Archive for the 'Morton Valence' Category


How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Part Two

Here’s part two of my gig-crazy summer trip this year. I left you off where we staggered away from Pulp’s gig at Wireless only two days into our trip.

The next day, after an afternoon at the Tate Britain, we headed off to see Lou Reed at the Hammersmith Apollo. I’m sure there are people out there who will tell us “I told you so.” Yes, Lou Reed is a notorious curmudgeon. Yes, he’s made some very unfavourable career moves. While it was special to see a legend I never thought I’d see in my life, he seemed as though he was just going through the motions, except they were primarily the geriatric motions of needing help out of his jacket. He didn’t play “Walk on the Wild Side,” but he did play “Smalltown.” I don’t think we were the only ones feeling a little deflated; most seemed to leave the theatre in a glassy-eyed daze.

I woke up the next morning to get ready for our day trip to Cardiff, and I knew my immune system had finally caught up with me. There had been a nagging feeling of near illness right before I left for my trip because I had just finished a two-month health-rundown marathon of work before leaving. I managed to stave infection off for three days. I spent the rest of my time in London sucking on Strepsils and taking painkillers.

We didn’t just listen and dance to music whilst in the UK – we purchased it in copious amounts as well. Between Spillers in Cardiff, Music Video Exchange (at both Notting Hill and Camden Town locations), and FOPP at Earl’s Court, we amassed enough vinyl and CDs to fund a return flight to the UK.

Our last evening in London before heading off to Amsterdam was spent in Vauxhall at a delightful curry restaurant to which you can bring your own beer. We met up with Miles, who is in the brilliant band Vanilla Swingers, Anne who is also in Vanilla Swingers and Morton Valence, her partner Mike, and Hacker, who is in Morton Valence. It was a truly fun night and a welcome bit of company, and I have shimmering memories of questions about prairie dogs, why Amsterdam is actually one of the most conservative cities in Europe, a story about Johny Brown from The Band of Holy Joy perhaps losing a shoe, Miles doing a pretty reputable imitation of Jarvis Cocker’s dance moves, and an aside about how Hacker was once in a band that had Pulp opening for them. At least I think this all happened – between the bronchial infection setting in and the massive bloody marys from earlier, it was getting hard to tell. We also owed Miles a particularly big thank you for sending some tips before we arrived in London, including places to eat, places to find music, and other points of interest, including Battersea Power Station, which he ended up taking us to see before drinks and supper.

Throughout Amsterdam, Berlin, and Vienna, my sore throat and fever had blossomed into full-blown consumption. I was pretty much certain that I had bronchitis, and by Amsterdam, Laura was pretty sure she had the same. We coughed, wheezed, and fever-dreamed our way through galleries, parks, museums, baroque palaces, walking tours, and cathedrals. An Irish boy threw up on our bathroom floor in the middle of the night in Amsterdam, and a fellow hosteller in Vienna asked me if I was coughing up blood because if I were, I should see a doctor. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had such terrible sleeps in which I felt like I was drowning in my own fetid air every night. Daytimes were marginally better, and I did discover the joy of Cafe Aroma Ices.

As we took off from Vienna airport, we braced ourselves for what we figured was going to be a more difficult leg of the trip…

Just like lungs sucking on air…

I feel as though there have been several points in my life that were surreal. I’ve done odd whirlwind day trips to other cities, sometimes back-to-back. I’ve had travel mishaps and miscalculations. I just usually don’t have all of these things happen to me at once. I take full responsibility for the ludicrous events that ensued because I was the one with severe Manics tunnel vision – a condition similar to mania in that it makes me believe I can do anything as long as the Manics are involved. The “if they jumped off a bridge…” scenario is probably in bad taste.

At any rate, I knew that the whole “quick” stopover in Finland was always a bit of a stretch for us. In order to accommodate the Manics, we flew all day from Vienna to Berlin to Helsinki, arriving in late afternoon the day before the Wanaja Festival. The thing about the Wanaja Festival, which I knew very little about, is that it’s held in a small vacation town, Hameenlinna, which is one hour north of Helsinki via train. The other thing about the Wanaja Festival is that details regarding set times were only revealed shortly before we left for Europe. The evening that we arrived in Helsinki I discovered that the train from Hameenlinna to Helsinki only runs until 11:30PM…and it doesn’t start running again until 5:00AM. The Manics, as headliners, were due onstage at 10:45PM. We had a flight back to London the morning after the festival at 7:50AM. Our flight home to Canada was the day after that. All of these facts gave us a bit of a panic attack. My heart races a bit thinking about the situation now.

After consultation with the info desk at the Helsinki train station, it became apparent that our only option was to take the only bus back at 3:00AM, pick up our backpacks at the hostel, and catch another bus to the airport, which meant yet another hour of travel. Feeling more than a little queasy about how we were going to accomplish this grand feat while still fiendishly ill, we decided against bringing our bags to the festival, and hoped to Äkräs it would all work out — not because Äkräs is the Finnish god of fertility, but because he is the protector of turnips. And my brain may as well have been a turnip.

The train ride to Hameenlinna went smoothly, but the very vague map I had in my head of the festival site, gleaned from Google maps and the festival website (which was entirely in Finnish) had become beyond hopeless as we stepped off the train platform. Our brains had already been fairly addled with that cognitive disorientation you experience when immersed in a language so alien to you that you start to think you might be hallucinating, and now we were faced with utter loss of direction in the scorching, sunny heat. Luckily, we found one person who spoke English at the train station info desk, and she kindly marked out our route on the town map she gave us. Of course, she told us our easiest route was to follow the edge of the lake until we hit a bridge, and then to cross the bridge and keep following the lakeshore until we came to the castle park (only Finnish I learned: “linna” means “castle” and “puisto” means “park”). The straightest route would have been to swim the entire width of the lake. But since it was already feeling like the worst joke of an Amazing Race, that wasn’t an option.

We tentatively made our way along the lake, marveling at how much Finland’s landscape reminded us of home, and at how much this specific town reminded us of a place like Kenora, a small vacation town in Ontario. As we crossed the bridge, Laura started muttering about how the pavement was soft and moving. I told her she was probably in the middle of a feverish episode. Then I felt the pavement actually buckle underfoot like a giant air pocket being squished out of a rug. Apparently, Laura wasn’t incapacitated by fever, and Finland must have been unseasonably hot that day. Needless to say, we crossed the bridge as quickly as possible.

Checking our map every thirty seconds, we managed to find our way up the other side of the lake, and came upon a few people. I’ve never been so happy to see a girl in leopard print and Nicky-Wire-white-framed-sunglasses. It became apparent that there were two other intrepid (insane) fans from Britain waiting for the park to open the gates. And if that wasn’t enough to allay our concerns, we suddenly heard the strains of “Some Kind of Nothingness” coming from beyond the gates. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that song, especially since it gives me Strictly Come Dancing nightmares. We had a half-hour to sit in the shade and bask in the brief moment of accomplishment of finishing one more leg of the trip. Not long after, the Finnish Manics contingent showed up as if they had just wandered off the set of Times Square, mauve hair, Useless Generation tattoos, Motley Crue t-shirts, ripped jeans, shredded tights, and all. They were wonderful.

It then became a silent film farce as all twelve of us hardcore loonies felt the need to race each other on foot to the front of the stage being headlined by the Manics. The people manning the festival shopping stalls just stood their mouths agape as one by one we whipped by them, leaping over rocks and cables. I likely lost another thirty percent of my lung capacity at that point. We then all settled in on the ground right at the barrier and baked our faces off. Though there were food stalls nearby, they seemed dodgy – spring rolls in 40 degree heat or handfuls of sticky gummy worms. We opted to subsist on the free water even though we hadn’t eaten since noon.

We had periods of leg stretching as a parade of progressively surreal bands performed on this stage, including a mediocre hair metal band with a bare-chested singer in white jeans and waist-length tresses, a band composed only of members with Down Syndrome (they appeared hugely popular, which made Laura and I hope like hell that the enthusiasm was genuine), a relatively folky twee band with a lead singer who bore a significant resemblance to Snufkin from the Moomin books, and a band that almost blew our heads off with screaming Finnish. During one of the breaks, I tried to put my mind into some sort of ease by searching out someone who could tell me how to get to the bus station, now the crucial location on which our entire next three days hinged. I stumbled a little frantically through the crowds, not comprehending anyone around me, yet somehow still had the presence of mind to ask if the merch tent had any Manics t-shirts (they didn’t). Armed with a newly marked map of where the bus station was, I headed back to my post to wait for 10:45.

Manic Street Preachers Wanaja

I then made an agreement with myself to stop panicking and dwelling on the upcoming trip from hell with logistics that defied all logic; it worked, and I put it all out of my mind from the time the Manics hit the stage. I unfurled the Canadian flag we had brought with us like some badge of survival, and hung on for dear life as we took off with “You Love Us.” It felt so satisfying to be crushed by such a loving crowd. The audience gave me the same feeling of starved fans that I had seeing the Manics in Toronto in 2009. “Motorcycle Emptiness” seemed all the more poignant after the last day spent in language isolation; I hung onto their every word like a life line back to my own brain. As expected, they performed the three singles released from Postcards From a Young Man, and Nicky Wire tried to recall whether the band had ever visited Finland when Richey was still with them (a mental exercise he seemed to be running with since the Send Away the Tigers tour). I was especially happy to hear “Slash ‘n Burn” and “Suicide is Painless” since I hadn’t witnessed them live before. It felt a bit odd to have the show end on “If You Tolerate This…” rather than “A Design for Life,” but at least we got the benefit of a false ending and the excitement over further songs. Somewhere along the way, Laura had been squeezed off the barrier and was smushed behind me. Being a festival performance, and thus at least five songs less than a regular gig, it felt like a compressed dose of adrenaline shot through my consumptive, weakened body. As the crowd peeled away and slowly dispersed into the perpetual summer twilight, it was lovely to see a couple of friends falling about each other, one wearing an exact replica of the sailor suit Richey used to wear. On our way out of the festival grounds and into the streets, the bedazzlement lingered in my brain and kept my anxiety over the necessary bus at bay for quite some time after.

Manic Street Preachers Wanaja 2

I started to come down from the high as we sat on a bench at the deserted bus station, but for festival fans queuing up for horrific fast food from a takeaway stand. The weight of the three weeks of travel, the intense day which wouldn’t end until we had been up for over twenty-four hours, and the fourteen hours without food settled on us at this point, and we tried to stay awake and conscious for the next three hours of waiting in the half-light of a sun that never really set. In the meantime, the Finnish Manics fans had also shown up with a box of pizza and seemed to be waiting for the only bus back to Helsinki as well. At that moment, I really envied those girls who didn’t have to care if they got back to Helsinki by 5:00AM. And the fact they could eat a box of pizza at 2:30 in the morning after a whole day in blistering heat.

Eventually the bus showed up, after at least a couple of buses that were heading north instead, and then we had the pleasant discovery that many people had already pre-booked tickets for it. The previous day we had been told that we had to buy tickets on the bus. I was getting prepared either to cry or start kicking people if we didn’t get on when they managed to squeeze us on. We had to sit on the aisle floor of the fully-booked bus with the Finnish contingent of Manics fans and a few stray British fans who seemed to hate us (maybe because we didn’t end up with eyeliner smeared across our faces). The next two hours were a mix of sheer panic and drug-like drowsiness. It nearly killed me when we actually stopped at the airport before returning to Helsinki — though bringing our bags with us would have been horrendous, it would have allowed us to get off at this point rather than sit in further cramped tension. Finally, the bus dropped us at an unfamiliar location, not the expected train station, which had become our only major landmark; however, I think adrenaline may actually sharpen your orientation senses because I still managed to lead us in the right direction to the train station. Of course the usual tram to our hostel wasn’t running that early in the morning, so we ran on foot back to the hostel, where they didn’t let us in right away. Once the front desk realized that we weren’t actually mad homeless people ringing the outside bell, they let us up. We got our bags, ran back to the train station, hopped the next bus, and ended up at the airport with roughly half an hour to spare. As I sunk into my plane seat and choked down the tasteless sandwich provided, I had never felt so relieved in my life.

If there were such a thing as The Amazing Race for Manics fans, I think Laura and I would have won.

Timeslide place to hide nudge reality…

When we got back to Heathrow in some sick deja vu, we discovered that the two tube lines that took us to our hostel were closed that day for maintenance. This led to over an hour of bus riding and figuring out where exactly we were supposed to get off. With some sort of last superhuman wave of energy, we managed to make it to FOPP for some shopping, to the Tate Modern for some supper, and then on to the Royal Festival Hall at the South Bank Centre to see Big Audio Dynamite, aptly the last big bang of the trip. We hadn’t even been entirely sure we had tickets for this show since they mailed them late to my home in Canada, and through the intermittent Internet access via hostels, I had to arrange for replacement tickets to be held at the venue. Thankfully, our sporadic luck was holding up and the tickets were there. We ended up having a brilliant last night with a dance party cascading into the aisles. We even got to sing happy birthday to Don Letts’s wife.

Big Audio Dynamite South Bank

Laura, whose immune system is always in much ruder shape than mine due to several chronic health concerns, ultimately had to stay in hospital for a few days after we returned home. I ended up with a massive course of antibiotics and a chest x-ray. I wasn’t sure what was more disorienting: my Finnish-addled brain on jetlag or coming back to work only about seven hours after my flight landed to attend a symposium discussing Deleuzian concepts.

I could ramble on about the non-musical highlights of the trip, including Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the British Museum, a lecture at a curiosity shop in Hackney, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, the Dali gallery at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the Belvedere Gallery and the Secession in Vienna, but they could all use posts of their own. And perhaps one day they will find themselves in a blog.

Speaking of blogs, as I said in the previous post, I’ve started a new one with Laura, who has a passion for music and the ability to write about it in an erudite manner. It’s called From a High Horse. Please follow me there because hanging about here will likely only lead to feelings of abandonment.

Suicide is Painless (Theme from MASH) – Manic Street Preachers

E=MC2 – Big Audio Dynamite


My Top 40 Albums of 2009: Numbers 16 Through 9

I know…it’s even later than the last one, but I’ll push on. Let’s take a look back at who released albums in the summer of 2009. July produced new albums from Stellastarr, Trashcan Sinatras, The Most Serene Republic, and Nicky Wire’s brother, Patrick Jones. There were also records from the latest Jack White project, Dead Weather; former Boo Radley, Martin Carr; and finally a debut from folk duo Slow Club. And the ginger quiff that is La Roux dropped her first album.

August sweltered on with music from Mew, Japandroids, Calvin Harris, Patrick Wolf, The Antlers, Imogen Heap, and mum. There were also rather hyped releases from Florence & the Machine and Arctic Monkeys (neither really captured me). The xx, which has already appeared on the first part of this countdown, put out a debut. Oh yeah, and the male answer to La Roux, Frankmusik.

Onwards and upwards…

16. Ellipse – Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap is yet another artist that I haven’t always paid a lot of attention to. I confess that most of my familiarity with her came through that Frou Frou track used on the Garden State soundtrack and through the track Hide and Seek, which seemed to pop up here and there last year. And then of course she also dueted with Chris Corner for the IAMX song, My Secret Friend. When I finally got to listen to her latest record, I was hugely impressed with the great frothy folds of song and her breathy vocals; listening to Ellipse is a lot like burying you face in perfumed tulle. Deliciously dreamy, brilliantly offbeat and strangely tribal (tribes of sprites, perhaps), this album chronicles the emotional oscillations involved in any relationship, including with lovers and children. In spots, there are glimpses of Cocteau Twins, but that idiosyncratic inflection and phrasing in Heap’s vocals, along with that synthy double-effect layering that Heap is known for, makes this album a magical warping of reality, a “street-level miracle.” Even lyrics that may have been mundane in anyone else’s hands are made exotic and fantastical.

First Train Home – Imogen Heap

Earth – Imogen Heap

15. Is It Fire? – Jessie Evans
With a voluptuous fusion of Latin rhythms and Berlin cabaret, Jessie Evans debuted with an astonishingly spicy, yet aloof, album. Between the hot beats and the icy vocals, these tracks steam and press into you like a sauna. Songs about lust and hedonism are sung in a strong persona with old-style glamour and chutzpah. Listening to Is It Fire? is like tumbling headfirst into Stromboli at the climax of a black-and-white film; confidently striding in and out of genres, this album feels both old and new, cosmopolitan and global, rough and smooth, rustic and urbane.

Read my earlier review of it here.

Is It Fire – Jessie Evans

Blood and Silver – Jessie Evans

14. “Further Complications” – Jarvis Cocker
It’s the second solo outing from Jarvis Cocker, and it was unexpected in a brilliant way. Recruiting Steve Albini, Cocker’s music is heavier in spots and sometimes downright raucous in a gloriously messy way. But at the same time, it does mournfully slow, but in a pseudo-mawkish way. You’re just never sure how distanced Cocker is from his own lyrics, which makes the record all the more complex and wonderful. This album could have been relegated to a last thrash before middle age really sets in, but those quotation marks change everything. I’ve never been disappointed by viewing the world through Cocker’s NHS frames, and this, in some ways risky, record reaffirmed this.

Read my earlier review of it here.

Further Complications – Jarvis Cocker

You’re in My Eyes (Discosong) – Jarvis Cocker

13. React or Die – Butcher Boy
This Glaswegian band is an ebullient, charming mixture of gentle twee and kitchen sink drama, and I’ve only grown to adore them more with this second album. It is alternately jaunty and tender, and features elegant lines like:

You carve a perfect rose on the door, with hands so soft, with lips so warm. The petals cover me so beautifully, and the flower will fall upon the birdie sheet and growl “say, are we close? How close are we now?” But first we double up with a coffee cup, and the sheets will buckle.

You carve a perfect bird on the wall, with hands so soft, with lips so warm. The bird will sing for me so beautifully, and the notes will fall upon the bed we make so you growl “say, are we close? How close are we now?” And then you comfort me so beautifully, but the knife will buckle.

Lead singer, John Blain Hunt, has a voice that feels as warm and comforting as flannel as the music rises up behind him like a sun-warmed dale. There is something alternately Celtic lilt and John Cale circa Paris 1919 with a dash of Belle & Sebastian. The tender mini-dramas of regular folk are painted with a folktale brush until they’re fairytales. A testament to the power of their music is the first track When I’m Asleep, which only features the lyrics: “When I’m asleep, I never dream. I never feel anything.” It’s powerful because somehow I feel as though I’ve been through an entire range of emotions and stories after listening to this song despite having only heard the same two lines over and over again with slightly different inflections.

When I’m Asleep – Butcher Boy

This Kiss Will Marry Us – Butcher Boy

12. Shirley Lee – Shirley Lee
Frontman for witty band, Spearmint, Shirley Lee released his first solo album this year, and it reinforces the good-natured, detail-oriented ethos of his earlier lyrics. In the hope of breaking away from making just another Spearmint album, Lee embarked on a slightly more personal route, albeit with his band members in tow. The songs range from the plodding Upside Down on Brighton Beach, which seems to parody everything about a place like Brighton, to the folk-pop balladry of The Smack of Pavement in Your Face, which turns the love song on its head with fresh analogies. The whole record has an old feel, a bit like department stores and elevator music, but in a heartwarming, nostalgic way rather than a poke at the fall of grandeur. Youth and all of its fun quirks are laid out in these songs with puppyish energy, leaving you feeling clean and exhausted as though you just took a ride in a tumble-dryer. And there’s something truly endearing about the way he mispronounces Sondre Lerche’s last name “lurch” in Spiralina Girl, a song about Lee’s girlfriend.

Spiralina Girl – Shirley Lee

The Lights Change – Shirley Lee

11. Jet Black – Gentleman Reg
I only discovered Gentleman Reg (AKA Reg Vermue) this year when I saw him open for The Stills. He captivated me then on the spot, and when I later purchased his latest album, I remained under his honeyed spell of bittersweet romance and life experience. So much so, that I ended up buying his previous albums whilst in Toronto this fall. His loose and easy dulcet tones accompany a shambling guitar and flourished keys to create narratives of self-reflection, regrets and hunger. This record feels like the soundtrack to the adventures and misadventures to be explored in the city; the satisfying exhale of breath on those odd days where you actually feel possibility pressing at your temples; the moment a bad experience becomes a good memory. With the delicate and unique assemblage of a charm bracelet, Jet Black captures the desperation, resistance and recklessness that can come with crossing the threshold from twentyish youth to thirtyish maturity and modifying your expectations accordingly. The metamorphosis can be just as difficult and bewildering as adolescence, and this record will be there for you.

To Some It Comes Easy – Gentleman Reg

We’re in a Thunderstorm – Gentleman Reg

10. Cloud Pleaser – David Shane Smith
Like his Stroboscopic labelmate, stanleylucasrevolution (who appeared on 2008’s countdown), David Shane Smith produces some of the most challenging music out there. With a post-apocalyptic form of folk-electronic music and intelligently poetic lyrics, Smith made his latest album sound like a missive from the last man on Earth, his brain synapses burnt out and hanging down by his ears like grotesque headphone wires. Except the end of the world hasn’t happened yet. So no one believes him even as the bleak reality eases its way into their lives. And they remain ignorant because they can’t handle much more information or anything that inconveniences them. What they don’t understand is that the end of the world isn’t an event. It’s a process. And David Shane Smith is one of the prescient artists to document it as eloquently as possible.

Read my earlier review of it here.

Empty Action – David Shane Smith

Eyes – David Shane Smith

9. Bob and Veronica Ride Again – Morton Valence
In the world of music and its digital ubiquity, it becomes harder and harder to find really creative artists making really tangible pieces of art. With London band, Morton Valence, you get more than you pay for. Accompanied by an equally entertaining and thought-provoking novella, this album tells the picaresque story of Bob and Veronica, who eventually fall in love, but the love is never quite a sure thing, and perhaps it was never really love in the first place. And the music follows this non-linear path, looping through multiple genres and sliding in and out of parody. The back of the box reads:

Bob and Veronica.
An unlikely couple. Bob was suburban. And Veronica? Well, she wasn’t.
But so what? Ok, let’s put it another way; they had absolutely nothing in common. But then again, they weren’t planning on starting a social club or saving the world or anything. Bob was simply insanely attracted to Veronica from the moment he first saw her. Veronica took a little convincing. Pretty basic stuff really.
There were no opposites attracting or any of that. Bob doesn’t believe in opposites attracting anyway.
Neither does Veronica.

But they did believe in lust at first sight.

And unlike love, at least lust seems to last forever.

In effect, they’re a lot like all of us. And when you let the characters drive the story, you end up here with this fascinating, unexpected album. You don’t have to understand it because you’ll never understand life either.

Read my earlier review of it here.

Funny Peculiar – Morton Valence

Hang it on the Wall – Morton Valence

This week’s honourable mention is Morrissey’s Years of Refusal. It hurts a little that I couldn’t put him in the actual countdown, but I just didn’t think this album was quite up to it. Don’t get me wrong – I still really enjoyed it, and it contained the gem that is It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore. Perhaps he’s just set the bar so high earlier on, that it gets increasingly difficult to exceed it or surprise me. Read my review of the album here.

Something is Squeezing My Skull – Morrissey

The second part of my weekly mix round-up is coming up in the next couple of days. It’s my last week of work before a couple of weeks off, so things are a bit hectic again. And Friday or soon after, I will have my last installment of this series, which will reveal my top eight albums of 2009.


Painting Pretty Pictures and Falling Down Stairs: Morton Valence’s Bob and Veronica Ride Again

Morton Valence Bob and Veronica

Many musicians (and their labels) are trying to bolster their slumping physical sales by providing as many additional features and combination choices as possible, including bonus material, bonus DVDs, bonus MP3s, and bonus books (see U2’s latest marketing strategy to get an extreme example). While I can appreciate having the extra features for bands that really matter to me, I’m often quite cynical about the whole ploy and don’t bother buying any such bonus combinations for the escalated price. The reason I mention this tactic is so that I can contrast this sterile face of the marketing machine with that of the truly innovative independent scene. And my main example will be London band Morton Valence, composed of Robert Hacker Jessett, Anne Gilpin, Leo Fernandez, Camilo Parra, and Alejo Pelaez. I became aware of them via Anne Gilpin who was also part of Vanilla Swingers, the band who created my top album of 2008. Not only did Morton Valence join the likes of Patrick Wolf and frYars in opening up the funding of their record, Bob and Veronica Ride Again, to fans, but they created not only a record, but an experience. This experience extends to a soft cover book nestled next to the CD and several live “book club” performances, which all comment on and complement each other. The rather ordinary narrative of two potential lovers, Bob Young and Veronica Wilson, becomes extraordinary and three-dimensional and completely surreal in its reality.

The accompanying book begins with a quote from Syd Barrett: “Fairy-tales are nice.” It’s the fitting beginning and summary for a story that keeps itself brief in one-sentence paragraphs, yet at the same time, it foreshadows a happy ending – a happy ending that you’re not quite sure about until you get there, and even then, you’re not sure how it happened. But you find it quite nice in the end. You are plunged into the mundane life of Bob Young, who sees Veronica for the first time while trying to get a job. Through coincidence or fate, depending on how romantic your viewpoint is, Bob meets up with Veronica again, only to discover she’s an evangelical Christian. Despite several botched attempts at winning her heart, or at the very least her body, it seems Veronica, who is as humanly complicated as Bob, is still drawn to him. In spite of herself and in spite of life itself. Even Morton Valence make an appearance themselves as a “raucous hi-energy disco wedding band” in a club that Bob and Veronica are cajoled into going to by Bob’s junkie friend, Zak. The climax of the novella, and perhaps its crux, occurs when Veronica comes over to Bob’s flat for dinner. Their conversation ends up here:

‘Science doesn’t own the truth Bob.’

‘Neither does Jesus.’

‘Ok, but why should everything have to be proven or disproven? I have faith, as have the vast majority of humanity since the beginning of time, having faith is part of what makes us human, having faith is believing in something that cannot be proven, believing in love is a type of faith, how can you prove love? You can’t, but most of us know it exists as we’ve felt it at some point in our lives, just being able to trust and love something far greater than yourself, not something you can necessarily touch and see that needs to be proven and quantified by some egg-headed scientist in a laboratory.’


‘And what happens when people lose faith?’ she asked.

‘Errr…dunno, tell me…?’

‘Their lives become empty, suspicion and anger come in to fill the void and they lose their humanity.’

After this rather informal dialogue about big philosophical questions, things take a rather absurd turn. An LSD-laced teapot hijacks the story for three rather psychedelic, paranoid chapters fillled with a skipping Van Morrison record and a swirling Van Gogh painting. The moment is both comic and tragic as Bob loses his reality and Veronica at the same time. However, in the muddle and the loss, Bob seems to step outside of his passive existence and to take charge of his reality from a decidedly new angle, culminating in that fairy-tale ending.

The album retains a lot of the ambiguity of the novella, and the band has the retro cool confidence and sweet pop of Saint Etienne. The record begins in media res, as does life itself, and amidst the general chatter, banging piano and crowd noises, a short song called Veronica’s Revenge (Continued) emerges. Gilpin sweetly sings that she would like “some souvenir of all the things we did” before the track starts skipping, a fantastic connection to the skipping record portion of the book. It is here that we seem to be launched back in time into a picaresque adventure, where each song becomes a fanciful episode. Chandelier, which I featured a few weeks back in my weekly mix for London artists, is a mesmerizing dream of a song with its enchanting xylophone and interchange of vocals between Gilpin and Jessett. It spirals through a haze of first date emotions before fading into light ballroom music, evoking the silly euphoria of first loves and lusts and the state of a mind drugged by endorphin overload. As much as the couple wants to “swing from the chandelier,” they want to hang onto these crystal feelings and the electric moment. Then Jesus and Mary Chain guitars buzz through the beginning of Sequin Smile while Gilpin’s lush vocals “pay homage to the goddess of the stairs.” The song’s title could be a reference to Veronica’s “silvery smile” as described in the novella. A gentle, pulsing cabaret feel enters the soundscape with Ordinary Pleasures, which reminds me of Black Box Recorder lambasting the ordinary and showing that it isn’t all that normal after all. Tambourine and laconic bass back Bob’s attempt to “unfurl” Veronica’s life even as the walls of the room start to curl in some meltdown of reality. As Ordinary Pleasures fades away in a wash of mysterious feedback and sirens, Funny Peculiar sidles in with pumping synthesizers and trippy electropop a la Pulp. The first lines are “We like to boogie/all night dancing/feel the world spinning round/while everything is so funky” before they start mentioning the people that “sing hallelujah” and how “they’ll make you laugh then disappoint you,” two points that remind me of the part in the novella where Bob attends an evangelical service to get closer to Veronica. The point at which Jessett starts singing “Let it rain all over me,” his vocals continue to echo an overwrought evangelical chorus while Gilpin’s cartoony “bah bah’s” add a frivolous, comic sense to the whole predicament.

The carnivalesque drifts into the rather bluesy, dark John Young, which slinks along behind Gilpin’s old-time siren-style vocals. The chorus takes on some Old West flourishes, prompting me to think that the maverick hero that the song is named after is what Bob and Veronica both wish Bob were. Or what they both can imagine him to be if they try hard enough. Despite the fact “their love is average” and “their treachery is pure,” the duo seems like play actors in a world of their own creation as the outside world threatens to spill in through more chatter by the end of the song. Cracks of thunder and synth chords signal the next track, Hang It On the Wall, which sees Jessett taking over slightly desperate, despairing vocals. The character, Bob, seems to beg for a way to forget their flaws and the cracks in their relationship by hanging a pretty picture over it; this song makes a clever tie-in with the fact that a painting of Gilpin and Jessett is featured as the cover art for both CD and novella. The song ends in a tannoy solo by Jessett.

The album takes a calmer, subdued corner with Nobody Understands. Gilpin’s hushed vocals are backed by minimal music that occasionally swells into a choir-like crescendo. Veronica’s inner turmoil and confusion over a wounded past is brilliantly displayed in the lyrics “They won’t hurt you/unless they have to/but they don’t really mean to.” Filled with pregnant pauses, the song culminates in a beautifully frail, small “me” after several repetitions of “nobody understands.” Sweet pop and xylophone return with Falling Down the Stairs, which provides a new wave sound for yet another metaphor of love: falling down the stairs. Gilpin’s vocals continue their perfect understatement as she asks that you “listen to my story.” Bob, Veronica and Some Crickets indeed feature cricket sounds along with more xylophone and disorienting, reverby vocals from both Gilpin and Jessett. Recounting such regular details of life as double-decker buses and fruit machines, the song also uses some less than typical comparisons for the lovers, including a pillow, a wineglass, sand and footprints. As the speeding heartbeat of the previous song fades away, a Spectorish beat and organ come in for “I Must Go” She Said, “But I Will Al…, a song that lulls you with calming vocals from both Jessett and Gilpin. Both characters are certain of the fact they will leave other, but are equally as certain that they will return. The song bursts into whizzes and fuzzy guitars after a trumpet solo, interrupting the suggestive moment of the earlier half and emulating the unfinished title. After a very brief interlude called Disco, which features as more of a sound effect and setting device than anything else with its garbled crowd noises, the tender Go to Sleep concludes the record’s story. The acoustic ballad becomes Veronica’s lullaby as she lightly croons, “hush now/fly on home.” It’s as though all that came before this was a waking dream, and the “kiss, don’t say goodnight” refrain from Chandelier takes on new meaning.

Since I ordered my copy of Bob and Veronica Ride Again, I’ve been getting e-news from the band, including invitations to “Bob & Veronica’s Book Club” at which Morton Valence play the record in its entirety. If you’re in London on July 9, they’re doing another rendition aboard the Battersea Barge on the Thames. These kinds of performances take the concept of a gig into far more creative territory, much the same way the album/novella stretch the idea of both artforms, and contribute to creating a full experience rather than single pieces of art. By refusing the temptation to have a parallel narrative running in both novella and record, the story becomes richer as the two forms of media present a different way into the same emotions. Morton Valence has managed to decant the messy dregs of life, love, and lust into a sweet, heady cocktail that provides lucidity through madness. Life is a funny, sad narrative populated by thousands of Bobs and Veronicas, who are all painting pretty pictures and falling down stairs…and hoping that their broken lives and unfinished sentences end in fairy tales.

Morton Valence’s MySpace:

Sequin Smile – Morton Valence

Falling Down the Stairs – Morton Valence

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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can' the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome