Lucky Seven – Africa

Related imageI trust you all had a cheery Christmas time and that you’ve been far too busy making snow angels, arguing with relatives or making ill-advised photocopies of intimate body parts to be bothered with reading Blogs. Fear not, you’ve not missed anything here, in fact I myself have been tied up doing at least two of those things (answers on a postcard) to be worrying about Blog posts. But as with every year, once you’ve clambered sheepishly off the office equipment, you realise there’s at least one present you meant to sort out but with which you’ve somehow missed the last post.

Lucky Seven – Africa

Lucky Seven – Africa

Belated presents are alright thought, aren’t they? Just when you think you’ve done with it all and thoughts of January gloom begin to circle above you, another present appears! Get in! Christmas! It’s not over quite yet!

This was supposed to be a companion gift to go with the South American group of songs I did last week. Again, they’re not new (and again, there’s not seven) but they’re all tracks I bought in 2017.

Although crate-digger compilations of African records are as common as ever (I have loads and bought a good few this year again), it’s actually much harder to find anything out about the artists behind the music, than say for the Latin American records I was gibbering about. So pretty much anything that follows now, really has to be taken with a pinch of salt (OK, OK…) Hey ho…

In the Jungle (Instrumental) – the Hygrades

This is a belter from Soundway’s Nigeria Rock Special collection, which pops and clunks its way along, guided by Image result for nigeria rock specialleader-guitarist Goddy Oku’s unselfconscious pyrotechnics. In the late 60’s, he was apparently something of an effects guru in his home town of Enugu in Nigeria, applying all sorts of innovative jiggery-pokery to a variety of boxes and pedals, and seems to have used all of them in this track. Look! I can do fuzztone! Wah-wah? You want wah-wah? (Reminds me of that Electric Prunes Vox wah-wah pedal advert – “It’s the now sound” It’s what’s happening!”.)

As well as being the Hygrades’ guitarist, Oku had his own recording studios where William Onyeabor sometimes recorded. The Soundwaves collection also includes a vocal version of the song, but you don’t want singing getting in the way do you?

Maliba – Kaloum Star

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Another wild, wild track, taken from a collection called Discotèque 74 issued by Syliphone and picked up from eMusic on a whim. A fidgety, wriggly thing of splendour, it’s again powered by those new-fangled electric guitars and a hopelessly immodest brass section that prances about front of stage showing itself off to great effect. According to this Blog, Kaloum Star were a Guinean band led by saxophonist Mamadou Barry who is apparently still recording. WorldService has also made a few further recordings available. Get over there!

 

Dzo Le Gbo Nye – Adamah & Agbote

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And a third, rhythm-driven bugger… Fuzz guitar pushed into a mesmerising background, this track is even more percussion driven than the previous two and is framed by the brassiest of brass sections. I can find nothing out about Adamah & Agbote, other than that this was originally a 1980 release – I can’t even say which of the two is the lady providing the charmingly quivery backing vocals. I’ve fetched it off the lovely Togo Soul 70 collection released last year by Hot Casa Records (who are less than exhaustive in their background info).

 

Hi Babe – Ngozi Family

Image result for day of judgement ngoziThe Ngozi Family are much less obscure, and bandleader Paul Ngozi has a clutch of records to his name according to Wikipedia (yes, he has a wiki entry), although the list they give includes the record this track came from (Day of Judgement) but doesn’t include the record the Family recorded with Chrissy Zebby Tembo that I bought last year. Hewn from the same “I’ve got a pedal and I’m not afraid to use it” block as Goddy Oku, Ngozi was another one who liked an effect or two and wasn’t averse to the odd solo. On “Hi Babe”, the guitar is distorted beyond repair and I’m guessing the poor thing was glad to switch to wah-wah for the solo at least. The lyrics are in English and are disarmingly lascivious – “when I wake up in the morning, I get some places, I meet some girls, I gotta say, “hi Baby!”

Zamrock!

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When the Sun Breaks Through – Karl Hector & the Malcouns

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that this colourful, jazzy track from Karl Hector and his bucking Malcouns is the only record in this bunch that was released this century (finger on the pulse, and all that…). No fuzztone guitars, no lyrics, no solos, just a minute and a half of shapeless, cubist African rhythms, formed in a desert (on the moon) and dedicated (I’m guessing) to John Coltrane. The whole album, Sahara Swing, is like that – nineteen tracks, none of them over the five minute mark and plenty, plenty shorter. Lovely exotic, quixotic stuff.

Africa Africa – Ekambi Brillant

Image result for ekambi brillant africa africaFilched this track from the best Blog I know, the wonderful Aquarium Drunkard (“Come for the drums, stay for the humid washes of Cameroonian fuzz”). Looked this up on eMusic and they have a number of records by Ekambi Brillant, including two “Best of” volumes, neither of which feature this track. None of the samples are anything like a match for this powerful, fuzz-drone, over which Brillant exhorts I know not what (but I believe him).

Awash 1973 – Ali Mohammed Birra

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It wouldn’t be right if I did a post about African music and didn’t blither on about the Ethiopiques series at least once. This is from Volume 28 (I know, please don’t stop…), dedicated to Oromo singer, Ali Mohammed Birra who is something of a hero amongst the Oromo people of Ethiopia. This is not the wild, James Brown-esque soul of Swinging Addis fame, but is still backed by and built upon a disciplined brass section which allows Birra’s elegant vocals to weave in and out of an eerie organ piece. “Awash” is one of his best known songs – there are two other versions of the song on this collection – and Birra is still recording today aged 70.

 

N’nijo (feat. Ensemble Black & White) – Amara Toure

Image result for amara toureI wrote about Amara Toure in June of this year. Nothing to add to it, really, except that it still sounds great (particularly those slightly assonant pair of saxes…)

 

 

Avante Juventude – Os Angos

Analog Africa is another great little label, easily as good as Ethiopiques and Soundways, andImage result for angola 2 I’ve bought more than one of their bewitching compilations. This track comes from the lip-smackingly titled “Angola 2 – Hypnosis, Distortions and other Sonic Innovations 1969-1978”, and features beautifully understated guitar work from another band of mysterious heroes. Backed by drums and traditional percussion (it actually sounds a lot like that scratchy cheese grater sound you hear in cumbia and merengue tracks – the guiro), the guitar meanders along with deceptive pace and little sign of a destination. But that’s OK, we’re just travelling right?

 

Tap it, unwrap it.

Siete de la Suerte!

Every Christmas, I approach this end-of-the-year review business with something of a heavy heart – I warm to it as I get into it, but generally I can’t be arsed with it. Nonetheless, I’m aware of my responsibilities to an attentive audience and was just starting to compile a “Seven Great Gigs of 2017” list when I realised that somewhat embarrassingly 2017 has been more than a little thin on the live music front – suffice to say it was going to be a bit a scrape, barely worth the effort.

So I thought, I’ll start a Best of the Year list (again, pretty much obligatory in the trade) but then I thought “Why?”. Not in a Kenneth Williams, “what’s the bloody point?” sort of a way, more a why not give the hungry reader a Christmas present they actually want?

Like some wonky South American tunes, for example…

Lucky Seven – Siete de la Suerte

Actually, there’s eight, they’re not all South American and (of course) they’re not all new but, hey, it’s a hook. These are all bands and records I’ve enjoyed this year and meant to write about, but, well you know how it goes…

Siete de la Suerte

No Somos Malos – Los Dug Dug’s (from Smog)

Image result for los dug dugs

Los Dug Dug’s (the grocer’s apostrophe is a thing apparently) are a Mexican band and are still making records. This is a cracker straight from the seventies, though, all driving fuzz tone and demented psychedelic flute. It opens their second record, Smog released in 1972 and their “masterpiece” according to one punter. It’s pretty much the template for most of the rest of it – although I’ll spare you the 12-minute closer, Hagámoslo Ahora. Let’s do it!

Acto I – Lula Pena (from Troubadour)

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The other track which isn’t actually South American, this track is also the opener from the second record, but these are pretty much the only links you could possibly make between them. This is your proper, deep Portuguese fado, a genre I’d found pretty much impenetrable until I came across Ms Pena’s breathy, mysterious intensity. Worth soldiering on blindly through ten dark minutes if only for the extraordinary period of rhythmic panting she embarks on towards the end…

Run Montang Run – Flaming Salt (from Brazilian Nuggets, Vol I)

If I was organising things properly this one probably belongs after the Dug Dug track, seeing as how it’s another crazy, arms flailing garage track. I bought a whole collection of stuff I’d never heard in a compilation, thinking it was from the sixties but actually it’s nineties stuff, which is OK, I think. I know nothing about Flaming Salt except they are signed to Sao Paulo label Menino Muquita and that you can download a whole album from them for free from their Bandcamp page (I discovered this about two minutes ago)…

Nunca Olvidarme Mi Acento – Dat Garcia (from Maleducada)

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The Dat Garcia album was a bit of a dark horse with me, again having heard nothing of or about her before. But it’s pretty good album from Argentinian singer/rapper and aural kleptomaniac who has a particular affection for indigenous sounds and rhythms. I’m still a sucker for the sound of sung or spoken Spanish, and during July this was a record I spent a lot of time on. A bit spooky, a bit glitchy, hooked I was.

Atahualpa – Nación Ekeko (from La Danza)

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Another record from Argentina, another singer with sticky fingers and an ear for itchy Latin rhythms. Nación Ekeko are actually the side project of Diego Pérez, who is part of an experimental electronica duo called Tonolec another bunch of furiously acquisitive Guarani fiends. It’s a cracking track driven along insistently by a mixture of electronic beats and hand percussion, and guided round the corners by intricate guitars and strings. Lovely stuff.

Cumbia Volcadora – Orkesta Mendoza (from Vamos a Guarachar!)

I’m sure I reaImage result for orkesta mendozad something once about Cumbia Refrita – cumbia that’s been slowed down, rehashed, re-fried as it were – but I can’t for the life of me find anything about it now. If it’s nothing more than a figment of my fragile imagination, well, it damn well should be a thing…

Sergio Mendoza is a compadre of Calexico and similarly lives in the US but has deep Mexican routes. This is an engaging track, all the traditional elements of Cumbia slowed down and remixed, including the vocals, at times almost like a record at slightly the wrong speed, but like the beans, on the next morning a whole different thing entirely…

Que Me Duele? – Quantic, Nidia Góngora (from Curao)

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Quantic is one of those wizard DJ/crate-diggers who puts together records as well, mostly pretty dance-y stuff, but often with enough other stuff to interest the older, more arthritic listeners too. Nidia Góngora is a Columbian singer who has her own band but whose collaboration with Quantic came out this year and is a hugely entertaining listen with all its African roots clearly on show. Again, all sorts of prickly clever stuff going on behind the prevailing rhythms.

Flores deImage result for soema montenegrol desierto – Soema Montenegro (from Passionaria)

I did actually get around to writing about Soema Montenegro in May and I have little to add to those wise words, other than to say she still sounds as offbeat as she did then and that her third record is now available from her Bandcamp page. Not someone you’d want to be sat next on a long journey…

Felices Navidades!

And the movement in your brain sends you out into the rain

I probably should be making a list right now (and presumably, checking it twice), although as tends to happen every year, suddenly I find there’s other things I want to write about. So, ground-breaking fresh music that surfs the cusp of the newest of new waves, or some old toot from days of yore…

Anyone who’s ever had even the most fleeting acquaintance with this Blog will probably have a fair idea which way this is going to go…

Nick Drake

Last Christmas, a friend gave me Patrick Humphries’ book about Nick Drake which it’s taken me almost a full year to pick up. Shame, it’s a pretty good read, and it gave me a much fuller picture of the man. We’re all well accustomed to the general picture of the shy, pained genius who gradually disappeared from view and eventually succumbed to his depression way back in the years of Rock History.

I wasn’t aware, though, of the recollections of his school friends who had clear pictures of Nick Drake playing rugby at Marlborough school and breaking sprint records; drinking and chatting in Cambridge pubs; careening drunkenly through France and Spain; driving obsessively around country lanes for the pleasure of time behind the wheel; his friendship with, love of and latter dependence on Joe Boyd.

The comments from family and friends are also pretty illuminating. Boyd and Island Records seem to have been pretty decent in their attempts to support him; John Martyn seems to the end to have been somewhat haunted by his own sporadic, fruitless attempts to draw Drake out of himself; Linda Thompson a wretched spectator at the gradual unwinding she witnessed; Danny Thompson an exasperated cajoler of the super sensitive songwriter (“and I thought all he needs is a bloody good bacon and chip butty, a kick up the arse and a couple of shags”); Drake’s own parents overwhelmingly generous, sympathetic but heart-breakingly powerless.

For me, I was first introduced to the gossamer-thin Drake catalogue by a girlfriend back in mid-eighties and I’ll confess to having listened to Five Leaves Left a lot in my teens but precious little since. And I’ve not really gone very deep into his other two records. Barely scratched the surface to be honest…

There’s of course nothing new to be added to the Drake story, least of all by this hapless blogger, but I’ve recently picked up Pink Moon again, and it’s still pretty powerful. Considering the circumstances it was recorded under – Drake was reportedly at his darkest, refusing to work unless behind a screen or facing the wall, and at times unable to play and sing at the same time – there’s some real drive behind it. The book makes a lot of the dynamic and innovative guitar stylings and obscure tunings. This mostly falls on deaf ears to klutz like myself but I actually was struck by the playing. There’s a punchy rhythm behind it which drives the songs along to a rapid, often hurried conclusion (it’s a very short album, almost treasonously so for 1974). The song that really stands out for me is “Things Behind the Sun”, which hurtles along lickety-spit, delivering its (not entirely) nihilistic burden with a deep determination in four minutes of dazzling, busy confusion which compel you to pick the needle up and take it back for another go (I’m using a pre-digital metaphor here, kids – ask your Dad).

There is literally no known footage of Drake playing and I think just one John Peel session, so precious little YouTube stuff to refer to, but these couple of clips are quite informative…

The first is from the Boyd-compiled tribute record Way to Blue – The Songs of Nick Drake which gives us a band I don’t know (and have no beef with, I should add) covering “Things Behind the Sun” (give it a minute or so, it’s OK, but a bit soulless)

 

And now listen to this, the furiously knotty original version from Pink Moon.

 

It’s not a comparison particularly flattering to Luluc, but it serves its purpose. You’ll have gathered I’m struggling to put into words what is essentially so rare and precious about the man (dancing about architecture, and all that). But if you give the two a listen, you’d have to have the fleeciest of cloth ears not to hear the difference between the commonplace and the exceptional – albeit flawed, battered and at times scarcely breathing.

I was as happy as I’ll ever be…

The keen of mind will not have missed the tantalising hints I have made over the last couple of posts, and may have spent the weekend chewing their arm off in anticipation of some sort of post about the third gig I went to last week. (Firstly, I’d have to commend your strength and sharpness of vision; but I should probably warn against such a position that leaves you wide-open to the vagaries of a timetable that regular readers of this Blog will by now be immune to. Honestly, protect your heart…)

But in this instance if you took such a position (and again, please…) your zeal has been rewarded, because here is part three of my week in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Aldous Harding, SWX

Anyway, out of the blue, I got one of those “I’ve got you a ticket, you’re going to love it” calls from Coleser, “It’s tonight.”

I’m totally OK with this, as I think I’ve said before, and seeing as how previous evenings have introduced me to the wistful notes of Meilyr Jones and the bold frolics of the Lemon Twig lads, who wouldn’t be? Aldous Harding this time, and nope, not heard of him. Pick up times agreed, a quick “her, not him” and the deal was done.

An unexpected bonus was old friend H Hawkline providing support (and later on playing bass as part of the backing band). Resplendent in what I took to be some sort of lavishly embroidered three-quarter length coat, he played his way through a series of new songs and informed us that he’d always warned himself “whatever you do, don’t make a break up record, and yet here I am singing that song wearing my sister’s dressing gown.”

Last time I’d seen Hawkline he’d been full-on Cate le Bon garage punk, whooping and warbling his way through another Green Man set. Time has apparently not been all that kind to him if the tone of the new recordings is anything to go by. It was a lovely set warmly received by a very healthy crowd for a support act

Means That Much

My scanty research had revealed that Aldous Harding is indeed a woman, hailing from New Zealand, who likes to make a face. That was about the depth of my prep for the evening, but sometimes that’s quite good, giving you as it does a completely blank sheet free of all the old guff you fill your head up with pre-gig.

Within seconds of coming on stage, though, it was pretty clear that Aldous Harding is a bit of a queer old fish. Barely acknowledging an eager audience keen to interact with her, she gathered herself painstakingly, unhurriedly, seemingly unaware of the expectant folk before her. She opened with a very atmospheric “Swell Does the Skull” which was affecting and made me think immediately of Beth Gibbons. (A good thing, no?)

Throughout the set she grimaced and gurned her way through in a bizarre way which was hard to ignore. Her oddness gives me a chance to trot out all my best Gothic lines (she certainly is a Mad Woman in the Attic…) and lazy as that might sound, there’s no denying she’s most definitely an odd one. We’re way beyond quirky here…

You probably need to see something at this point. For the full ghastly glory, you could search for the Later performance on YouTube, but as this is a boogie-woogie free zone, I’ll post this KEXP video, which is nearly as cracked:

 

And make no mistake, the songs themselves are something of a gruelling listen too. Wounds that need bathing, birds that scream, love that never quite blooms, skulls and velvet all eddy around uncertainly, delivered in the most scarred of voices, windswept and withered but still defiant. The title track of Party starts with the surely darkest of lines – “He took me to a clearing, the grass was warm and the air was soft, he had me sit like a baby, I looked just twelve with his thumb in my mouth.”

Hmmm… gruesome, uncomfortable stuff…

Compelling, mind.

No chatting Facebook ninnies at SWX this evening at least. Each song was silently, religiously observed, pins could be heard dropping and at the end of each performance a wave of frantic whooping would break out, followed by desperate attempts to communicate with the outlandish thing on stage. All quite draining.

I remember feeling by the end of the set a slight weariness and a feeling that it had all been a little one-paced, but listening back to a pretty good set of recordings, I take it all back. It’s an absorbing run of haunting voyeurism we were treated to.

Party

Imagining My Man

Horizon

Very impressive, not a little scary…

Come and join me on the other side…

This has been a couple of weeks ago, now, and while there was a bit of a Twitter-buzz about it for the next couple of days, things have moved on…

Can’t remember whether I alluded to it in the previous post but this evening of joy and wonder came at the end of a pretty long week, which as well as being made up of the usual round of working and the odd moment of play, managed to include three gigs (nothing for three months, three gigs one after another). I was a little tired.

Still, the prospect of seeing the rarest of one of my favourite artists pretty much cleared the head.

Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band, St George’s

I loved Shack back in the day and although a lot of the records I listened to in the nineties seem nigh-on unlistenable now, the years that have drifted by have done nothing to diminish this most wonderful of all song books.

The new Red Elastic Band record is just lovely, with each song wandering in like an enduring friend and again there’s nothing to suggest any decline of Head’s gleaming song-writing powers. You’ve got to say, this is no small achievement given the dark and oft referred to back-story the man certainly has. So, all in all, having secured one of the last seats at the back of the hall, I’d been looking forward to this evening for a while, with no sense of Davy Graham-style foreboding. It was gonna be epic.

And.

It was.

Bounding chirpily onto stage with Elastic Band in tow, Head was hailed from the rafters of the old chapel, and a wave of cheer and joy seemed to ripple up and down the hall. He merrily acknowledged cries of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the floor (late, as it turned out) and joked about the big 5-0 (it wasn’t); such was the affection he was clearly held in by an audience of thirty and forty somethings that I’d not have been surprised to see a group of folk carrying a giant cake to the foot of the stage. A lot of memories stirred and a lot of love for the man.

He cantered through most of the songs from Adios Amigo, a few from the Strands record and, contrary to expectations, a bunch of Shack songs. My own memories are most attached to the timeless HMS Fable – a period of stress and Ofsted-induced high-anxiety, somehow soothed by the psychedelic shanties within (“We’re going down the beach to finish Natalie’s party – we’re in deep, we’re inside”). So it was particularly fine and not-a-little emotional to hear “Comedy” and “Streets of Kenny” surging up and down the aisles.

Some fine soul nearer the front than I shot some cracking video that’s worth sharing too:

 

Other goosebump moments included the intricate, delicate nostalgia of “Byrds Turn to Stone”, (brotherly relations apparently strained) and an extraordinary, spontaneous outburst of audience participation during “Meant To Be” – I usually have fairly firm and inflexible views about this sort of thing, but, well… Clearly every man, woman and dog in the hall was mentally replaying their copy of …Here’s Tom with the Weather and felt an obligation to step in for the sadly absent mariachi band (I’m listening to it now, the hairs on my arms…).

The recordings sound like they’ve been made by an oafish love-struck man at the back of a church hall, but take them, please, if only for the flood of the final trilogy: Meant To Be; Comedy and Adios Amigo.

Workin’ Family

Meant To Be

Comedy

Adios Amigo

A privilege to witness and take part in an evening of exuberant, overwhelming love and overcast beauty…