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RIP Mark Fisher

Very saddened to hear of the death of the author and Goldsmiths, University of London academic, Mark Fisher, who took his own life on Friday. I was lucky enough to hear Mark talk a couple of times, once at the British Library and then 15 months ago at a great event in Dalston, organised by Andrew Harris. On each occasion he was an incredibly interesting speaker: refreshing, provocative and original. At both events he detailed the impact of evolving political and economic forces on contemporary life over the last 25 years, examining how changes brought about by these forces were played out/expressed/opposed/embedded in popular culture, both in the mainstream and on the margins.

One of his most acclaimed books was ‘Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures’ (Zero Books, 2014). Wide ranging, it includes lengthy reflections on a number of musicians: Japan (hence the first part of the book’s title), Burial, Goldie, Tricky, Joy Division, the Belbury Poly label, Philip Jeck, Junior Boys, John Foxx, James Blake, Kanye West and Drake. The way Mark engages in the book with how music relates to the wider culture is distinctive, with his friend, Simon Reynolds, being the only writer whose approach and interests are vaguely comparable. Equally fascinating are the insights in the book into works by filmmakers Chris Petit and Patrick Keiller and author W.G. Sebald, highlighting how they spoke to the place and time of England in the final decade of the last century, and the first decade of this one. Throughout, Mark convincingly maps out how a cultural malaise emerged in a country increasingly disillusioned with a future that never came and preoccupied with a past that never was.

‘Ghosts of my Life’, like all of Mark’s writing – especially his brilliant musings in the mid-2000s on Burial in his k-punk blog and in The Wire: Adventures In Modern Music – is dense and fascinating. As with all good art, it makes you think about familiar things in ways you hadn’t before and at other times states what perhaps you already suspected but were unable to express with anything like the same clarity. The fact that there will be no more such books is a great shame, but that pales next to the incalculable loss of a much loved husband and father.

RIP Mark Fisher, a great talent gone far too soon.


Loving the alien

I’ve seen London in shock (Diana), angry and defiant (7/7), and disbelieving and delirious (winning the Olympic bid), but, until yesterday, I’ve never seen it sad. In the summer I led a music walking tour of Soho, the most popular stop (more than the Beatles themed ones) was Heddon Street, site of the Ziggy sleeve; that thrill of sharing a space in which he’d been, loving the alien. Like all great pop stars he was otherworldly, but his star burned the brightest of them all. So yes, a Starman who belonged to everyone, and, like Lennon, ultimately a New Yorker, but also a London lad (who never hid that in his voice), a Brixton/Beckenham boy who did good and went far, as acknowledged yesterday by the moving and eerie quietness in his hometown. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky. x

Gig Going on London’s Periphery: Charting the Mainstream in the Margins

Below is a blog I posted this week for Live Music Exchange, a hub for live music research whose advisory board I joined in the summer. The blog, ‘Gig Going on London’s Periphery: Charting the Mainstream in the Margins’, touches on threats and opportunities relating to music performance and creative practice in London. In particular, it focuses on ongoing changes in the creative standing of west and south east London since the 1960s, taking as its starting point the contrasting fortunes of two Gaumont Palace cinemas (later Odeons) built in 1932, one in Hammersmith, the other in Lewisham.

The Mercury Prize to the lecture hall: how I became a music geographer

This blog, originally posted on the University of Hull’s GEES-ology site, traces the slightly unconventional path that I took to being a music geographer. It takes in my lengthy, and stil ongoing, involvement with the Mercury Prize. Given that this year’s Mercury show takes place on Wednesday night at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London, it seems a vaguely appropriate time to re-post it here.

Frank Sinatra, The Blue Nile and the Rebranding of Glasgow

Given the current Commonwealth festivities in Glasgow it appears that aspects of my PhD, rather surprisingly, might be vaguely relevant. A slight turn-up.

Below is a short extract from it which details, among other things, the indirect role played by Frank Sinatra and The Blue Nile in there being such a thing as ‘Glasgow 2014’.

Frank Sinatra, The Blue Nile and Rebranding Glasgow

Got the world, I’ve got the turnpike, got the radio on, I got the power of the AM

This piece came out in The Independent last summer but, given that it’s the start of July, it bears re-visiting. Lovely recollections of summer childhood soundtracks, as doubtless originally experienced whilst stuck to hot vinyl seats in the back of dun coloured cars.

Gigs in the air, at sea and on the tracks

Ease of air travel over the last half century or so has obviously had a pretty major impact on the kind of careers that musicians enjoy. In April 1949 the first commercial jet airliner, de Havilland’s Comet 1, made its maiden flight and three years later Boeing’s B-52, the first airline capable of a global reach, took to the sky. Over time developments such as these facilitated global tours and allowed ever more musicians to enjoy success and fame in multiple countries. But although flight has been crucial in binding together an international musical economy the skies have not been a place for musical performance. Until now, with Richard Branson’s announcing last week that musicians will be giving concerts on certain flights run by Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s new domestic airline.

Naturally, musicians performing on modes of transport is nothing new, with ships being the most obvious historic location for them. Indeed, the trans-Atlantic liners provided the first major career break for artists such as the British jazz saxophonists, John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott, and cruise companies still hire considerable numbers of musicians to perform on the ships, whilst cult artists such as Weezer and Bare Naked Ladies have recently begun undertaking residencies on ships.

The same idea has also been applied to trains. Last year, Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros undertook their Railroad Revival Tour in the US. Whilst in September 2011, scheduled train services on the London Overground became part of a music festival, ‘Sound Tracks’. The intention was to encourage people to hear music at 3 different venues besides stations along the new line, and on the trains themselves, all part of a strategy of informally branding the then new route joining East and South East London as the ‘Culture line’.

Given that the musicians on a train experiment has not been repeated one has to wonder at its success. A disadvantage of Overground trains in this instance is that there are no doors between carriages and hence no possibility of escape if you don’t like the music. A feeling of entrapment likely to be compounded still further when sat in an aeroplane cabin 30,000 feet above the ground and a bass solo begins…