Saturday, 31 December 2016

Leonard Cohen - First We Take Manhattan

November 2016: I am deploying this song to mark the passing of Mr Cohen, and salute his talent, but also because in the light of the US Election result 'First We Take Manhattan' has acquired a whole new sinister connotation for me.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Goat Girl - Country Sleaze (Official Audio)

October 2016: The single of the year, absolutely hands down.

You can thank the lovely folk at Piccadilly Records in Manchester for putting me on to this one.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Florence + the Machine - As Far As I Could Get

September 2016: It was a rough few weeks for me emotionally and mentally, late August/early September. While the epic and atmospheric  'Wish That You Were Here' got me through the August Bank Holiday weekend, 'As Far As I Could Get' and 'Pure Feeling' essentially picked up the slack after that weekend, and 'Too Much Is Never Enough' gave me the bottle to leave my hotel room in London in early September and be all journalist-y for the evening.

'As Far As I Could Get' was the B Side to the Record Store Day 2015 Blue Vinyl 12" of 'What Kind Of Man' incidentally and it's not on the standard or deluxe version of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful as far as I can establish. Which makes me sad...

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Christine And The Queens -Tilted HD Live Graham Norton Show 17/06/2016

August 2016: Although Christine appeared on Graham Norton in June, I didn't see this clip until July, following a tip off by my friend Bethany, who had seen it when the show went out live and had been subsequently poleaxed by it.

By August, I'd heard 'Tilted' a few times on 6Music and it's highly infectious and seemingly effortless electro pop minimalism was inspiring all sorts of mad dancing in the kitchen and living room. Chaleur Humaine was the album of the year, a grower, and an enduring pop classic.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) - Florence and The Machine @ British Summerti...

July 2016:

15 months after breaking her foot jumping off stage at Coachella

12 months and six days after accidentally becoming the first (British) woman to headline Glastonbury this century

8 days after the world woke up to Brexit

7 and a half hours after the Pro EU march in Green Park, next door

This was the third song of the set...

By the time we got to 'Drumming Song' at the very end, the energy levels were stratospheric.

Monday, 26 December 2016

The Like - June Gloom

June 2016: From The Like's early period, this sulky, grungy slice of indie rock from 2009 accidentally got re-discovered by me in June 2016.

It was one of those apt moments when random shuffle on your mp3 player gives you a song you didn't know you needed, meaning 'June Gloom' came to sum up the mood of the UK throughout June 2016: Pre, during, and after the vote for Brexit.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Tacocat - "I Hate the Weekend" [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

May 2016: Bright colours and a shedload of sugar, yep, that's what you want on Christmas Day!

'I Hate The Weekend' is taken from one of the finest albums of the year for me. 'Talk' was intense, like the middle ground between late period Go-Go's and mid period Sleater-Kinney, and very timely (topic wise...) 'The Internet' was questioning and similarly apt, subject wise, whereas this has ranty power pop written all over it.

I like to think of the video as Christmas Day summarised into three and a half minutes. Unintentionally so, obviously.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Stealing Sheep - Greed live End of the Road Festival 2015

April 2016: Not Real was a good left of centre psych pop album from 2015, which I kind've didn't give sufficient time to when it was released and only really caught up with in 2016.

The band's performance here testifies not only to their complex and ever evolving approach to music, but also to how far they've come since the folky paganism of 'I Am The Rain' and the troubadour esque 'Shut Eye'. A band on the move then, well worth watching.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Love - You Set The Scene

March 2016: This was a period of angst and introspection I think for me. You know that feeling that the world is both horrible and horrendously overcomplicated? This sums it up well for me.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Still Windmills

February 2016: The always excellent Karren Ablaze! put me onto Sky Larkin via Ablaze! 11, and again when I interviewed her for The F-Word earlier this year. This energetic Leeds duo were incredibly prolific, and Katie Harkin has recently (ish) worked with Sleater-Kinney.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Grace Mitchell - NoLo (Official Video)

January 2016: Released in late 2015, this should have been a contender for pop song of the year. So much so that it was still hanging around my head throughout January 2016 and beyond. A good start to the year then.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

In the depths of December, something dark and twisted stirs...

Pink Milk, who I wrote about earlier this year, have made a new song available. 'Drömmens skepp’ (Ship Of A Dream)

The press release says it was originally commissioned for Swedish TV, but was "too unhinged" to be used.

A particularly nice compliment that.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Book harvesting: This weeks book pile

I shan't read them all at once, that would be madness... Plus I still have two chapters of the Emily Wilding Davison book to finish.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Gaga's back

Lady Gaga's new album, Joanne, is a strong contender for album of the year I'd say. We are in November after all, it's relatively safe to say these things...

From the ferocious, autobiographical, high octane pop of 'Diamond Heart' through to the haunting 'Angel Down', this is a typically sophisticated pop album from Gaga, one which draws strongly on the imagery and sounds of Americana.

Take the twangy guitar samples mixed in with crunchy beats of 'A-Yo', or the much more atmospheric American Gothic balladry of 'Sinners Prayer', the more subtle country power balladry of 'Million Reasons' (which, thankfully, emerges more 'Don't Toss Us Away' than 'Stand By Your Man') or - best of all - the full on berserk cowboy baiting pop blitzkrieg that is 'John Wayne'. This song is either the best Shania Twain piss take ever or a divine marriage of Americana and glitchy electro pop. And she makes it sound effortless and so, so easy...

Which is always the issue with pop, really: Gaga is full on pop, but below the surface, there have always been clever things going on.

There's a vague sense of unease in 'Diamond Heart', with it's lyrics of defiant go-go'ng on one hand, but the line "Some asshole broke me in, wrecked all my innocence" on the other, and vulnerability and tenderness in the lament for her dead aunt in 'Joanne', and then there is the powerful state of the nation dramatic pop opera that is 'Angel Down', which more than any of the other songs on this album hints at a disconnect with modern life.

There are songs to dance to here, none the least 'Diamond Heart', 'John Wayne', and the gritty electro moody minimalism of 'Dancin' In Circles', which sees Gaga touching herself "to pass the time" while muttering "Funk me downtown". There's also the surging, diamond hard pop of 'Perfect Illusion' and the boozy girls night in anthem that is 'Grigio Girls', an ode to the powers of friendship and Pinot Grigio, with a a suitably catchy sing a long chorus.

And then there is 'Hey Girl', Gaga's duet with Florence Welch. This is a slinky Prince and the Revolution style affair, which is structured almost like a phone conversation between the two of them. It has an agreeably positive message of female solidarity and, while not such an obvious musical link with the other songs on the album, it does work, with a real sense of collaboration rather than competition that enhances the message of the song.

The collaboration with Welch seems particularly apt when you consider that both women turned 30 this year, both felt the need to take some time off before starting work on their current albums, and both seem to have a strong sense of family, and absent family members, that influences their work on occasion.

While I would say that 'Hey Girl', 'Grigio Girls' and 'Sinners Prayer' are some of the strongest moments on here, it's the work tape version of 'Angel Down' that will reduce you to tears. While the finished version is haunting and elegiac, the work tape is much more stripped down, angrier, and grittier. It is very 2016, and it feels like the song to end the year on really, in so many ways, for so many reasons.

There is footage on YouTube of Gaga performing 'Angel Down' from a balcony at the final Hilary Clinton rally in early November, which adds an extra poignancy in many ways. If we take the year from November 2015 through to November 2016, we can see that it begins with France and ends with America. It feels no accident to me that my two favourite albums of that year are Chaleur Humaine and Joanne.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Noga Erez - Dance While You Shoot (Official Video)

This is the debut from a new young Tel Aviv artist, who has not long signed to City Slang. The dystopian video was filmed in Kiev.

According to the press release:

"She describes the hypnotically percussive “Dance While You Shoot”, as being about the globally–relevant realisation that 'you can’t live without the government that ensures your basic needs, but at the same time takes your money, keeps you in the dark about the real, important matters that affect your life directly, while drowning you in manipulative media, ignorance and bureaucracy.'"

It's a bit of a grower I think, but I'm getting a lot from it, in much the same way that I got a lot from Georgia's 'Move Systems' last year I think.

More to come from this lady in 2017 I believe.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Louder Than Words 2016

Starring role for the desk again...
Having spent most of Friday writing notes for my book proposal, I headed out slightly later than I'd planned and spent 20 minutes at the bus stop waiting for a 191 to turn up.

It was my friend Rachel's leaving do at Kro, at the opposite end of Oxford Road to the Palace Hotel, where the annual Louder Than Words music literary festival was being held, and I left Kro a bit late (definite theme developing here...), meaning I missed the beginning of Brix Smith Start talking about her memoir The Rise, The Fall and The Rise. The section she read from her book, from a chapter about her childhood called 'The Pink Mansion', made me want to read it, and she was a good interviewee: Sparky and possibly a little nervy, but intelligent and interesting, not given to holding grudges (always refreshing). After the talk, she played an acoustic set with Steve Hanley, and they did two Fall songs ('2X4' and, I think, 'Hotel Bloedel') plus two new solo songs, both very sad and slightly harrowing but incredibly powerful, and finished off with an Adult Net song. She was quite shrewd, I thought, to stress that the two Fall songs were being performed in their original, stripped down, state as she had written them, and that they wouldn't necessarily sound like The Fall as I expect a lot of Fall fans were in attendance. I am something of a Fall dilettante myself, but I have seen/heard a lot of Fall stuff as I listened to the Peel show for years and my friends David and Sara are big Fall fans. Going back a few years now, when we used to do late night jukebox on YouTube at Sara's flat in Salford, we always inevitably descended into a Fall wormhole at some point.

After the talk/set, David Nolan very kindly directed a number of us to the loos, and I spent about 20 minutes trying to find my way back again.

It was nearly time for the 40 Years Of Punk panel when I finally got back. The panel was comprised of Richard Boon, Derek Ridgers (Photographer, who took really excellent pictures of the audience at the Roxy, amongst other things), Martin Ryan (who did Ghast Up fanzine with Mick Middles) and David Nolan (who wrote I swear I was there, a forensic investigation into the myths and realities of who was really at the legendary Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester). It was chaired by Mick Middles, who'd also interviewed Brix Smith Start. The energy was a bit up and down, but it was interesting. I liked the fanzine bits the best, particularly the anecdote about Martin Ryan lugging a duplicator home from Ashton on the bus. It was also weirdly heartening to hear mention of the Fall's gig at Hazel Grove Youth Club which, although they couldn't have known it, was particularly apt given that David Wilkinson was doing a talk on Post Punk the next day, and it was a friend of his mum who had put on the Fall gig in Hazel Grove. There were contributions from the audience including Steve Shy, CP Lee, and a lady called Denise who may or may not have been the same Denise that features in the Electric Circus/Manchester scene bits of Brass Tacks. Parts of it did perhaps come across as four blokes chatting in the pub, and I was definitely one of the younger people there on this occasion, but it was still good. I liked David Nolan's perspective on music journalism: He'd come from a crime reporter background where detail and facts have to be meticulous, and as such felt music journalism with its myths are as good as facts approach was having it too easy. Couldn't help but agree with that really.

I arrived at the Palace Hotel fairly early on Saturday, and as such went on a fools errand to 8th Day for a drink. They weren't really up and running yet though so I headed back to the hotel empty handed and went straight up to Palace Suite 4 for the Punk or Professor panel, which was made up of Mick Middles, Simon Morrison (University of Chester), Martin James (Southampton Solent University), and Lucy O'Brien (University of the Arts, London). There was also a student from, I think, the Chester course, but I'm not a 100% certain. Mick Middles clearly felt outnumbered, but he bore it well. The audience was very young for this one, in fact, I was probably one of the oldest people there, which makes a nice change.

It turned out to be a less contentious discussion than I thought it would be, but still really lively and interesting with a good energy. One of the discussions was around whether it is actually possible to teach music journalism, and I think this was answered very well, and it helped to de-mystify a lot of how these kind of courses are taught. The politics of what a degree course should or shouldn't be was also brought in, which I liked as I think it's central to the overall theme of why have a degree in music journalism, but also applies to Higher Education in general. I stuck my oar in a bit at the end during the Q&A because the issue of class had been very briefly touched on, so I pointed out about journalism in general becoming more of a middle class profession, the impact of unpaid internships etc. (If you think this shift upwards in the background of journalists in the UK isn't a problem, consider recent analysis in the broadsheets and tabloid press of Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake) I did try and get something in about quality control and how early, raw works of writing and music are possibly being exposed to too many people too early on because of the internet, but I don't think I articulated it very well.

Shot of my bookshelf, part 1
Next up was David Wilkinson and The Aesthetics of Our Anger, which had originally been intended to be a panel discussion about the impact of punk, anarcho punk, and post punk. In the end though it turned out to be David talking about his book Post Punk, Politics and Pleasure, which has just come out. Of the other two panellists, one was poorly and the other one, when texted ten minutes before the event was due to start, revealed that he was stuck on a train "Somewhere between Birmingham and Manchester that hasn't moved for over an hour."

After this shaky start, David rallied well and did a very professional and in depth talk about post punk music and politics, taking in discussions of bands such as The Raincoats, Slits, Blue Orchids and The Fall, amongst others. The legacy of the sixties counterculture was also discussed, as was whether post punk has anything to say to people today in the current tumultuous  political climate. The post punk revival of the early 2000's was central to this, and David also talked about how social media creates bubbles of like minded people and that this insulates against the outside world and ensures that those in the bubble never come across anyone who disagrees with them. He's not the first to mention this, but it does feel particularly pertinent this year. Ending by describing the ways in which post punk can be used as a touchstone of inspiration was a good way to finish.

Somewhat ironically, or appropriately, as we all stood around chatting after David's talk we could hear the unmistakable sounds of dissent from outside. This turned out to be a protest march going past the hotel. The protest was against the treatment of Kurds in Turkey, and it was the first of three protests to take place in Manchester on Saturday. This reminded me of the way in which a number of cultural events I've been to in the past year have been marked in some way by a protest of some kind. Not against the event itself, just as a bizarre kind of counterpoint to whatever I happened to be attending at the time. The homeless protest camps were a going concern during last years Louder Than Words though, to be fair, they had been going on for most of 2015, and continued into 2016 until all the sites tried had been evicted and, in several cases, massive fences installed to deter all future attempts to re-take the site and put tents up again. There was also the Pro-EU March in Green Park in July on the same day as British Summertime, and now the Kurds in Turkey march. It may be a reflection of the times we live in, but it's also probably that I just don't get out much.

The second march of the day (some organisation called The 10th Day, which has something to do with Karbala and may or may not have had something to do with the earlier march) set off from All Saints Park at about 2pm I'd say because you could hear their drummers over Kristen Hersh being interviewed by John Robb. Hersh came across as quite shy and intense, but with a very droll sense of humour, which given the intensity of what she was saying about music creation and how it happens with her, did help lighten the mood a bit. I spotted Zoe McVeigh, formerly of excellent Manchester punk band Hooker, now of Liines, near the front, but I wish Karren Ablaze! had been there for this one, as I think it would have pushed a lot of her buttons, and the performance at the end was really raw. I found her as compelling as Brix Smith Start on the Friday night, but for very different reasons.

Next up for me was The Politics of Dancing in Palace Suite 6 with Simon Morrison, plus Matthew Collin, DJ Paulette and Martin James. This was a great panel, and it was about an area of music I know less about too, which made it even more interesting, though I was mainly there for Matthew Collin, who is stellar, and whose books I've got. What was interesting for me was realising, as they talked, that I actually knew, or remembered, more about the Manchester dance scene of the late 80s/early 90s than I'd actually consciously realised I did: I remember Flesh very vividly, especially considering I A) Never went to it B) Was far too young to have gone to it. It was definitely the subject of at least one really positive report on North West Tonight, possibly involving DJ's on an open top Megabus with dancing girls in fake fur pink bras and hot pants. Or possibly drag queens? Not sure if I genuinely remember this from the time or from the Queer Music event at Deaf Institute in 2010. Anyway, I thought Paulette made a really good case for Flesh as political, and she brought it full circle when they discussed the Orlando shootings. I also loved what Matthew Collin had to say about Kiki and new style voguing in New York (as opposed to old style voguing of a Paris is Burning and Madonna 1990 period. That said, that film about Madonna's dancers, Strike A Pose, also looks good) , and how that community had responded to the Orlando shootings.

Shot of my bookshelf part 2
I took the opportunity to talk to Matthew Collin afterwards as he was briefly on his own, and discovered that we both like This Is Serbia Calling best of his books. I told him I didn't really listen to much dance music (in the purist sense), but that I really liked how he wrote about it, and that I like that in the new book, Pop Grenade, he is discussing music and politics, and how it can go horribly wrong, not just right. It was a good note to finish the night on, as I hadn't planned to stay for Jukebox Fury. In some ways I wish I had because he was going to be on it, and said he'd be choosing a song from that Serbia era, which makes me wonder which of the many songs mentioned in the book he chose. I distinctly remember coming home from work and sitting enthralled in front of both BBC News and then Channel 4 news reporting the fall of Milošević, live, along with the sacking of the Serbian parliament and TV stations back in 2001. I literally sat, glued to my chair, for over an hour as it unfolded, and still reckon it's one of the most electrifying pieces of television I've ever seen. I didn't mention this to Matthew Collin though in case he thought I was weird.

On Sunday I caught the bus into Manchester alongside one of the sixth formers from Loreto who gets the same bus as I do during the week. She looked about as surprised to see me at the bus stop on a Sunday morning as I did to see her. Learning from Saturday, I headed straight for the bar at the Palace Hotel for a latte upon arrival. I think it was all a bit early for guests and staff as the bar was completely deserted and they hadn't put the float in the till yet. I got chatting to the lady behind the bar about Louder Than Words, as she hadn't heard of it but was interested.

The first event on Sunday morning for me was the Sleevenotes event upstairs in Palace Suite 4 with two gentlemen from Cherry Red, John Robb, and Daniel Rachel. The art of the sleevenote, and the commissioning process for such things, has always been a total mystery to me, hence going along. It turned out to be a really fascinating discussion, taking in such areas as why journalists view writing sleevenotes in a negative light, what makes a good set of sleevenotes, how sleevenotes have changed in nature from the age of LP's to the age of the CD reissue. The guys from Cherry Red were also sounding out ideas for their Manchester North Of England CD boxset, so there was quite a lot about how these compilations are compiled, how sleevenotes to compilations can be approached, what can work, what doesn't. It shone a light onto an area of music writing I knew very little about, and I really enjoyed it.
Fifteen minutes later, it was the turn of Daniel Rachel, who was in conversation with Richard Boon upstairs in the directors suite. They talked for a little while about his book, Walls Come Tumbling Down, and why he wanted to write it, then showed a forty minute film, Days Like These, that had been made of the Red Wedge tour, and that the producer, Lucy Hooberman, had recently found while having a clear out. Apparently it was never officially released, and hasn't been shown for thirty years. It was well worth waiting for. Although the aesthetic is very mid 1980s, the energy of the film overtakes any trappings of age or aesthetics, and it really is a truly inspirational piece of oral and musical history, whether you believe that Red Wedge succeeded or not.

As with the footage of the RAR carnivals that were shown alongside Daniel's event at the British Library, the film helped to bring the book alive or, rather, to provide the sounds as well as the energy. The bit where the practically teenage Angela Barton is singing 'Many Rivers To Cross' is amazing, just on its own, not to mention the Junior Griscombe bits, and both the interviews and music have a similar energy.

After the film, messrs Rachel and Boon returned to their table and discussed RAR, Two Tone and Red Wedge. I think what came across the most was Daniel Rachel's passion and enthusiasm for his subject, you could tell he really loved the music and had entrenched himself in the history of it all, the times it emerged from, and is a passionate advocate for the importance of that whole 1976-1992 period of political pop.

Some of the Q&A questions were quite hardcore: Penny Rimbaud, for example, was suspicious of the whole SWP recruitment approach, and Red Wedge and whether it helped create Blairism, and whether this has been a good thing or not, cropped up. Given the times in which we now live, and the highly polarising figure of Blair, this wasn't so surprising.

The last event of the day for me was Stuart Cosgrove talking about his books Detroit 67 and Young Soul Rebels. I haven't heard him speak before, or read any of his books, but I've always enjoyed hearing him on the radio, and he looms large in histories of the music press re his role at NME in the 1980s. As predicted then, he did a riveting interview with John Robb, in which he talked largely about the Detroit sound in 1967, especially Motown and the Supremes, but also the MC5. He also brought it round quite nicely to Northern Soul, which he wrote about in Young Soul Rebels, citing the Twisted Wheel (demolished in 2012, unfortunately) as the best of the Northern Soul clubs. He also touched on his next book, which is going to be on the Memphis sound in 1968. Cosgrove is a great raconteur, but it's more than that: He has a real passion for his subject, and conveys it well, making you care about it too. I am interested in Motown and Northern Soul anyway, and have a working knowledge of both, but the fact that I went straight to the Post Room after, bought both Detroit 67 and Young Soul Rebels and got them signed speaks volumes for the mans eloquence and enthusiasm I think.
The pile of books waiting to be read

In the Post Room, which I hadn't really been in much over the weekend, I met up with Bob Follen who recognised me from last year, and we had a nice chat. I bought some more of his cards, including a good one of Leonard Cohen which has a real sadness around the eyes. Bob hadn't made it this week, he just happened to have one made already, and it was very compelling so I took it home with me.

And so ended my second attendance of Louder Than Words! I will definitely be back next year.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Busy, busy...

The little known desk-as-cave-under-bed-while-surrounded-by-clothes thing
I'm probably going to be very busy with other writing work between now and Christmas, so even by my usual low key rate of blogging, I probably won't be blogging too much.

I have 2 book proposals, 1 book chapter, and other related bits and bobs to be getting on with and the time has come to tear myself away from the internet and get on with it.

Those of you who read the punk women series on the F-Word back in 2010-11 will probably be aware that I did a series of Spotify playlists to go with the series, which can still be listened to.

What you may or may not be aware of is that the book, which has the working title of Independent Spirits, has it's own Spotify playlist of what I've been listening to while working on it. It's very long... and it doesn't have an awful lot of punk on it actually because I have that weird thing of not being able to really listen to what I'm writing about as I'm writing about it. I think it's to do with having a day job - you can't get immersed in the same way as if you write full time, you have to regularly dis-engage from what you're writing about to go off and do things like go to work. Anyway, it will be what I'll be listening to, in one form or another, between now and (probably) February 2017 as I get my head down. If you'd like to listen to it too, you can do so.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Get off the internet!

Although I still like 'Talk' the best, I am really enjoying the new Tacocat video for 'The Internet', which skilfully pastiches much of the online mores of today.

It's a more complex message than that of Le Tigre, but that's probably because 'Get Off The Internet' was released sixteen years ago now. When apathy and lethargy were the main perils of online life...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Punky Reggae Party: The Story of Rock Against Racism, British Library, London, Friday 9th September

Friday marked the final instalment of the British Library's 40 Years of Punk season, Punky Reggae Party: The Story of Rock Against Racism.

From watching people file into the auditorium, I could see that the majority of the audience appeared to be the right sort of age to have lived through punk and RAR. There were a smattering of twenties and thirtysomethings, but very much the minority. 

After a brief introduction by a member of staff from the British Library, Daniel Rachel (author of new book Walls Come Tumbling Down: Rock Against Racism, Two Tone, Red Wedge) introduced the panel, including the empty chair where Dennis Bovell was meant to be, had he not been unavoidably delayed by Aswad. Next to the empty chair were Kate Webb (Irate Kate, RAR/Temporary Hoarding), Lucy Whitman (Lucy Toothpaste, JOLT fanzine, RAR/Temporary Hoarding, Rock Against Sexism) and Tom Robinson (Tom Robinson Band). 

The discussion began with the catalyst for RAR: Eric Clapton's infamous speech at a gig in Birmingham in 1976, sections of which were read out by Tom Robinson. As a speech, it is brutally shocking in terms of it's choice of language, and appears to have been equally shocking at the time. Clapton the bluesman, Clapton with his cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot The Sheriff', Clapton the rock colonialist... Clapton who thought Enoch Powell was right. 

We then moved on to gig attendee and photographer Red Saunders' open letter decrying Clapton's speech and actions, which was published in the music press and Socialist Worker, which called for a "Rock Against Racism". 

This was oral history at it's best; the relating of the history of Rock Against Racism, from four different perspectives (Dennis Bovell did arrive, not too late), with Daniel Rachel steering what became an increasingly multimedia discussion: We saw clips of the carnivals and marches, of the Clash playing, of Steel Pulse... The story took a number of twists and turns, with inevitable digressions. 

There was Temporary Hoarding (the RAR newspaper), mass communication in a pre internet age, Rock Against Sexism, women in punk, the birth of lovers rock, Dennis Bovell's work with The Slits, Sham 69 and their fans, the difficulties of bands who acquired NF/Skinhead followers (Rhoda Dakar, from the audience during the Q&A, was very quick to point out that all the 2Tone bands acquired these kind of fans. It just happened, and the bands had no control over the fans they attracted). There was a lot of really interesting detail on the logistics of RAR, of organising the carnivals, the impact of the carnivals and, really, the whole event succeeded in really bringing RAR, and that period of time, alive in a way that was vivid, colourful, and inspiring.


In the Q&A someone asked (as I knew they would) whether we need a new RAR now, if it's even more relevant in a post Brexit vote world with hate crime reporting increasing on a daily basis. I think the answer given was a good one: That RAR was right for it's moment in time, but not necessarily for now. That said, as Kate Webb mentioned, RAR did go global and events do still occur all around the world. There was also Love Music, Hate Racism, which seemed to be the natural heir to RAR. The return to this question encouraged an incredibly forthright heckle at the very end, vis a vis the question of whether society is in worse shape in 2016 than it was in 1976. The panel said no, pointing out that there are at least laws in place now that there weren't then. The heckler, a middle aged white guy, yelled "BOLLOCKS!", adding "WE'RE IN THE WEIMAR PERIOD!!" (now there's a cheerful thought...) A woman on the other side of the auditorium of a similar age called back "I AGREE WITH YOU MATE!"

There wasn't a lot that anyone could say to that, and the event ended at that point anyway as we were out of time. 


I have to say, I'm glad that no one on the panel, or in the audience, fell into the trap of saying that the current generation aren't stroppy/proactive enough. It looked like that was about to happen at one point, during which I had Georgia on my mind, specifically 'Move Systems', along with Hope Not Hate's #moreincommon campaign.

I don't think RAR could exist now because, as Dorian Lynskey concluded in his history of the protest song, 33 Revolutions Per Minute, what started as a celebration became a requiem. As I see it myself, protest and youth protest do occur, but they don't have a soundtrack. You can find angry music, angry music about specific issues in fact, but the protest and the angry music increasingly feel divorced from each other. 

We have songs about Donald Trump and the refugee crisis (Will Varley's 'To Build A Wall'), songs about austerity (Doyle and the Four Fathers 'Welcome To Austerity'), youth unemployment (Poppy and the Jezebels 'Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out'), and good old marching songs (Pretty Girls Make Graves' 'Parade') but the student protests of 2010 produced no anthem, there was no Ballad of Milbank, there was no Occupy anthem (unless you count the marching chant of 'Whose streets? Our streets!'), there is no musical lament for the EU (unless you count that absolutely inspired take on Paloma Faith's 'Only Love Can Hurt Like This' on Dead Ringers on June 24th, where it became 'Only Leave Can Hurt Like This').

Similarly, in around 2003, there were a number of songs catching the anti-Iraq War mood, but none became anthemic enough to stick. Green Day's 'American Idiot' is fingered by Lynskey as a contender, but Broadcast's 'America's Boy' and Biffy Clyro's 'Stars and Shites' are similarly eloquent. 

This diverging of protest and music is why I think there couldn't be a RAR now. That doesn't mean something shouldn't happen to address the increasing hell that is post-Brexit vote Britain, but it probably won't be rooted in music. I have started an audio diary on Spotify, post Brexit, using songs to mark my reactions/moods to events as they unfold, but it makes for very random listening and, ultimately, probably only makes sense to me. Unlike the one I did of post-2000 marching songs, which was inspired by the TUC march last year, and what I felt was a woeful playlist along the PA system as we marched. Or, to put it bluntly: I really, really resented having to march the last leg of the march to 'Don't Look Back In Anger'. 

It will be interesting to see what this years TUC march will bring in the way of banners, chants and iconography. Maybe something will happen. We can't do the pig banners again, that's for sure. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Florence at the flicks

Florence Welch by Greg Coulton, with shrine like decorations by me
Now that the dust has settled following the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour, I find myself left with very happy memories of the two fantastic gigs I attended (you can read about Manchester on the opening leg of the 2015/16 tour, and about the bands London homecoming at Hyde Park in 2016).

I've also found a couple of momentos in the form of Laura Coulson's tour video, which really seems to capture the energy of the tour, and Greg Coulton's gorgeous and evocative illustration of Florence Welch ahead of the Hyde Park show, which was commissioned for a Time Out cover story. 

There will, hopefully, be other Florence + The Machine albums, other tours, but for now, I want to take a journey through a series of singular musical moments for the band, namely the four songs that the band have contributed to film soundtracks over the years.

We begin in 2010 with 'Heavy In Your Arms', which was written for the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Eclipse.

A year after the release of debut album Lungs, the band were touring extensively while working on what was to become 2011's follow up, Ceremonials. While Lungs has a fierce emotional intensity and makes use of a certain amount of gothic imagery, it was very much a summer album, both in terms of it's release period (July 2009) and it's overall sound. Ceremonials, which was released in October 2011, was much darker, both sonically and lyrically, and, at the time, didn't seem to get the same level of critical acclaim as the bands debut. Which is a shame because it is an album you can keep coming back to, discovering and re-discovering different elements of, and features many of the bands most prized live moments, such as 'Spectrum' and 'Shake It Out'.

'Heavy In Your Arms', a surging slice of full on goth rock is, along with 'No Light, No Light' a good bridge between the two albums. Lyrically, it is a pretty straight forward murder ballad, which suits the themes of the Twilight Saga well. It was used within the film as the second song of the closing credits, and was widely performed by the band during the 2010 festival season, as well as on TV shows such as Letterman in the US. Watching the clip of 'Heavy In Your Arms' on Letterman is odd because, while the band are clearly giving it their all, the song comes across as much too big and loud for that kind of enclosed studio environment. It seems to have gone down better at festivals, where the full goth rock splendour and intensity of the song could be absorbed into the overall ambience of the festival in question.

This performance, from Oxygen festival, has a sort of emo Jefferson Airplane feel to it.

Whereas the bands performance of the song at that years Glastonbury had more of Bowie esque theatricality about it. 

Two years later, in 2012 the band were asked to contribute a song to the epic fantasy re-working of the Snow White story,  Snow White and the Huntsman, a script that had had a long wait to reach the big screen.  Fittingly, Florence + The Machine's 'Breath Of Life', an intense, charging, multi layered piece, evokes everything right about fantasy fiction soundtracks: Drama, suspense, big drums, orchestral swoops and swirls, choirs... If 'Heavy In Your Arms' was brooding, 'Breath of Life' was a chariot at full charge.

In preparation for the song, Welch was given access to some of the scenes from the film, and found herself being inspired by Charlize Theron's evil queen Ravenna. 

"I got a lot of material from her!" she told MTV, "Beauty, death, life... it was pushing all of my buttons."

In the same interview, she spoke of her excitement at getting to record the orchestral arrangement of the song with a sixty piece choir:

"My manager was looking at me going 'Do not get used to this. We cannot afford this 60-piece choir!' " she laughed. "It was just wonderful. Me and Isa [Summers, Welch's Machine partner, and co-writer of the track] were in there, these young women who made music for love, but with not much money or much reason. ... It was a really proud day for us. And, musically, for the composers at Universal to have understood the song and see it played out so beautifully, it was an amazing day. We felt a bit proper."

Due to it's complexities as a song, 'Breath of Life' doesn't appear to have been performed live much, though I did locate a clip of the band performing it live at Lollapalooza in 2012, which I would have included had there been less crowd noise on the recording. At the time of the songs release, the band were touring the Ceremonials album, and How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was still three years away.

Why was there such a long wait between Ceremonials and How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful? In the light of the latter's release in 2015, Welch has talked about some of the personal issues she was facing in the interim period, including a relationship in freefall, which she effectively took a year off to deal with. In 2013, she was still dealing with those issues when Florence + The Machine were invited to contribute a track to the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age novel The Great Gatsby.

2013 wasn't the first time that the book had been adapted for the big screen: Much like Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (the source material for the Twilight Saga) The Great Gatsby can be seen to have been adapted frequently, almost excessively. But in stamping his mark on the text, Luhrmann deployed his usual audacious take on the soundtrack, with hip-hop replacing jazz as the hedonists music of choice. This appears to have upset a number of people at the time, but was perfectly consistent for a man who had Mercutio crash the Capulet's ball to an amped up Kym Mazelle version of 'Young Hearts, Run Free' in Romeo + Juliet, and who soundtracked an immensely brooding and sexually charged tango sequence with a version of The Police's 'Roxanne' in Moulin Rouge.

Luhrmann's musical executive controller on the soundtrack was Jay Z, a credible choice given the hip hop centred nature of the piece, and the soundtrack overall comes across as better than you expect it to, albeit slightly disjointed at times.

Florence + The Machine contributed 'Over The Love' a mournfully atmospheric ballad. As a highly literate woman, Welch was au fait with the original text, and the literary references within the songs lyrics reflect this. The Great Gatsby was also one of the choices for the Florence + The Machine book club, Between Two Books, at the time, taking the bands relationship with the text full circle.

While I do like the recorded version of 'Over The Love', I really, really love the acoustic version of the song the band performed as part of the Chime For Change concert in 2013. The acoustic nature lends the song a whole different feel and character, while Welch really gives it her all, to the joy of fans in the crowd.

While 'Heavy In Your Arms' stands alone, it also serves as a sonic bridge between Lungs and Ceremonials. 'Breath of Life' could be seen to take some of the themes of Ceremonials further, and to infuse those themes with the all out velocity of epic fantasy, whereas the sheer heartbreak of 'Over The Love', while structurally very different to the songs that were to follow in 2015 on the How Big How Blue How Beautiful album, does feel as though it's coming from a similar place as songs such as 'Various Storms & Saints' which, while very different lyrically and musically, is ultimately a song about love and heartbreak.

Because heartbreak is such a recurring theme in Welch's lyrics, she joked in 2015 that she was "too happy to write" and that what she needed was someone new to break her heart so that she'd have something to write about. At British Summer Time she spoke of a different kind of heartbreak, following both the Orlando shootings and the EU Referendum result, and the changing connotations of 'Spectrum' as a live song on the Ceremonials tour in 2012, when it was very much a 'let's go crazy' dance moment to it's accidental arrival in 2016 as a post Orlando shootings solidarity anthem goes to show you can't say how things will work out.

As if to confirm this, there has been little pause between the end of the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour and the release of three songs from the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack, (Too Much Is Never Enough, a cover of Ben E. King's Stand By Me, and I Will Be), and and on Friday 26th August there came the release of film soundtrack song number four: The epic, majestic, and utterly heartbreaking 'Wish That You Were Here', which appears on the soundtrack to Tim Burton's forthcoming new film Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. The film is released on 30th September 2016.

As with both Twilight and The Great Gatsby, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is a literary adaptation. In this case, it is adapted from the young adult novel by Ransom Riggs, a New York Times bestseller, which has been translated into 40 languages. There have been two sequels (Hollow City and Library of Souls), and a related book, Tales of the Peculiar, that might be described as either a tie in or a prequel which arrives on 3rd September.

I haven't read the book, but I definitely will be doing as it sounds like a riveting mixture of fantasy, time travel, gothic fairytale and bildungsroman, all of which I love. Descriptions of the plot reminded me of both Helen Cresswell's classic Moondial and Harry Potter, but I suspect I'm being a bit simplistic there.

The trailers for the film are very atmospheric (as you would expect from Tim Burton) and matching the gothic and charmingly off kilter cinematography of Tim Burton with the equally gothic and charmingly off kilter music of Florence + The Machine does feel like something of an obvious match.
This is the man who commissioned Siouxsie and the Banshees back in 1992 to write 'Face To Face' as the soundtrack to an encounter between Batman and Catwoman in Batman Returns.

When discussing the collaboration with Burton, Welch has said that she had wanted to work with him for a long time.
I actually sent him a note about six years ago. I was in Australia on tour there for the first time and visited an exhibition of all his work. I wanted to leave him a message and all I had on me was an x-ray of my hand, as I had just broken my finger. So I wrote on the x-ray and gave it to the gallery to pass on and never knew if he got it. When we met for the first time, he told me it's been hanging up in his office ever since. 
The resulting song, 'Wish That You Were Here' is epic in both scale and length, complex, heartbreakingly sad, and overall full on beautiful. This sounds somewhat over the top, but it really is lovely. How indicative it will be of future Florence + The Machine songs, only time will tell, but in subject matter it appears to have been firmly rooted not just in Riggs novel, but in the isolation from friends and family endured by the touring artist. As such, it is equally as much a product of the 2015-2016 How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour as of Riggs and Burton's work.

Florence + The Machine have come a long way from Welch's drunken debut in Kings Cross, acoustic gigs in lifts and parks to full on stadium art rock. But, from a fan point of view, it's been a great journey, and continues to be. What will happen next? Only time will tell...

Note: This blog post was originally published on 14th August 2016 and discussed 'Heavy In Your Arms', 'Breath of Life' and 'Over The Love'. It was updated on 29th August 2016 to include discussion of the recently released 'Wish That You Were Here'

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Chaleur Humaine

There are so many reasons to love Héloïse Letissier, aka Christine and the Queens... Let me count but some of the ways...

She has a glacial purity to her voice that is set off perfectly by her excellent dancing

She took French Elle to task for airbrushing her cover shot last year

She writes great, stylish, pop music with brains

Chaleur Humaine, an Anglo-French re-working of Letissier's 2014 French album of the same name, mixes endearingly glitchy electro with insanely catchy riffs & hooks and an understated pop intimacy that reflects her intelligence and creativity.

Opening track 'iT' is one of the angriest, yet danceable to, album openers I've ever heard. Talking about 'iT' to Dazed earlier this year, Letissier spoke of a sense of "wanting to have a dick just to have an easier life". She clarified this by adding:
Now I wouldn’t write “iT”. I’d rather stay a woman and fight, and try to control this male gaze by wearing unsexualised suits and speaking about my own desire without worrying about being desirable on someone else’s terms.  
The song reflects the sense of sexual fluidity that runs through Letissier's work in her persona of Christine, the name Christine and the Queens being a nod to the drag queens who looked after a fragile and heartbroken Letissier on a three week trip to London from her native France. She has variously described herself as bisexual and pansexual, but seems at pains to present a studied androgyny in her image as Christine. This is both intriguing and refreshing.

Sonically, the album ranges from the ferocity of 'iT' to the stripped down simplicity and poignancy of 'Night 52', via the almost Tom Tom Club esque 'Tilted' (think 'Genius of Love' rather than 'Wordy Rappinghood') and urban glitch of 'No Harm Is Done', a collaboration with Tunji Ige.

Despite parts of the album originally appearing in 2014, it feels like a very contemporary album, with a strong sense of urban unease reflected in it's conflicting sense of strength and fragility. Chaleur Humaine (which babel fish translates as 'Warmth') if there is any justice, should already be on it's way to becoming a modern pop classic (the album was released in the UK in March) and, I hope, a strong contender for album of the year.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Brooding music for brooding times

Ben Chatwin is a Scottish composer, based in Edinburgh, whose album Heat & Entropy, has just been released on Ba Da Bing records.

A mixture of organic, acoustic composition and electronica, it has a distinctly filmic quality to it, and a brooding undertone of menace at certain points.

Taster track 'Euclidean Plane' is a lighter listen, and none the worse for that, gliding along with a delicacy that belies its intricacies.

I freely confess to ignorance so far as composition processes and techniques are achieved, but I am enjoying listening to this album, and to trying to understand it's mysteries.

The album is currently streaming on Soundcloud if you would like a listen.

Saturday, 23 July 2016


On Friday 8th July, Nils Frahm and Woodkid released the score to French artist JR's film Ellis. A hymn to Ellis Island and its role in the story of migration to the US throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the film tales the story through the eyes of one migrant, voiced by Robert De Niro.

The soundtrack itself is a haunting melange of delicate piano, strings and harmonium that combine into something that is both sad and beautiful.

In creating the work, Frahm and Woodkid were haunted and preoccupied not just by Ellis Island and it's history, but by current events in Europe. 

As Nils Frahm says in the press release to promote the release of this mini album:

The opportunity to work on JR´s fantastic short film ELLIS came through my good friend Yoann aka Woodkid. We agreed on recording the piano parts in my studio in Berlin and so it happened that JR and Woodkid were guests at Durton studio on a wonderful late summers day in 2015. We managed to record all the crucial elements that day. The music fell into our laps and melted with the images: a wonderful experience. The film has stuck in my head ever since; it moved my heart and changed my soul. A couple of weeks later I had to cancel a trip to Brussels because of a terror warning; all events got cancelled and I stayed home, having an unexpected day off. I felt rather depressed that day, thinking that the Europe I knew was already gone. I sat down at the harmonium, listened to Robert De Niro’s voice and played for the rest of the day. The result is ‘Winter Morning II,’ the B-side of the ELLIS soundtrack release. Robert says it all in 17 minutes. We are not facing a refugee crisis. We are facing a crisis because we do not embrace, we do not sympathise and we cannot give up fear. Art can encourage so I hope this project will help fight the fear in all of us.

You can listen to the soundtrack on Soundcloud, and I highly recommend you do. 

Not only does this feel like a very timely, oddly contemporary, release, I have also found it to be an oddly cathartic listen, post Brexit. 

All proceeds go to the Sea Watch Initiative, a non profit charity dedicated to the protection and rescue of civilian refugees

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Psychic Pop Moment

A funny thing happened in the staffroom...

Towards the tail end of a music based conversation, one of my friends turned to me and asked 'Do you watch Graham Norton?'

'No' I said, thinking this was going to be a conversation about TV, 'I don't have a telly, but I've seen it before, I get the gist of it'

'There's this French band that was on it...'

'Christine and The Queens?'

'And this song...'


'Yes! How did you know that?!!'

But I knew because I'd been dancing around the kitchen to it on Spotify last night while doing the washing up...

I've now YouTubed the clip from Graham Norton and, you are right Bethany, it is so good... And it's nice to see dance coming back into pop performance in a cool, imaginative way. Recently with Florence at Hyde Park, now with Christine And The Queens.

Other great French bands are available, of course, and I myself have been enjoying Owlle's album France this past year or two. That's definitely worth a listen. I shall most definitely be checking out the Christine and the Queens album very, very soon....

These girls lives

Tomboy, Madeline second from left, looking mean...
This post needs to start with an apology...

I received a lovely email from Madeline Burrows of top US punk pop band Tomboy back in mid June, alerting me to an unusual, intriguing, and exciting commission of theirs: Creating the soundtrack to the US premier of Amelia Bullmore's critically acclaimed play Di and Viv and Rose.

But... the UK had been completely taken over by EU Referendum madness * and, as such, the email stayed in my inbox, un-followed up until I had time to breathe again... By which time, the run of the play had finished.

The good news is, you can still hear the soundtrack, and the play has traditionally been very well received, so it will be on somewhere, sometime at a theatre near you.

Di and Viv and Rose begins it's tale with three very different girls sharing a student house in the UK in the mid 1980s, and follows them through the ensuing years and decades, observing their changing lives and careers, and their developing characters, not to mention their evolving relationships with each other.

The band have provided exuberant, joyful, intelligent, sympathetic, and very listenable musical interludes that perfectly capture the spirit of youthful energy and poignancy of the play.

While the play's run has now finished, you can still hear the soundtrack over on Le Sigh (alongside a really good thoughtful piece about soundtracks) and Bandcamp.

Badly Drawn Boy famously got to soundtrack the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's About A Boy, it seems apt that Tomboy should have created such a wonderfully evocative score for a play so firmly About The Girls.

* - I have blogged about the EU Referendum, Brexit and related stuff over on Too Late For Cake, but the past three episodes of Dead Ringers and the past two issues of Private Eye nailed it much, much better (obviously...). Thus proving that satire isn't dead, it's just having to run like hell to keep up with reality...

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sumer is icumen in

British Summertime Festival, Hyde Park, Saturday 2nd July 2016

Disclaimer: The time listed on each of these photos is an hour behind when it was taken. Blame the clocks going forward for summer...

I headed out at just after 10am from my hotel in Victoria to walk to Hyde Park for my first ever festival.

Please don't get the wrong impression: It's not that I'm squeamish about being outdoors, getting muddy and sunburned, it's purely that I spent my formative years of gig going pogoing to Bis and Kenickie and dancing around my handbag to the Yummy Fur. I come from an all dayers tradition of gig going, and without exception, all of the bands I've ever liked enough to see live have either split up before they got to the festival headlining level of success, or else continued but didn't achieve that level of fame. Hence, no festivals.

That is one thing with being a Florence + The Machine fan: They have taken me out of my comfort zone, gigs wise. When I saw them at Manchester Arena last year on the British leg of the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour, it was my first arena show. The biggest gig I'd been to prior to that had been Siouxsie and the Banshees at Manchester Academy on my 16th Birthday in 1995.

Friends find all of this very amusing when I try to explain it, and because I am such a festival novice, I sought the advice of my own festival guru and expert before attending British Summer Time: My friend Paul, who has attended just about every UK festival going I think, and has gained a wealth of experience and wisdom along the way.

Being a novice, I paid extra for a Priority Entry ticket to British Summer Time as I thought getting on site an hour before most people do would help me get used to the site. This kind of worked, up to a point, but I'm getting ahead of myself now...

I wasn't the first to get to the Priority Entry gate, there were about 15 or so other people there by the time I arrived at half 10, all looking a bit higgledy piggledy, with lots of people sitting on the grass, others standing. The area was divided into runs, for want of a better description, and you just picked a run and queued in it. I think the number of early birds took the security, and organisers, by surprise: It sounded as though that hadn't really happened on the Friday when Massive Attack had headlined. Either that or they simply hadn't encountered a large bunch of quietly earnest floral crowned and glitter faced people in one place before, that is, the Florence + The Machine Army. We were very patient, and that probably just made it all the more unnerving.

After a little while we heard a ghostly wordless lamenting wail on the breeze and sighed happily: Florence was doing her sound test. There followed three goes at 'Queen of Peace', a song I never tire of, and the crowd by the gate was growing, attracting the attention of all sorts of interested and concerned parties. When we were eventually let in, there was a funny moment when the newly released Florence fans pelted across the field, hell for leather, like gambolling lambs as security called, forlornly, after them 'Walk, don't run!'

The festival didn't open for anyone else until 1pm, so, having visited one of the remarkably sophisticated loos I meandered around the site, taking in what was where. I had worked out my schedule prior to coming down to London, using a website we won't mention, and had discovered that I wanted to see a cluster of four acts very early on, and that after that I had a bit of a yawning chasm, schedule wise, until Florence was on. Well, that's not quite fair... I did want to see some of the later bands, I just wasn't as bothered about missing them.

At 1pm I adjourned to the Great Oak Stage to watch a showing of Florence + The Machine's The Odyssey, the film made to complement and accompany the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful album. I do like The Odyssey, but it excites a series of very complex emotions and responses in me. I've seen it in it's entirety about four times now (it is available to watch online), and I find it very hard to write about because I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

What I will say is that it is a beautifully shot film, with a central theme of self discovery and exploration. Florence Welch worked on it with Vincent Haycock, the director, and they devised a narrative based around the themes she was exploring when she wrote the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful album, which has its roots in a central sadness of lost love and scary independence coupled with self discovery. There are a number of re-occurring motifs throughout the film: Dopplegangers, pressure, loving someone but being unable to be with them, immersion in water... It is a very powerful film, but because of its searingly personal roots and imagery, it's actually quite painful viewing in some ways.

At the same time, it also feels very truthful and luminous. The choreography makes more sense if you know that the inspiration came from paintings by Caravaggio (amongst others) and that this was then worked on and developed with interpretive dance (I'm not explaining this very well, but trust me: There is an interview with Florence and Vincent Haycock over on Facebook that explains it much better) and that this forms the language of the piece, along with the songs from the album. Once you start watching The Odyssey you're in for the long haul, and you are rewarded with a sense of catharsis at the end. I thought it would work really well on the big screen but, unfortunately, the ever changing light levels didn't go so well with the different light levels in the film, so some bits were hard to see.

Due to watching The Odyssey, I missed most of Kelsey Lu, who was doing a short set on the Barclaycard stage. I saw enough to know that I preferred her mournful, stark pieces with cello more than I did the songs with guitar, but she has a beautiful, pure, sweet and mournful voice. The songs weren't there for me yet I don't think, but that might just be me.

Blood Orange, from afar...
I watched a bit of Blood Orange from the field behind the enclosed area, then headed back to the Barclaycard Stage in search of a vegan food stall I thought I'd seen en route to Kelsey Lu, but in fact, never actually found again. I enjoyed Blood Orange, who were sort of soully with an edge, but a bit too cheerful for me at that moment as I was feeling a bit restless, and a bit hungry.

Georgia was bloody amazing though, as I knew she would be. She was on my 'Must Watch' list from the get go, and delighted in screaming at intervals during the first song, which shocked those lounging in the grass: Clearly this is not a girl you can lounge too.

It was just her on drums and vocals and her friend H, a girl whose calm smileyness belied Georgia's intensity, on keyboards and backing. They made enough noise for six people, and it's hard to describe what she sounds like musically, but she has an air of post grime about her: Very glitchy and aggressive sounding, sort of angry and slightly vulnerable at the same time.  She made reference to the pro EU march going on next door at Green Park and some anti Boris comments, both of which went down well. It seemed wholly appropriate, in the circumstances, that she finished her set with the storming 'Move Systems', making it sound harder and angrier than it does on her album. A storming set. The sound of Angry Young London.

Georgia (left) and H (right)
Poliça were on the Barclaycard stage next, and I took the opportunity to get some food before their set. They were a very cool band, there was a sense of ennui to them somehow, coupled with a polished and crisp sounding left of centre electro pop. It tipped towards industrial sometimes, probably on account of them having two drummers, but this only enhanced their sound in my view.  The singer/synth player was wearing a black hoodie with a McDonalds logo crossed through on the back and huge mirrored sunglasses. When she took the shades off, I was disconcerted by her uncanny resemblance to Gina McKee.

Jamie XX was doing good stuff on the Great Oak Stage, but I decided to watch from afar and retreated to a corner by one of the coffee shops to observe the way that entrance to the pit in front of the stage was being handled. It was so full that the security were operating a one in, one out policy, and people leaving couldn't be guaranteed to get back in. Not everyone took this well, and some people tried to get back in via the out route and were unceremoniously hauled out.

Then, part way through the set, it began to absolutely bucket down for about 10-15 minutes, before stopping as abruptly as it had begun. At this point I silently but fervently thanked Paul, over and over again, as I stood in my newly purchased waterproof cape and dubbin'd boots. Actually, the dubbin was my idea: I was fucked if I was wearing wellies.

Kendrick Lamar was up next, marking a time of recurrent queueing for me: The women's loos, the queue to which was so long that entire subcultures were good naturedly forming as we waited, then the fish and chip stall. I had in mind Paul's advice re how to ensure I got in near the front for Florence + The Machine, which was basically to get in two songs before the end of Kendrick's set and move forward as people leave. This was sound advice in theory but, alas, Paul had underestimated the tenacity and determination of the average Florence + The Machine fan.

I'd been keeping an eye on the queue for the pit for a while, and it was getting longer and longer and longer, much to the despair of security and despite the sign being held up by one of their crew, informing all and sundry that the pit was full. As such, having done two queues consecutively, I joined a third one and calmly ate my fish and chips as security tried to reason with us. I got in about two or three songs to the end of Kendrick's set, and the point at which his fans began to leave and the Florence fans began to surge into the pit represents one of the most frightening gig going moments in my life: A maddened horde of people pushing in different directions, each side getting ever more frantic because they couldn't get to where they wanted to be and were just being swept along - quite literally - on a human tide. One girl voiced her fear of falling and being trampled on to me, and I daresay she was not alone in that thought.

Eventually it subsided, and I ended up about five rows from the stage but, alas, at such an odd angle that it might as well have been 15 rows back. Well, you can't win them all... Of course, those who have seen Florence before know that she likes to venture into the crowd, hence the fevered push to get to the area in front of the centre of the stage. The pushing and negotiation of space (some people were nicer about it than others, it has to be said) continued for quite some time. Meanwhile, the security staff at the barriers were handing over cups of water to anyone who needed one, and instructing us to hand the ones we didn't want backwards to other folk in the crowd.

At about twenty to nine, the band began to slowly filter out onto the stage: Well, there is a lot of them. Florence emerged last, clad in a turquoise diaphanous dress that flowed around her in ruffles in the breeze. She had her hair hanging loose down her back and glided elegantly across the stage in a distinctly otherworldly manner, like a psychedelic dryad or fairy from a Maxfield Parrish painting.

The band began with 'What the water gave me', which only enhanced this thought. While the songs are the same songs, more or less, that the band have been playing throughout the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour, there was a sense of the set having been worked on extensively and honed to within in an inch of it's life, so that it was both confident and vibrant, enhanced rather than tired.
Audience members following Florence's urging to 'Get high with us' during 'Rabbit Heart (Raise it up)'
Florence went to great pains to connect with the audience, whether by slipping over to our corner of the stage to wave and smile, by having the audience act as the bands choir during 'Shake It Out', by descending into the crowd during 'Rabbit Heart', or by delivering an eloquent plea for the audience to let off the filming and photography during 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful'. She explained that she'd realised while travelling just how much time she spent looking at her phone rather than her surroundings, and added that she wanted to connect with us, the audience, on that particular song because it was a song that meant a lot to her personally, that it was a song she wrote while falling in love, the kind of falling in love that transfers itself to everything around you; places, moments, everything. And she wanted to share that with us. She asked us very nicely, and we were happy to comply, for which she thanked us enthusiastically at the songs end.

Following this Florence introduced 'Various Storms & Saints' by confessing that it was a song that she had campaigned to have taken off the album last year "Because I felt it was too sad". The band hadn't performed it at all on the English leg of the tour, so this would be the first time they'd played it at home. She wanted to do it because, she said, hearing the song sung back to her gave her a sort of strength to draw on, which was a sentiment I liked a lot. It is an incredibly sad song, but it's also very atmospheric and I'd been secretly hoping that they would do it live at some point, so it's inclusion here pleased me a great deal.

The surging 'Queen of Peace' took an unexpected turn towards the end of the song when about ten dancers slowly emerged on stage and, along with Florence, who had done singing at that point, performed a staggeringly good choreography sequence to an extended version of the song.

OK, my photography skills could do with some work... I gave up taking pictures after this one because it was distracting me from the gig and that was making me unhappy. Think Florence has a point re all the phones/cameras... Leave it to the professionals. There are some nice pix in this article
Just prior to 'Spectrum' she suddenly departed for backstage and the harpist had the limelight for a minute or two until she returned, now clad in a red version of the same dress she'd had on earlier, carrying a a rainbow flag. 'Repeat after me' she said 'Love is love is love is love...' The band then launched into 'Spectrum', and the crowd went berserk. It was exhilarating, and this sense of performer and crowd as one was enhanced when Florence pre-empted 'You Got The Love' with a very heartfelt speech on the theme of love and geographical variation: She said that she knew how far some people had travelled to be at Hyde Park, and quipped "some of us came all the way from South London", and asked that we take the love were were sharing and expressing tonight back out into the world afterwards, and share it with the world. Mid song, she made a peace sign. She didn't mention the EU referendum, or xenophobia any more than she'd mentioned the Orlando shootings before 'Spectrum', but in both cases, there was an unspoken understanding: She's not an overtly political performer, and I don't think we the fans really expect her to be. She makes her own statements in her own ways.

Just as we were still taking this in, the band launched into 'Dog Days Are Over', and we went berserk again, a blissful end to a blissful set.

The band left the stage, and the audience cried 'FLORENCE, FLORENCE, FLORENCE' until they came back on again, minus Florence who, in a nod to The Odyssey, was carried back on by one of the dancers from earlier, hanging limply in his arms. She was set down and began to intone the beginning to 'What Kind Of Man', a particularly electifying performance of which then followed, during which she made another foray into the crowd. At this point, a girl somewhere behind me in the audience lost her head completely and started shoving and charging her way through the crowd. Me and another girl let her through, but she didn't make it through to the front. Her sense of hysterical frustration was palpable.

The second encore was 'Drumming Song', which always goes down well and represented a suitably charged ending to an absolute blinder of a set.

Earlier, Florence had seemed a little startled and overwhelmed by the size and passion of the crowd, which only highlighted her incredible politeness on stage when we applauded and screamed. The set ended with her taking Rob the guitarist by the hand and dragging him forward, along with the rest of the band, so that they were all in a row, getting the applause together.

Getting back out of the pen wasn't quite as bad as getting in, though it wasn't fun. I was able to leave Hyde Park the same way as I'd come in, along with everyone else it seemed as we tottered blinking out into the bright lights of Hyde Park corner.

I can honestly say that I have never attended a gig as mindblowingly brilliant as that Florence gig, and I've been to some fantastic gigs in my time. Maybe not big, famous ones, but little brilliant ones that will always be a source of dewy eyed nostalgia nonetheless. But Florence + The Machine at Hyde Park has taken it to another level entirely: This was performance as Art.