Every morning Hildegard wakes up with the sentence: ‘I have an idea!’ Exhausting. In the morning I only want to the listen to the emptiness of my head and stare into the mysterious world behind my bedroom window. This time her idea was: ‘We really need a proper Can biography. THE Can biography.’
The British novelist, good friend and since Can-times collaborator Duncan Fallowell (who also wrote all the lyrics for my solo albums and the wonderful libretto for my opera Gormenghast) had the next great idea: why not make it two books in one? A biography and – what he called – a symposium. He made the first contact with Faber & Faber and they were excited by the project. No, they ARE excited! Lee Brackstone suggested Rob Young as the writer for the biography. We have known Rob for a long time and regard him highly. He knows Can, the music and all the band members very well, so we were straight away extremely happy about this choice and are delighted to have him on board.
The idea of the symposium fascinated me so much that I decided to make it myself (meaning to curate it, edit it . . .). To use Can as a starting-point for a wild selection of stories, statements and interviews seemed like a really exciting project. A collage of talks not only with musicians (like Bobby Gillespie, Julian Cope, Geoff Barrow) and
people from the music-business side of things (Daniel Miller, Jazz Summers, Hartwig Masuch) but also people in other arts, like writers, philosophers, film-makers, painters and other nerds and neuroscientists . . .
And pictures. In 2011 there was a great exhibition in Berlin called HALLELUHWAH! Hommage à CAN, with paintings, photos, installations, sculptures, etc., by over forty artists (including Malcolm Mooney) all based around the theme of Can. Some of these will also be included in the symposium.
I am also very happy that Max Dax, editor-in-chief of Electronic Beats, will join me in working on this project.
Looking forward to being surprised!
Bandol, France – 16 March 2014
Next weekend at House of St Barnabus in Soho we will celebrate Andrew Weatherall’s year as our inaugural Artist in Residence with an afternoon and evening of literary conversation and music curated by the man himself. Over the course of his tenure as AIR Andrew has embraced the role with huge generosity and the kind of intelligence and imaginative vitality you would expect of a man with his myriad talents. Mix-tapes, lino-cuts, original soundtracks (to Unreal City, which will be performed in the Barnabus chapel on Saturday) and book reviews have all enriched our archive. Our relationship will no doubt continue and mature as Andrew’s year’s residency comes to a close. He has made a mockery of his characteristically bluff retort to my original invitation to him: ‘Does that mean I get a load of kudos and don’t need to do much?’
So as an early chapter in the annals of Faber Social closes, we’re thrilled to announce that our incumbent AIR is Green Gartside of Scritti Politti. Over the course of three decades, since the Camden squat days of the late seventies, Green has consistently reinvented pop through the prisms of first postpunk, then soul and most recently hip hop. Scritti’s first single, Skank Bloc Bologna remains an angular masterpiece; they are most eloquently celebrated by Simon Reynolds in his classic study of postpunk, Rip it Up and Start Again as ‘the icons of DIY, supreme exponents-cum-theorists of a wilfully fractured style of music-making: ‘messthetics’, as Green christened it in the manifesto-song of the same title.’
Scritti’s most recent album, 2006’s Black Bread, White Beer, is arguably their finest achievement: a textured pure pop marvel which reminded the pop cognoscenti of Green’s visionary talents as a songwriter in the tradition of Robert Wyatt. As we wait (patiently) for the new Scritti Politti album, I’m delighted to introduce Green as our new Artist in Residence for 2014/15. Like the duties of his predecessor, Lord Sabre, his brief will be his to write, but I’m sure ‘the brainiest man in pop’ will lead us into yet further and darker corners of enlightenment. Here’s a beauty from Black Bread, White Beer to enjoy.
The official handover of the Faber Social Artist in Residence role will take place when Green interviews Andrew at House of St Barnabus this coming Saturday.
Michael Smith was not an attendee of R. D. Laing’s ‘Anti-University of London’, situated in Hoxton’s Rivington Street in 1968. He did not buy Post-New Romantic kecks from Willie Brown’s Post-New Romantic kecks shop situated in Hoxton’s Charlotte Road in 1982. As far as Soho’s concerned, he was never called ‘Cunty’ by Muriel Belcher * on entering the Colony Rooms and never settled Julian MacLaren-Ross’s bar tab at the Highlander. He never shared a snifter at the Gargoyle with Nina Hamnett. He is, however, part of a recent history of the demi-monde that frequented (and in some cases still frequents) Hoxton and Soho. He has witnessed the gentrification and franchise sanitation of two personal bohemias.
There are two ways to deal with the loss of a personal bohemia. The first, easiest and most soporific is nostalgia: a vision of a probably non-existent Arcadia with all hardship and regret expunged. In some this is fuelled by an envy of the young. Nostalgia is one of humanity’s default settings, and has been for countless generations. I would imagine the original denizens of sixteenth-century Soho (though it was admittedly not known by that name until some years later) complained that the sport (in their case hunting) was not what it had been, just as the denizens of sixties Soho bemoaned the fact that the sport (in their case characters and carousing) was not what it had been. And so on, and so forth. Paradoxically, although nostalgia can be mentally debilitating for its practitioners, it is also part of what attracts the next generation of demi-monde to a particular locale. A demi-monde that brings an area to life and, more often than not, eventually brings property developers to the area.
The second way is the path of wistful resignation with a homeopathic droplet of cynicism. This is Michael’s Smith’s way. This is the way of Unreal City. Metaphorical battlefields are revisited and old skirmishes are put into context when Michael is drawn back to London after a seaside sabbatical; drawn back by the irresistible hypnotic hum of the metropolis. All great cities resonate, and it is to this exquisitely dangerous frequency that the true flâneur will always be tuned. Michael Smith’s London is still rich infable, cloaked not in a hankering for an unattainable past, but rather wrapped in self-awareness. An awareness that he is a small part of the perceived problem, and that nostalgia is not only an attempt to drown out inner guilty voices – it can also drown out the sound of the hum: what Michael describes as ‘the deep hum at the heart of it all’.
An awareness that, as Joe Kerr puts it in the Introduction to London: From Punk to Blair, ‘The London of today is the authentic city of other people’s perceptions and ambitions.’ An awareness that leaves Michael Smith proud to have served, but anxious to embrace new sensations, to be part of as yet unwritten histories. A realisation that fuels the truly exciting musician, artist, writer in his or her search for new pastures to churn into battlefields. A realization that drives Michael Smith.
* On reflection, I think Mr Smith has been on the receiving end of this colourful sobriquet.
— This extract is taken from the foreword of Unreal City by Michael Smith, available to buy in paperback here.
Faber Social in association with The White Review present a night of short stories featuring exceptional talent from both sides of the Atlantic.
We’re lucky to have the winner of the 2013 BBC National Short Story Award, Sarah Hall, fresh off the back of her new publication Mrs Fox (published by Faber in April). In support of his new collection Leaving the Sea (Granta), Ben Marcus joins us from New York, and slightly closer to home, but no less exotic, Jon McGregor arrives from Nottingham in support of his 2013 collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You (Bloomsbury). Injecting a healthy dose of glamour direct from Peckham we have Evie Wyld, who published her second novel All The Birds (Jonathan Cape) in 2013. Robert Williams, former winner of the Betty Trask Award, publishes his new novel Into The Trees (Faber) in April. He will be writing something new and exclusive for this very evening. Completing this stellar line-up we have Stuart Evers, whose debut book Ten Stories About Smoking won the London Book Award.
Where: The Social, 5 Little Portland St, London W1W 7JD
When: Monday April 14 2014. Doors open at 7pm, event starts at 8pm
Tickets cost £6 in advance / £8 on the door and are available to buy here.
The day will be based around an ‘interview relay’ which will see some of our foremost writers and musicians matched in a conversational duel.
Journalist Emma Warren will be interviewing Bob Stanley: musician, journalist, film producer and author. Bob will then be sitting down with Green Gartside, frontman of seminal British pop band Scritti Politti. Green in turn will be matching wits with the curator of the event and current artist-in-residence of Faber Social Andrew Weatherall. Finally Andrew will be in conversation with a true musical heavyweight, Irmin Schmidt of CAN.
Weatherall will be DJing throughout the day, culminating in a two hour set to see us out in style.
Other musical performances throughout the day from Green Gartside in collaboration with Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip). Mike Garry & Joe Duddell join us following their show at Carnegie Hall with New Order and Iggy Pop. Cian Nugent will be performing fresh from a triumphant week at SXSW, and finally Michael Smith and Weatherall bring their collaboration Unreal City.
Needless to say this is going to be a day to remember. Don’t miss out.
Tickets and more information available here.
Faber and Faber are thrilled to announce the acquisition of Van Morrison’s Selected Lyrics, titled Lit Up Inside, for publication in autumn 2014.
Morrison’s publication will sit alongside Mother Brother Lover, Jarvis Cocker’s Selected Lyrics, and So This Is Permanence: The Lyrics and Notebooks of Ian Curtis as part of the Faber Social imprint.
Lit Up Inside will be published as a hardback and in a special edition in October.
Van Morrison says: ‘The lyrics in this book span 50 years of writing and as such are representative of my creative journey.’
Lee Brackstone, Creative Director of Faber Social, says: ‘Van Morrison is a colossally important, inspiring and influential figure in the music world and his place as one of a handful of truly iconic twentieth century artists is secure. Publication of Lit Up Inside reminds us of his place in a broader seam of Irish creativity; the collective consciousness of his literary forbears, the likes of WB Yeats, William Blake, Patrick Kavanagh, Joseph Campbell, the poetry of the Blues and Robbie Burns. The words on the page are a joy in themselves and it is a great honour that his lyrics will be immortalised in a Faber volume.’
Lit Up Inside has been edited by Morrison with the help of Eammon Hughes who is also contributing an introduction. Ian Rankin will be writing a Foreword.
For any further information please contact Dan Papps, Manager of Faber Social, on 020 7927 3849 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prince isn’t the first musician to turn to hard rock as a form of renewal—Bob Dylan did it when we went on tour with the Heartbreakers, Neil Young when he recorded with Pearl Jam, David Bowie with his poor benighted Tin Machine—but he’s done so with the most style.
Like most of Prince’s transformations, it’s happened gradually. In 2012, Prince asked NPG bassist Ida Nielsen to help put together a new band. She recruited guitarist Donna Grantis—whose tastes align closely with Prince’s current interests, even down to her love of covering the Billy Cobham song ‘Stratus’, a long-term live favourite of Prince’s—and drummer Hannah Ford.
After over two decades of being backed by the New Power Generation—a band whose line-up has changed so frequently Prince says the name now refers to the audience—this was significant news. But if the US side of his operations is any indication, it seems 3rdEyeGirl are an outlet for one side of his music and the NPG are still in existence, ready to be reassembled for stadium shows, maybe even the ones rumoured for England this summer.
The 3rdEyeGirl campaign started with a few new songs and videos—‘Screwdriver’, a reinvention of old hit ‘Bambi’—and was followed by a tour across America and a few European dates. But for over a year there’s been no sign of the long-promised new album Plectrum Electrum, which looks set to finally come out next month. Instead, there’s been a series of rehearsals, breakfast parties and jams on Livestream, including some truly bizarrely-named new songs (‘The Third Heart of the Octopus Menstrual Cycle Originally Dropped from the Moon’, anyone?)
Maybe this is an Anglocentric perspective, but to me it appears that it’s only with this recent UK tour that the campaign has truly caught fire, and a large part of this has been down to the unique way the recent Hit and Run shows have been marketed.
Prince’s manager Kiran Sharma is the latest in a long line of managers who have found new ways of promoting an artist who has never wanted to follow conventional ways of selling out shows or pushing albums. This campaign—praised by old PR wizards like Mark Borkowski—will be analysed for years to come. But as with previous wheezes such as distributing albums with newspapers, it’s hard to know who else could pull it off.
Before coming to England, Prince had just made one of his most widely viewed public appearances in years—performing in character as himself on the hit sitcom New Girl. Many of the old guard have recently turned to TV as a marketing tool—Bruce Springsteen premiered songs from his new album High Hopes on The Good Wife—but Prince went further, reshaping the show so it complemented the sweet and goofy sense of humour only previously on display in his movies.
Then, just a few days later, he went from being in millions of homes across America to acting like he was in a brand new garage band. With its self-referential lyrics about what it’s like being on tour, new song ‘PretzelBodyLogic’ worked as a statement of intent for a new Hit and Run stint in London. Instead of using a press conference to make big announcements, he appeared to a tiny audience in singer Lianne La Havas’s living room, kicking off a game of ‘Where’s Prince’ that drove fans (and journalists) into a frenzy.
Instead of being frustrated by the lack of information, a sizeable portion of Twitter formed themselves into a #Princearmy on permanent alert for secret shows. And they were quickly rewarded, when—after an open soundcheck at the Electric Ballroom—Prince told fans he’d be back there the next day.
Prince always demands something of his audience. This time it was sheer physical stamina. With no tickets available beforehand, fans had no choice but to queue for hours in bad weather. At the first show at the Electric Ballroom, it was immediately apparent that the many hours of rehearsal had paid off—3rdEyeGirl are a much tighter band now than they sounded on the US tour.
Yet during the first set Prince seemed distracted and genuinely perturbed—as well he might be, he’s a decent man—at the people outside waiting in the rain who had yet to see the show. It reminded me of the trust exercises he used to do at One Nite Alone…shows when he would encourage people in the front rows to swap their seats with someone at the back as an act of charity.
The five star reviews the next day were from critics who saw both shows, but the ferocity of response was a little startling—though Simon Price’s piece for the Quietus was very moving—as it seemed clear Prince was just warming up. If reviewers were expending so many superlatives on this performance, what would they say once the band had time to bed in? This question was answered by the man from the Mirror who in his review of the last show at the Manchester Academy claimed that if Prince asked he’d have happily painted his face purple and performed a naked conga through Manchester (I’m not judging).
The length and cost of these Hit and Run shows varied wildly. Some paid a pound a minute to watch Prince; others got two and a half hours for a tenner. London fans queued for up to twelve hours; Manchester fans could buy advance tickets in minutes. Occasionally it seemed as if the audience had gone from being pliant fans to dictating what they wanted from Prince, campaigning to bring the ticket price down from seventy pounds to ten at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, scuppering the announced plans to play two shows in one night at the Manchester Academy, or three at Koko.
Prince’s attempts to play three shows a night are frequently cursed—when he tried to do this in L.A. the venues were beset with sound problems—and it was the same here. The downside was that we didn’t get to see what a 3rdEyeGirl aftershow might be like (although the setlist for the first Ronnie Scott’s show gives an indication) but for me the highlight of the Koko show (and friends who were at the first Manchester show say it was the same there) were the encores; the point at which Prince stopped saving his energy for another performance and decided to leave everything onstage right there and then.
There were more than enough highlights during the brief run to mark this out as a truly significant tour—the 3rdEyeGirl songs he’s released so far sound so much better live (especially ‘Fixurlifeup’) than they did as downloads; as with all his best reinventions there are a few new arrangements that make you wonder how you missed the qualities of a deep cut first time round (‘The Max’) and some songs that seemed to have lost their live spark for a while (‘I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man’, ‘She’s Always In My Hair’) have their magic back. I’ve never been that much of a Clash fan but ‘Train in Vain’ was so much more interesting a choice of cover for him than ‘London’s Calling’—the song most American singers choose when they want to make friends with English audiences—and 3rdEyeGirl finally allows him to do justice to some of his finest hard rock songs and covers (‘Crimson and Clover’, ‘Chaos and Disorder’), a side of his work that seems to grow ever more important.
This run has bonded fans in a way they haven’t been for years, maybe not since the days of the New Power Generation Music Club. It’s also allowed thousands of people to declare their love of Prince via their twitter feeds or to each other in the queue. What will be fascinating is whether this will continue with the release of the new album and beyond: is it just Prince in concert that people love, or is this the beginning of a full-scale critical reappraisal? Either way, this has been the most significant period (on this side of the Atlantic, at least) for Prince fans in years.
Buy Prince by Matt Thorne here.
Faber Social are thrilled to once again be co-curating the Estuary Stage with Caught by the River at this year’s Festival No. 6, which takes place in the magical surrounds of Portmerion. The festival takes place 5-7 September 2014 with music, literary chat and readings from authors including Julian Cope, Viv Albertine, , JP Bean, Joe Boyd, William Atkins and Philip Hoare. Festival No. 6 previously won ‘Best Small Festival’ at the NME awards and headline acts will include Faber Social author Beck, artist in residence Andrew Weatherall, London Grammar and Steve Mason. Full line-up and ticket information can be found here.