Time for some new music. This is the first song from our brand new Messengers EP, and it’s called Animal.
I hope you love it as much as we do.
Time for some new music. This is the first song from our brand new Messengers EP, and it’s called Animal.
I hope you love it as much as we do.
Seven years ago, I wrote about my love for New Model Army, a post-punk band from England.
I got into New Model Army in Kilbirnie Library, in the late 1980s. I was going through a bit of a punk/new wave thing at the time, and the library’s collection of vinyl LPs included one whose cover was a painted leather jacket, the words “only stupid bastards take heroin” disguised but still recognisable on the shoulders. That’ll do me, I thought.
In the decades since I’ve bought a lot of their records and merchandise and been to lots of their gigs. But no more, because the person who designed their record covers and their merch – someone I’ve met, someone I chatted to briefly in my previous life, someone whose art I’ve worn on my chest – turns out to really hate people like me and is very vocal about it.
So a band whose gigs used to feel like sanctuary – a band whose own Twitter bio says “we welcome everyone – equally” – is now a band I can’t go and see anymore, because rightly or wrongly I now worry that some of the band’s fans will share those views. I’m sure most don’t. But it only takes one person to beat you up.
It’s not the first time a band I loved has turned out to be problematic. The drummer of Teenage Fanclub (not the original one everybody liked) is similarly obsessive, and I’m told that the main songwriter in that other famously nice and decent band, Elbow, has also been venomous about people like me. So that’s two more former loves whose logos I won’t wear and who I’m not going to pay to see any more.
It’s as much a practical decision as a moral one. For me, gigs are an important release. They’re a source of joy, an opportunity to escape from the stresses and strains and sadness of everyday life. It’s impossible to have that transcendence when every time you look at the stage you see someone who doesn’t just hate you, but who spends an inordinate amount of their time trying to encourage others to hate you too.
Art can’t offer escapism when the artist is one of the people you’re trying to escape from.
And it’s not just transphobes. People are awful in all kinds of ways, and the older I get the more I discover that people I revered or whose art really connected with me were terrible. It sometimes feels like somebody is going through all the records, films and books that mattered to me and poisoning them. That sensitive author? Beat his girlfriend. That delicate lyricist? Howling racist. That comedian? Sexual predator. The soulful songwriter? Rapist.
I know I’m not the only one to do this: now when someone tells me to check out a new band, a new author, a new comedian, the first thing I search for isn’t their material. It’s whether they’re problematic. All too often, they are. And that applies even at a local level. I was speaking to a promoter the other day who has a never-book list of artists proven to be problematic for reasons ranging from sexual predation to Nazism. It’s a long list.
The artist is not the art, I know. But the artist can poison the art. I can’t watch Louis CK now I know what he did to women, or watch the UK version of The Office without seeing Ricky Gervais the transphobe rather than David Brent the character, or feel the connection with the songs of The Smiths since Morrissey’s racism became apparent.
I feel it most in music, because music is such a personal thing: the good stuff becomes more than just a soundtrack. It becomes part of your identity. Part of your life. So when the people who make it turn out to be terrible, that news feels personal too. The more their art mattered, the more it feels like a betrayal.
I’ve joked before that being trans has saved me a lot of money, because I don’t knowingly spend money on people or things that are problematic. But I’d much rather have music than money.
It took me a very long time to realise how good Bruce Springsteen is: like many people, I misinterpreted Born in the USA as a tub-thumping, chest-beating, USA! USA! USA! anthem and didn’t investigate further. I’m a lot older and a little bit wiser now, and while I wouldn’t call myself a fan – I don’t own most of his albums, and I’ve only seen him live once – he’s written some of my very favourite songs. Walk Like a Man is one of them, and it makes me cry every time.
Well so much has happened to me
That I don’t understand
All I can think of is being five years old following behind you at the beach
Tracing your footprints in the sand
Trying to walk like a man
Springsteen wrote it about trying to be the man his father expected him to be and feeling that he was falling short; his relationship with his dad was rocky, his father unimpressed by his artistic leanings and his long hair. But good songs can take on a life beyond the specific circumstances they were written about, and Walk Like A Man is a very good song.
In “Walk Like a Man,” from 1987’s Tunnel of Love, Springsteen sings about the lessons he learned from his father and whether he’ll ever know what he needs in order to “walk like a man”… the words seemed to perfectly encapsulate my experience of growing up in a body out of alignment with my gender, trying to walk a path that was not made for my feet and being constantly, painfully aware of the dissonance.
Me too. Gordon-Loebl and I were driving in different directions – as I understand it she’s a masculine-presenting gay woman, whereas I’m a trans femme – but we clearly drove the same road and had the same connection with this song.
That line about being “painfully aware of the dissonance” really resonates with me. It’s a great way to describe the fear and frustration and sadness I felt throughout my old life, my frustration at being unable to perform a role my peers did automatically and effortlessly. I never lost that feeling of being five years old, trying and failing to walk like a man.
As Gordon-Loebl says, Bruce Springsteen couldn’t be more straight. But that doesn’t mean his songs can’t reflect other people’s experiences too. There’s a powerful melancholy to much of his music, and many of his best songs are about people who don’t fit in and who yearn to escape the circumstances they’re in. It’s no wonder that they resonate with people who feel suffocated.
But no matter where it comes from, there is an unmistakable echo of queer loneliness in his work. “Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny, something that they just can’t face,” Springsteen sings on “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” “Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop…. I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost / For wanting things that can only be found / In the darkness on the edge of town.”
…Perhaps nothing is so fundamentally queer about Springsteen as the pervasive feeling of dislocation that’s threaded through his work, the nagging sense that something has been plaguing him since birth, and that he’s dreaming of a place where he might finally fling it off his back.
As a rule of thumb, when a famous company goes under it’s usually because private equity firms bought it, hollowed it out and loaded it with so much debt that even a relatively small drop in demand made it unsustainable.
As David Turner writes, private equity has had a huge influence on the music business too. What began with firms buying record companies has morphed; the firms are now buying copyrights too. “Nearly thirty years since Sony’s purchase of CBS Records, private equity can be found within nearly all aspects of recorded music,” Turner says.
To paraphrase The Onion: I can’t believe this is happening in the only city where this regularly happens.
Glasgow is set to lose another iconic building, the ABC in Sauchiehall Street. The music venue – one of my very favourite places – was badly damaged by the second Art School fire and has effectively been left to rot since despite promises of its rebirth; it is now in danger of collapsing. That means the previous block on demolition is almost certain to be lifted.
That’s rather convenient for the developer, because the ABC was a major obstacle to plans to build yet more student flats.
The entire block in which the ABC sits is owned by a single developer, and the developer’s plans for a seven-story block of flats on this prime bit of real estate were rejected in 2017; the developer appealed to the Scottish Government and was turned down again. The flats would be “detrimental to the historic environment”, which included the Art School’s Macintosh building and the ABC.
That “historic environment” went on fire (for the second time) in June 2018. As the A Thousand Flowers blog reports, the developer promised to rebuild the ABC as “a world class music venue” but submitted no plans other than an application to completely demolish it.
The all too frequently toothless Historic Environment Scotland chipped in to say that, “It is our view that the applicant has not made an adequate effort to retain and preserve this C-listed building (or any part of it), and has therefore not met the tests for demolition”. Garnethill Community Council have said it would “devastating and totally unacceptable” to lose the building. Omnipresent heritage fan and MP Paul Sweeney pointed out in his objection that the building hosted Glasgow’s first ever public film showing, in 1896.
Glasgow School of Art have also objected to the demolition, pointing out that there are currently no plans for the site’s redevelopment and that the ABC building, with temporary props, is under no imminent danger of collapse. Conveniently, their letter also reiterates that student flat plans for the neighbouring building have been rejected several times and that the ABC’s facade is an effective and important part of the streetscape. We can, perhaps, read between the lines here.
One pretty sure-fire way to destroy a damaged building is to leave it open to the elements. That appears to be what’s happened to the ABC.
If the owners are granted permission to flatten the ABC, how long will it be before the student flat proposals for the neighbouring block emerge out of the ashes?
My band has released a new song, and a video to go with it.
It’s Not The End of the World (But You Can See It From Here) is a lockdown song, and while there’s plenty of bile in there it’s also hopeful: after all, it’s not the end of the world.
The song will go live on the usual streaming and download services over the next few days. It’s also available for free download at bandcamp – havr.bandcamp.com.
I get quite annoyed by social media posts urging us all to be productive and/or learn new skills during THE END OF THE BLOODY WORLD – but I also get really bored when I’m stuck at home and I find messing around with music helps enormously.
If you’re a musician or want to be one, there are currently some really useful offers you can take advantage of.
First up, Fender Play is currently offering three months free. That’s three months of really good lessons for beginners and more experienced players alike. The lessons are for acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar and ukulele. The deal was originally limited to 100,000 people but it’s been upped to half a million now. Fender:
We’re all going to be spending more time inside – so we might as well make some noise.
Apple has announced a 90-day trial of its music production studio, Logic Pro X. That’s the app I use for almost all of my music, and it’s usually £200. It’s a digital recording studio that’s ideal for any genre of music, and three months is long enough to make some really cool musical projects and/or learn transferable skills that’ll stand you in good stead for any other music production app. If video is more your thing, Final Cut Pro is free for 90 days too.
For electronic musicians, the mighty (and to me, terrifying) Ableton Live is also free for 90 days. And Avid, makers of Pro Tools, Media Composer and others, is offering 90-day trials too.
I’ve become a little bit obsessed by the marketing for Positive Grid’s SPARK, a very clever guitar amplifier. In recent weeks I’ve been seeing a lot of videos like the one pictured below, in which really amazing women guitarists test the amp.
I’m not used to seeing women in marketing for musical stuff, which tends to be a boy’s club; musical marketing has often been appalling, with a particular low in the 1980s when Tokai’s “Tokai is coming” campaign placed full-page magazine ads showing a naked woman apparently masturbating with an electric guitar. We’re generally better than that now, but there’s a long legacy of sexism in the industry. Guitar.com has some other examples:
I volunteer and podcast for Scottish Women Inventing Music, an organisation dedicated to achieving gender equality across the music business, so I’m very interested in this stuff. The SPARK ads got me wondering: is this a deliberate strategy to boost the visibility of women musicians, thereby positioning Positive Grid as a forward-thinking firm, or is it just precision targeting on social media?
I’m not just wondering idly. Half of guitar buyers are women, and I recently spoke to guitar legends Fender about their marketing: this year will feature more signature models from women guitarists than ever before, and the marketing for the online Fender Play service has a good mix of people showing the variety of folks who play guitar.
Is Positive Grid doing the same? What are the boys seeing?
It turns out that the answer is boys.
I’m being shown women playing guitars but my male musician friends are seeing men in their ads. And that makes me wonder some more: is that because the firm has done testing and discovered that men won’t click on the link if the amp is being tested by a woman?
I fear that the answer is yes, because the frequency of the advertising indicates there’s a lot of money being spent on this campaign. You don’t make and target different ads for different genders if it doesn’t have a demonstrable effect on your sales.
I’m not picking on Positive Grid here. Seeing women in musical instrument marketing is still so rare that what they’re doing does feel like progress. As Guitar.com put it:
the guitar industry, and the music industry at large doesn’t accurately reflect the wealth of female talent out there. The fact that people have noticed this at last means that, hopefully at least, we’re finally starting to see some progress…
The new ZZ Top documentary, That Little Ol’ Band From Texas, is a little Netflix gem.
It traces the history of the band from their earliest musical adventures until the release of their smash hit Eliminator in 1983, which coincided with the launch of MTV. I’d have liked it to continue – the band didn’t stop making music in the eighties, and songs like 2012’s Gotsta Get Paid (which plays over the end, and which I’ve included below) continued to showcase the songwriting chops, gravelly vocals and glorious guitar sounds that I love so much – but it’s understandable from a narrative point of view.
The band come across as thoroughly likeable and a little bit bemused by it all; if there are skeletons rattling anywhere they aren’t rattling anywhere on screen. And the live performances filmed specially for the documentary are absolutely wonderful. It’s a shame about the 80s videos though; they made the band superstars but… let’s just say they were made in less enlightened times.
Here’s a marginally less sexist take on the same idea featuring the same band.
Glasgow’s Classic Grand venue will host a festival including neo-Nazi bands later this year. The organiser, who’s either a Nazi or incredibly stupid, told the National that there was no difference between fascists and anti-fascists and that he’s “disgusted by what they represent”. Apparently he’s not so disgusted that he wasn’t willing to book them or take a cut of the profits.
There are lots of bad opinions and stances in music, many of them performative: back in the 1970s, punks wore swastikas not because they were Nazis but because they knew it would provoke people. But these Nazis are actual Nazis advocating genocide and violence against women in a scene devoted to National Socialism.
A venue that’s willing to host them doesn’t deserve your custom – not just on the night, but on any night.
Update: the venue has pulled the show and said it will not provide a platform for hatred.