Here lies … Here lies man…

Having started watching BBC Four’s wondrous series about minimalist music, my word of the moment is “atonal”. So with a few things to post about, it’s tempting (pretty, even) to surrender to the disorder of modern life, cast off the manacles of time, dip into the repeating motifs of the last weeks and draw a clever, oblique picture of the modern gig-going life.

I have neither the wit, skill or, of course, the general arsedness to bother with all of this, so let’s just stick to going chronologically, shall we?

Here Lies Man, the Exchange

One of the lesser publicised by-products of the snow drop we had at the start of the month was the cancellation of this date – the very day the West Country shut down, cancelled school, lit the fires and went all Cat in the Hat, gluing it’s snubby little nose to the window and waiting for it all to stop.

Fortunately, the date was rescheduled and consequently, Coleser and I found ourselves skimming down the M5 for a rare Sunday afternoon session. I’m growing to like the Exchange with its tiny bar, record loft and wonky stage and it felt strangely louche to be leaving a sunny Sunday afternoon behind and stepping into the twilight.

Support band, Bristol’s Evil Usses were great fun, wildly unconventional and good enough to persuade me to buy their CD afterwards (although, I do have form in this area). I’ll not say anymore because I have some recordings and they merit a post on their own (I promise).

Having come back out to the bar for a refill during the interval, I was waiting to go back in, when a vaguely exotic looking waster leaning against the wall asked us who we were seeing and what they were like. I mumbled some ill-considered foolishness about afro-rhythms and psychedelia:

“Wow! Cool…”

Standing in the hall a few minutes later as Here Lies Man set up, Coleser pointed out a familiar figure plugging in his base and fiddling with his amp. I couldn’t resist going up to him (JP Maramba, for it was he) and jokingly reproaching him about making me look daft outside. He grinned sheepishly, seemed happy to chat and put it down to “research”.

The Here Lies Man record is a pretty basic affair slightly akin to that Goat record of a few years ago. It’s wild and couples its seventies rocker roots with a fair dose of Afro-Cuban rhythms, not that surprising given Marcos Garcia’s Antibalas roots. There’s a good interview with the man here.

The slightly odd, roast-and-Yorkshire-pudding feel of the afternoon situation didn’t seem to put off Garcia and chums – they arrived all tooled up, packing heat and ready to party like it was 1969. In my head, I’d been expecting a lot of wah-wah and a more wigged out, Zam Rock sound than HLM eventually launched into. It was actually a bit of a fuzztone assault (I’ve gone over all music journo, there, a “fracas” at the very least), more early-Zep than late-Yardbirds, and for all the zinging in my ears of the next few hours it was immense, eye-squinting fun. The squiggly splinters of organ that embellished each track were interesting and charming counterpieces to Garcia’s furious riffing, and although the conga player has apparently left, the scuffling, funky drumming of Geoff Mann and Maramba’s driving bass gave each track something of a swing.

In truth, Here Lies Man are more fuzztone than you could ever need but I left the gig, blinking idiotically in the sunlight, ears buzzing, a more than happy man.

The recordings are quite good, although, being the musos they clearly are HLM mostly ran songs into each other and it was sometimes hard to pick out which was which.

Animal Noises

Here Lies Man (by Here Lies Man, from the Here Lies Man album – I love a Full House!)

Letting Go / I Stand Alone

Your gold dress is shaming the stars, a thousand melting Dali Guitars

From time to time, you’ve got to indulge yourself a little, no? We all work (quite) hard, we all need a bit of down time. We deserve this…

Of late, this righteous act of forbearance has been tending to take the form of a few snatched moments of tender loving XTC. Whether it’s enjoying the breathy burr of Skylarking or the breathless industry of English Settlement, there’s nothing quite like the genius of Andy Partridge.

While the local news salivates over a West Country Perfect Storm – “the Beast from the East meets Hurricane Emma” (I think I saw that one. Abbott & Costello were in it), there’s the welcome prospect of a duvet day in the offing. Now seems a good time to draw the curtains, pour myself something warming, chuck another stump on the fire and slide into something melting…

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball

Somebody gave me a copy of this a while back but I don’t think I really investigated it properly at the time, and I’ve only really began to appreciate it in the last couple of days. You’ll know all this, I’m sure, but just in case… Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a compilation of two wonderfully batty psyche albums released in the late eighties by the Dukes of Stratosphear. “It’s sort of a nostalgia thing, because I just wasn’t old enough to be a hippie.” said Partridge (for it was he) “My parents wouldn’t let me grow my hair long. I really do love that kind of music.”

The initial release, a six-track EP (ask your dad, kids) called 25 O’clock, was intended as something of a playtime away from the troublesome sessions that were producing Skylarking, and Dave Gregory credits the fun and frolics of this wacky side-project as having a large part to play in the band’s survival through the period. And it certainly seemed to have been a lot of fun with an unofficial rulebook being adhered to for the sessions:

  • No more than 2 or 3 takes
  • Vintage equipment
  • and er… “Psychedelic” conventions

Each current member of XTC was involved and they took on the whole adventure with some enthusiasm and a healthy joie de vivre, taking psyche pseudonyms (Gregory’s brother Ian, joining on drums, was “E.I.E.I. Owen”); sporting kaftans and other exotica for the sessions.

But actually, pretty quickly the “joke” stopped being one, and Partridge (in particular) began to become comfortable with a real fondness for English psychedelia and bubblegum bands. And it really shows. As you go through each track, particularly the six 25 O’clock ones, you quickly find yourself ticking the references. Rubber Soul (“What in the World”); Tomorrow (“Bike Ride to the Moon”); Syd (“Have you Seen Jackie?”); the Prunes (“25 O’clock”); Midas in Reverse (“Vanishing Girl”) I am the Walrus (“The Mole from the Ministry”); but with every backwards riff, every farfisa chord, they still can’t help being XTC, all taut, clever song writing and wry observations. There are some real gems here, at least two of which (“Collideascope” and “Pale and Precious”) Dave Gregory ranked with anything the “real” XTC recorded.

It’s enormous fun for anyone with even most passing of acquaintances with sixties psychedelia. The songs are all pretty strong on their own, but like the band themselves are exotically garbed in the dippiest of sixties gear – guitars a-jangling, backwards loops, distorted Pinky & Perky voices, birdsong, Liverpool accents (“Bloody Nora!”), faux Lewis Carroll spoken pieces. The lyrics are also lovingly daft but coming from Partridge’s dazzling palate, avoid too much “whimsy” – subversive moles grapple with sexually frustrated (and confused) youths and menacingly magical women. Phew…

It’s all tremendous cool(aid) fun.