It was kinda stormy with an RnB beat

I’ve just downloaded an intriguing new record from eMusic (and when I say “new”, you’ve probably guessed I mean “really old and a little odd”…)

Graham Bond

It’s “Love is the Law” by gravelly-voiced sixties growler Graham Bond, a man who played a star role in bringing the mighty Hammond organ to the sixties public (and at least one suggestible West Country lad, twenty years later). Bond was also responsible for giving breaks to Jack Bruce, John MacLaughlin, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Ginger Baker and probably a few others in his Graham Bond Organisation. As well as being a band leader and organist, he was also an accomplished alto sax player and apparently played both on stage (at the same time).

Image result for graham bond love is the law

“Love is the Law” came out in 1969 and even by then, it was beginning to look like the ship might well have sailed for the GBO – his various alumni had graduated to high-profile posts in the Rock Cabinet, and Bond was increasingly looking like a latter-day Boris Johnson, his Bullingdon pals having timed their runs a little better than he had. With the exception of the drum parts, he played all the other instruments himself (he was also one of those organists who would play basslines on his pedals…)

By this point, he’d become somewhat erratic and unreliable, (there was a disturbing reliance on kaftans). On top of this, he was obsessed with Aleister Crowley and occultism (the record actually credits Bond with a kind of magickal extra “e”), and had spent time in hospitals fighting depression and addiction. The poor feller died under a tube train in 1974.

I’m still exploring the record – it’s a little patchy to be fair – but there are some strong moments, and the ubiquitous ringing organ and spiteful vocals are certainly worth a go, if anyone fancies a slightly different seventies blues, sans guitar.

On a whim, I thought I’d see if there were any live performances on YouTube (there are, go look…) but as I was looking I came across this glorious piece of raybanned silliness from some sort of cult film called “Gonks Go Beat”:

Go! Go! GO!

 

(definitely Ginger Baker on drums, Heckstall-Smith on sax and I think it’s Bruce on harmonica too…)

The distance between love and your heart is too far beyond my imagination…

A beautiful sunny bank holiday morning, how often does that happen. eh? What better way to take advantage of it than sitting in your attic room, headphones on, surfing the Internet?

When I first started this Blog, way back when Gloucester and Arsenal weren’t the butt of jokes; when Trump was just a racist property-developer and before hucksters ruled the world (simpler times…), I used to spend quite a lot of time reading other better-informed, more dynamic Blogs. And occasionally I return to these sites just to see what’s happening, (and to scav a few tips, of course).

I went back to one of them last week, the always interesting, always revelatory Aquarium Drunkard and came across this fabulous mixtape compiled by a musician called Ahmed Gallab, known as Sinkane, and hosted by AD. It’s a wonderful selection of tracks back from Gallab’s childhood memories growing up in Sudan, which he prefaces with “Every Sudanese family has a drawer full of cassettes in their home”. All rather wonderful…

I know next to nothing about Sudan but the first few bars of the first track, by Abdelkarim Al-Kabli got me checking where exactly Sudan is, and sure enough, it borders with the capital of seventies swing and sway, Ethiopia. I’m unaware of there being an actual “Swinging Khartoum” scene but the crossovers between these tracks and all that Ethiopiques madness are obvious to hear, and I’m sure are literal as well as figurative.

Here is Mr Al Kabli, performing “Hani Ardon” (semi-) live, backed by a full string section, languid, tumbling hand percussion and his own work on the oud:

 

I know, it’s video footage with an audio soundtrack over the top, which is certainly a massive shame. Still, a treat, no? (By the way, if you go to YouTube to watch the video, the comments underneath are informative too).

My favourite track from the AD/Sinkane collection is this belter from Al Balabil, three sisters from the Wadi-Half region of the country, who became known as the Sudanese Supremes (watch it, before you scoff).

 

You see! It’s great isn’t it? I love the unhinged rhythm and the monomaniac bassline. The vocals really rock, too, stomping a careful, deliberate path between traditional ways and a raucous fifties-style rhythm and blues.

“Al Balabil” (or “Al Bilibal” as Sinkane would have it – vowel sounds are tricky when you have to move between scripts) translates as “The Nightingales”, a real Motown name, if ever I heard one. The sisters were encouraged in their career by their father and as you can imagine caused quite a stir, singing, dancing and travelling unaccompanied around the country but were apparently massively popular in Seventies Sudan before narrowing attitudes and the inevitable military coup caused the clouds to close back in and the sisters to retire. I’ve done this whole lost-in-the-midst-of-horror thing before and there’s not a whole lot more to say about it.

And I’m not going to pretend know much about them myself. But fortunately, as ever, there are people who do. There’s a great biog of the Nightingales here, which I heartily recommend (although the link to a collection is, alas, dead).

Go on, here’s some more… (This one might be even better)

Apparently, two of the sisters having moved to the USA, there are occasional trips back to Khartoum for reunions and actual dates played. Wouldn’t that be something?

Two guitars and a whistle, basically…

 

Just come back from a very agreeable week of getting-it-together-in-the-country, ensconced in a converted barn near Abergavenny. A lovely few days of doing very little, apart from indulging ourselves to a ridiculous degree. We ate like fish, drank like students, read like kings and walked like things that walk a lot. All very restorative, I can tell you. No wifi of course, so I stocked up on podcasts and spunked away my eMusic allowance on all sorts of feckless exotica, including one particular whimsical Celtic delight.

As a callow trippy youth, I remember reading about Edinburgh’s archetypal acid-folksters the Incredible String Band and their “masterpiece” The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. Amazingly, (and presumably in error), Gloucester HMV actually stocked it – as the years have gone by and HMV has become ever more dull-witted, this has seemed more and more unlikely, but it really happened – and I spent an astronomical £4.99 on it.

I think it’d be safe to say that a naïve Doors/Hendrix/Soft Machine fan was in no way prepared for the degree of strangeness and fantastical silliness that I was to encounter from note one. It took a whole lot of frantic listening (and more than a little desperate determination) to convince myself that I’d not wasted my money and to become reconciled to the highly idiosyncratic Heron/Williamson style.

These days, I’m kind of OK with a bit of Incredible String Band, but if I could go back in time I’d probably spring in front of the aforementioned callow youth, and suggest that he might like to try a bit of Dr Strangely Strange first before going straight on to the String stuff.

Dr Strangely Strange

This over-extended and fairly tortuous analogy is my way of saying that Dublin’s Dr Strangely Strange were a bit like the Incredible String Band, less “Incredible” but still quite “Stringy”.

Formed in 1967 by guitarists Tim Booth and Ivan Pawle, and then joined by multi-instrumentalist Tim Goulding on harmonium and ping pong bats, Dr Strangely Strange became favourites of John Peel and managed to get the String Band’s producer, the great Joe Boyd, to work on their second record 1970’s Heavy Petting.

It’s a pretty varied, mainly acoustic affair with all manner of exotic instrument being trundled out – harmoniums, mandolins, dulcimers, ocarinas, banjos, a whole range of flutes and whistles, and some “distinctive” vocal stylings. The songs are charming time-pieces of gossamer-thin folksiness, touching lightly on pastoral life, requited love, church organs and wasps.

On the whole, however, the odd dash of blues (and a few bursts of electric guitar from a teenage Gary Moore) keeps the record safely on this side of the bank, and would have ensured that my younger self felt a little less adrift than the poor feller was with Hangman’s.

My favourite track is the lugubrious “Sign on my Mind” with its two distinctive extended instrumental breaks, one more pastoral with some exquisite acoustic guitar and mandolin meanderings, the other more bluesy (I think this may be where Gary Moore gets his chance…)

 

The lyrics, without scaling the fey heights of silliness that Heron and Williamson managed, are playful and mainly pretty daft – but again the use of a fair smattering of Christian images and the odd earthy metaphor ensure that the first time listener has a helpful line of breadcrumbs to follow out of the woods.

As we drove home from our brief sojourn, we came past Glanusk, the home of the ever-wonderful Green Man festival, and it struck me that obscure and largely forgotten as the Strangelies are, their legacy and that of the String Band is writ large upon the hillsides of today’s folk scene. Gorky’s fans, for example, will be familiar with many of the sounds and stylings of Booth and Pawle, and I’d be very surprised if there’s not a copy of Heavy Petting nestling coyly in Euros Childs’ record collection.

Even in the heady days of the late sixties, (and even with the patronage of Joe Boyd) success eluded the slender fingers of the band and Goulding left to enter a Buddhist monastery (as one did in those days), with Booth and Pawle struggling on for a few months before separating by 1973.

There is, however, a rather fine documentary about Dr Strangely Strange, called Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal, which is available in three parts on YouTube. Here’s the first part as a taster (although sadly it cuts out in the last couple of minutes):

 

The sound track to a wander in the Welsh hillsides…

Sitting on some grass drinkin’ beer…

It’s been a long time, no?

For this I can again only apologise and offer up the customarily weasely excuses of having great bucket loads of work and the occasional spell of just-can’t-be-arsed-ness.

I’m here now, though, and I like to think that’s what counts, eh?

What’s been playing up and down the grassy lanes and country roads of the Cotswolds, you ask? Well, I’m glad you brought that up…

Cool Ghouls

Stumbled across this group of jangling, frizzy-haired student types a couple of weeks ago, and immediately wondered how I’d not done so earlier – we’re already into a third Cool Ghouls record. This in itself is both haunting (all those lost, grey mornings of unwitting emptiness) and immensely encouraging, just when you feel there’s nothing new under the sun, and you’re scraping around for something fresh…

This third record, Animal Races, is wholly brimming with all the goodies I love in a band – psychy guitars, sixties harmonies, garage band attitudes, and all my favourite records referenced regularly – loads of Byrds, some Gram, some Love, some Elevators and the general languid, cool of the Parquet Courts debut, or maybe the Allah-Las one. It’s all good. Sometimes it bothers me disproportionately when an artist so openly shows his influences (took me ages to overlook Riley Walker’s obvious love of Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and John Martyn) but then other times, I’m good to go from the start, it’s just not a problem.

Here’s a song about goofing off…

 

According to this Fogg Fuzz interview, Cool Ghouls are bunch of self-consciously dudish Californians who just want to make a record a year and play. They drink beer, smoke weed, started their own college band five years ago and want to go into Space. That’s pretty much all you need to know, right?

But for the completists among you…

I’ve also given the even-more-garagey second record, A Swirling Fire Burning through the Rye, a good listen and there are some real gems on there too, the first track “And It Grows” being my favourite:

 

There’s a first album for me to explore yet and also a (ho-hum) cassette-only tour release, called Gord’s Horse which in spite of the title is also available for download or streaming from their Bandcamp page. All of this, and Summer, to look forward to…

School’s out!

Bathed in Sweat

Once again, this Blog is in danger of turning into one of those sniffy, crate-digging exercises in one-upmanship, as another obscure world beat thingamy takes over the car stereo, my footballer-style clumpy headphones and the faux record player that sits up in our top room. But with eMusic somehow keeping their heads above water and at the same time packing their catalogue with all sorts of saccharine goodies, and then plying me with credits, what’s a feller supposed to do?

It really is out of my control.

Alceu Valença

Alceu Valença trained as a lawyer in the late sixties in Brazil before (brilliantly) running away to record music in the Brazilian jungle state of Pernambuco, hundreds of miles to the north and east of Brasilia and even further away from Rio or Sao Paulo. While the world was watching Pele duping hapless Uruguayan goalies, Jairzinho scoring in every round of Mexico 70 and Carlos Alberto thumping in The Greatest Team Goal Ever, Valença was presumably twanging away on a selection of exotic stringed things and getting high with his mates. (Much as I enjoy compartmentalising things, life tells me that this oddest of niche musicians was actually, almost certainly in a bar, celebrating in traditional style with the rest of the country…)

By 1974, however, with Cruyff and Neeskens ending a sulky-looking, (blue-shirted!) national team’s reign, I prefer to think that Valença was by now properly getting it together in the country and getting on with releasing his first solo record, Molhado de Suor.

I don’t know enough about Brazilian indigenous music or culture to understand half of what’s going on here, but from everything you read about the record, it’s a right old melting pot of ideas and styles. To these western, middle-aged, 21st Century ears, however, it sounds like a frantic explosion of breathy rhythms and flighty strings and woodwinds, with each song packed full of imagination and playful energy.

Songs like “Punhal da Prata” and “Dia Branca” have a busy, locomotive get-up-and-go that are terrific fun. They suggest a feeling of eye-rubbing good fortune, that Valença was in something of a hurry to get his ideas out and onto vinyl before someone somewhere stopped him (not just wild-eyed paranoia, when you consider that a number of musical figures of the day were imprisoned or exiled by the military government of the day).

Other tracks (the title track, for example, which translates as “Soaked in Sweat”) are a little more leftfield – quirkiness hot-housed to almost grotesque levels, with a bewildering range of whirring rhythms and stringed beasties running around Valença’s frequently cracked vocals. Again, eye-wateringly good fun and more than a little catchy.

Unfortunately, if you search for Alceu Valença on YouTube, you get a loads of modern clips (he went on to have an enduring career which I’ve not explored) with the man looking more like Michael Bolton than an Amazonian freak bathed in salty paranoia and elicit substances. This is perhaps not a surprise…

Amazingly, however, just when you thought you’d imagined the whole unfortunate episode, there’s this:

 

Crikey!

Go and have a shower, I would…

“Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us!”

Over a couple of drinks last night, I got talking with a friend about the grim subject of lost music and lost generations – his son lives and works in Cambodia – and it got me thinking about the heartbreak of recordings which capture a single moment of exuberant, in-the-moment now-ness, and which have now become somehow all the more vivid for the gathering darkness that was to follow.

(Lest you think that West Country pubs are generally packed with earnest, gloomy individuals discussing their mortality over a pint of Mild, I should probably mention that conversation also touched upon pub crisp flavours; showing off at Sports Day (and hurting yourself); the cynical idiocy of Boris Johnson and Arsene Wenger’s new contract…)

But lo, I find myself this evening, back on this and feeling more than a little maudlin…

Amara Toure

Amara Toure was apparently a Guinean musician who moved to Senegal and then Cameroon in the sixties to make music.

And, well… that’s pretty much the entirety of what I know about him. Oh yeah, he may apparently have had something of a lisp, which he could only overcome when singing. But then that really is it…

This is not, for once, just me showing the habitual levels of Dianne Abbot-like research for which I imagine I’m known. On this occasion, not very much is actually known about the man, even by proper writers, who do their research and stuff. This includes his whereabouts or even whether the man is still alive. He has disappeared from view completely and leaves behind the scantiest collection of recordings. Fortunately, the peerless Analog Africa has gathered together in one place these ten songs (plus a scant biography), and even more fortuitously, it makes an absolute belter of a package. It’s put a smile on my face, all day, as I drive about my business. Absolutely loving it…

The first six songs were recorded with a group of gents known as Ensemble Black & White in Cameroon and released as three singles between 1973 and 1976. They feature Toure’s majestic, harsh vocals and some gorgeously abrasive honking from the Ensemble’s slightly ungainly brass section. Spidery guitars and Latin rhythms weave elegantly about in the darkness, but front and centre, the relationship between Toure’s voice and the clutch of saxes, rasping all over the recordings, like some sort of sprawling Dexter Gordon freight train, is damn near irresistible.

You can stream the album from Analog Africa, and I’d heartily recommend giving at least “N’nijo” a good listening to:

 

The songs that followed the first single blended his Senegalese rhythms with the Cuban sounds that were arriving in West Africa at the time, and caused something of a stir at the time for this very reason. Toure himself couldn’t see what the fuss was about, regarding African and Latin rhythms as having the same source. He sang these sides in Spanish and by all accounts started something of a blizzard of furious Cuban stylings in the clubs and bars of Dakar and Yaounde.

Later on he moved onto Libreville and teamed up with another group of like-minded souls, L’Orchestre Massako, and released an LP with them, which makes up the rest of the Analog Africa collection. These tracks are a little more up-tempo and not quite as darkly groovy, but still with lots of brass, and Toure’s distinctive vocals; and still very, very exciting.

And that was that.

By 1980, Toure had moved on again, only this time he seems to have stepped from the podium altogether. His whereabouts are still apparently unknown, the trail is very much cold. The only things he leaves are these ten exhilarating snatches of a bold time, and the memory of his voice.

A great, great voice, the voice of a king.

Soy la flor que nace arriba el cardon

Want to hear something different?

At this point, regular readers of this Blog will doubtless begin to rub their eyes wearily, feel their shoulders droop and breathe the deepest of sighs.

See, they know at this point that when I say “something different”, I actually mean “something absolutely bat-shit crazy” that we’ll all have forgotten about in a couple of weeks, and will be confined to one of the lesser-read pages of this admired and occasionally respected Blog.

And now I’ve said it, so do you…

Soema Montenegro

Soema Montenegro is an Argentinean folk singer from Buenos Aires, who (apart from being the “flower that blooms on the top of the cactus”) has, I think, two albums to her name, although I believe a third is currently being crowd-funded. Her second effort, Passionaria, has recently clambered onto my hard drive, courtesy of the improbable and still fantastic eMusic, and has been spiralling erratically from the car stereo all week.

It’s a crazy old listen, make no mistake. She croons like a witch, shouts like a delta bluesman, squeals like an animal and peaks and soars like a deeply disturbed opera singer throughout the twelve tracks that tumble together to make the record. She’s supported by her partner Jorge and a group of presumably long-suffering mates on a variety of off-kilter instruments, including pots, pans, a jew’s harp and for the following track a wilfully ungainly brass section:

 

I can’t decide whether the feller coming on at the beginning, dropping what appears to be dozens of tin trays and kitchen utensils at Soema’s feet is a moment of comedy or anarchy,…)

I’ve started you off gently, here, to be honest – I reckon this may be the most regular moment on Passionaria – but if you doubt my clinical assessment of the woman or think I’m over-egging the cake for comic effect, maybe try “Milonga de la Ensoñada” or “Invocación a la Passionaria” (go on, YouTube them), which are truly swivel-eyed and well out-there.

To the probable relief of Argentine journos everywhere, Fabiola Feyt, has done a great interview with Soema on the WUBA site (What’s Up Buenos Aires!), which does little to suggest that she’s just a normal gal, really.

The interview refers to Montenegro’s Blogotheque session with Vincent Moon which is, as ever, truly brilliant and opens with a couple of tracks recorded some five years later on Passionaria, the wonderful “Molecularemente” and “Cuando Pasa” (complete with kettle and frying pan accompaniment from Jorge for the first track and some sort of clay jug percussion for the second – and not in a Tommy Hall sort of way, if you were wondering).

Here’s the first part of the show, filmed in the kitchen before the pair start to wander the streets alarming passers-by:

 

I’d certainly recommend the others three parts too, as she walks the streets of her city, singing in subways, yodelling by railway tracks, busking on train carriages and talking about her calling (in a disarmingly frank manner):

“I wanted to be a teacher, but, well, life has led me to music… I feel a calling, a connection with myself in the sound in the voice, in what happens when I’m singing, and I feel like it’s also a gift for the others… when I say “a gift” I mean music is a ritual, a meeting, and in a show it’s a great excuse for being together and celebrate the music… to cry for what is no longer with us….”

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