Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Would You Burn It?

I love the KLF. 

I've been listening to their music since I first heard Doctorin' The Tardis. Of course they were called the Timelords for that release.  They've also been the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, the JAMS and even 2K.

After the Timelords single, I didn't really hear them again until the early 90s. I was living in Japan, saw a couple of used CDs with great covers, and picked them up. It was their music I loved. And I had a couple of videos which were visually brilliant and a lot of fun. From time to time I'd hear something about them, something weird. This, of course, was pre-internet days, and I didn't read much music press in Tokyo. But the KLF continued to sit like a blip on the edge of my "weird" radar.

By the time I left Japan, they'd left the music business, through a very public onstage announcement at the 1992 Brit Awards. But with the now burgeoning internet, I managed to learn more about them. They'd done this, they'd said that, they'd threatened to do the other, then in 1995 they'd announced they would cease all activities for 23 years.

Ah yes, the number 23. Illuminati and all that.

They were fans of the Illuminatus! Trilogy of novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. And they seemed to live much of the behaviours and conspiracy theories within. Their press releases were cryptic and mysterious. Their images, logos and iconography were all part of the mythos.  They published a book on how to beat the music industry and have a hit. 

The more I read, the more I learned, the more I wondered whether they truly were a bit mad and believed in this stuff, or whether it was all a brilliant marketing strategy. I mean, there were reports Bill Drummond considered cutting off his hand at a music award ceremony during an onstage performance. 

On the other hand, they apparently shocked everyone at that ceremony when they appeared with grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror, performing an unrecognisable version of 3 a.m. Eternal. But that can't happen by accident. They rehearsed, it was approved and signed off on by the producers.

So is the KLF performance art or are they living their reality? Or some weird mix of both? My opinion shifts from time to time.

And what do the letters KLF stand for? They have claimed a number of things over the year, most commonly the Kopyright Liberation Front. But it shifts, and you get the feeling you're not in on the secret. None of the secrets.

I personally suspect it either stands for nothing at all but just sounds great, or it's some inside joke they'll never explain.

But the biggest secret has to do with the burning of a million pounds on a remote Scottish island. many ask whether they really did it, and why. And they've never been able to articulate that clearly. In fact, it seems they spent a lot of time trying to sort that out for themselves. All indications, by the way, are that they really did burn it. Apparently they later admitted they regretted it. They were also routinely criticised for destroying money that could have benefited others.

But I think I understand why they did it. To simply see what it felt like.

When I was packing to move overseas, I found an old roll of film I'd never had developed. I had no idea what was on it or how long it had been there. But in that one instant, I decided never to find out. I don't really know why, but I tore it open and exposed it to the light. And it was gone forever. A mystery.

Maybe, in that moment, I was just tired of sorting through things.

We've all felt the need to do something just to see what it feels like. I guess the difference between me and the KLF is that if I had a spare million pounds lying around, I would never, could never destroy it.

I've felt ill when I thought I'd lost $50.

Sorry KLF, that was one thing you did I can't see as being cool.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

More Passionate, More Emotive.

Over the past few years I have noticed in blogs and other social media, that a reader was so upset or angered by a book that they threw it across the room. 

I usually wonder if this is literal or metaphorical.

Did they really fling the book across the room? I certainly hope it wasn't a large hardback with a cat on the receiving end. The way it usually reads, though, I suspect that whether they did or did not throw the book, they want us to think they did. And the only reason I can see for this is to show how much they love books, how much the written word speaks to them, and just how passionate and emotive they are.

OK, if that's your measure, then you win. I don't throw books, no matter how much I don't like them.

I can get lost in books and music. I have stood in an audience, listening to a band with eyes closed, and just allowed it to wash over me. Simply standing there, a smile on my face, and a moment that transcends. 

The same with books.

I've read through tiredness and beyond any realistic ability to comprehend the words simply because I loved it so much, was removed from this reality so far, and didn't want to lose it.

Yes, they move me - but not every album or book will. There are books I've persevered with and finished because I was determined to do so, but others I've just given up. I am much less forgiving with music but that's partly because I can skip ahead, sampling tracks, then remove the disc from the player before assigning it to a charity shop bag.

And then, like the above example reader, there are the books I don't like because they frustrate me or anger me. Depending on the context I may continue for a bit, or close it and return for another attempt, or simply stop at that point. But never, not once, have I thrown the book across the room.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there are those who truly have thrown books across the room in anger.  I'm just glad I wasn't at your place when there was a TV show that angered you.

I have no desire to be hit by a large flying flat-screen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Get Back To 1969.

For the last week or so, while working, I've been listening to the Beatles' 1969 Get Back rehearsals.

They were potentially planning a live show, their first in almost 3 years, and so on a cold January morning they arrived at a soundstage at Twickenham film studios with a crew recording the rehearsals for a TV special.

It was cold, the soundstage was cavernous, and their relationship was fraying - for a number of reasons. But they made music, playing old rock 'n' roll standards and learning new songs. After a week or so, George had had enough and quit. The others continued for a day or so before deciding they weren't working as a trio and so they packed up and left.

A week later they had convinced George to return, with the proviso there wouldn't be a concert and they would move to a friendlier studio space. And so, with an 8-track recorder borrowed from EMI, they moved the rehearsals to the basement of their offices at Apple Records, a studio which was being built but was not yet complete. They continued rehearsing for the rest of the month until the climbed the stairs to the roof where they played live for 42 minutes across the rooftops of London. Their last ever live performance.

The film crew captured more than 100 hours of footage, which formed the basis of the Let It Be movie. The sound crew for the film used portable Nagra recorders to tape the audio, all on 16 minutes tapes. 

The 8-track recordings from these rehearsals became the accompanying album.

More than 20 years ago, bootleggers managed to get hold of around 550 of these Nagra tapes, and started releasing the complete rehearsals. They managed around 60% of the rehearsals before they were busted, and all the tapes were returned to Apple. But they made backups, and the backups were then released on the internet for fans.

What this means ifs that I have around 97 hours of audio from these sessions. It has been a long-time ambition to listen to them all chronologically. And now I am living the dream.

It's not for the faint-hearted. There's lots of dialogue and discussion (fascinating if you are a Beatles scholar), sloppy attempts at half-remembered songs, take after take after take of new songs as they learn them. Even I get a little bored after an hour of Maxwell's Silver Hammer with accompanying anvil strikes and whistling intro.

I listen to a couple a day while I'm working, and I'm currently about 17% of the way through.

Yes, they can be tedious, they can be sloppy, they can be flat due to disinterest from a disintegrating band. But when they're on the same page, and focused, they can be absolute magic.

And those are the moments I love.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Lost in Translation?

During the 90s, I lived in Tokyo for around six years in total. First for one year, then after a year back in Australia, back for another five.

It was a great experience, a wonderful time to be in Japan. I made a lot of friends, working with teachers from around the world. We worked all day, socialised after work, and mostly got on very well. There were a lot of transients, young people working to make money to fund the next leg of their adventure, but there were also those we considered "lifers".

Those were the days before the internet was a thing, and so sadly I never really managed to keep in contact with many of my friends.

The last school I worked at was the exception. It was a small Berlitz school in Shimo-Kitazawa, and the core staff there hardly changed for the four years I was there. For the most part, we're all still in touch, and some of us have even caught up occasionally.

Last night I was feeling nostalgic, trying to remember names and faces, and wondering what happened to them all. I'm sure I have photos, but unfortunately most of them are currently in storage.

My first teaching job was with Nova in Otsuka, a suburb of Tokyo near Ikebukuro. I worked with Susan, a Canadian, and Heidi and Tim - both Americans. I am still in touch with Heidi, but I do wonder what happened to Tim and Susan. (and yes, I recall their family names).

I don't remember many students there. There was one lady who I think was a reporter, and a trained opera singer. One night I convinced her to sing. She only let one, short note out, but it was intense and I remember the office staff all jumping and looking up. She also managed to get me tickets to the filming of Naruhodo The World, a TV show hosted by Beat Takeshi.

Another student was a huge fan of Mr Big, and gave me one of their CD singles when I left. Another gave me a cassette tape of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. I hope you're still enjoying your music. 

When I returned a year later, I started working at Nova in Ueno. That is where I met the Doctor, a good friend who remains in contact. We even manage to catch up every couple of years and hang out. But I lost touch with all the others there. (Canadians) Doug and Sean. (New Zealander) Mel. (Americans) Rick, Dan, Brett. (English) Sian, Ed, Elizabeth(?). (Australian) Harold. There was a Japanese-American guy whose name (I think) might have been John. And many others. All good people, all fun.

What became of you all?

I moved to another Nova school for a short time. I think it might have been Okachimachi - very close to Ueno. I only remember one teacher there. I think she was Australian, and her name may have been Lisa.

I hope you're well.

After that I moved to Berlitz at Shimo-Kitazawa. As I said, I am still in touch with many of the teachers there, and one student. But during training, and visiting other schools, I got to know many more. There was the lady who spent a year living in a tepee and dealing drugs in a previous life, Larry - a keen photographer, and John, whose sister was a famous comedienne in Australia. Paul from South Africa, Juliet from the US, Chris from Canada, Oliver who loved cycling, and a few others.

Wouldn't it be great to catch up and reminisce?

And then so many students. Many of these I remember. Kumiko, who was embarrassed when she gave me giri-chocolate. The TV director, who gave me ringside seats to the Sumo and went to America to study film-making. The husband and wife dentist team, the two lovely ladies who took me out for lunch when they heard I was leaving. So many whose first names I forget. Many of these I remember their family names, but I'm leaving those off this page.

Ah what a time it was. And if you remember me from Tokyo days, whether through language schools or elsewhere, please get in touch. It would be wonderful to hear from you.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Soups On!

I've always joked that salad is not a meal, but a decoration that accompanies the steak. I've also joked that soup is not a meal, but a starter before the main course.

Of course this was an exaggeration and meant as a joke. But when I do go to restaurants, I wouldn't order either soup or a salad as the meal - especially for an evening meal. On a cold day a thick soup with crusty bread at lunch does appeal.

Over the years I have sometimes taken soup to work for lunch. These I quite enjoyed - filling, hearty and healthy. Last year I started a new job, and I was in the office for about 5 weeks before I was sent home to work remotely. (And I'm now less than two months from having not set foot in my office for a year.) Despite the short time I was there, one of my colleagues would tease me about having soup for lunch. Is it soup again, Steve?  What a surprise.

I do love cooking, and I'm pretty dab with a recipe. I'm proud of my curries and pizzas, and I've been known to journey into other cuisines with great results. But I'm a recipe follower. I can't do the whole chef thing and make it up as I go along.

Since working from home, I have started making soups. And recently I've even been adventurous enough to "wing it" from time to time. I confess, though, I often call on assistance to make sure I'm not going to destroy anything.  (Do you think I can add this tin of tuna to this pea and ham soup?)

I make enough for the week, not that we have it every single day, but it is warming in winter and healthy. All part of my master plan to not stack on weight during a time when sitting at my desk for extended hours.

And I'm not snacking either.

So me, I'm the thin guy over here, finishing my soup and having a mandarin for afternoon tea.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Happy New Lockdown Year.

Happy New Year.

And for those of us in the UK, we're back in lockdown. The virus seems to be running rampant, and we're confined to the house for the foreseeable future. Not that it changes much for me. I've been working from home since March, have been quite reluctant to got out unless I need to, and generally avoid people where I can. In fact, we even stayed at home for Christmas this year - just the two of us. It was lovely and quiet.

But I'm not going to dwell on the negatives in this world. There are so many at the moment, and I'm surrounded by them all the time.

A new year - the year of the Ox in China. I have no idea what it means for us, but I suppose I will have a look shortly. I could ask my Chinese friend, but the last time I asked him what a particular year meant for us, he advised me to invest in the stock market. I suspect it's similar advice he would offer now. 

The year is fresh, although I recognise it as an arbitrary marker. Simply clicking over a new number in a calendar doesn't actually change anything. Or does it?  I suppose it offers us a chance to reset, forgive and/or forget, and face the future with a new determinism. This year, that could be quite difficult.

But despite that, I do have plans for this year. By December I'll be able to report back on my strike rate.

Have a great year. Don't let the world get you down.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Whistle While You Work.

I have never really listened to music while I work. As a teacher, I couldn't really do so in the classroom. Even while marking I found it distracted me. And this was also true of listening to music as I write. I didn't choose to listen to music in my last position in administration. In the office, it would have meant earphones, and I preferred to be able to hear what was happening around me and to be sure when my phone was ringing.

Last week, however, I started playing music in the background while working, My role has changed, and I have found that gentle music calms me as I create content. There are some tasks which require a great deal of focus, and so off it goes. I can't focus on certain tasks and enjoy the music.

It's been great catching up on some recent music I hadn't had the opportunity to check out properly. And to play old favourites I hadn't heard in a while.

Will I start listening to music when I return to the office?  I don't know. It may just feel wrong. Time will tell, although I don't anticipate it will be anytime soon.

In the meantime, I'm going to throw on the latest album from Dystopian Future Movies.  Lovely!