Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Los Campesinos! interview...

Los Campesinos! are just lovely.

They're so engaged that I can't tell whether the journo before me is interviewing them or a mate; eventually, though, she says thank you and shakes their hands, so I sidle over. But before we get beyond pleasantries, into it proper, a local homeless guy comes over with a paper cup and announces, "excuse me, sorry to bother you, but I just wondered if anyone can spare…seven hundred and fifty quid?" Laughs all round and, after a bit more chat and a promise that he won't hassle us again ("…for at least another 5 0r 6 hours"), every single Campesino reaches into their pocket, and drops some silver on him.

It's the general aura of loveliness that the band exude (you could totally take them home for Christmas) that also means they're more modest than most in their position, in this thing we call the music business. Three albums in - Hello Sadness being very recently released - they show only the merest hints of being jaded by the industry - grazes at worst - and not a jot of pretension at all (even the accidental admission that they sometimes shop in Waitrose is quickly qualified with: "it's the closest shop to mine and Neil's house, and if you go in after 8pm you can get some real bargains. We follow the girl with the reductions gun around. I got two duck breasts for 59p").

And the same can be said of their latest: having seven members (now. Keep up) means it's hard to strip back any sound too much, but it is more stripped back than their last, Romance is Boring, or, indeed, anything they've done previously. And they think it's less pretentious for it, says Tom Campesinos!:

"The third record is when you're confident to just do what comes to you instinctively and naturally. We had the confidence to write a lot more simply. There was an element to the last album where we were showing off, and being antagonistic, and trying to make it difficult for people to get something out of it. I think we got that out of our system and now we've just tried to make the best album we could. Right from the start we just wanted to make a really clipped, coherent, good... pop record, really."

The perfect match between pretentious and pop? Although the sound is slightly more sober in places, the lyrics are still pretty legless - they've lost none of their humour, their joviality , their playfulness (sample lyric from a song with an ostensibly melancholic melody: "but here it comes, this is the crux, she vomits down my rental tux"). And sober's certainly not to say they've gone soft: there are still plenty of arms in the air moments, they just come from a deeper place. When I mention I listened to Sticking Fingers again recently, Gareth groans an 'oh no', like I'm his mom threatening to pull out an adolescent photo album; they're a bit older and they've got a bit more life under their belts, thank you very much.

By Your Hand, for example, is a properly powerful way to open an album - especially one that has been re-written just a week before its recording, owing to the untimely demise of songwriter Gareth Campesinos!' long-term relationship. Fate is indeed a cruel mistress: "a couple of weeks before going into the studio, like only a week or two weeks, the relationship that I was in broke up. And, subsequently, the songs that I'd written that were from a happy, relationship perspective, were not songs I wanted to exist anymore. So the ideas for them were scrapped, and I started again."

By Your Hand

See the video for title track Hello Sadness for another tale of regret, revenge and broken relationships, all sorrowfully supported by strings. But be aware also that Los Camps are a band that refuse to be moulded by their press release - to stick to the story - and don't read too much into it. Gareth always writes his lyrics on the hoof: "That wasn't an unusual thing, because previously I'd not really made any effort write songs until we got into the studio - I only really am able to write under pressure. Writing words, when I'm at home in my room, I just can't do it. I'd feel like a dickhead."

That's not because of any lack of self-confidence, oh no - have you seen this man on stage? It's merely a self awareness that they're in a privileged position: "I think we still find it very uncomfortable being the' people in a band'; because we've come from the same, sort of, going to gigs, posting on message boards, hanging out in the same clubs… but we just got in a lucky situation and wrote some songs people liked"

It's all a part of that humility that, in turn, seems to spur them on to serve up something special. Though they may not take themselves too seriously, they take that which they offer very seriously. They're a fan's band: they may hate the f-word, but it seems they feel a sort of duty of care towards theirs. From their blog to their new zine, Heatrash, it's all about giving back, and giving good:

Gareth: "As a band, we've always endeavoured to think outside - quote, unquote - the box a little bit, and by no means is what we've done revolutionary, but this is another way of doing that. I also think that there being seven of us in band, that's a lot of personalities that can't necessarily always get across in the music, so having Heatrash as platform for all our different interests has been really useful. And the volume with which people subscribe to it is testament to that - and it's been fun to do."

Tom: "I think it's something that we'd like as fans, and that's still how we approach things: what we would we like our favourite bands to do?"

Heatrash is largely the result of the addition of, guitarist and graphics guy, Rob 'Sparky Deathcap' Campesinos! And, of course, the changing line up - Harriet and Ollie having left since Romance is Boring - can't help but have changed their sound: "the new additions to the band have bought new things, and have really increased our creativity, and increased the scope for different excesses that we can go to, and different directions that we can take."

But, hey, not so much that you're not going to recognise it. They've still got a monster line up, and their still having a lot of fun with it. Perhaps even more so than it might appear, says Neil: "I we think we probably have more fun amongst ourselves than the music let's on, really. It's been an important part of the band to have been so many of us."

Just as it has always been the harmonies in which team Campesinos! excel, it's the choruses on Hello Sadness, when they're unified in rousing voice - from the haunting relentlessness of Death Rattle to the shouty exuberance of By Your Hand - that are the highlights.

And, of course, they still have that same respect for the 'people who like their music', which appears to be part of a mutually beneficial relationship:

Gareth: "The best thing is, people who like us are rooting for us, and want to hear these new songs - and sort of have faith in us that they'll like them more than the last batch of songs. And that's a really weird and lucky place to be in. But I think we're, well…their faith will be repaid."


International Times editorial meeting...

There was some disagreement about the way forward, particularly around the contentious issue of financing. But the cats dominated and it was decided to seek funds through force of arms:

"What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?"

- Bertholt Brecht

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Cut cut copy shop: the pictures...

Event: Cut cut copy shop - for a new wor(l)d order...

Where: Tent City University, St. Paul's Occupy LSX

What we did: Took an Olivetti 1969 Valentine typewriter to Tent City University. Encouraged people to bring texts connected to the Occupy movement in some way. Asked participants and passers-by to select phrases from the texts and type them out. Rearranged the selections to create a new text.

Inspiration: Delaina had been talking to Simon Morris who, with his imprint Information as Material, is the Whitechapel gallery’s writer in residence. He had put her hot on the trail of a new writing movement: conceptual writing.

I'd done some writing events at Really Free School earlier this year, in which a collaborative text was created using the Olivetti. I was asked to do something similar at Tent City University, so I got in touch with Delaina and said I was thinking of combining two old tricks to make a new(ish) one. We made it conceptual and agreed that 'collaboration is joy'...

Why: We don’t really know, it was an experiment.

Result: We had a lot of fun and talked to many people up for giving conceptual writing a go and trying to create a better wor(l)d while they were at it. It was often a challenge to get across the importance of copying text: many wished to write their own. Our favourite contributors were the children who wanted to type out lines from Goldilocks and The Three Bears. We thought about it for a moment, then realised how perfect that was.


Photos: Delaina Haslam

Cut cut copy shop: the result...

And the words went:

"Who’s been eating my porridge?
There’s been a bit of “He said--She said” going on
But he warned against “proposing specific answers to complex economic problems”
Others want to speak
As Owen thought of his child’s future there sprung up within him a feeling of hatred and fury against the majority of his fellow workers
Napoleon is always right. I will work harder.
4. Discussion: Why are we here?
Vivent les riches, and to hell with the poor
We are all equal but some are more equal than others
Part of the reason why Christianity is so suspicious of money is that the power and glamour of money can easily corral us into a narrower sense of what it is to be human
Scrolls or bones extracted by you from the land in question will also be subject to a tax on confiscation
Yields on 10-year Italian bonds climbed by 21 basis points to a new Europe-era high of 6.4 percent and shares in the country’s banks, among the biggest buyers of debt, fell heavily
She don’t lose on her losses, but she wins on ours
Who’s been sleeping in my bed?
the manifest powerlessness of any genuinely emancipatory programme within the electoral system
Scuffles broke out after police formed a line
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
If I am wrong, and if some other religion or social system would be better and more acceptable to Thee, I prey Thee in Thy goodness to let me know it, for I am ready to follow wherever Thou shalt lead me
the thing that he is concerned about is making sure that there isn’t something for nothing culture that operates at the top of society, nor at the bottom
Real leisure, not just time spent buying things
Right now, she’s got the fog machine switched on, and it’s rolling in so fast I can’t see a thing but her face, rolling in thicker and thicker and I feel hopeless and dead as I felt happy a minute ago, when she gave that little jerk -- even more hopeless than ever before on account of I know now there is no real help against her and her Combine
committed to radical new manifestations of co-operative principles
Let the ruling classes tremble at Communistic revolution. The proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
this ‘fear of the fear’ is a secondary derivative emotion, whose content -- beyond the sentiment itself -- is barely detectable..."

Friday, 18 November 2011

Absolutely Nothing in Moderation: The Rum Diary...

‘When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,' as the good doctor famously said. The going is certainly weird, and the world’s fairly climbing the walls for another hit of Hunter S. Easy to be worried, though, that a cinematic version of The Rum Diary will disappoint, particularly if you’re a follower of the cult of Gonzo. But, fear not, it's in good hands: no more professional than Bruce Robinson, director of Withnail, in the arena of desperate, derelict, hundred mile an hour hedonism. Speaking of all that, the ever-lovely Lexi are putting on a HST double bill, with rum and other assorted liquors on offer. They’re even inviting punters to sneak in other ‘toxic inspiration’ themselves, laying down the gauntlet of the film’s tag line: ‘absolutely nothing in moderation’. Let the bad craziness commence…

Thursday, 10 November 2011

St Paul’s: product placement and the pro-capitalists…

On last week’s Question Time, Theresa May scoffed that the ‘anti-capitalist protesters’ at St. Paul’s somehow lack authenticity because they had the occasional cup of Starbucks, or write up their communiqu├ęs on Apple Macs. Amy Jones, going undercover for The Sun, italicised this phrase in Saturday’s edition, so that even children may understand she’s making An Important Point:

“Earnest looking youngsters discuss the evils of capitalism while sipping lattes and tapping away on their macbooks”

Quite apart from the fact that many at St. Paul’s are more anti-greed than they are avowedly anti-capitalist, products are not the point: their means of production are. Furthermore, it’s the average pro-capitalist that obsesses over the products, over the object itself, which they point at with awe and admiration: “Look, look: isn’t capitalism clever? It’s made a Macbook”.

But capitalism isn’t clever: human ingenuity and creativity are. Different economic and political systems probably would have created the same products; we will always find ways of fulfilling our needs, whatever we perceive these to be.

No, capitalism didn’t create your macbook: someone in a Far-East ‘free trade zone’ did - possibly a child, and almost certainly someone who’s overworked and underpaid. Capitalism just made the capitalist who exploited that person’s labour very rich indeed. It’s obviously absurd to blame either lattes or laptops: the system that presides over rampant, often lethal, inequality is at fault. Do we really lack the imagination to think of something better than our world of want? Are we so resistant to change that we can’t embrace the alternatives that are already available?

Of course, the opposite of an anti-capitalist is not a capitalist. There are only two classes of people: those who control enough capital to employ workers - the capitalists - and those who do not - the workers. Everything else is ego and imagination. Workers and pro-capitalists like Amy are presumably hooked on the idea that, no matter how unlikely, that they too will one day attain the lofty label of capitalist.

Another criticism the pro-capitalists lay at the door of St. Paul’s - both Theresa and Amy did - is that the protesters are only anti, and have no for. How many pro-capitalists have such a clearly defined idea of what capitalism is that they can properly articulate exactly what they’re for? Just the mom and pop, freedom and democracy variety? Or also the kind that creates war for resource control? It's presumably a tiny percentage of pro-capitalists that would be willing to stand on St. Paul’s steps and give an impassioned defence of the arms industry.

The question is: do the pro-capitalists, like Nietzsche’s flies, sting in all innocence? Are they simply ignorant or are they knowingly protecting their positions of power and privilege? Perhaps it’s some mixture of the two, the subconscious firing out defensive salvos to assuage the guilt of being part of a system that watches half the world go to sleep hungry every night.

Whatever it is, in the words of Robert Tressell: “we must conclude that they do not understand socialism…"

This article also appears here, on Counterfire.org. Though, for their own reasons, they removed any notion that not everyone at St. Paul's is an anti-capitalist.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Haircut Before the Party...

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever..."

...or at least until it grows out. The Haircut Before the Party is indeed a thing of beauty, and although the ideas behind it, its ethos, will live on, it closes its doors for free haircuts next week.

That ethos is a sort of 'the best things in life are free' type vibe. Its totally talented hair-tailors, Richard and Lewis, started out cutting hair for their mates; as he's cutting and crafting my hair back from simply shabby to shabby-mohawk, Richard tells me that it started as a self-sufficiency thing. Not wanting to hand over his hard earned to a hairdresser, who was invariably unwilling or unable to recreate exactly what he wanted anyway, he did it himself. Then a few brave friends ("they were very brave") friends stepped-up and sat down in what was to become his salon chair

That salon chair is now a fully fledged project funded by Arts Admin who pay the rent on their Toynbee St chop-shop-come-art-space. But it retains the ideals of freedom and friendship: in return for having your barnet beautified (and the results really are beautiful), the cuttee is encouraged to engage in an exchange of ideas. Y'know, conversation, chit-chat, that kinda thing

Cuts are offered for free to explore other potential values within the exchange and the salon environment when financial transactions are removed. The hair is cut as a gesture of friendship, in a similar way to how people have their hair cut by friends or family at home.

But before they down hair tools, the boys are putting on a series of events to say thank you and goodnight to their little palace of gratis. And, of course, after six-months of haircuts, they're due a bit of aparty themselves...

You've still got time to book an appointment: fill out an appointment form or try emailing them at haircutbtp@gmail.com (their phone got nicked recently by 'some cheeky kids')


Sunday, 6 November 2011

The boat freaks: Mark Walton & Balthamos...

Vyvian Raoul bids farewell to the series by meeting the man behind the fight-back against British Waterways’ threats to continuous cruising
British Waterways’ threats to continuous cruising

Every time we met a boater during this series, they suggested three or four more boaters we ‘must speak to’. The semi-nomadic continuous cruisers are the slightly curdled cream of London’s boating breed, and each of them has many, many stories to tell.

It’s apt that we finish with the man leading the boaters’ fight-back against British Waterways. Mark Walton is co-founder of the Waterways Project: the Castro of the canals, a reluctant, river-borne revolutionary.

We went aboard Balthamos under the bridge at the bottom of Broadway Market to bid the boaters a fond farewell…

Mark Walton
Age: 42
Director, Community Development Foundation and Co-founder of the Waterways Project

Balthamos (“He’s a minor character in the Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials. It was called Dawn Chorus when I bought it”)
Age: 30
Make: Albert Watson Boats
Length: 56′
Top speed: “Erm, it goes generally a bit faster than the people walking along the canal?”

How did you come to live on a boat?
I moved to London four and a half years ago for work, but never wanted to live here, really. I’m a bit of a country boy, and I knew I needed to have green space to stay sane, and I knew I didn’t want a long commute (I used to see the faces of people commuting, and thought: I don’t want to look like that). And I work for a charity so I don’t earn huge amounts of money. So, how do you have green space and a short commute in London? Live on a boat!

What are your boating bounds?
My general range is from Tottenham and Stonebridge, down through east London. And then in west London, generally about as far as Kensal Green. Occasionally further west than that; we just got back from Uxbridge because there’s a boat yard out there.

What does the term ‘continuous cruisers’ mean to you?
According to the 1995 Waterways Act, you can have a boat license if you have a home mooring for your boat or, if you don’t have a home mooring, on the condition that you move your boat every 14 days. British Waterways define boaters without a home mooring as ‘continuous cruisers’ and state that in order to be a continuous cruiser you have to be undertaking a bona fide navigation. The law is clear: you have to move every 14 days. But the term ‘continuous cruiser’ is only defined by British Waterways.

So what’s British Waterways’ beef?
The intention for British Waterways, I suppose, and some other waterways users, is that the canal is only for people who are retired/leisured and moving over large parts of the system. In the initial drafting, by British Waterways, of the 1995 Waterways Act they sought to make it illegal to have a boat without a home mooring. But there’ve always been people living on canals. It seems their intention was to have the canals for leisure use and for people who have moorings or live in marinas. But parliament actually refused to allow that, and said, no, there has to be a right for people to live and move around on the system.

Continuously cursing the canals is more popular than it’s ever been, isn’t it?
It’s become a much more popular way of living, for a whole variety of reasons even in the four years I’ve been on the boat. But I’ve never had a problem finding somewhere to moor. Recently, some leisure boaters have told me they find continuous cruisers intimidating and that they therefore won’t moor up next to us. They then complain that there is not enough space.

What has been your response?
In March, British Waterways issued a consultation on proposals for new mooring rules on the River Lee and the London canals. The new rules would have made it almost impossible to live on a boat in London and hold down a job or maintain a family life. Two boaters’ groups, London Boaters and the Upper Lee and Stort Boaters Association, responded by lobbying, campaigning and undertaking our own research to show that the changes would drive boaters out of London, make the canals less safe and damage the environment and the infrastructure of the canals and rivers themselves. Our message was that these are our homes and that we have the right to maintain a way of life that contributes to the creation of safe, vibrant canal-side communities. Forcing us off the water would result in many people losing their homes and having to leave their jobs, schools, claim benefits, join housing waiting lists, etc.

We submitted two substantial reports and generated over 750 responses to the consultation. As a result, British Waterways have withdrawn their proposals and are talking to us about how we can work together to develop and manage more moorings in the London area. This may include setting up some form of ‘floating housing association’.

There is currently no legal protection for boat dwellers without a home mooring and no sign that the new waterways charity that will take over from British Waterways next year will have any duty to recognise our human rights to maintain a home and family life.

Photo: Tom Medwell