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.


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.


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.)