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


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 http://tiny.cc/uclroyal

Robbie Hayward

Old & Grey

This is the first post of our new column Old & Grey, written by Holly Bidgood, espousing the hidden joys buried away in the archives of the infamous TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test“.

I remember when Top Of The Pops was cancelled, however long ago it was now, and the feeling of what a shame it was: a pity that the most popular forum for ‘live’ broadcasting by performers in the flesh should be taken off the air; more a pity that it should have been full of such utter rubbish in the first place. Shortly afterwards, DVDs appeared in daily life, and with it came a gradual trickle of DVDs as Christmas presents and the like, in which I found what I had always wished existed: The Old Grey Whistle Test. Here could be found a collection of live performances from the leading alternative – if you will – musicians: musicians with talent, with soul, and with beards.

The program quickly became a personal favourite, not least because I was suddenly able to see the flesh and blood attached to the voices and sounds I had grown up listening to; I felt that personal, nostalgic attraction to this world of real music, despite having been brought into the world nineteen years after the first series was aired. The Whistle Test happened in a small BBC studio with, at just under ten meters by seven, just enough room for a couple of cameras, no audience, and a softly-spoken, bearded presenter named Bob Harris. The name, according to Harris, came from an old ‘tin-pan alley’ phrase: the first pressing of a record would be played to the doormen in grey suits, known as Old Greys, and the ones they were able to remember and whistle after just one or two listens has passed the Old Grey Whistle Test.

Bob Harris doing his thing

The whole set-up was wonderfully modest (although, true, there were a few bizarre outfits, such as Alice Cooper in black make-up and lycra, and the New York Dolls playing in full women’s clothing complete with high heels). With honesty and a very low budget the program awarded a voice to those artists who were perhaps too low down on the record company’s list of priorities to be publicised in a lavish, costumed music video; here could be seen, perhaps for the first time by most viewers, more elusive musicians such as the likes of Tim Buckley, whose performance of ‘Dolphins’ in 1974 remains one of the most simple and heartfelt I have seen. There can even be found a young Elton John in the same year, complete with sparkly jacket and silly pink glasses, playing ‘Tiny Dancer’ in the empty studio: just a man and a piano. The program ran for seventeen years and, as we shall see, the BBC even managed to embrace punk…

Holly Bidgood

Mini Hype – Smallgang

It’s not often that you hear a happy song about a plane crash but such is the attitude of Smallgang; determined to find positives in the unlikeliest of places. This happiness shines through in their jangly guitars, poppy vocals and frantic hooks. On first listen Smallgang may seem too indebted to their influences but further plays will reveal the originality and talent that this troupe has. Look out for a debut full-length in early 2011 on Damnably Records.

 Rob Hakimian


Video Spotlight

The National – ‘Terrible Love’

Videos made from backstage and live tour clips can seem lazy and are often boring, but The National’s new video for ‘Terrible Love’ is an exception. Known for their gloomy sound and often depressing lyrics, this video cuts a stark contrast to the image they portray in their music. The clips alter between funny and inspiring; you’ll find yourself chuckling when you see the band looking serious whilst playing in front of passport check-in at an airport then you’ll find your heart swelling with pride as you see the band triumphantly play an Obama rally in front of the American flag (yes this video and band will make you feel American).

Die Antwoord – ‘Evil Boy’

Becoming an overnight success has only changed Die Antwoord in one way; it gives them more money to screw around with. This is apparent and quite literally true; in their new erection-tastic video for ‘Evil Boy’ we see the trio dancing around to the beat of their new tune amidst dancers, an expensive-looking rotating graffiti’d set and monsters in various incarnations (a nipple-less female definitely falls under this last category). In fact it seems they spent so much money on everything else that they couldn’t afford to clothe two of their members, so they prance around in nothing but underwear. Unfortunately the only member whom we might actually want to see in their underwear, Yo-landi Vi$$er, is in a huge fur coat. We’ll have to get our kicks from watching the two guys’ boners practically burst out from their boxers. Actually at one point Yo-landi does go topless, only to reveal a pair of eyes where her nipples should be. Add it to the extremely long list of WTF!? moments that culminates with the final shot of a rotating wooden carving of smurf-like creature with an erect penis that extends further than the length of its body.

J. Cole – ‘Who Dat’


J. Cole – Who Dat (Directed by BBGUN) from bbgun on Vimeo.

J. Cole’s first video and the perfect way to make a mark upon a scene that of late can be all too familiar, the video for ‘Who Dat’ is shot in one continuous take and is a testament to what good planning, choreography and originality can produce. The camera follows Cole as he works his way through the burnt-out town of Fayetteville. As he proceeds he’s joined by a gang of supporters, some cheerleaders and a marching band who all stick to their cues perfectly. Further on down the road we have fires and exploding cars but none of this distracts J. Cole who at the forefront of it all is continuing his flow with a cool precision and confidence of a pro (or possibly of a man who knows he only has enough budget for one take). By the final shot of J. Cole leaving Fayetteville heroically down the train line as the music fades you feel you can’t help yourself but salute the man and all those involved on a job extremely well done.

Rob Hakimian

Mini Hype – 2:54

This London based female duo are influenced by a plethora of late 80s & early 90s bands, most evidently Sonic Youth, right down to singer Hannah Thurlow’s Kim Gordon-esque husky vocals. The sisters are strong female characters, which shines through in their music and is probably why they have been selected to support Melissa Auf Der Maur on her UK tour.

Rob Hakimian

Creeping by 2:54 Band

Mini Hype – Echo Lake

The name Echo Lake tells you everything you need to know about the sound of this band. Cavernous guitars enclose the haunting vocals, which add a mysticism and ethereal quality to their music. Listening to Echo Lake can put you into a state of reverie wherein you’ll picture the placid waters and dreamscapes that is audibly beholden unto you.

Rob Hakimian


Everything Is Real by Echo Lake