Category Archives: Interviews

Madame President? Fearless Cooking. New Music.

After November 8, 2016, first came the sadness; then came the rage, the activism, and the protests; and, finally, for thousands of women, the next step was to run for office – many of them for the first time. More women campaigned for local or national office in the 2018 election cycle than at any other time in US history, challenging accepted notions about who seeks power and who gets it. The Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election saw an unprecedented and a record number of women running for office. Now Super Tuesday is behind us and as if time has stood stubbornly still, two late 70s white men are the front runners. To begin to unravel how we ended up without a woman to effectively fumigate the White House of the most debased misogynist of all time, we revisit our 2019 interview with journalist Caitlin Moscatello. She reported on the wave of female candidates who decided to run for political office after the 2016 election. Caitlin followed four candidates throughout the entire process, from the decision to run through Election Day, Her excellent book, See Jane Win takes readers inside their exciting, winning campaigns and the sometimes thrilling, sometimes brutal realities of running for office while female. What she discovers is that the candidates who triumphed in 2018 emphasized authenticity and passion instead of conforming to the stereotype of what a candidate should look or sound like, a formula that was intended to be more relevant than ever as we approach the 2020 presidential election. This look back at Caitlin Moscatello’s exuberant work serves as the forerunner to future examinations of why “Madame President” is not likely to be heard for at least another four years.

Food stylist, recipe developer, and cookbook author, Susan Spungen has a lot to say about Fearless Cooking and Entertaining. In her appealing new book, Open Kitchen she gets straight to the point by telling the reader whether physical or spiritual, an open kitchen is a place to welcome company, to enjoy togetherness and the making of a meal. Her cookbook is full of contemporary, stylish, and accessible dishes, from simple starters such as Burrata with Pickled Cherries and centerpieces such as Rosy Harissa Chicken, to desserts such as Roasted Strawberry-Basil Sherbet. Norman B’s conversation with Susan is a mouth-drooling exercise in the love of food, cooking and the wonders of discovering new recipes.  

Also in the show, a selection of new music from an enterprising compilation, The Music Of Others. This came about when The Glad Cafe, a cultural hub in Glasgow’s south side discovered they were facing closure if they couldn’t come up with 40,000 pounds for repairs to the roof of their building. To help raise funds, the venue started a crowd-funding rally. The outcome was a new label imprint, Glorious Traces Recordings. In turn, they released a 22 track collection which sees a whole host of brilliant names covering each other’s songs…the result is, honestly one of the best compilations we’ve had the pleasure play in quite a while…here then are Wolf with Help This Animal originally by Paul Vickers & The Leg followed by Emma Pollack with Holy Smoke originally by Robin Adams Enjoy!

Show #363

A Conversation With The Shend

The Cravats

“What a nice fella.” That was my immediate takeaway after spending an hour in conversation with The Shend. From the promotional photos he sent us, the man appears formidable. The videos of The Shend performing with his band and some clips of his acting roles suggest he could be a little grumpy. The Shend swept away any concerns I might have had with a pre-chat message, “Hi, mate, I’m looking forward to talking with you.” The Shend, along with Svor Naan, Viscount Biscuits, Joe 91 and Rampton Garstang make up The Cravats. Originally from Redditch, near Birmingham, the band haphazardly got together in 1977 after seeing and being impressed by The Stranglers. Their first single, Gordon b/w Situations Vacant was self-financed with a little help from The Shend’s mum, who didn’t approve of “that awful punk noise”. A recording contract with fledgling indie label Small Wonder led to the attention of  John Peel and in turn, four sessions for his influential BBC radio show. The band took a rest in 1982 with original Cravats member Robin Dallaway and The Shend forming The Very Things, as well as DCL Locomotive and The Babymen. The Cravats story picks up again in 2006 with a double CD compilation of Cravats singles and other material was released as The Land Of The Giants – The Best Of The Jazz-Punk Colossals on Overground Records, including unreleased track Seance mixed by Paul Hartnoll of Orbital, and also released as a single. A CD reissue of their first LP, The Cravats In Toytown was released in 2012, accompanied by an additional CD featuring a complete remolding of the original In Toytown 8 track masters by Penny Rimbaud of Crass. The Cravats recorded their first new material in 30 years in the form of Jingo Bells b/w Batterhouse, a limited edition 7″ released on Overground Records. This was followed by the album, Dustbin Of Sound in 2012. And now The Cravats are back with a new long-player, Hoorahland. It’s twelve tracks of rollicking, rambunctious Englishness. (Even though the decidedly American Jello Biafra joins in on Now The Magic Has Gone). In our conversation, The Shend and I zig-zag between the early days of innocently putting out records without a clue, but magically being able to snag Judas Priest’s drum kit for their first recording session – to the remarkable DIY ethos of today’s enterprising music-makers. Plus, I unabashedly tell The Shend how much of fan I have been of The Cravats since that very first single. Trainspotters take note: this conversation is full of references and name-checks. Enjoy!

Norman B – March 2020 

LEM Vol 171

Life Elsewhere’s Juke Box Jury

“Would you listen to this again?” We asked the jurists after playing each new release. We didn’t want boring answers, so we selected three guests we knew would provide intelligent, and entertaining critiques of every song. The first edition of Life Elsewhere’s Juke Box Jury features three highly qualified guests:

Mark Haskell Smith, author of rollicking smart fiction – Blown, Raw, Salty, Baked, Moist and Delicious. The LA-based writer is also a deft hand with non-fiction – Naked At Lunch and Heart Of Dankness. When not hunched over his MacBook, Mark teaches, writes screenplays and searches for the ultimate cocktail. In his earlier years, he slung a guitar on way down low and was part of Seattle post-punk noise-makers, 3 Swimmers.

Highly acclaimed creative director, Robert Newman has an impressive list of magazine designs under his belt, including, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, New York, Details, Vibe, The Village Voice and Guitar World. He was also the editor of The Rocket, a music and culture magazine based in Seattle. Newman and his teams have won over 500 design awards. Plus, he is past president of the Society of Publication Designers and has been a guest lecturer at the Poynter Institute. Robert is based in New York City and is an avowed music aficionado.

Singer-songwriter, poet and producer, Sylken Somers came to our attention just a short while ago. So impressed were we with Prone, her three-track EP, we had to find out more about this intriguing talent. We reached out to engage Sylken in conversation, (available here), she talks about music, life, love, mental and physical health, plus being non-binary. Sylken’s obvious delight in vocabulary made her a perfect choice for this show where we asked our guests to articulate their opinions – honestly.

The music we selected:

Akai Solo – Stand Alone Calm (prod. Ibiss)

Onipa – Makoma

Jordana – Signs

Iceblink – Dialoghi

Stutter Steps – Giant Sand Heart

David J with Emily Jane White – I Hear Only Silence Now

Hallows – Subtle

Grimm Grimm – Ginourmous

Drama – Forever And A Day

Nnamdï – Price Went Up

Listen carefully, do you agree with the opinions of our Jury, Sylken Somers, Robert Newman, and Mark Haskell Smith?

Show #362

A Conversation With Sylken Somers

Separating music into genres has always bothered me. I much prefer to ask if a piece of music works despite the label? Does it touch me? Do I want to hear it again? After all, I may ignore a fabulous song if it’s classified with a genre I’m not fond of! So, when I discovered a three-track EP titled Prone by Sylken Somers, I didn’t pay attention to the eleven label tags the artist had listed on their Bandcamp page. Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway because I was immediately seduced by the first cut, Tenderhead Tenderheart. What is this? I shouted just as the melodica came in. A melodica? Reggae luminary, Augustus Pablo had made the toy instrument an integral part of his famed “Far East” sound, yet here that distinctive sound was almost at odds with what at first I took for a sad love song. But then Sylken sings, “I gaze in a haze while time stands still” And without warning – silence, long enough to make you worried, then the music starts up again and you realize this is no ordinary love song. In fact, this is not a love song.* Tenderhead Tenderheart could be a cry, a cry of despair. The love may never have been there. Listen carefully to the ending, distant voices, barely discernible even with earbuds, suggest you need to hear this track again and – again. Cut two, Robots, starts abruptly with more sad-sounding vocals overlaid with a cacophony of found sounds, a metallic beat, distant voices and then a stuttering effect that slows down as Sylken croons while the sound of rain and a storm(?) set the mood. If there is any other instrument except the bass I may have missed it. “I close my eyes and shut the curtains.” Sylken plaintively sings as the song fades to a close. The last and longest track, Wringing My Hands opens with what could be described as “waking from a dream” coda, which quickly morphs into hazy vocals from Sylken. The clockwork music-box sounds instead of being at odds with the vocals add an intriguing ominous tone. The lyrics seem deliberately hard to decipher, yet, “Wringing my hands” comes through ever so clearly. After a short instrumental break, you soon realize the artist has not only a lovely but distinctive voice. The rumbling up-front bass with the mixture of percussive sounds may persuade some train-spotters to talk of Nu Jazz – but that’s another label. An instrumental break comes from the music-box before the vocals begin again. Is Sylken angry? The metallic percussion becomes more intense as “Wringing my hands, wringing my hands” is repeated. Finally, “You left me wringing my hands” closes the song after almost eight minutes.

So fascinated was I by the music of this artist I had not heard of before and could not find any rave reviews – anywhere, I was determined to learn more, maybe a chat, if possible. We reached out to Sylken and the response was almost immediate, so a transatlantic interview was arranged. Sylken was delightful, engaging and damn funny. Yet, on playback, I knew I had wasted an opportunity to learn a little more about this talented singer-songwriter-poet-producer. It probably was one of those many tags on their Bandcamp page – Queer. I didn’t want to pry and I didn’t want to make gender or sexuality an issue. Another call was made and I asked Sylken if I should have been more enquiring. “I’m an open book!” The answer came rapidly, so we set off on our second conversation. The result is an honest, unabashed chat about music, life, being non-binary and sexual fluidity.

Norman B – February 2020

*credit (almost) to Martin AtkinsKeith Levene & John Lydon

Show #361

A Tribute To Andy Gill

Simon Reynolds by Adriana Bianchedi

“If a single word could describe Gang of Four’s Andy Gill—who led a version of the group from their formation in the late 1970s right up until his death on February 1—it might be “steely.”  It captures everything from his innovative and massively influential guitar style, which sounded like metal splintering, to his stern stage persona, to his brisk, no-nonsense demeanor in interviews. A guitar-hero for a “no more heroes” era, Gill saw rock as an agent of change: a hammer to reshape reality, not just reflect it.” The opening paragraph from Simon Reynold’s eloquent tribute in Pitchfork on the untimely passing of Andy Gill. Reynolds joins Life Elsewhere to talk about the Gang of Four guitarist’s legacy and the importance of his influence on legions of musicians.

Jon King & Andy Gill

It was devastating news for Jon King to learn of the sudden death of his longtime friend and bandmate. To add to the emotional whirl that descended up him, just an hour before Norman B was scheduled to chat with Jon, he sent a message to ask if the conversation could be delayed for a while as his daughter had just gone into labor. A roller-coaster of emotions ensued for Jon, he had just lost a dear partner of many, many years then just mere days after, he was celebrating the birth of a grandchild. With so much more to engage his time, Jon King graciously allowed us to hear his thoughts on the loss of Andy Gill and welcoming a newborn into his life. Jon’s remembrances are touching, he describes his bandmate as being nowhere near as dour as the persona he was known to present. You’ll hear the emotion of a man trying to rationalize what has just occurred in his life. We thank Jon King for sharing his thoughts, we send him our sincere condolences. 

Show #360

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