AMERICAN VALHALLA

American Valhalla

This documentary about the making of Iggy’s final album, Post Pop Depression, with collaborator Josh Homme from Queen’s of The Stone Age is a fascinating insight into the working processes behind what became a great album to rival Iggy’s previously best works.
Directed by Andreas Neumann and Homme himself –he obviously understood the momentous scope of the project and wanted to capture every detail on film or in journals and diaries- it is an intimate portrait of an artistic endeavour few outside the inner working circle of record making very rarely glimpse. The fact that not only are Homme and Pop huge influential characters on the music scene but both have immense charisma means that this film has an advantage over other films in its genre. Never once does it lapse into muso ramblings or terrain which might appeal only to the most avid fan.
Instead it compels and draws you into the process from its very first frames wherein we see the band about to perform the album live for the first time with them already onstage playing the upbeat and frenetic intro to the classic ‘Lust for Life’ while Iggy limbers up behind a monitor waiting to explode onto the stage. When he does a huge surge of adrenaline coursed through my body and a huge smile erupted across my face.
Even at this late stage of his life Iggy is still the personification of what rock and roll is really all about!
As for the recording process, most of it took place at the legendary Joshua Tree ‘home’ studio for authenticity; to try to capture a feel suited to the album’s subject matter.
The recording complete segues into the realisation that the results were so good that there was a need to tour the album culminating in the now legendary show at The Royal Albert Hall in London. If I have one criticism of this film it is that there could maybe have been more footage of this kind as it merely whetted my appetite.
Leave them wanting more I guess.
There was also a great sense of rapport, understanding and respect between Homme and Pop as witnessed in the latter interviews of the pair in an empty auditorium. One particularly touching moment is when they are discussing a major interview for the album wherein Iggy has to travel to New York on a morning flight but is awoken in the early hours to be told David Bowie had passed away. At this juncture he wells up-as did I- and you can see he is on the precipice of an emotional collapse but the camera cuts away as a mark of respect.
Apparently this was a one-off screening of this film so I am unsure whether it will make it into the cinemas again but if you can see it in any way at all then please make sure you do. As for the record itself, well it definitely ranks up there with The Idiot and Lust for Life as one of Iggy’s best and most consistent solo offerings and one that no-one expected from the then 69 year old. Then again superseding everyone’s expectations is always what Iggy does best!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

Another week and another disaster unfolds and once again it is ordinary people going about their everyday business who have suffered either with the loss of their homes or more tragically their lives.
Whilst it is still unclear how many people actually died in the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington earlier this week it is clear that the number seventeen being trotted out by the media at this stage is a gross under-exaggeration which borders on an outright lie. Certainly the unofficial figure being leaked by the fire fighters and police places the death toll around 150 which seems more of a realistic figure and, although I hope I am wrong, this could also be a conservative estimate.
It almost feels as if parts of the mainstream media are part of some conspiracy to cover up and shift the blame- imagine such a thing! – as not only are they willing to underestimate the death toll when usually exaggeration in the other direction is their norm but also they have named and shamed the person they claim responsible for the beginnings of the blaze due to a faulty fridge.
For me personally this is shameful behaviour when there had been many concerns from the residents regarding electrical power surges along with numerous requests for more stringent safety measures. Unfortunately the latter were met with a ten million pound refurbishment which involved plastic cladding outside the building to improve the building’s outer appearance to appease the views of the rich neighbours, no money set aside for sprinkler systems or smoke alarms or anything else which might actually, you know, save lives however. People were actually advised and therefore encouraged to stay in their homes in the event of fire so this is negligence on a huge scale.
The cladding seems to have actually acted as some kind of accelerant in the fire so serious questions need to be asked whole families have been wiped out in this ultimately avoidable tragedy.
In other sad news this week the original rock chick and carefree adventurous free spirit Anita Pallenberg passed away at 73. Although her actual musical contribution to rock and roll is a mere footnote her influence, impact and legacy is huge. Let us not forget that before she, alongside Marianne Faithfull, first hooked up with the Rolling Stones there was no such thing as a rock star girlfriend and in fact such a thing was actively discouraged by management and bands themselves.
Anita Pallenberg changed all this by entering the misogynistic and very male world of the Stones and lending them so much of her exotic appeal enabling them to escape the confines of their rivals, taking them to new and previously unimagined places with an added touch of exotic glamour bestowed on them by their association with Pallenberg.
Unfortunately she paid a high price for this relationship as she never escaped the limitations of her role as Rolling Stones girlfriend- she had affairs with three of their members- at least not in the eyes of the public.
In reality however she was so much more: a muse, confidante, artistic director, sounding board, wardrobe advisor and a huge influence whose input can’t ever be over-estimated. She created the rock chick look-long before even Marianne Faithfull- and she wore it magnificently into her latter years, never allowing age or the loss of her looks to humble her or extinguish that incandescent spirit.
Went to an amazing gig by Chrysta Bell at the Voodoo Rooms the other night and was blown away not just by the music but also the stage craft and the simple but hugely effective visuals. It was a stupendous gig and although it was busy enough it still should have been busier. It brough home to me how stagnant and insular the music scene is in Edinburgh and that its residents who always seem to be complaining about the lack of good artists and venues rarely venture out of anything not in their comfort zone.
I had mentioned this gig beforehand to several people who I knew would love it but was not surprised that not one of them bothered to show up. It seems that in Edinburgh people mainly go and see bands if they know the people in them and are reluctant to step outside of this mindset. I too am guilty of this but recently more and more I am finding that I want more nights out where I am not going out simply to support someone or something or even just to merely show face but because it is actually some thing I want to do: fun rather than duty in other words. It is the way forward!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

And all change again!
It would appear that the saying a week is a long time in politics has never held truer than it has over the last eight weeks since Theresa May inflicted the most self-inflicted political wound in recent history by arrogantly calling a snap election to further her already reasonably strong hand into an even stronger one.
Certainly no-one back in April could have predicted the rise in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party which seemed not even likely as a contender and in all probability would be struggling onto the seats they already held.
However when May decided the best way to run a campaign was by not engaging with the public or other leaders or even any contact with anyone that was not hand-picked by her own team she was in trouble. Not that anyone suspected at the beginning just exactly how much trouble but as the weeks rolled on it became clear that she must be regretting her decision to hold this election at all.
The irony of the whole thing is that Scotland by electing more Tory MP’s have in some way strengthened their position in Westminster. How this has happened is beyond belief but although the SNP have held onto 35 seats the question of how they lost so many to their main adversaries is not only staggering but bewildering.
Some level of fault in this must lie in the SNP not having a particularly strong campaign this time around and I think they may have been caught on the hop by the surprise calling of this election when their interests were more set on an Indyref 2 which May had just refused them.
I certainly don’t think they managed to convert as many new voters as in 2015 when they gained all but three of the total seats and complacency may have set in a little riding on that past glory. If May’s intention was to damage the SNP-although they are still the main party in Scotland by a very large margin- then she has to some degree succeeded but ultimately she has damaged herself more.
Thatcher may have left us with the legacy of Thatcherism but May has merely created Mayhem.
At the moment nothing is clear as there is no winner and the country is now more divided than ever. These are indeed unsettling times and no doubt much will have changed again by the time I finish writing this.
Anyway when things are hard it is simply time to face the music and dance and tomorrow is book-ended by tow great gigs –one free, the other not quite so much- when Boots For Dancing open Leith Gala Day at Leith Links at 12.45 and Kraftwerk close it at The Usher Hall. Two excellent bands in one day; Edinburgh, what are you thinking? Admittedly I was a little slow so never managed to get a ticket for Kraftwerk but I did see them in 1981- I even played one of the mini synths they handed around the crowd whilst their ‘robots’ played on stage during Pocket Calculator-and it remains one of the most memorable gigs of my life. I guarantee that everyone going along tomorrow night is in store for the treat of a lifetime,
Also this week the David Lynch protégé Chrysta Bell is playing two gigs at The Voodoo Rooms –Monday 12th and Tuesday 13th- which I will definitely not be missing. Her last visit at this very same venue in 2013 was an acclaimed triumph and with a new album We Dissolve out today this latest gig looks even more enticing. Still tickets left for both nights I believe- I myself am going to the second night on Tuesday- so get yourself along to what alongside Kraftwerk looks like being one of THE gigs of the year!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

With less than a week to until the General Election it seems as if the Tory victory is not quite as assured as they believed when Theresa May announced it in all her smug arrogance towards the end of April. Relying on sound-bites, not meeting with the electorate and refusing to debate with any of the other party leaders have exposed her as charmless, unreliable, unable to provide a coherent answer to simple but important questions and most pertinently-considering her robotic claims to the contary- weak and unstable.
Perhaps that Tory majority she assumed was hers for the taking is not such a certainty after all.
Certainly Jeremy Corbyn has made huge strides forward in the polls and even the previously hostile press has mellowed somewhat as they recognise his unforeseen popularity with an electorate sick of being lied to by Tories who can no longer be completely ignored whilst his manifesto benefits those other than his rich chums and billionaire businessmen. Mind you if he had just put forth a manifesto saying he didn’t want to punish the poor and disabled whilst robbing the elderly he could have scored a winner.
I simply don’t understand how someone in Cruella May’s position can have messed it up so catastrophically. I must admit however it is almost a pleasure to watch her personal car crash unfold almost daily. But to go from a position of being in the clear lead with a huge majority to being close to being unable to secure a majority of any kind seemed unthinkable only weeks ago.
Her refusal to engage with the public or debate with other leaders has shown an unwillingness and inability as the right person for Brexit negotiations. Watching her attempt a joke- as she did this week in a lame attack on Jeremy Corbyn- showed her to have all the dexterity and skill of a buffalo with a set of knitting needles so how anyone can even think her capable of securing a favourable deal with twenty-seven other countries is beyond reason.
It will be interesting to see how her party turn on her after the election- even if she wins which is still likely- as her whole campaign has been a disaster from start to finish. The Tories are not known for their sympathetic natures or caring beliefs and anything or anyone who threatens their sense of entitlement is usually disposed of pretty swiftly. Here’s hoping!
Meanwhile over in Trumpton after last week’s embarrassing excursion with the NATO leaders where Petulant Trump seemed to insult everyone he came into contact with-even physically pushing them out his way if he deemed it acceptable- this week he takes America out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in what feels like yet another fit of pique. Really his Presidency feels like one tantrum after another while he stomps his feet and sticks his fingers in his ears unwilling to listen to reason.
My sympathies really do go out to the American people who saw this coming and tried to prevent it but must now feel as if they are living in a hellish nightmare they can’t wake up from.
I am hoping the electorate here are taking note of how badly things can go if a total incompetent is elected. Certainly the polls seem to indicate this to be true but we are all aware just how unreliable polls can actually be.
Staying with a political theme I have been watching the new season of House of Cards this week and must say the script writers have totally nailed it. The current political situation in America- and here to a lesser extent- must feel like less of a nightmare and more of a dream to these people as far as their storyline suggestions go. I can only imagine the storyboard brainstorming sessions where no suggestion can seem more absurd or ridiculous than what is going on out there in the real world. In fact things have become so unrealistic that trying to best the reality is a pretty tough order indeed.
They have risen to the challenge however and both Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright have upped their game in their roles as the Underwoods and brought an even more malignant, Machiavellian and totally unstoppable element to their characters. I haven’t quite finished the series yet and still have no idea how it will end. Just like real life then.
Dark clouds appear to be gathering outside my windows sos this can only mean one thing; the Meadows Festival is due. On this Saturday and Sunday this perennial favourite is on with its usual diverse collection of stalls and live music. I do hope the weather stays dry as it did last year because when it does this is a highly enjoyable day out. Next week sees the Leith Festival and its Gala Day last year was like something from the Ice Age as I remember shivering my way through some great music sets. This year I am asking-whoever might be in charge of such a thing- for slightly warmer temperatures and possibly some sunshine for both events.
PLEASE!
Thank You!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

It has been hard to escape the awful events in Manchester this week and certainly my thoughts have never been far from the victims or their distraught families. For myself it has even had a personal slant as it is the sort of gig close family members of mine living in the area would be likely attend and very probably at the very same venue; they were actually going to a Take That gig there scheduled for this very evening.
My personal upset however dissipates with what the people of Manchester must be feeling at the moment and it would appear the city is remaining strong and pulling together in the spirit of the northerners they are, even if things will never be the same again for so many of them.
It certainly has raised so many questions as to what sort of world we are living in where a family event such as this becomes the target of a terror attack. Of course the media and social media have been ablaze with accusations, conspiracy theories and theorising all of which offers reasons-or lack of them- but nothing is really any clearer other than the fact that the world at the moment is in total freefall.
Naming the individual offender offers some form of clarity as to who is behind it but it also affords them their place in history, and this is probably made clear to the perpetrators during their radicalisation, but it is the instilled hatred and anger which really motivates them.
However this works both ways and I caught Piers Morgan-he of the noble hacking of a dead girl’s phone and arbiter of taste on ‘talent’ shows- trying to instil some of those feelings as a reaction mere hours after the news broke and emotions were still of a raw, confused and sensitive nature. This does not help at all.
I sometimes think I am going to wake up one morning soon and find the tumultuous events of the last couple of years have all been a bad dream. Certainly things have gone so far off track that the twenty first century is already beginning to shape up very differently to the twentieth which in turn took a very different perspective to the three centuries before it where there was little change in social norms.
However I don’t see progress, only regression and a step back. Sure technology is moving forward at a pace it is hard to keep up with but as humans we are struggling to move forward at a comparable pace.
Watching Donald Trump this week meet the Pope and later at a Nato meeting literally and unabashedly push his way past the Montenegro President to position himself stage front and centre indicates a total lack of respect and basic courtesy which just indicates how unsuitable he is for such a role. He doesn’t even try to hide his arrogance and disdain for anyone else and unfortunately with each passing day he remains in office it normalises this atrocious behaviour as others see it as a gateway to success.
Here we have Theresa May-Tresemme- who doesn’t even feel she has to explain herself to the public or anyone other than a few handpicked journalists in an election campaign to re-instate her as Prime Minister; a role she schemed her way into in the first place.
Mind you it would appear that her strategy is failing somewhat and what little she does reveal shows her as a complete incompetent. Strong and Stable U-Turns really don’t cut it. I also find her claiming Monday’s tragedy by declaring a ‘critical’ security risk and placing armed soldiers at train stations around the country a little suspect. Considering in her role as Home Secretary it was her who made such drastic cuts to the police force in the guise of austerity it feels a little like a strategy rather than a concern. She does have form after all.
I also keep being told the Tories are on the rise in Scotland which is definitely an interesting concept. Led by the ebullient bulldog chewing a wasp Ruth Davidson, who resembles nothing more than a one woman rugby-scrum who seems to be a distant relation to President Trumpton in the pushy stakes, claiming a victory even though her support even if it does increase as much as she claims is a mere drop in the ocean compared to support for the SNP. It is this kind of delusional arrogance which is so dangerous.
Anyway it looks as if summer has actually arrived here and one thing we deserve and need at the moment is a little sunshine. Tonight also sees the Countess of Fife- Fay Fife’s insurgent country based side-project- return to the Leith Depot at benefit gig for refugees along with a stellar supporting cast so this should be well worth checking out. Enjoy the sunshine!
Top photo of Fay Fife by Liz Tainsh ©

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just An Observation

And on and on it rolls and rolls and…
The election campaign stepped up a notch with Labour’s manifesto pledges leaked a day before they were supposed to be raising the question of how can a party stand any chance of election with such blatant skullduggery within its own ranks? Surely an electorate needs to have some semblance of trust in those they are voting for- total trust is a tall order I am sure you will agree- but if there is obvious dissent and lack of unity within a party then how is anyone else supposed to put their faith in them?
One thing the Tories have always done is stand united- apart from the small matter of Europe obviously and we all know where that led- no matter how despicable their policies or mandate. Even though the party was split over Europe they have somehow managed to form some kind of united front which is pulling the wool over the public’s eyes until they gain total power with a majority then begin their petty squabbles all over again, allowing the rest of us to pay the price. Again!
Hell they even managed to be cleared of any wrongdoing over the election expenses scandal and not content with this their bold leader Theresa May (Tresemme) felt the need to try and accuse others of deploying the same tactics without any evidence or proof. I am thinking here of her assertion that the SNP also had been fined over these malpractices but there is no record whatsoever that there is any truth to this malicious claim.
However having the media on your side is a positive tool and not being answerable to the electorate, opposing parties or anyone at all apart from sycophantic supporters obviously is giving her the smug, arrogant confidence to make such statements. That and reinstating fox-hunting obviously.
It is becoming more and more glaringly apparent that this election is being mainly fought by the media.
One thing that struck me recently is that the SNP who are by far and large the main party in Scotland do not have an ally within the media; at least not one that can make any real difference. In fact if the media were to be believed- which they are not- you would think the Tories had won the council elections here rather than it being a landslide victory for the SNP. The fact that despite all this negativity in the press they have made such a large impression here in Scotland shows that they are appealing to people at a grass-roots level most other parties feel they are actually above, hence the decimation of Labour north of the border.
The media situation is something I witnessed first hand when looking for media jobs and found myself up against young graduates who were prepared to work an internship for free as their parents could afford to support them. This led to the media being saturated by young kids who had merely bought their way into their positions espousing the Tory values they now support in print. I recall bemoaning the fact that every press office I entered during the Edinburgh Fringe as being like an audition casting for Made In Chelsea –vacuous , vapid types who were self-serving, arrogant, entitled and conceited beyond belief- and predicting that this was the future of media in this country. I was right!
On a lighter note it would seem that Joanna Lumley thinks that Idris Elba is ‘not right’ to play the next James Bond. Much as I love Joanna Lumley I must disagree as Idris Elba is very right for just about everything!
Even more ridiculous is the claim that Harry Styles is the new David Bowie-see what I mean about these new media types- which has to be the most absurd thing I have heard in years. Really? Harry Styles? David Bowie? I just don’t see any connection. Whatsoever!
He doesn’t even cut it as an average pop star and surely wearing every haircut rejected by any sensible person in the eighties proves he doesn’t even belong in the same universe as Bowie never mind the same sentence.
If you want to hear some perfect contemporary pop then I suggest you listen to the new Blondie album Pollinator proving that even when approaching her 71st birthday Deborah Harry is still the coolest person in rock and roll. Of the two Harrys it is the blonde one who wins out as the one to watch in 2017!

THE HANDMAIDEN

The Handmaiden

Taking its central themes and inspirations from the 2002 Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith this erotic thriller directed by Park Chan-wook constantly strives to outguess its audience with each of its three sections exploring the same tale from a different character perspective.
A much more complex and interesting take on the original tale of a pickpocket lifted from poverty to high society in Dickensian London than the BBC drama from 2005 even though both are period dramas the question of location literally sets them worlds apart as by transplanting the action to South Korea –under colonial Japanese rule- there is an exoticism and erotica the earlier interpretation never achieved.
The tale remains basically the same when a pickpocket is used to try and help an unscrupulous conman posing as a Count seduce an heiress out of her fortune when it becomes clear that sexually she is more attracted to women than men thus requiring female complicity as his own masculinity obviously falls short.
What then follows is a web of deceit, intrigue, sexual duplicity and a plot which keeps second guessing its audience and holds their attention rapt.
Beautifully shot amidst outstanding scenery with stunning sets- the palatial residence of the supposedly duped heiress is part Victorian Gothic mansion and part traditional Japanese and as labyrinthine as the action- which combine to make the whole viewing process even more of a visually stimulating experience than it already is.
Although the film clocks in at around two and a half hours long the great central performances alongside plot devices and exotic settings somehow conspire into making the time fly by.