Train In Vain
Reviews from the 9:50 from Cambridge to Swansea

The Padddingtons : What's the Point In Anything New?

I went to a storming gig in a tiny pub back room last week. The band were energetic, enthusiastic, raw, talented, in your face and very friendly. There was a bit of moshing and much enjoyment. This band were The Paddingtons.

Who, it maybe remembered, last time they visited Cambridge played the rather larger, more salubrious venue of The Junction. That was when they were flavour of the month, NME darlings of the week and on a big label. Since then they've been dropped and deserted. But only by the fickle.

The Paddingtons, Portland Arms, Cambridge, pic by Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, more here

This come back single is the perfect riposte to those major label scenesters and hireling hipsters. Not only in its lyrical content but also in its near perfection as a great melodic slab of stop/start sing-a-long guitar pop. And it's catchy as fuck. Did you know there's a new album on the way? I can't wait, this is the most excited I've been about hearing a new record for ages and ages. I could play this track on repeat all the way from Paddington (ha!) to Swansea Station.

Down with miserabilism! No more love of hopeless causes! What's the point of anything new? The Paddingtons, of course.

Stephen Fry : Making History (Arrow Books)

If you ever wanted a book to make the train journey from Cambridge to Swansea flash by in the twinkling of an subway signal, this is it.

Fry's thought-provoking, inspired and very funny masterpiece is a ridiculous time-travelling fairy story of epic ambition and intricate structure, told as ever with wit, originality, humour and erudition, weaving in and out of narrative styles almost as frequently as it dodges in and out of the years of the past century.

But it's not this that makes me want to write about it, almost a decade since it was first published and before I've quite finished reading it. No, it is its urgent immediacy and its implicit call to action.

The ridiculous yet believable tenet of the novel is that the book's main character, Michael Young, finds a way to change the past by contaminating the water supply of Brunau-am-Inn at the end of the nineteenth century, so making Hitler's parents infertile, in the hope of preventing the rise of the Nazis and of the Holocaust. By so doing, he does indeed make history, as Hitler is never born. But before Michael can celebrate this unbelievable feat, he realises that in fact he's not really improved anything, indeed he has actually made things worse. Far worse. Although he has wiped out Adolf Hitler, he has done nothing to change the material conditions that lead to his rise to power:

There was still a vacuum in Germany waiting to be filled. There was still fifty years of anti-
Semitism and nationalism ready to be exploited. There was still a Versailles Treaty and a Wall Street Crash and a Great Depression...”

And because those conditions still exist, the Nazis still rise to power, but this time with even worse consequences.

It was the description of the material conditions that gave rise to Nazism that really scared me. It just sounds so familiar, so like our current times of credit crunch and disillusion with mainstream politics and distrust of Muslims and “Poles taking our jobs”, a time when the BNP (like the DAP in Fry's novel), an “apparently self- contradictory mix of anti-Marxist Socialism and anti-capitalist nationalism” can, if unchallenged, spread its sterile poison through our wells. And it seems that, as in the novel, the British Nazis are worryingly starting to build “violent techniques of street fighting and intimidation to frighten off opponents and to quell heckling and counter-demonstrations from the left.”

I'm not going to spoil the book by telling you how it ends - I don't know myself yet*. Nor can I tell you how the current economic and political crisis will pan out.

However I do know one thing. YOU can play a part to make sure that our story has a happy ending.

It's up to us all to make history.

* PS Now I've read it I find that the ending is romantic bollocks. Shame.

The Levellers : Burn America Burn

This is the ever reliable Levellers contribution to debate around the American elections, available for one day only on November 4th. On 7 inch vinyl and download. All of which is a great idea.

And the song itself? Well it's got thought provoking lyrics, written from the point of view of a Virginia Tech style gunman, exploring how society could have sunk to such depths, accompanied by upbeat scuzzy guitars and melody-hogging brass. It is indeed “a brilliant slab of fiery pop reminiscent of late Clash” (Classic Rock(!)) and a welcome return to form for the dreadlocked ones. As is the majority of current album 'Letters from the Underground' - “one of the most politically committed and musically incisive albums of their career”. Or so I'm told by the Daily Mirror.

All I know is that I love this track.

On the B side The Levs re-work their “15 Years” (from their own classic album 'Levelling the Land') with the help of The Electric Soft Parade.

I wish they hadn't.

Now, wouldn't Burn Cambridge Burn be a good name for an album..?

Rage Against the Machine : Street Fighters – a book by Paul Stenning (IMP)

It's a refreshing rarity to read a book about a rock'n'roll band that starts with a definition of politics.

This is no accident in this account of one of the greatest agitational bands ever, as the author seeks in his work to achieve the same aim as the band do in theirs – to turn the reader from passive consumer into an active agitator, fighting to change the world.

Thus there is a lot of information in these pages about the causes that inspired and infuriated De La Rocha and Morello as they were growing up, and then of the campaigns they got involved with in adulthood. There's a hint at the racist reaction a 'mixed' rock band received from the white boys with guitars, and knowledgeably committed explanations of their support for causes such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Zapatistas and their principled opposition to the bigots of the PMRC and the Clear Channel (who bestowed upon Rage the honour of being the only band to have ALL their songs banned from the radio in the wake of 9/11).And of course there's stacks of quotable quotes, easily enough to keep R*E*P*E*A*T's 'Quote of the Moment' spot happy for months to come. Here's one:
“ A good song should make you wanna tap your foot and get with your girl; a great song should destroy cops and set fire to the suburbs. I'm only interested in writing great songs” Tom Morello

However this book does a lot more than cover the band's involvement in politics, and the double standards and hypocrisy of those who would seek to muzzle them. Stenning includes a detailed account of the early lives of both De La Rocha and Morello, and tells how they went from obscurity to world wide fame in one album. It chronicles how they achieved their unique mix of hip hop and rock through Tom Morellos' guitar experiments, discusses the developments in the band's sound that lead to the often-overlooked later albums, and traces the arguments that lead to the split. It also explains the significance of their recent reformation. Best of all, this book has made me go back to the records themselves and realise how fantastic, fresh and exciting they still sound. As I leap around the front room a phrase from V is for Vendetta comes to mind - “A revolution without dancing isn't a revolution worth fighting for!”

My only quibble with this book is the last line. Strenning has opted for the easy 'Killing in the Name Of' cliché of “fuck you, I won't do what I tell you,” whereas the whole tenor of this well written, informative, agitational and entertaining book is much better summed up at the end of the Prologue by the author's own words :
“Within these pages are the seeds of a righteous cause intended to make you think, research and look towards changing the world ... It starts with a spark and it can start with you...
Rage would have wanted it that way”

Tattoo Soup : A Compendium of the Globe's Most Unique Tattoos (IMP)

Is it just me, or is it the case that most decent bands these days are covering themselves with tattoos? Perhaps the permanence and continued social unacceptability of tattoos makes a graphic contrast with the easily removed twee indie hair cut and pointy shoes. To support my case, I summon the fantastic brain shredding committed energy of the likes of The Gallows, Inme and Poison the Well, while locally the likes of The Hope and Anti-Social Burn-Outs lead the way amongst the bodily-painted ones. Perhaps there is a nascent movement here? Or perhaps they're just the current fashion icon, spreading now from hard core outcasts to mainstream clothes horses such as catwalk models and footballers?

This book claims to be a “world first in publishing : a completely self generated book.” Which means that us lot have sent in pix of our tattoos which the editor has stuck in a book to make lots of money from. It is a beautifully produced volume, the photographs are brilliantly reproduced and carefully displayed to show the skill of the tattoo artist off in its best light. Which, to be fair, is a very fine light indeed - some of the work in here is stunning. Particularly eye catching are the tiger, the alligator, the Rocketeer comic book characters and the complete poems wrapped around limbs or emblazoned on chests.

This is an attractive volume featuring the work of some of the world's most talented tattoo artists and featuring the tattooed body parts of several musicians and celebrities. I can see this being a popular coffee table accessory in some of the punk squats I know (which perversely lack coffee tables), and also a winning Christmas gift from Aunt Flossy to her difficult nephew who is turning a bit rebellious.

Lovely as it is though, I can't see myself wanting to keep it. Now who wants a nice Christmas present?

My Little Red Door – Clock Work ep

This is the sound of a band coming of age. Moving away from the generic indie-by-numbers that their name implies, My Little Red Door have created something with more originality, bite and substance than their early efforts would have suggested possible. At times they sound like an eaerly Miss Black America duetting with Tex la Homa, recorded by Syd Barrett. So it's not just that more time and effort has been spent on these recordings, it's the whole ethos of them – the risk taking, the willingness to leave behind the sheepish crowd, the desire to think outside the Pete Doherty inspired box.

Only thing is, when is someone going to tell the singer?

The Great Shakes : It Won't Stop (NROne Records)

From NROne Records (which must be one of the most exciting labels in the country right now), comes this lump of bubbly, organ and telecaster driven loveliness. Track two “Tomorrow Will Be Ours” sees The Great Shakes in danger of falling into the limp wristed indie thing loved by bands who wish it was still 1986 and that they could be in the Razor Cuts, but the title track and final song '”Heading Nowhere” are different enough from the pack to make them stand out. The Great Shakes are purveyors of intense 3 minute pop songs encompassing uptight bass, drums, layered harmonies, intelligent guitars, melodies and lyrical wit, all performed with verve and energy; “Martha Reeves drinking gin with Philip Larkin”, as someone on the press release puts it.

2 Hot 2 Sweat : Half-Assed Rom Com (NROne Records)

This is a broodingly dirty electro pop ditty, a tongue in cheek dance anthem and an ode to fleeting and often regrettable office romances. A Day-Glo Mork and Mindy for the post-myspace generation, 2 Hot 2 Sweat have been ticking all the right boxes with the likes of Dandelion Radio, Huw Stepehens and Tom and William Ravenscroft since they began putting their ludicrous musical notions into practise and released the results on an unsuspecting and often undeserving public. B side “Office Drone” is a twisted electro journey through a typical day at the office, and makes me think that 2 Hot 2 Sweat could be the perfect blind date for Cambridge's own Casio outlaws, The Vichy Government. “Boy girl two-piece twin set electro acoustic disco twee dirty bitchslap mash-up pretty little synth melodic pounding off key off colour pop music... yes please!” said the Fly.
And how can I compete with that?

Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T