GIITTV: The Flaming Lips/Public Service Brodcasting – Zebedee’s Yard, Hull, 24/06/2017

Since being officially ordained in January as this year’s UK City of Culture, Hull has already put on a spectacular programme of events, including numerous exhibitions, debates, films, illuminations, installations, art, theatre, ballet and music. Each and every one of them characterised by immense creativity, vibrancy, dynamism and innovation and capturing the indomitable spirit and ambition of this great city. But they would all be very hard pressed to match tonight’s performance by The Flaming Lips for sheer extravagance, experimentalism and downright wackiness.

During the course of what is a wonderfully pulsating set – where both strangeness and the sublime routinely collide – we are treated to an avalanche of confetti, glitter, and balloons plus the rather bizarre sight of the Oklahoma City adventurers’ frontman Wayne Coyne first riding into the crowd astride a neon-lit unicorn before later rolling across their outstretched hands in a gigantic hamster ball whilst singing ‘Space Oddity’. It is one helluva psychedelic pop party.

But before we even get to any of this sonic and theatrical weirdness, there is the no little matter of rousing sets from local legends Fonda 500 and the Salford’s art-rock phenomenon that is Dutch Uncles whose uniform sporting of shades for the occasion owes much more to the glorious sunshine that is pouring into Zebedee’s Yard – a delightful 2000 square metre enclosed space which is set in the very heart of Hull’s historic Old Town and surrounded by a range of listed buildings – than it does any particular nod towards pretension or being cool.

And then there is Public Service Broadcasting.  They emerged a few years back amidst a blur of information films, retro-futuristic electronica and a deeply conservative public image of corduroy and bow-ties. Their debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain was followed in 2015 by The Race for Space, another record concentrating upon human achievement, only this time focussing upon the US-Soviet space race between 1957 and 1972. In a marked change, their new album Every Valley concentrates upon the eradication of the Welsh coal industry and the consequent devastation wreaked upon local communities.

We get music from all three records tonight – ‘Go!’, about the successful 1969 moon landing is euphoric and the closing ‘Everest’ is as noble and powerfully moving as ever – but it is the new material that highlights Public Service Broadcasting’s emerging political engagement and their ongoing sonic evolution. Inspired by Kraftwerk, ‘Progress’ does capture an unquestionable sense of nostalgia, but it also speaks of hope for future generations.

Having just made their way from Somerset to the East Riding of Yorkshire, The Flaming Lips may well replicate the set they had played the previous night on the Park Stage at Glastonbury but such is the energy and passion that they invest in the performance they could well be playing these dozen songs for the very first time.  And for all that you can get hopelessly lost in the overblown lysergic theatricality and manic playfulness of the show, these are still majestic, magical pop songs.

The introduction to ‘Race For The Prize’ with Coyne – dressed in a bright red suit, fake diamonds encrusted around one eye, a patch covering the other and looking for all the world like a cross between some intergalactic dandy and Snake Plissken – furiously orchestrating his band with back turned to the audience stands as one of the greatest openings to any show I have seen. Exploding cannons of confetti and countless monstrous balloons raining down on the crowd add to this magnificent, absurd spectacle.

The symphonic splendour of ‘A Spoonful Weighs A Ton’ is fantastic whilst the second encore of ‘Do You Realize?’ manages to elevate that song to anthemic status. It brings to an end a wonderful occasion that further contributes to Hull’s remarkable reinvention, its distinctiveness and well-deserved position as the current champion of culture in this country.

More details about Hull 2017, UK City of Culture can be found HERE

Photo credit: Simon Godley

More photos from The Flaming Lips and Public Service Broadcasting in Hull can be accessed HERE   

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John Naughton: Tech giants face no contest when it comes to competition law | John Naughton

Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market ought to be blocked by monopoly regulators, but as long as they keep delivering the goods no one seems to mind

The news that Amazon had acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn sent shivers down the spine of every retailer in America. Shares in Walmart fell 7%, and rival Kroger by 17%. Amazon’s market capitalisation, in contrast, went up by $11bn. So why the fuss? At first sight it seemed straightforward: Amazon wanted to get into food sales, and it fancied having a network of 400 urban stores; and Whole Foods (which some of my American friends call “whole wallet” because of the cost of its products) was ailing. There was also a small political angle: John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, had been enmeshed in a row with an activist investor that threatened to drive him from power; by selling to Amazon, he gets to keep his job. So: small earthquake in food retailing, not many dead?

Er, not quite, and only if you avoid taking the long view. And, with Amazon, the long view is the only one that makes sense. In the mid-1990s, people thought that its founder, Jeff Bezos, just wanted to run an online bookshop. After a while, as Amazon rapidly started selling lots of non-book stuff, people thought he just wanted the company to become the next Walmart. Spool forward a few more years and people realised that Bezos aspired to run “the everything store”. Then he launched Amazon Web Services (AWS) and rapidly became the dominant provider of cloud computing services. And so it went on, to the point where people began to ask: what business does Jeff Bezos not want to dominate? And the only answer to that currently is: no one knows.

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Owen Jones: Frankie Boyle: ‘Grenfell Tower residents were treated as less than human’ – video

Frankie Boyle tells Owen Jones he believes there’s ‘a connection between a Conservative government that wants to get rid of human rights legislation’ and the residents of Grenfell Tower ‘being treated as less than human’. The comedian thinks a series of decisions shows the pursuit of profit was more important than fire safety

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GIITTV: Zervas And Pepper – Wilderland (PledgeMusic)

It isn’t hard to reason why David Crosby is a big fan of Cardiff’s Zervas And Pepper. If he is as vain as some of his most vocal detractors claim, then it makes sense that he would endorse something that resembles his own music, and the brilliant ‘Hotel Bible‘ certainly achieves that, perhaps leaning even further towards his good friend Neil Young.

Still(s), Paul Zervas and Kathryn Pepper had only positive things to say about the legendary musician in a recent God Is In The TV interview, after several backstage meetings, and having warmed to them immediately upon my first encounter with the pair at one of old Shakey’s gigs a few years ago, I have no grounds on which to doubt the man’s geniality.

Zervas And Pepper themselves just get better and better. Since their debut album Somewhere In The City, the band’s winsome folk rock – perhaps even Americana – leanings have progressed still further with each subsequent release, marrying their own solicitous observations of the world with compositions of grandiose beauty. Wilderland, their fourth long player, continues the trend by also happening to be their best yet.

Like the brilliant recent Hurray For The Riff Raff album, Wilderland begins with the street noise of strangers’ conversations and the chants of Latin American natives on ‘Roses Of Jericho‘, which, thanks to Kathryn’s gently beckoning tones, becomes a smooth and utterly beguiling number showing genuine compassion for anyone who has ever fallen on tougher times. Such philanthropic standpoints run through the pair’s songwriting so effectively that you find yourself suspecting that a quick hug from either of them would possess you with super healing powers.

Vocal responsibilities are shared pretty much straight down the middle, and often hark back to classic artists of yesteryear, so ‘Dark Matter‘, aside from the usual reference points, also nestles neatly somewhere between Roy Harper and Jethro Tull, while the playful ‘Mountain To Ocean‘ possesses the same good time picnic feel that The Faces achieved on their career defining ‘Ooh La La‘. Elsewhere, the expansive ‘Change Courses‘, featuring a stunning take on piano by James Raymond, is really quite gorgeous. All of the songs here, in fact, have something of a timeless quality, so while you could, conceivably, attach the dreaded tag of ‘AOR’ to many of them, Zervas And Pepper have enough about them to prevent them ever drifting into the direction of ‘twee’.

One suspects that, had this record been made in 1976, people would still be talking about it in hallowed tones even now. Spectacular harmonies, masterly musicianship and a blissful warmth are omnipresent here and the arrangements, oh the arrangements, well, just listen to the magnificent retelling of the legend of ‘Mazeppa And The Wild Horse‘ or the soaring beauty of ‘I Leave No Traces‘ and that should leave you in no doubt about this band’s potential to be giants.

Some say love’s a crime / I say love won’t be denied” sings Pepper on the Carpenters-like finale ‘Universe To Find‘ and quite frankly, it sums the whole thing up so neatly that I don’t have to. Bloody hippies…

Wilderland is released on June 23rd.

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GIITTV: Track Of The Day #1037: Parcels – Overnight

Okay. I’m going to put my head above the parapet and say that ‘Overnight‘ by Parcels will be the anthem of summer 2017. And if it isn’t, it bloody well ought to be.

Australian band Parcels aren’t particularly well-known in the UK at the moment. That is all set to change with the release of this single. ‘Overnight’ was produced by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – aka Daft Punk. There’s no denying that the two French legends contribute to the magic made available for your ears here.

There will be those that accuse this of simply being a re-hash of ‘Get Lucky’, Daft Punk’s smash from 2013. Ignore these people – you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. It’s abundantly clear if you check out Parcels’ Hideout EP from earlier this year that the vibe of chilled music for the dancefloor with Nile Rogers-style choppy guitars is still Parcels. No doubt that’s why it’s credited to Parcels – even if a Daft Punk credit in the name might grab people’s attention more immediately. 

It’s a genius piece of pop music, for the heart and the feet. You’ll hear it on the dancefloors, out of every other car window, from the mobile phones of the kids down your local park. Hell, even your local radio station with the really conservative playlist will probably get behind it (once it’s charted, obviously).

Get wrapped up in Parcels this summer.

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GIITTV: Solstice 17 – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 21st June 2017

The longest day of the year is here. The sun has finally reached its highest altitude of the year and it is now officially the first day of summer. And to celebrate the occasion, the South Asian Arts (SAA-uk) organisation has welcomed us all to their 6th Solstice Festival, an annual event “dedicated to the rich diverse art of Indian Classical Music”.

To add to the splendour of the occasion, this year’s festival is to be held in the glorious Grade II Victorian Gothic surroundings of the Howard Assembly Room, a large barrel-vaulted chamber located on the first floor of Leeds Grand Theatre.

In what is a fresh development to the all-round SAA-uk Solstice experience, the festival begins with an interactive talk into ‘The Art of Listening’. The principal guest speakers are one of the UK’s most prominent Sitar players and Indian Music educators, Ustad Dharambir Singh MBE, and Dr Laura Leante, Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at Durham University. Alongside the evening’s four principal musicians – Vijay Venkat (Vichitra Veena), Pirashanna Thevarajah (Mridangam), Roopa Panesar (Sitar), and Shahbaz Hussain (Tabla) – they speak informatively and entertainingly about the art of listening to Indian Classical Music.

Through their educational insights we are able to start to develop a better understanding of our individual relationships with this particular sound and how best to try and learn to worship its deeply spiritual and metaphysical nature. And for those not already familiar with it, we are also introduced to raga, the melodic framework of Indian Classical Music and how to identify some of its central characteristics of movement and melody. It all makes for a most fascinating context in which to place the evening’s subsequent musical contributions.

The first music of the evening comes courtesy of Vijay Vinkat, playing the Vichitra Veena, a large plucked string instrument invariably associated with Hindustani or North Indian Classical Music. He is accompanied by Pirashanna Thevarajah on Mridangam, the classical two-headed drum of South India. The two men combine to perform a series of intoxicating ragas, the first of which is ‘Ninne Kori’ (composed by Tacchur Singarachari). They are fluid, almost abstract pieces of music that capture a wide range of emotions stretching from endurance to desire. Each raga possesses an individual innate energy and a most deceptive capacity to build upon its own deep momentum. Their musical artistry – as will be the case with the next performers – is absolutely flawless.

After a short intermission, Roopa Panesar takes to the Howard Assembly Room stage with her principal accompanist Shahbaz Hussain. Hailing from Leicester, Panesar is widely regarded as being one of the finest Sitar players to have emerged from this country. She opens with a long, exploratory, decorative introduction reminding us of the extent to which the sitar has influenced contemporary music from the desert blues to The Beatles and the American minimalist composer Terry Riley to those English narco space-rockers Spiritualized.

As the evening sun starts to go down on the longest day and its last rays stream though the building’s magnificent arched windows, Roopa Panesar and Shahbaz Hussain begin to produce music that expands a supreme transcendental consciousness within the listener. Together they paint intricate, reflective canvases of sound that blur the edges between simplicity and sophistication. And in being afforded this wonderful opportunity to take serene refuge from the troubled world outside, we are able to take invaluable time to meditate more fully upon the restorative and unifying powers of peace and love.

Photo credit: Simon Godley

Some more photos from the Solstice Festival can be found HERE

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