Nige' Ollis

Photographer and Writer

Posts from the ‘Music’ category

Talking About A Revolution

So, another Glastonbury Festival has slid into the muddy abyss; and all week regional hospitals have been reporting their usual increase of admissions with trench foot, dysentery, cholera and a pathological fear of public toilets. Climate change, meanwhile, rampages on unabated like an overwrought Coldplay set.

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A musician without boots and revelers enjoying underground heating yesterday

Glastonbury needs to move with the times; this is the modern world. The time has come to install artificial grass and drainage. And for the remaining 51 weeks of the year the landscape could be dotted with herds of plastic cows; people could be employed to move them around under cover of darkness to give the illusion of a working farm. Or, if the budget allows, they could even make them animatronic; preprogrammed to sit down at the first sign of rain.

And with no more real cows, not only is the threat of disease virtually wiped out at a stroke, excessive methane farts and slurry are also eradicated*, thus repairing the hole in the ozone layer.

Either that, or simply move the festival into the local village hall. Sorted.

* This might also require some tighter constraints on some of the food stalls at the festival itself. 

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The Spirit Of Music

It’s been a strange few days; often finding myself suddenly disarmed; close to tears…

The foothills of the 90`s had been a difficult time for me; a life turned on its head due to the fateful roll of the health dice. It was during this time that the UK television schedules began running 24 hours a day; without enough programmes to fill the schedule they began buying in shows from around the globe to fill the gaps. One such show was Canada’s MuchMusic [still running today in Canada]. And by equally fateful accident I was given a gift. That summer I would sit lazily in the passenger seat of a car flashing through English countryside roads, and The Tragically Hip’s Fully Completely was the soundtrack. A distant love affair had begun. It would be another 7+ years before I finally got to see the band live, and what proved to be one of the most memorable gigs of my life.

Earlier this week the band released a statement which began, “Hello friends. We have some very tough news to share with you today, and we wish it wasn’t so. A few months ago, in December, Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer…” I’m still getting my head around the news. The band, but especially the enigmatic poet and performer tour de force that is Gord Downie, have weaved a musically spiritual legacy through my life. But even when a diagnosis hurts like a loss, their joint band statement still bristles with that spirit “… after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours… we’ve decided to do another one. This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us. What we in The Hip receive each time we play together is a connection; with each other; with music and it’s magic… we’re going to dig deep and try to make this our best tour yet.”

There are so many memories and connections entwined throughout the intervening 25 years, but it seems appropriate to revisit that very special night when I saw The Hip live for the first time at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England. Well, it was kind of England … On 9th June 2000, the day after, I sat and wrote this for the alt.music.tragically-hip forum:

8th June 2000 : The Tragically Hip : Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England

I make no apologies for this l-o-n-g post. I hope you choose, and the writing is entertaining enough, for you to read it all [particularly those that know me and therefore know how long I’ve waited for this day…Hip Day!], but just in case … If you want to skip the Pre[r]amble, you’ll find the Gig and Setlist and a beautiful [preordained (?)] slice of fortune…further down the page.

Pre[r]amble:

You’ve possibly heard of Little Venice [a scenic part of London infamous for its canals and moored boats] … Well, a corner of Shepherd’s Bush became Little Canada last night. I felt strangely like a stranger in a strange land.

We reached London later than hoped, but we still just had time to wander into The Walkabout, an Australian pub apparently temporarily annexed to Canada for the crepuscular! Even the atmosphere in the pub contained a distinct frisson and flavour of what was to come; the place was buzzing with a fervent anticipation. After settling on the corner of a table a young dark haired girl caught our conversation and suddenly interjected.

“You’re not Canadian are you? Where are you from?”

“Uh … here. Well, when I say here, I mean…Bristol, England … here,” responding a little nervously, fearing we were about to be deported.

“Born and bred?” said the girl.

A trick question? Should we have forged some Canadian citizenship  documentation?! “Uh  … yeah, born and bred.”

“Wow!” she exclaimed excitedly, “You guys are my heroes! English Hip fans! Oh, oh, I must take a picture,” and she eagerly fumbles in her bag for camera, somehow smiling even more broadly than we are as she presses the shutter and the flash pierces the air. Quite possibly the most surreal beginning to a conversation I’ve ever had with anyone!

Note: I’ve edited out a significant chunk of the original post here that refers to meeting many people from the alt.music.tragically-hip [an early internet forum], but as well as other rare English Hip fans, there were also ex-pat Canadians and even a dedicated few who’d flown in from Canada for the gig. 

 

It was a suffocating, humid evening, so we decided to grab 15 minutes of fresh air on Shepherd’s Bush Green before heading into the venue. Although, fresh air could be considered a Central London oxymoron if ever there was; even the grass of the Green was a dusty grey! So, we gasped for breath on Shepherds Bush Grey for about ten minutes, then the final countdown had really begun …

The Gig, er, Pre[r]amble:

Okay, I introduced another category … sue me!

The venue was outrageously sticky and airless. We were in the general admission stalls, stood towards the back of the lower floor when the support act [Sloan] were competing for our attention, but long before they had finished the room-to-breathe quotient was fast evaporating. Being in possession of a slightly vertically challenged other half and being a bit of a fragile old fella myself [Ed: this was 16 years ago!], we decided to try and head for the seated upper levels. We squeezed out to the back of the room, only to be met by a burly security guard with a face like a bag of spanners – and all the charm to match – who turned us around and sent us straight back. Fate had seemingly decreed we would dance with the lions in the pit …

So, deciding to make the most of a bad situation, we then squeezed our way back through the throng to within about 40 feet of the stage and found ourselves stood next to the only other two English people in the house; attracted by a subliminal osmosis? With perspiration now dripping from the walls and us unavoidably exchanging bodily fluids, we struck up a conversation. To cut a long conversation short [uh, yeah right! you all say] they had Level 2 tickets, but had “sneaked down”, so offered to swap. After a moment’s ponder “Hmmm… Nah, we’re wedged in here now!” Anyhoo … I was in the perfect position for potentially being able to describe to Sue, my other half, probably just the top of Gord’s sweaty pate, now only a matter of minutes away … when suddenly …

The lights dim, an almighty roar rises from the crowd, Gord mutters something completely incomprehensible through the tumult, the band rip into Something On, the floor disappears from under our feet and we’re now swooping like kelp in a pounding surf!

Mid-song, another decision is made: we feverishly swap tickets with our new friends and fight the tide in an attempt to beach ourselves at the back of the stalls! We eventually reach dry land, towel ourselves down and head out through the door, climbing the now deserted staircase to the brooding bass lines of Grace, Too … we stealthily open the door to Level 1. Our timing is perfect, security are distracted by some fool completely [fully] lost in the moment, apparently contemplating a leap from the balcony! We swiftly nip inside, slide down the aisle and are somewhat surprisingly confronted with the very front of the lower balcony, with the most perfect view you could ever imagine.

Throughout the gig, people would occasionally come and stand right next to us and were immediately ejected [for blocking the aisle]; it was like we were completely invisible to our spanner-visaged friends in the yellow T’s. Lucked out doesn’t even come part way to describing the series of coincidences that led us here. And sitting at my desk today, I still find it hard to believe. Clearly, fate and the Go[r]ds had certainly been smiling …

The Gig:

Well, over the years I’ve been to, quite literally, 100’s of gigs [of varying shape and size], but in all those times I’ve never experienced an atmosphere quite like this – the U2 Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree tours had their moments – and the sheer sustained intensity of emotion at this gig was altogether remarkable. The energy and enthusiasm just swept though the entire building, to all four levels. In fact, I would say there was probably enough energy generated in those two hours to keep a medium-sized Scottish Isle lit up like a Christmas tree for a year! Just breathtaking.

The air was constantly charged with the sound of 2,000 voices carrying the band’s songs around on their collective shoulders, no more apparent than when they played a new song, when the unfamiliar cast an almost reverential hold – it wasn’t exactly quiet but the contrast did possess a fascination in itself. Then, with batteries suitably recharged, the next familiar intro would reignite the blue touch paper and the ocean in the stalls below became alive again.

The band: Gord Downie was undeniably the permanent focus of the collective attention. Whether it was simply tossing and catching the small percussive beads [actually a bunch of grapes!], in perfect time, throughout Springtime In Vienna [he did drop them once, only to deftly flip them back up over his head and catch them again!]; revealing exaggerated high jump techniques over his bent microphone stand during a jam; or curled up on the floor in the foetal position to close-out another song [damn!…what was that?]; he possesses a quite remarkable presence and his quirky movements and gestures seem to have taken ‘dad dancing’ to a whole new level! Meanwhile … the band played on – seemingly oblivious to both Gord’s antics and what was happening in front of them – a pure focused unit cranking out this wonderful stream of atmospheric plankton.

So, my personal highlights from a truly magnificent set … I especially reveled in Ahead By A Century, Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man and Scared [when the soft plucked chords of the intro to the latter began I exalted a breathless “Y-e-s-s … only Nautical Disaster for the [favourites] full set” to Sue – the guy next to us smiled, but we didn’t get it; my only real disappointment. Churlish really.] Fully Completely and Courage [came together or quite close? – it’s a bit of a blur!] and lifted the roof. At The Hundreth Meridian was, er, intense! The magnificently brooding Gift Shop burned. But the thing that will live longest in my memory, simply as it encapsulated the whole experience: the crowd responses. Somehow even managing to pick up a gear for the encores of New Orleans Is Sinking and Little Bones; and the mention of ‘Toronto’, in Bobcaygeon, brought a response akin to a last minute winning goal in an FA Cup Final [er, that’s a very big English football match/institution!]. I just gazed all around the Empire in awe. This had been a truly special night.

Set List:

[The first four songs and the encores are correct, er, I think! – otherwise the order is approx.]

Something On
Grace, Too
Putting Down
Gift Shop
Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man
Ahead By A Century
Lake Fever
Courage
Fully Completely
Stay
Poets
At The Hundreth Meridian
700ft Ceiling
Scared
My Music At Work


Fireworks
Bobcaygeon
New Orleans Is Sinking


Springtime In Vienna
Little Bones

 

This blog has been written to preserve this memory. The Tragically Hip remain arguably one of Canada’s best kept musical secrets – staggering, when you learn they’ve had nine No.1 albums there in their 30-year career – and undoubtedly one of the most special live bands I’ve ever seen. I still can’t quite get my head around the tragic news. And couple that with what will be an extraordinary handful of shows that finish in their home town of Kingston, Ontario in a couple of months; emotionally charged would barely be an apt way to describe one of their regular gigs. This … I can barely imagine.

“Our Time Is Indestructible…”

Music is emotion. Music has often sustained me during my lowest ebbs, when a pulse of rhythm, anthemic soar or lyrical flourish can lift me up and even give me the belief I could build a ladder to the stars.

Music itself has suffered its own high profile tragedies in recent months. And although I knew this was coming, it’s been an extraordinary couple of days…

I first saw School of Seven Bells live on a boat permanently  moored in the harbour of my home town during the summer of 2010. It wholly cemented my affection for the band. A couple of summers later and Benjamin Curtis, the multifaceted driving force behind the band, began writing their fourth album with Alejandra Deheza [and soul mate]. But as time ticked into 2013 Curtis was suddenly diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. In November, the usually private Curtis confirmed via an open message on the band’s Facebook page that the initial diagnosis had since progressed to leukemia. He signed off with a determined “In the meantime, please know that life is amazing, and I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”

Curtis remained resolutely creative throughout the intensive treatment, even in his hospital bed – a recording of Joey Ramone’s I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up) was made entirely on his laptop in the room with Deheza later recording her vocal in a nearby studio with him directing via Skype! – fighting the aggressive cancer with equally aggressive spirit until his untimely death four days after Christmas. Benjamin Curtis was 35-years-old.

Finally, early last year, Alejandra Deheza found her own resolve and reopened Curtis’s laptop of demos and archives. And with the help of M83 and Beck producer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, completed the love letter from start to finish that became SVIIB and finally released a couple of days ago.

 

 

With its release, alongside Bowie’s posthumous Blackstar, they share the passionate living embodiment of the emotive, lingering power of music. SVIIB is a joyously life affirming triumph over life’s innate and ultimate adversity.

I’ll leave you with the heartfelt words of Alejandra Deheza:

Friends, Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004, and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells. So much love to all of you. Thank you for being a constant light in our lives. This record is for you.

-Alejandra

Glastonbury And Trench Foot

Some things are just meant to go together; albeit some are more readily appealing than others. Peaches and cream. Lemon drizzle cake with, uh, taramasalata icing. Glastonbury and trench foot is the classic formula, of course; as well known an equation as E=mc2:

G=rm2

[ Or … Rain + Mud + Music = Glastonbury ]

I honestly couldn’t believe it, though, when the inevitable Glastonbury torrential thunderstorms duly arrived after an entire month of unbroken sunshine and lightly baked earth.

I’ve never been quite unhinged enough to actually attend the legendary Glastonbury Festival, even though I’m only a relative stone’s throw down the road, but its appeal is very close to my heart. So… why aren’t I standing in the proverbial field? Well, I went camping. Once. “Never again”, I told my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder therapist while crying in her lap. Scarred me for life. But that’s another story, for another storm and tempest of an English summer’s day.

However, thanks to the BBC and my newly acquired flat screen television and sound plinth, Glastonbury 2014 still comes flooding into my living room… without the raw sewage. But it just didn’t feel quite right. So, determined to experience it fully, in the relative comfort of my home… I pitched a tent in the corner of the room and began peeing behind the couch.

As Friday evening drew in… I pulled on my wellies, filled up two big buckets with 1 part water, 1 part mud, 1 part bodily fluids, stood in the middle of my room, one foot planted in each, and gazed at the televisual marvels of the digital age. Well, I say gazed at it… To fully realise the authentic atmosphere I planted a few meaningless flags, hoisted an inflatable alien on a stick and erected some cardboard cut-outs of people’s heads who are just a bit taller than me and plonked them right in my eye line… So, in reality, I can only just see the top right hand corner of the screen. Perfect.

Later, after watching Friday night’s main headliners, Arcade Fire [and their one known song about Waking Up or something] – on my smartphone propped against the kitchen window while I stood squinting at it from the bottom of the garden – I grew increasingly hungry. Ideally I would’ve loved something hot, but couldn’t be bothered with imaginary queuing for some cow’s spinal cord in a baguette and still hadn’t quite worked out how to light the camping stove, so plumped for opening a tin of tuna with the rough edge of a stone and eating it with muddy fingers. Mmmm…

I wake up Saturday morning, cold and damp, to find some bastard has stolen my wellie boots from outside the tent! It’s a few minutes later when I realise that my wife has actually put them outside the back door and is wearing a disapproving expression. I thought she was staying at her bother’s for the weekend. She completely misinterprets the presence of the girls in wet T-shirts… It’s been raining! But the fact that I also persuaded them to wrestle in the mud is harder to explain away.

I finally cajole her into getting with the spirit of the weekend over a shared cup of cold tea and some damp bread, and we busily set about building a Solar Powered Wishing Tree in the garden. I hang up a cardboard sign that reads Healing Field and persuade her to give me a massage after spending a bit too much time aimlessly wandering around the house with a ridiculously heavy backpack all Thursday afternoon. Finally, I dig a rudimentary chemical toilet in the greenhouse and fill it with a dozen eggs that have been fermenting in its low heat for the preceding balmy month: the pure odour of authenticity.

And now, as the sun threatens to break through the clouds, and I sit here in my pants having neither shaved nor washed for three days while flicking bits of peanut shell out of my navel with a toothpick, I can only imagine how amazing Metallica will be tonight… singing along to all their classic songs. You know, the one about Nothing Mattering and, uh,… the other one.

I can think of no other place I’d rather be.

So, That Was 2011 : Do You Like Lists?

I’m a fan of The List. So, here’s a couple of music related ones. This is my Top 20 Artists according to the stats compiled by the LastFM scrobbler during the past year. [Not technically conclusive. As LastFM doesn’t peer over my shoulder when I’m listening to CDs on the hi-fi, or come for rides with me in the car. But it provides a subtle flavour in capturing what I listen to sat here, on the computer, and on my iPod nano.]

1 Josh Pyke
2 The Boxer Rebellion
3 Epic45
4 Elbow
5 Thirteen Senses
6 Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová
7 Death Cab for Cutie
8 Bon Iver
9 Foo Fighters
10 The Cure
11 The Swell Season
12 Pearl Jam
13 Joshua Radin
14 Goldfrapp
15 The Temper Trap
16 Train
17 The Motorhomes
18 Third Eye Blind
19 Windsor For The Derby
20 Eddie Vedder

And LastFM says the Top 20 Tracks were:

1 Joshua Radin – Closer  
2 Josh Pyke – Feeding the Wolves   
3 Pearl Jam – Just Breathe  
4 David Ford – To Hell With The World  
5 Kosheen – All In My Head
6 The Boxer Rebellion – Flashing Red Light Means Go
7 Lifehouse – Everything  
8 Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
9 Kings of Leon – Arizona  
10 Train – Parachute
11 Windsor For The Derby – Autumn Song  
12 The Motorhomes – Long Distance Runners  
13 Josh Pyke – Beg Your Pardon
14 Josh Pyke – Drop In The Stitch
15 Epic45 – The Future is Blinding  
16 Train – Marry Me  
17 The Motorhomes – Psalm  
18 Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová – The Swell Season  
19 Eddie Vedder – Society  
20 Goldfrapp – A&E