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Mystery Jets interview – Chevrolet Spark Unscheduled Tour, 6 May 2010

Mystery Jets setlist

Birmingham won a coveted second spot on the Chevrolet Spark Unscheduled Tour contest to see the Mystery Jets head to the Custard Factory last Thursday (aka Election Day) in support of their upcoming album, Serotonin.

Space 2 in the Custard Factory is a fairly intimate venue, holding around 200 people, and is the perfect place to showcase the Mystery Jets new songs from Serotonin (out in July) and welcomes them back into touring the UK. The new album seems less pop, more dance influenced and looks to be aiming for the hallowed arena of a Coldplay concert. Just with more fun.

Older songs such as Young Love and Hideaway get the biggest reception of the night, which is hardly surprising. But the audience lap up the newer stuff too, some of which has been showcased on their MySpace beforehand but mostly unheard.

Earlier in the day I caught up with William and Kapil from the band…

How would you describe your sound?

William: it’s pop music with a whole multitude of different influences from psychedelic music to dance music.  I wouldn’t describe it, it’s hard to talk about your own music – go and listen to it.

Do you have any non-music influences?

William: Novels and books make it into our songs.  A book called Lorna Doone is the title of one of our songs.  A book some of us were reading a year of two ago called The Fountainhead was a big influence in how we approached some of our song writing.  All that definitely finds its way in.

How did you get involved in the Spark Unscheduled tour?

William: Chevrolet approached us and propositioned us.  It sounded like a really great way of coming back and doing gigs in England, because we haven’t released anything for a couple of years and we didn’t really tour the UK last year.  We did a few festivals but mainly we were out the country. And it seemed like a really nice idea to come to places like Birmingham and play quite intimate venues.

Did the pop-up idea of the tour interest you?

William: It’s a really exciting way of doing a gig when people don’t really know exactly where or when it’s going to be.  It just kinda appears.  The more people that vote for the gig to be in Birmingham, then the more chance it has of happening.

I really wanted to do one in Cornwall because there’s an outdoor theatre right on the sea.  Like a kind of mini amphitheatre made out of stone, which is just incredible.  They do Shakespeare there in the summer.  It wasn’t possible on this tour, but we hope to do something there some point – maybe something acoustic.

If you could be any other artist, who would you be?

William: I don’t know – maybe Robert Wyatt or Ray Davis.  But I only really like Ray Davis’s music from about 1965-74.  He’s just a really great songwriter, the best, in my opinion.  He didn’t necessarily go off and do really wild things, some people are more innovative.

On a similar note, you mentioned the All Tomorrows Parties festivals in another interview.  Who would you pick to play at yours?

William: I think is really cool when bands reform just to play their best album and do it in its entirety.  I always think that’s great.  I’d get Talk Talk to reform and do Spirit of Eden and The Meat Puppets to do Mirage.  All sorts of things really – Robert Wyatt on there.

The new album, Serotonin, is it a similar to older album?

William: I think it’s quite a departure, our new record.  It’s really big sounding and wide screen.  It’s filmic and epic.

Kapil: And elegant as well.

William: Yeah, I think there’s a kind of elegance to it.  It’s just such a mixture; every song is different and quite drastically as well.

Kapil: I do think there are elements of our first record there.

William: Yeah, it’s almost like a marriage of the first and second albums.

Can you explain the significance of the title?

William: The idea of serotonin is that we want our music to have the same effect on people as serotonin has on them.

It is Election Day today, is that something that interests you?

William: Yeah, we all voted.  It’s really important.  With this election it’s drawn a lot of young people in to be interested in politics – it definitely has with all of us. 

Kapil:  There’s a real opportunity to shake things up and make a change.

William: I wouldn’t say we’re a political band, I don’t think that’s ever going to come out in our song writing in the way you get those slightly political religious overtones with bands like U2.  I don’t think that’s particularly interesting, what I think is interesting is the way this election has been dealt with in a  kind of X-Factor way.  It’s become sort of political porn – when you watch it, it’s more about the tension on the TV screen and the fight of it.  The whole bullshit around it is quite interesting, none of them are really saying what they’re going to do, they’re just saying he’s shit, don’t vote for him.

Kapil: they’re all just attacking each other.

William: It’s a big dogfight and that’s always very entertaining to watch.

Kapil: It also makes you more confused thinking about it.  They all just as good as each other – or bad as each other.

William: No one is saying we’re gonna do that, make your choice.  It’s not as clear as that – it’s so confusing.  Particularly David Cameron, he just wants to please people, I think.  I think the only part that is really saying what we’re going to do and that’s it is Labour.

Mystery Jets’ new album, Serotonin, is out on Rough Trade records on 5 July.

Chevrolet Spark Unscheduled Tour

Pop-up seems to be all the range at the moment.  There’s the obvious Created in Birmingham shop in the Bullring, but last week an email came my way about a pop-up tour which will be visiting Birmingham tomorrow.

It’s an interesting idea, the Chevrolet Spark Unscheduled Tour.  A tour which just pops up in whatever city votes for it (Brum narrowly beat Liverpool for second stop) could go horribly wrong.  After all, what if no one turns up?  It’s not like there’s been much notice and all the good venues will have been booked up months ago.  Good job the tour is being headlined by a well established band with a sturdy fan-base like the Mystery Jets, who are fresh off touring with the Arctic Monkeys and will be previewing songs from their latest album, Serotonin, ahead of its release in July.  Oh and it’s free too (well, free with an invite there may be some left).

The organisers also managed to score what’s supposed to be a half decent venue too, so that’ll solve the ‘no room at the inn’ issue.  Then again I’ve never been to Space 2 and my knowledge of the Custard Factory extends to a bit of a fluke invite to wander the venues and too much time spent in the Bead Shop.  But I’ve been told it’s nice…

So tomorrow, I’m off to cast my vote, spend a few hours at work and then off to see how exactly a pop up gig works.  Oh and see the Transformer-esque world’s first fully functioning car DJ booth – transformed from  roadworthy to a fully-functional DJ booth in under 20 minutes, apparently.  Which considering I know nothing of cars, I’m genuinely quite intrigued to see.  If it turns into Optimus Prime as an encore I may very well start saving for one…

UrbanCoffeeCo bookclub: One Day by David Nicholls

Books I've read so far for the Club

Urban Coffee Company’s monthly book club is growing month on month.  It started off with two, got to four, jumped to ten and this month there were fifteen of us.

April’s book was One Day by David Nicholls – a book about two friends, Dexter and Emma, following their relationship from the last day of university, every year on that day for twenty years.  The story showed the idealism of wanting to change the world upon finishing university and the reality of finding a job and growing up, together and apart.

The book split the group somewhat.  Two readers disliked it, with one admitting he had problems with the male character from the first twenty pages and subsequently only read every five years/chapters or so.  The other found the female character too similar to her own experiences and found the reading uncomfortable. Apart from that, everyone else seemed to enjoy the very human aspect of the writing and will-they-won’t-they element of the characters relationship.  There were some concerns that parts were clichéd, but several of the group admitted to seeing these clichés in their own lives.  Observations about the role of alcohol and the subtle socio-political elements of the book made for a thoroughly interesting discussion.

Next months book is by local author, Christine Coleman and is her second novel, Paper Lanterns.  It can be purchased direct from her website, on Amazon or in select meetings around Birmingham, but best to try and stick to getting it online!  The group meets in Urban Coffee Company, Church St, Birmingham, at 6pm on the last Thursday of the month.  Meetings are entirely free and suggestions for the next months read are encouraged!

B’ham Salon: Pursuit of modernity in China

Thursday’s Birmingham Salon was a bit like going back to university, having forgotten to do the assigned reading. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fascinating talk from Alan Hudson, Director of Oxford University’s Leadership Programmes for China, but it more importantly, it highlighted how little we know about China’s rise to economic stardom.

Admittedly, this possibly not a subject ever featured on Mastermind and unlikely to be featured in a pub quiz, but Alan Hudson’s speech was thought provoking never the less. He spoke on the issues facing the cities of China; mass urbanization as over 300 million Chinese moved from the rural areas into cities, how Chinese officials intended to shape every aspect of city life from planned to lived spaces (i.e. the need for street vendors, but them making things cluttered) and how Chinese society suffered from a kind of managerialism which is becoming more evident in British society.

Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, there was no other side to form the debate, but it almost felt like it would’ve been redundant as Hudson’s talk seemed more observational and theoretical than debatable. Yet, the audience did an excellent job of challenging his points, pointing out logical flaws and challenging Hudson’s criticisms of the views from William Hutton on liberal culture and liberal economies. All in all a fascinating discussion on a lesser known topic, with a lot learned by all.

The next Birmingham Salon will take place on Tuesday 8 June. Check the website for more information.

If a successful candidate in local elections resigns, then what?

A candidate in the constituency I live is running both for MP of the constituency as well as local councillor in a ward nearby.  Whilst I know this is possible, although I question how one person can do both effectively, I was more shocked to hear one of the candidate’s supporters suggest (how true this is I don’t know) in the event the candidate won both elections they would resign the councillor position.  This sounded like a great waste to me and I needed to understand the implications – could this waste taxpayers money in the event of a by-election or votes if the candidate with the second highest votes was subsequently elected?

My first stop was Twitter, that being said it wasn’t greatly helpful.  So I called Birmingham City Council’s election line.  The person on the phone asked me who I was and I couldn’t help but answer “a concerned resident of Birmingham” – it had to be done.  According to him at least, I couldn’t be given the information unless I was a candidate.  So I emailed.  A day and a half later I had no response, so I called again.  I was once again told this wasn’t the sort of thing they dealt with as they weren’t in the Back Office (?! I’ve no idea what that means).  I kicked up a bit of a fuss and got put through to the mysterious Back Office where a nice person consulted a colleague and said they thought it would result in a by-election, but to call the Electoral Commission.

So I did.

And spoke to a lovely person who was the most helpful person I spoke to during all this.  They mentioned a few things and then said they’d look into it and email me back. Sadly I have a difficult email address so I didn’t get it until I emailed in and checked the spelling of my Irish-variant surname.  At the same time I got a response from Birmingham City Council.

The email from Birmingham City Council confirmed that if a successful candidate resigned “This would therefore trigger a by election [sic]. There is no provision for the candidate with the second highest number of votes to be elected.”

This was backed up by the email from the person at the Electoral Commission who said the failure to sign the declaration of acceptance would, according to the Local Government Act 1972, be dealt with in the usual way according to rule 89.  This, after reading it, backs up the comment from Birmingham City Council, thankfully.  You can read it here, if you’d like.

Oh and the cost of a by-election.  According to the person at Birmingham City Council; “As for the cost of a by election this would be approximately £20,000.”

NB: I’ve contact the candidate in question a couple of times to check whether they are intending to resign from the councillor position if elected to both, but as of yet I have had no response.

Charity cupcake contest

Hurrah!  I’m attempted to set up my second fundraising event for local Birmingham charity, LUCIA, and having spoken to one of the pubs in Kings Heath, they’re on board so we have a venue.

Cupcakes from the last LUCIA event from Kiss Me Cupcakes

The idea is simple; a cupcake contest.  We’ll hope kind-hearted (or competitive) bakers will come along with cupcakes, offer them up to the harsh criticism of the equally kind-hearted (or cake obsessed) tasters.  They’ll be a small entrance fee, a prize for the winner and the usual LUCIA raffle.  Past that the details still need ironing out.  But I’m working on it.  All suggestions gratefully received.

This is all to raise money for the charity LUCIA.  It’s a charity I’ve been involved with for a while for several reasons, not only because my housemate is a trustee But also because I like how the charity originated.  It’s a small charity, started by Sylvia, who was visiting her son in Ethiopia whilst he was working for the UN and saw the poverty in the country.  Coming back to Birmingham she set up a charity, having never done so before.  And so LUCIA was born.  Sylvia is chairs the charity and organises a lot of the events, I figured I’d help out.

So why cupcakes?  Well why not?  Anyone that knows me knows I’m a big fan of cake and they’re becoming a bit of a theme.  We have, on last count four cake stands in the house and I am coveting at least another two.  Actually it’s baked goods in general and if I thought other people would indulge in mass bread eating I might organise that.  But for now I’ll stick with the slightly more traditional!

If you want to be involved please email me laura [dot] creaven [at] gmail [dot] come or send me a tweet.