Aside, the wandering eye, has opened…

I have, you know, other stuff to write and at least one other recording to sort out and post, but for now… Well, I just can’t get this tune out of my head.

A chance conversation as I was leaving the Long Ryders the other week, led me to the Jayhawks, a band I am embarrassed to say I know next to nothing about (save for the fact that Stephen MCarthy was a member for a while), but whose back-catalogue I am resolved to start looking through.

Post Haste.

 

The really annoying thing is they’re playing in Bristol in September, but I already have a ticket for Teenage Fanclub the same night.

Damn…

Now what I did I do regret…

IMG_1867I’ve spent fifteen minutes now, trying to fashion some sort of clumsy Mason-Dixon line metaphor to introduce a few lines about seeing the Long Ryders last week. However you re-word it, though, the M5 is a pretty feeble substitute for a six-lane highway, crawling along the M32 no match for cracking through an Appalachian pass.

No doubt about it the Long Ryders were/are a really American band, albeit one with some of the best inspirations and passions a band can have – the Byrds, Elvis, Gram, the Burritos, you can’t fault them. I liked them quite a lot in their Paisley Underground heyday, but if truth be told they were never quite paisley enough for my tastes. I was at the time looking for something with a little more Syd Barret, maybe some Pretty Things, a dash of Soft Machine in it (the Soft Boys in fact…) And, thinking about it now, the old transatlantic gap cliché really does ring true. A very North American band, something missed in translation.

When I saw that Sid Griffin and pals were coming to the Fleece, however, I started listening to Native Sons and State of Our Union again for first time in…ooh… ages. I don’t think I’d heard either record this century, and in fact I had to repurchase them because my originals were actual cassettes… But, wow! What great records they are – chockfull of references my callow twenty-year-old self couldn’t be bothered with but which to a frosty-bearded fifty-year-old veteran now sound just fine.

The Long Ryders, The Fleece

The Fleece continues to be my current favourite venue, obviously for the acts it manages to get (not to mention the pillars and the sticky floors which I always refer to) but also for the reputation it’s managed to earn amongst gig-goers. You know it’ll be well attended and noisy. And so it was, full of middle-aged punters, both balding and silver-highlighted, who burst keenly into song as soon as Griffin embarked on the first bars of Run Dusty Run.

It wasn’t his first appearance as it turned out. We’d spent a puzzling 15 minutes or so watching a muffled and be-hooded roadie setting up guitars and plugging in amps in what was already a stuffy atmosphere. A few bemused looks were exchanged and it wasn’t until the rest of the band trouped on that the hoodie came down and Sid Griffin (for it was he) introduced himself. To be honest, he’s looking a little heavy these days and sporting an endearingly seedy “Beatles hair cut”, which actually reminded me of Robyn Hitchcock more than a little (the Soft Boys references are going to keep coming, I feel).

It’s interesting what you notice about a band’s music at a distance of thirty years or so. Just as the country stylings washed over me at the time, leaving me unmoved and barely cognisant, I was also completely unaware of the contrast (possibly even, tension) that exists between the two main songwriters in the band. This came out really clearly onstage, as vocal responsibilities were tossed back and forth between Griffin and guitarist Stephen McCarthy. Griffin goofed around between songs and generally sang the rougher good-time ditties, while McCarthy didn’t do a lot of the banter but sang on his own more soulful, slightly more reedy, Gene Clark-type numbers. Bassist Tom Stevens also sang on a couple which I’m guessing were his own. I like this intra-band democracy thing (it reminded me of my mistakenly imagining Richmond Fontaine to be just Willy Vlautin’s band). Turns out that some of my very favourite Long Ryder songs were McCarthy compositions. Who knew? (Why didn’t I know?)

It was a great set which included the obligatory Gram Parson cover in the encore (“Older Guys”) and was more than a little shambolic at times – there were a couple of sound problems; Griffin forgot his words more than once and occasionally came across as more Jack Black than Drug Store Truck Driving Man – but one that was hugely appreciated by the grizzled bunch of punters that spilt out onto the road at chucking out time.

The recordings are a little spoilt by the gutsy singing of more than one emotional feller nearby, but if you can get over that, they’re kind of fun…

Mason-Dixon Line

The Light Gets in the Way

Lights of Downtown / State of Our Union

Jackson stays at my place, ’cause he ain’t got a home…

IMG_1846Gah! I’m annoyed with myself.

I’ve had a nice leisurely Bank Holiday Weekend, shooting the breeze, watching footie and yet somehow not got round to writing this up… *Smacks head theatrically*. Great evening too.

Richmond Fontaine, The Bullingdon

My second trip to Oxford’s fine Bullingdon, saw the arrival of the ever-enjoyable Willy Vlautin and Richmond Fontaine. Actually, as I write that, it makes it look like Vlautin’s chums are no more than a backing band, the musicians who provide background colour for his extraordinary song/story writing gifts. If I’d bothered to pay attention to stuff, of course, I’d know that songwriting credits are not exclusively Valutin’s; but as I hadn’t (routinely don’t) it was left to this evening to make it clear to me that RF are a proper band, Vlautin repeatedly referring to drummer Sean Oldham as “the leader of the band”.

It seems a bit late in the day to have made this discovery, although not as late as I did at one time believe. Turns out from talking to Dan Eccles after, there’s another tour this Autumn, which will be their last. (After which, he revealed to me, exclusively if you will, that one of the projects he intends to work on the setting up of a piano tuning business. You read it here first…)

Eccles and bassist Freddy Trujillo came out and chatted for ages to people after what was a long set, and it all went to reinforce the idea you couldn’t help but form watching the set – they’re a really decent bunch of fellers. Vlautin particularly comes across as self-effacing, ordinary and likeable, introducing many of the songs with charming, incidental stories. A bloke you could find yourself chatting to for ages over a few drinks…

They played for coming on for two hours, including two encores and 22 songs drawn from pretty much all the albums (although the latest “You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To” featured heavily). Vlautin’s story telling talents were much in evidence and were enhanced by his part-drawled, part-sung delivery. Eccles’ guitar work was also pretty remarkable, light at times, heavy and almost ungainly at others. He’d already done a set previously, backing support act Fernando (who was also very good) earlier in the evening, so he could’ve been excused for wanting to get off early.

The Bullingdon is great for sound and the recordings are OK, with wild cheering and clinks of bottles being thrown into bins at the bar, all adding to the atmosphere. I’m attaching a particular run of three (four) great, great songs that came one after each other towards the end of the evening. You’d be a fool not to…

The Boyfriends

Lost in the Trees / Willamette

We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River

How’s the church? How’s the job?

IMG_1841Having been to only one gig so far this year, by the end of this evening, I’ll have been to a couple (and if I’d been better organised, have a ticket to a third). So tonight I’m off to see Richmond Fontaine in Oxford, but in a rare moment of “getting my shit together”, I thought I’d be well advised to post this early, rather than, you know, late.

Ought

These drives over to Bristol are becoming much simpler affairs these days (Easter’s pan-tastrophe excepted, of course), so I was completely unprepared for the closure of the Lodge St entrance to my go-to Colston Hall carpark. A half hour of trying to navigate my way round to the other entrance followed and lacked only a round of the Benny Hill music in the background and a man cleaning windows on a wobbly ladder to complete full-on comic ridiculousness.

Got there, eventually, a little flustered and didn’t really make the most of support band Milo’s Planes, a three-piece who actually looked quite fun with loads of different ideas bulging out all over the place. It was also my first visit to Colston Hall’s number two hall, The Lantern and I like it a lot, especially its typically Colston Hall deep carpet.

Ought are a Canadian band I’d been enthusiastically turned on to by a friend at Christmas and since picking up what is I think their second long player, Sun Coming Down, I’ve become rather fond of their tight, clanky sound, especially singer Tim Darcy’s languid, sardonic delivery.

Darcy, live, is if anything more languid and foppish than I imagined, and in my fancy quickly became some sort of dark-clad, slightly baleful Uriah Heep-type figure (I’m talking Dickens here not the Seventies hard rockers of Demons and Wizards fame – I looked that up I should add)

He did seem to be in some sort of poor health, (which allowed to me to add “consumptive” to my mental pen-picture of him) and spoke of being “tired” clutching some sort of Sport drink for much of the set.

Ably supported by a tight rhythm section and the imaginative colourings of Matt May on keyboards, Darcy gave us most of the record I knew plus enough from the first one to make me want to get hold of it. The touchstone I’ve tried to avoid when describing the Darcy style is of course Mark E Smith, but seeing him and listening back to the recordings, David Byrne might work better. He jerked and fidgeted around the Lantern’s small stage with self-conscious gawkiness. His guitar work was by turns awkward then intricate and between chords there was a vigorous amount of pointing and finger waggling. He also spoke in pretty much the same stylised, back-of-the-throat manner as he sings, which was a little disturbing. But overall it was hard not to like the feller.

In the end, it was quite a short set. I didn’t actually mind this, to be honest, and in the same way as Sun Coming Down is quite a brief but nicely put together outing, playing under the hour seemed quite appropriate. I enjoyed the version of my favourite song, the wonderfully existential “Big Beautiful Blue Sky” with hearty audience participation all round (Warplane! Condo!). The Lantern turns out to have a really clear sound, so the recordings are more than fine.

I commend them and Ought to you.

Men for Miles

Big Beautiful Blue Sky

High voltage man kisses night

johnsolobaldLook, let’s just get one thing straight. I don’t have to have a good reason to post anything about the Magic Band…

But, if I did, (and I’m saying “if”), a curious series of events on a routine Easter trip to Bristol has led me to thinking a lot about Don van Vliet.

Drumbo

A freak saucepan accident occurred which I won’t go into – it’s too unlikely to dwell on. (Suffice to say that the car is still in the garage, the pan ended up embedded in the underbelly and still had lentils in it – and if that’s not a Beefheart-ian sequence, I don’t know what is…) It led to us walking into the city centre from a completely different direction to normal, stopping for a consolation cider brunch at a café and wandering along Whiteladies Road, an area we’ve really only driven through in the past. Jolly nice it was too especially as it culminated in trip to Rise Records at the top of Park Street.

As there’s been a Rise in Cheltenham until recently (thank you John Lewis…), I’ve never bothered with the Bristol branch before, although I know they do music sessions there generally has a fine rep. It was pretty good, lots of nice stuff, reasonably priced and all that and I picked up a couple of things.

The real bonus, though, was this, “the definitive account of life with the Captain from the inside”:
thru the eyesFor a fiver, too (I’d quite literally been eyeing it on Amazon the night before for £20).

A chance conversation with a drummer feller I half-know, had recently got me thinking about favourite drummers. Robert Wyatt was first to mind, of course, but “Drumbo” followed pretty closely on his heels.

John French is a bit of long-suffering hero of mine and I’m kicking myself for not getting off my arse and coming down to see him in Bristol last year. This is the man whose clumping, goofy drumming cajoled the Magic Band through Safe as Milk, Strictly Personal and, of course, Trout Mask Replica. Not being a musician myself, I understand little of the nuts and bolts that drive a record, but every time I put on one of these, French always seems to be performing curious little twists and tucks that stand out even amongst the mayhem and rank craziness that mark all of Beefheart’s best stuff.

French’s other great contribution to the Magic Band’s records was to transcribe the screwy ideas handed to him, into some form of music the rest of the band could follow, with only the Captain’s toothy whistling or table banging for guidance. He did a remarkable job, with no little forbearance as van Vliet became increasingly dictatorial, and was rewarded by being thrown out of the band after the completion of Trout Mask Replica (literally, if the stories are to be believed. Down a flight of stairs…). Incredibly, his contribution was largely uncredited on the sleeve of Replica.

I’m not finished the book yet – it’s quite a tome – but it’s an enjoyable, gracious, if rambling, read that is only making me admire the man’s remarkable patience all the more. Predictably, Beefheart’s first three albums, plus the at-the-time unreleased Mirror Man sessions which is the sister LP to Strictly Personal, have all been blasting from the car stereo this fortnight.

They’re a crazed, irresistible musical statement that take some beating (and occasionally a little patience), and I can’t really do their warped, oddness much justice. I did buy a 1966 live album from eMusic (Plastic Factory) this week too, but to be honest it’s not a patch on these. It’s mostly pretty standard blues reworks, remarkable only for Beefheart’s brutal, Howling Wolf-style vocals.

There’s not a lot of good Beefheart on YouTube, unfortunately, and the clip that is regularly trotted out on BBC clip shows is that vaguely creepy (and not in a good way) Upon the My Oh My clip from Dutch TV, which sees the Captain looking not so much eccentric as just plain lonely (and well past his best).

There is this glorious clip, though, shot in 1968 during the MIDEM music festival, on the beach at Cannes, which you’ll have seen, but does certainly capture the Magic Band in all their jerky, groovy weirdness, preparing to embark on their quirky, fraught journey aboard the strange Beefheart gyrocopter.

 

(Btw, I don’t think it does feature Ry Cooder, despite what it looks like and what people say. Cooder had already quit the band the year before, after Beefheart stopped a performance during “Electricity” and fell into the audience, claiming he’d seen a girl he knew turn into a goldfish…)

(I’ve only recently found out that the words for this, my favourite Beefheart song, were not actually written by the Captain at all but by a (to me) mysterious collaborator named Herb Bermann. Go here for an interesting read about the background to the writing of the song and a clip of Bermann reading his own poetry.)

As dawn breaks…

images (1)Funny bugger, I am, sometimes…

I’ve been listening to Mwng again this week, and from there, its predecessor Guerilla. And I realised I’d somehow kind of forgotten the absolutely majesty of Super Furry Animals. A great, great band. That run of albums from Guerilla, through to Phantom Power, is pretty much peerless.

Mwng

I got to thinking about last summer’s Green Man set again, and how it was a little underwhelming, and that it being so had somehow obscured that wonderful evening at the Guildhall, little more than a couple of months earlier. Listening back to the slightly sodden recording I made of the Green Man evening, it’s not even that bad a set either.

For on old befuddled gent, the images are still very clear. It had been a long day “in the field”, mud had been tramped through, drink had been taken, bands had been watched, there had been laughing, chat, general arsing around and all the other stuff that goes with festivals. The drizzle had begun to set in, and it was after midnight, I believe. The sight of a couple of young fellers leaping around in front of us, goonishly, absolutely out of their trees, added to the general feeling of things beginning to unravel a little.

But when SFA shambled on stage (I probably need to think of another Gruff-verb, to be fair), there was such an outpouring of warmth, fondness and elation, from everyone around that I remember thinking “here’s a band that people really love”.

One of the reasons I’ve not put up any of the recordings of the set is because the amount of “noise” around is pretty immense, even by festival standards. Not irritating, couldn’t give a toss about the band, here’s one for my Facebook page, sort of noise. More like people just having a banging good time, drinking lager, smoking herb and joining in with a band they’ve known and loved for many years. You can’t really complain about that.

And as the first chords of “Rings Around the World” jumped across the bobbing heads of the people around me, there was what felt like a discernible ripple of pleasure, joy, whatever you will, that swept you along with it.

As I write, I’m recalling it clearly, starting to rebuild pictures and wondering where on earth the memories have been…

Thing is, and I remember feeling this at the time, an opportunity was missed as soon as the Mwng section of the performance started. Lovely as the songs are, it definitely slowed down the force and drive of the set. You could feel people’s attention gradually wandering, the loons in front of us calmed down considerably, the rain started to get heavier. You can hear on the recording people chatting and generally losing interest. Gradually you realised you had more elbow room as people started to drift off to their tents. My own sleeping bag began to call…

Anyway, it’s funny how vague feelings that you’ve not really acknowledged or possibly realised, can lead you off on roads you didn’t realise you’d turned down. I’ve not played Mwng since…

Until this week. What a gentle, beautiful, strange record it is.

In this horrible age of abuse and decay…

414779I had a disconcerting conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago, who was able, without hesitation to tell me not only his top ten albums of all time but also his ten favourite Beatles songs. He seemed particularly surprised, scathing even, that I didn’t have the same readily to hand.

Needless to say, this has bothered me disproportionately, particularly the top ten albums thing. What exactly have I been doing with myself? I can do a top three for sure but after that, it’s all a bit sketchy…

Robyn Hitchcock

One record that should certainly be in the 3-10 category would be Underwater Moonlight by the ever-wonderful Soft Boys. Not exactly a Great record, as such, but definitely a record I come back to again and again, full of wonderful tunes and Robyn Hitchcock’s fish-eye take on the world. That combination of jingle-jangle guitar and post-punk dissonance and edge is, just, special. (I’m listening to “Queen of Eyes” as I type, a gem of a song that is as damn near perfect as makes no difference.)

The reason I’m back on the Soft Boys again this time, is that another in a substantial line of semi-official parcels of recordings has just come to my attention. Published on the by-now venerable old Blog that is Aquarium Drunkard, it’s some sort of collection of sessions and demos taken from what is apparently their very early days, but one or two of the tracks wouldn’t look out of place on Underwater Moonlight. I won’t link any here but do go to AD and take it yourself (and listen to Look Into Your Mirror nice and loud). And while you’re at it, you’d be plain daft not to have a listen to the recording of the 1980 show (proper Moonlight vintage) that I’ve just noticed he’s also offering. And, by the way, I don’t think it can be that unofficial (if this sort of thing bothers you), as it popped up on Hitchcock’s own Twitter feed…

The good news is that the Old Pervert is still alive and recording, and I believe touring the US as I write. Recently bought his Joe Boyd-produced latest record, The Man Upstairs, and it’s a little mellower, for sure, but still odd and beautifully tuneful. A mixture of originals and covers, it’s a lovely listen.

Here’s the Psychedelic Furs song, The Ghost in You:

 

 

I’ve seen Hitchcock play festivals a couple of times in the last few years and an engaging soul he is. I enjoyed his set of insect songs one balmy Green Man afternoon but the more memorable of the two was a spot he did with Joe Boyd himself, as the producer read extracts from his book. After each section, Hitchcock would sing a rough but heartfelt song from that session.

I think I’ve probably posted this before, but here’s one of them:

River Man

God bless your silvery locks, sir…

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