips creakily, he mugs his way through the tracks, probably winking occasionally (even we weren't close enough to tell that much). He all but wears a t-shirt reading 'I am humouring you, you bastards.' It is glorious.

Because it's not a cover band. It's a man who has spent fifty years buggering up his vocal chords and stretching his brain inside out still managing to give you something new for your money. And why on earth would anyone value familiarity above that?

Alasdair Roberts: a belated, short and unhelpful review.

Alasdair Roberts, Chapel Arts Centre (Bath), June 2011.

(Things that I discovered while writing this review. 1 - the recording I had made to remind me of the set-list, and the overall shape of the gig, had become corrupted. Leaving me with eighteen minutes and some increasingly drunk notes to work from. 2 - if you wonder aloud on twitter whether Alasdair Roberts is a tall thin man or whether it's just that everyone looks tall and thin from your little fat viewpoint then all of his female relatives will emerge to tell you that he's six foot two, though his father was a little taller, and that he's very fond of garlic. Information they may not have given so readily had they known about Operation Codename: Potsdamer Riesengarde...).

Alasdair Roberts has the look of some coat hangers who've clubbed together and bought a guitar. Long limbed and dark, his appearance adds an extra edge to the often sinister and slightly 'off' versions of traditional and pseudo-traditional songs that he performs (including a version of cruel mother that mixed in an, I assume, deliberately mangled refrain from a Walter Scott poem to provide a chorus and manages to somehow make a song about casual infanticide and possession even creepier).

While I liked Roberts, I only owned a few tracks by him and had gone to this gig mainly because I'd recommended him heavily to a friend whose cup of tea I believed him to be; At the end of the gig I bought the Too Long in This Condition CD and desperately wished I'd had the money to buy more. Fantastic stuff.

A longer than expected hiatus...

As some of you know, The Doris and I lead the giddying rock and roll life of an I.T. Freelancer (one day, we even hope to lead one each). A lifestyle which has within its power the ability to send us to the Republic of Ireland at four days notice.

Which is all just a pointlessly jizzy way of saying that I probably won't be updating for a bit. As we're living out of a hotel room in Dublin, trying to find a bedsitter with a shower and the internet to live out of for the next six months.

Sweden, tak.

Bye Bye Sweden. We have enjoyed your incredibly expensive beers and many delightful mentalists, but now we must depart.


We're away off to Stockholm until Monday, to attend Eurocon 2011 where I hope to charm the locals with my loose sexual morals, heightened sense of environmental awareness and the fact that I've read several John Ajvide Lindqvist novels that haven't even had films made of them yet. TTFN and see you soon.

Ian King at the 12 Bar Club

GenderBeer: May 2011

Lamb and Lion, Bath. To be fair, a bit of an old fashioned place with a very mainstream clientele. But the barman was young enough to know better and - like everywhere featured in these segments - watched myself and my companion ask for our respective drinks.

Pipe and Slippers, Stokes Croft, Bristol. This was a particular disappointment as not only is it in Exciting Bohemian Stokes Croft (TM), but I can remember when this pub opened and how refreshing its lack of assumptions about its customers was. But sadly, while The Pipe and Slippers is quite comfortable with the idea of combining pints of Real Ale with tapas and an electro-pop soundtrack, throw a pair of ovaries into the mix and all hell breaks loose. The server was female in this case, too.

Ian King, Chapel Arts Centre (Bath), June 2011

The gig started with a man with a mandolin (sad to say that I didn’t manage to catch his name at any point) being urged briefly on stage by the main acts to sing a version of Summertime Blues that dealt mainly with the effectiveness of Irn Bru as a hangover cure. It was fun and short, and enjoyable (even for someone like me who can find something to be annoyed at in even the most blameless comic song). We chatted with him for a while at the end of the evening and we were both surprised that hardly anyone in the crowd seemed to know that hangovers are what Irn Bru is FOR.

Ian King himself was brilliant, but I’m going to be honest I remember almost nothing of his act that night. He looked like a character from The Jetsons, spoke timidly, blew me away with his set and then me being me I promptly managed to forget pretty much everything about it. Thankfully me being me also means that I went home and immediately bought his entire back catalogue. So I shall try and build something approaching a review upon a couple of songs from that instead.

iankingfull-2011-06-12-14-58.jpgDeath and the Lady is a song about which I am fucking MENTAL, it’s the only thing that I remember him playing on the night and the studio version on Panic Grass & Fever Few more than lived up to the memory of his performance. As I’ve already admitted I’ve not found many versions of this song that I’ve ever disliked, but King loads his with an unexpected dose of something approaching old style funk, heating things up while keeping them just on the edge of straying into Ska and keeping a very old, very traditional sound as the foundation to it.

Imagine the Watersons. Now imagine the Quentin Tarentino film Jackie Brown. Now imagine the Watersons in the Quentin Tarentino film Jackie Brown. Got that in your head? Right, well it was nothing like that, but by god that paragraph filled some space in this review.

A friend of mine with a habit of doing such things has taken to - semi-jokingly - holding up King’s day job as a dry stone waller as proof of his ‘authenticity’. Not being a character from an Eleanor Bron sketch I don’t tend to worry about such things myself, but it is true that part of what I love about him is that his music seems so organic. There’s Northern Soul in there, there’s Punk, there’s Baggy, there Salsa, and none of it is forced. None of it gives the impression of anything other than a man naturally encountering music, liking it, and being shaped by it.

By George, one of only a couple of songs on Panic Grass & Fever Few written by King somehow manages to sum up the whole strange business of masculinity and national identity once and for all while only having about five lines of lyrics. It doesn’t sound like the thought of the Watersons being hired by any kind of modern american film maker, it sounds like the voice of someone who is a bit tired, a bit annoyed, generally accepting of the fact that these things are somewhat more complicated than we’d like and it contrasts sharply with the lengthier, self pitying, tracks on the topic made famous by bigger name bands.

I’m looking forward to seeing him play again when I get a chance.

GenderBeer - an introduction.

Of an evening, I am often given to visiting musical entertainments. Folk concerts, mainly, but sometimes I like a bit of experimental rock or klezmer. Once or twice I’ve peered ‘round the door of an opera. I’m out and about a bit, is the point here.

Most times, these events are attended with a gentleman friend or two (The Doris has assured me that while he is, of course, consumed with fear that I might at any moment succumb to their pleas to run away with them, his masculine pride demands that he hide it incredibly well by staying indoors playing Fallout 3, farting and eating kebabs with a massive fucking grin on his bearded, grease smeared, face).

Most of these events serve beer. Beer is nice. I like beer. Usually there’ll be an extra beer, either immediately before or immediately after, to fill the gaps between entertainments and public transport timetables. These are the beers that this entry is about.

Step One:
We enter a pub. We order our beers.
He, because he is a sensible grown up with a responsible job and several ties, will order a half.
I, because I am a child’s drawing of a drunken slut, will order a pint.

Step Two:
The barman - presumably overwhelmed by the vision of near viking maleness before him and distracted both by the sudden questions of sexual and social identity exploding through his brain and the problem of how he might surreptitiously slip his ‘phone number into the glass without violating any health and hygiene guidelines - will hand my companion the pint and I, because I am a delicate flower of womanhood, brimming with lady parts and blue fluid, will AUTOMATICALLY be given the half.

So, to summarise in a sentence which frankly should have stood in place of this entire post, the gender stereotyping inherent in an action as trivial and everyday as ordering a drink has started to give me the right piss-ache and I’m going to start recording it on here.

A weak start

The internet at the moment seems to be unusually full of articles urging the newly parental not to overload their friends with talk of their offspring, what with babies being quite boring. For the first few months they don’t really do much except for shit and gurgle, and while, yes, sometimes they do indeed do one of those things in an amusing way, those incidents are few and far between.

So to anyone thinking of regaling me about the antics of their tiny wee mini-Churchills I say, knock yourselves out. You're not my fucking jesters! Christ, remember when I started doing homebrew? I would. Not. Shut. Up. And I didn't even have to push that out of my gladys.