Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: A Life of Stories

A life in music is intrinsically a life of stories. By its nature, it provides narrative points: highs, lows, people, places, beginnings and ends. These memories, the bones of the story, may have been shared not only with comrades, but with the reader. We might all have been a little crazy at the time.

Thus, when I read Simon Parkes' marvellous Live at the Brixton Academy: A Riotous Life in the Music Business, I was several times able to say to myself, "Yes! I was there!"

I went to the Westworld party where they installed a dodgem car track in the middle of the Academy (do not attempt to pilot a dodgem car while on acid and wearing prismatic glasses, because it is not possible). I reviewed that infamous Grace Jones gig (she kept disappearing from the stage then coming back loudly blowing her nose and yelling about wanting to "party"). And we were there, with two pregnant women in our crew, at the Shabba Ranks show where there was a riot at the door and a guy was shot over some yardie business inside. (I still recall David Rodigan coming out onto the stage to calm the crowd: "I'm not here  to criticise you! I'm here to praise you!")

It was a delight to be able to connect some of those stories to the yarns of Stephen King of Believe Digital, who I interviewed at the Going Global summit on Saturday morning. Like Parkes, King was a white kid who entered the business via the unruly, sometimes dangerous world of reggae music.

He later managed the Libertines, and told the story of Pete Doherty legging it before the encore of the band's third night of a sold-out stand at the Academy. He alerted the two security guards whose full-time job it was to wrangle Doherty to the fact that Pete had gone out the stage door and jumped in his drug-dealer's car. They raced through the venue, stopped the car on the street outside and dragged the errant star back in to do his encore, while the Academy's own formidable security crew nodded understandingly.

But underlying Parkes' book and King's wonderful stories, there's something deeper about being in music. Although it inescapably involves money – sometimes in brown paper bags – it also has its own ways and codes and forms of respect. It's wrapped around the fact that the artists at the centre of everyone's living may by their very nature be mad and unreliable, as well as brilliant.

There is also an arc of social history integral to Parkes' book of rock 'n' roll yarns. That's integral to the Brixton Academy book too. Parkes only got his shot because the place was run-down and rotting in a part of town it was thought white middle-class Londoners would never venture. He had to learn to do business with Brixton, on Brixton's terms. And left the Academy in the hands of the suits who ran the entertainment corporate that owns it now.

All that is present too in Simon Grigg's How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song That Stormed the World. If Simon might not be a natural writer (like Parkes' book, it could have used some additional attention from the editor), he is, like all  the best people in music, a brilliant storyteller. The narrative rip of this book is so strong that I opened it on the day it arrived in the post and couldn't go to bed until I'd finished it.

Although the book's core story is about Pauly and that record, its early chapters tell Simon's own tale and, crucially, the story of what happened in the late 80s and early 90s when the children of Pacific immigrants came into the centre of Auckland – in more than one way – and changed everything. This era deserves better cultural histories than it currently has – and it needs histories from a Pasifika perspective – but the glimpse in How Bizarre is a precious beginning.

I thought about How Bizarre yesterday afternoon at Graham Brazier's funeral, not only because the service was rich with stories, but because I knew that Alan Jansson, the producer and co-writer of 'How Bizarre', and a properly sympathetic character in Simon Grigg's story, had been working with Graham on a new album.

I bumped into Alan as the standing-room-only crowd filed out of the church and he confirmed that the album is complete. He said Graham had actually approached him to produce his previous album but he'd declined because he didn't feel strongly about the ideas brought to him. This time was different. It was cohesive. He thinks the finished album is Graham's best work ("With the exception of 'Billy Bold'").

Attending the service, and the gathering afterwards at the Grey Lynn RSC – the inner west's great bulwark against gentrification – also reminded me I still hadn't read the late Dave McArtney's book of rock 'n' roll stories, Gutter Black. It appears there is no e-book version, so it's off the the bookshop for me today.

I'll balance that with Viv Albertine's mad, quirky memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. Tracey Thorn's Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star will have to sit around the house a little longer.

What's true of all these books is that they also tell the stories of their times; an alternative telling of history, the other side of ourselves. That's an aspiration captured by the writers of Westside, who have used music so well to define time and place. The second season of Westside takes place entirely in 1981. It matters not only that our political and social history that year was so memorable, but that, as Gary Steel points out, 1981 was an astonishing year for our music.

Connecting these histories is also a key aspiration for everyone involved in Audioculture. It helps complete us all.

For now, Chris Bourke's new Graham Brazier article on Audioculture is a rich piece of writing about a complicated man.


The success of last Friday's The Others Way Festival on K Road was a credit both to the good people at Flying Out and to their media partners at 95bFM. Every venue was crowded, everything I saw (Street Chant, a wild show by Heavy, Ghost Wave, Princess Chelsea and The Bats) was great.

It was also notable that alongside the kids who might usually go to these shows, there was a big contingent of people who looked to me like, ahem, older bFM listeners. This speaks to two things: that these listeners remain engaged with a resurgent 95bFM. And that if you you put together the right bill and have it playing at a reasonable time, the oldies will come out.

If you want to see what you missed, or relive the evening, there are great photosets from Georgia Schofield and Paul Taylor.


Tuxedo (aka Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One) play The Studio in Auckland next Friday. On top of its own funky merits, the show is a launch for Splore 2016 (the camping, glamping and transport deals are announced on the folowing Monday). You are encouraged to dress to impress. It looks like fun. They sound like this:


Duncan Greive interviews Simon Grigg about How Bizarre for the Spinoff.

That record Miley Cyrus has made with Flaming Lips? It's actually really good. You can stream the whole thing here and listen to the tracks on her Soundcloud account. Annoyingly, there's no download (or even public playlist) available, so you'll need to make your own playlist manually.

Jim Pinckney interviews Dean Wareham, who will be playing with a reformed Luna in Auckland Wellington this month.

A nice short documentary from Pitchfork, following Courtney Barnett on tour:

And an enlightening history of The Wine Cellar and Whammy by Gareth Shute on Audioculture.


A new Pain's People release, available at a price of your choice on Bandcamp:

Completists! The mighty Darkstation has a downloadable(!) recording of The Clean playing 'Point That Thing Somewhere Else' at the King's Arms in 2000:

Over at TheAudience, the impressive new track from Christchurch-based artist Plum. She's got it going on at the moment.

And for your Friday kitchen-dancing, a gorgeous Bobby Womack remix (click through to the page for a free download link):

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