Truth And Fiction

Many of my favourite films of recent years have been classified as documentaries (The Fog Of War, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, Inside Job, Beware Of Mr Baker, Nostalgia for the Light, Stories We Tell….) but the one that won the Bafta in that category last year takes the genre into brave, new territory.

In The Act Of Killing, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer puts in front of the camera a handful of the gangster* paramilitaries who helped the Indonesian army torture and kill around a million ‘communists’ in 1965/66. He then encourages them to create fictionalised versions of their acts. Being still highly-regarded by the current regime, they are keen to do so and, being fans of Hollywood films, they use the language of the Western, film noir, the musical and the gangster film.

The result is a devastating, upsetting, mesmeric, often surreal, portrait of corrupted humans who are celebrated and still valued by a corrupt government. It is now available on DVD/Blu-ray and I urge you to see it.

*The label ‘gangster’ is worn as a badge of honour, as it is understood to mean ‘free man’. Hence the use of Born Free in the film.

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Give Us A Break!

It’s great that the level of activity here has increased recently but I think it’s highlighted the need for a little bit of posting discipline (Postman Pat in leathers?! – Ed).

Can we restrict the amount of a post that appears on this Spill Home page, to make it easier and faster to scroll up and down? The Guardian blogs, for example, keep everything but the title, one picture/video/playlist and a couple of paragraphs of text hidden after a ‘continue reading…’ link. Can we follow suit, please?

To make this happen, all that is required is that, when creating a new post, you use the ‘Insert More Tag’ button after a bit of blurb and an image/video/playlist. The button is circled below (although the top and bottom lines are thicker and blacker nowadays):


On a PC, Alt+Shift+T has the same effect.

When the post appears, a Continue Reading tag is inserted and everything after that point moves to a second page.

Obviously, many people already do this. I think it would be a good idea for all of us to do it. Continue reading

Losing A Fortune, Sadly

One half of the UK’s best and most enduring satirical comedy double acts has just departed this life. With his partner-in-crime, John Bird, John Fortune ripped into the lunacy of political and economic life for decades. Their interview set-up – in which they took turns as interviewee George Parr – found a home on Rory Bremner’s show (the closest we came over here to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) and exposed the absurdity, hypocrisy, self-delusion and downright lies spewed out by the men (always men!) of our self-serving Establishment.

Here’s an example from 2008, when capitalism did a poo on everybody. Please be amused and angry in equal measure.

Let’s all give thanks that all that stuff got sorted out and we can now look forward to the coming year, sure in the knowledge that we won’t have another property-based economic bubble……

Sunshine Daydream

I’ve been intending to post something about the GD May ’77 box set that arrived three months ago. It contains some great music (particularly on the more delicate songs) but this week’s arrival has rather put it (almost literally) in the shade.

The official release of the 1972 Springfield Creamery Benefit concert and the film made of it, Sunshine Daydream, is a marvellous thing. A long-available soundboard recording and bootleg copy of the film on YT have hinted as much but the properly-mixed 16-track sound and a beautifully-restored set of visuals confirm it in spades.

Jerry Garcia couldn’t understand why anyone would want to film the band on stage (“We just stand there. We don’t do anything.”) but, with the addition of Prankster animations and copious shots of roasting hippies, the film is a fantastic document of a communal celebration of life through music. For example:

(Warning: contains naked human wobbly bits)

The film shows the final Dark Star/El Paso/Sing Me Back Home sequence, in which a star dies, two cowboys are killed and a prisoner walks to his execution. Whereas much of the show is suitably sunny and joyful, this is not: it is difficult, harsh and desperately sad. Yet also wonderfully cathartic.

This is the end of Dark Star. It is some of the most involving and intricate acid jazz* collective improvisation you’ll ever hear. To watch it being constructed from thin air is a jaw-dropping delight.

*Acid jazz = jazz improvised whilst under the influence of LSD.

Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down

I’ve just read The Burning Question, by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark. It’s not an easy read – as it paints in graphic detail the trajectory of our planet if we continue to do very little about carbon emissions – yet it’s one that should inform every school curriculum, business plan and political manifesto immediately.

Triggered by a 2012 article in Rolling Stone, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, it examines the current state of global agreement on the issue, which is:

  1. Governments agreed at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 that we shouldn’t let the atmosphere warm up more than 2 degrees C, and simply can’t let it increase by more than 4 degrees C, or the planet’s eco-system will become unstable.
  2. If we deposit another 565 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll heat it up by 2 degrees C.
  3. Those companies and countries who exploit carbon fuels are basing their future economic prosperity on their intention to release at least 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, roughly five times the ‘safe’ amount.
  4. There are no globally-agreed plans to resolving this issue.

The book does suggest ways to avoid the monster truck we’ve created from mowing us down but they all need a rapid increase in awareness of the problem by everyone, everywhere, as soon as possible. This is part of my small contribution. I urge you to read this book and tell everyone you know to read it. Just because the climate-change deniers are in retreat doesn’t mean things will change. The UK energy sector is currently having orgasms about the discovery of 40-odd years of carbon-rich shale gas under the country as people still complain that wind turbines spoil the view….

Amy’s Dead Gorgeous……Playlist

grateful_dead_30th_anniversary_sticker_largeAmy asked me for a second playlist of gorgeous Deadsongs to add to the one I posted for Robert Hunter’s 70th Birthday, so here it is.

There happen to be 11 tracks so please feel free to play the Tuesday game with it. Or just pass on by without a glance.




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Grateful Dawg

Having re-watched the above-named documentary about the musical relationship between David Grisman and Jerry Garcia again(!) last night, I just felt the need to share this slice of sinuous beauty with you. Just imagine you’re sitting in a parlour in 1902…….

Garcia’s best playing with the Dead may have passed by 1991 but his renewed friendship with Grisman produced some marvellous sounds from both of them, born out of a shared love of the music and a shared sense of fun.

Voodoo Man

If you google the name Antonio Forcione, the phrase that pops up instantly is ‘the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar’. Having seen him last night in concert at Manchester’s Band On The Wall, I find that description wanting. He has Jimi’s technical skill and imagination but his style of playing is, to my ears and eyes, more akin to a mix of John Martyn, Paco de Lucia and Stanley Clarke. At any rate, it’s quite astonishingly inventive and beautiful. This is the tune he played for his final encore last night, and it gives a flavour of the wonderful music he makes.

It’s all instrumental and contains much improvisation, but there’s always an underlying tune or two and some joyfully-syncopated rhythms to latch on to as his spider-fingers weave their webs. As a guitarist now forced to re-evaluate his own pitiful attempts at playing, I find what he does quite breathtaking. As a listener, I hope you do too.

He seems to play anywhere, with anyone (last night he had a percussionist and acoustic bass guitar player with him), and is not above doing covers of pop songs. His current concert schedule is here.

Odd Ditties

One-two, one-two is the first rhythm we experience: our mother’s heartbeat. When everything else has leaked out from our atrophied brain, it seems we still understand that and respond to it. No wonder it’s the basis for most of the music we know and why we call the time signature* 4/4, ‘common time’.

But we also discover the lilting joy of one-two-three, or ‘waltz time’ (the time signature 3/4). We savour its hint of rebellion, yet remain secure in the certainty that two of these cycles make three comforting back-and-forth one-twos. Much African and Latin American music uses this pleasing tension between two- and three-beats in an accumulated 12-beat rhythm, which is both four sets of three beats and three sets of four. The chugging blues uses the same 12 beats but with much less subtlety: four main beats each sub-divided into three, of which we hear the first and third (i.e. duh, der-duh, der-duh, der-duh, etc). In truth, this rhythm is closer to that of an actual heartbeat, so that may be why we are so at ease with it.

We can all dance to music built on a base of three or four beats. But how about five beats? Or seven? Tricky. That’s why such oddities are generally only found in jazz or prog rock, where dancing is not the prime objective.

I think Jethro Tull’s Living In The Past is the only song in 5/4 time to ever make the UK charts (it got to number 3 back in 1969).

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Ten’s Company, Eleven’s A Crowd: Spill Game Week 12

You know what to do by now. Open your lugholes, filter the noises through your accumulated history and taste and then condemn one (or more) to the drop.

Les Amants – René Magritte, 1928

While putting these tracks together I started to detect fragments of a story, one of those tales that jump back and forth in time (I’ve just read Hari Kunzru’s Gods Without Men, so that may be why). If you buy that idea, an alternative game is to replace your least favourite chapter/song with one more to your taste that still fits the ‘storyline’ or just add one that fills a gap. If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about, please don’t call the men in white coats.

Apologies for the variable sound quality: tracks 6, 7 and 11 were digitised from their LP’s. No apologies for the tone or the two minor porkies.

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Asset Management

The Stones fled the UK 40 years ago in order to pay less/no UK tax, so there’s a long-standing precedent for the avoidance activities currently being indulged in by the likes of Starbucks, Amazon et al. 

But what business activity are Jay-Z and Beyoncé setting an example for in their attempt to trademark their daughter’s name? Sounds a bit like something the megalomaniacal Apple might do, except that branding is really important to them and protecting business interests is what trademarking is all about.

No, sorry, I simply can’t get my head around these two immensely rich people attempting to get even richer by exploiting their child. Their products should be boycotted, shouldn’t they?

The Wheels In The Brain Go Round And Round

If you like films that have such an effect, go and see Holy Motors.

Monsieur Oscar bids goodbye to the children, they wish him a good day at work and he gets into a stretch limo to fulfill nine appointments around Paris. In the limo is a sophisticated make-up table, which he uses to play different characters when he steps out of the car.

So, it’s about films? Acting? Playing roles in life? Memory? Who we are? And, more concretely, what exactly are the Holy Rollers? And, for bish, can a barely-recognisable Kylie be singing a distinctly non-Kylie Neil Hannon song among the Paris rooftops without a nod to Moulin Rouge?

I’d love to get others’ opinions so, as I say, go and see it. This is the trailer, which seems to have a different opinion to me.

The Ritz, Putting On Africa Express

The special train carrying musicians around Britain pulled into Victoria Station yesterday and they put a show on at The Ritz for us Mancs. It was pretty darned good.

The idea was obviously cribbed from a certain Canadian tour of 1970 but that was definitely a good thing, as everyone on stage seemed to be having a ball and, at times, they were simply carrying on a jam that had kicked off earlier on the rail tracks.

I’d guess that around 40 musicians and singers played some part during the 4 hour gig, in pre-formed groups or simply joining in with mates. No set-up played more than two songs (and often only one) before different people took a turn. This meant that about 40% of the concert was re-jigging instruments and mikes but there was still a helluva lot of great music (and the genial behaviour of the large, bald, chief roadie made the changes quite amusing). Continue reading

The Days Between

Every year since 1996, Deadheads have commemorated the first nine days of August as the Days Between. The title of the last of the 61 songs he wrote with Robert Hunter, it signifies the 53-year gap between Jerry Garcia’s birth on the 1st of August 1942 and his death on the 9th of August 1995. This year, Jerry would have been 70 years old.

There were days, and there were days
And there were days I know
When all we ever wanted
Was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
We told them where to go
Walked halfway around the world
On promise of the glow
Stood upon a mountain top
Walked barefoot in the snow
Gave the best we had to give
How much we’ll never know
We’ll never know has some words, music and pictures, as you’d expect. Maybe you have a song you’d like to post – or request be added to this playlist*, starting with one of my favourites, Black Peter. Jerry loved a sad song, and this one doesn’t end happily, but there’s still joy in his playing and heart in his voice. From New Year’s Eve, 1972.

*for more information, see next page. Continue reading

The Music Stopped

A Magnetic Tape Reel Label: recording in the Steam Age

40 years ago, after almost two months in Yurp*, the Grateful Dead tribe of 50-odd (some very odd) musicians, roadies, managers, techies and associated ‘other halves’ packed up their equipment and belongings and headed back to the San Francisco Bay Area, taking with them an estimated 17 miles of music-coated magnetic tape. By all accounts, they had enjoyed themselves and accumulated good memories that would last for some considerable time. Continue reading

The Wigan Woodstock

From the Bolton Evening News, May 8th, 1972:

THE sponsors of the Bickershaw Pop Festival were today counting the cost of the big flop. They spent thousands of pounds promoting the three-day festival which ended in the early hours of today. One of the sponsors, market trader Mr Harry ‘The Count’ Bilkus [real name Harry Cohen] commented at his home just over the road from the festival site: ‘It’s a total disaster. I have lost everything. I don’t know what to do.’ Just 40,000 fans turned up to the festival, braving ankle deep mud during rain storms – only one third of the number which organisers had hoped for. In all, it could mean a £60,000 loss.

…which is well over half a million pounds in today’s prices. Musically, however, it was anything but a flop. And a ‘bloomin’ catastrophe’ on the tower was avoided…

Click Here for more details (in an unashamed attempt to remind you of my on-going trip).

Coming Of Age In Vienna

We’ve all seen a ‘coming of age’ film or ten. Some are good (e.g. The Last Picture Show) but most are fairly dire (I’m sure you can provide your own examples). They generally involve conflict, bad behaviour and parental lack-of-understanding that leads to catharsis, epiphany and ‘learning something’ (a process rigorously satirised every week by South Park). Just like real life isn’t.

I saw an Austrian film yesterday that fits perfectly into the category but has none of the clichés: Atmen (titled Breathing for English-speaking audiences). It’s about an 18-year-old boy in a Juvenile Detention Centre who is coming up to a parole hearing. He’s withdrawn and unco-operative and seems to have little expectation of success. His Probation Officer (I’m translating to the apparent UK equivalent role) is pushing him to get a job, as that will impress the review panel, and he lands a trainee position at the Vienna City Morgue, collecting and delivering corpses.

I urge you to see it, if you can. There are no car chases or gross-out comedy scenes, obviously, but neither is it a pretentious Arthouse movie. It is one of the most humane films I have ever seen. Despite our hero’s lack of expression, we can see him start to understand life (and death) and gradually gain some insight into why he is where he is.

This is the trailer, which gives away more of the plot than it should, perhaps. Trust me: just go and see the film.*

*No, I never trust anyone that says ‘Trust me’ either….

Trouble Ahead? Trouble Behind!

For reasons I won’t explain here, my series of posts following the dates of the Grateful Dead’s 1972 European tour has ended on this site.

For any of you wishing to continue my pseudo-historical journey, the remaining dates will be remembered HERE, starting today.

All are very welcome.

There will be something new there (ir)regularly until at least May 26th.

Genesis Of The Eurozone: Another Snake Metaphor

In a first attempt to introduce some stability to their currencies in relation to the US dollar, the six member states of the European Economic Community (West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) agreed, at a meeting in Basel 40 years ago today, to create a currency exchange rate system.  It became known as the ‘snake in the tunnel’: the ‘snake’ being the various intra-European exchange rates and the ‘tunnel’ being the limitations created by the dollar’s exchange rate with them. Continue reading

Die Alte Graupfeifenprüfung?

Beat-Club was a TV music program that ran from September 1965 to December 1972, broadcast from Bremen, in what was then West Germany. Many UK and US acts, and Kraftwerk, performed on it and a fair number of clips from the show – including performances from the likes of Alice Cooper, King Crimson, ELP, Deep Purple, The Doors, Canned Heat, BB King, Jethro Tull, Cream and The Who – can be found here.
[Achtung: Sie verlassen jetzt die Totenfreizone!] Continue reading