Keeping Busy: A Week in the Life

Sometimes it feels like treading water. Trying to remain productive over and above surviving the daily grind, paying the bills, the regular essentials like eating and remembering to charge your phone.

Other times, things happen. Life gets even busier, but for the best. I’m not one for a ‘tour diary’ or, worse still, a regular diary, but the last week has been hectic, in a good way.

Wednesday, I made the trip to Leeds to perform at Verbal Remedies. A slightly smaller crowd than in March, they were nevertheless enthusiastic and encouraging, and my set was well received. I sold a copy of the limited, numbered tour edition of The Rage Monologues (almost half of this run has now sold) and got to chat with some really cool people. It was also something of a privilege to appear on the same bill as guest speakers Ian Winter (Hull) and Hannah Stone (York), who were outstanding. This is very quickly becoming one of my favourite spoken word nights going, and the standard of open mic performers is consistently strong. For the second time in two months, I was astounded by Lauren Butler’s lung capacity.

A short clip of my performance of ‘News’ also got shot that night. There isn’t much footage of me reading, and this is probably one of the best yet.

One day, I’ll figure out how to actually embed this video…
https://www.facebook.com/facebook/videos/10153231379946729/

Friday saw me take the rage back on the road, this time making the journey to the Scribble night at The Shakespeare in Sheffield. The journey was stressful to say the least: I knocked off work at 3:45 and caught a bus to the station, hopping on the 4:45 York to Sheffield (direct via Leeds) which was due to land in Sheffield at 17:48: ample time to make the 17-minute walk to the venue at my pace. Signal failure at Sheffield meant that we sat at Leeds station for half an hour, during which time I began to regret the chilli-cheese wrap I’d made for lunch. The train stalled again at Meadowhall and we were advised to disembark and hop on the tram. This stopped around every 500 yards, and I finally jumped off at somewhere near but not very near the station at 18:45 in a state of anxiety and bursting with rage. I figured I might channel this into my performance later, and yes, I did, although I’m not sure how well it translated. I’d got the walk from the station mapped out on my phone, but quite lost and with the even scheduled for a 7pm, start, I hopped in the nearest taxi and made it with minutes to spare.

The Shakespeare is an ace venue: the upstairs room is large and a good, plain rectangular shape with good acoustics and the bar downstairs offers 9 hand pumps and more decent beer than even I could consume. It was good to catch up in real life with Rob Eunson and to meet more new people, and while the reaction to my performance (a trio of rage monologues, during which, utterly pumped after my terrible journey, saw me leave the mic and rave manically to the audience, who looked terrified) was mixed, it was a good night. The other speakers were, again, excellent, and besides, I don’t expect rapturous applause and unanimous acclaim doing what I do.

That same day, my first new material in some time hit the market. While my February publication project, Something Must Break / Dream of the Flood, was ‘new writing’ I haven’t had work featured in anyone else’s publications in a year or two. So, for ‘Ambition’, a rage piece I only wrote earlier this year and performed for the first and only timer in Leeds in March to feature in issue 3 of The Curly Mind, the on-line zine curated by Reuben Woolley, a poet I admire greatly, is a big deal. You can read ‘Ambition’ here, and it’s worth having a nose round the other work at The Curly Mind.

Landing home after Sheffield at around 11:30am, it was an early start on Saturday for Live at Leeds, where I changed from writer / performer to music reviewer and landed early doors for some of the bands on at midday, and stuck it out till gone 10:30pm, by which time I’d seen 10 bands play in some five venues and on six stages, leaving myself with pages of scribbled notes from which to chisel a 1,500 word review for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ by 10pm on Sunday.

Not every week is like this, and I’m now even further behind on my email than ever. But, having started to build what feels like momentum taking the rage on the road, a hometown performance in York in May seems like the way to go, ahead of venturing to Manchester in June.

Who knows, I might even find the time to write some new material before then. But meanwhile, it’s bank holiday Monday, it’s chucking it down and I have DIY to do…

 

Rage Cover 2

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Criticising the Critics Criticising the Critics: An Exercise in Infinite Reflexivity and Getting Hip

So I recently stumbled upon a piece that was ostensibly a review of a gig I’d attended and reviewed, but with the secondary purpose of dismantling my review.

The writer, one Patrick Lee attacked my write-up from a number of well-considered angles, but it seems that the primarily provocation, to which he took particular exception, was my observation regarding the number of trendy hipster bozos in attendance (in fairness, relatively small) and the fact they talked incessantly (thus more than compensating for their number in terms of volume and level of irritation caused).

What I actually said, in the middle of a glowing review of all 4 acts performing that night, was, “Granted, a band as hot as White Firs are going to attract more than their fare share of hipster hangers-on, and the duffel-coat wearing popped-collar brigade are out in full force tonight, standing right at the front talking loudly and posturing hard. Forget ‘em. it’s all about the music…”

His response – suggesting he didn’t read the entire piece – was to get uppity about the duffel coat diss (I’d add that I was wearing a fleece under a jacket under a leather coat, because it was cold and I need the pockets to carry my pad / camera / beer / ego, but of course, I like to be inconspicuous at gigs and so not only to I keep out of the way but I keep my trap shut) and to defend talking throughout Bull’s set (I wouldn’t know if he jabbered on through the headliners’ set because I moved to get away from the hipster bozos who’d been standing directly in front of me).

He begins by saying ‘I think I might have been (depending on the time of the paragraph taking place) one of the “hipster hangers-on”, and whereas I am, I think, borderline complimented by this, I do take exception to the duffel-coat criticism, wanting to take the chance here to express admiration both for the duffel coat itself, and for those daring enough to wear it inside at a gig as “hot” as the one The White Firs produced.’

I’d also note here that neither of the places which have published Patrick’s piece (in Vibe as ‘Notice the form, or, Looking up at music culture from the underground’ and One&Other under the more descriptive and succinct title ‘Review: White Firs at Nichely Does It’) include links or even proper credits to my own original review which appeared at Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ and this, it has to be said, is poor form. But what’s considered good etiquette clearly isn’t a part of his agenda and may not even feature in his cognisance.

More pertinently, only a narcissist of the highest order would find any way of converting my criticism into a commentary, and then to admit to a) being one of the ‘characters’ so depicted b) being complimented (borderline or otherwise) transcends narcissistic egotism and borders on sociopathy. But then, such is the arrogance of the hipster. Pretentious, moi? I’m so cool, of course he’s writing about me… At this point, Patrick turns my criticism around a full 180 degrees to reveal that in fact, it is I who is in the wrong for being so misguided as to complain about their incessant chatter, writing,

‘to criticise those voicing an opinion during bands like Bull and The White Firs would be an error. Daring to pursue, tackle, render lifeless and then begin a post-mortem on this error is, as noted, daring, as splitting open an ugly error of such bizarre and complex proportions is likely to result in being covered in surgical smelling entrails; but, dragged here as we have been, we might as well cover ourselves in the grizzly innards of the thing, and hopefully be left cathartically and metaphorically cleansed by the end. A crucial question has been left unasked by the typical, cliché-ridden reviewer of music: What do The White Firs do?’

What do White Firs do? I think I covered that, actually, because I make a point of providing objective reviews that actually say what bands sound like and what they ‘do’ on whatever level people who’ve not heard the band may be interested in knowing about. Again, this furthers my theory that Patrick’s protracted exposition was a knee-jerk reaction to the second paragraph, and he was so incensed and overwhelmed he was compelled to spill his effusive verbiage instantaneously without taking the time to read on.

I feel a degree of empathy here. I too sometimes struggle to contain the urge to splurge when it comes to committing words to the (virtual) page, although I do think it’s poor form to dismantle a piece of writing without having read all of it. There’s a grave danger of appearing reactionary and ill-informed, after all. More importantly, my piece doesn’t have any pretence of being anything other than a review. It’s a short article, not a feature. I produce over 400 reviews a year. There isn’t the time to pick apart every fibre of every band’s being, and nor would I wish to even if there were. I don’t care what White Firs ‘do’ in terms of their being some kind of mega-influential cultural phenomenon. Not yet, anyway.

So when I wrote that ‘During their blistering set that ratcheted up both the volume and intensity of the night, they proved themselves to be in a different class altogether. With a rock-solid rhythm section (drummer Jack Holdstock occupied the stool for now-defunct but hotly-tipped garage noisemongers The Federals) providing the pulsating heart of the sound and the essential foundations for the fuzzed-out guitar attacks, they’ve got the swaggering Stooges sound absolutely nailed,’ I think I gave a few hints about what they ‘do’.

In fairness, hipster wordsmith Patrick Lee is writing with a different purpose. His angle, while writing on music and culture, in this piece, is to consider the nature of music reviewing, and there are many who believe that reviewing is a frankly pointless exercise. Fair enough, but in my experience both as a reader and writer of reviews, I’ve found that people come to respect the opinions of certain reviewers, and discover a lot of new bands they otherwise wouldn’t have because of the acts those reviewers provide exposure to.

It’s notable that a number of people have complained that they’ve never heard of any of the bands I review. As far as I’m concerned, that’s precisely the purpose of my reviews. Everyone already has an opinion on U2, Radiohead, Madonna, Coldplay, the household names and acts they have heard of, and there’ll be no short of coverage of their latest album in everything from The Guardian to the NME via The Sun and Q, not to mention every last website you might care to look. I find it much more gratifying – and culturally useful – to put word out about unknown and lesser known bands. And it’s for this reason I place such emphasis on description. Again, by way of example, another excerpt from my review of White Firs.

Danny Barton’s vocals have a nonchalant drawl about them, but still carry a melody and delivery some tidy pop hooks. Meanwhile, brother James churns out thumping basslines as cool as you like, while occasionally throwing in some shouty backing vocals. For all the overdriven noise blasting from the amps and the PA, it’s clear they’ve got a keen ear for a tune, their appreciation of Big Star shining through the squall of feedback.’

I’d also add that I tend to keep my style simple and direct, not because I’m incapable of flourish-filled purple prose, but because, well, who needs it? I love seven-line sentences and paragraphs that extend beyond three pages more than most of my work reveals, but by the same token, I do make every effort not to produce slabs of text so sense with descriptors as to lose even the most articulate of readers – an my own meaning – before the first semicolon. Postmodern society’s alienating enough without needlessly alienating the bulk of any potential readership before you’ve even said anything. Moreover, a good reviewer knows that their job is to convey what’s exciting about the band – and it’s all about the bands, not pushing my own agenda of convincing a publisher that they should indulge my literary aspirations by signing me up for a five-book deal which will see me rubbing shoulders with Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie and other heavyweight purveyors of literary fiction. Again, Lee’s reference points – Hemingway and Brett Easton Ellis – are telling in that they’re suitably literary (by which I mean they’re worthy namedrops for anyone with a casual interest in 20th Century literature) but reveal the author to be lacking in real knowledge of the field (Stewart Home makes for a much more pertinent and credible alternative to Ellis, and Lee could do far worse than acquaint himself with the exploratory prose of my own recent anti-novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid, if only to demonstrate just how firmly he’s got his finger on the pulse of the literary zeitgeist).

I’m practically bawling into my beer when I read his incisive summation of Bull, which pisses all over my my ‘tepid, cliche-ridden’ descriptions (being a typical music reviewer, I’m completely incapable of moving beyond such abysmal prose, while yearning to achieve flourishes comparable to his Paul Morley-esque circumlocution, brimming with esoteric verbosity dressed in endless frills. So when Mr Lee writes of ‘splitting open an ugly error of such bizarre and complex proportions’, it’s worth remembering the context. He’s writing about talking at a gig. And what’s more, he’s trying to defend it by pointing out that he was only saying good things about the bands. Good, clever things, too, unlike my simplistic, witless cliché things – which I at least had the decency to keep to myself until I’d left the venue. Put simply, Lee is making a pathetic and utterly misguided attempt to excuse the inexcusable and defend the indefensible by means of absurdly overinflated and exhausting prolix.

Of course, it all amounts to no more than pleonastic posturing. Fair enough. But please, next time you’re watching bands play, just shut the fuck up.

 

hipster1

A hipster at a gig, minus duffel coat. He’s so cool he’s hot and doesn’t need any tepid descriptions, dude.

 

 

 

Patrick Lee is a graduate from Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has written for Mint Magazine, International Relations, The Vibe and continues to write and edit fiction for Shabby Doll House. He enjoys music and film, and reading contemporary fiction, non-fiction and philosophy.

His profile pic features him, with a chick – thus illustrating his popularity and appeal to the opposite sex – with a paper or polystyrene beaker held in his mouth. What a bozo.

 

 

Christopher Nosnibor is a writing machine. He doesn’t feel the need to justify his existence by including his superior educational background in his biography and has written for more publications than her can be bothered to list.

He doesn’t have a profile picture, so no-one can identify him and beat the crap out of him when he’s dished out one of his more critical music reviews.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk