Posts Tagged ‘music’

The champion cyclist who made a pretty good record

December 24, 2012

You may have read Inner Ring’s piece on Bernard Hinault making, or at least lending his name to, a naff disco track released in 1980. It reminded me that there is another champion racing cyclist who made a record almost as obscure as Hinault’s, although it’s in an entirely different league.

24 Years Of Hunger is an album by a duo called Eg and Alice. Eg is Eg White, who went on to win an Ivor Novello award and write Chasing Pavements for Adele. Alice is Alice Temple, who became the first female to win the British and European BMX championships before becoming a singer. She sang on the track Bloodstain from Psyence Fiction, the first UNKLE album, and was also a model.

Released in 1991, 24 Years Of Hunger was the only album they made together. I was mildly obsessed by these songs back then and they’ve never let me down whenever I’ve revisited them. The album’s sound contains elements of Prince at his sparsest and most percussive, while Alice’s voice sounds vulnerable yet defiant. It has a very London feel, evoking a weariness beneath its poise, and there’s a truthfulness to these songs which I’ve not heard anywhere else.

The album has never been re-released on any format, which is why I’ve seen second-hand copies sell for up to £60 on Amazon. YouTube has the video for the first single Doesn’t Mean That Much To Me, although the clip has been taped off The Chart Show and only contains three-quarters of the song. But if you look closely, you might spot Alice and Eg riding bicycles.

I’ve never really followed BMX so I don’t know anything about Alice Temple’s brief cycling career, and I’ve no idea what she’s up to now. I don’t really need to know any more, though, because 24 Years says so much about her. That’s how good it is.

Ben Folds in five minutes

December 4, 2012

It’s Littlejen’s birthday today. Happy birthday, small lady! To celebrate, we’re going to see Ben Folds Five at the Brixton Academy tonight. Before that, though, here is a brief, five-minute post on the great man.

Some think of Ben as either a late ’90s indie-pop merchant or a piano balladeer. Each is a valid, if partial, view. I think it’s truer to say that he’s from the same unique strain of American music that has produced Sparks, Todd Rundgren and Randy Newman – idiosyncratic, sometimes downright wayward, but always intensely melodic and musically literate. His songs are often good stories, too.

At this point I, as a fan, should ask you to listen to a track in an attempt to win over the doubters and the curious. Instead, I would ask you not to listen too closely to the following song itself, but the audience’s reactions to it.

One Down is about writing songs to a schedule: one down, only 3.6 to go before he fulfills the quota set down by his publisher. It’s a fairly obscure track, and most of the audience would probably be hearing it for the first time. But they react in all the right places: laughing at the self-deprecation and absurdity of the situation described in the song, silent for the romantic interlude in the middle eight then applauding at the end of it, surprised and delighted by its incongruity.

Judges on TV singing competitions have popularised the phrase “connecting with your audience”, which sometimes is simply code for performing in a way that keeps a crowd from getting bored. On One Down, a genuine emotional connection takes place, and you can actually hear it happening. I think that makes it an extraordinary recording, and qualifies Ben as one of the world’s great songwriters. And who knows – we might even get a moment as unique as this one tonight…

The strength of Titanium

April 5, 2012

Carbon or titanium – which is better? For years cyclepeople have been debating which is the more amazing material – and now, thanks to top international DJ David Guetta, we finally have an answer. It’s titanium. Because, let’s face it, no one is ever going to sing, “I am carbon fiiiiii-buuuuh”, are they? That would be utter madness. Non-stop partying, energetic sex and a shiny, seemingly invincible metal – these are pop’s Tropes Of Amazingness and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I very much like the song Titanium, particularly the panicked, angry raveathon that hijacks the end of each chorus and stops abruptly, plonking you slightly disoriented into the next verse. I also like the video, which happens to feature a child riding a road bike.

If you haven’t seen the video, the plot goes something like this: a child causes an explosion at his school using the awesome power of his mind, then races home, packs his bags, and escapes before the cops arrive.

But he ends up in a forest surrounded by a SWAT team pointing their guns at him. So the kid triggers another explosion which displaces some leaves, but no one dies because that would never happen on MTV. The End.

The child is an enigma. It’s unclear to what extent he can control his powers, or what made him blow up his school, so you can’t judge his culpability. You don’t even know for sure if he’s a boy: you could be looking at a goofy, tomboyish girl.

And everything he (or she) touches – the teddy bears suspended and rotating in mid-air, the keys that fly across the room into his hand – makes this androgynous creature seem more alien.

But despite his otherness, you’re rooting for him because of the few expressive seconds in which he rides his bicycle.

When he’s trying to escape on his bike, our proto-superhero looks completely, wholly human – confused, vulnerable, terrified and yet somehow resolute. The strength of the video for Titanium, I think, is the bike.

Apple’s greatest thingamyjigs

March 9, 2012

Over the years, I have owned and used many items emblazoned with the familiar silhouette of a bitten apple. But my two favourites are probably the least technologically advanced, which is probably why their praises aren’t sung too often. So I would like to offer my own faint warble to them here.

The first device which holds a special place in my heart is this little marvel:

It looks like a Nano that’s grown a tail, but it’s actually an FM radio. Plug it into the old version of the iPod and the screen becomes a transistor receiver dial.

Now, doesn’t that look nice?

I’ve written before about my unbounded love for Danny Baker’s show on BBC London 94.9, but without this beauty, I wouldn’t be able to indulge in the simple pleasure of listening to the great man every day while I cycle into town. Having used the TuneIn app, I’ve learnt that radio via 3G is simply a means of disturbing your listening pleasure with random silences, and I’ve heard that DAB radios have the same problem. So for the foreseeable future, I’ll stick with this fantastic analogue oddity.

My second thing of wonder is the remote control for the iMac.

It enables you to adjust the volume, pause or skip tracks, and switch playlists or albums. All of which you can do with a mouse or a keyboard, but not when you’re slogging away on the turbo and you suddenly realise that you need to go one louder or change to a completely different playlist if you’re going to last until the end of the session. Essentially, by combining this simple infrared device with a pair of good speakers, you’ve turned your Mac into a less fiddly, turbo-friendly iPod.

Yes, these wotsits are merely accessories, humble sequins on technology’s shimmering raiment. But rather than launch the third incarnation of the same tablet in less than two years, I really wish Apple would instead come up with more of these unusual objects. The sort of objects that say, “I can fit neatly into your life,” not “Fit all of your life onto me.”

The Dynamighty No.3: Darren Hayman

January 17, 2011

I loved the rush and clatter of Hefner and their confessional lo-fi sweetness, and more than 12 years later I’m still listening to what their former lead singer is doing. The sound has become more focused and folkier as the ideas have become more conceptual (Essex Arms, his latest album, is the second of a trilogy about the eponymous county, and he is currently writing a song a day for the wonderful January Songs project). But for me, the constant factor of his varied songbook, or at least the aspect I still find so affecting, is the breadth of remoteness: the rueful, loveless cowboy in his “ramshackle stable” (Hymn For The Alcohol), the fourth man on the Moon overwhelmed by the earth’s beauty (Alan Bean), the teenage bandmates “singing songs about boys that they hate/ Into some dented SM58s” (Amy And Rachel). Or maybe it’s not the remoteness exactly but the way it’s obviated, taking characters who are unknowable or unbelievable at the outset and making them as real as you or I by the end of each song. The anger, joy, or confusion you may have experienced at some point will also have been felt by another person, in another place. This is what great music can convey with immediacy, and this is the peculiar brilliance of Darren Hayman.

Here he is, doing what he does best: creating his own world from scratch…