Les Negresses Vertes in Beirut

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Ladies and Gentlmen, welcome to Beirut, December 1991

We were not prepared for anything like this at all.  I bear witness.

French band Les Negresses Vertes were about to release, or had just released their Famille Nombreuse album. The management, comprised of Assad & Jacques organized a concert at venue within the American University of Beirut. How do you say, ‘hostilities between factions had ceased’?  The eighteen year long uncivil war had come to pass, and this was to be the first performance by a ‘Western’ band in the country since the first bullet took a life.  I was the band’s UK Press Representative at the time, and the NME’s Stuart Bailie, photographer Steve Pyke and the Observer’s Philip Sweeney agreed to cover the venture.  At some point I ignored a directive from the Virgin boss Ken Berry: As the company’s insurance would not cover me or any of the personnel in a ‘conflict zone’, I was not to go.  “Sorry, didn’t get the message Ken.”  This was a unique opportunity not to be missed.

For most of us on the trip, it was our first proper real time facing a bullet and rocket scared city and it’s population.  The sheer destruction encompasses you full 360°.  It is painful to see what some will do to others.  People sacrificed regardless of postcode. People, families, and those strangers no longer, lived among the rumble, dust, bomb-induced craters in the streets, passing through militia checkpoints.

“This is the place where Terry Waite was taken hostage.” said our guide, pointing to a nondescript pavement by the road along the coast as the bus took us to Martyr’s Square.  Several of the windows on our bus were penetrated by bullets. What happened the previous occupants of these seats?  On my return to the city several years later, I was informed that the owner of the hotel we we stayed at first time around, was “taken outside and shot, boom, dead.”  Silence for a moment.

My colleague at Virgin France, top AnR person, Maya Masseboeuf is Lebanese, she was on the trip as well, and I recall, as we entered the airport there was a portrait of Syrian’s President Assad, not the current one, his dad, hanging proudly.  “Hey Maya, what is his portrait doing there?” I said a bit too loud for her liking. “Not now.”  I was learning.

During a day trip we came upon a block of flats across the road, the fourth and top floor was totally destroyed, concrete and steel hanging precariously, no surprises would it tumble right there and then.  Maya had family living in that building.  It was Maya that sent the link to the TV report, thank you.

The concert itself hit a cruising altitude of several thousand feet, those in attendance onstage, the audience, everybody unified to celebrate the a richness that had been kidnapped, separated, tortured, abused, murdered, sent into exile and so on.

The relevance of this period in time and what is unfolding right now could not be underestimated.

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Négresses vertes á Beyrouth – French TV Report

The Special AKA ‘War Crimes’

Total Destruction: DJ Scud & Nomex

 

 

Steve Pyke – Moonbug

Been listening to Kode9 & the Spaceape’s recent live set at The Boiler Room and a familiar but unexpected something floated through the speakers….”Whose lyrics are those, and what is that melody? Oh shit, that’s  The The!”  I had two of their albums on repeat last week.  So that lead me in turn to check on what is happening in The The world.  The answer, writing the score for the film ‘Moonbug’, centered around a project of photographer Steve Pyke

I first met Steve Pyke on-board a flight  to Beirut with the band Les Negresses Vertes, I their press officer he and was a music press photographer for the NME, covering their concert in the city that was just waking to a new dawn after eighteen years of war.

Now based in the US, Steve caught the ‘Moonbug’,  setting out on a journey across States in his search to meet and photograph the Apollo space pioneers. A journey in which he was to meet the adventurers, risk takers and dreamers who were behind one of the most historic endeavours of our time.

From living rooms, and moonscape deserts, to Cape Canaveral, Steve captures these men in frank, revealing portraits, while unravelling their very personal and divergent memories.

Documented by filmmaker Nichola Bruce with rare archive footage and an original score by Matt Johnson, Moonbug is both a photographic road trip and an exploration of how photographs become signposts for history.

Moonbug Trailer from moonbug the film on Vimeo.

Steven Wells R.I.P.

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Just got back from the Russian jaunt with Fun-da-mental and Manu Chao + Radio Bemba.

While doing a post club gig DJ slot, Aki came up and showed me a text message that he just received from Nick ‘Dub Colossus’ Page,  Steven Wells  had just passed away from cancer.

Steven Wells, was a journalist for the NME back in the day, when they had balls and had meaning, or a different meaning than that of today.  I don’t know who they got now, but then, they had Stuart Bailie, David Quantick, Dele Fadele, and Steven Wells, aka Seething Wells aka Swells.

Do I sound like an old man?  Don’t care, it’s true. 

I used to follow the NME when living in Toronto, then when I moved back to London, and eventually became a press officer for Virgin, I had contact with the acerbic whit that was Swells. 

We had a trip to Munich for the Body Count European tour, and Swells was onboard.  He proceeded quite quickly to wind up plenty of people on-board, myself included, but that was part of his schtick.  At least he didn’t  fall all over the artists or record companies feet with bullshit praise.

Later he moved onto doing video production (GobTV) and our paths crossed again as he directed the Goldburger video for Fun-da-mental.

We even took him to Pakistan for a week when we tried to film a video for our instrumental.  Once again he proceeded to wind many of the travelling party up the wall, with his staunch SWP attitude of not giving an inch.  We took revenge by feeding him goats bollocks, which he promptly threw up.  It weren’t easy scoring one over Swellsy. 

Only a couple weeks ago, I was pissing myself while reading this autobiography by  Thom Yorke, uh, by Swells.

While everybody is fretting about The Glove, here’s to Steven Wells, one of the best writers of his generation.

Here is his final post for the Philadelphia Weekly.