Sitting on some grass drinkin’ beer…

It’s been a long time, no?

For this I can again only apologise and offer up the customarily weasely excuses of having great bucket loads of work and the occasional spell of just-can’t-be-arsed-ness.

I’m here now, though, and I like to think that’s what counts, eh?

What’s been playing up and down the grassy lanes and country roads of the Cotswolds, you ask? Well, I’m glad you brought that up…

Cool Ghouls

Stumbled across this group of jangling, frizzy-haired student types a couple of weeks ago, and immediately wondered how I’d not done so earlier – we’re already into a third Cool Ghouls record. This in itself is both haunting (all those lost, grey mornings of unwitting emptiness) and immensely encouraging, just when you feel there’s nothing new under the sun, and you’re scraping around for something fresh…

This third record, Animal Races, is wholly brimming with all the goodies I love in a band – psychy guitars, sixties harmonies, garage band attitudes, and all my favourite records referenced regularly – loads of Byrds, some Gram, some Love, some Elevators and the general languid, cool of the Parquet Courts debut, or maybe the Allah-Las one. It’s all good. Sometimes it bothers me disproportionately when an artist so openly shows his influences (took me ages to overlook Riley Walker’s obvious love of Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and John Martyn) but then other times, I’m good to go from the start, it’s just not a problem.

Here’s a song about goofing off…

 

According to this Fogg Fuzz interview, Cool Ghouls are bunch of self-consciously dudish Californians who just want to make a record a year and play. They drink beer, smoke weed, started their own college band five years ago and want to go into Space. That’s pretty much all you need to know, right?

But for the completists among you…

I’ve also given the even-more-garagey second record, A Swirling Fire Burning through the Rye, a good listen and there are some real gems on there too, the first track “And It Grows” being my favourite:

 

There’s a first album for me to explore yet and also a (ho-hum) cassette-only tour release, called Gord’s Horse which in spite of the title is also available for download or streaming from their Bandcamp page. All of this, and Summer, to look forward to…

School’s out!

Bathed in Sweat

Once again, this Blog is in danger of turning into one of those sniffy, crate-digging exercises in one-upmanship, as another obscure world beat thingamy takes over the car stereo, my footballer-style clumpy headphones and the faux record player that sits up in our top room. But with eMusic somehow keeping their heads above water and at the same time packing their catalogue with all sorts of saccharine goodies, and then plying me with credits, what’s a feller supposed to do?

It really is out of my control.

Alceu Valença

Alceu Valença trained as a lawyer in the late sixties in Brazil before (brilliantly) running away to record music in the Brazilian jungle state of Pernambuco, hundreds of miles to the north and east of Brasilia and even further away from Rio or Sao Paulo. While the world was watching Pele duping hapless Uruguayan goalies, Jairzinho scoring in every round of Mexico 70 and Carlos Alberto thumping in The Greatest Team Goal Ever, Valença was presumably twanging away on a selection of exotic stringed things and getting high with his mates. (Much as I enjoy compartmentalising things, life tells me that this oddest of niche musicians was actually, almost certainly in a bar, celebrating in traditional style with the rest of the country…)

By 1974, however, with Cruyff and Neeskens ending a sulky-looking, (blue-shirted!) national team’s reign, I prefer to think that Valença was by now properly getting it together in the country and getting on with releasing his first solo record, Molhado de Suor.

I don’t know enough about Brazilian indigenous music or culture to understand half of what’s going on here, but from everything you read about the record, it’s a right old melting pot of ideas and styles. To these western, middle-aged, 21st Century ears, however, it sounds like a frantic explosion of breathy rhythms and flighty strings and woodwinds, with each song packed full of imagination and playful energy.

Songs like “Punhal da Prata” and “Dia Branca” have a busy, locomotive get-up-and-go that are terrific fun. They suggest a feeling of eye-rubbing good fortune, that Valença was in something of a hurry to get his ideas out and onto vinyl before someone somewhere stopped him (not just wild-eyed paranoia, when you consider that a number of musical figures of the day were imprisoned or exiled by the military government of the day).

Other tracks (the title track, for example, which translates as “Soaked in Sweat”) are a little more leftfield – quirkiness hot-housed to almost grotesque levels, with a bewildering range of whirring rhythms and stringed beasties running around Valença’s frequently cracked vocals. Again, eye-wateringly good fun and more than a little catchy.

Unfortunately, if you search for Alceu Valença on YouTube, you get a loads of modern clips (he went on to have an enduring career which I’ve not explored) with the man looking more like Michael Bolton than an Amazonian freak bathed in salty paranoia and elicit substances. This is perhaps not a surprise…

Amazingly, however, just when you thought you’d imagined the whole unfortunate episode, there’s this:

 

Crikey!

Go and have a shower, I would…

“Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us!”

Over a couple of drinks last night, I got talking with a friend about the grim subject of lost music and lost generations – his son lives and works in Cambodia – and it got me thinking about the heartbreak of recordings which capture a single moment of exuberant, in-the-moment now-ness, and which have now become somehow all the more vivid for the gathering darkness that was to follow.

(Lest you think that West Country pubs are generally packed with earnest, gloomy individuals discussing their mortality over a pint of Mild, I should probably mention that conversation also touched upon pub crisp flavours; showing off at Sports Day (and hurting yourself); the cynical idiocy of Boris Johnson and Arsene Wenger’s new contract…)

But lo, I find myself this evening, back on this and feeling more than a little maudlin…

Amara Toure

Amara Toure was apparently a Guinean musician who moved to Senegal and then Cameroon in the sixties to make music.

And, well… that’s pretty much the entirety of what I know about him. Oh yeah, he may apparently have had something of a lisp, which he could only overcome when singing. But then that really is it…

This is not, for once, just me showing the habitual levels of Dianne Abbot-like research for which I imagine I’m known. On this occasion, not very much is actually known about the man, even by proper writers, who do their research and stuff. This includes his whereabouts or even whether the man is still alive. He has disappeared from view completely and leaves behind the scantiest collection of recordings. Fortunately, the peerless Analog Africa has gathered together in one place these ten songs (plus a scant biography), and even more fortuitously, it makes an absolute belter of a package. It’s put a smile on my face, all day, as I drive about my business. Absolutely loving it…

The first six songs were recorded with a group of gents known as Ensemble Black & White in Cameroon and released as three singles between 1973 and 1976. They feature Toure’s majestic, harsh vocals and some gorgeously abrasive honking from the Ensemble’s slightly ungainly brass section. Spidery guitars and Latin rhythms weave elegantly about in the darkness, but front and centre, the relationship between Toure’s voice and the clutch of saxes, rasping all over the recordings, like some sort of sprawling Dexter Gordon freight train, is damn near irresistible.

You can stream the album from Analog Africa, and I’d heartily recommend giving at least “N’nijo” a good listening to:

 

The songs that followed the first single blended his Senegalese rhythms with the Cuban sounds that were arriving in West Africa at the time, and caused something of a stir at the time for this very reason. Toure himself couldn’t see what the fuss was about, regarding African and Latin rhythms as having the same source. He sang these sides in Spanish and by all accounts started something of a blizzard of furious Cuban stylings in the clubs and bars of Dakar and Yaounde.

Later on he moved onto Libreville and teamed up with another group of like-minded souls, L’Orchestre Massako, and released an LP with them, which makes up the rest of the Analog Africa collection. These tracks are a little more up-tempo and not quite as darkly groovy, but still with lots of brass, and Toure’s distinctive vocals; and still very, very exciting.

And that was that.

By 1980, Toure had moved on again, only this time he seems to have stepped from the podium altogether. His whereabouts are still apparently unknown, the trail is very much cold. The only things he leaves are these ten exhilarating snatches of a bold time, and the memory of his voice.

A great, great voice, the voice of a king.

Soy la flor que nace arriba el cardon

Want to hear something different?

At this point, regular readers of this Blog will doubtless begin to rub their eyes wearily, feel their shoulders droop and breathe the deepest of sighs.

See, they know at this point that when I say “something different”, I actually mean “something absolutely bat-shit crazy” that we’ll all have forgotten about in a couple of weeks, and will be confined to one of the lesser-read pages of this admired and occasionally respected Blog.

And now I’ve said it, so do you…

Soema Montenegro

Soema Montenegro is an Argentinean folk singer from Buenos Aires, who (apart from being the “flower that blooms on the top of the cactus”) has, I think, two albums to her name, although I believe a third is currently being crowd-funded. Her second effort, Passionaria, has recently clambered onto my hard drive, courtesy of the improbable and still fantastic eMusic, and has been spiralling erratically from the car stereo all week.

It’s a crazy old listen, make no mistake. She croons like a witch, shouts like a delta bluesman, squeals like an animal and peaks and soars like a deeply disturbed opera singer throughout the twelve tracks that tumble together to make the record. She’s supported by her partner Jorge and a group of presumably long-suffering mates on a variety of off-kilter instruments, including pots, pans, a jew’s harp and for the following track a wilfully ungainly brass section:

 

I can’t decide whether the feller coming on at the beginning, dropping what appears to be dozens of tin trays and kitchen utensils at Soema’s feet is a moment of comedy or anarchy,…)

I’ve started you off gently, here, to be honest – I reckon this may be the most regular moment on Passionaria – but if you doubt my clinical assessment of the woman or think I’m over-egging the cake for comic effect, maybe try “Milonga de la Ensoñada” or “Invocación a la Passionaria” (go on, YouTube them), which are truly swivel-eyed and well out-there.

To the probable relief of Argentine journos everywhere, Fabiola Feyt, has done a great interview with Soema on the WUBA site (What’s Up Buenos Aires!), which does little to suggest that she’s just a normal gal, really.

The interview refers to Montenegro’s Blogotheque session with Vincent Moon which is, as ever, truly brilliant and opens with a couple of tracks recorded some five years later on Passionaria, the wonderful “Molecularemente” and “Cuando Pasa” (complete with kettle and frying pan accompaniment from Jorge for the first track and some sort of clay jug percussion for the second – and not in a Tommy Hall sort of way, if you were wondering).

Here’s the first part of the show, filmed in the kitchen before the pair start to wander the streets alarming passers-by:

 

I’d certainly recommend the others three parts too, as she walks the streets of her city, singing in subways, yodelling by railway tracks, busking on train carriages and talking about her calling (in a disarmingly frank manner):

“I wanted to be a teacher, but, well, life has led me to music… I feel a calling, a connection with myself in the sound in the voice, in what happens when I’m singing, and I feel like it’s also a gift for the others… when I say “a gift” I mean music is a ritual, a meeting, and in a show it’s a great excuse for being together and celebrate the music… to cry for what is no longer with us….”

Bitter nuts and sour wine are all we find within the larder

I should probably count this to check it (although in our post-truth, Bannon-esque world, my facts are just as good yours….), but Alasdair Roberts is probably the artist I’ve written about most of all on these tattered, coffee-stained pages. (Apart from Robert Wyatt, of course, and maybe Griff…)

In fact I wrote about him, here, only about six weeks ago, which in relative terms is pretty much yesterday on this Blog. I spoke then with breathless excitement about said folkie’s planned trip to Cheltenham. All the more surprising then that it should take me so long to get round to talking about the evening – countless eager punters have been besieging me with requests for a few words and perhaps the odd snatch or too…? Well, as you know, I’m a slave to my readership.

Alasdair Roberts, Smokey Joe’s

Might as well get my cantankerous, valetudinarian rant out of the way first – it was bloody freezing at Smokey Joe’s, like sitting outside pretty much. I’m a chilly mortal, me, and I can’t stand being cold – caught out by the slightest cold snap and I’m likely to go over all Mr Woodhouse and retire to my bed with a hot lemon.

Alasdair Roberts is made of sterner stuff than I and the polar conditions didn’t seem to trouble him over much. To be honest, fond as I imagine he is of long walks in the bracing Scotch air, he will have shrugged this off and scorned me as the southern softie I clearly am. In fact I fancy every new Roberts song is unveiled on the scotch muir, ‘midst the purple heather, to a mildly curious audience of highland beasties.

In the last post, I raved about Plaint of Lapwing, his joint record with James Green, labouring under the illusion that this was his most recent record, but it was pointed out by a forbearing friend on Twitter that there’s actually a newer record out, March’s Pangs. And it was this record Roberts drew most of the evening from – I don’t think he played anything from the Lapwing record at all.

The Guardian used the phrase “the weirdness of ancient folk” in one of its throw-away (although positive) reviews, and that’s actually a great description of Roberts’ craft. I’ve spoken before about all of this and it’d be fairly easy to put together an Alasdair Roberts bingo card, with words hapless reviewers will fall back on (“bleak”, “brogue” and “austere” all turn up in the Guardian’s piece). I’m as guilty as everyone else of this – it’s impossible not to marvel at the old-worldliness of the man’s vision, and to revel being taken back to harsher, more open times; all part of his charm.

If you’re energetic enough (ie not as lazy as me) to look further, however, you’re going to find echoes that speak to modern times. At one point, Roberts wryly speculated as he was using some wilfully obscure tuning that once Article 50 was triggered he’d possibly not be able to use it anymore. It was something of a jolt back to current woes and reminded me that songs such as “In Dispraise of Hunger”, “Farewell Sorrow” and the beautiful title track of the new record have as much to do with today’s misery as yesterday’s.

A few old favourites appeared – “Fair Flower of Northumberland”, “Jock Hawk’s Adventures in Glasgow” and “Farewell Sorrow” – but enough of the fragile splendour of the new songs was revealed to make me buy a copy of Pangs from the man himself. And it’s actually a bit of a revelation. He has a full band with him for most of the record, and a number of the songs feel completely new creations, when compared to the reedy charm of their solo versions.

Have a listen to these gaunt unclothed offerings and then go and buy the record for their fuller, finer, fattened-up versions.

Pangs

An Alter in the Glade

The Downward Road

(Oh, and for old time’s sake, In Dispraise of Hunger)

Is he even real?

Such is my life.

A barren, no-gig fast of more than three months is eventually broken and then speedily followed by a couple of smashing evenings in a week. By rights I should be writing about Alasdair Roberts coming over to Cheltenham (it was a good time – I’m sure I’ll get onto it) but I’ve spent most of this Saturday chuckling indulgently to myself as I think back to a classic Thekla Thursday night…

Lemon Twigs, Thekla

Coleser has of late taken to texting me with “I’ve bought you a ticket for,,, You’re going to love them!”. I approve of this hugely, of course, and I’m hoping to be the beneficiary of similar largesse in the future. I’d certainly never heard of siblings the Lemon Twigs from Long Island when I received the most recent message, but a few sessions on YouTube and the loan of their debut record had me suitably piqued, although I have to say I wasn’t sure I quite ‘got’ it…

Pretty much missed the support band, having been caught in traffic coming in, which always seems a shame, but then again, I’ve seen some pretty ropey support slots of recent. The charming, old boat was rammed full of ove-excited college lads and lasses (and a few curious old gits), and was suitably dense, drab and humid, for the first date of what I reckon’ll be an unforgettable UK tour.

Older (but still only 20) brother, Brian Addario, led from the front, dressed in some sort of mauve crushed velvet jacket, longish hair tucked studiously behind his ears, introducing the band and launching into a lustily-received “I want to prove to you”. It was a great start and they banged through three or four more songs really quickly, with all the playfulness and lack of restraint that makes the record such a bag of tricks. It’s as if they can’t resist adding an extra run of notes or another sprig of tinsel to the tree.

“We could make this part sound like a fairground jig!”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

“Or, what if we tried a waltz here?”

“Awesome!”

He was supported by Danny Ayala on keyboards and ooh-sha-la-la vocals, a retiring, put-upon Megan Zeankovski on bass, and the not-so-retiring figure of younger brother Michael slugging away flamboyantly on a drum kit he’d damaged within 10 minutes. He actually spent an unwarranted amount of his drumming duties standing, twirling his sticks aloft, and as Coleser wryly observed, it was obvious there was no way he was going to spend the whole of his evening behind the kit.

It was only when older brother moved to Ayala’s keyboard for “How lucky am I?”, that we got a real look at Michael, stepping forward for backing vocal duties. From this point, it was clear Brian wasn’t coming back. (An acrimonious Noel/Liam, Ray/Dave split looms…)

Resplendent in leopard-skin catsuit, open to the waist, and furiously primping his feather cut, Our Kid looked like a blinking, alien rock-child, parachuted into the West Country from a Ziggy bootleg. Wearing his 18 years proudly, he cut an impressive and outlandish figure. The confidence of youth for sure…

I’ve gotta say though, that from the moment he propelled himself into his vocal part and latterly took up his guitar to lead the rest of the set, there was no question of him being some sort of dumb parody. He absolutely had star quality and the whole show went up another notch from here on.

Into each song he crammed heaps of precocious, hormonal oomph and referred to pretty much every page of the rock’n’roll book of stage tricks – extravagant high kicks, prone guitar solos and a whole series of gratifyingly lewd guitar gestures. Oh, and a hell of a voice – powerful, frisky and self-knowing.

It was only when they launched into an Alex Chilton cover that I twigged (Ah… sorry… I’m not changing it now…) that instead of being a Dolls band, with a line in Rubettes harmonies, the overwhelming influence was Big Star, not in a Teenage Fanclub sort of a way but with a full on seventies power-pop sound. It was a great sound.

Thought I’d try recording the gig with my iPhone as an experiment which has turned out ok but the sound is not quite as “full” as with my normal recorder. It was also a pretty rowdy night, with loads of unruly audience participation and a general feel of insobriety. It gets in the way of the recordings a little but, to be fair, it all seemed entirely appropriate. Even I can’t find it in my curmudgeonly old heart to get upset about foolish young things having massive fun while a band of foolish young things do the same onstage.

As Long As We’re Together

All of the Time

Why Didn’t You Say That?

A Great Snake

There’s a good Alex Petridis interview with the brothers online and quite a bunch of YouTube stuff available, including a whole lot of charming videos of the lads practicing as youngsters, shot by their father (one of whose songs they covered on the night – another first for me).

Terrific evening…

Be soft, be softer still, give yourself love beyond all thrill.

I’ve been fannying around with this for a while now and all too quickly it’s a couple of weeks old already…

A rather late first gig of the year for me (a close-to-six-month drought in fact) but a welcome one, for sure. Having seen Meilyr Jones last year “unseen”, with pretty much no previous knowledge of him and been suitably wowed by the whole experience, the enchanting Welshman and his wonderful 2015 record have assumed impressive proportions in this old git’s mind (and record collection).

Meilyr Jones, The Fleece

A second gig can be a disappointing affair and it occurred to me this might be a bit of an issue as we walked through the doors of the ever-dependable, gummy-floored Fleece. A brief period of ho-hummery with a support band whose name passed in one ear and out the other, and all of a sudden Meilyr Jones is once again bounding on stage, grinning like a loon on his first day at school. And we’re back there.

I’d forgotten how fond I am of his soppy little face, how much I envy his flimsy Byrds haircut and how much I want to iron his rumpled outfits. In top-buttoned shirt and the shortest grey slacks I think I‘ve ever seen, he cut the gawkiest of figures, a look he embraces unswervingly.

What a guy.

The set whipped by, and even though it was pretty much the same as before (I didn’t catch any new songs), it still sounded fresh, intelligent and passionate. I remember last time being particularly mesmerised by the encore performance of “Be Soft”, which if anything he actually managed to emulate this time, bringing his two violinists off the stage and deep into the audience. All un-miked and somehow even more intimate and overwhelming than even before.

Here are recordings of the two encore songs (the second is a little muddy, thick with feeling a romantic soul might say…)

Watchers

Be Soft

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