mardi, août 31, 2004


Franz Ferdinand only British winners at MTV awards

By Elizabeth Davies

31 August 2004

Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand were Britain's only success story at the MTV Music Awards on Sunday night, as their single "Take Me Out" clinched them the best breakthrough video prize.

The band, recently nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, came out on top over the likes of the White Stripes, Kanye West and New Found Glory.

But while Franz Ferdinand celebrated, flamboyant British glam-rockers The Darkness were left to ponder what might have been. They left the Miami ceremony empty-handed, despite being nominated for best new artist and best rock video awards for their hit single "I Believe In a Thing Called Love".

The main stars were all-American hip-hop duo OutKast and rapper Jay-Z, who landed four awards each. The pair won best video and best hip-hop video for dance-floor-filler "Hey Ya!" and also picked up prizes for special effects and editing.

Gritty rapper Jay-Z came away with awards for his video, "99 Problems", a hard-hitting black and white clip depicting the artist's killing. "I felt like I was trying to push the envelope," he said as he accepted the award for best rap video in sunglasses and a straw hat. He scooped best video, best hip-hop video, best special effects and best art direction.

But even as top celebrities gathered for their annual dose of MTV glitz and glamour, politics was not far from the surface.

While several stars sported P Diddy's "Vote or Die" T-shirts, younger members of the warring political clans used the occasion to plug their fathers' presidential bid. The Bush twins and John Kerry's daughters all made appearances to urge viewers to cast their vote in the imminent elections.

The evening's other big winners included pop group No Doubt, rap group The Black Eyed Peas and Usher. The R'n'B singer treated the audience to the evening's most gratuitous display of flesh in an otherwise unusually toned-down ceremony, which seemed a far-cry from last year's shock open-mouthed Madonna and Britney kiss.

The memory of the Superbowl, at which the MTV-choreographed Janet Jackson routine sparked a bare nipple furore, may have made organisers ensure a family-orientated show.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

The Futureheads live

The Futureheads, The Garage, London

By Nick Hasted

31 August 2004

In the shadowy darkness of London's indie mecca The Garage, four young men from the North in tightly rolled shirt-sleeves are playing clipped guitar music to a rapt audience. It is eerily like a gig from the early 1980s, as if the insistent brightness of the slick present has been switched off, and the pervasive greyness of Thatcher's decade has returned, along with one of the stern young bands who filled the black-and-white pages of the old NME.

Sunderland's The Futureheads are certainly heavily informed by that post-punk era, with clear musical nods to the angular jerkiness of XTC and The Gang of Four (whose Andy Gill partly produced their debut album, Decent Days and Nights). But what connects them to the similarly influenced Franz Ferdinand, and separates them from the studious pastiches of 1980s-adoring New York bands such as Radio 4, is a sense of giddy fun that has nothing to do with the past. Wherever their music began, The Futureheads tonight play exciting, idealistic music that captures the hope of their own youthful moment.

The first song, "Le Garage", is over in a whirl of spinning bodies, sawed guitars and yelps almost before it has begun, part of The Futureheads' most basic manifesto: to fling out ideas in concentrated form, then move on before boredom sets in. With only one 30-minute album and a cover version or two to select from, this causes short, sharp gigs, with no time for flab or indulgence. This sense of urgency also infects their lyrics, which have a morbid fear of repetition, and a romantic desire for action.

Reflecting a home town they've described as "hard-graft", these are songs without slack. As they sing in "Alms": "You fell asleep. It was not late. You missed the point." The Futureheads are also much more musically skittish than any simple post-punk definition can catch. On "Carnival Kids", deep harmonies, Barry Hyde's neurotically jerky lead vocal and a barbershop quartet a cappella section are fed into an angular, full-pelt racket, the sort of funk white boys played before ecstasy. By the next, unnamed song - "It's about a murder," says Hyde - they have reached a state of angry, desperate commitment, a genuine emotional momentum.

For "First Day", the thrashing guitars of another 1980s influence on the band, the hardcore US punk of Fugazi and Shellac, are referenced. But The Futureheads are no more in thrall to that austere reaction to punk's big bang than they are to XTC's eccentricity. Instead, their youthful talent lets them square the circle around both, finding the life in all the music they love, and communicating it in a passionate, funny performance. The people around me respond, not by dancing, but by keeping their faces riveted on the stage, as if they are seeing and hearing something unmissably exciting. I feel the same way. This isn't retro; it is the sound of a young band discovering itself, and sharing the thrill.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

dimanche, août 29, 2004

Laura Branigan

'Gloria' Singer Laura Branigan Dies at 47


NEW YORK (AP) - Laura Branigan, a Grammy-nominated pop singer best known for her 1982 platinum hit "Gloria," has died. She was 47.

Branigan died of a brain aneurysm Thursday in her sleep at her home in East Quogue, said her brother Mark Branigan. He said she had complained to a friend of a headache for about two weeks before she died, but had not sought medical attention.

"Gloria," a signature song from her debut album "Branigan," stayed atop the pop charts for 36 weeks and earned her a Grammy nomination for best female pop vocalist, the first of four nominations in her career.

She also made television appearances, including guest spots on "CHiPs," and in the films "Mugsy's Girls" and "Backstage."

Branigan released seven albums after her debut "Branigan," including "Solitaire," "Self Control," and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," which was co-written with Michael Bolton. Her songs also appeared on soundtracks for the films "Flashdance" and "Ghostbusters."

Branigan was born July 3, 1957, and grew up in Brewster, N.Y. She attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. During the late 1970s, she toured Europe as a backing vocalist for Canadian singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen. She signed as a solo artist with Atlantic Records in 1982.

After her run of success in the 1980s, her releases in the early 1990s attracted little attention. In 1994, she sang a duet with David Hasselhoff called "I Believe" for the soundtrack of the television show "Baywatch." She released a 13-track "Best of Branigan" LP the next year.

After the death of her husband, Lawrence Kruteck, in 1996, Branigan stopped performing but returned to the stage in 2001. In 2002 she starred as Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical "Love, Janis," which earned her rave reviews.

Branigan recently had been working on material for a new release.

She is survived by her mother, two brothers and a sister. Funeral services were scheduled for Monday.

On the Net:

Laura Branigan Official Web site: ===> Branigan

© Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained In this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Pretty Girls Make Graves

Pretty Girls Make Graves, Good Health. Matador Ole)

Dave Simpson. The Guardian

It's usually misty-eyed thirtysomethings who grumble on about when the music "meant" something, but these Seattle twentysomethings have a belief in the power of song that has little to do with nostalgia.

Andrea Zollo's cry of "Nothing else matters when I turn it up loud" is as much a manifesto as a hint of how PGMG sound. Based around interlocking fuzz guitars, at least one car horn and the musical sensitivity of a cheese grater, they sound more like an amalgam of the Slits and Fugazi than the Smiths, from whose songbook they took their name.

However, titles like If You Hate Your Friends, You're Not Alone imply they have listened closely to Morrissey's well-articulated spite. Alienation in modern America and deceptively vitriolic reflection further colour their lyrical palette, although musically there are so many ideas going on at once that they really should learn to relax.

This minor Molotov of an album won't suit everybody's taste, but it's refreshing to hear a band this uncompromisingly furious.

samedi, août 28, 2004

Freaks and Geeks

"Freaks and Geeks" finally has a soundtrack

The Who, XTC "Freak" Out

The long-overdue soundtrack to the cancelled cult-favorite TV show Freaks and Geeks is due September 14th. Like the show, the twenty-five-track compilation is a celebration of all things late Seventies and early Eighties, featuring tracks by Rush, Styx, Joe Jackson, Joan Jett and XTC.

During its eighteen-episode run from 1999 to 2000, Freaks and Geeks (now available on DVD) frequently integrated music into scenes, most memorably when a school guidance counselor gives a captive audience of students an unwanted acoustic performance of Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" and when the parents of characters Lindsay and Sam discuss the meaning of the Who's "Squeezebox."

"We always tried to put in songs that seemed honest to what our experience was," says executive producer Judd Apatow. "One of my favorite uses of music is when Bill is home after school and his parents aren't around, and you get the sense he's a latchkey kid. He makes a grilled cheese sandwich and gets a piece of cake and a glass of milk and he watches The Dinah Shore Show and you hear the Who playing 'I'm One' as he watches Garry Shandling do stand-up comedy. He's laughing his ass off, and you realize that TV is his best friend. It's his companion."

Apatow's life was not much different. "I used to go home, watch The Mike Douglas show and eat grilled cheese sandwiches," he says. "It was an important part of my childhood, so I would try to tell those stories using the music I listened to. I would have been listening to Quadrophenia back then, so it felt right."

For the original songs performed by the characters, Apatow and Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig would often have the actors write them themselves -- as was the case with Jason Segal (Nick) and the cringe-inducing "Lady L."

"It is one of the worst songs ever written," says Apatow. "He barely knows how to play an instrument, but he's so talented that he could write something that funny and that bad. It was perfect, because that's what a kid would write."

Freaks and Geeks: Original Soundtrack track listing:

"Bad Reputation," Joan Jett
"Geek Hallway," Michael Andrews
"Poor Poor Pitiful Me," Warren Zevon
"Lindsay's Theme," Michael Andrews
"Keg Party Music," Michael Andrews
"Look Sharp!," Joe Jackson
"Clem's Theme," Michael Andrews
"No Language in Our Lungs," XTC
"Lindsay Disturbed Theme," Michael Andrews
"Bill Gets Funky (a.k.a. Spacefunk)," Paul Feig
"USA Rock," Michael Andrews
"The Spirit of Radio," Rush
"Daniel's Theme 2," Michael Andrews
"I'm One," The Who
"Porno Music," Michael Andrews
"Neal's Lament," Michael Andrews
"The Groove Line," Heatwave
"Ken's Ode to Joy," Michael Andrews
"Come Sail Away," Styx
"End Title Theme," Michael Andrews
"Lady L," Jason Segal
"Eighteen," Dave Gruber Allen
"Jesus Is Just Alright," Jason Segal and Sara Hagen
"Up on Cripple Creek," Dave Gruber Allen
"Dumb as a Crayon," The Leaving Trains

(Posted Aug 27, 2004)

Reading Festival

Reading rocks... and believes in a thing called mud

By Gulliver Cragg

28 August 2004

As the wettest August on record showed no signs of abating yesterday morning, the crowds trudging to this year's Reading Festival looked as though they were wondering what they had let themselves in for.

Most resembled souls in purgatory rather than partygoers. The rain was still falling steadily as Welsh rap entertainers Goldie Lookin' Chain took to the stage, but around 1pm it began to ease off. The honour of welcoming the first ray of sunshine fell to the fifth band on the Main Stage, Jurassic 5. And though mud does not exactly make for an ideal dance floor, the veteran hip-hoppers struck up the weekend's first real groove.

Mindful that Reading traditionally attracts more Indie kids than hip-hop heads, they were careful to introduce their celebrated "Quality Control" - "for those of you not familiar with hip hop, we made this record in 2000".

The laid-back J5 were followed by the intense Distillers. At first, it sounded like a bit of a racket. But the muscular voice coming from Brody Dalle's slender frame is beguiling, although her Gothic look seems affected - especially when she follows a song about rising from the dead with an all-American: "I hope we brought the sunshine with us!" The Distillers have essentially picked up where Hole left off and, Gothic pretensions aside, their sound is every bit as mighty as their predecessors.

Mightiness is not something The Hives aspire to. In fact, it's hard to gauge just what they do aspire to. With his band of pranksters dressed in white jackets and black shirts, Howlin' Pelle Almquist walks the stage like a child pretending to be a rock star. Almquist's exhortations to "clap and scream" are actually more entertaining than the music.

By the end of The Hives' set, the sky was really beginning to clear, and Ash got to play to a truly splendid sunset. And duly play what can only be described as a truly splendid concept. They play "Girl From Mars" second, and it only gets better from then on. Ash haven't changed much in the decade or so they've been together and new single "Renegade Cavalcade" sits comfortably alongside the old hits.

Even the corny "Starcrossed" sounded moving as Ash successfully instilled a Festival spirit into proceedings.

Offspring stood little chance of perpetuating such smiling goodwill. They haven't changed either - but the kind of monotonous holler favoured by Dexter Holland suits adulthood rather less well. The Shins, in the Carling Tent were more interesting with some tight, danceable Indie pop.

Headliners The Darkness were left to restore the party vibe on the Main Stage. Bands who haven't been up to much in the past few months seem to be a theme of this year's Reading and the odds are stacked against Justin Hawkins' crew ever repeating the success of last year's Permission To Land. After all, they are just a comedy act ... aren't they?

Still we have The Darkness to thank for making it OK to like AC/DC again, and they delivered a respectable and good-humoured imitation of their hair-metal heroes. The sound was a little tinny but the lights were good. And no further rain is predicted for Saturday and Sunday.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Jimmy Page: The godfather of rock

As Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page is honoured in London's Rock'n'Roll Walk of Fame, Tim Cooper meets the legend who inspired an entire generation of air guitarists

27 August 2004

On the pavement at Piccadilly Circus stands a man with a pen and a faded Led Zeppelin concert ticket from 1975. He's been waiting nearly 30 years to get it signed by his rock idol and it's about to happen - just as soon as Jimmy Page gets his hands out of wet cement.

This is the sort of devotion Page still inspires, and why he was chosen to inaugurate this week Britain's first Rock'n'Roll Walk of Fame, leaving his hand-prints outside the former Tower Records, now re-branded as the capital's flagship Virgin Megastore.

Page might be an old man now, but his legacy is immense. He has sold more than 200 million albums and he played on countless Sixties hits, drew the blueprint for heavy metal, and inspired countless teen-agers to pick up their first guitar.

Not that you'd know it to look at him. Now in the lobby of a business hotel in Slough, where he has chosen to conduct this interview, the multi-millionaire rock god cuts a strangely nondescript figure. Once, a visit to a hotel would not have been complete without him smashing up a room and throwing the television out of the window. Today, shuff- ling about in shabby jeans and an anorak, it's mainly his scruffiness that sets him apart from the businessmen checking messages before their morning meetings.

Page, the guitarist with Led Zeppelin, was one of the wildest men in rock - the prototype for the lead guitarists lampooned in films such as Spinal Tap, Almost Famous and Still Crazy. But now, at 60 years old, he is catching up on some of the things that he missed during those decades of excess. Clearly he has different priorities to sex and drugs and rock'n'roll. Hence our breakfast meeting.

He has, he announces cheerily, been up since six o'clock to get his children ready for school. He says his principal pastime now is parenthood. "I've got three small children," he explains from beneath a dyed-black mop of curls crowning a crinkly, lived-in face. "That passes the time. And I enjoy it."

By his own admission, he wasn't around much for his eldest daughter, Scarlet, because he had other things on his mind in the early Seventies - chiefly a mission to explore the very essence of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Page embraced the lifestyle with particular enthusiasm. Led Zep's favourite groupie, Pamela Des Barres, thoughtfully chronicled some of the highlights in her book Rock Bottom, a compelling compendium of true-life sexual perversion, drugs and violence. She revealed, for example, that Page enjoyed dressing up in Nazi uniform and visiting transvestite clubs in each city Led Zeppelin played, taking drugs with drag queens in the toilets. When his behaviour got particularly uncontrollable, she added, the band's tour manager would take him back to his hotel room and chain him to the toilet - with a groupie, if it was his lucky day - until it was time to move on.

Although Page remains close to Scarlet, now 33 and a respected rock photographer, he admits he regrets his absence from her childhood. "In those early years of my daughter's life I was not physically there for her. I missed all those precious moments in a child's life: getting their first teeth, taking their first steps and all that. I have made a point of not missing out on any of that this time."

Despite having five children from three different relationships, including three with his current partner, Jimena, he tries to fulfil his paternal duties to all of them. Last year he organised his hectic schedule, mastering and promoting Led Zeppelin's live DVD and CD, to ensure he did not miss his teenage son James's high school graduation in Florida. "Every Christmas we are all together, all the mums and all the children," he smiles. "We are a close-knit family."

It sounds a far cry from the Led Zep days of debauchery, but Page stubbornly (and somewhat implausibly) insists that, despite the band's drug-crazed hell-raising and trail-blazing around the globe in the 1970s - when they were without doubt the biggest band in the world - they were all "family men" at heart. It is this, he claims, that kept them together from their formation in London in 1968 to the death of their drummer, John Bonham, in 1980. "The four members of Led Zeppelin were very different characters in their lifestyles, and that's what made them tick. Two lived in the South and two lived in the Midlands and, apart from when we got together to do rehearsals and write and record, we were all family men with separate lives. Yet when the four members bonded together musically, it brought out this different, fifth, element."

He recalls with perfect clarity their very first rehearsal and the first song they played together - "Train Kept a Rollin'" - along with his reaction. "When it finished it was scary. None of us had played with our musical equals until that point." After Bonham's death, there was never any question about Led Zeppelin continuing. "We had to stop as a mark of respect to John's contribution. We could not have gone on without him. It would have been dishonest. Nobody else could have fitted into his role."

A couple of years ago Page was "really peeved" to read in the newspapers that a Led Zeppelin reunion tour had been announced. It was the first he, or the other remaining members, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, had heard of it. "None of us had even discussed it - and we still haven't," he says, going on to disappoint all those who dream that it may yet happen. "I thought how awful and dreary that somebody seriously thinks a band would promote what they did 30 years before with a tour. It would be ludicrous. I am not going to go back out on the road simply because someone has booked a tour, or someone says you will earn multi-millions of dollars out of it. We haven't talked about it and we haven't even discussed talking about it."

Not one to spin nostalgic anecdotes about Led Zeppelin's drug-and-groupie-fuelled heyday, Page evades all such inquiries, only remarking cryptically that: "When you came offstage after three-and-a-half hours of intensity, it was not really on the cards that you would go home, put your slippers on and have a cup of cocoa."

There is, though, perhaps a middle ground between reading a book before bedtime and touring transvestite clubs in Nazi uniform in search of cross-dressing drug buddies. But each to their own.

It is this sort of thing that lends itself so splendidly to parody, but I'm not sure that Page himself is best equipped to appreciate it. He thought Almost Famous put a "rather charming" spin on somewhat sordid events, but confesses he found Spinal Tap "close to the bone". He adds: "I definitely recognised the band politics - people getting puffed-up and self-important."

In view of this it is perhaps surprising that when punk arrived, in 1977, he identified with the explosion of energy that revitalised a moribund scene dominated by over-blown, self-indulgent dinosaurs such as, er, Led Zeppelin. He was one of the few of rock's old guard to check out the new bands, though I can also recall the Led Zep singer, Robert Plant, turning up at a gig at the Roxy one night in those early days, attracting sneers that still failed to mask the excitement of seeing a rock superstar in the flesh.

"I remember going to see The Damned and I became really friendly with [the drummer] Rat Scabies - I even played with him once," says Page. The energy of punk reminded him of Led Zeppelin, he says, and of the music that had inspired him. "I tapped into the same energy in the 1950s when I heard people such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. And I hear it now in The White Stripes."

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Page keeps in touch with contemporary music, having recently watched - and enjoyed - The White Stripes, Korn and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and is currently planning an album with guest musicians, along the lines of the recent Santana albums. He has even revised his initial verdict on rap ("They steal your riffs and then shout at you") since collaborating with Puff Daddy on his hip-hop adaptation of the Led Zep song "Kashmir". "It was a real privilege working with him," he says, although they never met, the partnership being conducted entirely by satellite link between Page in London and Puffy in LA. "He has incredible energy and a great imagination."

Page still regards music as a hobby. He always has, even when he was a teenage session guitarist playing on records by The Rolling Stones ("Heart of Stone"), The Who ("Can't Explain"), Them ("Baby Please Don't Go"), Lulu ("Shout"), Tom Jones, Donovan, The Tremelos and Herman's Hermits. "I was fortunate enough to turn it into my career, with the added good fortune that it made people happy and inspired some of them to pick up a guitar," he says. "That makes me a very fortunate man."

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

vendredi, août 27, 2004

The Motorcycle Diaries

Here's the myth, where's the man?

Reviewed by Anthony Quinn

27 August 2004

Walter Salles's road movie charts each stage of the odyssey two young Argentinians make around South America by flashing up the number of kilometres they have covered, first on a motorbike, then on foot and by boat. By the end of their eight-month journey, which has taken them through Argentina, Chile, the Amazon Basin, Peru and Venezuela, the total stands at around 12,000km. So much for the geography - the implication is that the emotional distance the two friends have travelled is infinitely greater. Of course, any number of backpacking students could claim to have been changed by the peregrinations of their year off; the difference here is that one of the travellers was Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, who would become better known as Che, revolutionary, idealist and the sainted face on T-shirts and posters the world over.

It is 1952 when 23-year-old medical student Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal), one of five in a loving, well-to-do family in Bueno Aires, decides to take to the road with his biochemist pal Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De La Serna). Their transport is an ancient Norton motorbike that sputters and wheezes and will more than once pitch them both into the dirt, but these two are carefree souls, undismayed by having to sleep beneath the stars or scrounge for food. Salles and his screenwriter, Jose Rivera, take care to render the early stages of the journey as a boisterous kind of picaresque. The plump, jovial Alberto is the more dominant of the pair; older by five years, he charms the ladies with his dance steps while Ernesto plays the wallflower, unable to tell a tango from a mambo.

Further differences between them gradually emerge. Whereas Alberto flatters and dissembles to gain an advantage, Ernesto, perhaps mindful of his name, feels beholden to tell the truth. When a farmer whose hospitality they've battened onto seeks a medical opinion about the lump on his neck, Ernesto examines it briefly and tells him that it's cancer. "You could help out with a little lie once in a while", grumbles Alberto. Later, when a friend asks him what he thinks of the novel he has written, Ernesto looks seriously at him and declares it "basically unreadable". The film sees this truth-telling as uncomplicatedly honourable, instead of something that might be perhaps gauche and unfeeling.

As the movie proceeds one senses increasingly an idealising tendency on the film-makers' part. Just arrived in Chile, the trainee doctor is called to the bedside of a sick old woman, who fortunately is too weak to ask him if she's dying. Ernesto deals very tenderly with her, and leaves some medicine - his own medicine, in fact, which he takes for chronic asthma.

He is also a dutiful son, recording his travels in fond letters to his mother back home. His behaviour towards well-born girlfriend Chichina (Mia Maestro) is puppyishly sweet, and oddly sexless. Later, when a married woman at a dance starts making eyes at him, he somehow contrives to louse up his chances and flees the scene with Alberto, pursued by a mob of outraged Chileans; so he escapes being a cad, too. How far Guevara's book (on which the movie is partly based) bears him out as a noble-souled youth I couldn't say, but any real-life character treated so emolliently is bound to rouse suspicion.

Salles makes The Motorcycle Diaries a movie of two halves; whereas the sunny first part could almost be a Latin American Easy Rider, the second darkens perceptibly into a chronicle of burgeoning political conscious- ness as Ernesto and Alberto witness dispossession and poverty on a massive scale. Abandoning their clapped-out motorbike, they encounter migrant workers thrown off their own land, and a homeless couple travelling to a local mine in search of work. In Peru they begin to realise how "progress" is far from an unchallengeable boon, contrasting the ruined Incan city of Machu Picchu with the gruesome sprawl of Lima. These experiences would be powerful enough to affect any revolutionary leader in the making; what slightly dulls the impact is the film's suggestion that Ernesto has been waiting for this spiritual epiphany all along. We feel no surprise at the way he is affected by the plight of the peasants because Salles and Rivera have been insistent throughout about what a fine, upstanding man this is. If there had been some flaw in his make-up - arrogance, indifference, the smallest hint of narcissism - we might be able to see some drama in his self-discovery. But the self he discovers was already beatific to begin with, so there's no room for a drama to unfold.

It's a terrific-looking film, certainly, and Eric Gautier's cinematography catches the changing landscapes of South America - desert, green valleys, snow-clad mountains - quite wonderfully. Gael Garcia Bernal brings all his doe-eyed soulfulness to bear, though one gets the feeling that he's intent on honouring the legend rather than inhabiting the role. I suppose for a Latino actor it is rather like being asked to play Christ. Ernesto doesn't ever walk on water, though he does prove himself a prodigious swimmer. One hears death flutter its wings at certain moments, such as at the deeply eerie sight of Ernesto lying stricken by asthma, pale as a ghost - it foreshadows the famous photograph of his corpse, surrounded by Bolivian soldiers.

The epilogue renders his untimely end even more poignant, for it presents living history in the lined face of the man who companioned Guevara on his journey: Alberto Granado, in person. Yet his appearance, moving though it is, does little to dislodge the suspicion that The Motorcycle Diaries is a homage to the myth Guevara would become, rather than a portrait of the man he was.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Che Guevara: When the reality becomes myth

By Paul Vallely

28 August 2004

Even given its critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie The Motorcycle Diaries, which opened across the country yesterday, has created unusually large amounts of pre-publicity. Surprisingly, you might think, if all you knew about it was that it is the story of a journey across Latin America by two men on a Norton 500 who uncover, on the way, the deep poverty of the continent in the early 1950s.

What changes everything is that one of the two men later went on to become the archetype of the contemporary revolutionary, Che Guevara. At the end of that motorbike journey he announced: "I want to link my destiny to that of the poor of this world." But the real journey here is not one from Argentina across a continent to Guatemala. It is not even Guevara's transition from bourgeois complacency to fiery rebel. It is a voyage from reality into myth.

Such was Che Guevara's hold on the imagination of his time that Jean-Paul Sartre called him "the most complete man in history", and Time magazine, that embodiment of all the American values which Guevara so despised, declared him to be "the icon of the 20th century". In 1968 - the great year of political, cultural and social revolution that followed his death - the slogan "Che lives" appeared on walls from Paris to Prague, Berkeley to Belfast and anywhere else that the old order seemed under threat by what felt like an unstoppable wave of youthful opposition. It was the era of anti-Vietnam War protest and student barricades. The times they were a-changing and the image of Che Guevara, dead but resurrected in a billion bedsit posters, was the most potent symbol of this new generation of power.

It is not difficult to deconstruct the power of the man and his myth. He was sultry and sexy: there is no myth around his revolutionary comrade Fidel Castro, who also made the mistake of staying alive. Che Guevara, by contrast, died young, as all the heroes of the age, from James Dean to Jimi Hendrix, did and should. Hope I die before I get old was the maxim of the moment.

He was, like so many of his devotees across the world, someone from a middle-class background who had rejected the cosy cocoon of affluence. He had attended medical school in Buenos Aires but, after the long exposure to his continent's poverty in that celebrated 1952 motorbike epic, everything changed. It was not just the urban and rural deprivation, the migrant workers driven from their land and the degradation of the native Mayan Indians. In Guatemala he witnessed the overthrow of its progressive leftist government in a CIA-backed coup and became convinced him that social progress was impossible without violent revolution. From there he went to Mexico to join up with Fidel Castro, and in 1956 landed in Cuba to carry on a guerrilla campaign against the US-backed dictator Batista.

He was physically brave. He carried on the invasion despite being wounded in the neck, fatally he thought at the time, in an ambush.

He was the ultimate emblematic figure of the counterculture, who had made real the aspiration that, against all the odds, things could actually be changed. This was the man, after all, who had entered Cuban and then worldwide revolutionary folklore in a battle where he and a few hundred rebels defeated 10,000 Cuban government troops in the Sierra Maestra mountains, and turned an impossible adventure into a real revolution. Ordinary people could triumph over their masters, was his message, which seemed so much more radical than the alternatives of anarchist hippies such as Abbie Hoffman, whose ultimate rebellion was the instruction to bookstore shoppers to "Steal This Book". Even as a member of Castro's elite after the revolution, he refused the privilege and luxury granted to other Cuban leaders, insisting on drawing only the average wage.

He had the gift of being able to encapsulate his idealism and his philosophy in pithy and memorable phrases. "It is better to die standing than to live on your knees." "I don't regard only Argentina as my native country but whole of America." "We have a rendezvous with history, and we simply cannot permit ourselves to be afraid!"

And like so many of his youthful devotees, he did not allow his idealism to be sullied by the drudge of daily existence. He was briefly, and not very successfully, made governor of the National Bank of Cuba - and got his portrait on the three-peso note - and was then for a short time minister of industry. But he soon got fed up with the quotidian dreary detail of trying to make Marxism work and, after a period roaming the world as Cuba's ambassador, sought once again the purity of political commitment in far-off lands. In 1965 he led a covert and unsuccessful Cuban intervention in the civil war in the former Belgian Congo and then, in the following year, went to Bolivia to try to foment a Marxist revolution there. Failing to understand the cultural differences there, his revolution was a dismal failure and, dishevelled and defeated, he was captured by government troops and handed over to the CIA for interrogation. Characteristically Guevara refused to talk and was shot the next day.

Yet even in the banality of his execution the myth was fed. The executioner bungled his first attempt. (He averted his eyes while he shot at Guevara, who lay trussed on a slab.) The revolutionary hero told the man to get on with it with the reported last words: "Shoot, coward! You are going to kill a man." It was a romantic death, at least as it later entered the mythology, a man who was not afraid to die for what he believed in.

Much of what has been written about Che Guevara in recent times has been an attempt to explode this myth. Critics have shone the light on his dark side: his direct responsibility for dozens of executions of defectors and Batista loyalists; his devotion to the monstrous Soviet dictator Stalin; his reported willingness to have unleashed nuclear weapons had the Cubans had their fingers on the button of the Soviet missiles in the Bay of Pigs crisis; even on the fact that he was contemptuous of homosexuals.

Much of this criticism is ignorant; by 1963 Che had realised that Russian Stalinism was a shambles after a visit to Russia where he saw the conditions of the majority of the people. More of it is historically unsound, since it decontextualises him from the political perceptions and realities of his time and expects him to have behaved as a 21st-century man ought, rather than someone locked into a Cold War world dominated by two oppositional worldviews in which the American CIA was as capable of bad behaviour as the Soviets - violently overthrowing foreign regimes, supporting Latin American death squads and allying itself with the Mafia in the fight against communism.

But most of all such criticism misses the point. For there is more to Che Guevara than historical fact. There is more to him even than myth, or perhaps one should say there is less to him than myth. For now he is not even a myth; he is an image.

It is no coincidence that the most famous picture of Che was taken by a fashion photographer. The classic shot of Guevara - wild-haired, bearded, wearing a single red star in his beret and a look of visionary detachment in his eyes - was snapped by Alberto Korda as Guevara stood beside Castro on a balcony in Havana on 5 March 1960. Korda said afterwards he was struck by the man's "absolute look of steely defiance". So much so that the photographer refused to collect royalties for the picture, which no doubt assisted its repeated use. "In it, Che appears as the ultimate revolutionary icon," writes Jon Lee Anderson, in Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, "his eyes staring boldly into the future, his expression a virile embodiment of outrage at social injustice."

Soon the photograph became familiar all over the world. It soon spread from political circles to rock bands seeking to advertise their subversive credentials. But then the revolutionary became chic. Andy Warhol used it alongside images of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean in the iconography of pop art. By 1970 the defiant image had become, in the words of the British pop artist Peter Blake, "one of the great icons of the 20th century", appearing on posters, T-shirts, badges and postcards and, before long, appearing in utterly debased forms to advertise jeans, china mugs, canned beer, skis, holidays and even soap powder. Swatch released a watch with Che's image on its face. Madonna used it on a CD cover. Smirnoff slapped it on their vodka ads. (Korda sued over that.) The total inversion of everything Guevara stood for was a recent newspaper photographing showing Liz Hurley club-hopping across London in a Che T-shirt and clutching a $4,500 Louis Vuitton handbag.

But the final truth about Guevara is to be found in the slogan "Che lives". It is a formula which is generally used only in a few cases: Jesus and Elvis are among the other historical figures to whom it applies. Deconstruct the semiotics and what it tells us is that our culture here is recognising the truth that some things, and individuals, are greater than mere historical reality can contain. Che Guevara is a kind of secular saint and his image is the contemporary equivalent of what the icon and the relic were in medieval times. Like all saints, Guevara's virtues have been upheld and his weaknesses overlooked.

When they killed him they cut off his hands for identification. To leave the world in no doubt of his identity, his captors instructed some local nuns to wash his face, tidy his bedraggled hair and beard, then photographed his corpse. But the image which circulated the world, almost as powerfully as Korda's original one, was not what they had intended. There he lay, white and irenic as the dead Christ taken down from the cross in so many of the great pietà images of the paintings and statues of 2,000 years of church history. "It's as if the dead Guevara," wrote Jorge Castañeda in his book on Che called Compañero, "looks on his killers and forgives them, and upon the world, proclaiming that he who dies for an idea is beyond suffering." If only he had he lived the myth would have died. Or never come to pass.


Born: 14 June 1928 in Rosario, Argentina, the first of five children to an upper-middle-class family. Father a construction engineer; mother an aristocrat.

Family: First wife: Hilda Gadea, a Peruvian Marxist; one daughter. Second wife: Aleida March de la Torre, of Castro's army; four children.

Education: Buenos Aries University. Qualified as a doctor in 1953, specialising in dermatology.

Career: After Cuban revolution, commander of La Cabana Fortress (1959-1963). Also governor of the National Bank 1959 and then minister of industry 1961. Worldwide ambassador for Cuba 1961 to 1965. Moved to Bolivia to foment revolution, executed on 9 October 1967.

He said...: "Always be capable of feeling deep inside any injustice committed against anyone anywhere in the world. It is the finest quality of a revolutionary."

They said...: "The most complete human being of our age." - Jean-Paul Sartre

"One of the most oversold figures of the past half century." - Daniel Wolf, journalist and broadcaster

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Claire Danes: The sighing game

Claire Danes has always played angsty and cerebral. Will a bawdy costume drama finally set her free? Ryan Gilbey finds out

27 August 2004

Let's try a little trick: don't think about bananas. Did it work? Did you manage to cleanse your mind of anything resembling a banana? Me neither.

I encounter a similar problem before interviewing Claire Danes. I am in the corner of the hospitality room contemplating a muffin when the actress's PR appears next to me and says: "I'm sure I don't need to ask you not to mention..." I shake my head and protest that, no, of course not, I wouldn't dream of it, I wouldn't even know how to frame a question like that. And it's the truth. It would take a more audacious person than me to say: "So, Claire Danes, you fell in love with your co-star Billy Crudup on the set of your new film, Stage Beauty, and you both left long-term partners to be with one another; in fact his girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker was seven months pregnant at the time. How's that set-up working out for you?"

The topic has more or less gone out of my mind until it is almost verbalised over by the muffin table. And then it becomes hard to think of anything else. Sometimes the very subject that is being scrupulously avoided can dominate a conversation. Sometimes the question that is not asked drowns out the ones that are.

So I have to kick my heels outside the hotel suite while Danes and Crudup exchange a few words inside, then pretend not to notice as Crudup exits the room before I am led in. And I must resist the urge to probe and pry when Danes tells me: "I'm more discerning about what I reveal than I used to be. I used to think that I had an obligation to disclose certain things about my personal life because people seemed interested. I guess in the past I would've failed to realise that this is more than just you and I talking in a room. I mean, it feels nice and intimate. But I can make the leap in my imagination now and realise that by talking to you, I'm talking to millions of people." Well, hundreds of thousands, anyway.

Luckily there is much more to Claire Danes than whomever she happens to be skipping through the daffodils with at any given time. The 25-year-old has chosen her movie parts with care since the end of My So-Called Life, the US television series that made her name a decade ago. She had developed a cult following as Angela, something of a high priestess of teen angst, and before that, she appeared briefly in a similar part in a comedy pilot. "Even on a sitcom I had a morbid role," she sighs. It turns out that she sighs a lot, usually at herself for failing to grasp the word she is looking for. Her sentences come slowly, in staccato rhythms, as she refuses the temptations of convenience or cliché in favour of sitting it out for the precise phrase or expression. If that doesn't come, she'll just bring herself to a close with a "hmmm" or a click of the tongue. Or something from her repertoire of sighs.

It is hard to find a profile of Danes that doesn't touch on her supposed vulnerability. But there is a flintiness to her that hadn't been signposted, and which makes her an enjoyable sparring partner. I tell her that she appears to be having fun in Stage Beauty, in which she plays a 16th-century dresser and budding actress, whereas she usually seems vexed or pensive in her films. "Yeeahhh," she drawls, teasing out the word to suggest that it is nothing of the sort. "But I like to believe that those roles actually demanded it." Look at that judicious choice of language: "I like to believe..." The sarcasm crackles in the air.

There's more where that came from. When I point out that she even looked down in the dumps in the noisy, nasty blockbuster Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, she shoots back: "Well, the world was ending. It's very hard to have a feeling of levity when you're being attacked by androids!" By this point she's both bellowing and giggling. "If you were responsible for the salvation of humankind, I don't think you'd be laughing it up, pal." Point taken.

But it's true that Danes seems liberated among the wigs and powder puffs and bawdy gags of Stage Beauty. The trailers for Richard Eyre's film promise a kind of Shakespeare In Drag, conveniently omitting the passionate kiss between Crudup and Ben Chaplin, or the bizarre bed scene during which Danes interrogates Crudup about his preferred positions during gay sex. It's actually a cleverer, edgier movie than Shakespeare In Love, and the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable - as well as unmentionable, in the interview context at least. Perhaps it is enough that Danes responds to the subject of having fun on the film by cooing coyly: "Richard encouraged us to play. And I loved the company I was keeping."

The scenes from Othello that she plays opposite Crudup in Stage Beauty are the most charged in the picture, adding to the impression that, after her excitable Juliet in the Romeo + Juliet (1997), she has the makings of an impressive Shakespearean actress. I advise that she would be a tenacious Isabella in Measure for Measure and she whoops: "Oh, Billy's done that play!" Danes likes the sound of the role. "So she's incredibly masochistic, huh? Well, that'd be a good one for me. I do suffer from a bit of that. It's been my life goal to thaw." She muses on that for a moment. "My goal is to be less goal-oriented," she announces with a grin.

Some gentle nudging reveals that she regards herself as something of a control freak. "I'm not an acute case," she says, "but I definitely err on the side of being controlling." She has in the past imposed on herself enforced departures from her professional life - departures that look now like a control freak's attempts to prove that spontaneity has its time and place. In 1999, she took a break to study at Yale; she now says of that period: "I realise it was more about allotting some time for myself, to gain some distance from the business, and divorce myself from responsibility for a while." When she was dating her last boyfriend, the Australian musician Ben Lee, she accompanied him on a low-key US tour, squeezing into the bus and bedding down in motels. "It's such a fun fantasy to indulge in," she said at the time, "especially if you don't have to play." There's something poignant about the image of her tagging along, playing neither in the musical sense nor the participatory one.

One of the appeals of acting could be that it allows her the temporary satisfaction of immersion. She never looks more elated than when she is describing those moments when she has lost herself in a role. "Very rarely you are able to access a profound truth," she explains. "It can be really transcendent and exhilarating. That's why we have to endure all those times when we fall short of that excellence - which is the majority of the time in my experience. Often it's a little off, a little undercooked. But that's OK. I'm patient. Because when it does 'pop', it's so gratifying."

If there is a hint of sadness about Danes, it might be related to her professionalism; she doesn't appear to have had much opportunity, or inclination, to cut loose. She was, by her own account, a tense and fearful child who went into therapy at the age of six because she was seeing apparitions that would force her to perform peculiar tasks. A gargoyle once made her contort her body into a bizarre position for half an hour. "I don't see ghosts any more," she assures me. "So that's nice."

She was dancing in Lower East Side productions in her native New York before she was 10, and attending acting classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute by the age of 11. After that, she enrolled at a performing-arts junior high school, and later moved with her family to Los Angeles to enable her to appear in My So-Called Life.

The story of her turning down Schindler's List because it would mean a protracted break from schooling is widely known, and telling. She was, it seems, born with her feet on the ground. "She's this wiser-than-her-years-seeming person," said Jodie Foster, who directed Danes in Home for the Holidays (1996), "and yet she's really, really, really a baby. And you forget, because she's this beautiful, demure lady."

The hothouse atmosphere of Romeo + Juliet, dense with booze and bad behaviour and testosterone, is where Danes has seemed most fragile. But when I quote to her the observation of one of her co-stars, John Leguizamo, who said that she was "devastated" and "usually wanted to cry in every scene", she is quick to retaliate.

"We were all encouraged to reach a state of utter hysteria on and off the set," she says. "The other actors were just as deeply into their characters, only they weren't playing Juliet. They were playing virile, macho, aggressive people, so they were acting accordingly. Juliet does cry a lot in the movie, you know." She seems agitated now; I wish I had Leguizamo waiting on the line so she could put her objections directly to him. "I couldn't play a crying scene without crying," she continues. "I'd be an amazing actress if I could do that."

You get the impression that she is correcting an image of herself while it is still wet in the popular imagination - while she still has the chance. And when she does play inadvertently into the received wisdom about herself, she is quick-witted enough to send herself up something rotten. "I want my work to be seen by as many people as possible," she tells me at one point. "I want to make a big splash, I want to have my cake and eat it too. I think any serious artist does."

She pulls herself up, and looks at me incredulously. "And I just called myself a serious artist. That really happened, didn't it?" She's collapsed in an ungainly heap on the sofa now, covering her face with her hands and unleashing a deep, raucous laugh. "I'm so sorry," she says, coming up for air. "That was unfortunate."

Stage Beauty can only help to reshape Danes' persona, and though the publicists might be slow to admit it, the off-screen romance will be another advantage; it introduces a dab of passion into a career that has been predominantly cerebral. Danes doesn't have much in the pipeline except a leading role in the upcoming Shopgirl (co-starring, and written by, Steve Martin), but she says she's choosing her roles even more carefully now. "I haven't worked for six months because there's nothing I've connected with." She's been catching up with friends, shopping too much, taking in movies. For some reason, I ask if she writes; she strikes me as someone who might have a stack of poems in her bottom drawer. "I used to write poems when I was younger. I write e-mails. And text messages. Does that count?"

Only if you're a serious artist, I say.

"Oh, I am," she smiles. "Did I mention that?"

'Stage Beauty' is released next Friday

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Album: Björk


By Andy Gill

27 August 2004

"Instruments are so over," claims Björk, half-humorously, when discussing Medulla, for which she has stripped away most of the instrumentation to leave her greatest asset - her voice - supported by only the occasional skeleton of programmed beats, an occasional synth drone, and a warm patina of other voices, including those of Robert Wyatt, the former Faith No More singer Mike Patton, the Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis, and the Icelandic Choir that has accompanied her on live performances.

It's a facetious notion, but not one without some justification. The voice has always been the most personal of instruments, the furthest extension of the principle which maintains that wind instruments, because of the physical source of their sounds within the human body, are more revealing of a musician's character than those instruments whose control is entirely tactile and external. And certainly, in its greatest manifestations, there is little to compare to the visceral thrill of unaccompanied singing.

Here, the singing is not quite that pure and unmediated, thanks to the creation of "fake" instrumentation, such as basslines and human-beatbox percussion, from vocal samples, which hobbles some tracks with a mechanistic engine that detracts from their organic flow. So although the most commercially viable pieces might be those with funky hip-hop, garage or trip-hop beats, such as "Where is the Line?", "Triumph of a Heart" and "Who Is It", the most satisfying tend to be those which either showcase her serpentine lead vocal lines, such as "Show Me Forgiveness" and "Desired Constellation", or which surround her lead vocal with the comforting, feathery susurrus of the Icelandic Choir - such as the hymn-like "Vokuvo" and "Sonnets/Unrealities XI" (the latter a setting of an e.e. cummings poem) - or Wyatt's characteristic watery drones, as on "Submarine".

Many of the lyrics deal with the desires and obligations of relationships, from the celebrations of emotional generosity in "Pleasure is all Mine" to the imposition of limits in "Where is the Line". "Triumph of a Heart" is more directly germane to the project at hand, as Björk marvels at the way "Smooth soft red velvety lungs/ Are pushing a network of oxygen joyfully/ Through a nose, through a mouth", while "Desired Constellation" offers an equally pertinent affirmation of her need to pursue her vision wherever it may lead her: "With a palm full of stars/ I throw them like dice/ Repeatedly/ Until the desired constellation appears."

Some of those constellations may be a little off the charts of more mainstream fans, being closer in attitude and ambition to the vocal experiments of contemporary classical singers such as Cathy Berberian and Joan La Barbara than they are to pop. But as with all Björk's work, they're well worth the effort expended in following their course.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Album: The Libertines

The Libertines, ROUGH TRADE

By Andy Gill

27 August 2004

This rough-hewn, shambolic sophomore effort from The Libertines confirms the suspicion that the soap-opera antics of Pete Doherty's lifestyle, so greedily chewed over in the press, are infinitely more important than the band's actual music. Then again, the band themselves seem consumed by the same concerns. The bulk of The Libertines consists of songs whose comprehension is totally dependent on familiarity with the band's travails, from the stubborn pride of the jaunty "The Man Who Would Be King" to the weird mix of cynicism and forgiveness in the concluding "What Became of the Likely Lads". The best are those in which Carl Barat and Doherty alternate passages of criticism and extenuation, as in "Can't Stand Me Now". Its spindly, assertive sound is the closest the band come to their heroes, The Smiths. Elsewhere, the band move from the particular to the general, with songs such as "Narcissist" and "The Ha Ha Wall" acknowledging the dangerous, deceitful charm of the rock-rebel archetype. But their messages are underlined more by the slapdash nature of the proceedings: if the result is tunes this thin, and performances this perfunctory, who'd be a junkie rebel?

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Wayne's world rocks

Fountains of Wayne, Carling Academy, London

By Ben Walsh

27 August 2004

Named after a gaudy New Jersey garden furniture shop, these four thirtysomethings turned out to be a resolutely self-effacing bunch. There are no histrionics, and banter with the crowd was minimal. The band just got about the business of bombarding the audience with unashamedly sumptuous pop vignettes.

Playing their last gig of this successful tour, they started with the frivolous "I've Got a Flair" from their eponymous first album. They then mined material from the gorgeous Utopia Parkway (1999) - an album which failed to garner them the recognition they deserved - and their latest, the critically lauded Welcome Interstate Managers.

Yes, admittedly, they do sound a tad like an American college band, and occasionally they do stray perilously close to The Rembrandts of Friends fame. However, this all hardly matters as they are brimming with infectious hooks and absurdly catchy melodies. They've also got an awful lot of stories to tell, most of them about small-town America; the office workers, the travelling salesman, the "dreamers" who long to break the shackles of their daily grind. Their targets are small and parochial, but like The Smiths and The Kinks, no less powerful for it.

It appears that the crowd are dedicated followers of Wayne. They're clearly not just here to soak up the band's breakthrough hit "Stacy's Mom" (the song with Rachel Hunter in the video). They know their Wayne and the luscious "Sink to the Bottom", from their first album, is as warmly appreciated as anything played all night.

However, FOW are at their most potent when they're singing acerbically and wittily about loss, as on "Hackensack", the standout pop track of the night. A lament about a lost love who has gone on to bigger things, the song still manages to be droll: "Now I see your face in the strangest places/ Movies and magazines/ I saw you talking to Christopher Walken/ On my TV screen."

They count as their influences a stack of British bands - The Beatles, Prefab Sprout, and Aztec Camera - and their love of British pop is manifest in their support act, Glenn Tilbrook, ex-lead singer of Squeeze. For the first of two encores, the clearly excited Tilbrook is asked to join the band in a joyous version of their wittiest song "Red Dragon Tattoo". FOW allow him to take singing honours, which he revels in. Though it's slightly surreal to see the Squeeze man sing "Will you stop pretending I've never been born/ Now I look a little more like that guy from Korn." A wholly refreshing night.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

mercredi, août 25, 2004

John Peel

A real golden oldie

After 37 years on air, John Peel is Radio 1's resident pensioner. Ian Burrell meets the man still considered by music's young stars to be the granddaddy of cool

24 August 2004

John Peel walks into the room, sits down, pulls out a needle, lifts his T-shirt and injects him-self. For a moment, it's as if he has adopted the pre-interview routine of the drug-addicted rock star of the moment, Pete Doherty of The Libertines. In reality, he is treating his diabetes, a condition with which he was diagnosed three years ago after he began to complain of chronic fatigue.

"You would have thought that you would get a brief lift from it, but there's absolutely no response at all," he says of the injection. "If you stop doing it, you get quite floaty, which is obviously what young people pay good money for at the weekends, but is not a good feeling if you are trying to get on with stuff."

Diabetes hasn't stopped Peel, and neither have countless musical revolutions or the periodic cullings of presenters by the controllers of BBC Radio 1. Next week, he'll become the only pensioner on a station that targets 16- to 24-year olds as its key demographic, he has held down his job for 37 years. Meanwhile, successive generations of his contemporaries - Bob Harris, Janice Long and, more recently, Mark Radcliffe - have beaten a path to BBC Radio 2, and countless other ex-colleagues have departed for more distant broadcasting outposts.

Teenagers still listen to the show with the bedroom light out, just as many of their parents did before them. "According to audience research, we have the highest percentage of listeners under the age of 15 on the radio station, which is amazing," says Peel. "We don't do that nauseating thing of trying to be 'down with the kids'. An awful lot of people of that age are pissed off with that."

Peel says that he thinks he appeals to young people who "haven't chosen sides" and share his open-minded approach to different musical genres: "Their attitude is, 'What have you got?'" The answer to that is, one of the best record collections in the world. Peel will still play a trance record between a slice of hardcore punk and a piece of rare doo-wop. And the convenience of free bus travel hasn't made him less receptive to emerging musical trends.

This month, Peel is sharing his show with three presenters from the BBC's urban music station 1Xtra - J Da Flex, Robbo Ranx and Bailey - who play the latest in UK garage, dancehall and drum'n'bass respectively.

Bailey says that he is a Peel listener. "For anybody who's curious about different styles and wants to listen to something new, his show is the one to listen to. That's a serious amount of knowledge he's got there," he says.

Peel himself is modest about that. "My knowledge is overrated. I've never had a great memory and I'm shit on LP titles," he says. "I've never got into that collecting thing where you have to have the Norwegian pressing where the B-side is misspelt." But his love of music is undiminished, and is the key to the 869,000 audience he posted at last quarter's Rajars.

Radio 1 DJs have not always shared this enthusiasm for a good tune. Peel recalls a dinner party that he and his wife Sheila attended at the home of Noel Edmonds. "It was an excruciatingly embarrassing evening. I didn't dislike him at all, but we had absolutely nothing in common. He didn't even have a record-player in the house or any records. My wife told me a few weeks ago that his wife had said that they didn't like to keep records because they collected dust. So let that be a warning to you."

Peel also visited the home of Dave Lee Travis. "He didn't have many records either. But he had three labrador dogs in different colours."

Radio 1 is less popular than in DLT's day, but Peel is grateful that it is now more music-oriented. Asked why he has stayed at the channel so long, he says: "You can either see it as selfless dedication to public-service broadcasting, or a shocking lack of ambition - it's both of those things. What I do is ideally suited to Radio 1, and nobody has ever tried to lure me away anyway."

Unlike Home Truths, the talk-based show that he presents on Radio 4 - which he concedes "feels a bit like work" - the Radio 1 programme is essentially a leisure activity. "I've always said to my children - and it's not the advice you are supposed to give - 'Set your sights low and you won't find yourself constantly yearning for something else that you can't have'," he says.

Peel is acutely aware that many youngsters see him as the gatekeeper to a career in music. He receives, at the last count, 158 CDs a day, the majority being "demos" from young, aspiring bands. "You open the the parcels and there will be letters written in a respectable but cheeky way. You think, 'A lot of effort has gone into this apparently casual note.' You get a photograph of them standing there, trying to look hard with a fire escape or brick wall in the background," he says. "It could be our kids, and I think, 'Please be good.' When it isn't, it's actually quite difficult to take."

If a demo makes the grade, Peel will ring the band up personally to ask permission to play the music on his radio programme.

When Peel was growing up in Heswall, near Chester, there "weren't any" musical tribes and he, like every other teenager, wore the uniform of white shirt, tie, dark jacket and dark shoes. These days, he is grateful for the opportunity to wear his red skateboarding shoes. Had he wanted something as brash when he was a youth, he would "have had to fly to Tangier".

Peel professes surprise at the recognition he gets from younger colleagues - "I always think that they think I've come to fix the air conditioning" - but maybe they recognise a groundbreaker when they see one.

When Peel first started playing hip hop a generation ago, other DJs quietly warned him that he was broadcasting "the music of black criminals". Racists were unimpressed with his diverse tastes and sent him dog shit in the post. The fact that some were stupid enough to include an address with their letters ensured that they received a similar dispatch by return of post.

According to Rhys Hughes, Radio 1's executive producer for specialist music, John Peel is the station's "elder statesman, the Don Dadda". Hughes says: "In the early days, he was very much the maverick, and that's still probably true today."

But the late John Walters, Peel's former producer, put it slightly differently a few years ago: "We are in real trouble if Peel ever hits puberty."

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

John Peel: The god of adolescence

Rockin' John Peel is 65. But after all these years, what do we know about him? That he loves his music, his family, his football. Above all we know that voice. But what else is there to this beloved 'cultural impresario'? DJ Taylor is granted access to the manicured lawns and gazebos of Peel Acres to uncover an uncomfortable truth

29 August 2004

It is 10pm on a weekday evening in late 1981 or early 1982 and I am sitting in a dimly lit, sparsely furnished room in the corner of an Oxford college quadrangle. Before me on the desk lies a packet of Marlboro Lights and the fragments of an optional thesis for the Oxford History School entitled "The Early Church in East Anglia 500-870ad". From the transistor radio at my elbow, above the thump and crackle of a lugubrious blues instrumental, an equally lugubrious Liverpudlian voice is glumly intoning the following words: "Tonight, all you pop-kids, we have a new session from The Fall - Mark E Smith in fine venomous form, you'll be charmed to know - plus some new tracks from Bicycles from Space, Smegma and The Chutney Butler. I'll be playing Corpseprober's new single, and dusted down from the vaults there's the very first Dancing Spiders session going all the way back to 1969..."

Two or three years pass. The Oxford quadrangle yields to a room in Pimlico beneath which the passing traffic from Victoria Coach Station whines long into the night. The optional thesis gives way to the unpublished novel, but the scenario - the radio-bound stake-out, the lugubrious voice, the curious noises - is endlessly repeated. At a conservative estimate, five or six hundred times.

Fast-forward half a lifetime and here I am outside Stowmarket station on a bright summer morning, waiting for John Peel. Glimpsed through the window of his baby Alfa Romeo, chubbily be-shorted, sparse hair in terminal retreat, he looks oddly gnome-like: Mime, say, summoned unexpectedly from his forge in the third part of The Ring and grateful for a chance to sniff the fresh East Anglian air. The car's interior is full of blues CDs. Bowling unhindered through the Suffolk verdure, Peel offers a courteous monologue on the local environment. "When we came here 30 years ago, this was real redneck country. I mean," - a pause as he narrowly avoids being forced into the ditch by an oncoming vehicle - "in those days people wouldn't just stop to let you pass, they'd want to have a chat as well." He shakes his head at the thought of these bygone decencies now fallen into desuetude. The road winds on.

Peel Acres - long-standing, on-air joke name for the Peel domicile - reached a mile or two later, seems the most agreeable of country residences: remote ("If Sheila [his wife] sees a car she doesn't know going up the lane she takes an interest"), tennis court to hand, general atmosphere of bucolic calm threatened only by the presence of some outsize hornets, whose despatch this afternoon by "the hornet man" Peel anxiously awaits. Here, in a low-ceilinged kitchen, with occasional visits from a telephone-bound Sheila, a brace of dogs and Peel's 10-month old grandson, Archie, we race over the well-trodden course of Peel's formative years: the departure of the 20 year-old John Ravenscroft, as he then was, from Merseyside to an office-boy's job at the Republic National Life Insurance Company of Dallas, Texas and the curious chain of circumstance by which our man would emerge, seven years later, as a kind of audio-secretary to the board of late-Sixties pop.

Provenance, in particular that glum Scouse accent, was all. America, having previously shown no interest in English music, woke up to the Beatles in the early months of 1964. Geographical outlines were hazy. "They'd got this idea that if you lived in the UK there were probably only a couple of hundred people and they were all bound to know each other." Having contacted one Russ Knight, a DJ on the local Dallas station, known - entirely plausibly for the time - as The Weird Beard, to correct some inaccuracies in a feature on the Fabs, Peel found himself invited on air. Three years followed on south-western US frequencies, first as the resident Beatles expert on a station in Oklahoma City, subsequently on Radio KMEN broadcasting out of San Bernardino, California, the latter providing a convenient eyrie from which to monitor the burgeoning West Coast music scene.

Coming back to England in early 1967 he found the national broadcasting network in a state of promising flux. Pirate radio was about to be superannuated by the BBC shake-up that would give rise to Radio One. Employment prospects were good. Without the trouble of an audition, Peel finessed his way into a job on Radio London, still precariously transmitting from a boat moored off Felixstowe. Here, on a late-night show called The Perfumed Garden, he began his first assault on the nation's counter-cultural consciousness, getting away with playing records by such luminaries of the scene as Captain Beefheart and the Soft Machine, he suggests, merely because the lateness of the hour meant that no station overseer could be bothered to listen in.

Curiously enough, another gnarled veteran from the pirate days turns out to be operating no more than a couple of miles down the road from where I live. This is Keith Skues, now an ornament of the local station, BBC Radio Norfolk. "Peelie," Skues fondly reminisces, "he had this interesting accent - Liverpool mixed with American. I was fascinated by the delivery. It has to be said that a lot of people gave him a pretty wide berth." Peel eagerly returns the compliments. "Keith? A legendary figure. Mad as a hatter, of course. He was the only one who was in any way helpful or kind when I was on Radio London. I was very glad when he got his MBE this year. It would have meant more to him than almost any man alive."

The days of bringing up one's breakfast over the turntable in the middle of a heavy swell while keeping a weather eye out for the coastguard were numbered, though. In a classic example of that eternal law whereby chartered accountants' tax departments invariably do their recruiting at the Inland Revenue, the newly formed Radio One opted to fill most of its slots with ex-buccaneers from the North Sea. Peel and Skues departed to Broadcasting House and the company of such fellow station founders as Tony Blackburn, Jimmy Savile and Chris Denning (who was fired, Peel recalls for remarking on air that he awoke that morning in such an access of high spirits that he felt like a 15 year-old boy, but that sadly there were no 15 year-old boys available at four o'clock in the morning). Thirty-seven years later Peel, alone among that cast of froth merchants, self-publicists and national treasures, remains.

Whereupon the air turns horribly self- deprecating: "You can either see it as selfless dedication to the cause of public service broadcasting, or as a shocking lack of ambition." Peel's body language as he delivers these remarks is all of a piece with their tone (and despite a quarter-century's monitoring I still have no idea whether the slightly peevish air of humility is (a) genuine, (b) feigned or (c) so intimately bound up with the Peel persona that the distinction simply can't be drawn). Head down over the stack of records and circulars furnished by this morning's post, ironic nods following the trail of the voice, he is at once hugely affable and yet faintly sulky, the dogged, world-weary NCO in some ancient sitcom, say, wearily humouring the la-di-da adjutant in the knowledge that everything will soon go badly wrong. As for the shocking lack of ambition, even a self-confessed slacker in late middle-age quietly getting on with the business of playing what he likes can still have a significant impact on that peculiar and susceptible abstract known as the public taste.

A certain kind of alternative native pop has no greater impresario. There were boys I knew at college, I venture, who spent each evening compiling lists of likely purchases from the Peel play-list, just as, back in the early Seventies student union, social secretaries were quoted to the effect that "we'll book anyone John Peel plays." Like it or not, if not exactly a Svengali to a near 40-year-old cavalcade of aspiring musicians, Peel has figured as a benign and encouraging presence on the margin of English pop for practically as long as English pop has existed. How does he feel about this?

Naturally, our man is cheered by the fact that he inspires the loyalties of such a rabid fan-base, especially as the advent of superior technologies means that the correspondence now comes in not just from Salford but from Colorado Springs. Despite going out at 11pm, the show attracts the highest proportion of station listeners under the age of 15. I draw Peel's attention to a bizarre mid-Eighties period in which the programme was suddenly ablaze with thunderous excerpts from the work of "grindcore" death-metal bands with names like Bolt Thrower and Carcass. "I never set out to be wilfully obscure," Peel chides amiably. "If I'd wanted to be obscure, I could have been a lot more obscure than that. Basically, I've always just played the things I liked listening to."

"As God-like I strode the forecourt, a small voice hailed from a vehicle which lay mute and lifeless beneath the harsh lights. Drawing my noble sword, Renshaw, I was across the concrete in a trice to find that my friends, T Rex, were becalmed. Chuckling, I scooped them up in the palm of my hand and laid them gently on top of a soft pile of Green Stamps and bore them so to London town. As we sped straight and true to that fair city they told me of their concert tour and of the new record 'Ride A White Swan' on Fly Records. Doubtless you'll own it before long - if you don't by Christmas, my flock of highly trained hedgehogs will fan out through the land and retribution will be swift and terrible - indeed it will..." John Peel's column - Disc magazine, 1970

One of the most interesting things about impresarios of a particular cultural form is the relationships they develop with the artists themselves: editors of literary magazines and their contributors; publishers and their writers; producers and their bands. In Peel's case, unusually enough, these rapt comminglings of spirit scarcely exist. This is a man who has been in a certain sense responsible for the early trajectories of, in no particular order, Marc Bolan, Rod Stewart and the Faces, David Bowie, The Fall, The Undertones and a great many more. One expects to find the walls of Peel Acres groaning beneath the weight of signed photos of the great and good, each marking their debt to the sharp-eyed pundit who, however many years back, first pulled that cheaply recorded demo tape from the teetering pile. Queerly, although Peel did once receive a letter from the mother of the Damned's drummer, Rat Scabies, thanking him for "helping Christopher with his career", this kind of reciprocity is largely absent.

Tapping my friend Howard Devoto (former front-man of Manchester's Buzzcocks and influential art-punks Magazine) for his Peel stories, I confidently anticipate a strew of fond memories of late-night carousings in the Broadcasting House canteen, only to find that Devoto met him only once, and that was back in 1970. Then, as a Leeds schoolboy, he and the members of his "joke band", having sent Peel a tape, were startled to get a reply and even more startled when Peel allowed "this bunch of northern herberts" to call at his London flat to retrieve it. As a fully-fledged pop musician, Devoto got the impression that Peel was "shy" of the talents he supported. Peel confirms that he doesn't "want to hang out with bands particularly". A Danish camera crew recently arrived to interrogate him about Bowie, but Peel has little to say on such occasions. "Most of the people I didn't know at all as human beings."

There were, however, certain prominent exceptions to this rule. "The Faces, I have to say, came to our wedding, and in all the cine-footage Rod Stewart is talking to my aunt Ailsa. What in God's name they could be saying to each other we've never known." Another was Marc Bolan, to whom Peel (see above excerpt) was very close for some years, the relationship only waning on the release of T Rex's mega-selling "Hot Love" single. "It was just that I didn't like it. If it hadn't have been by Marc I wouldn't have played it, so I didn't, and he never really forgave me." It is not, Peel carefully explains, that he expects upwardly mobile bands to satisfy "some obscure artistic requirement of mine", merely that the arrival of a certain celebrity seems to destroy their ability to make the kinds of records he wants to play.

And then, of course, there is Captain Beefheart, whose gravelly baritone and avant-jazz/blues racket, most notoriously deployed on 1969's Trout Mask Replica, Peel first encountered in his San Bernardino days. Invited by the record company to attend a Beefheart gig at the Whiskey a Go Go, Peel found his world transformed. "It was like hearing Elvis for the first time. I reeled out into the Hollywood night just knowing that nothing would ever be the same again."

Back in England, discovering that Beefheart and his Magic Band were booked for a provincial tour, Peel contrived to chauffeur them around the Midlands concert circuit. "One of the gigs was in Kidderminster at a venue called Frank Freeman's Dancing School. This was in the days when groups were called things like Creedence Clearwater Revival or New Riders of the Purple Sage, and one of the band said to me: 'Hey, that's a really groovy name.' 'Not really,' I told him. 'It's a dancing school run by a man named Frank Freeman'."

Backstage, Mr and Mrs Freeman regaled the Captain, Zoot Horn Rollo, Winged Eel Fingerling and the rest of Peel's entourage with tea and cucumber sandwiches. On the way back to London, Beefheart, who was already known for his eccentric behaviour ("It's always irritated me that people label him as weird - it was a kind of super-reality"), announced: "Stop the car, John. I want to hug a tree." Unsure whether this was Californian rhyming slang for "have a pee", yet anxious to conciliate his hero, Peel stopped. "I thought: he's a far greater man than I, so I'll do whatever he wants me to."

Throughout this entertaining exchange (this is a particular late-adolescent hero of mine and I am enjoying myself no end) the interviewer is struck by two things. On the one hand there is the subject's reluctance (understandable in the circumstances) to stray much beyond the confines of music. On the other there is his reluctance to theorise over the art form which has dominated the waking hours of most of his adult life. Seeking to prod at the first, I pull out a reference from the somewhat mandarin Journals of Anthony Powell dated 21 May 1990, in which one of Powell's acquaintances reports that he has "heard the disc jockey John Peel say he would take Dance to his island in Desert Island Discs. Appropriately enough, Peel's fondness for the world of Widmerpool, X Trapnel and Nick Jenkins turns out to be a Question of Upbringing. "My mother had read the books as they came out. They'd played a major part in her life and she made a lot of references to them." Peel's own take on the 12-volume A Dance to the Music of Time emphasises its uncanny resemblance to real life: chance encounters echoing back over the years, the unlooked-for significance of tiny events and symbols. Sadly, what looks like promising intellectual territory runs slap into a five-barred gate when Peel declares that his only other literary hero is Captain WE Johns, who created Biggles.

Wanting to trespass into the second off-limits area, I enquire if Peel has read the late Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. He hasn't. "I never read books about music." Guilelessly, I try to summarise the MacDonald thesis (essentially a musical version of the Tory view of history) which is that the beast known as "pop music" reached its highest point of expression between 1965 and 1967 when the Beatles were simultaneously in the vanguard of sophisticated taste and commercially popular, a phenomenon never repeated over the next three and a half decades. Peel is unimpressed. The pop form is so fragmented, he maintains, that comparisons can't be made between then and now. "You're not comparing like with like," he says. But other art forms, I suggest, may be thought to have declined in this way after hitting some early apogee. What about the English Novel, for instance? Peel is yet more unimpressed. "You're over-educated," he pronounces, genially.

Oh well. With the pension book only a few days away and the four Peel progeny now in their twenties ("Whatever you feel about them, the rest of the time is as nothing compared with the frustrations of watching them looking for jobs and being exploited and abused"), our man's life is not quite the thronged musicological and familial pageant that once it was. Additional media opportunities abound, notably the Saturday morning ruminations of Home Truths, not - it must be said - greeted with wholehearted acclaim by the Radio Four faithful. There are fewer excursions to gigs these days ("At the age one has reached, if people don't recognise you they think you're just some pervert wanting to touch young people's bottoms") and a more august project is in view, the writing of a much-delayed autobiography. Slow progress has recently been further retarded: Peel, having only the day before the interview finished a particularly sweet 5,000-word tranche to his satisfaction, promptly flicked the delete key by mistake.

He retains his habitual distrust of the gauleiters at Broadcasting House and dislikes - as ever - the inanities of the Biz while still applauding the integrity of some of its products, cheered that "you can put innocence into a brutal and corrupt system and it still emerges as innocence."

The last question left on the list, as he kindly offers to ferry me back to Stowmarket station, is somewhat difficult to articulate. For all the allure of the public persona, there is talk here and there of petulant Peels, aggrieved and complaining Peels. How else does one decently put this, but: "Are you are as nice as you look"? "I like to think that what you see is what you get," Peel straightaway deposes, before allowing that his diabetes makes him tired and grumpy in the afternoons, a failing he tries assiduously to combat.

A feature of this morning's exchange has been the high degree of Christian charity extended to practically every one who strays into the compass of the Peel radar: old radio colleagues, music-biz sharks - all have been judged and given the benefit of the doubt. Former Radio One side-kick and "rhythm pal" Kid Jensen? "I wish he was still there. I wish he lived next door." There is some mild disparagement of Jimmy Savile, Peel's co-host on his first Top of the Pops. ("He was a great one for stitching up people he thought represented a threat. But obviously I represented no kind of threat to the nightmare world Jimmy Savile inhabited.") But even Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson ("I always found him terribly patronising") is pronounced to have done good work in his day.

And then, out of nowhere, on the road back to Stowmarket, Peel remarks, in the tone of one who has emerged from long years of meditation to find wisdom dangling within his grasp: "Rupert Murdoch has destroyed most of what was good about this country." There is a pause. "I was at the Labour Party bash on the night of the 1997 General Election, but, you know, it's been betrayal from Day One." Punctually delivered to the dusty forecourt of Stowmarket station, I realise that our glorious leader has just acquired another unlooked-for distinction: he is apparently the only person in the country who makes John Peel angry.

The Alfa Romeo chugs off out of sight, no doubt with the George Thorogood CD cranked to the max. Charmed and beguiled by a couple of hours spent in the company of this molten god from my late-adolescence, I realise that, curiously, he has left no impression. "What was he like?" my wife wonders an hour or so later. The only half-way accurate answer is "like John Peel". Queerly enough, I seem to have become over-familiar with the man before even meeting him. No disrespect to this 65-year-old titan of the airwaves, but talking to John Peel is like talking to my uncle.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

mardi, août 24, 2004

Festival showstoppers

The Pixies' set at the V Festival on Sunday has been hailed as one of the all-time great festival performances. Which are the others? Ciar Byrne and Oliver Duff asked the experts to share their unforgettable memories

24 August 2004

Paul King Video DJ

The Velvet Underground, Reunion Tour, Glastonbury 1993

Like many other people, I am a huge fan of the Velvet Underground, and I had never imagined I would see them perform. The line-up that year was virtually the original one, except Nico.

It was a greatest-hits show, if you can regard the Velvet Underground as having hits. They came out and performed everything you wanted them to. The expectations were high.

As I remember, a lot of people were disappointed because expectations were so high. I have seen Lou Reed several times; he's either in a good mood or a bad mood. You did sense he didn't communicate with the crowd. He was a big moody. I thought it was fantastic. I didn't care because I just wanted to see them.

Rolf Harris was performing that year and he went down better. With the Velvets it was a workmanlike performance, but I was going to enjoy it whatever. They weren't a party band, which works well at Glastonbury. The reviews were pretty bad.

I was working at MTV, so I had the additional good fortune of interviewing them, apart from Lou Reed. They wanted no questions about why they had reformed, whether they were just doing it for the money and no sugary stuff about how great they were in the 1960s. But they were sweet, and when I asked them if they had just reformed for the money, they said, "yes". Really, they were interested to see how it would be if they got back together.

I also remember seeing Billy Bragg at the Cambridge Folk Festival and being blown away. He was an amazing raconteur, politically aware and humorous.

Allan Jones, editor, Uncut

Tim Buckley/The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Knebworth 1974

If I wanted to be insufferably hip, I would say the performance I remember best was at Knebworth in 1974 by the American Tim Buckley, who died the following year and has now become a legend.

When I arrived from south Wales, Buckley had just gone on stage. He had always been among my great favourites and I had never seen him before.

But perhaps the most memorable was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band the same year at Knebworth. They were on the cusp of becoming big at the time. In many ways they were the forerunners of punk. They were very loud, very garish.

The festival was headlined by the Doobie Brothers. It was old school, a lot of beardy hippies. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band went down like a hand grenade in a chicken coop. They were very theatrical and very messy.

By the time they had finished, the stage was like Omaha beach.

I was friendly with the group and it was amazing to see them taking the festival by the scruff of the neck. I remember joining them afterwards when they were celebrating in style backstage.

The Doobie Brothers' road team came in and said they needed to work in the caravan to get ready. I remember, Alex was from the Gorbals, and he just said: "If the Doobies want this caravan they are going to have to fight us for it with fucking knives."

Liz Kershaw, BBC music presenter

Roger Waters Glastonbury 2002

The one performance I'm so glad I saw was Roger Waters from Pink Floyd at Glastonbury two years ago.

I got into Pink Floyd about 1976 but had never seen them live. Given that he was the only member of the band there, I was a bit ambivalent beforehand. I was excited but didn't expect too much.

But it proved to live up to high hopes. It was the Sunday night, dusk was falling on a warm summer evening, the sky was pink, there were bonfires and tents all around. When he played a 27-minute version of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", it was incredible. His set was just mesmerising - so accurate, even though he was on his own.

Everyone was singing and had their cigarette lighters out. It was just as I always imagined a festival would be in the Seventies - bucket loads of peace and love, no aggression about it.

There were people like me who loved the band years ago, standing shoulder to shoulder with 18-year-olds. It was a completely hippy, good vibes moment, and because it fitted the way I imagined festivals it has lived on in the memory. I stood in the same spot to see Oasis in 1995 and that was crap, even though I'm a fan of the band.

Oasis just couldn't be bothered; it was these drunk guys staggering around the stage, and when you looked around it was loads of drunk blokes staggering around in the crowd, being lairy. The atmosphere was totally different and not what a festival's really about.

Seeing Roger Walters was incredibly special for me - because of my love for Pink Floyd, because I'd never seen them live, because of the atmosphere.

Phil Alexander, editor, Mojo

Thin Lizzy, Reading Festival 1983

The best festival performance I saw was at the first festival I went to, Thin Lizzy at Reading in 1983. It was their last tour, which ended in the UK at Reading, where they headlined.

Then, it seemed bizarre that they were splitting up. We didn't believe they really were. Their final show was in Germany two weeks later, but it was the final blow as far as the UK was concerned. It was an emotional evening.

Being 16, I watched every band. By the time Thin Lizzy came on, we were in an incredible state. The combination of being a tiny bit worse for wear and watching a band saying their final farewell was almost too much.

The most emotional moment was a song called "Still In Love With You". There is one line "Is this the end?" When the music stopped the crowd went berserk and there was a massive cry of "No".

I'm sure Thin Lizzy at the height of their powers played with more panache, but that was my most memorable festival moment.

Stuart Maconie, presenter Radio 2

The Verve, Glastonbury 1993

At Glastonbury in 1993 Rolf Harris and the Velvet Underground were on the main stage, which was a bigger pairing, but on the NME stage were Suede and the Verve.

Suede were at the point of being the most-talked-about group in Britain and the Verve were just about to reinvent themselves at this gig as an emotional, anthemic pop group.

The Verve were pretty amazing. Prior to that they hadn't been my kind of band. Under Richard Ashcroft, the band was finally taking control. They really stuck out in my mind. Within a couple of years, Urban Hymns had made them huge. You could sense they were on the cusp of greatness. They played this amazing version of "Gravity's Grace".

The weather was stunning. I always associate Glastonbury with foul weather, and being in canvas and being rained on is not my thing. A few of us, including me and Mark Ellen, now editor of Word magazine, tried to make it as un-festival-like an experience as possible. We set out a linen table cloth, and had a hamper filled with the best cheeses and fine wines.

Someone said to me, "You look as though you've come dressed for a yachting weekend". We sat drinking Merlot and eating Roquefort while all around us were people in balaclavas taking bad acid. I also bought six bottles of Evian each morning so I could pour them over my head and have a shower. I'm of the opinion that pop music is best enjoyed in an inside venue with a bar.

Andy Gill, music critic

Bob Dylan/ Leonard Cohen Isle of Wight 1969/70

For me it's two Isle of Wight festivals: Bob Dylan in 1969, and then Leonard Cohen in 1970.

In '69 it was Dylan's first full appearance since his bike accident in 1966, and the concert at which he publicly unveiled his country-style voice.

He came on really late because there was some problem with amplification and there'd been a bit of dissent, people tired of waiting. But when he came on and did his old back catalogue in this new voice and new style it was a total shock, sacrilege really, but it has since become his trademark.

Beforehand he'd had this huge mop of curly hair, and had a very loud band and had all this electric stuff and been sneering and contemptuous. And then he appeared at the Isle of White in this scrubby little beard and white suit. Unforgettable because of the change, and because it was so eagerly anticipated.

The following year, half a million people had come to the island for a line-up featuring Hendrix, the Doors, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull and the Who. It was Cohen who stuck in my mind - his performance was quite odd. He had a country rock band with him and appeared to be totally drunk. I remember thinking of him as a solo bedsit balladeer, but with that show he seemed like a bloke - less like a poet than a person. It was more lubricated than usual, shall we say, very memorable as a performance - in contrast to Hendrix, who didn't do one of his best.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd