HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT – Rock n Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools

‘Play One The Drummer Knows…’       

My favourite band-ever. I could have put any of their songs on here but this is the one I have played most recently, last track on the last album ’90 Bisodol  (Crimond)’. With a riff bearing a strong resemblance to ‘Oddfellows Local 151‘ by REM Nigel takes a scalpel to the vacuous skinny indie kid (insert your time-waster of choice here) who, beneath the blandness of his media-trained responses, has no depth whatsoever. Easy target maybe but done with such beautiful precision-the small, telling details are one of the many reasons I love this band so much. He goes on to bemoan the current state of production-line pop bands, before relating an evening spent watching a Crowded house/David Gray covers band in preference to the latest NME Flavour-Of-The-Week up the road.

Their first album sold 250,000 copies-any of the piss-weak rim-sniffers who play indie music would murder their mothers for sales like that nowadays-and they have been beavering away ever since, improving in leaps and bounds as musicians, now being capable of everything from a punk thrash to a polka to a Beatles-esque psychedelic raga. Nigel Blackwell is Britain’s greatest ever lyricist. Better than Morrissey (shock!), Strummer (what??!!) and Macgowan (surely not!?). The most throwaway lines are often the most profound. My favourite couplet, from ‘Surging Out Of Convalescence’….

‘And if I get to Heaven’s Gate, I’ll doubtless have to wait

While St. Peter investigates the inevitable asterisk.’

That is genius in anybodys book.

Half Man Half Biscuit are a National Treasure. They should put Nigel’s picture on the £10 note.

Anyway, enough of my yakking.

Also here is a link to Chris Rand’s HMHB Lyrics Project  http://www.chrisrand.com/hmhb/  your one-stop shop for all things Biscuit-related.

THEY LIVE – John Carpenter

WARNING!! ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE PARANOID RAMBLINGS AHEAD!! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!

Imagine a world where huge financial institutions run the world: they have the power to install their own puppet leaders, they control global markets and decisions which they make in the blink of an eye can literally mean the difference between life and death for huge numbers of people. They control the mainstream media, which pumps out a steady stream of witless celebrity bilge, energy-sapping sports coverage and thinly disguised hate-filled propaganda, designed to anaesthetize and indoctrinate. Television hypnotizes, and to NOT watch it results in migraine-like headaches. The police are employed to protect and serve the rich alone, and are to be used as a private army when necessary. These institutions can take away your homes, jobs and freedoms arbitrarily and with impunity. Money is worshipped, wealth flows upwards and a shit-storm comes down on all those who aren’t ‘with the programme’; the ordinary Joes and Joannes who just want a decent standard of living and a nice place to raise the kids.

Pretty scary, eh? And of course its nothing at all like the situation we are in today. Well, now imagine these institutions being run by aliens….

Paranoid fantasy? Bad sci-fi written through too much stress and caffeine? Drug-addled 60s-throwback psychedelic hysteria (instead of ‘The Man’ we have ‘The Space-Man’)? Or a vision of a possible reality, made in the style of a 50s B-movie and featuring a 7-minute fistfight? ‘THEY LIVE‘ (directed by JOHN CARPENTER) is all of these.

An unemployed, homeless construction worker Nada (literally ‘Nothing’, an Everyman-type, ably played by professional wrestler Roddy Piper) turns up at a homeless camp in LA looking for work. These camps have sprung up all over America as banks repossess homes. Jobs are scarce, cost-of-living expenses sky-rocket and more and more people find themselves destitute. Here he meets Frank (Keith David. Or is it David Keith? Anyway its NOT the guy who hangs himself in ‘An Officer And A Gentleman’). At a church in the camp he stumbles across an underground meeting but before the purpose of this enclave becomes clear the police move in and destroy the camp, beating its inhabitants and scattering their meagre possessions. When he revisits the scene of the meeting he finds a box of sunglasses which he stashes in a dustbin. Confused, but figuring that at least he has a free pair of shades, he heads out into the main street, and here he has a major revelation. With the glasses on what look like ordinary billboards and magazines appear to contain subliminal orders such as ‘OBEY’, ‘CONSUME’, ‘SLEEP’, with money containing the slogan ‘THIS IS YOUR GOD’. Wearing the glasses he soon realises that some people are in fact aliens, and have infiltrated the wealthy upper-classes. He gets involved in a shoot-out in a bank, killing only aliens. This leads to him being pursued by police and he hides out in the home of TV producer Holly Thompson (the witchy-eyed Meg Foster). While trying to explain himself, she tricks him and pushes him out of her house and down a hill, leaving the glasses behind. Nada returns to the camp and tries to convince Frank to put on the glasses, but Frank thinks he is dealing with a murderous fugitive and they fight in the alley ( for 7 minutes-a tribute to John Wayne in ‘The Quiet Man’) before Nada eventually forces the glasses onto him, and Frank too sees the aliens.

They re-establish contact with the church group, and at the meeting (also attended by Holly) they hear about climate change engineered by the aliens, population control by a signal sent through television,  how people are being ‘farmed’ and the entire planet strip-mined for its resources. The aliens, along with their human collaborators, run the media, the financial institutions, and even the government. The resistance plan to mass-produce the glasses to awaken the population to the reality of their situation, but before any progress can be made the police break into the meeting and begin slaughtering everyone they find. Using an alien transporter device Nada and Frank escape to an underground tunnel system where they come across a benefit being given by the aliens for the humans who have aided them in their mission. Further exploration leads to the cable TV station responsible for generating the cloaking TV signal and, finding Holly, Nada and Frank head to the roof to destroy the transmitter. Here Holly shoots Frank and is killed by Nada, who is himself shot by an overhead police helicopter, but not before he brings down the aerial and stops the signal transmission. The result is that humans can now see the aliens as they really are, and the extent of their infiltration throughout society.

‘THEY LIVE’ is 25 years old next year and is more relevant now than ever. When it originally came out (in the era of Reaganomics, ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Bonfire Of The Vanities’) it’s B-movie style and tongue-in-cheek humour led to it being criticized as one of the weaker films from Carpenter, who had previously set such high standards with ‘Halloween’, ‘Escape From New York’, and ‘The Thing’ among others. However, this is my blog and therefore my rules, so I’ll give you my take on ‘THEY LIVE’.

It’s a documentary. Or at least a drama-documentary, with fictional characters playing against a real background. Its 25 years old and the ‘near future’ is NOW. Social, economic and political nowadays are EXACTLY the same as in his ‘fictional’ film (When Carpenter’s ‘Assault On Precinct 13’ came out, one of the reasons given for it being ‘unrealistic’ was that the gangs had automatic weapons, and they would never be as organised as Carpenter portrays them!). Multi-nationals own governments, financial institutions do as they please (restricting access to your own money, while charging crippling interest if you dare spend one penny more than your pre-determined worth), TV is relentless garbage (peddling vacuous, unattainable ‘life-style’ propaganda to an audience of couch-bound consumers, numbed by the media, titillation-on-tap, drugs of one kind or another, lack of empathy and stress) job-cuts, homelessness, and anxiety are all on the way up, and tolerance, community-spirit and social-mobility are sloping downwards. I’ve got just one question-if the governments, which we have ‘democratically’ elected with our ‘x’ on a piece of paper every couple of years and who constantly claim that they are acting for our benefit, if they care at all about the population, how have they allowed this to happen? We live in the Western World in the 21st century and we should ALL be prosperous, healthy, trouble-free, and comfortable. Take a look around…..

Dismissed for it’s style, and consequently its content, ‘THEY LIVE’ stands up today much better than some of Carpenters more celebrated films. If it was made today, it would be very different (in fact it has been remade with a far larger budget and far fewer jokes, as ‘THE MATRIX’). I’m not suggesting that the planet is controlled by aliens who regard humans as cattle and who influence every aspect of modern life in order to maintain a docile and compliant population, oblivious to their situation…..In fact that is EXACTLY what I’m suggesting. However this isn’t the place for me to provide evidence for my ill-formed and paranoid ramblings. What I will say is that both ‘THEY LIVE’ and ‘THE MATRIX’ go some way to de-condition you, whether or not you believe the ideas they contain, so that next time you hear about bankers bonuses or governments murdering their own citizens you may pause to think why these things are brought about. In much the same way as hearing the Bill Hicks routine about advertising will alter your view of TV commercials forever, ‘THEY LIVE’ will open your mind to at least the possibility that this may be the way the world works and that is it’s strength.

Take all this with a large pinch of sodium chloride if necessary, and do with it what you will. Enjoy the film on a superficial level as a dark comic fantasy and ignore my deranged gibberish. I don’t expect to alter your perception, but watching  ‘THEY LIVE’ might…

(Written to: ‘Equal Rights’ – PETER TOSH, ‘Bass Culture’ – LKJ, ‘Tago Mago’ – CAN)

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OSYMYSO – Intro inspection 101

The History Of Pop Music…in less time than it takes to have a bath.

The life of a music fan is (hopefully, if you’re doing it right) one of tiny epiphanies: realisations that you have suddenly been opened up to genres/albums/bands which you had no previous knowledge, or maybe even actively shunned. These minute Damascene moments are what keeps us interested and passionate about music-they are what keep us fans. Each particular revelation is personal to each listener, and is irrelevant of taste, knowledge, and fashionability – it just works at that particular time and place, and opens up brand new areas to be explored (often at great financial cost, hours of searching through specialist shops and sites, and then more time spent as a listener). I remember vividly walking into a record store and hearing Rockbox by Run DMC at ASBO-level volume and feeling that I had just heard the future. The first Big Audio Dynamite album was equally inspirational-the first time I’d heard samples of film dialogue pasted throughout songs, enhancing the mood and atmosphere and creating a potent mix of music and cinematic images.

For those of you who don’t have the time or inclination to spend hours in second-hand shops but would like a swift guide to what Pop Music was like when it used to matter, I give you INTRO INSPECTION by OSYMYSO.

There are 102 fragments of (mainly) 70s and 80s pop songs here, sliced from their original context and then welded together in a seamless flow, so that, just as you pick out one song its gone and replaced by another. The whole piece works as a montage of pop history (or more accurately, British pop history from roughly 1965-95 which, lets face it, is The Golden Age Of Pop) from a period when your life was measured out in Number One singles. It also serves as a ‘Feck You’ to the Luddites who still believe that sampling is solely the preserve of electronic music and requires no talent whatsoever-the majority of the songs utilised are, as Vim Fuego would have it, part of rock’s rich tapestry and most will be familiar to anyone aged between 20 and 60 who has only a casual listeners interest in music. They are taken out of context, cut up and spliced together to create a patchwork of riffs, choruses, beats and melodies which is stunning in its scope and vision.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise if you’ve never heard this before, but some of the juxtapositions are sensational; to have the ability to realise that ‘This’ goes so very well with ‘That’ and to put those pieces together side-by-side, on top of one another, or weaving in and out, is joyful. Play this to your friends after a couple of drinks and your front room turns into a raucous Pop Quiz with everybody shouting out the songs, then immediately quiet in case they miss the next sliver.

Its entirely possible that this was meant to be a comment on the disposability of Pop Music-one after another after another until the cows come home, with the only response from the listener being a Pavlovian grin with each riff or recognised vocal, and no time for any other emotional engagement before the next one comes along. Its possible, but this is obviously the construction of a Pop fan; the love and attention-to-detail put into the selection and shaping of the fragments, and the fun in hearing two (or more) records which would never be filed together in anyones collection using each other as reference points is a pure joy from start to finish.

My favourite bits of this record change every time I play it, so have a glass of wine, put the headphones on, and try to keep a straight face as ‘…the hits just keep on coming’. First time I heard it I managed to spot 75 – see how many YOU get…..

(Written to: ‘Intro Inspection’ 101 – OSYMYSO, ‘Damaged’ – BLACK FLAG, ‘Caress Of Steel’ – RUSH)