“SONG FOR EWE”
with NICHOLAS BLINCOE
“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music related people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today it’s an esteemed Manchester author who I first saw reading from the first of his Manchester trilogy, 1995’s hard-boiled Hacienda classic Acid Casuals, at the Disobey event (what Paul Smith from Blast First, it’s promoter called “a Dadaist’s handbag”) when it had a jolly to Manchester’s Roadhouse venue.
He was on an eyebrow raising bill with Yamatsuka Eye of the Boredoms, Bruce Gilbert and Rephlex’s Cylob, and it was a night I never forgot, and in fact my coverage of the event was in the fanzine John Peel mentioned on air in ’95. Now here on the bill of Velvet Sheep in it’s new blog form, and I’m pleased to welcome (back) to these virtual pages Nicholas Blincoe!
Nicholas has written six novels, winning The Crime Writer’s Silver Dagger for 1997’s Manchester Slingback and was a founder member of the New Puritans literary movement. He once released a hip hop album on Factory Records and was a Hacienda regular which informed his earliest work. He’s a screenwriter including on the BBC’s Waking The Dead and Channel 4’s Goldplated, a critic, a critic once of the Modern Review and former columnist for the Telegraph.
He married the Bethlehem Palestinian director Leila Sansour of the film Jeremy Hardy vs The Israeli Army and splits his time between homes in London and Bethlehem.
I asked him what he’s up to at the moment:
“I have a book out in November, Bethlehem: A Biography of a Town. Perseus Books. And my Manchester trilogy is out on Canelo, a digital imprint.”
Here’s the issue of the old VS fanzine that featured Nicholas Blincoe as part of the Manchester Disobey review…
And here’s Nicholas’s pleasingly exotic and esoteric choice as a “song for ewe”…
“I have been playing Farid al-Atrash’s Hekayet Gharami (Story of my Love). Al-Atrash was a Syrian who became hugely famous as a singer and actor between the 1940s and 1970s in Egypt. He was kind of the Egyptian Frank Sinatra, a musician who was also a gambler and a lover, who became a film star. His music is very big, melodramatic and heartfelt, and always performed live (most of the recordings are live).
The songs last upwards of 15 minutes (Oum Kolthoum, a female star, would sing songs that lasted 50 minutes). It works live because he weaves a semi-improvisation of melodic phrases over the orchestra, which has to keep up.
Though it doesn’t sound like it, there is a family resemblance to James Brown because the singer is leading a large band, improvising phrases of love and longing. The style is rooted in Arabic poetry and improvisation, and goes back to the Middle Ages or earlier.
Yet it is also very western, using full orchestras and performed in nightclubs and theatres (and film). Al-Atrash is probably less well-known than the two great women singers Oum Kolthoum and Fairouz, and it a style of music that suits tragic divas but Al-Atrash is wonderful in her persona as the tragic lover. Hope that’s okay. There’s lots of versions of this, one of his best-known songs, so i chose one I liked that showed him singing.”
YOU CAN BUY E VERSIONS (APTLY ENOUGH) OF NICHOLAS’ MANCHESTER TRILOGY HERE AT CANELO: