Category: Music & Radio

Jokerside sure likes a bop…

Blur: The Magic Whip Reviewed

Blur The Magic Whip Review

Blur The Magic Whip Review

As the UK goes to the vote, Blur’s The Magic Whip sits atop the album chart just as it should. Repeated listens reveal that Graham Coxon may just be right in calling it the group’s finest album.

THERE’S LITTLE JOKERSIDE ENJOYS MORE THAN A COMPARISSON, BUT THIS ONE IS POETICALLY GIFTWRAPPED FOR TWO OF THE GREATEST BRITISH FOUR-PIECE BANDS IN BRITISH HISTORY. You can probably guess both by now. In the winter of 1969 the Beatles, already strained from their recent White Album sessions, were quickly encouraged into a new recording marathon by Paul McCartney. The idea behind what was intended to produce the Get Back sessions, was live jamming, returning to the band’s live and productive roots, free from the artifice of their last few album. Oh, and under the constant surveillance of documentary cameras. It seems inevitable now that, despite the new talent that came in behind the organ and recording desk to bolster the Fab Four and loyal producer George Martin, those sessions resulted in the band’s darkest days. Members lost then retrieved, the album shelved. And it still wasn’t over. We’re fortunate that all Beatles soon regrouped to record the disparate but altogether more friendly Abbey Road Sessions. But their split was all the more painful when John Lennon stole off to producer Phil Spector with the tapes that would be reassembled for the Let It Be album, eventually emerging a month after the pre-eminent force in pop music ended in 1970.

Jump forward four decades and history repeated. But this time it wasn’t the rhythm guitarist but the lead guitarist of a British four-piece who snuck off to a producer with the band’s jamming sessions. This time it was a member who had seemingly, impossibly, emerged from a prolonged departure from his band, not one heading into definite hiatus. And he even had the blessings of his band-mates. And this time, those tapes (if only they still were) weren’t gifted to a left-field originator of anything like the wall of sound; they found their way back to Stephen Street, the producer as indelibly linked to Blur as George Martin was to the Beatles.

So, it’s a safe bet Damon Albarn won’t be releasing The Magic Whip Naked in three decades time – although that certainly may play well in some markets.

What’ve You Got?

The Magic Whip is an album that rewards over time. It’s a difficult, awkward child in many ways – and one that could be forgiven for feeling unwanted. The reports following Blur’s ad hoc recording session in Hong Kong in May 2013 weren’t optimistic, with fans consoling themselves that at least the band had stepped into a studio for longer than one song. But that time, it turned out, was just too short. Albarn lamented that lyrics hadn’t been laid down at the time and so those jamming sessions – the band’s primary style of recording since 1997’s Blur – seemed destined to drift away. Until Stephen Street and Coxon did their magic. Some London additions from the four-piece later, some lyrics topped up by Albarn taking another stop-over in Hong Kong later… And earlier this year the band, and particularly Albarn, found themselves rather surprisingly announcing a new LP. And the result, although it shouldn’t be surprising, is that The Magic Whip is a unifying triumph that rubs in how difficult that star shaped hole has been to fill in the 16 years since the four-piece last recorded an album together. Continue reading “Blur: The Magic Whip Reviewed”

Blur: 12 of the best post-Britpop

Blur Post-Britpop - Coffee and TV

Blur Post-Britpop - Coffee and TV

A year ago Jokerside celebrated the 20th anniversary of Parklife with a terrible commemorative re-writing of THAT song. Now, nearly 20 years after Blur made their Britpop swansong, 12 years after their last album, they return with their fourth ‘-post’ effort. So, now they’re undeniably less of a Britpop band then they were, what have they really done in the intervening two decades?

IT’S ALMOST 20 YEARS SINCE THEIR LAST BRITPOP RELEASE, ABOUT 16 SINCE THEIR LAST ALBUM AS A FOURPIECE, BUT BLUR HAVE STILL MANAGED TO PACK A BIT IN. THREE SEMINAL ALBUMS IN FACT. The game changing eponymous album released less than two years after The Great Escape, the mystical and Gorillaz unleashing 13 and then, with a four year gap and one of the four departed, the soft oddity Think Tank. Post-Britpop Blur may not have been quite as consistent as during the first four albums, but with the eighth out today it’s clear that the turbulence saw them produce some of their greatest tracks.

If there’s an adage that’s come out of The Magic Whip coverage it’s that the older the Blur album, the more you can write about it. Or perhaps, the more you need to write about it. That’s partly down to the fact that every paragraph has to begin with variations of “Jettisoning” ‘Abandoning” and “Dispensing” alongside “Britpop persona”. But now, 15 years into the 21st century, Blur have definitely tipped the balance. And fundamentally Think Tank is far more interesting than Parklife. Blur’s canvas has massively enhanced with each difficult and different album. And it’s not as simple as third person stereotypes making way for first person observation or losing their guitarist. Much of the time Blur’s music remains remarkably consistent, just interpreted and broadened by high production at different times and different places, and crucially by increasingly more accomplished and motivated musicians (People. Of. The. World). As a result Lonesome Road, the third single from The Magic Whip, can merrily sit side to side with 1993’s For Tomorrow as not only an unmistakable Blur song but a fine companion piece.

But before the new album, here’s a look at 12 Blur tracks that came after they “Removed themselves from Britpop”. Not the 12 best, but 12 of the best from the last 19 years that tell a story of one of Britain’s finest bands. Continue reading “Blur: 12 of the best post-Britpop”

Britpop: One year in – Blur’s Great Britpop Escape

Britpop The Great Escape

Britpop and Blur's The Great Escape

This month marks 19 years since Blur’s The Great Escape was released. While it would continue for several years, the four-piece’s fourth album would prove their personal swansong to the Britpop movement they had unwittingly ushered in with Parklife a year previously. It’s no secret that this isn’t their best regarded album, but could it be their most prescient?

AND AS SOON AS IT ARRIVED IT WAS TRYING TO SELF-DESTRUCT. BRITPOP WASN’T BRITISH AS MUCH AS ENGLISH. IT WASN’T THE EPITOME OF THE 1990S EITHER, BUT IT NEVER CONSCIOUSLY INTENDED TO BE. Its roots were either far too contemporary or too based in the 1960s, dependent on your view point, to do that. But in the summer of 1995, while Britpop crammed Chris Evan’s Radio 1 Breakfast Show it also captured a space in the six o’clock news as Oasis and Blur went head to head. That was the first skirmish in a long fight, as the two biggest bands of the era released much anticipated follow-ups, with all record labels, regions and single-buyers pitting the two against each other at any opportunity. There was never any doubt who’d win that opening parry, no matter the host of conspiracy theories. But then it was a poor race; Country House was simply the least worse of the two songs. Oasis justly won the subsequent album war of ’95 with their second album, the seminal What’s the Story (Morning Glory), while Blur’s fourth, The Great Escape, was picked apart and within just a few years had became synonymous with a sea-change for the band. That same strain was natural, and would start to affect Oasis as they record the bloated Be Here Now the following year.

Continue reading “Britpop: One year in – Blur’s Great Britpop Escape”

Glastonbury: Memory of a Wet Festival

Glastonbury Festival Cow 2005

 Glastonbury Festival Cow 2005

Nine Years since I was last at Glastonbury… It was so darned good I’ve never really felt the need to go back…

Yes back, back to 2005…

SUNDAY 29TH JUNE, AND THE DUST OF WORTHY FARM HAS BEEN WELL AND TRULY SATURATED AND CHURNED BY THE SHUFFLE OF A MILLION WELLINGTON BOOTS.

Strangely, many people seemed to head down yesterday, the Saturday.  By that time the moat of cars would be at peak, blissfully ignoring the threat of long exit queues mashed with mud trenches that will hit them tomorrow. I wonder how many not at all remotely incongruous Bentleys will be stationed on a slope, asking of everyone who passes how long their handbrake tension actually is (consensus: less than three days).

It’s nine years since I was last at Glastonbury and I’m fairly confidently that was my last (in a never say never type way)…

Road Trip

The festival had slumped under regulation and reality

It was an inauspicious start nine years ago.  We had a Thursday arrival as usual, but people were already surrendering to the Glasto week, filling up the site by Wednesday.  By the time we arrived after some rather marvellous Bowie and Beatles harmonies on the road, most pitches had been laid.  The half-hearted attempt to camp near The Glade or somewhere close to that enchanted inner land was blocked.  Turned away several times, and rather burdened by my insistence we only make one trip, we were already behind.

Tired and mottled, it was to our piebald cousins, the cows. The gravel path leading up to farm gave refuge, although it wasn’t ideal.  A lovely, somehow lonely view of the Pyramid Stage, but otherwise just a little less magical and a little more corporate. Cash points beeped not too far away.  Same as it ever was.  The festival had slumped under regulation and reality at the turn of the century.  In 2002 the super fence was unveiled, bringing horrid connotations and two undeniable facts: One that the free festival was over or if it wasn’t , Glastonbury definitely was. The other, that it would never really be the same again.

The Wall Change

I was near an ice cream van

The year that followed the wall was noticeably empty, probably to the tune of hundreds of thousands.  Worse, the crowd, whether uncovered by new found space or simply reflecting a new paradigm, was heavily corporate. City boys taking notes for their next Hedgestock.  It was inevitable that the photo cards would follow, then the hour sell out.  In 2005, was already difficult. I managed to secure tickets with the help of a 56k dial up modem. It was painful. I was lucky…

As usual, Glastonbury isn’t sold on acts. They are almost entirely announced after the tickets have sold out and of course it’s possible, if not encouraged, that you spend the whole festival without seeing a single slice of live music. There’s more than enough going on to hide that away.

I’d been many times before. From the odd state of affairs when Skunk Anansie headlined the 20th century to someone catching Keanu Reeves bass with an apple (and hitting the perfect E). From Roger Water’s huge quadraphonic blackmail and apparently the greatest gig I’ve ever been to, Faithless (that was according to NME – I was near an ice cream van).  Of headliners, from REM to Air, Rod Stewart’s mandolin and football mash up and of course, Bowie’s peerless return in 2000 (Now, that was the greatest gig I’ve ever been to).

Calm Before…

I fell asleep to slight growls of thunder

A first evening at Glastonbury should always involve a trip to the Sacred Space.  Pre-2002, this was a classic place for all sorts of course – punctuated by daring and generally successful attempts to break over the minor wall before The Wall. Obese and neon security bumbling after wiry gatecrashers.  This time, aside from the odd panda car struggling to climb the mud perimeter, there was little of the old.  And perhaps it was the change of atmosphere or earlier camping disappointments but the evening ended in disharmony.

I sat at the Sacred Space for a while, kept company by some cigarettes.  As I left, the night had stolen the purple skies and it was impossible to see the heavy clouds it hid.  I took the long return to the Big Ground and as I walked, large rain drops hit my shoulder. I fell asleep to slight growls of thunder, fully certain that this Glastonbury wouldn’t be a classic.

That it rained overnight was undeniable.  But I woke, late to fairly clear skies.  The day before’s recriminations had gone of course, today was festival day. But the problem was it was already late and we’d missed. It was the year following John Peel’s passing and the Buzzcocks were to kick off the Pyramid Stage. We couldn’t hear them, but we were already well into that.  There was little to comment on the weather, from people or announcements. Phones were limited, Facebook still not massively adopted. It was a fair walk to get The Glastonbury Free Press, which this year has every adjective available for download.

What was strange was the path running down to near the Pyramid area which was now a stream.  Looking out from our rocky outcrop there wasn’t much to see, but in fact we were missing everything and absolutely nothing.

Muddy Ragnarok

Heimdall had sounded the advent…

That thunderstorm had wreaked merry japes overnight, with direct lightning hits knocking out several stages. Radio 1 was down, flash floods had soaked my original camping choice with four feet of water and the first three bands on the main stage had been cancelled. Our camping solution was suddenly wise, our lateness forgotten.

Suddenly, the year defined by Kylie headlining then not headlining had something a little more traditional to worry about. Heimdall had sounded the advent of a muddy ragnarok.

That’s the thing with Glastonbury. In the indent of the valley, too much sunlight creates a dust bowl which is quickly stirred into mud by just the merest dash of lightest rain. Perfect for the English summer in other words. Fetch some strawberries.

Mud skating is easy to gain proficiency in – and by far the best way to get around. For once, the reduced numbers were a bonus.  Many were conducting salvage operations in newly found lakes and there was no temptation to sunbathe and relax at the Jazz Stage arena.  But most of all, when Glastonbury, with cynically overpriced rain attire packing out its markets, heads for the mud, solidarity is the only way forward. If you get stuck, it’s likely there’s a stranger opposite you who’s also stuck. Force and equal force, equal and opposite attraction. That’s what it’s all about.

Endgame

An inebriant with the lightening flexibility of a thousand Neos

I stayed pristine for two days, with expertly attached surfing bin liners on each foot.  That is until Saturday night, when sneaking past New Order I fell into a crater. To great cheers.  From then it was all bets off, an unrecognisable long-haired golem in a Kleenex tee-shirt.  Still, after that plunge there was still an epic journey to undertake – to the freshly minted John Peel Stage – through an obstacle course of mud and hay bales.  And so fuelled by that same solidarity and six litres of hallucinogenic pear cider I set off.

It was perilous. And by my return, after heckling The Magic Numbers (inadvertently and constantly) the mud stretch back was almost unbreachable.  And to my eternal credit, I missed Coldplay headline a festival once again.  At one point, amid fits of uncontrollable laughter, I reached for support on a railing of clothes, all bundled up for the night. The result was an inevitable reconstruction of The Matrix Reloaded burly ball scene, as thousands of green screened monster merchants filed out to save their merchandise, trying to lamp an inebriant with the lightening flexibility of a thousand Neos.  At least that’s how I remember it. There are absolutely dazzling photos of that Saturday that I am officially barred from showing anyone but most involved parties.

And then, on the Sunday the sun came out to burn the zombiefied gathering.  Hair still caked with mud, the sun beating down I headed to the Pyramid Stage just as a festive Brian Wilson, decked in a typical Hawaiian shirt, introduced Little Saint Nick. All the people reminded him of Christmas he said. Strange days indeed,

Yes, 2005, that was a good year. Although I expect this year to be hailed the best, as is customary, Glastonbury now fits so well as a separate BBC blanket brand it’s difficult to see the appeal of heading back.

Nah, I think I’m done with that.

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