Storm Static Sleep – A Pathway Through Post-Rock by Jack Chuter

Storm Static Sleep - A Pathway Through Post-Rock by Jack Chuter

I believe most music genres are nothing more than suitable titles for journalists to write about something of nothing.  Brit Pop is probably the best example. Where there was no movement, no classification and generally speaking, nothing cohesive about the artists that were told they belonged to this genre.  Simply devised as a way for British journalists to write about home grown music, swamped by American culture, in much the same way Cliff Richard was hyped by the NME in the 1950s as our very own answer to Elvis Presley,   Brit Pop was nothing more than British Pop Music!

So I was intrigued to read Jack Chuter‘s new book, Storm Static Sleep – A Pathway Through Post-Rock.  A genre name that was originally coined by music journalist Simon Reynolds in a Melody Maker article in 1993.  He went on to use the term several times until the term began to get used in wider circles. One phrase he used to somehow gel different artists with one tag is “rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes” – a definition Reynolds used in a 1994 article for The Wire.

Jack Chuter introduces his book and the foundations of post-rock by way of a sea-change in the music emanating from two bands independently at the turn of the 1990s.  Talk Talk in London and Slint in Louisville USA.

At the time, I was deeply absorbed by Talk Talk and the way they had re-created themselves from being a second-rate synth pop boy band in the early 1980s to the altogether more brooding, spacey and jazz-influenced direction of The Colour Of Spring in 1986.  While their last album, The Laughing Stock (1991) is one of the most dynamic, powerful and absorbing albums I have ever heard. For me, there was a natural progression from The Colour Of Spring, through Spirit Of Eden (1988) and arriving at a masterpiece.  But even so, it was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  But disenchanted with the music press some years before, I was unaware I was listening to something that would be generally be perceived as the foundation of post-rock.

Storm Static Sleep chronicles the evolution of post-rock and it’s rise in popularity through chapters covering the bands that have defined the genre.  In writing this book, Jack Chuter undertook over 30 interviews with some of the most influential names and figures including Mogwai, Tortoise, Steve Albini, Mono, Isis, Slint, Sunn O))), This Will Destroy You, Disco Inferno, Piano Magic, Constellation Records as well as writer Simon Reynolds, the main proliferator of the term ‘post-rock’ itself.

Each chapter of the book explores a different stage of post-rock’s development, by looking at the influence and sound of key bands as well as the insight of influential writers of the time. The chapters not only discuss how the bands all fit within the post-rock bracket but they also explore what directed them to this particular style and what they achieved musically in doing so. ‘Storm Static Sleep’ doesn’t just set out to explicate and contextualise the history of post-rock, but to also re-define what post-rock actually is and means to those who were and are directly and inadvertently enveloped by the term.

In one chapter, Chuter interviews Simon Reynolds.  As I began reading the book my head was filled with other likely contenders to the roots of post-rock.  The likes of Public Image, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Krautrock,  Prog Rock – artists and previous genres that would most definitely have influenced this so-called movement, if not be tenuously connected by the definitions themselves.  A smile spread across my face as the Chuter and Reynolds recounted the very same names and thoughts, in the book.

“In some ways ‘post-rock’ is just a continuation of impulses that crop up within the progressive era, and then again with post-punk. Leaving behind rock, taking on outside influences, responding to the cutting edge of black music, etherealizing to the point of losing the rhythmic pulse ” – Simon Reynolds,

Over the past twenty-five years post-rock has evolved from a handful of bands challenging the dynamics, timbre and conventional format and concept of rock songwriting, into a scene with a huge international community of likeminded artists and fans. Not only does post-rock now have its own dedicated festivals such as ArcTanGent but it is also widely used in soundtracks, advertising and has become a broadly accepted genre that attracts new listeners every day.

Storm Static Sleep is a brilliant read.  The best book on music I have read for a very long time.  It’s up there with Simon Reynolds’ fantastic Rip It Up & Start Again on post-punk music for the very same reasons – it is very well written, and with such passion and knowledge that Chuter’s enthusiasm adorns every page.

Storm Static Sleep – A Pathway Through Post-Rock by Jack Chuter is published by Function Books.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckNZljhwLfs&list=PL169FE4304299DB21

Clothes, Music, Boys – A Memoir by Viv Albertine – book review

Clothes, Music, Boys - A Memoir by Viv Albertine – book review
Clothes, Music, Boys - A Memoir by Viv Albertine

In 1976 I was a young teenager already turned on and pretty passionate about music. Like many young people that witnessed the arrival of The Sex Pistols and punk rock, I was bowled over.  The music was raw, powerful and aggressive.  But most of all I was mesmerised by Johnny Rotten; his manor, his voice and his style, looking the epitome of cool in the Pretty Vacant video with his long-sleeved Destroy t-shirt and bright ginger hair.

Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is a book by Viv Albertine.  In “Side One” she recounts growing up in London, the separation of her parents, teenage rebellion, art school, sex, drugs, abortion, punk rock and The Slits.

Johnny Rotten & the Sex Pistols changed my life, but only from afar.  Viv Albertine was also struck by Rotten & the Pistols, but she was in touching distance.  Albertine was one of a small inner circle, gathered together by their love of music and fashion; and in Viv Albertine’s eyes, boys too. Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren’s shop Sex provided the clothes (to those who could afford them) and The Roxy, 100 Club & Louise’s gay club became punk-friendly haunts where infamous gigs and happenings happened.

Like members of The Clash, Buzzcocks, Joy Division and Siouxsie & The Banshees, Viv Albertine decided she wanted to form a band after witnessing an early Sex Pistols gig.  She bought a guitar and began learning to play. But it didn’t come easily and she struggled with traditional chords and rhythms while forming a band with close friend, Sid ViciousFlowers Of Romance was a great name, suggested by Johnny Rotten and later used as an album title by the band he formed with Keith Levine, Public Image Limited. But when Sid was asked to play drums for Siouxsie & The Banshees, the band disbanded and Viv Albertine was left to find her own destiny.

The band she joined was The Slits.  At times shambolic and loose but always uncompromising and exciting in both their music and fashion.  The Slits embodied the true meaning and energy of punk as much as The Sex Pistols, themselves.  By being the last rock ‘n’ roll band, The Pistols opened the doors to a whole spectrum of acceptance and possibilities. Punk was good for offering the freedom to ‘have a go’ & a ‘do it yourself’ mentality.  It also opened the doors for girls to be in bands without being used for sexuality.

That said, The Slits were very sexy!  But they didn’t use sex to sell records.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiR9rz3oA9A

The Slits music was ‘punk’ but not ‘rock’; and Viv Albertine was an essential ingredient with her beautiful looks, great mix of retro and new fashion styles, messy wild blonde hair and most of all, her unique guitar style. They took time signatures from dub and reggae. They were feisty and original; and with ‘Cut’ they recorded a classic debut album with legendary reggae producer, Dennis Bovell.

1975 – 1982 was heady days for Viv Albertine as The Slits toured the globe.  In the early days she had an off / on relationship with Mick Jones (The Clash & Big Audio Dynamite) and in her book is very open and honest about her sexuality and flirtatious nature.  Johnny Thunders, Johnny Rotten and a non-sexual but close relationship with Sid Vicious all get a mention. In 1977, The Slits were invited on the White Riot Tour with The Clash, Subway Sect and Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers.  The same year they recorded the first of two Radio 1 sessions for John Peel, who since has stated both would be in his Top 10 sessions of all-time!  Not bad for a group who ‘allegedly’ couldn’t play very well!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR3LUsnRlgQ

By 1982 the music scene had moved on, and though their contemporaries had decided to play the game, The Slits refused. They were dropped by their record label.  A second album, Return Of The Giant Slits, was released out of time with the 1980s.  Though she recalls the band was already falling apart, Albertine recalls how devastating it was when the band finally split up.

Side Two of Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is what happened to Viv Albertine after The Slits: teaching aerobics, forging a new career in film and video, getting married, cancer, IVF, parenthood, divorce, and finally, like a Hollywood movie script, a happy ending as Viv Albertine plucks the courage up to return to music, finds her way as a solo performer and releases a great solo album.

Viv Albertine playing solo live in 2012
Viv Albertine playing solo live in 2012

I’d be lying to say I wasn’t looking forward to reading about the heady days of punk and Viv Albertine as ‘guitarist of The Slits’ more than her years ‘in the wilderness’ – settling down and staying away from music altogether.  But the second part of this book is as gripping as the first.  Having turned her back on the music industry altogether, Viv Albertine went about re-inventing herself, first with dance and fitness, then with a new career working behind the camera in video, television and film.  She met and married what she believed to be the man of her dreams, but becoming a housewife and moving to the sleepy coastal town of Hastings didn’t work out as she had planned.  Add to this hospitalised illness, cancer, miscarriages, IVF programmes and divorce – Viv Albertine’s life has been a see-saw of emotion which, I’m glad to say she has survived and written a wonderfully enthralling book about.

The title ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys comes from a saying her mother used to say that it was all she was interested in.  It appears the mature Viv Albertine hasn’t lost her passions one single bit.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdBeYG4Ct7E

Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys – A memoir is possibly the most honest and naked biographical account I have ever read.  I smiled, laughed and cried (all in the right places, I hope) and like the heroine of a Hollywood movie, when she decided to pick up her life again and start writing songs, I was willing her on to succeed.

In 2009 Viv Albertine began performing as a solo artist and in March 2010 released a four-track ep called Flesh. In 2014 she followed this with her debut solo album, The Vermillion Border.  If you didn’t already love Viv Albertine, you will after reading her book.

Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012: Photographs by Debra L. Rothenberg, book review

Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 – Photographs by Debra L. Rothenberg
Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 – Photographs by Debra L. Rothenberg

Debra L. Rothenberg comes from New Jersey; and while her older brothers had been into The Beatles before her, she became infatuated with fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, The Boss; and in 1980 started a 32 year love affair photographing her hero.

In 1978, aged 15, she bought her first SLR camera and began taking photography class with John Heyn.  During the lessons Heyn introduced her to the music of Bruce Springsteen and other local musicians like Southside Johnny.  A year later Rothenberg sold her first photograph, a live photo of Southside Johnny which was included on the cover of his live album, Reach Up & Touch The Sky.

A year later Rothenberg took her first photographs of Bruce Springsteen whilst she was still a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, when he played Rochester, New York on 2nd December, 1980 – as part of The River Tour.

In her book Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980 – 2012 she recounts the concerts and attempts to express her love affair.  But the photographs themselves say much more than her words. For this isn’t simply a collection of professional taken publicity shots.  These are photos from a fans-eye view.  The concert photos capture the energy and excitement of a Bruce Springsteen performance, especially early ones taken from amidst the crowd rather than the safety of a media pit. These photos are not taken for pristine quality but together tell a story.

Live photos from many of his US tours between 1980 and 2012 are collected here from The River Tour 1980, Born In The USA Tour of 1984-1985, The Tunnel Of Love Express  1988 and many others including the 2004 Vote For Change Tour,  the acoustic and solo Devil And Dust Tour of 2005 through to 2012’s Wrecking Ball Tour.  Concert photos sit  alongside local New Jersey impromptu club ‘jams’ at places such as The Stone Pony when Rothenberg would get wind of a ‘Bruce sighting’ and was instructed to stay until the bar closed in order for a chance to get an exclusive.  Scattered between live photos are shots of Springsteen greeting fans or being seen out.

For 32 years Debra L. Rothenberg has had what she sees as a dream job, photographing her music hero, Bruce Springsteen as he has played small local New Jersey bars and large sports arenas.  From college student to concert photographer, her photos have been published in Rolling Stone, Q, Time and Newsweek, among many others.

Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980 – 2012 is her unique photographic tribute to one of the most iconic and amazing rock performers of all time; and this wonderful collection of photographs, a true labour of love, is beautifully published on glossy paper in a large scale hardback format that helps to bring the pages alive and does the photographs justice.

See photos from Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980 – 2012.

Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980 – 2012 – Photographs by Debra L. Rothenberg is published by Turn The Page Publishing.

Keith Richards on Keith Richards – Interviews and Encounters, book review

Keith Richards on Keith Richards – Interviews and Encounters
Keith Richards on Keith Richards – Interviews and Encounters

Over the past 50 years there has been as many books published on Keith Richards than The Rolling Stones have released studio albums.  So as part of the 50 years celebration, why publish yet another book on Rolling Stoned stalwart and Glimmer Twin, Keith Richards; and more precisely, why should anyone be interested in this book?

Similar to Keith Richards’ critically acclaimed autobiography Life which won the Norman Mailer Book Prize in 2011, Keith Richards on Keith Richards – Interviews and Encounters offers a very candid look into one of the most interesting and enduring characters of rock music’s legends.  But for anyone who has read Keith’s autobiography, this collection of interviews spread across the fifty years of The Rolling Stones will still hold enough interest and appeal; and for those who have only read second-rate biographies of the band or Keith Richards, there is plenty of reason to read this fascinating book.

Superbly edited by journalist and writer Sean Egan, Keith Richards on Keith Richards is a collection of 18 different interviews from between 1964 to 2011 including articles from GQ, Melody Maker, and Rolling Stone magazine, as well as interviews that have never previously appeared in print.  The collection charts Keith Richards’s journey from gauche, young pretender and swaggering epitome of the zeitgeist to beloved elder statesman of rock; and while I have always turned away from the domineering, money-minded, controlling and somewhat embarrassing dress sense of Mick Jagger, like many others I see the heart of The Rolling Stones and their love affair with the blues is embodied by Keith Richards

Keith Richards is a rock and roll renegade who, in his youth, played vicious outlaw music, the soul survivor or the cat with nine lives who fought in the rock and roll wars and survived.

Among the topics covered in this book, Keith openly discusses the highs and lows of both personal life and the history of the Rolling Stones including the death of the Stones’ founder member and friend Brian Jones, the Altamont incident where a fan was stabbed to death by hells angels who accused him of pulling a gun on Mick Jagger, the rift between him and Mick Jagger, and of course his battle with drink and drugs.

As for the music, the interviews really reflect in detail his love for the original blues legends and his love of that style of music. He talks about recording Exile on Main Street in a rented house in the south of France, recording other albums, and his life as a songwriter with Mick Jagger.

Keith Richards on Keith Richards offers a historic look at one of the most interesting and iconic guitarists in rock history, through his own words and in doing so, is a fascinating read for anyone well versed in the Rolling Stones or wants an insight into one of rock music and life’s great survivors.

Keith Richards on Keith Richards – Interviews and Encounters is part of the Musicians In Their Own Words series that includes John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Led Zeppelin & Tom Waits.

Keith Richards on Keith Richards – Interviews and Encounters is published in paperback by Chicago Review Press.

God Save The Kinks

God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovic
God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovic

Ask anyone to name two English pop groups of the 1960s and the majority would say The Beatles and The Stones.  Ask a post-punk British musician which English group had the biggest influence on their career and Ray Davies & The Kinks may be mentioned as much as The Beatles. For this reason, although they are highly thought of, some would say Ray Davies & The Kinks are underrated when it comes to holding their rightful place in the history of pop music.

From the outset, Ray Davies never appeared comfortable ‘playing the game’ and all that goes with commercial success. In fact, throughout his career, Ray Davies has done things his way, appearing not to care for what others believed best for him or the band.  Just when post-punk bands like The Jam spearheaded a loving revival of The Kinks, Ray Davies decided to turn them into a stadium rock band and tour the US.  But as with music itself, adulation is cyclical and Ray Davies and the very English music of The Kinks received another round of adulation in the 1990s from bands such as Blur and Pulp with what became known as Britpop.

Ray & Dave Davies had a brotherly love / hate affair decades before The Gallagher brothers Oasis.  Dave was always in the shadow of the most English of singer-songwriters, and some would say underrated pop genius.  An example of this is quoted in Jovanovich’s new book, God Save The Kinks:

“Dave,” sniffs Ray at one point, “I’m a genius, a perfectionist.” Dave sighs wearily, “No you’re not, you’re an arsehole.”

Rob Jovanovic is a well seasoned biographer and self-confessed fan of The Kinks.  But God Save The Kinks is a good read and written with a clear head. The main problem being that there has been plenty of previous biographies about Ray Davies & The Kinks, and so without interviews with Ray & Dave Davies, Jovanovic faced the problem of whether there was enough of a fresh insight or new angle on the story that has already been told. For this Jovanovich turns to in-depth interviews with various engineers, journalists, photographers and musical collaborators to provide an often dispiriting illustration of what it was like to work with the band.

This book is a fascinating read for all fans of The Kinks and possibly music in general, but I’m not sure it offers anything new; and without interviews with Ray & Dave Davies it might appeal more to those looking to read a second or third book on one of the most influential pop groups of the past 50 years.

God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovic is published by Aurum Press priced £20.