A Quiet Man and his Tiny Colour Movies

Thursday 29th of October
Leeds College of Music
John Foxx

Reviewing John Foxx, I have to declare a bias. There are very few musicians I would travel from London to Leeds to see whether I was writing a review or not. With Mr Foxx, I would comfortably travel twice that distance just for my own enjoyment.

Thursday night was not a concert but rather a film show with music. A few years ago, John began to develop a movie called "Tiny Colour Movies" from a selection of old Super8 films that he had gathered together from markets and attics. He added an evocative soundtrack and it became an hours fascinating experience. He has been playing it occasionally around the UK whilst tweaking it slightly before each showing to make it closer to the artistic vision that he had in mind.

Film of skyscrapers in New York, old Hollywood actors using keys to open doors, a naked 19 year old swimming around a car dumped at the bottom of a lake, members of families waving to their relatives…… it’s all here. It is not the stuff of today’s Hollywood Blockbusters and it is all the better for it. I suspect that the back story that Foxx has created of the various film makers and collectors is a lot of hokum but it creates a modern fiction from old inconsequential factual footage which is quite, quite charming.

After a twenty minute break, we return to the audiotorium to hear a section of the recent spoken word album "The Quiet Man". Foxx plays piano whilst the voice of an actor pre-recorded for radio is heard reading Foxx’s short story. We’re told a story of London gone wild for unknown reasons where the buildings are empty but intact except for the trees and flowers growing up the walls and through the carpets. The music is thoughtful and sparse, the accompanying film is provocative and interesting and the RP reading of the story keeps your attention.

Finally, VJ Karborn is invited to the stage to mix and sample images whilst John Foxx improvises a piano piece full of echo and resonance. The music is interesting but needs to be developed. It is difficult to see the theme in the images and no real narrative is established and this is the least satisfying of tonight’s performance.

The affable Mr Foxx then fields questions for twenty minutes talking about his inspirations, his plans for the future, slightly nerdy questions about synthesisers used 30 years ago and the sci-fi film Robot Monster.

A relaxed and thoughtful and quite beautiful evening’s activities. I’d travel to Leeds again for more of the same.

Soon, the horse will take us to Durango

Today, I woke up in a hotel in Leeds. Back in the day, I used to come to comic fairs here. Buying up back issues of Batman and the Flash. Then it was called the Griffin Hotel. Now it is called the Discovery. Last night, I lay in my bed reading a back number of the Justice League of America fron the 1960s. Nothing much has changed. I’m in town for the John Foxx performance of the Quiet Man which happened last night at the Leeds Town Hall. Ate at Wagamamas and then went on to the show.
So what is the Quiet Man? In 1978, when he was lead singer in a band called Ultravox!, John wrote a song called "The Quiet Men" around the concept of shadowy individuals in grey suits who drift through cities unseen and unnoticed – the ordinary man on the street , if you like. He then began work on a book of short pieces of prose about the Quiet Man which he has been working on to this day and which remains unpublished. Last night was the debut performance of a film designed and developed around the concept of some of these short "stories" which John accompanied on acoustic piano (albeit accompanied by synthesised strings) whilst a pre-recording of a reading of one of the prose pieces was played. It was a privilege to be there.
In total, three pieces were performed and portrayed. The first was simply acoustic piano, film and pre-recorded reading and I found it the best of the three. The Quiet Man is seemly alone in a broken down culture, exploring and re-ordering its pieces as nature takes back the land. Fascinating.
The second had Foxx on Synth, whilst John ‘Karborn’ Leigh remixed and overlaid video clips live from the stage as the reading progressed.
The third was read ‘live’ by Foxx from the stage as the video played in a linear fashion.
The performance lasted under an hour but seemed much longer. Rich, fruitful, thoughtful.
Questions and answers followed and I took a full part.
I’ll try to post some pictures later.

Ch-Ch-Changes

It’s been a grim few weeks. But there have been some glittering things in the dross.

 

First highlight was the Bob Dylan “Drawn Blank” exhibition at Halcyon Art Gallery near Green Park in London. A few years ago, Dylan was a writer and his “Chronicles” book was well-worth the investment. A few months ago, he was given a Pulitzer but I’m not exactly sure what for. This isn’t to imply he doesn’t deserve one. I’m just not sure why then. Now he’s an artist. And somehow he still manages to always be on tour and make the occasional album.

 

“Drawn Blank” however is a little unusual even by Dylan’s standards. First published in book form in 1994, these drawings were hardly noticed. Then his critical rating was low and nobody cared what he was drawing. Now painted, the “Drawn Blank” exhibition comes at a time when his star is in the ascendancy. Consequently, it is all over the broadsheets (The London Times, no less) and is worthy of an art gallery exhibition on the continent and two here in the London and no doubt some others I’m missing. Then, no-one cared, now the £1250 signed prints are all sold out and the first book is selling for £400 a copy. Strange. Of course, with Dylan, we’ve encountered this before. When he went electric, he was a Judas, until we decided he was a genius. His “Jesus” shows were dire for many, but are now spoken of as amazing feats where an artist like Dylan chose to perform only new songs in a show of passion, energy and commitment. Then few could see past the evangelism and booed his accompanying girl vocalists. I’m waiting for the “Empire Burlesque” reassessment.

 

I purchased the 1994 book of “Drawn Blank”. I purchased the 2008 book of the same drawings painted. I thought they were okay. Some good, a few very good. However, seeing them extremely well presented at the Halcyon, moved them up a notch in my estimation. Well worth seeing.

 

Second highlight. John Foxx’s “Tiny Colour Movies” at the Apple Store, Regent Street, London. Musical artist again but this time not paintings but films. Now I’m not much for the world of contemporary commercial films and I hate most cinemas. I do mean hate. So that I have now gone to see “Tiny Colour Movies” three or four times must mean that this set of films has something more going on than simply being the work of one of my favourite musicians and the fact that I have to keep going beacuse despite my persistent requests Mr Foxx will not put it on DVD.

Tiny Colour Movies is a collection of 14 concept pieces assembled from the home movies of a bygone generation. It is moving, thought-provoking, vivid and imaginative. It has a tremendous ambient soundtrack which the artist accompanies his films with, standing alongside, like the pianist adding sound to a silent movie. It is quite, quite wonderful and if it comes to a town near you, I might just follow it there.

 

Finally, on this smorgasbord of updates, a little baseball. Surprise, surprise. As the trade deadline approaches the Bronx is seeing new faces. First in was Richie Sexson. Now in 2007, Sexson, then at Seattle, hit .205 BA with 21 home runs. Fortunately, he turned this all around by storming to .218 with 11 homers by the first week of July. Not surprisingly, the Mariners released Richmond Lockwood Sexson. I’m not quite so sure why the Yankees decided to sign him later in the month. Perhaps it had something to do with that florid name. At least they didn’t invest in Bonds. I’m not holding my breath for this acquisition to be a great success. Indeed, I’m praying that by the time of my return to the Bronx in September, he will have headed toward waivers. We’ll see.

More significant (hopefully) was the trade made yesterday which has brought Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte over from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Marte, who actually spent a little while in the Yankees system a few years ago but never made it to 161 St. and River Avenue, is that crucial item a left-handed relief pitcher. Occasional promotions for Billy Traber and Kei Igawa have not added such a thing to the roster for very long. Marte with his 3.47 ERA, 4 Wins (no losses), and 5 saves seems a much better prospect.

Nady is a good addition at least because Matsui and Damon are not likely to see much time in the outfield for the remainder of the season. However, there may be more. His contract has another year beyond 2008 and he is 5 years younger than Damon. He is batting .330 with 13 home runs. There might be quite a lot in this for the Bombers.

A slight downside to this came in the final detail of the trade. The original detail suggested that the Yankees were giving up Ross Ohlendorf and three minors who were barely on my radar. Now Ohlendorf  looked good earlier in the year but then his mechanics fell apart and he might not be a huge loss but I was a little more disappointed with today’s update. The news is that the Pirates final list for the trade sees Jeff Karstens heading over to Pittsburgh. Now I’m not sure quite where Karstens’ career was headed (he’s been rather injury prone) but I’ve followed his career since seeing his early appearances for the Staten Island Yankees some years ago. I’m disappointed that he will never be established in the Bronx. It was an interesting journey.

The final footnote to this was that the very disappointing LaTroy Hawkins was designated for assignment and that Kei Igawa was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Scranton (AAA). The Yankees are paying him in excess of $5 million – and they finally seem to have given up on him. Now that’s an amazing story.