64. David Bowie in Barcelona

I know, I’m reviewing an exhibition – two, in fact – which begs the question: have museums got more rock n’ roll or have I got less? Does seeing Evan Dando at Gorilla in Manchester and having night tickets for Sonar preclude me from mummified status? Perhaps – at least for now. While this opportunity to see the V&A ‘on tour’ was less immersive than the Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains experience I waded through in London a few weeks ago, it still has plenty to offer. The interactive mixing desk, and thus the opportunity to remix your favourite tracks (‘Money’ without the bass line is worth a listen) is absent, and there’s no 3D revolving prism to indulge the senses, but what you lose out on in technological whimsy, you gain in intimacy.


Putting the ‘I was there’ into Bowie

Here – torn from A4 pads or accounting ledgers or written with schoolboy simplicity on graph paper are the lyrics that Bowie and his handpicked musician friends alchemised into genius. Although his artistic visions undoubtedly scaled the same preposterous heights as Floyd’s, the version of events presented here reminds us – as does the man himself in a selection of interviews that, like the music, is transferred straight into your Sennheiser headphones as you browse the intriguing paraphernalia – that the nuts and bolts of the creative process were just as mundane as those serving countless other artists, only David Jones had decided early on that he was going to transform himself into something utterly unique. His motivation? At least in part it was to avoid the dark history of madness and suicide on his mother’s side of the family. Unlike most of us, Bowie felt he had no choice but to put his money where his mouth was even before he made any, and his cards on the table even when the pack was a jumbled mess of influences with no obvious aces to play.

On that point, Bowie reminds us that there is no shame in ignorance; any more than it’s uncool to have a thirst for knowledge. He recalls seeking out difficult books and impossible jazz records, refusing to be intimidated by them – hating them, then growing to love them (helped in part no doubt by the effect the avant-garde titles had on potential admirers when poking out of a bag or jacket pocket on the tube). He wasn’t being pretentious; didn’t hide his naivety, but his shameless pursuit of a more cerebral world worked out, and he went on to digest and reinterpret its more playful, humorous and human elements to the delight of his audience. Enough said – here’s a few photos of the Floyd show. They wouldn’t let me take any at the Bowie gig; maybe I just missed the warning signs in London.

I read recently that the music you enjoy at 21 stays with you forever – an evolutionary adherence to a misspent mammalian prime. I prefer to think I just have good taste but feel free to disagree!

DAVIDBOWIEis continues at the Museu del Disseny, Barcelona, until 25/9/17. A weekday ticket (Monday-Thurday) costs 14,90€.

37. Kendal Calling 2015 (Kate Tempest, 31/7, Emmy the Great, 2/8)

‘To be perfectly honest, I like a woman with spirit.’ So said hapless builder Mr O’Reilly to fiery Cybil Fawlty in the British sitcom before being struck about the head and torso with an umbrella by the immovable object of his affections. At the wonderful Kendal Calling festival at Lowther Deer Park, near Penrith, Kate Tempest offered us a gentler kind of beating in the Calling Out tent on day one, despite abandoning the poppier touches that accompany her laser-sharp poetics on debut album ‘Everybody Down’ and infusing her set with dark and brooding drum and bass.

Kate Tempest by RichIn forming such a musical landscape it would have been easy for Tempest’s hyperactive percussionist and coy DJ accompanist to affect menacing pantomime poses, but like Tempest herself they can’t seem to stop smiling, whether in cathartic relief as her home truths are delivered with thumping accuracy or simply at the thrill of a performance greeted rapturously from the off.

Yet Tempest’s steely compassion accepts no distraction, knows no bounds. When she raps of young lovers separated by shyness at a London café in ‘Lonely Daze’ we quickly accept that this is no storm in a teacup but an everyday drama of Shakespearian proportions – whether it happens to be happening to you or one of the billions who crave love and acceptance just like you.

Emmy the Great

Hong Kong’s Emmy the Great, also performing at the Calling Out tent, had to compete with one of the biggest acts of the three day event.

‘I guess you guys don’t like Snoop, huh?’

Emmy sounds almost sorry for Snoop in a way that he might feel truly sorry for anyone who failed to attend one of his shows. But Emmy’s lilting melodies aren’t intended for those seeking easy answers. Snoop may talk the talk but few on site could claim to be even moderately challenged by his sing-along gangsterisms, whereas Emmy has something to say.

Let down by an ex-lover who chose his religious calling over his relationship with her, Emmy closes her set with the haunting refrain ‘There’s no such thing as ghosts’ from her deceptively tender ‘Easter Parade’. Like Mr O’Reilly (secretly) we’re left appreciating every blow delivered by these spirited women at a festival dominated – albeit in a soft power way – by competing male egos.

Top 5 ‘happenings’ at Kendal Calling:

  1. Jangling our bells in the intimacy of the Jam Tent as Billy Bragg sings old Woody Guthrie songs in support of the Music Links outreach programme and their energetic charges.
  2. Sitting outside our tent each morning feasting on squashed brioche and cheap sausage rolls, remembering the night before.
  3. Friend meeting someone who shares the same unusual (sweet or savoury, pastry-lined) surname in a sun-dappled beer garden where the latter had already tried all 17 real ales on offer.
  4. Not falling over despite lack of wellies and surfeit of mud (New Balance still going strong)
  5. Standing in line to be hosed down by portly Virgin Trains staff before we could board our carriage home. We are the freaks!