Tag Archives: academic research

Recent writing

I’ve been thinking about, in the past couple of years of this AHRC fellowship I’m on, my level of productivity in terms of my own writing. As it’s supposed to have done, and is funded to do, the fellowship has taken over my time, which has in theory 40% of my working week is on research and 40% on AHRC Connected Communities work. (By the time the fellowship finishes it will have taken up six years of my career. That’s a l-o-n-g time in academic life—or in any professional context, come to that—to dedicate to mostly one thing.)

Here, as a public exercise in self-informing, is a brief survey of the main pieces of my writing completed / published / under consideration over the past 12 months or so. There are seven pieces. Roughly, that’s about 80,000 words written or, in one case,  co-written. Put it like that, and I’ve been pretty damn busy, pretty productive. I feel better.

I’ve included a short descriptive paragraph about each piece, taken from the introduction or abstract.

1. ‘Skinny blues: popular music and anorexia’

 Research article, currently under consideration with Popular Music. Hopefully they are sending out to readers.

This article discusses an extraordinary body in popular music, that belonging to the person with anorexia which is also usually a gendered body—female—and that of the singer or frontperson. I explore the relation between the anorexic body and popular music, which is more than simply looking at constructions of anorexia in pop. It involves contextually thinking about the (medical) history and the critical reception and representation, the place of anorexia across the creative industries more widely, and a particular moment when pop played a role in the public awareness of anorexia. Following such context I will look in more detail at a small number of popular music artists who had experience of anorexia, their stage and media presentations (of it), and how they did or apparently did not explore their experience of it in their own work and public appearances. This close discussion is framed within thinking about the popular music industry’s capacity for carelessness, its schedule of pressure and practice of destruction on its own stars, particularly in this instance its female artists. This is an article about a condition and an industry. At its heart is the American singer and drummer Karen Carpenter (1950-1983), a major international pop star in the 1970s, in the Carpenters duo with her brother Richard; the other figures I introduce are Scottish child pop star Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999), and the Welsh rock lyricist, stylist and erstwhile guitarist of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey James/Edwards (1967-1995 missing/2008 officially presumed dead)….

2. ‘European jazz festivals’

Invited chapter for Francesco Martinelli, ed. The Shared History of European Jazz (Equinox/EJN). Proofs returned, should be published later this year.

… That the early jazz festival was innovated and developed in Europe is striking—from the late 1940s on, that is, the very early postwar years in a devastated continent, the organisation and advertising of the new cultural event of the festival of jazz music began to take place. At the jazz band festival ball there was felt to be a good new buzz, and there was a collective spirit, and the idea spread quickly through the 1950s, and would go on to influence also the innovative rock and pop festivals and mass musical gatherings of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture (McKay 2005, 2015). In the space of only half-a-dozen years the jazz festival spread, from, notably, Nice (1948) to Paris (1948 and 1949) and on to the Belgian coast at Ostend and Knokke (also 1948), to London (1949) to Newport by 1954. Following that, the journey behind the Iron Curtain took only a couple of further years (Sopot, Poland in 1956). Of these earliest festivals, we can reasonably say that Nice and Newport are the most notable, because of their extraordinary longevity. Nice and Newport have been with us most years, on and off, here and there, for many decades….

3. 25 Years of the London Jazz Festival

Co-authored book with Emma Webster, telling the story of the festival, and of London as a city of jazz festivals going back to the 1940s. The original plan was for this to published in liaison with the festival for its 25th year in November 2017, but, as a result of delays I’m not confident that is going to happen now. Hmm.   

… In this book we tell one part of the story [of jazz in Britain], which is also one of its most successful parts: the rise over 25 years of the London Jazz Festival. Of course, London is by no means the oldest still extant jazz festival in Europe—Nice, Montreux, Molde and others have all celebrated and passed their 50th anniversaries, very impressively, and we all nod in timely appreciation of their achievements. Yet London’s status as a global multicultural city demands the attention of the ears and eyes of jazz musicians and fans each November. And we gently point out that, although the London Jazz Festival is ‘only’ 25, London and its environs have had a major jazz festival, and often more than one in the same year, since at least the first National Jazz Festival in Richmond in 1961. That is over half a century of festivalising in and around the city with the modern music of jazz.

4. ‘Jazz and disability’

Chapter for Nick Gebhardt, Tony Whyton et al eds. Routledge Companion to Jazz Studies

‘What is jazz? Is it art, a disease, a manner, or a dance?’ asked bandleader Paul Whitman in the New York Times, 1927. Art or disease? This chapter both draws on and seeks to extend recent interdisciplinary scholarship in music and disability studies (DS) by looking at the case of jazz. Consider here a definition of the musical instruction alla zoppa, which is usually employed in western classical music to signal a physically impaired character: zoppa in Italian is ‘lame’, ‘limping’, and so it has been applied to music. But it can also mean ‘syncopated’—and so the rhythmic feature at the heart of much jazz has a musical connection with a physical disability, a disability which is about moving differently. A small body of work has been exploring the relation between jazz and disability (Stras 2008 and 2009, Johnson 2011, Lubet 2011 and 2013, Rowden 2009, Pearl 2009); the approach has tended to be around a particular artist (Stras on Connie Boswell, Lubet on Oscar Peterson), or a specific period (Johnson and Stras on early jazz and dance music in the 1920s), or a particular disability (Rowden on visual impairment, Pearl on neurological issues). Some of this work is intersectional, in particular, unsurprisingly for jazz, around disability and race. I want to draw on that as well as extend it in order to make a case for jazz as a music of disability…. 

5. ‘Gee Vaucher’s punk painting as record sleeve’

Invited chapter for Stevphen Shukaitis, ed. Gee Vaucher Introspective catalogue, for the exhibition at Firstsite Galley, Colchester, 2016-17. 

‘All art is “political,” all aesthetic is “political.” How do you draw the line?’ said Gee Vaucher in 2012. It is of course a standard claim, that ‘all art is political’, often enough stated by political artists (not without exasperation) when questioned about their politics. But the part that interests me here is the artist’s follow-up question, ‘How do you draw the line?’ How did Gee Vaucher of Crass draw the line, paint it, interrogate it, demolish it, multiply it, deny there is such a thing? More centrally, how did she do that on the apparently secondary cultural form (after the recorded music they contain) of punk rock record covers?… Vaucher’s work with Crass showed her both exploiting and extending the possibilities of record cover art, for political and creative purposes. She worked at the tail end of the high popularity of record cover art, an interdisciplinary art form that burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s, wrapping, protecting, packaging and enhancing the new music, and which began to diminish in size and importance with the onset of digital music consumption from the 1980s on (CDs then downloads)….

6. ‘4WORD: AN.OK4U2@32+1984’

Invited foreword for Matt Grimes and Matthew Worley, eds. The Aesthetic of our Anger: Anarcho-Punk, Politics and Music (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2016)

…The late 1970s and early 1980s were an extraordinary period in British social history. There were sustained manifestations of violence from the Northern Ireland troubles, to the Yorkshire Ripper to the Falklands War; there was mass protest from Greenham Common to the Miners’ Strike; there were periodic riots sweeping across much of the country, a socially divisive government, mass unemployment and racism. As a teenager moving into early manhood, trying to find my way in the world, it felt like I was in a country falling, or being pulled, apart. All of this was happening under the grand penetrating paranoia of the MAD (‘mutually assured destruction’) discourse of the nuclear sublime of the late Cold War. When you looked out across Britain then, it was tired, frightening, a bit of a dump. With, okay, some great music. It was something like this version of the British landscape that formed the dark palette of choice for an apocalyptic and dystopian sense of the world that anarcho-punk fiercely, or crudely, or both, depicted and critiqued….

7. ‘”They’ve got a bomb”: anti-nuclearism in the anarcho-punk movement in Britain, 1978-84’

Invited chapter for Noriko Manabe et al eds. Sonic Contestations of Nuclear Power (Oxford UP). What’s happened to this piece? Written ages ago; is the book still happening or what? I sourced seven images for this, too, including some archive photographs.

This chapter is concerned with the relation in Britain between popular music and social movement organisation, and seeks to open—or re-open, or keep open—critical space for theorising the practical operation of cultural politics at an intimate and remarkable moment between those two things, culture and politics: when music (culture) was mobilised to sound the campaign (politics), and when a different way of living (politics) was made possible via musical production and consumption (culture). While doing the theory, equally importantly, the chapter also tells the story (I recognise that theory and narrative are not entirely separate activities), which constitutes the acknowledgement of a remarkable radical cultural achievement—sort of from nowhere, which may be a utopia in Essex—made during a period of major social crisis and change. This last fact—that remarkable culture originates in times of crisis—may be the only unsurprising point in the story. The chapter explores the links, contradictions and tensions in Britain between a musical subculture at its height of innovation and creative energy—anarcho-punk from around 1978 to 1984—and the campaign organisation CND, during these same years at the second peak of its national and international prominence (its first having been in the late 1950s and early 1960s).  The musical package of anarcho-punk was notable by its insistent political focus on war and the threat of nuclear destruction, and presented a relentless cultural critique that drew and drew on apocalyptic realities and post-apocalyptic imaginaries….

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New chapter on Winnie Atwell

BBJ cover imageI’m very pleased to be part of a new book, Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance, edited by Jason Toynbee, Catherine Tackley and Mark Doffman, in which I go back to look again at the 1950s pianist, chart-topper, and television presenter, Winifred Atwell. My chapter is called ‘Winifred Atwell and her “other piano”: 16 hit singles and “a blanket of silence”, sounding the limits of jazz’. You can find information about all the chapters for the entire collection at the Black British Jazz contents page, while below is the book’s blurb:

Black British musicians have been making jazz since around 1920 when the genre first arrived in Britain. This groundbreaking book reveals their hidden history and major contribution to the development of jazz in the UK. More than this, though, the chapters show the importance of black British jazz in terms of musical hybridity and the cultural significance of race. Decades before Steel Pulse, Soul II Soul, or Dizzee Rascal pushed their way into the mainstream, black British musicians were playing jazz in venues up and down the country from dance halls to tiny clubs. In an important sense, then, black British jazz demonstrates the crucial importance of musical migration in the musical history of the nation, and the links between popular and avant-garde forms. But the volume also provides a case study in how music of the African diaspora reverberates around the world, beyond the shores of the USA—the engine-house of global black music. As such it will engage scholars of music and cultural studies not only in Britain, but across the world.

And here is a link to the Google Book version of the collection:

[Extract from introduction to my chapter] … From Tunapuna, Trinidad, Winifred Atwell (c. 1914-1983) was a classically trained ragtime and boogie-woogie style pianist who gained quite remarkable popularity in Britain, and later also Australia, in the 1950s, in live and recorded music, as well as in the developing television industry. In this chapter I outline her extraordinary international musical biography as a chart-topping pop and television star—innovative achievements for a black migrant female musician which are arguably thrown into more dramatic light by virtue of the fact that Atwell has been Wiinifred Atwell and her 'other piano' with rhythm accompaniment (no. 1, 1954)and remains a neglected figure in media and popular music (let alone jazz) history. I pay particular attention to her performative tactics and repertoire, developing material I introduced first in Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain. But our interest in Atwell should stem not only from her position as a significant figure neglected by history, for she speaks also to definitional issues of jazz. The chapter progresses into a discussion of the extent to which Atwell is a limit case of jazz in the developing pop world of the 1950s on….

Atwell topped the British singles charts twice, with 14 other top-30 singles during the 1950s, and she was also the first black million-selling singles artist in British pop history. Most of these achievements were the result of her playing jazz-derived instrumental music (solo or with a trio or quartet: piano-guitar-bass-drums). (Here you can read an interview I did with her drummer from the period, Colin Bailey.) Hers was a striking early example of a multiplatform media and music success: prestigious live performances and international tours, hit records, pop-jazz and classical repertoires, radio broadcasts, sheet music and piano instruction book sales, television presenter fronting her own series (on both main British channels and in Australia), and film appearances on screen and in the soundtrack….

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