Amelia’s Magazine | A review of Ctrl.Alt.Shift’s latest venture, “Dear Diary”

Dan Eldon’s visual diaries; courtesy of Kathy Eldon

At some point in your life, cost you may have kept a diary, capsule pouring into it all of your deepest and darkest thoughts; the ones that you felt were too embarrassing or inappropriate to say aloud. My experience of reading old diaries is always toe-curling, but amusing as I struggle to make sense of why I cared so much about some things to write about them (for example, “loaf of bread head guy” who I adored from afar featured regularly in my diaries for a while – don’t ask!). As much as I would like to say that my diary entries were highly interesting, intelligent, deep and profound, most of them are sleep-inducing and consist of a type of written diarrhea. Thankfully, this is not the case at Cltr.Alt.Shift’s new exhibition, “Dear Diary”.

Dear Diary” is a new project launched by the youth anti-poverty charity to explore the art of diary keeping, taking participants on an inspirational and reflective journey, through the private pages of young individuals across the globe. The exhibition is housed under a funky t-shirt shop in Covent Garden in an intimate space, bringing together several diary collections ranging from Nirvana frontman and lyricist Kurt Cobain, to the stunning visual diaries of Dan Eldon, a young and promising photojournalist who was killed on the front line by an angry mob in Mogadishu, aged only 22.

Dan Eldon’s visual diaries; courtesy of Kathy Eldon

The room is divided into seven exhibits where on entry, you are confronted by four portraits of Eldon’s work, each infused with vivid, bold colours; a stark contrast to the bare white walls. The first image I encountered was the profile of a young, elegant looking tribeswoman wearing an intricate-looking traditional headdress, set against a backdrop of vibrant oranges and pinks. What I found most intriguing about this visual is that it had been signed with “Love and kisses, Angela” and “Love Maria”, and I was curious to know who these woman were. Had they been part of Eldon’s life at some stage and if so, how would their own diaries have read after his death?

Another one of Eldon’s portraits which had a gripping effect on me was that of four faded pictures in what appears to be a group of friends on a camping trip, smiling and chatting happily amongst each other, mounted on a map of Tanzania’s national parks. On closer viewing, the outlines of what appears to be three people – sketched with thick graphite pencil onto grainy beige/orange-coloured paper – are superimposed onto each of the original photos, as if they are joining the group but are separated through their apparent difference in physicality. A sentence is scrawled across the bottom of the map reading: “Dedicated to all 3 who lost their lives during the dramatic escape from Mikumi Nat Park”, providing us with a glimpse of the harsh reality of civil warfare, to which Eldon perished.

Kenya to the UK: Secrets and Struggles Diary Wall (photography by George Ramsay)

I was deeply moved by some of the diary excerpts displayed on the diary wall, written by teenage Kenyans living in extreme poverty and political instability. Although many of the entries were simplistic and occasionally poorly structured, the diarists’ basic descriptions painted a vivid and poignant image of the future that they longed for: “It’s also my hope in future this kind of thing will never happen again coz it also took death to many of my friends and also the separation of my beau and since then we have never communicated which made me so lonely”. Other diary entries detail the violence around elections and the hardship that economic deprivation brings: “…Our family made up of 11, it was hard to grow up due to poverty. It was hard and difficult to study”.

Audio diaries with images above audio decks by Kenyan conservationalist and playboy diarist, Peter Beard (photography by George Ramsay)

Aware that I am painting quite a grim and depressing picture of the exhibition, I assure you that this exhibition is not just a collection of doom and gloom. The audio diaries present a more eclectic mix of personal accounts, ranging from the inspirational to hilarious. Of these, the most compelling piece was of a courageous 19 year old South African girl called Thembi who broke the silence about living with AIDS at a time when it was still a taboo subject in South Africa; she eventually went on to share her story with more than 50 million people. A highly amusing reading from comedian Richard Herring about his painful years as a chubby brainiac, who at the time believed he would be a virgin forever, also makes for an entertaining listen.

Diary library with comfy sofa chair (photography by George Ramsay)

In a far corner of the show room, there is an area for quiet reflection with an extremely comfortable chair which I made my home for a good part of the evening, taking advantage of the diary library, which included entries belonging to Samuel Pepys, Frida Kahlo, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and several volumes of Anaïs Nin’s journals. On the top shelf (no, not what you are thinking), there were two books available for documenting your own thoughts, which people had written in throughout the course of the evening, with one refined gentleman expressing that he was looking forward to going home and banging his wife! Nice.

Irving Finkel’s collection of diaries (photography by George Ramsay)

Other exhibition highlights include the unpublished diaries of ordinary people from the 19th century displayed in a glass case, collected by the British Library’s Irving Finkel over the years. Finkel would often search for these items at secondhand shops and house clearances, believing that they hold the key to our histories through the casual documentation of one’s environment at the time. The child in me gravitated towards the Children’s Pocket Annual and Birthday Book of an eight year old girl and scouts’ diaries with stained pages and frayed edges, detailing the mundane routines of school work, bath days and playing with wolf cubs (well maybe playing with wolf cubs wouldn’t have been so mundane).

Ctrl.Alt.Shift’sDear Diary” is an intelligent and thought-provoking initiative, which takes a concept that we are all familiar with to help us understand and relate with others. Through encountering a range of diaries, including that of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, a boy living with Tourette’s in the US and teenagers living in the slums in Kenya, our attention converges on the fact that whatever our language and ethnicity, the expression of thought transcends cultural boundaries. Although we may be divided geographically and by our heritage, fundamentally the feelings that we experience are the same.

Limited edition diary with cover illustrated by Alexa Chung

As part of the project, Ctrl.Alt.Shift have also launched a limited edition diary, with a cover illustrated by Alexa Chung featuring extracts from Courtney Love, Daniel Johnson and Anaïs Nin, which you can buy here. All proceeds raised from the ‘Dear Diary’ project go towards Maji Na Ufanisi, working with young people from the slums of Nairobi.

For more information about location and opening times, check out our listings here.

Excerpt from Courtney Love’s diaries; courtesy of Courtney Love

Categories ,Anais Nin, ,British Library, ,Cltr.Alt.Shift, ,Courtney Love, ,Covent Garden, ,Dan Eldon, ,Daniel Johnston, ,Dear Diary, ,Frida Kahlo, ,Gallery Seven, ,Irving Finkel, ,Kat Phan, ,Kenya, ,Kurt Cobain, ,Maji Na Ufanisi, ,Mikumi National Park, ,Mogadishu, ,Nairobi, ,nirvana, ,Richard Herring, ,Samuel Pepys, ,Scouts, ,South Africa, ,Super Superficial, ,Thembi, ,Tourettes

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Amelia’s Magazine | Shonen Knife at the Scala: Live Review

Shonen Knife by Sally Jane Thompson
Shonen Knife by Sally Jane Thompson

After a month long tour around Europe which kicked off in, information pills of all places, more about Brixton’s Windmill, viagra Shonen Knife arrived at the Scala for their 30th birthday bash. Originally formed in Osaka by sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano, along with their friend Michie Nakatani, and influenced as much by 1960’s girl groups as by punk bands (especially the Ramones), Shonen Knife created an energetic, upbeat, irresistibly catchy yet still underground sound (packaged in colourful, often homemade outfits). Their music made its way to the US alt-rock scene and they eventually found unlikely champions in such luminaries as Sonic Youth and, especially, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain (who invited Shonen Knife on a tour of the UK in the early 90’s). Now on their (at the last count) eighteenth studio album (a set of classic Ramones covers), Shonen Knife were back in town and ready to rock Kings Cross.

Shonen Knife by Fi Blog
Shonen Knife by Fi Blog

I’d first caught Shonen Knife at their Windmill gig in August (I think only their second or third in London in around 15 years) when they were in the guise of the Osaka Ramones, and it was an exhilarating run through of the Ramones’ finest. The Windmill was pretty rammed that night and, filing into the auditorium of this old cinema with our special Shonen Knife wristbands, I could see that the Scala was going to be pretty busy too.

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The trio cheerily took to the stage holding bright orange scarves aloft, and then we were underway. On lead vocals and guitar, Naoko is the only remaining founder member, but she is more than capably supported by the ever smiling Ritsuko Taneda on bass, and the band’s newest member, Emi Morimoto, is certainly no slouch on drums.

Shonen Knife by Claire Kearns
Shonen Knife by Claire Kearns

Kicking off with Konnichiwa and Twist Barbie, Shonen Knife started as they meant to continue – fast and frenetic. Their songs may be uncomplicated, they may be about such everyday things as candy or furry animals, but they’re played with such energy and delivered with such enthusiasm that even the biggest grump would find it hard not to enjoy them. Shonen Knife are all about fun!

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As well as assorted gems from their back catalogue, there were a couple of tracks from their more recent albums, such as Super Group, the reggae-ish and intensely catchy Capybara (about, yes, a furry animal) and Perfect Freedom (both from last year’s Free Time LP). Ritsuko took time between thrashing her bass for lead vocals on Devil House, whilst Emi was also on vocal duty for the very 1960’s sounding I Am A Cat. Naoko was not to be outdone by the youngsters as Shonen Knife properly rocked out at the end of the set with Economic Crisis (see, they don’t just sing about furry animals!), which had just a hint of Motörhead about it, and Cobra Vs Mongoose.

Shonen Knife by Louise Wright
Shonen Knife by Louise Wright

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To the particular delight of the mosh pit that had formed in front of Naoko, the band returned as their alter egos, the Osaka Ramones, and, with Ritsuko once again on lead vocals, launched into Sheena Is A Punk Rocker. Emi took over for The KKK Took My Baby Away before we headed, inevitably (and with the help of a stage diver), towards Blitzkrieg Bop. I’m pretty sure the whole of the Scala was shouting “hey ho, let’s go!” There was no rest for Shonen Knife, though, as they straight away headed to the foyer to sign autographs for the throng of ecstatic (and exhausted) fans afterwards.

Shonen Knife by Gabriel Ayala
Shonen Knife by Gabriel Ayala

As Shonen Knife return home to Japan for some more shows, and with the prospect of a US tour on the horizon, it certainly looks like the party isn’t over just yet!

Categories ,alt-rock, ,Brixton, ,Claire Kearns, ,Fi Blog, ,Gabriel Ayala, ,Girl-Groups, ,japan, ,Kings Cross, ,Kurt Cobain, ,Louise Wright, ,Motörhead, ,nirvana, ,Osaka, ,Osaka Ramones, ,punk, ,Ramones, ,Sally Jane Thompson, ,Scala, ,Shonen Knife, ,Sonic Youth, ,underground, ,Windmill

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with The Raincoats as 1981 album Odyshape is rereleased on We ThRee

The Raincoats by James Shedden
The Raincoats by James Shedden.

The Raincoats are an all girl band who formed during the late 1970s and split up in the mid 1980s. I was very little at the time of their original releases so unfortunately I did not discover The Raincoats until much more recently, online well into my adult years. The band had an exciting can do attitude that melded punk, see classical and reggae influences into spiky arrhythmic folk punk tunes that even today sound way more exciting than many current bands. They reformed in the mid 90s after a resurgence in interest thanks to gushing plaudits from Kurt Cobain and are now widely hailed as one of the seminal post punk bands. I catch up with founders Ana da Silva and Gina Birch as they gear up to rerelease their second album on its 30th anniversary.

Raincoats in Poland

Why did you decide to reissue Odyshape now?
ANA:  This year is the 30th anniversary of this album. So, as we like anniversaries, we decided to release The Raincoats and Odyshape on their 30th… We remastered the albums for Japan and re-did the art work so it would sound and look the best possible. We now own the rights to them and, as they should be available, we thought we’d release them on our own label We ThRee. Both on CD and vinyl. They look and sound the best ever! Theyl also have a booklet and A4 sheet respectively with liner notes, lyrics, photos and a piece of writing from me on the 1st album and from Gina on Odyshape.

The raincoats odyshape
What does Odyshape mean?
GINA: The title was a pun on the odyssey of a body. The idea that a body could have an ideal shape and it if did, what happens when a body doesn’t live up to that ideal. It was at a time, when (as probably now) there seemed to be a body fascism. It was important for women to be this shape or that shape. Thanks to people like Beth Ditto, and hopefully The Raincoats, things have been broken down a little. Hair can be crazy, messy, outfits can be baggy or tight, inside out or upside down, we can be fat or thin, creative, playful, stylish and beautiful without having to subscribe to some fashion mag ideal.

The Raincoats1981
You formed the original band whilst still at art college… how did your studies in art influence how you made music?
ANA: Besides the obvious side of art work, I think we’re trying to do what art should do: create works that inspire other people, that question the status quo, that express ideas which come from our own minds and hearts and also works that look at the human condition and provide some comfort to the listener.

The Raincoats by Karin Soderquist
The Raincoats by Karin Soderquist.

Odyshape seems to owe as much to contemporary classical music as it does punk – was this something that inspired you?    
ANA: We listen to all sorts of music so, intentionally or unintentionally, different  things appear. I do like some classical music very much, like the Bach‘s cello suites, Erik Satie, some opera, etc.  but I don’t think my playing sounds very classical…maybe you mean the violin which was played by Vicky Aspinall who is classically trained.

The Raincoats by Janette Beckman1981
The Raincoats in 1981.

You haven’t produced a new album since the mid 90s – what have you been up to since then?
ANA: I’ve been doing my own solo music and released an album called The Lighthouse on Chicks On Speed records. I’ve also been doing some drawings and paintings some of which I’ll be showing at the Pop Montreal festival, together with Gina’s videos and Shirley’s photographs. It’s really a great opportunity to show our art, visual and musical. It’s the first time we do this and are very happy and excited about it.
GINA: I have been collaborating with various musicians and artists and very involved in a project called The Gluts, (with two women artists) Also I have been playing solo, writing songs, making films, painting and, raising two children.

The Raincoats by Rukmunal Hakim
The Raincoats by Rukmunal Hakim.

Gina – you were an early fan of the craft revival – knitting on tour. Do you still craft and if so what?
GINA: I did knit on the first Raincoats tour, when I wore the jumper at the final gig… and then didn’t do any knittingfor quite a few years but have always liked to paint, draw, knit, mosaic, make films whatever. I have been knitting a lot in the last year or two and have made Raincoats inspired bags, and I have also been sewing banners with lyrics and messages on them.  

The Raincoats by Kassie Berry
The Raincoats by Kassie Berry.

Has Gina Birch’s film, The Raincoats, Fairytales, been completed? 
GINA: The film is still a work in progress. It is an organic process it seems and hopefully will be concluded in the coming six months.

YouTube Preview ImageBaby Song performed live in the 80s

You will be playing your debut album live again at ATP this December – anything special in store and what are you looking forward to most about the Holiday Camp experience?
ANA: Just playing is a special thing, but we’ve played twice at ATP and really enjoyed it: swimming, meeting people, being able to choose amongst so much different music and the relaxed atmosphere. We will be playing the first album at Jeff Mangum‘s request but will play other songs too, not sure which yet.

YouTube Preview ImageThe Raincoats perform live at ATP in 2010

Which other current bands do you enjoy listening to or watching?
ANA: I think P.J. Harvey‘s latest album is so good, so I enjoyed listening to it at seeing them live a couple of times. Also saw Portishead whose music I like but had never seen live and that was very good too. I was listening yesterday to Ponytail, Colleen, Electrelane, Neutral Milk HotelLouis and Bebe BarronJenny O in the car coming back from Portugal.

The Raincoats by Barb Royal.

What next for The Raincoats?
ANA: We’re doing a tour in the U.S.A. and Canada (New York, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Montreal) in September and ATP in December. And because of the re-release of Odyshape and those dates some interviews too… thanks for your part. Otherwise nothing concrete, but I’m sure other things will happen.

YouTube Preview ImageOnly Loved at Night, performed live in 2009

Odyshape is rereleased in heavyweight vinyl and as a special edition CD on We ThRee records on September 12th 2011. The band will tour the east coast of the USA from 16 – 26 September 2011 and play Jeff Mangum’s ATP, Minehead on 3 December 2011.

Categories ,1980s, ,2011, ,album, ,Ana da Silva, ,Arrhythmic, ,atp, ,Baby Song, ,Bach, ,Barb Royal, ,Bebe Barron, ,Beth Ditto, ,Body Fascism, ,Chicks on Speed, ,classical, ,Colleen, ,December, ,Electrelane, ,Erik Satie, ,folk, ,Gina Birch, ,James Shedden, ,Jeff Mangum, ,Jenny O, ,Karin Söderquist, ,Kassie Berry, ,Kurt Cobain, ,Louis, ,Neutral Milk Hotel, ,Odyshape, ,Only Loved at Night, ,PJ Harvey, ,Ponytail, ,Pop Montreal, ,Portishead, ,punk, ,Rerelease, ,review, ,Rukmunal Hakim, ,The LIghthouse, ,The Raincoats, ,tour, ,Vicky Aspinall, ,Violin, ,We ThRee, ,WETHREE

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