September music

Unexpectedly I’m going to attempt to write about music. Although I would like to recommend a couple of books – David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Will Self’s Shark – plus the remarkable hospitality of everyone I met in Indonesia in August while working in Malang, Surabaya and Jakarta. But apart from exam candidates, I heard only a smattering of live music while over there (and alas no live gamelan), so I’m hoping to top up with Cooly G in Bradford tonight, and Dave Kane’s Rabbit Project in Leeds tomorrow. And Loose Tubes again next week.

Meanwhile I’m listening, listening. Anything put out by Pi Recordings ( is worth investigating – so far this year, Henry Threadgill’s Zooid (In For A Penny, In For A Pound), Steve Coleman’s Synovial Joints, and now a new cd by Liberty Ellman (first for nine years) – Radiate. Exciting, angular stuff with edgy textures and rhythms – three horns, guitar, bass and drums. Serious New York musicians.

And a solo cd by Mary Halvorson (Meltframe) – I saw her at the Vortex with the Thirteenth Assembly a couple of years ago – she was the standout performer, so focussed and intense, no unnecessary notes or gestures. She operates in the world of jazz/impro (loosely defined) but brings in a lot of indie-rock riffing and distortion, more Derek Bailey than Charlie Christian, sounds rather than virtuosity. Compelling!

And earlier in the year, a third cd in the Coin Coin series by Chicago saxist Matana Roberts, an intense long-term project reinterpreting the black USA experience – a unique work – she’s playing in London and Brighton in early Oct and I’m gutted to be unable to go. Recommended!

Writing about music is much harder than writing about books – Liam Noble ( does it much better (eg posts about Ornette Coleman and John Taylor this year) – basically I just want to say “this is great, listen to it” – subtle criticism comes less easily.

Meanwhile, last week I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – initially intrigued but then obsessively gripped so that I had to read the last 300 pages in one evening. Now recommended by I’m reading China Mieville’s The City And The City – similar feelings!

On the national anthem – I haven’t sung it for years and years – and I never say Amen in church either. Hope Mr Corbyn sticks to his guns – slightly militaristic sentiments for him, I know. I’m hoping he will go for the red poppy/white poppy combo on 11th Nov.


Reading – Self and Iris

Away in Singapore for six weeks, with much time to read. So far I have devoured a couple of older Will Self books (My Idea Of Fun and Dr Mukti), addictive, disturbing, entertaining – I hadn’t realised that he’s been using some characters for twenty years, interlocking somehow, without it being necessary to know the backstory from each one. Looking forward to Liver next, but you can have too much of a good thing. So I’ve just read Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea – 500 pages of high class theatrical soap – I’m sure Iris M is meant to be very deep and spiritual, but the narrator was an obnoxious obsessive theatre-luvvie, who never really developed any self-awareness – most peculiar indeed. And yet gripping, once stuff started to happen, if only to see if he would ever realise how deluded he was. I can see it as a period adaptation on a Sunday night – Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry would have to be in it, it would be laughable.

Found a really nice independent bookshop (Books Actually) in Tiong Bahru, what seems to be quite an arty little area, low-rise art deco flats from the 1920s/30s – bought some local poems and a book of noir crime stories set in Singapore – I’m trying to find the sleazy underbelly here, or the radical ferment bubbling up, but it’s not become apparent yet.

And then a few books on psychoanalysis, for light relief – a little gentle Freud; Adam Phillips on Missing Out, how we shape our lives around our ideas of what we haven’t done yet, or what we might have done, or what we imagine everyone else to be doing. And other stuff.

Enjoying listening to Henry Threadgill, new and old, as ever – and Matana Roberts – and right now, Scritti Politti. At some point, all these random inputs will coalesce.