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Putting the Fun into Funeral 
20th-Feb-2010 08:30 pm
Richard Tyrone Jones staged a one-off event at Whitechapel Art Gallery entitled "The Funeral of Richard Tyrone Jones" on Thursday night. The concept was much as you'd expect, consisting entirely of a staged funeral (with Richard's body in the coffin) surrounded with weeping women, tribute poetry, eulogies, video recorded messages and traditional hymns. There was some discussion in certain quarters before the event took place as to whether it could be seen as "poor taste", but those grumbles failed to filter into the gallery itself. I suspect anyone who might possibly have found it objectionable just stayed away.

It's a testament to how popular RTJ has become on the circuit that the place is absolutely packed out, and I find myself having to shuffle sideways around the bar like a crab just to get in the drinks queue. It's unpleasantly crowded, in fact, something his family may want to consider for his real funeral when it happens. The Jones's will need an impressive chapel to send him off.

As for the event itself... hmmm. It's well staged and seems to have taken a massive amount of organisation, down to having Niall Spooner Harvey of Thee Awkward Silences on church organ and a harem of weeping women who I can only hope were paid money for their roles (or at the very least had drinks bought for them). However, after the first thirty minutes or so the novelty begins to pall and I find myself just wanting to hear poetry without central themes, interludes and distractions. I also want to hear RTJ's poetry from his own mouth. It's telling that the highlight of the evening is Paul Birtill reading his poems to a tremendously positive audience reaction, but ultimately just doing what he always does the way he always does it. This is the issue with sequining gimmicks on to poetry nights - it does get the punters through the door, but the end results are seldom as satisfying to me as a straight show featuring just the poet with their force of personality and a mic. In the long run it's a good thing if it gets people more interested in live poetry, so long as they don't eventually expect every single show to be in some way thematic or a variant of Aisle 16. Also, I should add that everyone else thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'm known for being a purist where these things are concerned.

As we leave the venue, Paul Birtill grins to himself and says: "One wonders what his real funeral will be like. He should be careful - he's tempting fate".


Criticism of gimmicks aside, I did go to Bingo Master's Breakout on Friday night, "London's premier poetry, karaoke and bingo night". It does exactly what the flyers describe, featuring one live poet on the bill, a band doing a karaoke set (the irrepressible Extradition Order in this case), various volunteers from the audience doing one poem and a karaoke number each, followed by some cash prize bingo. All taking place in a social club near Euston railway station.

Conceptually it seems like the kind of brainfart somebody would have after drinking five ales in their local pub, but wouldn't act on the following morning. Vintage Poison press, however, did act on that bizarre idea three years ago, and the evening remains popular. It also has to be said, it makes for a blistering night out, being advertised as a party and very much ending up with the atmosphere of one. The poetry gradually becomes more and more of an aside as the night progresses, although on this occasion Bertram Trotar impresses the crowd with his absurd and enjoyable act, which over the years has morphed into a hyper-bizarre caricature of fey, camp rhyming poetry. On the page, it's impossible to write about the appeal of the poem "BikeCurious" about his new-found love for bicycles, because the joke is given away immediately by the spelling, but rest assured, the whole thing is uniquely bloody ridiculous.

I do an appalling job again on the karaoke, of course, choosing Slade's "Far Far Away". Noddy Holder makes all Slade songs sound so easy to handle vocally, but it's deceptive stuff - the man does actually have a belting voice. I systematically wreck the song, then flop off stage back to my seat shamefully.

Later when I get home I look up "Far Far Away" on YouTube, and discover that a Facebook campaign is presently raging to get the song to chart again in June this year, lead by a bunch of people under the slogan "Slade are for life, not just for Christmas". I bloody well hated the Rage Against The Machine campaign this Christmas, and if I'd actually been on LJ at the time you'd have heard me whining all about it. As it stands, I'm not really prepared to repeat my reasons why these Facebook campaigns are ultimately a bit of a waste of time, but suffice to say that for the few that are successful, I haven't seen any firm evidence of careers being resuscitated as a result of them. They prove little apart from the fact that bands (and genres) still have fans who are sometimes prepared to all stamp their feet together at once to cause a wave. I'm fairly sure RATM will be largely forgotten about all over again shortly, just as Billie's musical career wasn't suddenly revived when Chris Moyles encouraged his listeners to all rush out and buy "Honey to the Bee" on mp3. In Slade's case, I'm also really disappointed to see that their fans have tried to tie in the song with an "our troops abroad" message. Spare me, for fuck's sake. Slade always were populists, but even Oasis would balk at such a connection being made.

Nonetheless, there is a connection between Slade and the Gallagher brothers, primarily being one of copped Beatles stylings and riffs. During the nineties, some people (me included) began referring to Oasis as the "new Slade" rather than the "new Beatles". Some of us meant it disparagingly. I didn't. Slade had similar influences to Oasis, taking raw rock'n'roll and also making knowing little nods to Lennon and McCartney. John Lennon once heard Holder singing vocals in a studio and acknowledged "he sounds exactly like me". Slade may have been lad's rock, but they did it fantastically well, and the fact they've been airbrushed out of most radio playlists except for Christmas seems absurd. It should be rectified, I just don't know that a Facebook campaign linking them to "our boys" is the right way of going about it.

In the meantime, "Far Far Away" and "How Does It Feel?" (under the cut) are both very forward-thinking (and backwards-looking, if that's possible?) nineties-sounding records, the latter in particular predating Blur's oompah-ridden bittersweet observations by twenty years.

Then, while we're on the subject of seventies bands from Birmingham who were influenced by The Beatles, I've been listening to so many Electric Light Orchestra tracks lately that I've amazed even myself. They're another large, platinum disc collecting band who are now more known for one song (the rather OTT "Mr Blue Sky") than any of their other output, despite the fact that there are moments on many of their albums which are gobsmackingly good, and so reminiscent of The Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals for the whole thing to obviously be no coincidence (it's not - both acts have referenced them in interviews on numerous occasions). "Across The Border" off "Out of the Blue" is almost a straight-ahead South American themed Furry rocker, right down to the horns and the odd staccato vocals. True, there are many misfires in their career, but the peaks are far more impressive than most bands ever manage.


The common link between the two? Both bands were at one point or another either managed or assisted by Sharon Osbourne. So there you go. Blame her, if you like.
21st-Feb-2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
Did RTJ remain in the coffin throughout, without saying a word to anyone or having a drink? Just lying there with eyes closed? That would be quite the performance and would take more effort than getting up to read his poetry. Not resting in peace at all I imagine.
21st-Feb-2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
You're correct - the only time he moved at all was when he sprang out of the coffin at the end, predictably enough. This despite the fact that some members of the audience were prodding him with objects when they got up to get drinks at the bar. He didn't so much as cough.

It was suggested to me by one person that most performers would have been overwhelmingly tempted to interrupt the proceedings at some point, and that RTJ giving his material to other people was actually quite an egoless thing to do in a very strange way.
21st-Feb-2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Some sound and inventive observations about Slade, Daves.

A peculiarity seems to be that yes, they're laddish but they're capable of genuine moments of feeling, well expressed (that's genuine moments of feeling, Oasis people). Mr Norman and I had our wedding dance to 'cuz I love you'. This was only 10% irony, 90% romance, by the way. We were listening to a lot of Slade as a couple when we met (might have something to do with all the time we spent together in Birmingham back then but there's more to it than that).

Holder loves that Lennon ref doesn't he? I've heard him mention it a few times now.

Only some of the appeal of Slade is down to nostalgia (stomping around to them in house parties as a kid). I'm a fan of their use of minor chords. Funnily enough some of the most eventful (in a fun, partying way) times of my adult life has had Oasis as a vague backdrop. But I don't like them. There's no *warmth* there; I think that's it.
21st-Feb-2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
I'd agree there's a calculated knowingness to Oasis' work, and lyrically as well Noel plays his cards very close to his chest, opting for quasi-mystical waffle almost out of fear that he might reveal some genuine emotion. "Don't Look Back In Anger" is a very striking song musically, but the lyrics subtract from it rather than add to it. It's just him firing a few rhyming phrases out of a word-gun, a complete missed opportunity. Had "Don't Look Back In Anger" actually been about something I'd probably still be playing it to this day. "Her soul slides away" indeed.

I do like some Oasis tracks, mind you, but only in the same way I like retro garage or psychedelic bands - I certainly don't think they're one of the greatest bands ever.

I still can't convince you about ELO, then? Never mind, I can't convince anyone else either. I'm on my own with this one.
22nd-Feb-2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I can't say I've given ELO a moment's thought. Just for you, I'll give them a spin on Spotify. If you don't hear any more about it, I didn't like them very much...

I don't see the point in cleverness for clevernesses sake. Not at the expense of warmth/meaning. Even Dylan can be a bit guilty of tarradiddle, like he wants to set himself apart from standard folk by doing this, but occasionally he gets it wrong (not often mind). Gallagher knows deep down he's a low-rent Lennon, but he wants to do something that he thinks is a bit clever and that'll set him apart. It's transparent and I don't have time for it.

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