Author Archives: Ben Kritikos

About Ben Kritikos

Super bipedal primate. Opposable thumbs. Print enthusiast. (Non-)fiction pedlar. Lying dog-faced pony soldier. Slob. Musical face and hands.

Herons! featured on Folkroom Anthology

Herons! are pleased to announce that we’ve contributed to the independent London-based label Folkroom’s second anthology, which is released today. Our track “Aliens” features on this compilation, and it’s the first recording we’ve released since our debut So Long! in 2010.

We’ve had the good fortune to work with the Folkroom bunch before, having  played at their regular showcase gig at the Queen’s Head in King’s Cross. We’re really pleased to be contributing to their Anthology Two (which you can download for free here) and we’re dead pleased to be doing another London gig with them on the 15th November, at The Islington — aptly located in Islington.

Check out the Folkroom website for more info about the artists who’ve contributed. Over the next few days, you’ll be able to read some words about each track, written by the artists themselves, on the site. Oh, and for your information — “Aliens” will feature on our forthcoming album Some Things Run Wild, but the version on the Folkroom Anthology is a special recording that is only available as part of the compilation. So go ahead and download it!

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September Tour With Aidan

Hello, lovely people!

With September well behind us and winter on the horizon, I’m still buzzing from the tour I did with Aidan & The Italian Weather Ladies around Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

The tour started with a date in Louvain La Neuve — home of my good friends and master luthiers, De Musica — at a smart little organic café cum venue called Alterez-Vouz. After the show, I got proper pissed on Belgian beer and ended up back at Francois Massau’s house, demonstrating what I believed Sid Vicious would look like playing a six year old’s violin.

We had a proper romp at Why Not? in Dudelange (Luxembourg, for the uninitiated) and even went to an Indian restaurant where the staff lined up to shake our hands on the way in, and on the way out. We made lots of great friends and stayed up until morning playing songs in their flat. I also learned the importance of saying bise instead of baise. (Look it up if you want to know why.)

Some highlights of the tour included my first Boulets Liègeois, which looked to me like a ginger Gonzo from the Muppets…

Encountering French vintners’ puns (analogous to the British real ale tradition — but is he drinking a can of lager?)…

And most delightfully of all, visiting my friends Jeanne & Deni at their vineyard, Le Dessous du Cep at Le Vivier, in Fleurie…

Deni is a poet and wine-magician. He cooked some delicious food, showed us their sensuous and eminently quaffable natural wine called Rock And Roll (so named because it went into the cuve smelling like piss and came out like nectar of the gods), and informed us of the untold horrors of the French wine industry. Jeanne showed us her gorgeously bold and dynamic paintings, and talked about the challenges, frustrations and thrills of raising up a vineyard (and a family) from its bootstraps. We played a very fun gig and I DJd afterwards. I must have done a good job because most of the men in the room had their shirts off before midnight. I also polished off a methuselah of wine in the process.

The next day, Jeanne and Deni were kind enough to treat us to some wine for the road. The bottles were labeled with Jeanne’s designs, and stuck on by hand:

At Le Blogg in Lyon, I found myself apologising on stage for not speaking French, until someone asked me to tell a French joke. I jumped at the opportunity.

“Why does a Frenchman only have one egg for breakfast?”

Silence.

“Because un oeuf is un oeuf.”

The audience grumbled. Someone heigh-ho’d half-heartedly. Another person said something in French; it was probably, “Don’t give up your day job”.

The next morning, I gave myself concussion lying in bed. I turned over too fast and cracked my head against a table leg. The drive from Lyon to Brussels was fun with concussion — I’ve never seen the French countryside reel and rock like a sea before.

Our last date was a house gig in Gent, courtesy of the lovely An and Steven. They joined forces with a collective of musicians from Flanders to perform Bob Dylan’s album Time Out Of Mind. It was amazing! Especially An’s ukulele and vocal cover of “To Make You Feel My Love” — it beat the pants off Adele’s saccharine-glazed version.

Aidan and I spent the days off at the end of the tour working on vocals for the next Herons! record, Some Things Run Wild. We got really pissed (again) and did a vocal take at 2am in his apartment. I let out a blood-curdling scream at the end of one of the takes, which seemed like a good idea. I’m sure Aidan’s neighbours felt the same way.

I look forward to returning to all these places and seeing all these awesome people again. But now it’s back to work here in Stroud — we’ve got a record to finish! Speaking of which, we’ve done a little live video of the band peforming our song “Cain”, which is first song on the upcoming record. You can expect to see it here very soon!

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Remembering 9/11

I am not a patriot. I don’t believe in the inherent value of identifying with one nation over another. A nation, to me, is simply a collective noun to describe a group of people living in a particular place at a particular time, with their own more-or-less consensual geographical identity.

That said, I grew up in the suburbs of New York. And I’m a lot like other people who also grew up there. And when terrible things happen to your neighbours, the news hurts you deeply. The news of horrible things happening to people all over the world hurts too — but this is different. I didn’t feel more deeply for the people caught in the attacks in New York (and elsewhere in the US) on 9/11, but I felt differently for them. It was so close to home; they were my neighbours.

I don’t think 9/11 is necessarily the worst thing that’s happened in recent history — but it’s the worst thing that’s happened to my neighbours. It offends me when ordinarily kind, sympathetic people talk about 9/11 like it’s not worthy of their tears, because the US is such a global bastard. I’m not offended as an American, but as a New Yorker.

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Studio One at the Brunel Goods Shed

If you’re in an independent band who play the kind of music your mother doesn’t like, and your pure genius has not yet been recompensed with millions of adoring fans throwing their money at you — then you’re probably in constant agony about where to get down to the very loud business of rehearsing.

Which is why we’ve joined up with the SVA team in Stroud and taken over a space at the newly re-opened Brunel Goods Shed. We’re using one of the former offices in this amazing old building as our music studio for rehearsing and recording.

Studio One at the Brunel Goods Shed before we moved in. And painted.

For Herons! and a small collective of other Stroud musicians, having a studio has been like manna from heaven. Situated at the Stroud train station, with no residential neighbours to disturb with our banging and hollering, Studio One (as we’ve christened it) is our musical home. We can rehearse at all hours, which makes us better musicians. We can record, which we’ve been doing — last week, in fact.

Anna and Edwin recording at Studio One

It’s been great fun, and a bit of hard work, getting Studio One into shape. It’s been totally worth it!

Me after cleaning out the dust and rubble from Studio One

Follow the goings-on at Studio One at our Facebook page

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Celebrating Bloomsday

We’re really excited to be marking Bloomsday on Saturday with a special Beatroot Rendez-Vouz event at the Prince Albert in Stroud. For those of you who are justifiably wondering, “What the hell is Bloomsday?” — well, I’ll tell you.

Bloomsday is a celebration of James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses. The action of the novel takes place on one day: 16 June 1904, and closely follows the movements and thoughts of its primary and peripheral characters (many of them real Dubliners) on an ordinary day in Dublin. One of these primary characters is Leopold Bloom — hence the name”Bloomsday”.  The 16th of June was, in fact, the day Joyce met his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle.

The novel caused a great uproar when it was first published, largely due to its stark depiction of the stuff of everyday life; including eating, drinking, pissing, shitting, daydreaming about sex, wanking, getting drunk and singing, getting drunk and crying, getting drunk and trying it on with the object of your desire, getting drunk and fighting in the street — namely, the things that real people do in real life.

Such offensive material was considered by the bulwarks of virtue to be obscene and damaging to society, and was therefore banned in the US and UK, until elderly men in black robes decided to acknowledge that Ulysses is a titan of modernist literature, and not just dimestore smut.

Every 16th of June since 1954, poets, authors, artists and punters who just love the book have marked Bloomsday in Dublin (and abroad) by following in the characters’ footsteps, drinking in the same pubs, eating the same sandwiches — possibly even using the same loos. Many follow the route the characters travelled in the book, between Sandymount (a seaside suburb of Dublin) and a meandering trail around the inner city.

For example, many people flock to Davey Byrne’s pub on South Anne Street at 11:30am to have a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy — the very fare in the very same pub enjoyed by Leopold Bloom in the novel. Enthusiasts dressed in period attire will then read aloud from that chapter, often acting out the narrative.

Basically, it’s a bit of fun. I was lucky enough to be living in Dublin on the 100th anniversary of the day Ulysses takes place. It was like a much more sober — and more genuinely Irish — St Patrick’s Day. I’ve celebrated it ever since. This year, I’m chuffed that I’ll have some of my mates from Dublin here in Stroud to celebrate it with me.

Join the Facebook event here.

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Peter Beutel

My friend Peter is dead.

Here was a man with a heart.

Here was a man who typed thousands
of words every day
with one finger.

Here was a man who understood
the fatal black energy
sticky from the earth’s belly
that powers our ignorance.

Here was a man who endured my moods
which may be the most colossal feat
I can list here.

Here was a man who said to me:
“You can write”
then expected me to do it.

Here is a man who travelled the
length and breadth of the English
language, then came back to the
humdrum world of party tricks
and souvenirs

Here is a man who gave me a dictio-
nary and expected me to use it
which I did and now I’m travelling
the English language too and I keep
finding his footprints wherever I go

Here is a man who exploded with
pride in his gardening
who taught me to crack the earth
who kindly guided me in the
supernatural conversation with
soil that makes lettuce grow
lettuce that becomes salad that
you feed your friends to tell them
that you love them

Here is a man who shed tears for
wolves
who fed a raccoon through a
rip in the screen door next
to his desk

Here is a man who loved the animal
in cats
gave them the names of Roman
emperors
let them stalk their empires
freely even if it killed them
which it sometimes did
but that’s life and they were
animals and he loved the
animal in them

Here is a man who was a viking
without being a barbarian
who locked forearms with
his friends instead of a
touchless wilting handshake
who hugged like a bear because
he really loved you
who never gave up on a friend
who stormed through armies
of knowledge to emerge hurt
but wiser, because he knew
as much as the next guy
who dried as many tears as he
shed
who cooked for 12 even if he
was all alone
who kept milk in the fridge
even though he hated milk
because his friends took milk in
their tea and what if they
surprised him with a visit?
who spread out feasts for the
birds, happy to watch them happy
who knew some terrific insults
who taught me not to shout to the
drowning from the riverbank
but to jump in and convince
them to swim

Here was a man who was my friend

for Peter Beutel, 1955-2012
14 March ’12

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Stroud, The Prince Albert & Sam Shepard

Why, hello there.  Haven’t spoken to you in a while.  Just thought I’d say hi and let you know some of the more interesting things we’ve been up to lately.

After trading the crushing monotony of London for a life resembling real life in Gloucestershire, Anna and I have finally settled in.  The Stroud area, where we’ve made our home, is an old industrial hub of the Cotswolds, making it less posh than other Cotswold towns, and also quite a bit more gritty and interesting.  Its 40,000 (or so) inhabitants are as varied as any city I’ve been to; so as well as Wurzels and Fred Wests, you also find coffee experts, brilliant anarchist letter-press artists and poets, dozens of young bands, old beardy legends, my favourite brewery in the Cotswolds — and the greatest farmers’ market that just about takes over the entire pedestrian-friendly town every Saturday.

When we first arrived, I was skint and in need of a beer.  Hence, I arrived at The Prince Albert pub, on Rodborough Hill.  From experience, I’ve learned that playing music is the best way to make friends, and if you’re skint it’s also a good way to get people to buy you beers.  When I rocked up to the Albert’s open mic night, I killed a few birds with one stone.  Between songs, I admitted to the audience my need of work; when I got off stage, three people offered.

The Prince Albert has become a kind of Mecca for other London expats seeking clean air and cheaper rent in the area.  Herons! have been lucky enough to collaborate with some amazing musicians who’ve found themselves situated cosily in the Five Valleys.  Last weekend, we performed at our beloved Albert with cellist and producer/arranger extraordinaire Jo SilverstonEmily Barker also graced us with her dulcet tones, when she, Anna and I brought the set to a finish with a cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” — not without trepidation!  As an encore, special guests Vena Portae (Emily Barker & Dom Coyote), joined us on stage to sing “The Old Triangle”, which sounded great with Dom’s wonderful bass harmony.

In other news, I was lucky enough to work with actor Jack Tarlton and director Simon Usher on a short theatre piece entitled Making The Sound Of Loneliness, which explored the work of American poet, playwright and actor Sam Shepard, set to music that I composed for the piece.  The performance used extracts from a large cross-section of Shepard’s prose, and was performed by Jack Tarlton and David Beames.  The performance took place at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston on the 22nd of September as part of the Side Orders festival, courtesy of Actors Touring Company.

Making The Sound Of Loneliness counts as my first musical foray into theatre, and I hope it won’t be the last.  The experience was doubly rewarding for me, as I’d never really heard of Sam Shepard (besides as Patti Smith’s ex-boyfriend); I spent the whole workshopping week being blown away by this great American writer whose whole body of work I can look forward to reading.  Luckily, there is a possibility of Making The Sound Of Loneliness getting a full run in the New Year, so watch this space for more info.

Until next time, keep your chins up this autumn.  Port and Stilton help.

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