Keith Flint RIP

Keith Flint of The Prodigy took his own life at the age of 49 and it is an utter tragedy for so, so many reasons. If one assumes he was suffering from depression then he’s another victim of how men especially find it hard to nearly impossible to speak about something that can be crippling or worse. 49 is no age these days and Flint had decades ahead of him.

And it can’t be said often enough that The Prodigy emerged from a scene in the early 90’s where rave bands were ten a penny and novelty dance tunes were chart fodder, which brings me my first encounter with the band in the form of Charly.

In these early days Flint was a dancer. Basically he was there to dance to LIam Howlett’s tunes as The Prodigy was purely a vehicle for Howlett back then but then came Music For A Jilted Generation and fuck me, it was like an entirely different band.

I first saw them sometime in 93/4 at the Astoria in London and it was clear the band wasn’t just actually becoming a band, but Flint was developing a presence onstage, and not just that the band were getting harder. Sometimes even moving away from the rave sound which by the mid 90s was becoming increasingly commercialised and well, shite.

Then Firestarter came out in 96 at the height of Britpop when British bands were supposed to be inspired by The Kinks and writing songs about going to the seaside or getting drunk, The Prodigy turned out something that sounded nothing like any other mainstream band at the time.

Sure, others had blended dance with Punk before, Sheep on Drugs for example, but nobody really made a success of it til Keith Flint decided to have a serious makeover which ended up scaring the shite out of people’s mid-90’s complacency when the video first appeared on Top of the Pops.

Summer 96 saw The Prodigy tear up the Phoenix festival, but it was 1997 at Glastonbury when they landed fully formed as something extraordinary.

It was Friday night. It’d been raining so hard in the run-up that stages were sinking into the mud. Conditions were miserable. Everywhere had this sucking, sticky mud that clung to everything, and if you stayed still for too long you either locked into place or sank. People were fucked off and waiting for something to kick the festival’s arse into gear. A lot has been said about Radiohead’s set on the Saturday over the years, but without the Prodigy kicking off the Friday night  and giving people a spark, then the crowd wouldn’t have been so up for it. We’d have given in.

By now at the scabby dogend of Britpop bands were dropping off fast, but The Prodigy sailed through the storms, not to mention controversies like the argument with the Beastie Boys about Smack My Bitch Up.

After 98 I sort of took the Prodigy for granted. Subsequent albums never hit the heights of Fat of the Land, and a decent headliner spot in Reading in 2002 was the last time I saw them live, and now I’ll never see them again and that is nothing compared to the tragedy of Flint leaving us at such a relatively young age.

Today’s Reading Festival is a big pile of shit

I spent years going to the Reading Festival. I used to utterly love it. Then it became the place where middle class kids celebrated exam results by taking shit drugs, drinking shit beer and watching shit bands.

Don’t believe me about the shit bands? Here’s this year’s line-up.

You need thigh-high waders to walk through this line-up. Sure, there’s the odd decent act, but the entire weekend is full of fading stars and just shite Indie. I suppose this is mourning the death of the festival for me, but a few hundred quid for this?

Reading used to be a weekend of debauchery and great bands. Now it’s just an extended episode of Love Island with a shitter soundtrack.

And this I suppose is me finally entering Grumpy Old Man mode…

A moment of appreciation for Pretty Girls Makes Graves

Back in the early years of this century music was actually a bit exciting as acts tried doing things that were different, exciting, fun or all of the above. The likes of the White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Strokes, and many more were flooding into the UK with some of them being to my taste (I still adore the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and some not (fuck The Strokes) because they were a bit shite.

One of the bands that came over from the US that have sadly faded into obscurity were Pretty Girls Make Graves, a Seattle band named after The Smiths song of the same name.Unlike The Smiths, Pretty Girls Make Graves were energetic punk with a poppy feel and from the first time I hear them played the new band tent at the 2002 Reading Festival I was utterly hooked. Their first, and best, album Good Health (the opening track Speakers Push the Air is as glorious an opening track as you’ll hear) is a classic of early 21st century music that matches any one of the albums by vastly more successful bands of the time.

Sadly they broke up in 2007. Later albums never matched that first one, but they still produced some cracking stuff, but here’s their first album. Go listen to it as loud as you can!

Live Bed Show: A short tale of the Reading Festival 2002

In 2002 Pulp were in an odd place. The stratospheric success of 1994/5 had passed to the extent where their latest album at the time, We Love Life, barely made a ripple in sales or make that much on an impact at the time critically. Personally, I love the album because of it’s melancholic tone though it’s tempered with a curious optimism but creatively it seemed like an end, and it was. This was certainly the case as Britpop was truly dead even though Pulp were never like bands like Gene or Kula Shaker who leaped into the scene to cash in on a genre, but Pulp were dragged into the sucking whirlpool of the mid 1990’s British music scene and for a few exhilarating years so were people like me who went along for the ride.

By 2002 though music was moving on. American music from the likes of the White Stripes was starting to dominate, and Pulp were fading to the extent that at the Reading Festival that year they were bumped from a headlining slot from that year’s Hip Young Things, The Strokes. In retrospect it was just the usual cycle of music as one phase moves out, another comes in.

Pulp played their set and few guessed that this would be their last ever festival set (until the band reformed a decade later) as most of us were having a fantastic time but that Pulp set is something of beauty. Sadly little of it exists online but what does tells a story. Common People especially has something lugubrious about it, and although those of us in the audience were loving it, there’s a feeling that Jarvis and the band are going through the motions here. A few months later they released a Greatest Hits, and proceeded to vanish into the ether with all the band members doing their own things.

Enough wittering though, have a shufty of it for yourselves…

Oh Yeah, It Was the Start of the Summer: A Short tale of the Reading Festival 1996

The Reading Festival in 1996 is still one of the best festivals, and best times I’ve ever had or spent in my life. Every single thing about it just slotted perfectly into place, and I didn’t even mind the rain that much. Of course most of the media and music press think only of that year’s simply disastrous performance by The Stone Roses as the only memorable thing about it but in reality every day had a succession of bands at the top of their game, or just starting out and this was the year when they hit the ground running.

One of those bands were Ash, who’d been just released their first album 1977 earlier in  1996. It instantly became a favourite of mine so when I saw that Ash were going to play before The Stone Roses on the Sunday night of the festival I was wetting myself in anticipation. As it turned out I stood there with my mate Zeb and all the people we’d gotten to know and hang out with all weekend having the biggest fucking joyous laugh you possibly could for most of the evening of that last night in August 1996. Then Ash came out to the opening sound of a TIE Fighter from Star Wars and that was it. They totally stole the hearts and minds of thousands of people in that field at that time.

Watching the sun set behind us, Ash in front of us and Concorde pass above us all it felt like some sort of film script made real as it was one of those moments that can’t ever be repeated as you have to live in it there and then. You get a small fragment of what it was like with the snippets of video that exist of the gig, but nothing gives a feeling of the glory of it all as when the band did Oh Yeah in a golden sunset. What came after with The Stone Roses was pathos but this was sublime….

The unexpectedly brilliant return of Daphne and Celeste?

Last week i was drunkenly telling one of my stories about festivals seeing as it’s nearly festival time again, and the story I was telling was that of Daphne and Celeste playing the Reading Festival in 2000.

For those that don’t know, Daphne and Celeste were a pop band that had some annoyingly catchy pop songs that were on one hand brilliant in their terribleness, but at the same time, utterly dreadful. They were very much Schrodinger’s pop group. People utterly loathed them but I thought, and still do, that their version of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out is just utterly fucking brilliant.

But generally in those post-Britpop/pre-Simon Cowell time this sort of manufactured pop suffered a massive backlash mainly due to most of it being pretty awful, but compared to the dismal pop of today, Daphne and Celeste’s bubblegum pop really was part of a Silver Age before the Shit Age of Pop Idol and X Factor made pop something to endure, rather than laugh at, enjoy and move onto something else.

Anyhow, some genius at their record company decided to get them on the bill at Reading, just before Slipknot if I remember right. To say that their 15 or so minutes went down badly with a crowd of angry teen Slipknot and Fred Durst fans is a tad of an understatement as this footage shows.

The legend goes that a wheelchair was thrown at them. A bloody wheelchair! That shows serious commitment to the cause, but for me that’s one of the most punk things I’ve ever seen Two wee girls standing up in front of a crowd of thousands of people that hate them singing and dancing their annoying/brilliant bubblegum pop. Sadly this was their high point as the pair split not long after this due mainly to crap sales, but really the venom thrown at them (some of which I remember being massively misogynist) ensured an end for them but they did have fans. An ex-girlfriend of mine just adored the pair so that’s why I have Daphne and Celeste CD’s in my collection as she didn’t take them with her after we split.

Honest, really.

So I was spinning this story about Reading, people were laughing and a wee voice at the back of my head wondered what happened to the pair. A check of their Wiki page shows that they did various acting jobs, and most bizarrely did a tour with Lolly (and there’s a story I have about her for another time) in 2005 in what seems like a desperate attempt to have a mini-revival.

And that should have been that for Daphne and Celeste. Forever to be a source of a good festival story from people like me, but no. Yesterday they sneaked back with the Max Tundra produced song You and I Alone, and it’s actually just bloody brilliant. In fact any song that references Twin Peaks is brilliant.

Nobody expected this. There was as far as I know, no announcement, no nothing apart from a Tweet, and a link to their website and this new song. I do hope this isn’t all there;s going to be as if this is the quality they’re going for I’d listen to more, and I hope they return to Reading, if only to get a better response this time.

Now, 2015 would be great if we could get a Shampoo reunion…..

Some words about Nashville Pussy

Back in 1999 on the Friday night of that year’s Reading Festival I saw an act called Nashville Pussy play one of the smaller tents in the festival. The Charlatans were boring people to death on the main stage and in the NME Tent Elastica were falling apart in front of everyone’s eyes, so this meant that Nashville Pussy got a bigger crowd for what was a pretty unknown band. Thankfully, people who were there had a treat as they were the best rock/blues/punk band I’d seen in a long, long, long time. Considering that the lead singer look like a serial killer, and guitarist was causing young boys groins to explode in a way they never had before, it really was an extraordinary gig.

They’re still going but their height seems to have been the late 90’s to early 00’s, and here’s a video of them in Paris in 2002 being fucking filthy and awesome.