Tag Archives: 1997

REVIEWS // Playing It Cool (1997)

I’ve contributed sporadically to magazines over the years. It seems to come in fits and starts.

Having served as Music Editor at a sixth form college magazine in the early 90’s, I moved on to making music, films and painting for a few years instead. By the late 90’s, I came back again to writing a little when asked by a friend who worked for a University publication (even though I was no longer at Uni).

During the period as Music Editor, I found my way into plenty of gigs by artists I liked when they came to town. Sometimes, I actually wrote up the interviews that I conducted too. I managed to revive this technique for a Super Furry Animals show in Brighton in 1997 and hooked up an interview with the band. Turned up at the venue, asked who I thought would be the right person to let the band know I was there, waited for ages and no-one came. As I’d been really hoping to meet the band, I was rather disappointed that nothing came of my manoeuvres.

Still, I thought that I might as well use the opportunity to write a review of the show anyway. The review that appears below was originally in the now-defunct University Of Brighton publication Babble. I have seen Super Furry Animals countless times since this one and they remain one of my favourite live bands – often quite a spectacle to witness and usually very memorable. Check them out if you get the chance.

Playing It Cool

Super Furry Animals, Brighton Centre East Wing

Growing up in South Wales in the late 80’s and early 90’s could be quite a dull place to be if one was, to any extent, a fan of contemporary cutting edge music. It remained as one of the last outposts of spandex-trousered, poodlehaired, old style heavy metal, even after Kurt Cobain slayed the beast. House, techno and later on jungle had a very long journey there. The only hints of it were so underground that you couldn’t reach them because all the mines had been closed anyway. The Manics’ mascared manifestos of situationist gobshite caring had barely made it to ‘A’ Level. Singing in Welsh could only either get you a laugh or a play on John Peel (when nobody else at the station listened to him).

Now, after the Manics killed a legacy that limply contained Tom, Shirley, Shaky and The Alarm, and finally put Wales on the musical map, the door was at last kicked open. This means that wonders such as Super Furry Animals have been let through and allowed to flourish in all their psychedelic/punk/bubblegum/techno/folk splendour.

It’s a shame that they were playing in such a shit venue as the Brighton Centre East Wing. This carpeted conference room could only have been designed with suits around tables in mind and the band looked rather uncomfortable when first taking to the stage. It took four songs before they decided to break the ice and speak to the audience. Brighton crowds can also be notoriously ‘here we are now, entertain us’. The high teen turnout ensured that the crowd didn’t have to wait long before being surfed upon. And, unimaginable five years ago down here, people brought out the Welsh flag, wrapping themselves in it and waving it at the band.

Once things were underway, the Super Furries both thrilled and plucked at heartstrings too. The amphetamine fuzz funk of ‘Play It Cool’, the acid punk of ‘Something For The Weekend’, the poignancies of ‘Gathering Moss’ and ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’ (you can almost see it ‘when the insects fly all around you’). They’ve taken psychedelia mixed with punk but keeping the essential bubblegum elements of both, whilst driving their techno-blaring purple tank straight into Brian Wilson’s cupboard and nicking all the best harmonies.

Who knows where they’re going? They have an oddball feel to them that makes them nicheless. Their influences point them in so many different directions that they could just fall apart through a lack of seams. Then again, if you’re looking back on the late 90’s, you don’t need to look much further for a finer set of pop songs (with Gallagher having wrestled the song from the clutches of the beat) than their first two albums ‘Fuzzy Logic’ and ‘Radiator’. Gruff, the singer, left the stage while the rest of the band stayed on playing a furious trance and thrashing the two huge kettle drums that had lain obtrusive and untouched, centrestage, throughout the gig. Then Gruff returned for the encores, with the Furries bowing out on the hypnotic thrash loops of ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ ringing in the ears.

Next time Super Furry Animals play Brighton is when they support Blur at the larger Brighton Centre. May they stamp all over the place and let us all give a fuck about these furry magicians.

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Filed under 1997, Reviews

TRAVEL // Czech This Out (1997)

‘Czech This Out!’, complete with its cheesy pun of a title, was my first published piece of travel writing. It appeared in the University Of Brighton‘s student magazine Babble. I was asked to write the piece extolling the virtues of the guide book – presumably Rough Guides were sponsoring the page.

Prague is a beautiful city that I was fortunate enough to visit twice. The second occasion I managed to rent an apartment there for a few days, which was an entirely different experience from staying in a youth hostel (and much more pleasurable, I might add).

The architecture of the place was one of the things that fascinated me enough to visit initially, alongside their more peaceful methods of revolution. I discovered that the Czechs had taken the ideas of Cubism that much further than painting and incorporated its ideals into architecture and design during the earlier part of the 20th Century. Clearly something I had to witness for myself. I also found some quite remarkable modern buildings there too, such as ‘Fred & Ginger‘, an office block that was designed to look like a dancing couple.

Another good way to learn a little more about the place and the people is through the novels of Milan Kundera.

Czech This Out!

With our intended trip to New York thwarted, Hazelle and I left England after a miserable wet June fortnight and found ourselves basking in a week of glorious Prague sunshine instead. Every once in a while, and against better instinct, one must resign oneself to becoming a tourist. We decided that we were happy to do just this and set off with a camera in one hand and a guide book in another.

Prague is undoubtedly a remarkably beautiful city. Much of its architecture has survived 600 years of European war and destruction. The city is fundamentally European, yet permeated throughout with a rich aroma of the East. Feeding off the River Vltava, many cobbled streets mingle and intertwine as trams rumble past each other. As befits such a romantic city, the place is awash with (mainly Western) young couples, walking arm-in-arm along the river, or sitting facing each other at a table in a bar or restaurant.

As one of the smaller European capitals, Prague runs at a totally different pace to, say Paris or London. It allows you to slow down to a comfortable walk. West of the river, in the Hradcany district, lies Prague Castle which houses the towering majesty of the Cathedral of St. Vitus (the foundation stone was laid in 1344 although the Cathedral itself was not completed until 1929). If you turn around on the Charles Bridge you’ll face the National Theatre, crested with its golden roof. Refused funding by the Austrian State who were partly ruling the lands at the time, the Czech people dug deep into their own pockets to fund this most impressive monument to a long-standing theatrical tradition (the current president, Vaclav Havel, was himself a playwright before the Velvet Revolution of 1989 swept him into power).

In the Old Town Square (one of the gathering places in the city), tourists and ‘Praguers’ gather on the hour around the Astrology clock, with its metal cockerels, bowing Apostles, and sword-wielding skeletons. The Jewish cemetery is another lure for the hordes of tourists that pour into Prague; it is a smallish area located in the former Jewish ghetto with an estimated 100,000 buried there, some twelve layers deep. The place evokes an awed calm and holds an air of clustered tranquillity. A former synagogue on the site has now been converted into a museum to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

There are many ways to spend ones time in Prague – plenty of bars and cafes to chill in, museums and galleries to visit, tourist attractions to see. The Czechs have been subject to countless occupations through the ages and can on occasion be rather wary or weary of foreigners. However, most of the ones that we met were pretty friendly and helpful, and I’ve never felt safer on the streets of any other European city. English is fairly widely spoken although some German can also be useful if you don’t speak Czech. And Western money can go far. Our youth hostel was £7 per person per night, and of course the beer is cheap too!

So, was our Rough Guide a little more than just a rough guide? Along with the street map purchased at the airport, it was indispensable, and found its way into our hands on almost every twist of yet another cobbled street. From places to go in the day to places to places to stay in the night, useful phrases or a history of its places, basics to districts – all contained within those insightful pages.

‘OK, so we can’t find this place. Let’s go for a drink instead.’

‘Where d’you fancy going?’

‘I dunno. Let’s consult the guide book.’

And through a process of elimination, somewhere perfect for the mood of the moment can inevitably be found.

I think we’d all rather love to be able to do without such a tool and trek through our travels with an adventurous heart and a desire for self-discovery. We found though that to guide us through the sheer magic of Prague and to be able to get the most out of our experiences, we couldn’t have done without the firm parental hand of our Prague Bible.

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Filed under 1997, Features, Travel

ARTICLES // Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These (1997)

What a difference 10 years makes.

This article was written for Babble, the (probably now defunct) University of Brighton‘s Student Union magazine, following the first few months of Britain’s new Labour government back in 1997. It is an early attempt at political commentary.

After 18 years of Tory misrule, there was a certain national euphoria at their ousting. Blair and his new government were seen as a bright new hope for a country that had been downtrodden by its leaders for decades. Once in power, they became another government, another thing to criticise, another focus for peoples rage. Diana died too, and the jubilation that swept the country in May dissipated into a national outpouring of grief.

Blair’s government have had their own fair share of trouble from political legacies they inherited, the old guard and other unpreventable factors, including the fuel protests, the Countryside Alliance and Foot And Mouth Disease. However, it is the PM’s willingness, even eagerness, to go to war that will most likely mark his tenure at Number 10. Kosovo and Sierra Leone carried the mark of ‘humanitarian intervention’. He happily bombed Iraqi no-fly zones with pal Clinton. And then came his cosying up to the Bush administration (amongst my many reasons to leave the country), going to war again in Afghanistan despite Britain’s long history of ultimately failing to subjugate the Afghan people, and of course the ongoing disaster that is Iraq.

The Labour government claim a long list of achievements of their time in power too, and while the country has clearly improved in many ways, Iraq has divided the country from its rulers and damaged Britain’s standing in the world that will probably be felt for generations to come.

This piece captures some of the almost innocent pre-9/11 era, when people were just getting used to complaining a little about the government again and evokes seaside Brighton too.

1997 was certainly an interesting year. 2007 is still so full of fear.

Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These

Now that the ‘peoples’ government have become just ‘the government’ following numerous blunders and U-turns – tobacco, fees and benefits for instance, we can all heave a sigh of relief and get back on with complaining.

But if you can cast your minds back to the beginning of term…

…Brighton, throughout the summer months a decidedly ‘relaxed’ town, always undergoes a period of frantic activity during the transition between late summer and early winter (end of September to beginning of October). The biggest impact, after the tourists, daytrippers and foreign students have eaten their last ice cream cones and thrown their final stones into the sea, is the return of the tens of thousands of students who pass through the two universities every year. If that doesn’t swell the town’s ranks enough, the students are joined by the politicians, reporters and policemen who start to filter in throughout the weekend.

By Monday, the Annual Labour Party Conference bestrides the hotels and The Brighton Centre, cordoning off the seafront and returning the gaze of the eyes of the nation. The Palace Pier appears on TV at least 10 times a day as some Westminster luminary or other trot out in front of the cameras for their comments on what’s going on ‘inside’.

Brighton is often the scene of many classic conference moments that define or permanently alter a party’s career. Neil Kinnock found himself unwittingly splashed over Britain’s front pages when he failed to win at the old Brighton game of ‘run away from the tide at the last minute to avoid getting wet’ and promptly fell into the sea. In 1984, the IRA came within a whisker of taking out most of the Government front bench including the then-recent Falklands veteran Margaret Thatcher, with their bombing of the Grand Hotel. 1997 in Brighton will go down as the first Labour Conference in 18 years when they can revel in the knowledge that they are actually in power following ‘those election results’.

Can we still allow ourselves a wry smile at the memory of the evening of May 1st? Particularly as Tory boy Wee Willie Hague (Notting Hill, nice one!)’s firm and decisive direction for the party of ‘No, no, no, we still don’t like Europe’ is pushing ever closer to the icy waters of the North Sea.

Of course I stayed up for Portillo! You wouldn’t go to bed before the winning goal at the World Cup, would you?

Obviously, once you vote them in (whoever they are) they always become ‘the government’ in the end. But (and here comes the point of the piece) haven’t these been strange times to be living through in Britain of late? Especially given the passing away of a certain Ms. Spencer during the summer. Crying in the streets! Most irregular, eh?

So have we finally grabbed hold of the Old Guard of Old Britain, caught them by the scruffs of their necks and shouted back ‘No! We’ve had enough and we won’t take any more. We’re gonna run things from now on and show you how it’s done. Haven’t you heard of caring before?’ With young British music, film, fashion and art trading global stamps with each other, we have an increasingly polarising world as we hurtle towards another Year Zero (or by the Christian calendar at least). There’s a lot more crazy shit yet to come, you can be sure of that.

Winding down the nineties isn’t far off now, (thinks – ‘still haven’t found a decent name for the next decade yet’). But you may find that having spent your youth through them won’t have been the least exciting time of your life. Strange days indeed!

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Filed under 1997, Articles, Features

LYRICS // Not Letting The Grass Grow (1997)

A song about moving on after the end of a relationship and finding positivity in the change.

I’ve always found that either writing songs or listening to them are good for the healing/recovery process after a break-up. Anger or sadness can be exorcised well if externalised and put to verse. Similarly, listening to someone else’s experiences can have a similar effect.

In the times that I’ve had these needs, I usually put on The Stones. Whilst there’s often a misogyny in their music that I don’t approve of (‘Under My Thumb‘, for example), they nevertheless also have a certain reverence for women too (such as in ‘Wild Horses‘) that I can definitely connect with.

The line about Bedfordshire’s wooden hills (meaning ‘go upstairs to bed’) is a steal from The Small Faces, while the mention of ‘my age of reason’ was a shout to Jean-Paul Sartre. I read his ‘The Age Of Reason‘ at the time and it seemed to encapsulate the transition between being in one’s 20’s to being in one’s 30 (a stage that I had pending then) pretty well. The lines about judges and benezedrine don’t have any particular meaning but seemed to flow in a ‘wordplay’ kind of way.

The song was recorded with The Zamora and can be downloaded here. It was also recorded by Headland, the 4-piece I fronted before The Zamora. That version can be downloaded here.

Photo of Steve, Pete and Dom of The Zamora by Dan Paton.

Not Letting The Grass Grow

I’ll climb the wooden hills to Bedfordshire,
Even though my baby isn’t here.
Go down the ragged steps to Santa Fe,
And push my last memories away.

Your words mean so much to me you said,
And I can’t seem to keep you from my bed.
I’d carry you the way to New Orleans,
But you know I just don’t have the means.

Have I reached my age of reason? Will we see another season?
Do I count my chickens before they hatch?

Wish that I could stop your sneezing, though I know, there ain’t no pleasin’
you until I’ve finally turned my back.

Don’t want the grass to grow under my feet.
Don’t let the grass grow under my feet.
I’d hate the grass to grow under my feet.
Don’t want the grass to grow under my feet.

I’ve always tried pushing new frontiers.
This one I’m going to save until next year.
Leave my former life in disarray,
And start it all again on Saturday.

You asked me see what lies ahead,
I said take a look yourself instead.
You flashed me a smile like Benzedrine,
And waited for the judge to intervene.

Have I reached my age of reason? Will we see another season?
Do I count my chickens before they hatch?

Wish that I could stop your sneezing, though I know, there ain’t no pleasin’
you until I’ve finally turned my back.

Don’t want the grass to grow under my feet.
Don’t let the grass grow under my feet.
I’d hate the grass to grow under my feet.
Don’t let the grass grow under my feet.

I’ll climb the wooden hills to Bedfordshire,
Even though my baby isn’t here.

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Filed under 1997, Lyrics, The Zamora