¡Venga mariposa!

The rain is currently lashing away in Hammer fashion at the windows of our rented Brecon cottage, and with the forecast unpromising for the weekend, I can’t help but think of the hardy souls who are currently packing for Green Man. I consider myself retired these days but I will no doubt feel some envy and regret when people start messaging and tweeting once it starts.

Right now though, not so much…

It’s a classic Welsh August in short, and I can’t think of many things less like the equatorial sounds of Cumbia. Nevertheless, a chance encounter on YouTube recently reminded me what an absolute wealth of exotic, goofy sounds there is in Latin America and as a result I spaffed away a bunch of downloads at my favourite online emporium on newish forms of Cumbia.

And lo!

The hoary clouds start to roll away…

Malphino

A couple of the EPs and single tracks I took were by a band of cheery souls calling themselves Malphino, who are apparently “an outer-national, mystical band from an imaginary tropical island that has dreamt up a cinematic score and audio backdrop to their idyll”. Seems credible…

Here they are doing a sweetly guileless track from their Welcome to Malphino album for Worldwide FM.

 

You’ll have noticed that Malphino, amongst others, employ the services of a tuba instead of a bass. This is a rare and lovely thing – an instrument my uncle used to play in his time with the Cinderford Brass Band but not one you see a lot of, even in the sort of hipster circles I like to frequent. If you can look past the comedy tones though, it’s a great sound – deep, stentorian, unequivocal…

There’s a bit of a piece about Malphino on the Sounds & Colours site which is worth a read, if you can cope with the disappointing news that the mythical land the band hail from is actually South London. Whilst you’re there, you can also download a track from the band’s debut LP, Visit Malphino. There’s also a longer interview with the band here.

The record was released last year by Lex Records but is currently out of stock (indeed appeared to sell out as I was browsing), although earlier EPs (El Lava de Gabacho & Lalango) are great and are available on eMusic. In the meantime, here’s another clip of the band busking in a Colombian butcher’s stall at Brixton Market, performing “Fabiola Amapola” from Lava de Gabacho

 

 

Obviously, I vigorously approve of bands playing their local butchers. I’m also very much in favour of the odd change of tempo, and in this case, a song that appears to get ahead of itself and has to take a self-conscious breath to regain its cool (before dashing off all over again…)

In fact, there’s all sorts of reasons to love this song. Who doesn’t like a ukulele? A tuba solo? A nimble-fingered accordion? (Many people of course, but let us not speak of these types). The version on the EP actually includes a demented pipe organ and an over-enthusiastic cowbell. Yee-ha!

The rest of the EP is great galloping fun too, a super-abundance of accordion, Walken-esque levels of cowbell and the ubiquitous tuba, plus guest appearances from flute, a brass section and even a bit of feedback-y dissonance – this just on the opening track, “Cumbia Policia” (And that’s a picture in itself – bandoliered accordionists and guiro players tumbling out of an on-two-wheels Black Maria as it careens around a corner).

All tremendous, contagious stuff, and if that doesn’t raise a smile on even the dullest of Welsh days, then you, my friend, are flat-lining…

¡Cumbéalo!

The previous two Augusts have yielded a flurry of posts as a welcome by-product of a week getting it together in the Welsh hills, and you’ll no doubt be hoping this year will be much the same. I’m presuming this but on the other hand, knowing the unreliable nature of this fitful venture, you may just have to be happy with what you get.

Whatever, this is an absolute doozy.

Alex Mendoza y sus Poetas del Ritmo

And so again, we’re enjoying seven days of constructive loafing in the Welsh countryside. Reading (Moby Dick), walking (in the rain, of course), drinking (sherry, mostly), chatting (shit, mostly) – you know, generally sticking it to the Man.

Stand by…

As I may have intimated in my last hurried post, there’s a whole wave of Cumbia breaking upon these shores at the moment. I quickly dashed off the last post moments before we set off on a walk across hill and down dale in the temperamental but never less than impressive Brecon Beacons. Throughout the morning, I can honestly say the fragile notes of Alex Mendoza’s timid, brittle guitar didn’t leave my head in the couple of hours we were out.

 

This isn’t really Cumbia at all, as I’m sure you’ve worked out – the trebly surf guitar gives it away as Peruvian chicha – but the loping Colombian rhythms and the itchy & scratchy sounds of the guiro tell us we’re not a million miles away. I love the mishmash of reedy guitar lines warmed up by the sympathetic chords of farfisa-style organ, all given a lop-sided drive by the distinctive rhythms of South America. It’s all going down rather well…

And if you’re not immediately won over by that sleeve…

Disappointingly, aside from the fact that he’s a Peruvian guitarist, there’s pretty much nothing about Señor Mendoza available on the Internet that I can find. I gather the driving force behind the record, however, is Max Weissenfeldt who provides the eight-armed, Tony Allen-style drum patterns behind the record and pretty much is the Poetas del Ritmo.

He’s also the band leader of Berlin-based crate-diggers, the Polyversal Souls and has his own label, Philophon, who release all manner of World treasures. There’s a nice little interview with the fellow here although it does suggest that he might be one of those musical kleptomaniacs who’ll be off somewhere else soon. The fact that this first appeared three or four years ago and there’s been no follow up that I can find, maybe confirms this.

Or maybe, they just thought “We’re not going to better this…”

Here’s a clip of another of his ventures with the Polyversal Souls and Ghanaian singer Guy One. It’s also pretty nifty…

 

So, about that bottle of Amontillado (not going to drink itself, after all…)

I can feel it coming…

 

A cumbia frenzy!

 

 

I’m powerless to resist…

¡Subame el monitor!

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there are few things as insufferable as a teacher launching into his insufferably long summer holidays, so I won’t go on… But hey! It’s summer!

(Actually, once you start there are quite a few universally-acknowledged truths that spring to mind:

  • Isn’t August fantastic? – sorry I wasn’t going to do that…
  • Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy (to mix my writers up)
  • Who doesn’t like wearing shorts?
  • Boris Johnson shouldn’t be anywhere near no 10
  • No matter what Simon Reynolds says, the Pop Group are a fiendishly hard listen – and frankly, why would you bother? Life’s far too fleeting and precious a gift to waste time on that Jesuitical nonsense)

That last one’s a bit random.

Although… not as random as you might think – I’m trying to do to bit more “pop” music, these days.

Spanish Pop

One of the other universal truths that continues to present itself to me is that learning Spanish is still proving to be a stubborn nut to crack – I’d imagined that after a couple of years of ill-disciplined and haphazard “study”, the language would’ve opened itself out to me in inviting and triumphant fashion. I thought by now I’d be prattling away like a good’un, learning interesting and street-wise new idioms and generally impressing all my friends with my easy membership of the continental elite. Sadly (if inevitably), this has not proved to be the case. I still speak like an inarticulate teenager and I suspect sound like the equivalent of one of those bemused, pitiable Japanese tourists you find yourself behind in the queue for a train ticket.

To remedy this, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to listen to more Spanish music. This has been something of a challenge, as you can imagine, not because there’s a shortage (there’s obviously loads, most of it pretty dull – the Spanish do like an auto-tuned voice…). The problem is, of course, my own lofty pickiness.

But in the interests of trying to improve my language, I’ve tried to swallow my pride and listen to a bit more Spanish pop. And actually, against all my better judgement, I’m quite enjoying it.

Here’s Julieta Venegas from Mexico, who is apparently massive around the world and even a grammy award winner, I believe, hardly a crate-digger’s discovery but she does play the accordion (which is never a bad thing – a universal truth, if you like…)

I can’t work out whether I’d be turning my nose up at this under other circumstances (and presumably saying I preferred her early records), if it wasn’t for the fact that she sings in Spanish and such is my current obsession. But hey, the video’s fun (and includes women eating flowers and farting butterflies – another universal truth, if ever I heard one…).

 

Moving back into more familiar PP territory, the twitter feed of proper Bristol legend Big Jeff has introduced me to Catalan duo, Za! who remind me a lot of Siesta!, another wantonly-punctuated band I wrote about a while back (but who seem very quiet these days…).

Hard to see this pair winning a grammy, to be fair… A drums and keyboard/knob twiddly sort of affair, they make a vast and frequently dissonant racket that affords few chances to practice your speaking & listening skills but is enormously exciting. There’s some kraut-y electronics, some tribal sounds, a sprinkling of Sun Ra and loads and loads of overexcited shouting – a heady brew, in fact.

There’s a fair bit of mischief afoot too…

 

I can’t find much online about Za! past about 2015 – their Soundcloud page is pretty old, although there are quite a bunch of recordings there to enjoy, including this:

 

I think Jeff saw them a couple of years ago at Primavera, and they’re still playing dates in Spain – I’d imagine an evening with Za! might be quite a rousing affair… If you watch this last clip, there’s quite a lot of interview but even that’s quite fun, and the live stuff’s breathlessly exciting and includes a version of the above track “Subeme el Monitor” (which I reckon translates as “pump up the volume”)

You and I can conquer all the negative vibes

I probably need to crack on with this – I’m in danger of missing the boat with it (“You think? – May ’19).

An over-excited voice on the recording (the same one as usual, I’m afraid) can be heard saying more than once “There are literally no situations that can’t be improved by a bit of Gruff Rhys” and without wishing to blow my own trumpet or to deny the existence of all the other instances where I’m clearly talking a load of old bollocks, on this occasion, I stand by this statement.

Gruff Rhys, Sea Change

It had been a bit of a mixed day up to this point, to be fair. There’d been an aborted attempt to see Stuart Lee which had been transformed unbeknownst to us (and a load of other politely disgruntled punters) into a ticketed event during the course of the weekend. There’d been the pure and undiluted pleasure of a new Field Music set (there are, after all, literally no situations etc, etc…) and also the vaguely surreal spectacle of a marquee full of misty-eyed old lags singing along to the songs of Bagpuss.

By now it was late afternoon and a table having already been booked at a likely looking restaurant back in town, this was the last set our happy band was likely to be seeing. So I guess a certain responsibility lay in the hands of the man I took to be our genial host. In three piece suit, red bobble hat and raybans, he wore it easily, of course, and rolled out a trademark set of graceful melody and fanciful whimsy.

I’ll be honest, I’ve taken my eye off the ball of recent and I was completely unaware that another Gruff Rhys record, Babelsberg, had emerged, (last Summer, I think). I need to sort this, because the songs he played from it, “Negative Vibes”, “The Club”, “Frontier Man” and a couple of others, sounded just super.

Here’s a clip of “The Club” recorded last year, which if a little static does the trick, I’d say…

 

New material there may have been, but there was a reassuring familiarity about the whole set – the same shambling rhythms, the same avuncular informality, the same spaghetti western airs – even the applause signs were back. There was a fair smattering of songs from Candylion, American Interior and Hotel Shampoo, and the welcome return of “Pwdin Wy” (broken into its two halves by an interlude where an offending wristband was cut off with the help of a ‘knife amnesty’– “I was alarmed by some of the knives that came out just then. I thought it was a different kind of festival”).

Gruff’s voice continues to be a friendly, melancholic guide in times of creeping uncertainty. His quirks and idiosyncrasies are still more rousing than almost any other artist I know and I’d be happy to continue seeing him once every couple of years for the rest of my days.

We trudged off full-spirited, happy of heart and ready for a spot of dinner.

Lonesome Words

American Interior

Negative Vibes

Literally, no situation.

It’s a hill I’m willing to die on…

They find different ways to suck themselves off…

Another week has flown by.

Another week of cursory achievements which have made people happy, but which has precluded me from doing the stuff I’d like to be doing. You know… reading, chatting, loafing around on my tummy, listening to music.

I could, for instance have been listening to this gaudy, intemperate and monstrously powerful set I recorded at Sea Change…

Black Midi, Sea Change

If my shonky memory serves, the weather was temperate, an early afternoon in a conspicuously Brexity pub watching Glaws’ unlikely attempt to qualify for the Premiership Final had been shaken off without too much trouble (for 51 seconds it had looked so promising…) and “a gentle amble along the river” lay between us and a very promising sounding set from difficult South London likely lads, Black Midi.

An increasingly fretful “amble” saw us 45 minutes later, sloping unfashionably late, into the darkness of a very loud, very dark marquee, vaguely aware that outlandish stuff had been afoot onstage and we were not quite “up to speed” with it.

At first, I put the sense of queasy disorientation down to circumstance and told myself that things would settle. Mercifully, they didn’t…

Black Midi are a surly bunch, make no mistake.

Didn’t do a lot of talking, ran one awkward song into the next, and generally muddied the waters with as much dissonance and feedback as possible. And they were loud. I mean really loud… inordinately, bloody loud. Loud enough to make me consider getting earplugs, although if I did, I would’ve been seriously missing the point, I feel.

They thrashed through a set of broken up songs, which switched from one time signature to another with alarming effect and frequently ascended into horrible chaos. They were like a darker, nastier White Denim, with the same virtuosity but with an instinctive desire to bugger with conventional forms and to experiment furiously. (And when I say “experiment”, I’m talking Karloff).

If you watch this video, you’ll see the guitarist doing some sort of smartarsery with an iPhone on the pick up as they are playing, infuriatingly ingenious…

 

This is of course what young lads should be doing with their guitars…

You get a chance to see drummer Morgan Simpson full on “at it” in the clip too. He was pretty remarkable, another of the “why shouldn’t I be lead?” drummers that I am rather partial too. There was more than a little Drumbo to him, so it’s entirely appropriate that one of the comments to this video is:

“That’s right, the Mascara Snake, fast ‘n’ bulbous!”

`(I’ve said it before, if Beefheart hadn’t existed, we’d have had to invent him…)

You can also get a sense of the maximum David Thomas mode that vocalist Geordie Greep brings to the party – howling, gibbering and berating the audience with a sandpaper hostility that was breath-taking.

What the KEXP (God bless ‘em) clip can’t show you, though, is just how dark (in all senses) the set was. There was a lot of dry ice (Snapped Ankles levels), a lot harsh lighting, a lot of frenzied incoherence and a helluva lot of stylised silhouette work, with Greep sporting a perfect, if silly, huge black Stetson and eventually donning Eastwood-style button up overcoat as he left the stage, swathed in atmospherics (and possibly threatening to kill any man, his wife, his friends and burn his goddamn house down…)

It was a vigorous, ugly set, by a bunch of vigorous, ugly young lads.

bmbmbm

Ducter

Talking Heads

All power to their gangly elbows…

The air began to sing again…

OK, time to deliver on my long-held (and more than once repeated) promise to give you something on last month’s Sea Change.

Overall a fine time was had by all, I think. Some jolly company, some good music, some beer drunk, I’m a simple feller…

We’d had such a good time last year that booking again this year was something of a no-brainer. And when Coleser told me that a May Bank Holiday festival was planned this year and that he’d cannily managed to rent a house in the centre of Totnes, well, it was all on again.

Anticipation was dampened a little, however, when we found out that very little was being put on in the town this year, most of the music was happening over at the Dartmouth Hall site. One of the highlights of last year had been the casual hopping from bar to street to church, airily waving a wrist band at the door, picking up music all over. None of that this year…

To be fair, the Dartmouth Hall site was a little better this year, but still all a bit a-bunch-of-folk-in-a-field. Not much in the way of food, two beer tents and two stages, so close to each other that they needed to alternate acts. (And that’s definitely not a 30 minute amble from town…)

But grousing aside, I think I saw more good music this year than last, so get a grip, man.

I’m starting here…

You Tell Me

Field Music may well be the band I’ve seen most of all over the years. They’re always engaging, unexpected and make me feel like I should be listening to the records more closely.

You Tell Me are one of Peter Brewis’ side-projects, so not strictly speaking a Field Music gig, the fact that David Brewis turned up playing fretless bass (“you know… a dangerous business”), also doesn’t in any way make this a Field Music gig, oh no.

Battling nevertheless, against Field Music levels of disinterest from a sparsely spread field of punters, they cheerfully ran through at least 8 numbers from their record – I say “at least” because inexplicably I turned my recorder off at one point. I can only apologise.

It really is a lovely record that, true to form, I’ve had to go back and re-investigate on my return from Devon. It’s full of wry observations and rueful glances to the past most effectively from the lips of co-writer Sarah Hayes, supplemented by the twists, turns and unpredictable grooves that collaboration with a Brewis can’t help but guarantee.

At one point, an (alarmingly) rustic burr can be heard gushing soppily about how lovely the Brewis brothers are. I should not do this (for it was I) but there’s something about a Field Music set that loosens the tongue injudiciously (although, drink may also have been taken…). What can I say?

A typically off-centre encore of “Ivor Cutler to a Bo Diddley beat” and they were gone, all too soon and not to be seen again until the next half-empty moderately-sized venue comes into view. Let’s hope it’s not too long, eh?

Get Out of the Room

Enough to Notice

I Worn My Elbows

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