THE APPRENTICE -WEEK ONE

The Apprentice

 

So the return of the Apprentice did not disappoint in its opening moments as this years group of  loatheables contestants made a return to our screens with the usual delusional declarations of egotistical self worth. Within the first five minutes this group, supposedly the future of British commerce, had described themselves as-amongst other cringe inducing descriptions- ‘Like an animal I will roar my way to the top’, ‘A master puppeteer pulling the strings’, ‘A blonde assassin’ ‘A shark and total reflection of perfection’ all delivered straight faced without even a flicker of irony.

This is the great beauty of the Apprentice in that from the very beginning you are not rooting for anyone to win, as they are all usually such despicable characters, but instead you seek out which one you hate the most and hope they get fired first. Last nights episode was no different from any other opening episode-other than the fact the boys team won for a change- in that it was clear from less than half way through that someone called Balaclava, due to rubbing every one on her team up the wrong way, was not going to reach week two. Actually I later discovered her name was Bilyana although a balaclava may have been more apt in drowning out her incessant bleating. Despite the fact she had me reaching for the mute button on my remote when she simply refused to shut up even after professional curmudgeon Lord Sugar had told her to several times, a sadistic part of me wanted her to stay if only to annoy the other contestants more. Alas this was not to be and she found herself carrying her suitcase into the waiting taxi with seemingly not one part of her confidence dented. Unlike my ear drums!

The task was typical in the Apprentice scheme of things in that the teams were split according to gender and then set a simple buying and selling task. The next step was to name the teams with the boys opting for Phoenix whilst the girls chose- after the weirdly adenoidal accented Jenna revealed it had come to her in a dream- Sterling. The revelation that the latter name arrived in a dream aroused- or perhaps it may have been her comedy voice- the same eye rolling and snort of derision from both Lord Sugar ( what is it with him and his titles as he was formerly Suralan?) and myself providing a rare moment of empathy between us.

The task was the usual first week disaster with both teams struggling to work and bond with complete strangers and it is often hard to spot who has any capabilities amongst the rabble aspect this flung together method engenders. Surprisingly enough the boys team- led somewhat unwillingly and hesitantly by the surprisingly pleasant and non-wanky Nick who seems amiable enough so will probably be stitched up by the others around week four- won despite creating a sub standard and unimaginative product versus the girls well thought out and cleverly crafted one. There seemed to be more solidarity in their ranks also- Bilyana was earmarked as troublesome in the girls team from the very off although this is probably down to clever editing which usually leads the audience in their way of thinking- but this may have changed if they had lost and had to endure a grilling in the boardroom.

The boardroom invariably provides some of the shows best moments and last night was no exception. Almost as soon as the result was announced and it began to emerge that the girls had lost the task you could almost see the eyes twitching and painted talons all start to point at each other. Any evidence of previously stated female solidarity went flying right out of the Gherkin’s seventh floor windows. A bunch of baying hyenas may have had more subtlety and probably left behind more survivors. Inevitably the final decision lies with Sugar- I am officially dropping the Lord forthwith it is about as tiresome as his lame attempts at humour- and this is where Bilyana quite literally talked her way out of a job by simply refusing to shut up despite being told to at least three times.

Not many other contestants made too much of a mark last night although a special mention must go to Stephen whose selling technique resembled a man offering a woman an STD and garnered the expected response such an offer would elicit; one of mild disgust followed by a swift exit in the opposite direction.

So with the first evictee from the programme dispensed with it will be interesting to see who will become our hate object in week two. The male team didn’t make too much of an impression last night but there must be something lurking in there to raise our ire. ‘Business superstar by day and professional wrestler by night’ ,Ricky Martin looks like such a contender and his name is bound to be followed by at least one reference to La Vida Loca by professional stand-up Sugar accompanied by the obsequious laughter of the mildly embarrassed contestants which will surely massage his rampant ego even further. I doubt anyone will be quite as annoying and delusional as Stuart Baggs and his field of ponies from two years ago but we can live in hope!

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JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday March 16th

 

According to a poll conducted by the NME, Liam Gallagher is the best frontman of a rock band ever. Really? I am not sure how such a conclusion was reached, even allowing for generational difference of opinion, as the heyday of Oasis was brief and era defining but it didn’t really change much, other than allowing overweight men to wear their shirts loose and over their trousers in a vague attempt to cover up the beer bellies attained by consuming the obligatory twelve pints essential to garnering any enjoyment or appreciation of an Oasis track. Perhaps this is a little harsh as their first two albums were pretty fine specimens of a rock and roll band at its rawest although, to these ears, they were always a little more reminiscent of early seventies rabble rousing foot-stompers Slade than the Beatles-to whom they were often confusingly compared and who managed to boast two frontmen, Lennon and Mc Cartney, although it was only ever Lennon who counted– and there is nothing wrong with that. But to claim Gallagher as the best frontman ever is overstating the case somewhat. What about Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, John Lydon (nee Rotten) , Marc Bolan,Joe Strummer, Ian Curtis, Morrissey, Kurt Cobain? Elvis and Bowie don’t count as they were solo artists, unless you include the folly which was Tin Machine and no-one does. Each of these surely trounces the Oasis singer. Even my personal favourite, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, had more charisma and attitude teetering in his high heels than Gallagher could store in the many pockets of his parka. Also I have seen each of the aforementioned live, including Oasis, and can state quite honestly Gallagher does not come close.

Even their main rivals, at the time, Blur were able to progress and their frontman, Damon Albarn, despite being overly pompous and more than a little smug has embarked on a career of diversity and experimentalism resulting in two post millennium successes The Good the Bad and The Queen and Gorillaz. Oasis ,on the other hand, remained mired in plodding derivative works and inter-personal relations which prevented them from progressing  beyond their mid-nineties heyday. Their initial success was down to timing as much as anything- all the best rock and roll is- arriving on the scene when, post-grunge, rock was in the doldrums and dance music was becoming ever more faceless and moving into its handbag years. Rapidly the club scene was becoming more like the disco scene which had necessitated the underground culture which spawned club culture in the first place and so the time was ripe for young, vital rock music to rear its noisy, arrogant head. Enter Oasis.

At the time they were a breath of fresh air bringing a bit of yobbish vibrancy to a scene which was stagnant and over indulgent. Unfortunately most of the music, whilst holding a certain swagger, was devoid of longevity or any deep rooted meaning. There was nothing in their repertoire as zeitgeist defining as Pulp’s ‘Common People’ or as wry and observant –or even controversial- as the same bands ‘Sorted for E’s and Whizz’. What about Jarvis Cocker as a late addition to the greatest frontman list?  Certainly he had more to say than how much he hated his brother or how he wished Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon would die of AIDS. Actually the latter comment was made by older brother and songwriter Noel Gallagher but you get the gist that a return to boorish loutishness was on the agenda rather than any artistic endeavour, foresight or imagination. Unfortunately it was left to dance meisters Underworld to write the line that encapsulated the whole Oasis myth in ‘Born Slippy’ with ‘Lager, lager, lager’. See what I mean, they couldn’t even write their own legacy thus confirming that the title of greatest frontman surely belongs to someone-anyone- else.

Elsewhere this week I have been dismayed at the offerings and standard of what is being slopped out on our television screens. Many evenings I have not bothered to turn on my TV after looking at the schedules and finding absolutely nothing to remotely pique my interest. It almost makes me hanker after such trash as Laid In Chelsea-due for a return series too soon although I fear it is one series too many- and the Apprentice makes a return next week and which always serves as a reminder that no matter how bad you may feel about your own shortcomings you can always console yourself that you still possess some integrity and are not as shallow, egotistical, deluded or down right obnoxiously arrogant as the contestants all vying for the position of professional curmudgeon Alan Sugar’s latest profit increasing lapdog.

This is a man who is considered so influential that his programme could not be broadcast in the lead up to the last General Election due to his involvement as an advisor to Gordon Brown. Not that his opinion would have made much impact anyway as we still ended up with a government which had little to do with how the public voted. The Apprentice is an interesting concept, however, as you always end up rooting for the one you hate the least rather than any well being towards the winner. It is a bit like Peter Andre believing that the British public love him when in fact it is just we hate him less than Katie Price. Personally I always considered him a waste of sperm and egg and thought they were well suited. Not spoiling another couple as the saying goes.

Perhaps television would not be such a major consideration if there was any decent nightlife in Edinburgh. As mentioned in these pages before the club scene has been seriously depleted and the cinemas are still raking in post-Oscar monies by showing the same films they were a month ago. The Edinburgh Film Festival is on the way however and after last years non-event a return to big names and premieres seems to be the way forward.

My favourite moment of the 2010 festival was sitting next to Britt Ekland in her granny glasses- which she only swapped into from designer shades after the lights had dimmed- and Patrick Stewart whilst watching what could only be termed art-house porn at 10.30 in the morning. By the end of the film we were both more familiar with the genitalia of the principal two stars than we ever could be with our own. She never responded in the slightest although that was probably as much to do with the botox as to any lack of reaction. Mind you she probably has more risqué moments captured on her home video collection anyway-this is the woman who along with a bottle of amyl nitrate and bedroom prowess induced a heart attack on Peter Sellers- so it probably didn’t register as anything too outré in her eyes. The best moment however was when as the closing credits rolled she rummaged in her bag before whipping out a lipgloss which was hastily applied in the dark and still managed to have her shades  back on before the credits finished ,maintaining her Hollywood dignity even in the Cineworld complex  of Fountainbridge. We could all learn a lot from her. Class!

Here is a slinky slice of delicious electro pop-Oblivion from Grimes- which  makes me want to go out dancing although there is nowhere to hear delights such as this in Edinburgh. The bedroom- again- it is then.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday March 9th

 

Much has been made over the last few days about one of the more likeable inhabitants of reality television, Stacey Solomon. and her being caught having a crafty cigarette outside a television studio whilst being seven months pregnant. The following furore has since resulted in her being dropped from her role as the face of Foxy Bingo for setting a bad example in her role as a responsible mother; you know Foxy Bingo it’s the one which encourages women, in particular, to gamble away their housekeeping money. Whilst it is a no-brainer that smoking whilst pregnant is damaging to an unborn child’s health it is however not illegal nor is it the worst thing an expectant mother can do. The stress of the whole debacle has probably caused Solomon will not be doing her any good either- a tearful confession on one television show and a breakdown of sorts during a broadcast telephone call- and will probably have her reaching for a cigarette to soothe her frayed nerves.

I am not sure what good printing such a picture and reporting the story has really done anyone and although I usually have no time for reality ‘stars’ Solomon was an extremely likeable character during her tenure on the X- Factor and also was the outright winner of I’m a Non-entity Get me out of Here and it was her personality which endeared her to viewers. Yes, it was stupid to be smoking at seven months pregnant but I doubt her popularity was attributable to the honours degree we all suspected she was keeping a closely guarded secret. No, it was her stupidity and naiveté which made her popular and these are the very two words that are being used to attack her which smacks of little more than hypocrisy.

Since when did smoking become illegal anyway? Everyone is aware that pregnant women are advised to stop smoking but surely advised means whilst they are under a moral obligation to stop it is by no means compulsory. First of all it was banned from workplaces swiftly followed by restaurants, bars and clubs. I see the point of banning it in a work environment and restaurants and even in bars where food is being served makes sense but I have never understood how banning it from clubs was to anyone’s benefit. Not many folk I know go to clubs to get healthy and any atmosphere that a DJ’s are attempting to engender is generally deflated when a significant proportion of their audience is outside puffing away on their illicit fags. I remember when the ban was first imposed and attending a club in, the at the time named, Ego which housed a large smoking garden outside which was full to capacity whilst inside the dance-floor was less populated than  outer Siberia.

Whilst the smoking ban is not solely responsible for the sorry state of clubbing in Edinburgh at the moment-the problems run a lot deeper- it is still a contributory factor and a sharp decline in the scene occurred around the time of its introduction. The recent closure of venues however seems to have more to do with clearing out a creative and, occasionally, subversive sub culture to replace it with something more commercially visible and mainstream. Unfortunately the shocking state of Edinburgh’s nightlife looks set only to decline even further if the new restrictions being imposed by the council forbidding any free live events after April without a licence are allowed to go ahead. This will basically kill any creative cultural scene at grass roots level as it prevents things such as art openings and poetry readings, amongst others, without a specially issued permit which has to be applied for six weeks in advance of said events. The licence will only be issued if the council sees fit so will be yet another form of censorship. If this continues Edinburgh will soon be hosting little other than Stag and Hen parties and the Festival. Unfortunately any cultural scene of its own will be pretty much non-existent unless it is part of the overground mainstream.

For a city which has always prided itself on its thriving nascent underground scene this is bad news indeed. Whilst Glasgow has always embraced the shinier side of clubbing, Edinburgh clubs always prospered better in makeshift venues and word of mouth. Clubs were always more a hotbed of creativity alongside the full on hedonistic approach which is synonymous with the scene. For this to disappear will be a major drawback for a city which is fast losing its cultural identity and exists mainly for visitors to indulge in behaviour they probably wouldn’t condone if it was happening on their own doorstep. Saturday nights out in the city centre are populated by gangs of girls in very few clothes and L Plates whilst groups of guys maraud menacingly quite often in synchronised themed outfits. Both groups are usually drunk and overly boisterous by the early evening-despite the governments supposed crack down on drinking, numerous trays of shots seem to be de rigueur from early afternoon onwards- and less and less are the residents of the city venturing into the city centre as they are accosted and outnumbered by these visiting revellers.

Returning to the issue of ‘celebrity ‘endorsements apparently since Chloe from TOWIE recommended using Sudocrem as a  moisturiser sales have gone through the  roof. Has anyone actually looked at the state of this woman before following her advice? By using a cream recommended for nappy rash does this mean that even she can’t distinguish her arse from her face? She, for anyone not familiar with this surgically altered creature, is the one who looks like she is made up of the left over bits of Pete Burns- the ones they didn’t use in creating Cher Lloyd- and looks as if she may melt, leak or explode-hopefully all three- if within ten feet of a naked flame. An ideal of beauty? I don’t think so.

Tonight unfortunately sees the last opening at Axolotl at its current premises in Dundas Street. It is a collaborative effort with many different artists contributing individual pieces. Typically it will, no doubt, be an extravagant affair will serve as a reminder that any opposition to the stupidity of the tax on free events is a necessary and worthwhile thing.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday 2nd March

 

Spring seems to have arrived early in Edinburgh-or perhaps it is just last year’s one arriving late- and the crisp air and sunshine causing the city’s inhabitants to embrace an uncharacteristic form of euphoria that does not involve moaning about the weather. Give it time though as it is only the beginning of March and on evidence of the last few years it probably won’t get much better than this. At the moment however it makes for more than a pleasant change to not to have to leave the house wrapped up in hats, scarves and coats-yesterday I eschewed all three, though in hindsight that was a tad ambitious especially when the skies clouded over and the temperature dropped around 4pm- but as the saying goes ‘Ne’er cast a clout ‘til May is out’ and it is advice well heeded. Mind you moaning about the weather is such a British trait I feel it is one of the few things that actually unites us as a nation.

On this topic Channel 4 have done another of their interesting experiments in determining what defines us as British by going into Bradford, a racially diverse and unsettled  area of Britain, and encouraging the different classes to live together in some awkward sense of understanding, compromise and, hopefully  some eventual form  of harmony. After last years thought provoking, intelligent and skilfully handled My Transsexual Summer where a taboo subject was handled with sensitivity I had high hopes for this idea. The contestants were selected after failing a test to determine how much they know about being British- I did the test on the website and scoring only thirteen out of twenty which translates as 65%, I stumbled mainly on the religious questions, apparently I failed also as 75% is the accepted pass mark – they were then put in a living quarters where they will live together throughout the duration of the programme.

The opening didn’t show a lot of promise as straight away  one household member’s religious beliefs necessitated him  praying five times a day and this inconvenienced everyone else’s mealtimes resulting in the comment from Audrey, a nice middle class lady no less, that ‘the colour of skin is irrelevant, but if you’re a dickhead then you’re a dickhead’. Whilst the basic sentiments behind this statement are true it was rather a swift judgment to make and in essence I feel this documentary is all about pre-conceived, misinformed and ill advised judgments. To be fair she did modify her opinions rapidly when she realised how important his faith was to him and not merely an inconvenience to others but I suspect we will encounter a lot of this change of opinion over the next few weeks although I am not sure how genuine most of it will be. Compromise and understanding seems to be attained a lot quicker when a TV crew is in the room unless it’s Big Brother of course where the opposite seems to hold true.

It will be interesting to see how next week each party will cope being introduced into sections of others lives they have never previously been involved with. The trailer showed a Muslim serving behind the bar of a pub which is an interesting concept to say the least but most fascinating will be when, the not overtly bright, Damon visits a Mosque and announces that previously he thought they functioned mainly as ‘terrorist centres’. It is ignorance like this which has divided a city like Bradford-and other sections of our country- but it is not a lone opinion unfortunately and this is the most worrying thing.

I don’t know if anything will be resolved during this ‘experiment’ as in many ways it was like an episode of Wife Swap wherein immediately everyone is hostile to anyone else’s ideas and arguments flare up unnecessarily followed by fragile egos masquerading as opinions which start to infiltrate causing even greater rifts than before. I am also not sure how the inhabitants of Bradford feel being portrayed in this manner and there has already been a lot of tweeting about the lack of representation of youth in the selected participants. This last criticism I feel is slightly unfair as youth do get a lot of representation over the airwaves and maybe the older generation who have lived with the problems longer have a valid insight and, hopefully, a more measured approach, Though to paraphrase a quote from before ‘Age is irrelevant but if you’re a  dickhead then you’re a dickhead’.

Dickheads certainly seem to be rifer in Essex than in most other parts of the country however, if the ailing TOWIE is anything to go by. I have avoided most of this series which really is a joke too far. Unintelligible conversations, arguments about nothing and desperate, surgically enhanced women in search of husbands is not my idea of good television but somehow it is strangely addictive in the having a nasty smell on your fingers that you can’t stop sniffing kind of way. It would be a good idea if this series was the last as it really has reached it’s ‘Jump the Shark’ moment- a phrase signifying a programme has become tired and desperate coined in relation to Happy Days where Fonzie jumped over a shark immediately transforming him from  cool to naff-and should bow out gracefully. No chance though as everything these days is trundled out until every last penny has been squeezed out. Now maybe if we could transfer the cast to Bradford then that that may make interesting television. Doubt it though.

Also this week saw a film called Weekend which, if you get the chance, should make a point of seeing. It is about two gay guys who embark on a weekend that starts with a one night stand and continues onto an exploration of drugs, sex, hedonism and deep discussions that reveal a lot about not only gay culture but the world as a whole. That the two protagonists are gay is incidental-but simultaneously important- and the whole thing is handled with extreme sensitivity, insight and compassion. The lead actor Tom Cullen won best new actor at the British Independent Film Awards and deservedly so. There is something in this film for everyone regardless of sexual orientation and nothing to offend as it offers up intriguing and valid arguments about a scene which is so often misrepresented in film and the media. The only thing about it which caused concern was the amount of checked shirts and unnecessary facial hair worn by the audience on the day I attended. And that was just the women!

Next week sees the very last opening at Axolotl Gallery and a showcase which promises to be a little like a Greatest Hits package featuring many of the artists who have shown there over the last couple of years. I expect this will go off with a bang and hopefully some news of its relocation will be announced soon. Elsewhere Spring is still very much in evidence though whether it will see out the weekend is another matter.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday 24th February

 

So that was the Brits then, supposedly showcasing ‘The very best in British music’ or was it a two hour MasterCard advert interrupted by other adverts and interspersed with some decidedly-at best- average musical interludes? From a nation which has produced groundbreaking acts such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bowie, The Sex Pistols, The Clash , Kate Bush, The Smiths, Underworld, Radiohead and PJ Harvey then surely the likes of Ed Sheeran and Butlins Redcoat Olly Murs are a step backwards in an industry which insists it is forward looking and streaming the zeitgeist. This was hard to believe after watching Tuesday night’s shambolic fiasco of an awards ceremony-I only watched half as the minute Olly Murs came on with his Seaside Special routine, a performance as flat as his vocals, I could not take anymore- which was a national embarrassment and a sorry indictment on the state of British music.

There is good music out there and of the aforementioned list of innovators both Kate Bush and PJ Harvey received nominations but these were only a cursory nod of recognition and there was never any way they were going to win positioned, as they were,  against the current industry cash cow Adele. Apparently much furore was made concerning her acceptance speech being cut short but she had three wins and a live performance so her screen time was hardly minimal and thus had ample opportunity to thank everyone necessary without feeling too hard done by. Interrupted by James Corden-not sure why he was assigned this role as he is probably the most irritating man on TV and the smug ,perfect example of someone getting lucky- she gave the finger to the ‘suits’ and caused a little bit of limp controversy which was really quite yawnsville. Seeing later that her speech was cut short for Damon Albarn’s eleven minute mockney ‘alright guvnor’ ramblings, the irritation which accompanied her being edited made more sense however.

This was followed by a disappointing performance by Blur which unfortunately was still head and shoulders above the bland drivel churned out by the other guests. Florence and her Machine wailed hysterically whilst resembling the Good Life’s Margo Leadbetter and Noel Fielding in drag and obviously engaged in a competition with Rihanna in-as one observer wryly noted- as to who could sound more like a cat being fisted. Bruno Mars churned out the blandest slop imaginable-apart from Olly Murs of course, though it was a close-run thing- and Ed Sheeran is just totally forgettable, maudlin and twee.

Adele won best album and turned in a stunningly polished performance, as she always does, but it is starting to feel a little tired. Her album 21 is a good, well conceived record but it is more the stuff of background noise at dinner parties than anything else. There is nothing innovative or groundbreaking about the record and the only thing it is likely to inspire are a hundred Dancing on Ice routines.

Mind you the Brits were hardly likely to take flight opening as they did with Coldplay-who have assisted another innovator Brian Eno in sullying an otherwise,U2 aside, almost perfect career- who always make me feel as if I have been robbed of five minutes of my life. It came as quite a shock then to discover on last nights Dispatches concerning online ticket rip-off companies that some people are prepared to spend over two grand to see them live as I am more likely to spend that amount to NOT see them live. The Dispatches documentary was fascinating however showing how secondary ticket sites-in this instance Viagogo was the prime target though there are others- are indulging in despicable practices in ripping off music fans. Seemingly involved in allocation deals many tickets are never actually available to the public at the price advertised and instead are on sale almost instantaneously at vastly inflated prices. Add to this the practice of buying up as many tickets as possible with multiple credit cards to sell on at huge profits and a highly immoral system is at work. Dispatches exposed this and the smug self satisfied attitude of those behind it.

Personally I have never been a fan of large, impersonal stadium gigs so have never actually been ripped off but many of the original prices always seemed excessively high without quadrupling them-at least in some cases- to line the pockets of an essentially corrupt business which in some way is doing its own bit in destroying what little integrity still exists of an already faltering music industry. I don’t understand the point of spending hundreds of pounds to stand outside or in an aircraft hangar sized building to watch a band half a mile away on a video screen so it could be argued anyone who is prepared to part with their hard earned cash simply to imbue themselves with some kudos or delusional credibility is simply getting what they deserve. There are some genuine fans that having queued or saved up are also being ripped off and it is them I feel pity for. The programme was well executed- even if they did make the faux pas of describing a Will Young enthusiast as a ‘music fan’- and exposed those behind the scams so it will be interesting to see what action is taken.

This must be the week of disappointing awards ceremonies as the Oscars also take place this Sunday and as far as I can see several of the years best films have been neglected-Drive and Shame are two unforgivable omissions from all categories- and it is now down to The Artist and The Help to battle it out. My money is on The Artist as although it is French –remember the vehement anti-French sentiment of the last Sex and the City episode after France failed to back the US entering Iraq- it pays homage to a golden era of Hollywood. The only likely competition it is likely to face is the Help which is a much more patriotic film of the sort beloved of the Academy. The Descendants, War Horse and especially Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are mere also-rans padding out the category. Meryl Streep is not such a dead cert for best actress as she was in the Baftas as she plays a British icon which does not hold the same amount of fascination-and hatred- for an American audience as for a British one. The best actor is similarly open though it will probably go to Jean DuJardin even if Brad Pitt gives the best performance in Moneyball and George Clooney’s overrated but understated portrayal in the Descendants is also up there with the favourites. The whole thing will probably be less disappointing than the Brits and there is always some comfort to be gained from your personal favourite not winning as this means it will never be relegated to the overly populist ranks and the sense of being cheated helps it retain some kudos.

Awards ceremonies apart from being a pat on the back from your own industry are essentially guides for people who have little instinct and taste of their own and thus have to be guided into making a decision as to what to see and listen to. Very rarely have I been influenced to investigate something merely because it has won an award and generally the consensus is once something has reached that level of acceptance it is borne of the mainstream and lost its edge. It is always good to see who turns up looking a state though having been convinced by a team of stylists that something totally ridiculous is somehow absolutely fabulous.

This weekend sees another night at the always interesting Neu Reekie and the guest list this time seems as impressive as the last one so that is something to look forward to even if no-one takes home any awards. Not much else going on this weekend in this city with it’s ever rapidly dwindling decent venues although I believe Rugby season is upon us which along with the stag and hen parties merely provides yet another excuse to avoid the city centre on a Saturday night.

EMA -PAST LIFE MARTYRED SAINTS

EMA-Past Life Martyred Saints

 Rising phoenix-like from the ashes of Gowns, Erika M. Anderson has refashioned herself as EMA to turn in one of the most astounding debuts of recent years. Originally released in March 2011 Past Life Martyred Saints has been re-released as a ‘Deluxe’ package with bonus tracks and videos. To those familiar with the original work this may seem superfluous-akin to drawing a beard on the Mona Lisa- as one of the many things in its favour was the sparseness which did not allow for one wasted syllable, note or use of texture not entirely essential to the finished product, so much so that any addition simply feels unnecessary. Fortunately the bonus version mainly consists of two new extra tracks-one a Nirvana cover- and official videos of three of the albums standout tracks.

Sonically EMA sounds like some unholy collision between the Velvet Underground with Patti Smith as ranting chanteuse whilst Robert Fripp adds layers of his Frippertronic guitar lines all over the proceedings. There is no traditional verse chorus structure on any of the tracks and melodies float in like fragments but once lodged in your brain cannot be dislodged. Add to this the visual dynamic of the progeny of an illicit affair between Kurt Cobain and Kim Gordon with Debbie Harry contributing the sass and class gene. Then take some inspiration from Elizabeth Wurtzel’s nineties generational observation piece ‘Prozac Nation’, but instead of the whinging attitude replace it with something more abrasive and convincing then you have some idea of the motives and genre occupied by this album. Despite this unnecessary re-release the original package was so astounding that perhaps it needs appraisal again if only to introduce it to a wider audience.

Opening with ‘The Grey Ship’ Anderson’s agenda is very much incorporated in the three sections of this outstanding opener. Starting with  lo-fi  beginnings it bursts into aural technicolour midway through with weaving violins and guitars before concluding with the sepia tinted memories of ‘Great Grandma lived on the prairie, nothing, nothing and nothing/ I got the same feeling inside of me, nothing ,nothing and nothing’ . Lead-off single ‘California’ is up next and its intentions are clear from the outset ‘Fuck California, you made me boring’ whilst musically it sounds on the precipice of total collapse- a musical metaphor perhaps on the instability of the sunshine state and its constant threat of earthquakes and drug sated celebrity culture- though the tension is palpable whilst offering some throwaway nihilism ‘I’m just twenty two I don’t mind dying’. ‘Anteroom’ twists and coils itself into your psyche like a cobra ‘If this time through we don’t get it right, I’ll come back to you in another life’ before ‘Milkman’ takes a more conventional alt-rock approach. Not too conventional mind. Up next is ‘Coda’ which offers a weird variant on a satanic, twisted form of accapella ‘These drugs are making me so sad’ she proclaims demonically. ‘Marked’ takes a look at self harming culminating with the fadeout  ‘I wish that every time he touched me left a mark’. ‘Breakfast’ starts off like a sinister nursery rhyme designed to assuage nightmares before a guitar motif helps Anderson reach the orgasmic conclusion of ‘You feel just like a priest to me’. Butterfly Knife’ begins like the aural equivalent of Linda Blair’s 360 degree head turn in the Exorcist with a maelstrom of twisted voices fighting their way through an electric storm of discordant, crunching guitars. The official closer ‘Red Star’ is a slow burning lament of elegiac beauty with guitars drifting into the mix reminiscent of Lou Reed in his Velvets heyday to reach a perfect conclusion of beautifully melded vocals and suitably atmospheric sonic dissonance.

Of the extra tracks ‘To Leave with Love’ was a bonus track on the original release so does not appear incongruous and neither does the cover of Nirvana’s ‘Endless Nameless’ which sounds like mere continuation rather than tacked on filler. The videos for ‘California ‘, ‘Milkman’ and ‘Marked’ show how well suited to rock stardom Anderson is with her photogenic looks, natural instincts and understated approach though unfortunately she may actually be too abrasive and thought provoking to ever achieve the mainstream success she deserves and thus will probably remain the beloved secret of those who like their music disturbing and haunting. Never before has inertia sounded so enthralling!

PSYCHOMODA

Psychomoda

 

Entering into the premises of Psychomoda in the heart of the Old Town it feels as if you have entered into a fantastical secret place which you want to share with those who are unaware of its existence. It is not, however, an opportunistic new arrival occupying the vacated space of a business which has fallen by the wayside as the vampiric fangs of the recession have bit into the jugular of many others in the area. Instead, Psychomoda is a long standing established business of 20 years-it opened in 1992- which is doing very nicely thank you very much.

This is, in no short part, exclusively to do with the forward thinking and integrity of its proprietor, Alison Harm, who has made it a prerequisite to understand and accommodate her customers’ requirements whilst adapting to the demands of the current climate whether it be financial, cultural or the fickle dictates of fashion. The fact that she manages to do all this whilst maintaining the shops-and just as importantly her own- identity and integrity is highly impressive in an era when many others jump to the dictatorial demands of style mags and find themselves in competition with the corporate juggernauts TopShop , Primark et al.

Psychomoda manages to provide clothes unlike any others available and with all garments being designed and manufactured on the premises-there is a workshop in the basement- most are one offs or at the very least a slight variant on the same theme. There is no chance of that embarrassing moment when you turn up to a party and encounter someone in the same outfit and this is due to the individual nature of Harm’s designs and the sense of occasion they engender. Despite this, recent forays into a more accessible daywear collection are proving highly successful especially amongst those desirous of moving away from the high street generic automaton look prevalent everywhere you turn. There is also a children’s range which is flying off the shelves at a frantic pace due to its individual nature and extremely reasonable pricing.

So what does this cornucopia of fashionable delights actually contain?

First to catch the eye and the feverish imagination is the Tartania Collection-considering the ubiquity of tartan, in particular the lauded and seemingly derivative Corrie Nielsen designs, on the catwalk at last weeks London Fashion Week it would appear Harm’s long-time endeavours are not merely streaming the zeitgeist but have pre-empted it- which mixes together an eclectic fusion of the traditional with the more avant-garde to create something unique, exotic and ultimately stylish. The tartan contrasts with silk and satin panels and a further modern take on tradition is followed through with plaid brooches adding another dynamic to an already burgeoning clashing and blending of influences.

        

Another favourite is the Prom Dress collection which proves popular around this time of year as the Graduation season starts to loom its sartorially demanding head and young girls and women want that special outfit guaranteed to stand out from the highly competitive crowd. The Corset Range has been a stalwart favourite right from the shops early days and although they seem to have slipped slightly out of favour-possibly due to the Burlesque movement being slightly on the wane perhaps- it is still popular enough to warrant its own section. A Vintage Collection-adhering to the theme of nostalgia termed the New Romantics- is a recent addition wherein Harm jazzes up vintage clothes-particularly the eighties on my visit- with various modifications or appliqué to give it all a contemporary twist and capture  simultaneously forward and backward looking pieces.

 

This method of juxtaposing disparate elements not usually associated with each other is perhaps the thing which makes Psychomoda’s designs stand out from the crowd and the shop such a unique experience and in a climate of austerity and, let’s be honest, conservatism in the fashion world this is highly refreshing. Harm has been expounding this sense of individualism since the shops inception and the fact she is able to incorporate so many distinctive styles alongside each other in such a small space without any one of them feeling incongruous is also an amazing feat which shows she understands fashion and –more importantly- style with an intrinsic depth. This alone should allow Psychomoda to stand its ground whilst others around crumble as they swiftly go out of the fashion they so slavishly follow.

psychomoda is located at 22 St. Marys Street Edinburgh EH1 1SU

Shop opens 11am and closes 5.30pm Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and 6pmThursday and Saturday

Telephone 0131 557 6777

Email:psychomoda1@fsmail.net

Website  www.psychomoda.co.uk

Facebook Page 320133669767

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