Power of the popster: Iggy still thrills. Photo: Soren Andersson/AFP/Getty Images
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Snap, crackle and Pop: the eloquence of Iggy

Antonia Quirke on radio.

Iggy Pop Show; John Peel Lecture
BBC Radio 6 Music

“I always hated radio,” gnarrs Iggy Pop, giving this year’s John Peel Lecture on Radio 6 Music (13 October, 7pm). “And all the jerks that pushed that shit music into my tender mind . . .” He sounds, as he always does, on some level amused, as though telling a slow-reveal gag, and the voice is so familiarly low that each vowel sounds exotic. As he warms to his theme – about the various (financial, ethical) challenges facing the musician in the era of free music – the striking phrases accumulate: “Not everybody is meant to be big. Not everybody big is good”; “I only ever wanted the money because it was symbolic of love.”

But then Pop was always great at lines. Who could forget the Stooges lyric “Now I’m gonna be twenty-two/I say oh my and a boo-hoo”? And, because of his delivery – this deeply Poppian, beguiled tone – he manages to situate both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones somewhat witheringly as “white entertainment from the parent culture” yet at the same time make them sound completely gorgeous and vital. As tones go, it is almost impossible to strike, but something Pop also managed with ease in the second of his new run of regular 6 Music shows this week (19 October, 4pm) with an ingenious little monologue about British v American spiders.

But then he is that rare thing: a public figure who has managed to stage his intelligence from the very start of his career – it has always been part of his act – and to keep that going convincingly. Usually when someone is described, as Pop often is, as “shrewd” and “smart” it turns out that they are not. He has also managed to evolve his onstage character – naked, tanned, anciently gnarled – into something approaching conceptual art without becoming Alice Cooper, who sits around talking about “Alice” and likes to play golf.

Iggy Pop knows – just as Little Richard knew (and, to a certain extent, the ankle-wobbling Elvis) – that an onstage persona works properly only if you are actually 100 per cent Little Richard or Elvis, too. So every time Pop strips off (again) and you find yourself thinking (again): “Is that brilliant? Or just an idea of rock’n’roll?” you settle on the former, with gratitude. A thrill still comes off him. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why Britain and Germany aren't natural enemies

Photo: Tashphotography / Stockimo / Alamy
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The Negroni fools no one – it’s easy to make and contains nothing but booze

It is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

The cocktail is designed to lie about its origins; no wonder it reached its apogee during Prohibition, which forced everyone with an unrepentant thirst to lie about their cravings. Even today, when only extreme youth, religious belief or personal inclination prevents a person from draining the bar dry, the cocktail continues its career of dishonesty. It hides ingredients or methods. It provides a front for poor-quality booze. And it often dissolves, within its inscrutable depths, mountains of sugar, enabling drinkers to pose as sophisticates while downing something that tastes like a soft drink – to get drunk without leaving the playpen.

This is why I love the Negroni, which fools no one. It is easy to make and contains nothing but pure booze. Despite being a third sweet vermouth, it isn’t saccharine: the other two thirds, equal measures of gin and Campari, may have something to do with this. And it is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

They say it was invented in Florence at the request of a Count Negroni, who wanted a drink unsullied by club soda – a drink stiff enough to get a man back on a bucking horse, perhaps, since this Count may have been a rodeo rider. I prefer to believe that the Count, if Count he was, came in, tossed down enough strong liquor to start telling stories about his American adventures, and, when he finally staggered out into the night, the exasperated bartender poured three straight shots into a single glass and baptised this wondrous reviver in grateful homage to the fabulist who had inspired it.

In a former glue factory a very long way from Florence or America, the East London Liquor Company now makes very good gin – Batches One and Two, the former tannic with Darjeeling as well as cassia bark, pink grapefruit peel, and coriander seeds; the latter redolent of savoury, bay, thyme and lavender. Transforming these plants into excellent alcohol seems an improvement on boiling down horses for adhesive, and the company also makes superb Negronis from Batch Two.

We sit outside, in a carpark made marginally more glamorous by border boxes of Batch Two botanicals, and marvel at the transformation of this grimy part of East London, next door to a park intended to give Victorian working men brief respite from lives all too lacking in myth or fantasy. It is a reincarnation at least as miraculous as the transformation of three strong and entirely unalike spirits into the delectable harmony of the Negroni. The sun shines; a fountain plashes. Nuts and charcuterie arrive. All is right with the world.

I leave my herbaceous bower and dangerously pleasing drink for a peek at the large copper distillery behind the bar, walking in past the fountain, a whimsical stone construction that pours vermilion liquid into two, tiered basins topped by a chubby putto clutching a rather reluctant fish.

And then I stop. And double back. Vermilion liquid? It is, indeed, a Negroni fountain. There are even slices of orange floating in the basin. I dip a finger: the taste is slightly metallic but still undeniably that potent mixture of booze, botanicals, bitterness, and just a hint of sweetness. A streak of citrus from the orange slices. It turns out that the world’s most straightforward cocktail lends itself to a decadent neo-Renaissance fantasy. There’s a message here, one forthright as a temperance tract: without imagination, we would have no lies – but no Negronis, either.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder