But if you play that for an hour you will continually hear new things …

Well, I’ve had another unnervingly good weekend, how was yours?

If last weekend yielded the headiest of double-headers (Pigs x7 and a Gloucester/Northampton clash), this weekend has been just as good, possibly better. And now I think of it, the pattern of blessings laid down then was pretty much how it’s unfolded this weekend too. Again, a famously thrilling recovery and win for Gloucester – its’ the Big One, some of the people I stand with consider their season made or destroyed by this game… (but again I’m sure you’ve watched and re-watched the highlights enough times, and like me you’re basking in the afterglow of the Cherry & Whites being once again The Best Team in the Land).

Anyway, eschewing the siren charms of the Fountain, the Cross Keys or the Pelican, a mere forty minutes later I could be found me hurtling (footling, maybe) down the M5 for a charming evening spent in the distinguished company of Terry Riley.

Terry Riley, St George’s

I’m definitely no expert on Terry Riley. My introduction to his works has been startlingly late – I think I was quite literally unaware of him a year ago – my curiosity was only really piqued watching the “Tones, Drones and Arpeggios” series of programmes on BBC4 last Autumn. I loved his idea of notes shifting and changing in relation to each other, and the way that his compositions change and can be performed with different rules for different occasions.

Fascinating stuff, all of it, but Riley comes in at about 20 minutes.

But aside from this (and a growing love of A Rainbow in Curved Air), I had not much idea of what to expect from the evening as I ambled in through the fine (new?) entrance of St George’s.

If Lee Perry was a scarcely believable 82 years old, I should perhaps point out that Riley would have been a full two years ahead of him at High School (now I think of it, I’m very much attracted to the idea of a High School that could house both men – one, a crazy maverick who would spend days on end in a darkened studio, creating new musical worlds with tape machine and reefer, the other, Lee “Scratch” Perry).

And, to be fair, wrinkly eyed and silver bearded, he did look every bit the octogenarian as he crept uncertainly onstage with son Giyan by his side. Clearly life continues to sparkle and glow in his mind and nimble fingers, however, as he spent the next two hours skipping and twirling through a series of enchanting compositions, mostly on keyboard (although there were a couple of appearances from a magnificently reedy melodica) and imaginatively accompanied by son on guitar.

If I hadn’t quite known what to expect before the performance started, I was at least imagining that the evening might be a bit challenging, a bit modernist. There was certainly one lengthy piece that was Kluster-esque in its awkwardness, played by fingertip on something that looked like a set of electronic steel drums (but almost certainly wasn’t). There’s a clip of it, here, (I think) on YouTube:

 

But a lot of the evening was made up of playful improvisations, led by the probing insistence of Riley’s keyboard and coloured enthusiastically by surreal guitar fills from Giyan Riley, with occasional vocal interventions in a Native American style. Sometimes, the compositions meandered, sometimes they coursed forward with purpose and direction. All of it was performed with relish and a sense of joy. I don’t think he addressed his audience once (there was one apologetic aside from Gyan) but I never felt he was aloof, It was a giddy, friendly, captivating and occasionally jazzy feast.

I’ve got some quite nice recordings of the evening, although I have absolutely no idea of names – I’ve tried to disguise this lack of knowledge by taking the post-modernistic approach of numbering rather than naming them. Of course, if anyone knows better…

No 2

No 4

It’s a snake with a line, a shape with only one eye!

Whoo-hoo! The Easter holidays have well and truly begun!

Teachers around the country can lie in, loaf about and generally look back sheepishly at the days when they thought they were going to have to get a real job.

Usually this is the cue for scenes of modest revelry – possibly even a trip to the pub on a Tuesday night, but this Easter has begun with myself and fellow-traveller Coleser jumping into a car, zig-zagging across the country in search of the full range of sybaritic delights the East Midlands can offer. With his customary eye for the deal, Coleser had spotted that not only were Gloucester due to play that Sunday in Northampton, a town where we have friends who could be persuaded to put us up for a night; but also this lot of grubby hooligans were due to play there the night before.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Esquires, Bedford

We probably should get this out of the way, first – the name, it’s just daft, a pain in the arse, and not the only thing about the band that I don’t really get (and I’d be adrift without Coleser’s ingenious nursery-rhyme-themed way of counting off the “pigs”).

In what’s becoming something of a recurring theme, I was not really familiar with the porcine oeuvre, excepting the odd (ultimately unsuccessful) foray onto YouTube. The impression I was left with was that this was lead-lined, heavy, heavy music.

A gig’s a gig, though, eh? And we rocked up at what may turn out to be my only visit to Bedford’s foremost indie venue, with hope in the heart and a ticket in the pocket – and let me tell you, friends, life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. In times of national humiliation and chicanery, a Gig is, refreshingly, still most definitely a Gig.

Support band Blóm were kind of fun, exploiting the full freedom a limited pallet of bass, drums and shouting can offer, with a number of nervy forays into the audience that involved mic wires trailing provocatively over and around feet, in a health & safety nightmare that had me looking around anxiously for some of those yellow floor signs – “Caution! Screaming in Progress!”

Shambling on, to the eager tones of the Grandstand theme, Pigs x7 were soon among us, though. The sound was as heavy and blunt as I’d imagined and was somehow intensified by the deadening effect of a man with the cloth ears that thirty years gig-going will give him. It was exhilarating but pretty one paced – all a bit Black Sabbath without “Paranoid”, Motorhead without the silliness. At their most successful, they sounded like a sedated T Rex, but there was not really enough humour about them to maintain this. I’d been promised dark scenes of reckless abandon in the mosh-pit – men tearing their shirts off and losing all semblance of discretion – which didn’t quite materialise. There were moments, for sure, but nothing that made me fear for my safety.

Chubby frontman, Matt Baty led the battery with bare-chested enthusiasm and an ill-advised line in mic-lead S&M poses (again… will nobody think of the health & safety implications?), but there wasn’t a lot of texture in the set, no light and shade over the course of the evening – pretty much just shade. I’d been hoping for some ironic, Ripley Johnson –style motorik behind it all…

It was actually a better night than I think I’m making it sound – there are few experiences as electrifying as the feel of the floor thrumming beneath your feet or the sense of your ears weakening at every touch of the bass player’s fingers on nylon.

I do have a couple of recordings for you, the first and last songs of the night, which I am reliably informed are the Pigs x7 “hits”. I’ve not tried to clean them up, they remain beguilingly grimy (x7)

GNT

A66

[Oh, and to complete a cracking weekend, a patched-up Glaws team with a scrum half at full back, an inside centre at fly half and a flanker on the wing, held on for a famous win at Franklin’s Gardens. But you knew that already, right?]

Thank you for coming, thank you for going…

In another strange “World Comes to my Doorstep” moment, a genuine rock legend turned up at our special old Guildhall this week. Legendary producer, co-inventor of a whole genre, native of the galaxies, notorious arsonist and truly erratic genius Lee “Scratch” Perry showed up in my hometown.

The strangest of strange privileges.

Lee Perry, Guildhall

In these sort of events, I tend to worry self-consciously about a poor turnout and in what fashion the great and the worthy will be treated by the feckless citizens of my hometown, but I didn’t need to, of course. The chambers were pretty much full and the welcome was enthusiastic. In fact, the demographic was pretty strange – possibly the whitest, baldest gig I’ve been to for ages, with a good few middle-aged chaps who probably should know better, acting like they were indeed ina Kingston ghetto.

Pre-gig tweets (yes, he’s on Twitter) were a mixture of triumphant braggadocio (“MUSIC THAT HEALS YOUR SOUL, CLEARS YOUR HEAD, HEALS YOUR HEART AND LIFTS YOUR SPIRIT!”), photographs of his hairdresser and requests not to bring him greens (“BETTER TO BRING ME LITTLE MIRRORS THAT I ALWAYS USE TO DECORATE MY OUTFITS”) but in there he also named his band ERM (Easy Riddim Maker). At times, they looked a little like a Chuck Berry-style pick up band but were on the whole pretty tight, and were into their third number before Perry paraded onstage, resplendent in gold-braided admiral’s jacket, pink hair and beard and mirror-decorated cap.

In truth, he did look a little slower and older than the last time I saw him but as he’s now an unlikely 82 years old, clearly we’re just glad he’s here and still out there (in all senses). He sauntered through a few almost lucid songs at first but warmed up gradually.

In the end we were treated to a wholehearted and comfortably grooved set of unique takes from a man who was there. There were a few kung fu kicks, some malarkey with a lighter and the occasional break down in communications with his band, but an overall sense of warmth from the stage and from the punters. He’d played for about an hour and a half before he moseyed offstage singing “Thank you for coming, thank you for going, in Jesus’ name…”

Police & Thieves

“Days later a car with two state agents appeared at the studio and took me away…”

There’s almost certainly load of other stuff I should be sorting out but sometimes a piece of music places an unrelenting hand on your shoulder, and won’t be denied..

 

This is part of a record released under the name of Kosmischer Läufer in 2013 and billed as the “secret cosmic music of the East German Olympic program”. The press release that accompanied it, speaks plausibly of a lost album of motoric-inspired work by an East German sound engineer called Martin Zeichnete which was created for Iron Curtain athletes to train to. (“What few knew is that as well as doping and utilising one of the most sophisticated scientific sport programmes ever devised some more ‘esoteric’ methods to gain sporting advantage were employed.”)

I love this story and in the true “sunlit uplands” spirit of the day, I care little for whether it’s true or not (it’s not), I’m totally on board.

And as with the Beak record I wrote about a few weeks ago, it’s so fondly and craftily fashioned that I really don’t care whether it’s real or fake – we’re post-truth, remember. You could tell me it’s a great lost bootleg by Neu! (or Harmonia. Or Krafwerk. Or Cluster) and I’d believe you. (Or in reality, I’d most likely stare blankly at you, eyes-glazed, nodding like a loon…)

Go to the Kosmscher Läufer website for further elaborate spoofery (I’m particularly keen on the idea of the interview fragments scattered randomly, Stasi-style, amongst each release.)

The great news is that a further three albums of material have also been uncovered in the following five years.

Truly, we are blessed.

Strange thoughts, running through my head

I’ve done that proper teacher thing this half term – catching a head cold as soon as the holiday starts – and I’ve spent the week quilt-cocooned, surrounded by tissues and empty DVD cases, and generally feeling more than a little sorry for myself. (Even missed a big night at Castle Grim – who doesn’t want to see the league leaders and metropolitan Fancy Dans comprehensively beasted at the ‘holm of rugby…?)

I’d fully intended to do a couple of dazzling posts over the week, but eyes streaming and head pounding the dry, elegant prose for which this Blog has become known deserted me. The world will never know the shades of brilliance, the wit and the wisdom, and the ham-fisted over-exuberance that will not now see the light of day. (Although I suspect it can make a fair guess…)

As I started to feel better, I’ve been tucking into Peggy Seeger’s memoir, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which is a brilliant read, following as it does Seeger’s spirited wanderings across the UK, US and Europe in the late 50s and early 60s. I knew/know almost nothing about Peggy Seeger, but I can see her becoming the latest stroppy subject of a folk-muse crush that I’m currently working on.

But she’ll have to wait a bit, or at least until I’ve got this out of my system…

Lal Waterson

Apart from reading, snivelling and moping, I’ve also spent quite a lot of time listening to Bright Phoebus, a record I bought last year and mentioned at Christmas, but which has grown and grown in my mind over the months. It has an established place amongst the Great Lost Records of All Time, or did until it was re-packaged and released by Domino a couple of years ago. I’ll not go through all the details of the record, the wiki page tells you what you need to know, but if you’ve not yet bought it, I’d urge you to do so.

Released (and largely ignored) in 1972, it’s a darkly beautiful record – there are a few flights of ill-advised “whimsy” – which showcases the dense, wintery songs of Elaine “Lal” Waterson. The Watersons as folk pioneers had pretty much sung and toured themselves into the ground over the previous decade at the end of which, Norma made the improbable move of becoming a DJ in Montserrat. The natural decision seems to have been for her exhausted and dispirited siblings to go to ground.

There’s a 1965 documentary for TV made about the Watersons, three clips of which are on YouTube. They’re a great watch generally but are particularly a lovely keepsake of a world where folk smoked relentlessly, where pints and vans came with handles.

 

With my Bright Phoebus hat on, one of the things that occurs when you watch it a couple of times is how much Lal stays largely in the shadow of her brother and older sister. Norma tended to sing the lead parts and Mike seemed to lead the sparse instrumentation the family allowed themselves. Lal’s role seems to have been largely to sing “unexpected harmonies”.

Once the group had dissolved, she settled back down in Hull with her husband and brought up her family. The following years, however, generated a series of eccentric and grimly beguiling songs that would not lie still and which would, later, charm Martin Carthy and Richard Thomson when they heard them. These songs would form the substance of the Bright Phoebus record. The Domino re-release adds to the body by including an extra CD of demo versions of the songs plus a couple that didn’t make the cut.

At this point, I’d love to include footage of some of them, but I can only find album tracks or covers (there are a load of those – which I guess makes its own point). Lal’s voice, however, is so distinctive – abrasive, stroppy, motionless – that I think we’ll go with an original:

 

This is a bewilderingly beautiful song which manages to sound both fully-formed and incomplete at the same time – it has the feel of an authentic folk piece with vital fragments of continuity that have gone missing over the years. The cooing, clucking tones of the lovers are in spite of the forsaken, rain-swept world that is crumbling around them. Lal’s voice is harsh, but in one ear she is soothed by Martin Carthy’s guitar and by Richard Thomson’s in the other. Oboes and cellos float ethereally around the melody but the overall effect is of thoughts that are strange. The demo version is a much perkier, more self-confident affair, but the version that made the record is shrouded in doubt and misgiving.

There are other earthy gems here too – the haunting “Child Among the Weeds”, reportedly inspired by the still birth of one of Lal’s own twins, with it’s astonishing bridge vocal from friend and folk archivist Bob Davenport; also the murky, forbidding tones of “Never the Same” and “To Make You Stay”, both strongly redolent of personal tragedy.

Recently, I indulged myself and bought a lavishly packaged collection of recordings, lyric sheets and paintings called Teach Me To Be A Summer’s Morning which also doesn’t disappoint:

 

It’s a gorgeous collection which (along with Pete Paphides’ liner notes to Bright Phoebus) yields all sorts of clues to the kinks and idiosyncrasies of the woman – singer Marry Waterson sites her mother’s spontaneous writing style that would lead to missed meals; her refusal to correct mis-spellings dashed down at pace; brother Mike talks about her imperfect guitar stylings which caused him problems with the songs when first presented and which led to some of her stranger chord choices.

The collection also gives us an unreleased version of another of the highpoints of Bright Phoebus – the truly original, and not a little scary “Scarecrow”. On the album, the vocals are taken by Mike and they’re quite good, although distinctly folk-ground, the lost aitches make it sound blokier, pubbier and take a little of the shadow from the lyric. The Teach Me version, sung by Lal has all the folk-horror chill that a child sacrifice (again) demands. A gruesome song sung with a shudder…

Here’s a last little treasure from Teach Me with an animation done by Marry Waterson:

 

Twitter conversations (including Marry herself) tell me there’s more to discover from Lal, including a record she recorded with her son, Oliver, and records by Marry recorded with brother and with Emily Barker. All of which, I’m looking forward to exploring.

She was a remarkable lady and hers is a voice that will linger.

As we stand in line in the pouring rain…

It’s too late to do a “Best of ‘18” list now, isn’t it?

In any case, “list” might be stretching a little – at the moment, I’d only have two records on it.

Since Christmas, I’ve dabbled with a few things (narrowly missed losing my December downloads from Emusic…) but I’ve mainly listened to only a couple of records. And whaddya know, they’re both bone fide New records, not “new” but actually, genuinely released-in-the-last-twelve-months New. Oh yes.

Thought I’d celebrate my newly-regained cutting edge by doing a bit of a thing about one of them here…

BEAK>

(The other record, by the way, is the Surfing Magazines’ debut which is just great, but seeing as I’ve mentioned them en-passant a couple of times recently, I’ll leave them for another day…)

I’ve a feeling I’ve done something about BEAK> before (and I can’t believe I didn’t mention the “>” thing as well) – I remember being rather keen on all the Bristol landmarks in their song titles. But, characteristically, I may have dreamt this, so I’ll proceed, insensible, as if this is all virgin territory.

Anyway as any ninny knows, BEAK> are the current vehicle of omni-instrumentalist and studio professor Geoff Barrow and last September’s release was the band’s third record. Have a watch:

 

That’s a great video, no?

I love this song for its reedy resolve and the swelling, ballooning effects fanning from Will Young’s keyboard. It makes me think of that great first Suuns record and some of the Yeti Lane stuff (both of these two seem to have gone off the boil recently). I think this might be the first time, I’ve watched the band actually perform on video and I’ve got to admit I didn’t picture Barrow as quite the drummer he is, all wrists and groovy economy. Quite the Robert Wyatt figure (without the gimp mask, regrettably). The video is a bit Dr Who, but I’m on board to be honest, and in the best traditions, the whole thing’s larger on the inside than out.

“Allé Sauvage” is a great song but it’s only one of a cluster of punchy songs that elbow their way into your face, all beery belligerence and unwelcome persistence. “King of the Castle” and “RSI” are also belting songs – lots of period electronics and motorik dynamics forced up to 11. Storming, grim stuff.

I’m also very keen on the closing pair of tracks.

“Abbot’s Leigh” is absolute dissonance explored, tightly confined and barely controlled – horribly menacing, very Centre Cannot Hold and something for our times. Wikipedia tells me that Abbots Leigh, aside from being a village in Somerset, a few miles from the centre of Bristol (of course) is also the name of the tune that “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is set to. All very pastoral and maybe a little folk-horror. Which is exactly what the second track of the pair, and closer of the record, “When We Fall”, had already made me think of. It sounds like something that might pop up on the “Blood on Satan’s Claw” soundtrack, amidst scenes of the sun rising on fields of corn and general rural idyll, (shortly to be horribly and irrevocably interrupted).

 

If you can be arsed, you can, of course, be justifiably sniffy and talk about how derivative BEAK> sound (can’t be denied, to be honest). But why would you do this? They are clearly a massive homage to Can, Klaus Dinger, Faust… but hey! Good spot!  Now get on, enjoy the commotion, stifle a shudder, turn it up. Who knows how long we’ve got?

I mean, what else? You can’t eat music.

Amongst the empty absinthe bottles, Pringles tubes and pistachio shells, strewn about the house, something’s wrong. Having dutifully watched hours upon hours of Talking Pictures TV, and absolutely, categorically had enough of Oliver Reed’s camp thuggery, I still have a niggling feeling… Gone to enough school and office parties to take me safely through until next year, but I’ve definitely forgotten something.

True, there’s still half a chocolate orange (saved. Obviously you need something to see the New Year in with); having checked and double-checked the Radio Times, I can find no screening of Escape to Victory (and if Die Hard can be a Christmas movie…), so that’s not it. But there’s something else…

Ah! Bugger.

End of Year lists.

I knew there was something.

Seven Tinsel-decked Tings from 2018

Truth be told, 2018 has been a desperately grim year, with all sorts of indefensible shithousery going on from the people we’ve recklessly entrusted our futures to. I don’t remember a year when I’ve watched the news more obsessively, and sworn more rancorously at the TV (unless you count 2017, of course. Also 2016…). 2019 isn’t looking like it’s going to get much better either.

I don’t think the two things are linked but 2018 is a year when I’ve bought less brand new music and been to less gigs than for a long a time. No new records spring to my lacklustre mind for this year, and a glance at the more established End of Year lists hasn’t really altered my thoughts on this. I’ve seen a couple of really good live sets (Here Lies Man and Damo are the ones I’m thinking of), but not a great haul.

Having said this, my jammy grandfather clause with eMusic has meant that there’s still been a whole bunch of “new” music floating in and around the estate this year. So I’ve decided to go for seven treats from the PP music year, trying particularly to think about things I don’t think I’ve written about previously (so no Here Lies Man, Sweet Baboo or Damo Suzuki, I’m afraid) but which have been tiny candles amongst the gloom…

Spanish Warbling: Josephine Foster – “Dame Esa Flora”

I’ve managed to step up my efforts to improve my Spanish this year and am hoping to go again with this in the New Year. And one of the things that I’ve done is listen to more Spanish music. Now I’ve written before about warbly-voiced female singers in less than complimentary terms, and Josephine Foster is certainly ones of these. But hey, if she’s warbling in Spanish, it’s different, right? She has a few records out but two in particular stand out which were recorded with the Herrero Brothers. The first was a collection of songs by Lorca and a second album, Perlas, was made up of other traditional songs from various regions of Spain, including this one about Cadiz. We went to Cadiz this year and were again taken by it, so this feels right; and once you’ve warmed to Foster’s voice and are settling into the beautiful mandolin (?) breaks you realise that this is, after all, damn fine:

 

Somali Dance: Dur Dur Band

A quick look through my music of this year confirmed a couple of things: firstly, that, yes, I got very few records from this year; and secondly that I acquired an alarming amount of African music from the seventies – Zamrock, the Ethiopiques series, a lot of Somali music, and pretty much all of it from the seventies and eighties. I did already post about some of this and plugged the Likembe website back in the Summer. But one of the bands covered there, Dur Dur Band from Mogadishu, was also the subject of a new collection from Analog Africa which is just excellent.

This track which doesn’t seem to be on the new compilation or the other LP I have, rollocks along like a train (a funk train), powered by hand drums and an impossibly tight rhythm guitar. The brass is cut-throat and there’s some great twisted lead guitar work. Ah, the days when bands still wrote their name on the bass drum…

 

Japanese Clatter: Bo Ningen – “Koroshitai Kimochi”

I did also write about this bunch of androgynous oddballs after I saw them supporting Damo Suzuki at Sea Change, so I won’t go on. But every time I see clips of this, it gets more and more white-knuckle. It’s utterly out to lunch – deafening, nutty, double-jointed – all of these in a good way. What a racket.

I need a snakeskin-effect poncho…

 

The Cosmos: Terry Riley – “Shri Camel” album

OK, so this is an hour long video, so get a drink or something, but do commit yourself. The first part is an interview with the man which is complex but disarmingly low on bullshit and generally really interesting. I believe everything he says.

There was a really excellent series of shows on BBC4 earlier this year covering experimental music which introduced me to the idea of Terry Riley. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything about what he does, but the one idea that stuck me from the programs was the idea of single pairs of notes moving in and out of sync with each other and then returning to their relative positions like planets in a solar system.

This is grown up music…

 

English Folk Music: Lal Waterson – “Fine Horseman” / Sandy Denny – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

I seemed to spend a lot of time this year reading about folk music – Nick Drake and Sandy Denny biogs, Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the Incredible String Band book I posted about in the summer – all of it fascinating (I’ve also got a Peggy Seeger biog in the pile by my bed…). And on that theme, these two songs are remarkable:

I bought the reissue of the Waterson’s Bright Phoebus this year, which is a great record but the stand out moments all involved the monochrome tones of Lal Waterson, a singer I am ashamed to know I knew nothing about before this. It’s an eerie song that feels like it’s been passed from lip to ear for generations – misunderstood, reinterpreted, weirdly distorted – but is actually a genuinely strange original.

 

The Sandy Denny song is another thing of splendour, crafted carefully and possessing of the most achingly poignant single line choruses. Denny’s life is sad enough and beautifully captured in Mick Houghton’s book, but really you only have to hear this song…

 

Italian Horror: Goblin – “theme from Profondo Rosso”

This was the year I finally got around to watching The Exorcist and a whole bunch of Hammer and folk horror stuff. And there’s some cracking music to accompany some of these films. I’m yet to see Profondo Rosso but I like the Goblin sound track.

 

Oh go on, while we’re at it, Goblin’s theme tune to another horror movie – Suspiria.

And a new album! The Surfing Magazines “New Day”

I didn’t actually see the Surfing Magazines at Sea Change but I heard them from the warmth and safety of the beer tent. I did pop out for a couple of songs and they struck me as having a similar live act as Woods – a basic understanding of the sixties rule book and a willingness to wig out at any given moment. They were fun.

Made up of members of the Wave Pictures and Slow Club, I’m very much hoping this isn’t just a cheery side-project and that there’s more to come.

 

So there we have it, 2018. Some highlights and not too many grumbles. Here’s to the next one, God help us all…

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