Monday, April 07, 2008

Shifting strands

Just purchased a copy of “Home Sweet Home”, a book about Banksy the graffiti artist from Bristol who manages to be celebrated and anonymous at the same time. The book is full of pictures of his early, and now lost, work on the walls (etc.) of Bristol. It has been produced by a friend, Steve Wright – and he is evidently a close friend as some of Banksy’s work only lasted a few days in situ before being erased by a dubious City Council. Banksy is definitely “in” at the moment with lots of celebs now paying silly money for his work. But I wonder whether this popularity will last, or will he prove essentially ephemeral, just like much of his street art.

The pictures in the book are backed up with a good commentary and one, as a Bristolian myself, I can easily enjoy with all the name dropping from the local scene - and the pinpointing of the sites of his work. As I said much of his work didn’t last long, but some has, and reading the book makes me feel I’ve been travelling around my home city with my eyes closed all these years. My excuse is that, being a good few years younger than me, Banksy’s prolific “Bristol period” came after my youth. Around the time Banksy was transforming (or vandalising, depending on your point of view) Bristol’s various vertical planes I had a young family and when I did step out in Bristol it was usually to the park with the kids, to the local DIY store as we decorated - in a highly non graffiti style - another room in our house, or to the local pub (in a locality not it seems ever frequented by Banksy).

The book also talks about Bristol and why it seems to have spawned a healthly “graffers” culture – initially inspired by the New York scene - and also a slightly off kilter and individual music scene – think trip-hop, Massive Attack, Portishead. It suggests Bristol as being particularly laid back, easy going (which of course could also be easily interpreted as slow or backward), multiculturally well established, and – well - a little bit different than your average British city. But it is also not afraid to put forward other viewpoints such as The Bristol Blogger’s who thinks pretty much all of the above is basically a load of tosh. Depending on my mood I can happily support both viewpoints!

By now you’re probably thinking “ah, any second now a link to a bit of Bristol based music will come”. No, I am from Bristol after all, so that would be too obvious a destination. But, yes, we have now reached the music bit.

The book, Banksy’s take on art, and the possibly rose tinted view of Bristol, brought to mind what is probably my favourite ever album title – sub-title, really, to be precise:

I love it, it has a wonderful symmetry about it – the exchange of two letters is a simple dislocation, rendering the whole phrase subtly different - and it also perfectly describes the content of the album -“Mutant Disco” - which presents some of New York based ZE Records early output. Mixing elements of punk, post punk, and latin with disco it presents something distinctive and just a little offbeat.

It’s April, but it’s 1981. Ian Penman has just finished the notes for the album. They come across as a fantastic stream of consciousness, thrown up onto the wall that is the back sleeve, rather like a “graffer’s” tour de force. Tracing a brick half way along and half way down he has this to say:

“August Darnell – Kid Creole The Action Man, the man in the white suit – is something akin to this generation’s Cole Porter: a songwriter’s songwriter. The sly saviour! Tight, he’s right! Probably one of the last poets we’ll get. His lyrical country is there for the touring. It is cavalier, cinemascope and carnal. It’s a subliminal carnival, a bit of a circus, a sip of a cocktail: highly amorous, light-headed and heavy lidded.”

Then, a few bricks down, this:

“Side One of this albums reveals – and conceals – The Coconuts muse/ruse splintered into all its shifting splendour. All three tracks are shots off the main block: Coati Mundi’s super rapper’s ego on the analyst couch. Gichi Dan’s gangster rap ….. and Don Armando Bonilla’s deputy in song, Ms Fonda Rae. Spot the similarities, rearrange the resonances, do what you will – but dance, just dance.”

Wonderful stuff, as is Coati Mundi (aka Andy Hernandez of Kid Creole & The Coconuts) and “Que Pasa/Me No Pop I”. This is the kind of ephemera that really does it for me.

Blimey! We’ve got there (somewhere? nowhere?) in the end!

Coati Mundi – Que Pasa/Me No Pop I 1981

The original album had six tracks which are now available, together with other Ze output across two CDs. You can find the Coati Mundi track on Volume Two.

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