Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A year of Serge?

Sometime next year, perhaps at the French Film Festival in March or April, the Serge Gainsbourg biopic will be all over the cinema. So expect an upsurge in interest in the great songwriter, singer and arranger.

In English speaking countries Serge Gainsbourg's name tends be mentioned just before a smirk. All that saucy French nonsense, it's not real music, is it? Oh, it is most certainly is. For me, he's easily in the company of the Brian Wilsons and John Lennons of this (or the other) world. I think of him as akin to Joe Strummer for intensity and charisma.

Nicknamed 'Cabbage head', he still persuaded Brigit Bardot and Jane Birkin to share his breakfast coffee.

So I await the film version of his strange, troubled and dramatic life with much interest. With a little luck it may even encourage a wider appreciation of his music.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Notes on the future, notes on the past

If you don't like pretension, look away now.

Over the past couple of years it seems I have become a bit of francophile. I know this puts me in a difficult position. The Rainbow Warrior, diplomatic slipperiness, Mr and Mrs Sarkozy. And that's before we look much of the recent movie output.

Since about 2006 I've been learning the language, slowly and perhaps quite badly. So I'm not quite ready to tackle Proust, but if I suddenly found myself lost on the Rue de Rivoli I could probably survive by ordering take-away coffee and turning left at the bank.

Learning the language was a response to a planned trip that I took with my family (less one) last year. I had spent about a fortnight in France in 1989 without so much as a bonjour to bless myself with.

At that time, I didn't 'get' France and I didn't enjoy it. The main reason was that I felt so hugely disadvantaged the entire time. Nothing was any fun. I mostly remember splitting headaches, possibly from the coffee, and walking for miles around Paris without ever seeing much. I know, I know...

So having been to France and satisfied my earlier frustration, why do I remain fascinated by the place? It is partly the exotic qualities. Melbourne is a great place to live but you couldn't call it one of the world's great romantic places. Lots of adjectives but not that one.

It is partly the myth of France that attracts me. I am fascinated by the contradiction between the old world and its modern manifestations. A country that is both progressive and deeply conservative. Paris pretty much invented the avant garde. Entwined in its history is a deep concern for the rights of man and yet the present is riven by racism. France is the seedbed of existentialism (and many other isms) and the place of so many grand cathedrals. And so on and so on.

When I went to university, cultural studies and semiotics were all the go. Out with the Anglo-American school, in with the French: Saussure, Roland Barthes, and hot on his heels, Foucault and then the feminists. I didn't get too far with all of this. Reading Sausurre and Barthes was a lot like going to France and not speaking the language. You could observe, and it could be vaguely enjoyable, but for the most part one had not a bloody clue what was going on.

I have been thinking about Barthes lately because I have been reading a book on French and Belgian comics, which takes an old school semiotic approach French and Belgian comics. It's a closely argued 200-odd pages on how meaning is made in la bande dessinee. It was a pleasure to revisit this kind of writing and thinking, this analytical approach to a subject. It was like revisiting a younger self.

Now, I feel like I get it. I get that the task the theorist undertakes is to tease out meaning, not to pronounce it. I get on board and enjoy the game, see how the writer investigates the relational nature of meaning. And in a funny way, I don't read it with the same earnest approach that I might have 25 years ago. I enjoy the pursuit.

I think those early university encounters, even in their frustrations, set me up for a longer interest in France. I should repeat that I didn't ever make great headway in matters theoretical. I lacked the truly obsessive character needed to fully get ahead in that. But I tried. It was like I didn't really understand what theory was for.

Roland Barthes was like a sideways entrance into French culture of the period he was writing about. Perhaps what Barthes did was point me towards a world that I didn't understand. But I did enjoy the view of the world that certain French writers and thinkers provided. Whether it was the dandyism and style of Jean Cocteau's films, the wryness of Louis Malle or Philippe Noiret, or a dozen other films, there is something revealing and serious about this stuff.

I also enjoyed, if that is the right word, the books of Simone de Beauvoir. All her four books of her autobiography; The Second Sex, The Blood of Others, She Came to Stay, The Mandarins. Especially that one. By the time I read it, I knew enough about de Beauvoir to piece together some of the facts and the fictions. Perhaps I dreamed of going to another country and starting a new life with another lover, as the character does in The Mandarins. Maybe, can't remember.

I have just finished reading to my daughter a French novel (translated, of course), Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle. The book has a little motif towards the end that reminds Toby that his life really only has one true thread and he can turn his back on it but it will always be there. That there is no running away, just as it was for de Beauvoir.

While we were in Paris, we made a point of going to Montparnasse Cemetery to see Simone de Beauvior's grave. It is a simple, quite plain headstone, near the limestone wall. I confess that I was just a little bit cross that she is sharing eternity with Sartre, who, I'm afraid, I see as very much her inferior. Their lives were far more complicated than the ending implies, but as another poet said, such is life. It was, I think, de Beauvoir who really got me hooked on French culture. In her autobiographies she is both a close-hand observer and a critic. An insider and outsider. Think of the reception that she received on the publication of the Second Sex! C'est scandaleux! Her books so fascinated, informed, confounded and yes, inspired me, that 25 years later I am still looking for answers.

I encountered Simone de Beauvoir's books at a time that it was absolutely crucial for me. They provided escape, challenge and insight at a time when I needed certain things to be explained. In writing about her past, she provided me with the sense of a future.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Young marble neighbours

Last night was hot. Windows open, sounds drifting in from neighbour's house. A kind of not quite funky, proggy bass-driven thing. A bit kraut-rock, a bit I dunno what. But it reminded me of something.

It wasn't annoying though it wasn't exactly what I would choose to put on. The neighbours are the kind of demi-monde bohos that Brunswick is supposed to be too expensive for anymore.

So I popped next door. And gave them this. In a neighbourly sort of way.

I can hear it playing through the window now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The illustrated Shakespeare and Co.

Over at the ever-fabulous Baudade you can follow her progress - illustrating the walls of Shakespeare & Co, the famed Paris bookshop.

In bookshop news closer to home, I popped in to Readings Carlton tonight to hear Robert Forster talk about 10 Rules for Rock and Roll, his reviews and essays. He's a fantastically balanced writer about music, possessed of a snappy turn of phrase and keen pair of ears. He's also a modest and straightforward speaker on music. Which is amazing given that he opened the conversation tonight by playing a new song called I Love Myself A Lot and I Always Have. He remains a diamond, always curious, never grinding an axe.

You can hear Robert talking about the 10 Rules of Rock and Roll, courtesy of ABC Perth.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Angouleme dreaming

When we went to France last year (like it's something we do often), the idea jumped into my head that I might come back and explore the world of la bande dessinee. Everybody knows the French and Belgians are nuts about graphic novels and everybody knows and has probably read some Tintin and Asterix.

But the whole French graphic novel thing jumped to the front of my mind when, coincidentally, Shaun Tan won the Angouleme International Comics Festival Prize for La Ou Vont Nos Peres. Although we probably know it best as The Arrival. So yay, Shaun.

Today I read the Angouleme Comics Festival is 'the largest and most significant comics festival in the world. (So says Bart Beaty in Unpopular Culture, transforming the European comic book in the 1990s). So you might say that to win such a award is the comic universe equivalent of the Booker Prize. Or Le Tour de France.

Anyway, I got thinking that I might like to go there to find out how the French do things and why it is that la bande dessinee maintains such a broad audience. Why is it that comic books are seemingly not viewed as the preserve of pimple squeezing dweebs, would-be manga cultists or indie hipsters? Hey, maybe the French really do look down the Gallic conk at comic book readers. But what the heck, the industry is large, diverse and ever-changing. Not without its problems I'm sure but big and complex.

At least I hope so. Because this week I learned the good people at the Copyright Agency Limited have provided me with a little money to travel to Angouleme in January 2011 to attend the festival. So yay, CAL. I would love to go this January, but the year's gap gives me time to plan and set up other activities. And save some euros. And keep learning the language.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On the road

Last weekend I hopped over to Perth, my old hometown. And indeed to Collie, my late father's old hometown. Nowadays my uncle and cousin live in Collie, two hours south of Perth.

It was great to see Greg and Zoe again. Zoe I haven't seen since she about 13. She's now in her 20s and a theatre nurse. Seems she's not at all put off by the sight of strangers' innards. Zoe told me a very funny story about our grandfather, who arrived in Collie around the mid-1950s. Being a town built on, surprise, surprise - coal mining - Collie was a strong union town. And it seems my grandfather hated unions and wasted no time in letting his feelings be known.

No surprise then that his time in the south-west was not profitable. Indeed, it was something of a financial disaster. Though perhaps this had as much to do with his interest in the gee-gees and associated punting as with the politics of Karl Marx. And perhaps explains my father's politics, which were resolutely anti-Labor. I had always found this strange since he was hardly born to the manor (the stable more likely).

The main reason for going was to see some friends and family and to pick up my vinyl albums.I drove down with Jim, who I used to do a lot of radio programming with. So there's another bit of history, right there. We had a great time rolling past the green, sodden paddocks and through the small towns along the South West Highway. And avoiding the delights of Mandurah.

My uncle Greg had 40 kilos worth of vintage vinyl stored away. That equates to about 150 lps and the odd single. All up I reckon the trip cost around $1000, which works out at about $7 per disc. Wouldn't it have been easier to download them? Yes, I suppose. Sort of. Maybe. Not really. Can you download the first James single, Folklore? No, it seems not. Is worth $1,000? Umm.

Can you download Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout? Of course. $16.99 and it's mine all over again. But there it was, the record that cost me my job when I told the boss I took a day off work to stay home and review it (with Peter Bonner). D'uh. Or Howlin' Wolf's double anthology for Chess. No, can't get that either.

Anyway, there are all sorts of things in there, some good, some so-so. Some, like Culture Club's 12 of Karma Chameleon with picture sleeve of course, puzzling to say to the least. A 2008 re-issue of The Smiths This Charming Man is currently asking US$10, so I'm in front right there.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bringing it all back home

This weekend I am heading back to Perth. Collie, in fact, about two hours south, I think. I have never knowingly been to Collie although my father was born and grew up there.

Why am I going to Collie? It's to get my record collection. I have lived in Melbourne for nearly 14 years and when I moved here I left my collection of vinyl behind. So long has it been that I can hardly remember what is among them. I think there is probably 100 albums. And maybe a few 12 inch singles. Sure to be as many, most, were bought during the early to mid 1980s.

There might be a copy of The Smiths Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. There was in the 1980s. I know there was a copy of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and maybe some other Dylan stuff. And there is a double Sonny Boy Williamson record. Get Happy by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Hopefully London Calling. Maybe a Gram Parsons disc or two.

I know that there are records that I once owned and may never see again. Some I gave away; some I loaned. I'm thinking of the Motown double Marvin Gaye anthology. And yes, Andrew Sproat, I'm looking at you.

But there are sure to be a few blushes among the Proustian moments. Let's hope it's worth the cost of freight back to Melbourne.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Keith Floyd

I cooked our dinner tonight in a cast-iron frying pan that I bought in 1988. The frying pan is a Floyd, and it will probably outlive its owner. It has already outlived its begetter. Keith Floyd, television presenter and cook, died this week after a heart attack, aged 65. Like my father, though far less entertaining, he was married four times. (My father was a dreadful cook, but like Floyd, also handy around a bottle.)

Keith Floyd's kind of cooking program was a long way from Master Chef. A very, very long way from that sanctimonious nonsense. Oh my god, you could not even see Master Chef's porch light from where Floyd stood.

For starters, the theme music was Peaches by The Stranglers. Eh? I got hooked on Floyd on Fish, hooked by his mad enthusiasm for cooking and enjoying food. By his alright on the night style. He did not have a face for television, but he had a great way with the language and real curiosity about food, where it comes from and how it gets to the table. Floyd on Fish was a sort of mad drunken dash around the harbours of England and France, stopping to stew up lunch and uncork a bottle or three. It was food with guilt and pleasure without judgement.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Meeting Ron Brooks

Some days I really love my job. Yesterday was one those days.

Two days a week I work on an exhibition of picture book art for the State Library of Victoria. At the moment I am in the pretty lovely position of going about to people whose work I know and admire and asking if I can (a) look through their files and (b) ask to borrow the best of it for a couple of years. The exhibition will open in Melbourne in November 2011 and all being well, tour to other venues in 2012.

So at a pretty sharp-ish hour, a taxi is pulling up outside my house. Already on board is an Allen & Unwin editor who is working with illustrator Ron Brooks on his memoir. Ron Brooks is one of Australia's best illustrators, whose work is published internationally. This one, John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, (written by Jenny Wagner) has been in print since it was minted in 1977.

It's a haunting little tale of an old lady and the dog, John Brown, who shares her life. All is peaceful until one night a mysterious black cat arrives, insisting it be let in. John Brown is having none of it, not trusting this intruder. It's a book full of unforgettable images, tenderness and haunting questions.

Ron grew up in rural Victoria, then lived in swinging Warrandyte in the 1970's. But these days he calls Tasmania home. He is virtually unknown to the locals. The education authorities seem unaware of the treasure that they have on their doorstep.

Most artists would be happy to have one classic against their name. to my mind and eye, Ron Brooks has at least four books that deserve that title. One is 'John Brown'. He also illustrated The Bunyips of Berkely Creek, published in 1973. Hobart Airport didn't have a copy for sale (as I said, the locals seem oblivious), but I did see one on the spinner in Sydney Airport recently. 'The Bunyips' is a haunting, melancholy and highly original imagining of the mythical creatures' secret life. It's also a suitably surreal, moonlit world that Ron has created.

Not to be done with that, Brooks produced two more in the mid-1990s. The first of these is Old Pig, (with Margaret Wild) in 1995. It's the story of a grandmother and grandchild, and the realisation that these are Old Pig's last days. A more gently heartbreaking book you will never read. When I mention this title to adults who have read Old Pig, they often involuntarily clutch at their heart. Going to Brooks's house and seeing the landscape where he lives, you can see how fully and how richly the light, the trees and the sense of space is absorbed into his work. It's simply one of the most beautiful books you can find.

The fourth book in the canon is another written by Margaret Wild: Fox. Again, it's a celebration of landscape, of outsiders, of friendship under pressure. The images are dramatic, primal, unforgettable. Seeing the original images, some of which will go into the exhibition, really got the heart beating! I can't wait to see the selection up on the wall of the gallery. Because that's where Ron's work belongs.

At the moment, Brooks is working on two books, one a Margaret Wild text with a distinctly Tasmanian flavour. There will be a book by Julia Hunt first, a humorous, musical romance with Chagall overtones.

His approach to illustrating is a fine balance of the craftsman and the artist. He is both fox and badger. Before he even picks up a pencil, he is thinking about the text and how to make every word on the page resonate in the images. He can be highly critical of his own performances, even years later wishing he had done things differently. Rueful, but not bitter. Thinking about how to make the book he is working on the best it can possibly be.

The memoir for Allen & Unwin, which promises to reveal a lot more about this singular artist, will be out next year. Just before the exhibition.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


There is a mood that certain French movies do so well. Daddy Nostalgie (1990) is a beautiful film with an exquisite ending. 

Dirk Bogarde plays father to Jane Birkin's emotionally conflicted daughter. 'Daddy' is recovering from heart surgery. Caroline (Birkin) has arrived to help with the recovery but soon realises that he is dying. The film is directed by Bertrand Tavernier and written by his former wife, Colo Tavernier O'Hagan. So very much a family affair, since Birkin plays a scriptwriter in a performance that seems effortlessly natural. God, it's a millions miles from Slogan, in which she seems acutely conscious of the camera. I guess she got better. But the role of an English artist living in France could almost have been written for her. Bogarde came out of retirement to make this, his last film.

Father and daughter have not been close. At one point she mimics her father, saying, "I had no memories of you before the age of 20'. Ouch. The father has been, is, an alcoholic; a gentleman of the old school. Little girls should be seen and not heard, while the grown-ups get on with the serious business emptying bottles. The important thing in life for him is himself and the need to have a good time. Quietly, mind. There is a drole moment where he confesses to a barman his fears of not being able to make the journey from the carpark to the bar. 

The film offers plenty of poignant moments too. It's a movie that speaks to anyone who has ever felt themselves cut out by their parent(s). But this is not a story of bitterness and recrimination. Somehow the film navigates its way into the hearts of Caroline and Daddy, and even the anxious, frightened wife. As someone whose relationship with his father was, to put it kindly, not close, I like this film for its compassion, kindness and honesty.

Daddy Nostalgie is a film I first saw 20 years ago. I bought this copy from since it was on no shelf in Melbourne, rent or buy. It comes with a fascinating conversation between Birkin and Colo Tavernier, where they discuss, among other things, the overlapping identities of actors and their real and imagined families.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Remembering David McComb

Vagabond Holes, a book reflecting on and remembering David McComb, has just been released. My connection to McComb is the same as many people: I loved his band The Triffids. 

The collection of essays, memoirs, photographs and the odd poem by McComb (and others including John Kinsella), is edited by Chris Coughlan and Niall Lucy. Of Niall, I should say a great big thank you. He was a DJ on 6UVS-FM in the post-punk period: for awkward 17 year-old brought up on commercial radio his programs were pretty powerful stuff. They were surprising, challenging, exciting.

David McComb, like me,  grew up in Western Australia. There the similarity ends. He in the lap of upper-middle class comfort, me not. As student, I saw The Triffids an awful lot. They were the main game in Perth from 1982 to, um, the early '90s. The only fun in town, you might say. David McComb wrote with such eloquence and intensity that "coming from Perth" became a much, much more interesting experience than it otherwise could have been. He gave us the words and the emotions to explore the world with.

David McComb died in 1999 in Melbourne, just before his 37th birthday. 

Anyway, the book throws up all sorts of memories. There are photos of gigs I was at (like the Shaftsbury Hotel, where I hitch-hiked a couple of hundred kilometres to be there). But Vagabond Holes provides more than just a beanbag of memories to flop down in to. It is a generous tribute to a brilliant songwriter. The editors try to tease out some of the themes and achievements that myth has overgrown or obscured. There are some wonderful personal touches, too, like Gavin Martin (a journalist who arrived in Perth from the UK) finding David "gracious, attentive, always wanting to be sure I had amusement and company during my stay". David had that kindness about him. Later, Martin sees McComb at The Triffids London headquarters, at "the sort of convivial get-together they did so well". Megan Heyward records David's "exceptional's the kindness and generosity I remember most". He showed the same generosity to me, when I was at a loose end in London. Kindness we can't repay.

I like James Paterson's piece. It's an unfinished argument with David about songwriting. Paterson not only writes clean, unfussy prose, but has stories to tell of working with McComb on songs. Paterson notes how McComb became enthralled to the Birthday Party, steering away from the more ironic, playful pop of the early tapes and singles. (When I saw Nick Cave at the Brixton Academy in 1990 Frances Walker came up at the end and said to me: "That was the Triffids".) As for me, well, I could get with McComb's fondness for Gram Parsons, but found the Rolling Stones covers hard to understand. Like, jesus, they are the enemy. 

That the book embraces both a vernacular and an academic world view says something about the world in which David McComb moved. There is still more to explore and consider.

Not all the questions are answered. The one that I don't get is how McComb got so low so young. Yes, he and the band travelled constantly and probably lived in less than genteel poverty a lot of the time. So did a lot of people. But nobody wants to talk about the alcohol with any candour. What part did that play in his life and in his death? I lack the imagination to understand why someone as gifted could be so apparently self-destructive. His death was sad, is sad. But so were, it seems to me, the later years of his life.

But still that needs to be weighed with what David McComb and The Triffids did, and what they aspired to do. And that was, at times, heroic: to create this enduring sonic template of a young man at the edge of the world at the end of the 20th century.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cricket is rarely this funny

Amid the angst, the recriminations and the accusations of the "thrilling draw" in the first Ashes Test overnight, comes this dee-lightful homage to Victorian-born quickie Peter Siddle. Guardian columnist Barney Ronay explains why he would like to be friends with Siddle.
I love his ripplingly muscular head and the way, after he'd got Andrew Flintoff out, he didn't really know how to rearrange his features into a "pleased" expression and settled instead for looking pained. I also love the quietly guttural "UUNNCCHH!" sound he makes as he bowls, a deeply male noise, the noise of a man who has just dislodged a particularly stubborn wingnut on a vintage motorbike.
He also says some very, very funny things about Glenn McGrath. Much more like this from Ronay and he will have a cult following of his own, never mind Siddle. One Test match down, four to go.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

La crise...cinema?

My friend, a film reviewer, despairs of French movies. 

John, let's call him, is chugging back a minimum of four films each week. Some of them are from the Hexagon. Recently he slung me a fistful, including Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis) and The Grocer's Son (Le Fils de l'epicier). And for good measure the 1968 Gainsbourg-Birkin premier collaboration, Slogan

Slogan is the story of an advertising man's midlife crisis (la crise du moyen age?), which is, I admit, a pretty banal plot. Seriously wealthy and successful guy gets bored flying to Venice to pick up advertising kudos. Meets beautiful, much younger woman, throws over wife. Fellini's 8 1/2 it is not. 

Jane Birkin is 22, wears improbably short frocks and speaks with an appalling accent. Until she auditioned for the film, Birkin had never spoken French. (She admits to all of this in an accompanying 30 minute documentary.) So, a middle-aged man fascinated by a woman far too young to be seen with who quickly becomes an obsession. My friend John might suggest here that this pretty much the French film industry's calling card...but back to Slogan.

This is a curious film. Made in 1968, it's oblivious to the Paris riots, even though when the couple do eventally (inevitably?) move in together it's in the shadow of the Pantheon. Don't look to cinema for history, I guess. Serge Gainsbourg's idea of revolution was something else altogether I suspect. The film is clunky in the script and the production. The pacing is uncertain and even the music written by Gainsbourg fails to establish a clear motif or mood. Laboured might best describe the enterprise. But the film established them as the "it couple" of the time and changed Birkin's life. 

Neither Birkin nor Gainsbourg seem comfortable in front of the camera. There is often a self-consciousness that makes viewing the film uncomfortable. And yet...and yet. What starts as the lament of a middle-aged man turns into something much more interesting. Because as Evelyne, Birkin's ingenue becomes the rebel. There is one darkly funny, slightly cringe-making scene in which Serge introduces Evelyne to a score of friends and colleagues: "Please meet my little home-breaker" he says to a gallery of disapproving faces. Clearly infidelity is okay as long as it stays out of sight. Everything about their relationship put two fingers up to the ruling standards of the day. And their affair does catch a certain joy.

But the beautiful Evelyne quickly finds herself in the role of haus-frau. Her status as mistress is deeply uncertain. She demands that they have a baby, and that they marry. Both options seem rather quaint nowadays, but likely perhaps then. Not even frequent trips Venice can quell the resistance, her apparent freedom now another prison. In Venice Evelyne meets a muscular Italian whose only qualifications for her heart seem to be driving a speedboat dangerously fast through the crowded canals and clambering onto historic bridges. Bogans it seems are international.

Serge meanwhile seems impervious to what goes on about him. He never seems to really solicit our sympathy, continuing in his lugubrious way. Until Evelyne and the Italian elope. And then he turns very nasty indeed. But freedom won't be denied. What is most striking is the extent to which Slogan unwittingly provides the template for Birkin and Gainsbourg's own relationship, which lasted twelve years. Birkin sets out the influence of Serge Gainsbourg on her life with lasting affection and respect.

In the DVD's accompanying documentary, Birkin talks of their separation as like an adolescent revolt, kicking over the boundaries set up by a tyrannical parent. She also talks about Serge's peculiar attractiveness and charm. It's a fascinating relationship that began with Slogan. Birkin has made over 60 films: this one launched her career and changed her life. Even my friend the film critic must concede that you have to start somewhere.

Clearly Gainsbourg would have been a man that was difficult to live with. This little reflection by UK music writer Nick Kent on Gainsbourg's later years spells out just what a mess he became. (Oh that Kent could write with the same candour about, say, Keith Richard.) Serge Gainsbourg's life will get a more detailed examination when the biopic appears next year.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Whole wide world

Wreckless Eric, he of the utterly timeless Whole Wide World, now pops up his own radio show. Well, music blog. So, if you like your music with a sideways French lilt, and let's face it, who doesn't it, you can tune in here.

(Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric)

I was mighty surprised to find that Eric now shares his breakfast toast with American indie semi-legend Amy Rigby. Her Diary of a Mod Housewife was a staple at our house when it appeared, ooh, a dozen years ago.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday morning

On Saturday morning I wandered into a local vinyl vendor and found a record I never owned, the one and only lp of The Tom Tom Club. Played when I got home and discovered all that lovely uncodified fusion. Joy!

Later on Saturday my good lady wife flipped on Amadou & Miriam's disc Welcome to Mali. It strikes me that Amadou & Miriam are doing what David Byrne and company did. (And what Tina Weymouth does so delightfully here.) That is, plunder the shelves of another musical culture.

Talking Heads were all over African music. And Amadou & Miriam bring it all back home -- via Paris. Viva le bricolage!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another weekend in front of the tele

Hey, someone's gotta do it. A month or three ago Eric Rohmer's Early Works lobbed into the letterbox. Yay! Having savoured the Comedies & Proverbs eight film collection I was keen to dig deeper.

There are three main films in the set, including The Sign of Lion (Le Signe du Lion), his 1962 debut feature. It's the story, somewhat hackneyed, of an obnoxious American in Paris who believes he is about to come into a large amount of money. But the twist comes when, having racked up debts and outstayed his welcome everyone, no money appears. In fact, his fortunes take a dive and he is soon homeless. You can see some the familiar tropes beneath the leathery exterior: probing moral questions of behaviour; Paris streets as the natural stage for the drama; apparently aimless search for connection, for purpose. 

At one level the film invites the question, what would you do faced with a sudden change of fortune? What does it mean to be a part of society? How easily can we slip between the cracks?

Probably not a great date movie and it's not hard to see why Le Signe du Lion failed to find an audience at the time. The main character, Pierre, doesn't engage our sympathies, so one watches in an appropriately detached manner...Pierre is a failed music student, a dilattante whose violin playing is akin to badly played Bartok. But his fall from uncertain grace is believable and well, there is always Paris. Most of it takes place in the St Germain, the Latin and along the Seine. So plenty of architectural eye-candy. But their is a sense of earnestness that is a bit ponderous. That earnestness soon gave way to mere seriousness. So I look forward to more of the early years.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The dBs

Where did The dBs come from and what the heck became of them? In the days when I lived on student wages and the intrawebs were the fanciful dream of the cider-deluded engineering student, The dBs were band that cast a beautiful shadow. They never toured to Perth, though Peter Holsapple joined REM on the road, and never seemed to be written about. There was a lovely sense of mystery about them, not quite like early Belle & Sebastian but maybe not far off. Enough to say that The dBs played a style of pop that was embraced by many, including I think, Dom Mariani (then and still a charming man).

Anyway, tripping about the interwebs, invented thankfully in the intervening years, I found this delightful short film by Emily Hubley. Hublely has gone on to a successful career as an animator - and the dBs? Well, who knows, and if the song seems a little light on, well, such were the times.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


What a week. 

Friday, emergency trip to the dentist to start root canal. 

Friday night, Fremantle Dockers throw away perfectly winnable home game with lousy kicking.

Saturday, French language class, introduced to the subjonctif tense. 


Oh, well. Stumbled on this on ABC2 a few Sundays ago and it has been following me around ever since. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lest we forget

I was talking to a publisher recently about possible subjects for future books. There are so many books about war, soldiers, battles and so on, why not a book on the peace movement, I suggested.  The Anzacs, Simpson and his donkey, Vietnam, the Western Front...these subjects are catnip to awards judges. But the peace movement? My publisher friend just laughed.

"If I wanted to throw away money," he seemed to say.

Such thoughts were in mind in the lead up to Anzac day, the one day of the year. It is not I look forward to. Sure I love a footy match as much as any, but I feel uncomfortable with all that unquestioned acceptance of authority. 

My unease about the way we mark war was there again recently during my first ever trip to Canberra. A friend works for the War Memorial; its education program is experienced by more school children than any other cultural institution in Australia. Canberra seems built for grand parades, though its no Champs Elysees. The money expended on memorials, sculptures and buildings marking our war's all just a bit over the top. 

Anyway, my thoughts on why I don't get Anzac day crystallised yesterday listening to this lecture by historian Marilyn Lake. Commemorations like Anzac day are not only acts of remembrance, but of forgetting, also, a highly selective version of history, one that smoothes over difficult passages, the conflicts that go on in the making of history. Anzac day itself has a particular history, one not unconnected with the political influence. Howard was particularly adept at wrapping himself in the flag. It is the selective remembering of war and what war is that makes Anzac day one that I find very hard to love indeed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

how i live now

I call myself a lapsed West Australian. This week I celebrated my thirteenth year in Melbourne. Sure I'd love to live in Paris but Melbourne does fine for me.

Today columnist Susan Maushart gave some good reasons as to why that might be. Quoting author Richard Florida (Who's Your City?) Maushart writes that choosing a city is like choosing a mate and that cities have their own metabolic rate and their own personalities. Maushart summarises:
Cities...can be categorised as "open to experience" (Melbourne maybe), conscientious (Adelaide, assuredly), extroverted (Sydney - OMG!!), agreeable (Hobart o Brisbane, if you like), or neurotic (Perth, now piss off). Truly - Perth was ranked among the most neurotic cities in the entire world. Turns out it's all about Perth's extreme isolation, and the unique mental trade deficit that goes with that. Basically, we export the sort of people who week social engagement with the wider world (the young and the functional) - while attracting the sort of people who seek divorce from the wider world. And in most cases, the differences really are irreconcilable.
So, don't take my word for it. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

Radio National's The Book Show served up an Easter treat this morning when Ramona Koval spoke to Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their topic? The novels and the ethics of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, of course. Williams is the author of the book, Dostoyevsky: language, faith and fiction.

Clearly the archbishop has plenty of time for the Dostoyevsky. He speaks with a lot of insight about the Russian's complicated relationship to Christ, and also about the way a novel works. Williams describes the novels like The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment as a kind of working out of possibilities and questions that would be impossible in life. Which is not to say that the novels are an idealisation of possibilities. They act like a laboratory in which the answers are never conclusive. 

The conversation between Koval and Williams is a lively tennis match, the host lobbing questions nonchalantly, yet always being challenged by Williams's insightful, probing returns. They also talked about the lack of dogma or certainty in the novel, how any good novel, any real novel, is devoid of doctrinal position. (Which is why CS Lewis continues to get a caning for the Narnia books, whatever else might be said of them.) Fundamentalism has no place in the novel. Williams is a more than decent literary critic. 

In talking about the life of Dostoyevsky, the archbishop and the journalist agreed firmly on one thing. That is, it is usually better not to meet your idols. Dostoyevsky is described as quarrelsome, hyper-sensitive and self-absorbed. Even for a writer, that's quite the trifecta.

Williams had taken leave from his role as the Archbishop of Canterbury and talked about how good it was to get up each day and write. To not have to attend endless committee meetings, and write endless letters and campaign to solve life's insoluble problems. It was someone speaking with real delight about the pleasure of his work. My only quibble was that in signing off Koval patronised Williams, aiming for match point by wishing him well in the struggle with those problems by regular prayer. He deserved better than that.

When the interview had finished (and I had finished shaving) I went in to my bedroom. There to see wife and daughter both crying, (daughter weeping) over the death of Lee Scoresby in Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass

Friday, March 27, 2009

You bring the amps

...I've got the band names.

If I was forming a band (and the good news is, I'm not about to) there's just one place I would go looking for name. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It is a goldmine. Here's some random possibilities, and the band one might form (if one was forming a band).

Inexpressibles: art rock, obviously.

Marine Store: industrial strength indie

Mari Lwyd: ambient-ethnic-folk

Maul of Monks: goth-core

Rochelle Salt: riot grrrl revisited

Ruffian's Hall: Hmmm, not sure about this one. Maybe they aren't, either

Sea Lawyer: smart-arse pop (think TISM meets Loudon Wainwright III)

Shekinah: metal

Sugar Daddy: r 'n' b, apparently

Dr Syntax, pub rock with art rock pretensions

Synecdoche: instrumental, post-prog

Syrinx: prog

The Seven Against Thebes: Liverpudlian trip-hop

Tokyo Rose: I actually saw them in Perth in the 19080s. They were terrible.

Wayzgoose: John Butler wannabe

Praying-wheel: indie wimp-pop

See, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. For all your musical needs.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A year ago

...we were packing our backs for Paris. So much planning, saving, talking about and dreaming had gone into the trip that my stepson, who stayed home to follow the footy, wondered out loud what we would do with ourselves after it was all over.

What else? Plan the next one, of course. Anyway, in memory of all that, here's a couple of images from the trip.

Iris, day one, on the Seine

View from the Louvre

Printemps a Paris, Jardin de Plantes

Ninth birthday, at the wonderful Red Wheelbarrow Bookshop

Down by the Seine, Michelle, soaking up the sun

Rue Mouffetard, our neighbourhood

Friends in high places

 Serge Gainsbourg's grave, Cimetiere du Montparnasse

This really was a great and pleasant surprise. The site has, and I hesitate to say it, a distinctly happy air about it. There is an enormous fondness for the late singer, expressed through objects left here by fans: packets of cigs, wine bottles, photographs, notes, gifts, a cabbage, and least explicable of all, the Teletubby doll Po hanging on a branch. I left with a whole new regard for the old guy and listen to his music in a new way. The cemetery is also home to writers including Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. 

Next Saturday I start a new course in learning French, a year to the day we arrived there. I am planning to study over the next two years and develop a more solid knowledge. We can but dream.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Girlfriend's Boyfriend

I love this film. Always have, always will. 

Okay, so what if the acting is a little rigid: ruffling one's own hair and waving one's arm wildly does not emotion make. But that is what Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) does during moments of provocation, and there are plenty of those in this superb romantic comedy.

Fabien (Eric Viellard) wants to be with Blanche but she is aware that Lea (Sophie Renoir), Fabien's boyfriend, is her new best friend. So Blanche is keeping her distance, or at least trying to.

The proverb of this film, the last of the six Comedies and Proverbs is: 'the friend of my friend is my friend also'.

Emmanuelle Chaulet in just one several delightful period pieces.

Complicating things further, Blanche believes (and is encouraged to believe by Lea), that she is drawn to Alexandre, a charming Lotharia, played by Francoise-Eric Gendron. Alexandre is a friend of Fabien, just to square the circle.

Blanche works an arts bureaucrat in Cergy-Pontoise, a rather futuristic village, or at least futuristic in 1986 when L'ami de mon amie was made. It's a rather sterile, remote place, yet one that allows the four main protagonists to encounter each other in the course of a day or evening, in a way that a city might not. There are no cars, everybody walks everywhere, there are plenty of cafes and the lake is surrounded by parklands. (What's not to like about that?) It is the cleverly and carefully orchestrated crossing of paths that makes this film swing. That and the wonderful, vulnerable and believable characters. 

 Blanche is such a likable heroine; her situation so recognisable. She is not at all calculating, or if she is, not presumptive enough to act on her plans or hopes. One of the pleasures of the film is watching and waiting as the pieces fall intricately into place.

The film has a number of my favourite sequences. Watching the film again on dvd brought back some of the feelings I first experienced when I saw it for the first time. Where was that? Can't remember: either Perth Film Festival (Somerville Gardens?) or the Windsor in Nedlands. There are a indelible moments such as when Blanche and Fabien go for rambling on the tow-paths and forests outside Cergy-Pontoise; when we see the vast empty modernist plaza of the village, so far from Paris; Alexandre's unexplored differences with his girlfriend (who he completely fails to understand) and when all are united by the story's end. 

Unsurprisingly, after watching My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, I spent much of the weekend wishing I was in Paris. 

Le sigh.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Full Moon in Paris

Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune (Full Moon in Paris) turns on the following proverb: "He who has two women loses his mind. He who has two houses loses his soul".

Not surprisingly for Eric Rohmer, the 'he' is in fact a 'she'. Louise (the late Pascale Ogier) lives with her boyfriend Remi (Tcheky Karyo) in a drab dormitory suburb. When the film begins she is already working on restoring her Paris apartment, her pied-a-terre, where she can, if she likes, spend occasional nights staying over in town. 

As one might. 

This is not going down well with Remi, whom Louise deftly out-maneuvers with some typically rapid fire joustings. "Surely you want me to be happy? This will make me happy, therefore you ought to be happy that I am doing this." 

Louise is a young (and quite beautiful) design graduate. She has a friend, Octave (Fabrice Luchini), a writer whose self-obsession and self-importance is a comic counterpoint to Louise, who merely wants her own way in most things. Louise is one of those beautiful, capricious women that one goes to university in order to meet. Indeed how she came to be with the rather stolid Remi is a bit of a mystery. Their relationship is prickly, unfulfilling, unhappy. In wanting both worlds, her own life in Paris and the stable but rather boring suburbs, Louise is walking a tight-rope. She is tempted by others but wants to hold firm to her ideals, however muddled they might be.

Full Moon in Paris shares some of the concerns of Love in the Afternoon, though the characters arrive at a different destination. In the earlier film Frederic, married and living in the suburbs, is attracted to Chloe, an old friend who re-enters his life at a point where he is contemplating the attraction of others. This attraction culminates in one the most exquisite scenes in all Rohmer's films, where Frederic, rather unwisely goes to Chloe's apartment, pursuing his dreams. Louise, likewise, wants to fulfill some half-expressed desire for independence. But in getting what she wishes for it might seem that she is being punished for it. But this would be wring. After all, Louise might be unwise, even a little misled, but in the end it is not that she is forced to choose but that her choices have been made for her.

This film might not have all the surface sparkle of others like My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, Pauline a la Plage or A Summer's Tale. Despite the title, the film is something of an anti-romantic film. The comedy is disguised by the apparently indulgent, self-absorbed actions of Louise and Octave. On the other hand, my wife was agog at the early 1980s fashion, which included extravagant cowl-necks, a black faux-punk zipper shouldered dress, Louise's flamboyant beehive hair-style and period precise elbows-in dancing. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Honk if you 4QATED today

SA4QE, as I mentioned in an earlier post, celebrates the work of writer Russell Hoban.

Today, 4 February, is Hoban's 84th birthday. He is still writing and his books for children, teenagers and adults, are still published, read and enjoyed.

Here's my 4qation, left in the State Library's La Trobe Reading Room. I chose this piece because of the way it plays with ideas about language, creativity and time. 

“Burning to say something! shouted the night watchman. “It is in me, something to say!”
“You simply don’t know how it is with literary people like me,” the crocodile went on. “The waiting, waiting, waiting for that perfect time!”
The night watchman had burned more incense than usual that evening. He was giddy with the fragrance and the heat of it, words danced in his head. In all the words of his own language he found nothing to say, but as the hours passed his mind became full of the sounds of the language the crocodile spoke so flowingly. Unknown words danced in his head. Eleven o’clock came, half-past eleven. Then it was midnight, and there was that tiny buzzing pause while his clock gathered itself to strike twelve times.
“NOW IS THE ONLY TIME THERE IS!” shouted the night watchman. He shouted in the crocodile’s language, in words he did not know the meaning of.
“What’s that?” said the startled crocodile as the clock finished its twelve strokes.

From La Corona and the Tin Frog by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Nicola Bayley
London, 1979

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bravo, Babar!

Recently I was talking with my colleague and we agreed that Babar, the elephant character of French picture books, is a curious beast. There is something a bit antiquated about these books that doesn't quite leap easily into the modern idiom. I suppose that is part of the charm. 

As a parent, I never found that my young reader nor myself particularly enjoyed the world of Babar. As we did say, the poems of AA Milne and the stories of Winnie the Pooh, to take another antique animal character at random. Bof!

Recently I have been following the blog for Babar, Harry Potter and Compagnie, an exhibition at the BNF in Paris. The exhibition highlights the picture book collection of the Bibliotheque National de France. It's quite a traditional looking show going by the video documentary you can see there. Charming, beautifully curated and designed...but perhaps a little dry for the intended audience. 

Anyway, digging a little further into the website (yes, blog and website, they are full-service library) I discovered this charming page-turn with audio. Taking the Babar book, ABC de Babar, the clever BNF'ers have digitised the pages to create a game of lexical hide and seek. Roll the mouse across the page. Explore the illustrations and discover the words. Click and you can hear the words in French. It's a kind of Gallic Animalia, only with lots of elephants. There is an English version too, but as the French would say, pour quoi?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Geezers III

Ladies and gentlemen, Leonard Cohen.

Fifteen years since his last tour, and 24 years since I saw him in Perth on the Various Positions tour, Leonard Cohen opened this Australian tour at the Rochford Winery for Day on the Green. Think of it as the Big Day Out for the over 40s.

His band was simply magnificent. The arrangements were all about respect for the songs and the singer. Virtuoso players were kept on a firm leash by the musical director Roscoe Beck, himself deftly working over a five-string bass throughout. But the stand-out (besides Cohen obviously), was Javier Mas. You can see Mas here playing 12-string with Sharon Robinson, Cohen's collaborator and vocalist on this tour. 

There is something European and decidely non-rock and roll about Cohen's songs. The language of his music often seems to be the cast-off idioms of gentle waltzes,  cabaret and torch and in this he was brilliantly aided.

Leonard Cohen has forty years of songwriting and he picked the eyes out of them in a perfectly paced set. Highlights were a wonderful reading of Bird on a Wire, the spoken word If it Be Your Will, the sweet satisfaction of Democracy and I'm Your Man. But there were so many highlights that I'm merely lining up my own. I don't thing I've ever seen an artist receive so many standing ovations. It was just spontaneous and sincere. (Also, no Bono!)

The tour is all about recovering the financial losses inflicted by a shonky manager. Five million short in the retirement fund is a compelling reason to perform live again. That may well be so but I wonder if there is also something about showing off the tapestry of a long and interesting career. As I type this I can almost hear Neil Young at the real Big Day Out where my stepson has gone. Ragged glory was never Cohen's way. 

And yet this wasn't merely about trotting out the big moments. He wasn't doing cover versions of himself, a victory lap for the benefit of baby-boomers. (Even though his appeal is mostly to the boomers, there is plenty for everyone.) Yes, the show was slick and the set list in the Yarra Valley is the same as in Amsterdam or Auckland. But even at 74 he pushed his voice hard, gave the songs all the care they demanded and showed that he remains a rare and valuable artist. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning slopes

Tonight I fronted the 'preparing for French 2A/2B' class. "Third floor, room 310 on the left" said the burly guy at the desk. So I go in. A little late. Sit at the back of a crowded classroom. 
Olivier continues talking. At some speed. I can keep up. Just. Sort of.

He then begins to read speedily text about the film Amelie. We are asked to write down any verbs we hear. It's a little idiomatic. Not much is making clear sense. I lean to woman sitting beside me. "This is 2A, yeah?" 
"No, this is 3A." 
Me: "Oh."

I persevere. It becomes clear that some people have a very sound grasp of business and some are a little shaky. I stick it out and contribute as much as one can in a class of 25.

Afterwards another student tells me what text book was used in previous classes. Voila! It's the same one that we used with Anita.

It's much faster, more down to business, but hopefully enjoyable.

PS, Later Iris asked: "What were your favourite low-key moments in Paris?" For the record, hers was driving home at night in a taxi. "It was like having New Years's Eve at your fingertips."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Le rayon vert

Last week my good lady wife and I went off to see Il y a Longtemps Je T'aime (I've Loved You So Long), the Kristin Scott Thomas film, which I much enjoyed for its restraint and nuance. This is the kind of film one despairs of seeing in these days of Miramax market-researched movie making. In one scene, the belligerent host of a dinner party begins a tirade about the death of French cinema and how Eric Rohmer is the successor of Racine. We're not inclined to take him at his word but the movie is not without its Rohmer-esque moments.

Which caused me to leave left cinema determined to watch Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert. Talk about delayed gratification. When I was a callow youth of, ooh, 23 or 24, Le Rayon Vert screened at the Perth Institute of Film and Television. I remember the reviews leading up to it. The story of a young woman on holiday who can't make up her mind where to spend it, who to be with or what to do with herself. The review took on board Rohmer's low-key cinema and urged people to go along and see for themselves. I don't exactly know why (I was broke?), but I didn't see it. And kept on not seeing it for about 25 years. 

A friend who did see it then was of the opinion that Le Rayon Vert was a bit of a waste of time. "She wanders around and can't make up her mind and then, pffft!, she looks at the sunset and that's it", was her opinion. So hardly a ringing endorsement and really I was none the wiser. That was probably my first brush with ER. I think the first Rohmer film I saw was L' ami de mon amie (My Girlfriend's Boyfriend), probably at the Windsor Cinema in Nedlands.

Suffice to say that the wait to see Le Rayon Vert was worth it. This is the fifth film on the Comedies and Proverbs sequence and is attended by the couplet: 'Ah, for the days/that set our hearts ablaze'. 

Ah, for the days. For this what Delphine seeks and yearns, to have her heart ablaze with a true and unique  love. But it seems that she is bent on ensuring only her own unhappiness and frustration by a kind of neurosis of place and self, played out in Paris, Cherbourg, the mountains and then, finally Biarritz. However Delphine's avoidance of others, of family, of social friendship and casual affairs, has a purpose that gradually reveals itself through the film. This sympathetic, subtle and skillful film-making. Surprisingly most of the dialogue is improvised. Maybe this is why Marie Riviere has such a command of the role: she is creating it as she goes. The ending of the film is exquisite, a mystery, a possibility, an answer and a question. 

In thinking about this film and remember how first missed it I went for a little search about PIFT. I didn't find quite what I was looking for but did turn up a highly detailed portrait of film culture in Perth in the 1960s and '70s. By the time I was ready to go the movies in the 1980s, (a time before Miramax) Perth had a fertile film agenda and a curiosity about the wider world that belied its remote location, its conservative nature, and the difficulties of getting the best world cinema to the screen in a timely way. Tom O'Regan's article, Film societies and festivals in Western Australia, told me quite a lot I didn't know and didn't suspect, about how a band of dedicated folk brought the world to Perth's screens. People of my age benefitted from some challenging programming at PIFT and the Perth International Film Festival, which took place (and still does I presume) in the pine trees at the University of Western Australia. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blighter's rock

The Russell Hoban community online celebrates the author's birthday every year in a unique way. You see, Hoban is rather attached to yellow paper. Writing on the stuff. Has been for years. He turns 84 on 4 February.

Russell Hoban is the author of more than sixty books for children (including The Mouse and His Child and the Frances books) and more than a dozen novels for adults.  His best known novels include Riddley Walker, Turtle Diary and Kleinzeit. There is even a YA novel, The Trokeville Way, squeezed in there. He still writing and still being published. But back to the yellow paper.

Russell Hoban's birthday is marked simply, quietly, by readers leaving quotes from his work printed on to a page of yellow A4 paper. Why yellow paper? Hoban writes on yellow paper, he says, to ward of "blighter's intensify the blankness of a blank sheet of white paper is to run to meet trouble considerably more than halfway."

You can catch up on past SA4QE events at the spiffy new blog. Prepare to be surprised 4 February. 

What other ways do readers celebrate the birthdays of their favourite authors?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Youth novels

If you have seen the earlier entries of What Swerves you may have noticed a fondness for geezer rock. Last night I think I broke the mold, getting my zimmer along to the Prince Bandroom for a sold-out dance party of the mind with Lykke Li.

Soup to nuts, the Swedish singer/songwriter/performer played for an hour. Including encore. She hit the stage like a demented Muppet and just went from the there. Needless to say, the crowd went with her every twist, bump and grind of the way. It was a great show. A dance party with a jagged edge. A popstar with a post-punk tilt. She is a thesis, a thesaurus of influence and attitude. Vulnerable, a little bit Betty Blue, a little bit early Blondie.

Her three piece band, all lads who looked like escapees from the Ikea School of Design, rock. The set list was tight, all from her first album Youth Novels, plus a Kings of Leon tune. I was taken by the way the guitar player was kept at the back of the stage, the drummer to the front. This arse-about arrangement kept the focus on Lykke and emphasised the rhythm. Lykke herself occasionally blew hard on a kazoo. And sang through a loud hailer. And prowled the stage like she was brought up by Public Enemy. When she wasn't purring like a young Eartha Kitt. Or belting the bejeezus out of a cymbal.

No wonder I was bleary eyed this morning.