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…

Misfortune and love are infinite

MI0000477845So, The Boy is back from Paris, and came bearing gifts, including another volume of the World’s Greatest Compilation series that he’d picked up in a local store. Merci beaucoup!

If he’d spent any time perusing these pages he’d have known how much I love these earthy, funky Ethiopiques compilations, choc full as they are with soaring brass, ethereal basslines and swooping, unlikely vocals, all of it infused with a peculiarity and general otherness that this jaded punter is unable to resist. In fact, if I’d had my wits about me I would’ve sent him out with specific instructions to load up on as much Amharic eccentricity as he could persuade customs officers was for his own personal use.

He hadn’t, I didn’t and in fact he’d had never heard of Ethiopiques, but there you go. He said he bought it because he “thought it looked weird”.

Well, at least something, somewhere along the line has gone in…

Mahmoud Ahmed

Ethiopiques 19, dedicated like volume 6, to a man who seems to be universally regarded as one of the giants of Ethiopian music, is another sizzler, equally as good as anything else I’ve heard inAELP80c the series. It’s culled from recordings he made in 1974, at a time when Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign was ending and the onset of the Derg Time was looming. There are jumping, twitchy street songs, nervous ballads and dark meandering blues numbers, all of it bound together by Ahmed’s distinctive gymnastic tones. It’s fabulous, but what makes for a different experience this time is that the liner notes for this compilation include English translations of each lyric.

It’s fascinating stuff too, coming as it surely does from a tradition of spoken poetry but at a time when Ethiopian music had moved towards modernisation and away from the old ways. Although the lyrics still sound very traditional, almost scriptural, it’s impossible not to read them without thinking of the overhang on which Ethiopia found itself perched:

Have you lost your way? Have you forgotten me?

You hold me captive with your love

Ignore what the others might think

Show yourself, daughter of my country

Find your way through the wood.

Beautiful, plaintive stuff, for sure, and in November 1974, the Derg announced the end of the Solomonic Dynasty and imprisoned Selassie. Nightclubs were closed down, the military dance bands upon which the Swinging Addis sounds were built were disbanded and musicians, artists and other public figures fled the country. Ahmed remained in Ethiopia but by 1978 was unable to release records owing to the country’s censorship laws. By the 1980s he was answering calls to perform in Europe and North America, and perhaps surprisingly he continues to do so to this day.

And here he is, performing one of the songs off the Ethiopiques disk, the superlative Etu Gela, in 2014, and it has to be said still looking ridiculously sprightly:

 

One doesn’t go mad for no reason

My sister, my body

He who suffers because of love will lose his mind

Misfortune and love are infinite