Cocktails, Tattoos and Turtles

Today the October weather was glorious, the sun was shining and with just a whisper of a breeze we donned our sunglasses and headed off out for an adventure. The lovely Annie; who was having an adventure of her own, coming to Italy alone and driving a ‘wrong way ‘round car’ arrived as the iPod played The Idol (all Gods Fall) by Marc Almond. We quickly secured the mutts inside the house and clambered into my car and headed off to Roccascalegna. The journey gave the step-son a chance to see some of the terrain around these parts as all he’d seen since arriving was the motorway and our local town. The drive up to Roccascalegna is a nice one, you pass through the small town of Altino; its narrow streets giving it a stepping back in time feel, and as soon as you leave Altino you get spectacular views galore. The roads wind their way ever upwards and you can see for miles, down over olive groves and patches of wild fauna and over towards the lake at Bomba, that amid the greenery looks like a splash of mercury today.

We collect Mark and head down the other side of the town towards the lake. We stop at a small cafe that has been recommended but sadly the doors are locked and there’s no signs of life, we pose for a couple of photographs with the sun on our faces before making our way further downwards and around the lake, the surface of which, when kissed by the breeze, quivers like a plucked string. “Turn right here,” Mark says directing me the wrong way up a strada exit, luckily nothing is exiting towards us and I cut across the road. Minutes later we are entering what looks like another typical Italian bar, but this one was very different. The walls are covered with signs for Guinness and other English beers, the wood is stained dark and the pictures are similar to what would be found in a public house in the heart of England.

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A man who looks shocked to see us there appears behind the bar and we order beer and panini, which when they arrive are huge slabs of bread filled with cheese and meat. The five of us grapple with our surf-board sized sandwiches and share the two bottles of beer between ourselves before I pay the man and we make our way towards Villa Santa Maria, the home of the great Italian chefs. The very first professional culinary school was founded here in the 16th century by Prince Ferrante Caracciolo of Naples. Just before  Villa S. Maria is a town with a name that appears longer than its main street. We stop here in Pietraferrazzana and head off towards our intended destination, a relatively new bar on Corso Giuseppe Mazzini. The reason we’re here is cocktails. The bar is renowned for its selection of drinks made up of multiple beverages. The waitress comes to take our order and I spot an intricate tattoo on the underside of a forearm, I’m about to tell her it’s a nice tattoo and my brain shuffles and the only Italian word I can recall is tartaruga, and even I’m not stupid enough to say to her, “You have a nice turtle.”  I’m drinking my blue drink that looks like shower gel but tastes delicious when the correct word for tattoo; tatuaggio, makes itself known to the inner workings of my brain.

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As we chat a handsome man arrives with a guitar and starts to play, Mark asks him if he knows any English songs, he responds in broken English, “No, I know not any English songs.” Stefano, as we discover his name to be, then plays and sings, Save the Last Dance for Me, which sounds very English to our ears. Later the barmaid brings us all another drink telling us they are from Stefano, we thank him and afterwards just before we leave Mark gets an impromptu lesson in Italian pronunciation from the barmaid and she shows me her tattoo in detail, telling me I need to have the tattoo on my wrist changed as it’s too small. “Maybe I’ll have a turtle added to it,” she looks at me perplexed, “personal joke,” I respond and somewhat more confused she then goes back to giving Mark more pointers on his pronunciation, which in jest he deliberately gets wrong.

Hell of a Distraction

Today I’m trying to organise myself. I have several ideas for future articles to pitch, research and upon acceptance write, I also need to crack on with my novel, ‘52’. But I’m being distracted. The source of this distraction is a five track EP from Stoke on Trent band, Moscow. I should be sorting files into folders and other interesting tasks, but listening to the EP titled Hell Fire is robbing me of my concentration.

One thing I do miss from England is the wealth of music I came into contact with. I’m not a fan of the radio, I can’t stand DJ chatter, so discovered new bands mostly by word of mouth. I miss having my office chats about new music with Becky, who has similar tastes to me. (I don’t miss the stress of having an office though). Here in Italy the music I get to hear is mostly pop from the UK charts, but it’s always about two or three years out of date. At a recent barbecue there was an Italian DJ, playing vinyl and every song played was English. We had a little bit of disco, some T. Rex and Bowie, a smidgen of northern soul and a blast of James Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I have quite an eclectic taste in music so can enjoy most offerings, I’m not partial to classical or instrumental music but do like a bit of opera. I’m not keen on musical theatre, for me it’s a bit twee, I much prefer music that has meat on its bones. I guess I’m essentially an indie kind of guy. My youth witnessed the emergence of punk, the new romantic scene with its androgynous images and the dark brooding gothic movement. Yes I was a safety pinned, lip-stick wearing, pink haired pop junkie. Honestly some days I’d emerge from my bedroom looking like the love child of Toyah Willcox and Steve Strange. (Sadly I never did grow out of the sticky-up hair stage.)

I have no one here in Italy to talk to about music, none of my friends have the same passion for new music that I do and the occasional message to Becky on Facebook doesn’t really quench my addiction to music related jibber-jabber, so I’m resorting to previewing music on iTunes and scouring the web for anything new and interesting.

Today I came across this EP by Moscow on Facebook, I’d heard a taster previously of one of the tracks Lizard Lords and it sounded promising. The four piece, made up of Matt – guitar, Nic – vocals, Tom – bass and Mark – drums have an edgy yet urgent sound; It’d be lazy to call them simply indie, rock or even post-punk, their music is a fusion of all these genres with touches of frenetic thrashing: epileptic music.

Hell Fire EP

I don’t really like comparisons, but can see how people could compare Nic’s vocals to those of Editor’s frontman, Tom Smith, but it’s not that simple, there’s something darker in Nic’s timbre, its almost menacing, daring you to listen. On the track Cold Hands, there’s touches of Echo and the Bunnymen singer, Ian McCulloch hidden between the lines, but Nic defies all comparisons on the track The Night, two minutes and forty-one seconds into the song and the music fades leaving Nic alone, his vocals become trapped: an inmate inside a musical asylum he calls out, giving the listener twenty-one seconds of uncomfortable joy.

But what makes one band better than another? That’s the rub. In my opinion it’s that mix of people that just works. It’s something evident in the music. It’s not image, stage presence or pretty boy looks that makes a great band, (apologies to One Direction), it’s something that you cannot define but you can hear it when you listen to the music they produce.

Being someone who makes a living out of words, I believe an essential ingredient any band needs is a clever wordsmith. Someone who can weave lyrics into something more than a formulaic format of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, etc. Bands like Scouting for Girls and dare I say it, Kaiser Chiefs all know the importance of getting the lyrics right. Back in the 1980’s Haircut 100 singer Nick Heyward was applauded in the music press for his clever phrases and wordplay, so much so he once said he was looking for a way to fit the word, Toblerone, into one of his songs. This is all rather excessive and a tad pretentious, you don’t need to use clever words and phrases like, Drifting apart like a plate tectonic, (Kaiser Chiefs), you just need the right turn of phrase. On Don’t Look Back, the track starts with a repetitive guitar riff and a bass line akin to a heart patient with arrhythmia: A simple introduction to the song, add to this the opening lyric of, ‘Don’t look back, you’ll see’  and you’re hooked, but simple is not the case here, words like, transmission and rearranged are tossed into the mix with phrases like ‘robot eyes never blink’ and ‘the most effective kind of cage, is the kind you can’t see’  and you can see why as writer I’m distracted by this band. In my opinion, I don’t believe this is four guys who just set up and jam in a mates garage, before sloping off to the local for a few pints, this is a band that think carefully about the important craft of song writing.

But don’t just take my word for it, check out Moscow at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lizardlords?fref=ts and their Bandcamp page: http://moscowmusic.bandcamp.com/

Download Hell Fire, I dare you. But if you do I take no responsibility for your inevitable distraction.

Photo used with permission