Interview: Billy Bragg

Under City Lights and Rare FM headed down to the recent UCL occupations to talk to people about their views.  Whilst their, we bumped into the legendary folk singer, outspoken poet and activist, Billy Bragg, and managed to grab a quick few words with him about student politics and government cuts…

What do you think of the rise in tuition fees and education cuts being put forward by the government?

Well, I’m sorry that the Labour party brought them in.  But when they brought it in, it was their way of spreading the burden around a bit.  You can see the reasoning behind it.  What the Torys and Lib Dems are doing is completely the opposite. Its taking the burden of costs from the financial crisis and passing around society; amongst the powerless, the poor, the young, the old, the people who can’t defend themselves.  I think we all need to step up to support the students, support the homeless, support the disabled, and ensure that the people who cause these problems, the financial markets, are the people who take the strain.

You mentioned labour being the people who brought in these fees in the first place, and you’ve publically supported them in the past.  What do you think their move should be?

I think their move should be to define themselves against the coalition.  I think one of the problems we have in our politics is the amount of disenfranchisement that goes on, because the three main political parties cover the same ground.  I’ve been around at the Coalition of Resistance first conference today.  They just put forward a series of demands against the cuts.  25 years ago, the labour party would of put out that sort of statement.  Now the labour party don’t seem to be there anymore.  I know they’re in a moment of transition at the moment but I want them to see them taking on the issue of cuts and make sure they just don’t react against the government’s agenda.

One last quick question.  Do you have any messages for the student occupiers as well as the larger general student population?

Yeah.  Just remember that nothing really changes unless people organise.  Whatever your politics and backgrounds are, you’ve got to organise.  Then once you students have organised you’ve got to join up with other people in society.  You’ve got to join up with the trade unions, the public sector workers, the unemployed and those people who are trying to make a difference.  You’ve got to organise.

Thanks Billy.

My pleasure.

You can listen to this interview here, as well as Billy’s message to student protesters here.

Dasal Abayaratne


Single Reviews December 2010

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Round and Round’ [4AD,  2010]

The recent surge in interest in Ariel Pink’s work, and his subsequent album with Haunted Graffiti, Before Today, have seen the reclusive singer-songwriter and one time apprentice of Animal Collective redefine his musical palette; as is only to be expected. In this revaluation, his response to acclaim that has been slow to arrive (albums over the last ten years have documented closer to two decades of composition), he has retained the fundamental sound he’s been peddling all this time- nostalgic, dreamy pop music hearkening back to the 70s and 80s- whilst altering its delivery. This too is understandable: if AP’s current popularity is the result of his ambient/lo-fi earlier efforts making their influence heard in contemporary chillwave and fuzzed-up indie pop, then his riposte is to strip away that fuzz and haze to reveal the very real songwriting talents that have always supported the sonic ornamentation. It turns out that a cleaned-up Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti track wouldn’t sound out of place in the more stylish corners of the 80s: crisp disco rhythms, a tumbling ‘Billie Jean’-aping bassline, and a chorus of honeysweet harmonies. There is still a ramshackle charm in the deconstructed bridge with its strained refrain, and Ariel clearly enjoys the chorus a little too much, relying too much on it in the second half of the song. But then, that is just a sign of a musician confident in his own abilities, and it’s a confidence well earned.

Sam Goff

Eminem – ‘Echo’ (ft. Royce Da 5’9″ & Liz Rodriguez)

After collaborations on his latest album Recovery with more familiar hip hop artists, such as Lil Wayne and Rihanna, it was touch and go as to whether Eminem’s collaboration with former associate Royce da 5’9″ would work.  In fact the combination of both artists’ similar rap styles, deep, gritty and rhythmic, over a simple beat and gospel choir vocals, is strangely effective.

Sadly, whilst the verses from both Eminem and Royce are tight, and lyrically incredible, the chorus lets the track down. Vocals from Liz Rodriguez are not up to scratch, and are best described as “shouty” and even worse the transition from verse to chorus fails to flow as it should in a hip hop song. This is most noticeable in the intro of the track, where there is 52 seconds of vocals and gospel, before Royce da 5’9” starts to spit. The song would undoubtedly be better suited to a slightly more urban chorus, although the gospel backing throughout as an undertone is on point.

Eminem’s rap is certainly up to the high standards one is used to from his latest album. Typically, the content is explicit, but the words take a refreshing back seat from drugs, and focus more on music, than usual. However, the real star of the show surprisingly is Royce, for his verse, which he absolutely kills. This could be Royce’s chance to break into the popular charts; his rapping bears similarities to tracks from current hip hop superstars Tyga and J. Cole.

A massive track, with a not-so-great chorus, but definite room for more verses by a new fave of mine: Royce da 5’9”.

Libby McBride

Marnie Stern – ‘Risky Biz’ [Kill Rock Stars, 2010]

Marnie Stern’s new single has a childlike quality to it. She opens up singing line by line as if she’s forming the words as she goes along. With this slightly twee and juvenile approach more of Marnie’s own angst come out, as she sings “I’ve got something in my soul/Pushing me to hold onto the pain.” This is all quite a big change compared to her older songs. As you might have noticed, not until now is there a mention of her guitar noodling; the default opening line for any article about her. In fact it only acts as a backing to her voice and is so toned down that at first listen it’s barely noticeable. The new direction is interesting and probably necessary but still there is lingering feeling that you’d rather the excitement than the introspection.

Adam Saunders

Fujiya and Miyagi – ‘Yoyo’ [Full Time Hobby, 2011]

There is a disconnect in the bowels of this song from the gently hyped Brighton quartet; cringe worthy as it is to say this, the song has its ups and downs. The positives are in the economical instrumental base: softly distorted guitar and synth occasionally peeling away into squeaks and scrapes, a warm blanket of noise with a delicious element of unease. The negatives, unfortunately, are the rhythm and vocals that this blanket cannot hope to cover up: a single, looped jab of organ, thoughtlessly bobbing drums, and a vocal line defined by restraint, with maybe six notes and fewer lyrics. At first it seems strange to draw this line down the middle of the song: after all, minimalist repetition is the hallmark of the Krautrock/ambient music that clearly fuels Fujiya and Miyagi. After a few listens, though, the issue becomes clearer: the faint menace of the overlay is undermined by the politeness and soft delivery of the rest. Groups like Kraftwerk are exhilarating because their repetition is confrontational, daring you to dismiss the very minimal construction behind the music. F&M are comfortable with the sonic vocabulary; in fact, they’re probably too comfortable, and hence so is the listener.

Sam Goff

Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Rockinghorse (Rhino UK)

Rockinghorse marks a triumphant and stomping return for Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Their first album since 2008, the record is full of variety, from rousing big-band ballads, to cheeky quick steps and, of course, perfect boogie-woogie.

First off, I must admit that I am a huge Jools fan – ever since seeing him perform live some four years ago, I’ve always had a little bit of a soft spot for him. Yes, he may appear to walk backwards the majority of the time and bark out his words like an excited terrier but, Michael McIntyre jokes aside, he really is a master of his craft – technically brilliant – and his enthusiasm and love of music is infectious. In a genre that can make it easy for records to come across blasé and “easy listening”-esque, it is this enthusiasm which imbues Rockinghorse with confidence and personality, making it an engaging and fun – yes fun! – listen.

This is helped along by some outstanding guest turns. Michael McDonald gives a smoking performance in ‘I’ve Got News for You’ – my favourite of the album – whilst Alison Moyet turns ‘The Man That Got Away’ from something that could have easily turned out quite cheesy into a passionate and heartfelt ballad, bitterness and regret dripping from every syllable. However, it is Ruby Turner that is the powerhouse of the record – lending her magical vocal talent to three of the strongest songs (‘Roll Out Of This Hole’, ‘Remember Me’, ‘You Are So Beautiful’), fluttering effortlessly over each and every note.

Nevertheless, the album is not without its faults. Although the variation – on the whole – pays off, the incredibly high standard of the majority leaves certain tracks seemingly out of place. ‘London Belongs To Me’ – featuring Essex-duo Chas and Dave – is the most glaringly obvious of these, whilst Rico Rodriguez’s reggae ‘What A Wonderful World’ works well in theory, though isn’t quite pulled off.

Despite the odd blip however, Rockinghorse is a glorious comeback – marked out by the talent of its contributors: the guests, the orchestra and Mr. Holland himself.

Liz Davies

Interview: Titus Andronicus

Hey Patrick, how’s the tour going?

It’s been a great tour, probably the most enjoyable on of England yet. We’ve had some bigger audiences than we’re generally used to over here and we’ve had the hospitality from a lot of nice people that have invited us over to their houses afterwards. We’ve made a ton of nice friends. So yeah, it’s been really nice… apart from the cold. This has also being the coldest tour we’ve ever done.

Even colder than back in the US?

Dude, it’s cold. I think it’s colder. I don’t even remember any other weather.

You mentioned sleeping on people’s floors, how’s that been going?

It’s nice. Most of the time we end up staying up till some obscene hour, talking, laughing and learning about English culture. I’ve learned the most valuable lesson though is that people are all the same wherever you go … all assholes.. . JOKE.

You sound like a really positive guy Patrick, but your lyrics are sometimes really bleak.

Well you know, if I didn’t have the outlet for the bleakness, how could I maintain positivity?

So it’s some sort of catharsis then?

Well I dunno. There are good days and bad, as with anyone. Walt Whitman says that “contain multitudes” right?  So you can try and find good in the world even though you know there’s great evil. You’ve got to try and take the bad with the good. Though the bad is usually worse than the good is good. Also, how could I not be feeling up right now when the seminal UK punk band Television Personalities are supporting us?

How did that come about?

Well I would never have thought of it. In my mind they should be headlining stadiums. But Texas Bob, their guitar player, friended me on facebook and asked if they could support at our London show.  It’s really happening, it’s surreal.  It was kinda fortunate cos we were meant to be doing this tour with Let’s Wrestle, but they had to pull out.

How about Mazes, do you know them at all?

Yeah, they were supposed to support us in Manchester but they pulled out as well! We actually met their singer the first time we played in Manchester 2 years ago, and he gave us their cassette and we’ve treasured it ever since. Sadly, they couldn’t make it, for one reason or another.

You’ve got them here at least?

THEY’RE PLAYING TONIGHT?! Oh shit. That’s great news. Wow, what a great show. Sweet.

Sure.  Can we just talk about your latest record, The Monitor.  What’s the back-story to it?

Well it’s about the theme of disunion and organisations, communities and relationships that are supposed to have a certain amount of solidarity but actually don’t. We just end up pitting one against another. It all just seems to me that it’s just people trying pass the buck for their own happiness or unhappiness, trying to define themselves in relation to one another rather than trying to define yourself, positively. From that, the Civil War is an extended metaphor, seen as that was the largest occurrence of that in American history. The confederacy vs. the Union, that was pretty disharmonious. Though it’s pretty much just a different set of clothes on the set of problems we have today. You know what I’m saying? It’s also about me moving to Boston, which I did a couple of years ago, but then having to move back.  It’s about all these things and more.

What sort of musical influences did you have whilst making the record?

Well, The Television Personalities, you know. Big Country was another big one. They’re a Scottish band from the 80s. We listened to a lot of Trail Of Dead and Fucked Up in the studio.

But you seem to get lumped into a lot of indie-type stuff on sites like Pitchfork. Do you feel like you identify with any of that really?

Well I identify with plenty of it, and listen to it, but nobody likes being put in a box. It’s cool though. I guess we’re an indie rock band, to the extent that there is such a thing.

How about on the tour, what do you think of the bands that are supporting you?

There’s been some awesome bands. In Bristol we had Bravo Brave Bats, they were really an awesome band. They kinda sounded like McClucsky or something. The other night in Newcastle we played with this band called Oh Messy Life, they were really great too. They kinda sounded like The Mekons or Neutral Milk Hotel, but more 90s alt rock or something.

How about in the US?

Well we just did a tour with Free Energy and we really liked those guys. You should also check out a band called Spider Bags, they’re pretty much the best American band. There’s also this great Baltimore band called Double Dagger. They’re a cool 3 piece punk band.  Also check out my man Andrew Cedermark who used to play guitar in Titus Andronicus. He just put out his own record that’s really awesome.  Me, Andrew and Martin from Real Estate used to be in a band called Library of Congress at college, but at the end of first year they both transferred to other colleges.  Thusly, Titus Andronicus was born.

Talking of sleeping on floors, you seem to be quite into the DIY ethos as a band.  Is that true?

Yeah, sure. I mean, we have to be reluctant to say yes, because there are a lot of things we don’t do ourselves, and there are lots of bands that are more DIY than we are.  However it is important for us to break the fourth wall a little bit and demonstrate that we’re regular folks, who just happen to be in a band. We did one tour over here where we just stayed in hotels cos we were scared. It was just really depressing, everyday just felt the same. It was just too sterile and inhuman.  And you know we have to keep the overhead down cos it’s expensive to come over here. We can barely afford the plane tickets let alone the hotels without going into debt. I will say that these English are notoriously cheap with their fees… Like really stingy motherfuckers most of the time. Compared to mainland Europe, you guys are real tightwads… FYI. But it’s cool, it’s just funny money. I reckon we might just break even on this tour for the first time.

What’s the plan for after the tour finishes, what are you up to then?

Not really any real plans. We won’t be going out on the road again till springtime.  Probably just rehearse and learn some new songs, hang out and kinda take it easy. Mostly just refamiliarise ourselves with our civilian lives, spend time with loved ones, sleep in, eat food that’s not from a gas station.

You’re missing Thanksgiving today.

Yeah, that’s true. I’ve still got a lot to be thankful for though, like the Television Personalities! Definitely better than a turkey.

We were wondering whether the band has any sort of philosophy?  You’ve mentioned about the positive/negative balance and you’ve referenced writers such as Albert Camus in songs.

Yes, we are a punk band. Sure, we’ve got plenty of philosophies, but I guess the big one is that life in an absurd universe causes people to be mean, and people being mean makes me sad.

We were looking at [guitarist] Amy’s blog the other day and saw that she used to be in Riot Grrl bands.  Do you guys still stand for those causes?

Sure, she’s still a feminist, I hope she never gives up. Caring about people, that’s all that is. Just treating people decently, that’s the only ideology worth its salt. Just treat them like how you’d like to be treated. I mean it’s an old line but it’s still the truth. Old and cliché as it is, we humans still haven’t figured out how to implement it on any useful scale. But hey, what are you gonna do?

What are your feelings about US politics in general?

I don’t concern myself with that stuff. They’re all a bunch of liars and swindlers what ever side of the stupid aisle they’re on. I’m much more concerned with the stuff that’s going on on the ground. People that I can relate to, from one human to another. That’s where I think where people can do the most good.

Sure.  In the UK at the moment many people have become disillusioned over the Liberal Democrats [Explains tuition fees and university story].  A group of students at our university UCL, have occupied one of the main rooms in protest.  Do you have any messages for them?

I’m always happy to see the kids getting excited, but it sucks that it’s about money. There are a lot more important things in this world than money. It’s a good start though. I dunno, money… fuck it, but I like that they’re excited and standing up for themselves. It is bad that they’re trying to take all your money, that does suck. If it was about something other than money, I could be a little more excited, but I’m still pretty excited. Usually in America, you couldn’t get students to protest fucking anything, unless you took their Twitter away. It’s sad, but that’s the world in which we live in; ain’t that right boys? I say good luck to those students and get what they’re after, remember how good it felt to stand up for themselves and maybe they can continue to stand up for what they believe in in the future. Hopefully they won’t just get their money back and go on to being fat and lazy like the people who used to protest all the time in America. We’ll see.  It’s not for me to judge even though I just did.

Finally, on a lighter note, I saw you had a little funny video about Kanye West on your blog. Did you guys make that yourselves?

Oh, thank you.  Yeah, me and Eric, the drummer made that.  We were just staying up one night thinking about Kanye and we just hopped on the computer in a couple hours. We all really like the new record and have been listening to it a lot.  He’s funny, and always keeping things interesting. He believes in himself, a lot, which is a rare thing. He dares to be great. It’s always nice to see.

Thanks Patrick, good luck with the gig.
Edwin Shaw & Dasal Abayaratne

Dntel – After Parties 1 and 2 (Sub Pop, 2010)

Jimmy Tamborello aka Dntel is stuck in a bit of a rut. In the late 90s his career began to snowball; first hailed as a pioneering electronica artist he gained a cult following. In 2001 he released his first full length under the Dntel moniker Life Is Full Of Possibilities, which featured a smattering of collaborations, most famously with Death Cab front man Ben Gibbard. This one-time collaboration turned into a full on world-beating side project when the pair released Give Up as The Postal Service in 2003. The end of the Postal Service’s tour marked the end of Tamborello’s quick rise to fame and he went quiet for a while. He finally followed up with Dumb Luck in 2007, which featured a different guest vocalist on every track, as if Tamborello was auditioning people for the next Postal Service-esque surprise package. Unfortunately nothing on Dumb Luck reached the heights of Life Is Full Of Possibilites and Tamborello retreated and has since only released demos and reworks of older material as Dntel.

Now Dntel returns with a pair of EPs; After Parties 1 and 2, which immediately set themselves apart from his previous work through the mere fact that they are entirely lacking in vocals. As the title of the EPs would suggest, his aim here is to create something for people to dance to. Every song has a beat, decorated by lightly sprinkled synths and the inclusion of unthreateningly looming reverberations, the basic ingredients of any dance track. People could easily dance to this, my doubt is as to whether people would dance to this when there is so much else similar and more importantly, better, out there. The beats are tame, the additional instrumentation is boring and insignificantly different from track to track to even tell them apart.

The definition between the two EPs is almost indistinguishable, although  After Parties 2 takes a slight step off the dance floor to venture more into textural electronica akin to Pantha Du Prince, and has relative success on ‘Peepsie’ and the demented funfair electronics of ‘Aimless’. However, the majority of the tracks will have listeners wondering whether Tamborello accidentally put an early, unfinished version of his tracks on; so uninteresting and lifeless are the tracks that you can’t help but feel a certain lack of inspiration went into them.

It’s a sad state of affairs for an artist who started the last decade riding a vibrant wave of interesting and loveable electronic music. However, the start of this subsequent one finds Tamborello at the end of his party and sadly the only after party activity that these two new EPs are likely to soundtrack is sleep.

Rob Hakimian

Interview: Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann from Answer Me This! podcast

Answer us this!

Rare FM meets Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann – Answer me this!


Interview by Sara Shulman


S: Why did you decide to do a podcast?

O: I was working in production for ITV on a show called ‘Confessions’, which was the lowest rated factual entertainment show of the last ten years in prime time ITV. I decided that after 2 months of exploring, in the most synical way, the dark underside of human endeavour, I wanted to do something else. At the time, I had just finished collating a play based on blogs for Edinburgh Fringe (2006) and thought it was really exciting and really enjoyed the autonomy and creativity. Because the play had been about blogs, lots of podcasters had interviewed me about it so I thought I could do my own podcast… So I decided to do a home-made show, which was about the time that The Ricky Gervais Show was getting big. There were a lot of American shows with men and women talking but there weren’t really many English ones, so I felt we had a niche. There seemed to be a vacancy for someone, who wasn’t a complete geek, to do a home-made show so I thought we could give it a go. It was an experiment, we didn’t really know what was going to happen. We will have done 160 podcasts by Christmas!


H: It was meant to be a hobby!


O: We don’t understand why we don’t have proper competition from amateurs. We’d like some competition!


S: So why did you decide to write a book?

O: We decided to write a book because there are some things you just can’t do in a podcast but that you can do in a book. We did student radio together – it was one of the first things we did together – and one thing we’ve always wanted to do is our own banter-driven music show.


H: I did a show on Rare FM after a gig once. It was with Jamie Paul and I went on with Josie Long and we sang songs…


S: How did you guys meet (Oxford?) ?

O: We met at St. Catz, Oxford, both studying English. There was a position on the JCR Committee for publications officer.


H: It’s where you poster things and write the guides for Freshers. We wrote the Fresher’s Guide together, which contained incredible advice for young people coming to St. Cats.


O: It had a lot of stuff we thought was funny (for the intended audience).


H: When I arrived, I got a Fresher’s Guide that was for people that knew each other but I wanted to make things accessible so that it didn’t feel like a club that you’re not in…


S: What do you remember most about being students?


H: What was amazing about it was just the fact that my closest friends all lived in the same building as me and I saw them every day, and they were at a really interesting point in their lives when they were really coming to fruition. When you’re at Uni, you can do whatever you like! You don’t have a job, you can stay up until 5am everyday… You never really have that level of conversation again.


O: I remember when I started University, people would say “What were your A Levels?”…


H: … or “What did you do on your Gap Year?”


O: But actually what happens for the rest of you life is people come up and ask you about your job, and in real life people just define you by what you do for a living. You find that on a daily basis a friend or acquaintance is suddenly religious, or gay, or is suddenly a broadcaster or interested in writing a novel…


H: …or manufacturing kites or taking drugs.


O: Being a student was a really great time to be able to try stuff.


H: Not that we tried most of those things… We didn’t really watch TV, and didn’t really have the internet.


S: So no Facebook?!


O: No Facebook!


H: The defining activity was hanging out with people…


O: …and socialising.. But lots of people meet online now before starting Uni – I suppose more knowledge equals less anxiety..? Actually, the two most common questions we get from students are either “I’ve just graduated and I can’t get a job – what do I do?” or “I’ve just started Uni and I don’t want to go clubbing or go to a particular drinks thing or a particular birthday thing – how do I make friends?”


S: So what’s your advice?


H: I found if you were capable of cooking you became popular, especially if you were capable of cooking late when most places were closed. Olly was popular because he had a television in his room.


S: In your book, there’s lots of stories about student life. Do you have any advice or tips for students?


O: We both had different academic strategies. We both ended up just scraping through with a 2:1. In Helen’s case by 0.7%


H: I was busy…


O: And in my case 0.5% away from a 2:2. I spent pretty much the whole of my second year doing student journalism, student radio, student theatre, filming stuff and making posters… just anything that wasn’t work! But that was the best experience in terms of getting a career in the media.


Helen: The extra-curricular seems to be much more helpful than the academic pursuits, enjoyable as those are as well. We both really enjoyed being students. We both said if we could re-live three years of our 20s it would probably be those three years.


S: Why do you think students would be interested in this book?


O: Well, it’s quite a studenty humour. A lot of our humour is quite juvenile. ‘Cerebral juvenilia’ was a quote by William Cook, who was a comedy critic in The Guardian, and I think that applies to our show too. We always thought our humour would appeal to a 16-20 year olds market. We talk in a silly way about clever things and a clever way about silly things. There’s a quite a broad range of people that listen to our shows from 10 year-olds to 60 year-olds. But the 10 year-olds seem to be quite academically precocious and the 60 year-olds tend to be unusually juvenile. It is to an extent the kind of Sixth-Formy kind of humour that people never grow out of.


S: Did you always want to go into comedy?


H: I don’t feel like I’ve got into comedy. My brother’s a comedian and I’ve done shows with people but I don’t really consider myself a comedian. Comedians work at it and do it properly and they’re expected to be funny.


O: I’d consider myself a writer and broadcaster, who does a funny show.


H: I’m socially amusing but it’s a really different thing to be able to write stand-up.


O: I actually find stand-up quite awkward. Often when I’m watching stand-up I feel like there are too many times when comedians will go for a cheap laugh to get the audience on their side or because everyone is drunk. Or I just get embarrassed because I’m watching someone do something very clever and almost always the audience isn’t really on side because they’re drunk.

S: What comedians inspire you?


O: When we were teenagers, Stuart Lee and Richard Herring were a massive influence for both of us. Personally, I’m interested in TV Comedy, I think I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 is the best sitcom of our lifetimes – I love it! I also really like some of the Americans as well, such as Joan Rivers, Mel Brooks and Robin Williams.


S: What’s been your favourite question and what’s been your favourite topic to talk about?


H: I like talking about when people have a weird emotional problem. We had this 17-year-old who said, “My 43 year-old married neighbour wants to have sex with me – should I do it?” and we said, “You shouldn’t, she’s married, her husband lives next door…” Then he said, “I decided not to because she texted me some pictures of herself and I didn’t think she was that fit after all.” So it was nice having that weird insight into his life. This other guy said “I’ve been offered the chance to be in a professionally done porno, should I do it?” These things have never really been a problem for us to decide so it’s nice putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.


O: I like the funny questions – for example, someone asked us “Can you make black pudding out of menstrual blood?” Sometimes the question isn’t particularly interesting so it’s often what we do with it rather than the questions… We just make it up as we go along. The answers we give often have lots of different options but we like to give the most interesting or plausible answers. You can see the types of questions we’ve been asked at


S: What do you want people to take away from reading your book and/or listening to your podcast?


O: We want people to be entertained. We wanted to write the best toilet book we could – we didn’t have any aspirations to write War and Peace – we’re both pretty proud of how it is. It’s an entertaining book with a gag on every page and that’s what we wanted, because that’s the kind of thing we like to read.


H: It’s nice to be able to give someone half an hour’s entertainment each week – to take their mind of their commute. We get lots of emails in saying that our show is their favourite 30 minutes of travelling to and from work every week, and it’s really nice to be that for someone.


Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann will be doing a signing and reading of their new book Answer me this! on:

Friday 26th November, 12pm at Rough Trade East on Brick Lane.

Saturday 4th December, 3pm at The Social, Little Portland Street

Check out their website


If you want to buy their book, the cheapest and easiest way is from

You can follow them on Twitter ( and on Facebook (

Sara Shulman

Old & Grey: December

In Terry Gilliam’s latest escapade into the bizarre and surreal, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, lurks an unexpected and unconventional figure in the character cast: clad in black suit and top hat, darkly witty and coolly sardonic appears the Devil himself, played by no other than cult musician Tom Waits. He has aged befittingly since his musical heyday in the 1970s, his face now haggard with the mischievous and ironical humour that characterises the extreme versatility of his music. Whether growling, caterwauling, drawling or (rarely) singing his distinctive, often seedy anecdotes over thumping jazz rhythms ‘(Underground’), eerie saxophone licks (‘Small Change’) or deliberately out-of-tune piano melodies (‘The Piano Has Been Drinking (not me)’), the performer communicates a persona that is strikingly befitting to such a sarcastic and blackly comical figure as Terry Gilliam’s creation. He even appears as the lunatic Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In fact, wherever Waits happens to turn up he is a surprising figure. His deep howling voice is reminiscent of the rawness of the early Delta Blues singers; I imagine more than one mouth was open in surprise when he appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977: a young, slim pale American with a full head of combed hair and characterful features. Dressed in a dark suit he sits alone at a grand piano with only a drummer, double-bassist and saxophonist – half-hidden and semi-audible – for company in the atmospheric semi-darkness of the small studio. At the piano he draws out the beautiful melody of ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’, while his gruff voice strains into the microphone. It is not a musical voice, but it is passionate, touching and unmistakable. Perhaps lacking is some of the eccentricity of his cabaret-like performances caught on live DVDs – such as ‘Burma Shave’, in which he hangs around a stage lamppost clutching a continual cigarette, and the audience howl with laughter at his seemingly semi-inebriated version of ‘Silent Night’ – yet he has not lost even an inch of conviction, and shows himself to be just as passionate as he is theatrical. To illustrate: my father attended a Sheffield concert in the late seventies. The lights went down, and in the pitch blackness Waits simply howled like a wolf – a haunting welcome, and endearingly bizarre.

Holly Bidgood

Live Review: Broken Social Scene and Tortoise at KOKO, November 16th 2010

Chicagoan post-rockers Tortoise have been around for nearly twenty years now and are often hailed as one of the forefathers of post-rock. Therefore it was somewhat odd to see them take to the stage at the ludicrously early time of 7.45pm; a side-effect of the promoters evidently thinking “you’re important enough to deserve a decent set-time, but not popular enough to take the headline slot.” Tortoise didn’t seem perturbed by the fact that they were on early and that the crowd was somewhat thin, this was probably because they were focused on their music. A purely-instrumental band of six members constantly switching instruments including guitar, bass, keyboard, electric xylophone and two drumkits, Tortoise showed their experience by professionally running through a set spanning their entire discography staying tighter than you may have thought possible. The sonic shifts were smooth and beautiful as the sweeping audio landscapes they create in the studio and bolstered here in the live setting. By the end the crowd was nearly full and everyone was intently and respectfully watching and listening to every graceful musical piece emerge and work its way into their ears. One shout from a crowd member of “you should be headlining” didn’t flatter the band.

Although Tortoise may have history on their side, it was evident from the moment that Broken Social Scene played their first chord why they were the headliners. I said it when I first saw them and tonight’s show only reinforced it: Broken Social Scene are the epitome of everything a live band should be. What I mean by this is that the band are tight, loud, clear, aware of what their audience want to hear, evidently excited to be there (even though this is the fifth time they’ve played in London in 2010), funny in their between-song talks, interesting to watch in their instrument-swapping madness, willing to play for two hours solid and don’t go off and back on again for an encore. Also, they bring horns on tour with them across the Atlantic, how many bands these days bother to do that? The band plays through a set consisting of all the best songs from newest album Forgiveness Rock Record, and plenty of fan favourites from their self-titled album and breakthrough album You Forgot It In People. In a set wherein each song could be picked as the highlight since every chorus soared, every crescendo was reached, maintained and perfected, and every riff scythed cleanly through the excited atmosphere, a special mention must go to ‘Superconnected’ and the mellowest moment of the night ‘Lover’s Spit’. The latter was begun by Kevin Drew solo on keyboard before slowly each of the other members joined in with their preferred choice of brass instrument.

The atmosphere was one of the most buoyant I’ve ever experienced and this general sense of bonhomie was summed up towards the end when Drew laid on his back on top of the audience to be crowd-surfed heroically from the stage to the back of the room and back again whilst accompanied by spacey-atmospheric rock and encouragement from his band-mates on stage. A true image of the connecting power of rock music if ever there was one. Upon returning to the stage Drew announced that the next song would be their last, only for them to go ahead and play three more.

If you missed Broken Social Scene this time around then that’s bad luck; the band announced that this would be the last time they’d play in London “for a very long time.” However the band will be back eventually and now that you’ve read this you’ve no excuse to miss them. If you’re not a fan of BSS on record don’t let that hold you back; I was never a huge fan of their recorded material but when it comes to their live act it’s a whole different matter. You will be converted, they have powers, they are after all a “super group”.

Rob Hakimian

Mixtape #001: The Royal Wedding

In these straitened economic times, the people need some cheer. Cue royal wedding, celebration, caviar, champagne and public rejoicing. In honour of this most momentous of occasions, Under City Lights brings you a commemorative mixtape that looks forward to the couple’s coming marriage and life together. And, unlike the plate and mugs that are already rolling out of factories to adorn the mantlepieces of the old and the lonely, this is free.

1. Band of Horses – Marry Song
2. The White Stripes – Hotel Yorba
3. The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice
4. Beyoncé – Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)
5. Al Green – Let’s Get Married
6. David Bowie – Be My Wife
7. Billy Idol – White Wedding
8. Buddy Holly – Peggy Sue Got Married
9. Simon Bookish – Prince of Wales
10. Elton John – I Just Can’t Wait to Be King
11. Okkervil River – A King and a Queen
12. The Magnetic Fields – It’s Only Time
13. Madonna – Till Death Do Us Part
14. Liz Phair – Divorce Song
15. The Hidden Cameras – Ban Marriage

Listen online at

Robbie Hayward

Alexisonfire – Dogs Blood EP (Roadrunner, 2010)

Although Alexisonfire has joked in the past of softening their sound, even going so far as to say they’d start a fund to remove fan’s Alexisonfire themed tattoos when they became a free-jazz band, Dog’s Blood EP may be the heaviest and grimiest collection of songs they’ve released so far.  The first thirty or so seconds should be sufficient to realize that this album was released as an extended play on purpose.  Don’t expect the usual chorus driven anthems of angst, but do not discount it for that reason either. Dog’s Blood is the band’s exploration of a dirtier more feedback driven sound. Dallas Green only appearing briefly on the title track, and instead largely makes his presence on the EP felt through some brilliant guitar ‘soundscaping.’

The sound is simultaneously different and the same old Alexisonfire sound you would expect, almost as if they took some old songs, strapped them to their shoe soles, and went for a slogging trudge through some sludge and feedback. The title track starts things off with a thud, building itself up until the beautiful bass run halfway through, and then again to the chorus. The final two minutes are thick with dissonant chords and resonating vocal work: finally the sounds recede into low bass and screeching feedback. The next two songs follow along the same lines, dark and ‘black as jet,’ with instrumental passages, breakdowns, and some really affecting guitar work. Things Alexisonfire have always been comfortable with, but seem to have taken a different path with on this extended play.  Powerful lyrics on ‘Grey’ are made all the more poignant by some of the most moving lead guitar work from the band, period.

The fourth and final song, ‘Vex,’ is perhaps the most ambitious song in terms of its experimentation, blending Alexisonfire sensibilities with some strong post-rock influences, and stretching the reverberating and soaring instrumental on for a full six minutes. The song really shines through for its divergence. Despite the experimental nature of the EP, a caustic cohesion prevails among the tracks, and some new sounds that could be effectively explored for the next album. ‘Dog’s Blood’ is immediately notable for its familiarity, but with a few listens, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick a stand out track. I for one am expecting the next album to be an interesting departure. In Dog’s Blood, howls heard from miles around, definitely not an EP to pass up!

Liam Lanigan