Call me Russ L

If you’re even remotely interested in the Labour Party on any level…

Posted in Modern Living by Russ L on 30 July, 2016

… then I would recommend that you read this.



Posted in Modern Living, Uncategorized by Russ L on 19 June, 2016

When trying to think about anything seriously, a reasonable starting point might be “What do we know?”

Well, one thing that we know is how heat behaves. We know about entropy.

Let us consult with the learned:

End-Of-Year-Count 2015: Screen

Posted in Films by Russ L on 1 January, 2016

I don’t know if my experience is general or not, but it seems that it’s easy to think that you don’t watch many telly programmes until you try to write them down.


End-Of-Year-Count 2015: Books

Posted in Books by Russ L on 31 December, 2015

I would hope that “just because I read it doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with it” (Scruton, bless ‘im) disclaimers would be taken as a given, but you never know.


End-Of-Year-Count 2015: Stage

Posted in Stage by Russ L on 30 December, 2015

At the end of every year I curse myself for not having gone to see more plays, so this time I set myself a target of “an average of more than one per month”. That isn’t an enormous amount, I realise, but I did manage it.


End-Of-Year-Count 2015: Popular Music Gigs

Posted in Music by Russ L on 27 December, 2015

A year in which you get to see Richard Dawson three times and Public Enemy twice is a good year, ah reckons.


End-Of-Year-Count 2015: Opera

Posted in Music by Russ L on 27 December, 2015

Far, far fewer than the last few years.


A small selection from the Lots Of Things To See And Do In The West Midlands – July 2015

Posted in Food, LOTTSADITWM, Modern Living, Music, Stage, Well by Russ L on 1 July, 2015

This will be even less use than my effort last month, but there we go. It’s too hot. Far, far too hot. Don’t take the fact that I’m melting into a little puddle as any sort of hint that there aren’t a whole imperial sack-full of things going on beyond this small selection.

‘Festival’ quick hits (because everything that ever happens in Birmingham calls itself a festival, as well as some things that happen outside of it)The Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival between the 3rd and the 12th; The Colmore Food Festival on the 3rd and the 4th; The Godiva Festival between the 3rd and the 5th; The Black Country Festival on the 14th (with other activities going on all month); the Belgrade Theatre’s July Festival between the 8th and the 19th; the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival between the 10th and 12th; The Cradley Women Chainmakers’ Festival on the 11th and 12th; the Birminghamfest theatre festival between the 17th and the 2nd of August; the Walsall Town Festival between the 18th and the 26th; Simmer Down on the 19th.

Gig quick hitsBurt Bacharach at Symphony Hall on the 1st; Mary J. Blige at the NIA on the 3rd; Fleetwood Mac at the NEC on the 4th and the 7th; The Wonder Stuff and The Twang and Rhino & The Ranters at The Wulfrun on the 5th; Bette Midler at the NIA on the 9th; Cannibal Ox at The Sunflower Lounge on the 10th; Beres Hammond and Bunny Wailer at The Academy on the 18th; The (‘official’) Drifters at The Wulfrun on the 24th;
Badly Drawn Boy at Brum Town Hall on the 25th; The Bus Station Loonies at The Rainbow on the 26th; The Sonics at The Institute on the 28th; Otis Gibbs at The Kitchen Garden Café on the 29th.

Theatre quick hits (please also pay particular note to ‘Birminghamfest’ above)“Me At The Zoo” at Brum Rep on the 7th and 8th; “A Greek Chorus” at The Old Rep on the 8th and 9th; “Greywing House” at The Old Joint Stock on the 10th and 11th; “You Are The Jury” at The Drum on the 12th.

Opera quick hits – Opera North’s “The Flying Dutchman” at Symphony Hall on the 5th; Midland Opera’s “The Thieving Magpie” at The Crescent Theatre between the 15th and the 18th.

I also want to plug this just because the very existence of it probably winds up serious football fansThe National 5s League at The NIA on the 29th. Now I’m going to admit in advance that I don’t have the clearest idea what the flip this is. Nevertheless: football is a boring sport, I’m sure that we can all admit that. A really boring sport. They all run up one way for a bit, then they all run up the other way, then they all run back again. A ball flies around between them but they don’t seem to have a fat lot of control over it. Once, twice, or maybe three times per game someone will score a point. No-one hits anyone else. Utter bullshucks. Here, though… here they purport to mix football with “music, dance, monster trucks and pyrotechnics”. I don’t know if it’ll be any fun to watch, but it’ll be sure to make the purists’ piss boil and that is a worthy aim in itself. Don’t think that your protests have cancelled this forever, football fans. It will return, harder and stronger and more ridiculous.

The 2015 Festival Of Music Festivals #1: The Lunar Festival

Posted in Music by Russ L on 20 June, 2015

(Added subsequently: As may be obvious from the format of this post, it was due to be the first of a series in which I wrote about all of the festival-type music events that I went to in year. It didn’t progress any further, because I am lazy).

So what was all this then?

The Lunar Festival took place between the 5th and 7th of June, at the Umberslade Estate in the very posh Warwickshire village of Tanworth-In-Arden (Nick Drake’s hometown, don’tchaknow). It doesn’t really have too tight a theme, but there is a sort of folk-y prog-y hippy-ish vibe to the entire affair. This is only the third one, and only the second that I’d been to – I went to one day of the 2012 one (it was very cold and there weren’t very many people there), but since then they had a year off in 2013 and I missed 2014. I really enjoyed myself, although we ended up leaving before the last band on each day (a shame in the cases of Tinariwen – although I have seen them twice before – and Public Service Broadcasting. Not a shame at all in the case of The Bootleg Pigging Beatles).

Which things that were better than “That was quite good”?

~ Gigantic Woodbird: Aw, the Gigantic Woodbird was lovely. Its inevitable fate was a bit sad, but I liked it. There were also bipedal animals around the place all weekend, seemingly led by Crow and Stag. You also had Badger, Fox etc. This will become important later.

~ The Commentators: I really do believe that there is no public event that would not be improved by having Stan’s Café deliver running commentary.

~ Zervas & Pepper: CrosbyStillsandNashandYoungicespialadocious, even though the sound of it is something quite… lovely, actually.

~ Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin: I’d always assumed that I wouldn’t like Goblin, just from the way that people talked about them. How wrong I was. Heavy keyboard riffs a-plenty, with some quite metally bits and some quite funky bits too. Not as spooky and eerie as I’d assumed old-timey horror film soundtracks would be, but I’m entirely happy to admit that I don’t really know whereof I speak when it comes to that sort of thing.

~ The Fall: The band create fantastic rhythms, propulsive and insistent. Mark E. Smith oafishly groans “WARG BLARG ZARG” (or noises to that effect) over the top. I do think they’d probably be better off without him.

~ Jane Weaver: Ace. Focussing on the recent spacerock-y stuff rather than the older folky stuff, she floated beautifully over those controls that were set for the heart of the sun. One of the highlights, just as she’s been one of my favourite listens of late.

~ Mark Radcliffe & Galleon Blast: I will point out here (as I always point out when I get the chance) that Mark Radcliffe’s “Showbusiness” is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read in my life. Galleon Blast were great pirate-y fun, too, particularly when I could actually get into the tent (lots and lots of people were interested. They probably should’ve been on the main stage). “The Theme From Captain Pugwash” was a highlight. Radcl-O was fun as a compère all day, too (certainly better at the job than certain other BBC DJs found at other related festivals *coughMoseleyFolkcough* *coughJaniceLongcough* hint hint hint).

~ My Brightest Diamond: I initially thought (upon returning back from the over-running Galleon Blast) “Ooh, a synthpop Carina Round”. Lots of other elements came in as the set progressed, and I started to think “Ooh, maybe (just maybe) what I actually want current-day Carina Round to be”. Anyone who knows me will know how strong that praise is. It’s a “maybe”, though.

~ Kawa Circus: I really wanted to see their Floriferocity performance, due to the “Alice” connection (one of my minor obsessions), but there was a switcharoo for some reason and I ended up seeing the traditional Rajasthani circus performance instead. Some of the tightrope tricks went a bit wrong and I didn’t follow the narrative elements at all (my problem, not theirs), but it was fun to watch.

~ Pretty Things: – I didn’t really know all that much about them. I really should have (and I will put right this woeful ignorance, particularly after this great set). Like a fried r’n’b-ed up version of The Kinks, before spinning off sideways into hippy-psych fun. And then off sideways again into an extended Bo Diddley sequence.

~ Wilko Johnson: Reports of his death have been greatly etc. Hugely enjoyable (and exceptionally tight) hard-edged r’n’r/r’n’b, but the best bit were the facial expressions. Wilko was casting around murderous looks left right and centre, whilst Norman Watt-Roy… I do not know what the facial expressions of Norman Watt-Roy can be described as.

~ Föllakzoid: I was not aware that Zun Zun Egui had fallen off the line-up until the compère said so immediately before they were due to play (I still don’t know why) (EDIT: Ah, nuts, they’ve split up), and that was a particular disappointment given that they were one of the bands that I was most eagerly looking forward to. Happily, their short-notice replacements Follakzoid turned out to be A-to-the-mazing. Neu! gone dubby, perhaps? That would be too boring a description. I prefer to imagine that the relentless groove of their music pushed me forward a week into an alternate universe version of the Supersonic Festival, where the bass met the Komische met the incongruous between-song references to Sepultura. This was all fine by me. Only the fact that it was taking place in a field in rural Warwickshire posed any sort of conceptual challenge. They seemed to win over quite a lot of other folks too, incidentally, but possibly not in the same way.

~ Rhino & The Ranters: Yeeeeeeeeeeee-haaaaa, up-tempo (and ever so slightly punky) bluegrass with sufficient energy and enthusiasm and sense-of-fun to spare. Again, it seemed as though a lot of people were having trouble getting into the tent (I managed to swerve my way in at the front, though, like a proper Man-With-No-Name cowboy).

~ The BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Wow. What a time in which to live, when we can see the BBC Radiophonics Workshop playing live. Using actual instruments, though! I can’t help but feel that Delia would have been disappointed with that. I couldn’t be disappointed by incidental music from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, with “Telstar” or particularly (of course) with the theme from “Doctor Who”.

~ RM Hubbert: Auld R.M. Hubbert/Sat in a cubbert/drinkin’ his bottle o’ Bucky/Along came a wee gadgie/He said “Ah, ya pure radgie”/And I’ll end this rhyme now if you’re lucky.

~ Benajmin Folke Thomas: Affable American troubadour-style folk from a Swedishman for whom folk(e) is his middle name. He had a very affable manner as well as nice music and a lovely joke about an ice-cream man. Actually (upon thinking about it) ‘affability’ was a theme of the day, between the singer of Rhino & The Ranters (is his name ‘Rhino’? He should have joined the bipedal animal crew), R.M. Hubbert, B.F. Thomas, and…

~ Julian Cope: There had actually been a little drone flying around all weekend, filming from on high. I was really hoping that it might hover into view in front of Cope-O, solely due the likelihood of him hilariously freaking out at the sight of it. Imagine it now – he’d throw his hands into the air, wiggle his fingers, scream “OH LORDY-LORD THE ALIENS ARE HERE!” and run for his life. None of that happened, sadly. He’s occasionally a bit of a nobhead but a tremendously affable and entertaining one, who could go on for days with his anecdotes if needs be. He kept using the phrase “psychedelically informed” with an air of superiority, though, and things that took place shortly later showed just how small his lysergic worldview really is.

~ The Sun Ra Arkestra: Oh my life, Marshall Allen is 91. The fact that he’s still blowing his saxophone with such gusto is surely evidence that their knowledge and understanding of the celestial balance must be true and correct. You have a solid grooving bedrock with the out-there lunacy over the top, of course, akin perhaps to a solid base of gravity keeping big ol’ rocks in regular orbit around a star and enabling the unbelievable complexity and craziness of life to arise on the surface of (at least) one of them. The music, as I gather they say, of the spheres. At the end of their set, they left the stage for…

~ The procession: … the nicest imaginable version of “The Wicker Man”. The bipedal animals who’d been around all weekend led the procession, followed by the Sun Ra Arkestra (with gentle brass and drums) and a mini-choir. They advanced up to the aforementioned Gigantic Woodbird and then (to my slight surprise) on past, continuing to the Helter-Skelter in the top field. The animals went up and around/down, before returning to Gigantic Woodbird, who was promptly torched while the animals danced and the band played on. It felt like a shame, but as Gigantic Woodbird’s entropy was accelerated and its heat energy returned to the cosmos I began to understand why all of this needed to take place. That sun, those big ol’ rocks, all the unbelievable complexity and craziness of life, all the happy animals, and even the wise Arkestramen with all their understanding… all will eventually succumb to the beautiful universality of heat death. Entropy will increase chaos until there is nothing but. All will be one and one will be infinitely varied.

What could have been better?

A few more bins (and recycling). A lot more space for the second stage (the Bimble Inn tent was quite cool, but often not big enough for the number of people who wanted to see some of the bands playing in there). A heck of a lot more Zun Zun Egui. Fewer cold periods on the first two days. A heck of a lot fewer Bootleg Tossing Beatles.

A small selection from the Lots Of Things To See And Do In The West Midlands – June 2015

Posted in LOTTSADITWM, Music, Stage, Well by Russ L on 31 May, 2015

It’s the abridged remix of LOTTSADITWM. That list is never exhaustive, of course, but this particular version will be even further away than usual. Better than me not posting anything at all though, eh? For some obscure value of ‘better’.

~ Not actually in the West Midlands but very close nearby, you have The Lunar Festival in Tanworth-In-Arden from Friday the 5th till Saturday the 7th. The line-up looks amazing, albeit with one notable disappointment (and it really is a disappointment – having The Bootleg Beatles as a headliner, I mean come on now. I know that it’s easy enough to just not watch them, but it seems like a statement and not one that I like. Next year’s headliners: Platinum Abba, Nearvana and… oh, I don’t know, I don’t follow these bloody things. Is there a tribute band called Puns ‘n’ Roses?). Still, though, other than that you have Tinariwen and Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood as your other two headliners. You have big names like The Fall and the Sun Ra Arkestra and some sort of performing version of the BBC Radiophonics workshop. You have Jane Weaver (Gotta See Jane, as R. Dean Taylor so wisely noted) and Zun Zun Egui (they absolutely blew the roof off the place at The Sunflower Lounge in March. Definitely worth seeing). You even have the opportunity to camp there, if you fancy behaving like some kind of beast of the field.

~ Actually, if I’m mentioning festivals in the surrounding counties then it would be remiss of me not to point out The Knitted Character Folk Festival in Temple Grafton on the 6th. And you know how I feel about being remiss. If you take a knitted version of a folk music artist and a CD of three of their songs, then your hand-made homunculus might be able to perform in between the less woolly turns. I know this sounds like a “Study the diagram, Dougal” moment but I promise you that I am not making it up.

~ Iechyd da, baby: The Welsh National Opera are bringing one of their seasons around to The Hippodrome. The theme is “A Terrible Innocence” with Richard Ayres’ “Peter Pan” on the 11th and Claude Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” on the 13th, and for good measure you also have the production of “The Magic Flute” that they brought around last time on the 10th and 12th. It really is a shame that these clash with Supersonic, but there we are.

~ Speaking of which… Thooperthonic ith back. Not at The Custard Factory, though! That’s going to feel strange. The first night is at Brum Town Hall, and then after that your main bits will be at Boxxed and The Crossing (is that the theatre space in the South Birmingham College building?) as well as fringe events at various other places. Your musical line-up includes Holly Herndon (seemingly everyone’s fave all of a sudden, and rightly so), The Pop Group (I need to get around to actually listening to them at some point), Richard Dawson (oh my days. Really now. A Richard Dawson gig is… I cannot even describe a Richard Dawson gig. I mean this in the best possible way. Go and see Richard Dawson), The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble (i.e. the one from Goldfrapp who isn’t Alison Goldfrapp, leading a large ensemble all playing Moog Synthesisers), Liima (the new version of the amazing Efterklang, a band I loved dearly), The Bug vs Dylan Carlson, Six Organs Of Admittance, Ravioli Me Away as well as loads of others, and there are loads of exhibitions and installations and talks and what-not besides.

~ The erstwhile Birmingham Municipal Bank building (opposite the library) will have a rare open week between the 20th and the 28th, so that’ll be worth a looksee inside. There’s an exhibition in there of Birmingham Post archive photos of hidden spots in Birmingham, although I’m not sure whether or not that’ll be the same exhibition as the one that that was in Curzon Street Station last year.

~ Gig quick hits: Nas at The Institute on the 4th; Discharge and Chaos UK at The Actress & Bishop on the 5th; Dan Whitehouse with BJ Cole at The Glee Club on the 5th; Fleetwood Mac at the NIA on the 8th; Bridget St John and Michael Chapman at The Kitchen Garden Café on the 9th; Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at The Glee Club on the 10th; The Cadbury Sisters at The Glee Club on the 12th; The Burning Hell at The Coal Vaults on the 16th; John J Presley at The Hare & Hounds on the 17th; The Moody Blues at The NIA on the 20th; Dead Kennedys sans Jello at The Academy on the 23rd; The Bus Station Loonies at The Actress & Bishop on the 26th (EDIT: Wrong month, wrong venue); John Legend at The NEC on the 26th.

~ Theatre quick hits (it’s not particularly helpful doing it like this, I realise, but I suppose you can just click through if you like the title): “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” at The Hippodrome up until the 6th; “The Siege” at The Rep between the 4th and the 6th; “Black is The Colour Of My Voice” at The Old Joint Stock on the 12th and 13th; “Silence” at The Old Rep between the 17th and the 20th; “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot!” at The Drum on the 19th; “The Boy Who Became A Beetle” at The Arena on the 19th; The BE Festival at The Rep between the 23rd and the 27th; The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre at The Old Joint Stock on the 27th.