I mean, what else? You can’t eat music.

Amongst the empty absinthe bottles, Pringles tubes and pistachio shells, strewn about the house, something’s wrong. Having dutifully watched hours upon hours of Talking Pictures TV, and absolutely, categorically had enough of Oliver Reed’s camp thuggery, I still have a niggling feeling… Gone to enough school and office parties to take me safely through until next year, but I’ve definitely forgotten something.

True, there’s still half a chocolate orange (saved. Obviously you need something to see the New Year in with); having checked and double-checked the Radio Times, I can find no screening of Escape to Victory (and if Die Hard can be a Christmas movie…), so that’s not it. But there’s something else…

Ah! Bugger.

End of Year lists.

I knew there was something.

Seven Tinsel-decked Tings from 2018

Truth be told, 2018 has been a desperately grim year, with all sorts of indefensible shithousery going on from the people we’ve recklessly entrusted our futures to. I don’t remember a year when I’ve watched the news more obsessively, and sworn more rancorously at the TV (unless you count 2017, of course. Also 2016…). 2019 isn’t looking like it’s going to get much better either.

I don’t think the two things are linked but 2018 is a year when I’ve bought less brand new music and been to less gigs than for a long a time. No new records spring to my lacklustre mind for this year, and a glance at the more established End of Year lists hasn’t really altered my thoughts on this. I’ve seen a couple of really good live sets (Here Lies Man and Damo are the ones I’m thinking of), but not a great haul.

Having said this, my jammy grandfather clause with eMusic has meant that there’s still been a whole bunch of “new” music floating in and around the estate this year. So I’ve decided to go for seven treats from the PP music year, trying particularly to think about things I don’t think I’ve written about previously (so no Here Lies Man, Sweet Baboo or Damo Suzuki, I’m afraid) but which have been tiny candles amongst the gloom…

Spanish Warbling: Josephine Foster – “Dame Esa Flora”

I’ve managed to step up my efforts to improve my Spanish this year and am hoping to go again with this in the New Year. And one of the things that I’ve done is listen to more Spanish music. Now I’ve written before about warbly-voiced female singers in less than complimentary terms, and Josephine Foster is certainly ones of these. But hey, if she’s warbling in Spanish, it’s different, right? She has a few records out but two in particular stand out which were recorded with the Herrero Brothers. The first was a collection of songs by Lorca and a second album, Perlas, was made up of other traditional songs from various regions of Spain, including this one about Cadiz. We went to Cadiz this year and were again taken by it, so this feels right; and once you’ve warmed to Foster’s voice and are settling into the beautiful mandolin (?) breaks you realise that this is, after all, damn fine:

 

Somali Dance: Dur Dur Band

A quick look through my music of this year confirmed a couple of things: firstly, that, yes, I got very few records from this year; and secondly that I acquired an alarming amount of African music from the seventies – Zamrock, the Ethiopiques series, a lot of Somali music, and pretty much all of it from the seventies and eighties. I did already post about some of this and plugged the Likembe website back in the Summer. But one of the bands covered there, Dur Dur Band from Mogadishu, was also the subject of a new collection from Analog Africa which is just excellent.

This track which doesn’t seem to be on the new compilation or the other LP I have, rollocks along like a train (a funk train), powered by hand drums and an impossibly tight rhythm guitar. The brass is cut-throat and there’s some great twisted lead guitar work. Ah, the days when bands still wrote their name on the bass drum…

 

Japanese Clatter: Bo Ningen – “Koroshitai Kimochi”

I did also write about this bunch of androgynous oddballs after I saw them supporting Damo Suzuki at Sea Change, so I won’t go on. But every time I see clips of this, it gets more and more white-knuckle. It’s utterly out to lunch – deafening, nutty, double-jointed – all of these in a good way. What a racket.

I need a snakeskin-effect poncho…

 

The Cosmos: Terry Riley – “Shri Camel” album

OK, so this is an hour long video, so get a drink or something, but do commit yourself. The first part is an interview with the man which is complex but disarmingly low on bullshit and generally really interesting. I believe everything he says.

There was a really excellent series of shows on BBC4 earlier this year covering experimental music which introduced me to the idea of Terry Riley. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything about what he does, but the one idea that stuck me from the programs was the idea of single pairs of notes moving in and out of sync with each other and then returning to their relative positions like planets in a solar system.

This is grown up music…

 

English Folk Music: Lal Waterson – “Fine Horseman” / Sandy Denny – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

I seemed to spend a lot of time this year reading about folk music – Nick Drake and Sandy Denny biogs, Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the Incredible String Band book I posted about in the summer – all of it fascinating (I’ve also got a Peggy Seeger biog in the pile by my bed…). And on that theme, these two songs are remarkable:

I bought the reissue of the Waterson’s Bright Phoebus this year, which is a great record but the stand out moments all involved the monochrome tones of Lal Waterson, a singer I am ashamed to know I knew nothing about before this. It’s an eerie song that feels like it’s been passed from lip to ear for generations – misunderstood, reinterpreted, weirdly distorted – but is actually a genuinely strange original.

 

The Sandy Denny song is another thing of splendour, crafted carefully and possessing of the most achingly poignant single line choruses. Denny’s life is sad enough and beautifully captured in Mick Houghton’s book, but really you only have to hear this song…

 

Italian Horror: Goblin – “theme from Profondo Rosso”

This was the year I finally got around to watching The Exorcist and a whole bunch of Hammer and folk horror stuff. And there’s some cracking music to accompany some of these films. I’m yet to see Profondo Rosso but I like the Goblin sound track.

 

Oh go on, while we’re at it, Goblin’s theme tune to another horror movie – Suspiria.

And a new album! The Surfing Magazines “New Day”

I didn’t actually see the Surfing Magazines at Sea Change but I heard them from the warmth and safety of the beer tent. I did pop out for a couple of songs and they struck me as having a similar live act as Woods – a basic understanding of the sixties rule book and a willingness to wig out at any given moment. They were fun.

Made up of members of the Wave Pictures and Slow Club, I’m very much hoping this isn’t just a cheery side-project and that there’s more to come.

 

So there we have it, 2018. Some highlights and not too many grumbles. Here’s to the next one, God help us all…

Can’t ya hear them bells a-ringin’?

Whoo-ee!

School’s out, other stuff’s all finished, and I’m done for Christmas…

Yee-ha!

 

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Up in the air!

Most years at about this time, I do some sort of snivelling post about feeling like I should be doing a review of the year’s releases or rounding up gig highlights, but then , regular as Christmas, I go off in some other random direction.

I appear to be powerless…

So, anyway, a recent discovery that the nothing if not unpredictable Emusic has something like 150 Sun Ra albums stacked up in its dusty shelves, has prompted what started off as a tentative toe-dipping into another universe but is now rapidly turning into something of a full-on Arkestra bombing.

The man who prompted sober social commentator George Clinton to comment “This boy was definitely out to lunch” has a pretty intimidating reputation and a somehow more daunting back catalogue that I’m unlikely ever to get too far with.

But at the same time, if you accept that this is one river the opposite banks of which you’re never going to reach (and are also willing to overlook the extending of an unconvincing aquatic metaphor), it’ll be OK, believe me. I know this because I’ve spent the weekend lolling around on my flowery plastic inflatable, figurative mojito in hand, novelty sunglasses sliding down my nose, being biffed back and forth by some of the strangest bluebeats there are. And it’s OK.

I’m doing my darndest to avoid the J word, but I should speak plainly here – these are, well, Jazz records, and this can be a bit of a problem. After spending a lot of my early twenties fancying myself a bit of a Jazz-fiend and pretty much OD-ing on Charlie Parker records, I’ve struggled to give Jazz a fair hearing ever since – the late eighties were, after all, an age when apparently rational people were buying Sade records, and, lordee, it’s a long way back from there… So, if this is a problem for you (and, I hear you…), I’ll bid you a rueful farewell and see you in the next post.

But if you’re still with me, here are seven stonking and stonkingly weird Sun Ra tracks that I’ve recently discovered…

Sun Ra

Lucky Seven – Sun Ra

Aside from the fact he was apparently born on Saturn (It’s true – I’ve checked it) and liked a headdress or two, I’m not going to pretend I know a whole lot about Sun Ra, in fact I’ve put this together with almost no research (go on, it’s Christmas…). I’ve written a few thoughts on each track as I’ve been listening but if you want some background before trying them, watch this (it really takes off at about 26:15):

 

Universe in Blue

This gawkily moody organ-led piece apparently originated from a regular spot the Arkestra had at “Slug’s Saloon” in the Lower East Side, playing every week from 1966 onwards, often doing seven-hour sets that would finish at 4:00 AM. It’s a live recording and does sound like an early hours, ghostly meander built over many months and wouldn’t be out of place weaving eerily through the corridors of Dr Phibes’ castle. It’s clunky, it’s technicolour…

Plutonian Nights

This is irresistible. The darkest of horn riffs make the hairs on your legs rise and your socks slide weakly down into your boots. There’s crafty bass and sax solos during the course of the track but you find yourself waiting for the return of that great rasping chin-jutting horn. Only a heart-breaking four and a half minutes long…

Astro Black

This is pretty unconventional… There are vocals here (although hardly orthodox) and initially a skittish double bass that scampers around June Tyson’s strident, dogged tones, but they’re fighting something of a rear-guard action surrounded by great chunks of dissonant noise and waves of industrial-sounding drone. Once the bass and vocals wander dolefully offstage, you’re pretty much on your own, left to fend for yourself in the face of an 11-minute assault of … erm… “free jazz” interplay.

Ancient Aethiopia

Driven on by thundering Hammer-horror drum beats and snarling, grandly-riffing horns, this is a gorgeous journey through the bush, led initially by twin flutes that cross paths with each other and frequently step on each other’s toes. The uneasy harmony is regularly broken by jarring percussive intrusions and only partially soothed by the sax and piano pieces that succeed the flutes. You find yourself clinging optimistically to those bass and drum rhythms and the voices that do eventually make themselves heard are not exactly promising…

Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus

Starting off like any furiously-played jazz standard, (albeit one announcing the departure of today’s commuter to the stars), you find yourself bombarded by a series of pulsing horn riffs that dance recklessly around you until you are giddy. From there the excursion veers off into less familiar bass tones, which once they start to be bowed become odder and odder. The call for the next stop brings you back down to Earth (even if “… the second stop is Jupiter, the second stop is Jupiter, the second stop is Jupiter…”)

Mayan Temples

This is a lumbering beast of a track, powered by those hoarse, bellowing horns and a gently insistent bass line. There are the twin flutes again and some weird organ and keyboard work that sounds like clinking and latterly smashing glasses. The pace never picks up and it’s another forbidding journey into an unsettling Kurtz-ian world, beset by distracting, contrary percussive work that trudges and labours somewhere off-camera. It’s another live performance, taken from the “Of Mythic Worlds” album which, on the record at least, is then followed by this:

Over the Rainbow

Yes, it’s the Wizard of Oz standard, although for the first minute or so, it’s not really recognisable as such. In fact, although the Arkestra treatment does involve it moving in and out of focus, alternating between tunefulness and weirdness, with varying degrees of the Ra-filter, he does treat it with a genuine fondness. There’s a discernible gasp of relief and applause from the audience when he allows the song a cheeky run of its own.

And there you are, seven belters from the enormous back-catalogue of an errant virtuoso. Another 140-odd albums to collect, so you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got a rocket to catch…

It’s fackin’ Lucifer!

So, this, obviously…

 

(and yes, even though it’s been said, possibly the most effective guitar break anywhere – although I’m very partial to Jan Savage’s clunky solo on Pushin’ Too Hard…)

Sad stuff, clearly, and it’s a shame that a chap’s passing makes you realise what a great talent he was. Great songwriter, beguiling frontman and by all accounts an all-round good bloke. It got me ruminating loosely on the idea that the good too often die young (although a genuinely younger feller would presumably spit out his pint in comedy fashion at the notion that 63 is anything like “young” – but, well, these days…)

In truth the idea had been bouncing around the hamster wheel that passes for my mind for a couple of weeks.

Jah Wobble came to the Guildhall a few weeks ago and yours truly was in attendance. I’ve not bothered posting about it because (well… do I have to do this?) but also in truth pretty much everything I said here when I saw him at the Fleece was pretty much how it was this time too. Wobble was witty, self-effacing and mischievous, with a number of laugh out loud moments (“It’s fackin’ Lucifer!”), and is of course one hell of a bass player – still the only guy I know, currently playing lead bass. It was another great evening and I was glad that the springy-floored splendour of the Guildhall and the gawping masses of my hometown had been witness to the Wobble grandeur.

I’ve been reading Nick Kent’s memoirs, “Apathy for the Devil” and have enjoyed it immensely, and as chance would have it a couple of days later I came to his account of the infamous chain-whipping he received at the 100 Club at the hands of Sid Vicious. I’m not sure Kent is the most reliable of witnesses for all sorts of reasons, but it is perhaps surprising that he doesn’t really seem to bare any grudge against Vicious (indeed he went on to share a good few mattresses and needles with him over the next year or so). He saves most of his anger for Malcolm Maclaren (whom he claims directed the attack) and for Jah Wobble:

“He held an open penknife and was waving it no more than two inches from my eyes. There was dried blood on the blade and a look of pure sadistic delight in his piggy eyes… Then he stepped back allowing Sid dead aim at my skull.”

It’s an unpleasant image, and it made me remember a couple of passages in Wobble’s own book which paint him in a pretty unflattering light. I remember reading the passage where he stands on top of an old and priceless recording desk and urinates all over it for a laugh, and thinking “this isn’t great, or funny – it’s just boorish …” And it all makes you realise that for all his older, more mature affability and humility, at one point in his wilder years, Wobble was actually a pretty abrasive character. I’m not sure, you’d have felt very comfortable around him (and in fairness, he’s said this himself).

And then you think, for all the fun and dexterity of later period Wobble (his term, not mine), has he done anything better than this?

 

How good do you have to be?

Seaweed tangled in our home from home…

A couple of days last week, tucked neatly away in a provincial coaching house, was sound-tracked by a return to what I now see is one of my very favourite records (although weirdly I have not always done so). At this point, regular readers may want to pass on to the next item on their “to read” list, I’m banging on about Robert Wyatt again…

Rock Bottom

I don’t need to say anything about the opening track (there’s a good Blog post about it, not mine, here) – everyone’s favourite Wyatt track, much coveted, much covered and the lucky subject of a certain Blog (although to be more fair than is strictly necessary, the choice was deliberately random – I’d listened to it the morning I started off on this long, strange pilgrimage, a spotted handkerchief of favourite lyrics bundled up and slung rakishly over my shoulder…). In fact, for a good time, I overlooked much of the rest of the album, such was my fascination and love of its lead song.

Soft and daft really, there’s so much other stuff to dwell on, so many other high water marks and beguiling shallows to settle on and spend an afternoon paddling aimlessly around in.

To fill in, Wyatt had disbanded Matching Mole in September 1973, after a tour supporting Soft Machine, and began writing material for the record that would become his second solo album. All of which was thrown into confusion when he broke his back falling from the 4th floor window of a Maida Vale flat during a party. An enthusiastic drinker and a spinning top of creative energy and self-destructive behaviour, friends had felt a metaphoric if not literal fall had long been on the cards. The accident obliged Wyatt to re-evaluate his lifestyle and forced him to change the direction and the outlets for his furious inventiveness. He has famously said that the accident saved his life.

Friends and musicians rallied around – Warren Beatty offered to pay his hospital bills; Julie Christie bought a flat for him and Alfie to live in (Alfie was Nicolas Roeg’s assistant on Don’t Look Now, and Wyatt apparently spent a fair amount of time bumming around the set); Pink Floyd and Soft Machine played benefit gigs for him. Rather charmingly, John Peel announced the news and exhorted all his listeners to write him cards and messages of good will.

 

The record that came out just a few months after his release from hospital, featured old chums from his Soft Machine days, including Hugh Hopper and Mike Oldfield, and also contributions from Fred Frith, Nick Mason, former “Wilde Flower” Richard Sinclair, and, of course, Ivor Cutler.

I’ve just spent a fond few moments buffeted and braced by the chaotic frenzy of “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road” with its promenading bass and piano lines, its angry swirling trumpets and musical hall confusion – “Oh blimey, mercy me, woe are we!”. I love the forwards-backwards-forwards vocals, I love Cutler’s soft intrusive nonsense (“I want it, I want it, give it to me. I give it you back when I finish the lunchtea…”), I love Wyatt’s desperate incoherence. I think I read that the song was composed before the accident but it’s impossible not to hear the overwhelming turmoil of a hospital bed in the arrangement of it. It’s powerful and disturbing…

Equally strange and equally wondrous is second track, “A Last Straw”, meandering along at its own pace, deliberate and confidential, a product of time stretching lazily out in front of Wyatt at the prospect of his new world, and something of a contrast to the furious pace of both the “Little Red Riding Hood” tracks. I love the way he plays around with words and relishing the sounds they make; and I especially love the way the track fades out with a solemn procession of notes up and down the keyboard, trudging off in turn.

I think I’ve said before, how much I admire folk who are prepared to be as out-and-out weird as they feel they should, regardless of ridicule and common sense. And there’s certainly something craftily ridiculous he’s doing in these songs (I’m just too dull-witted to figure it properly). It features throughout his records from the “Concise British Alphabet” tracks on Soft Machine Volume 2, through pretty much all of the Matching Mole stuff on to the backwards and absurdist lyrics on this record. I gather it’s linked to the idea of “pataphysics” that Wyatt filched from his time in Paris. French philosopher Alfred Jarry called it “the science of imaginary solutions” and it’s something about playing with different words, notes and letters, rejigging sequences and meaning, re-cutting and rearranging sense into nonsense, looking for obscure meanings, codes, jokes.

I’m also very keen on the two Alfie tracks. Again, they amble along at their own restrained pace, (the first opens with a refrain of “Alife” which manages to sound like both a metaphorical and a literal life support machine); again there’s linguistic foreplay, jazzy wordlessness and Goonish nonsense; again there’s an almost uncomfortable intimacy in its devotion; and once again both tracks mooch off into strange directions. They’re  heart-felt and heart-breakingly touching.

Just imagine if there was footage from French TV, recorded in, say, 1975, with the man on a grand piano, maybe with a few garish balloons tossed around for no apparent reason, maybe with a few clips of Alfie walking him the park, and an interview with the man discussing Rock Bottom and playing “Sea Song” and “Alife”…

Wouldn’t that be something special?

 

My admiration remains boundless…

Today we are all astronauts, so let’s get ready to go far from home

This Indian Summer doesn’t know when it’s beaten, does it?

The clocks go back next weekend, Halloween is round the corner and then the miserable trudge into Winter begins. All of which is something of a downer, no? Let us think gaily back to happier times, lighter moments and smoother transitions. Come back with me, if you will, to the sunny uplands of Summer ’18, August to be exact, and lift a glass to sunshine, cobalt skies glinting water and cheerful company.

The more cynical of you will straight away have recognised the whiff of a fancy metaphor when you catch it and spot the tricks of a wily old Blogger, who’s got a couple of things from the Summer he’s been meaning to post for weeks but simply couldn’t be arsed. I choose not to acknowledge your scorn, thumb my nose loftily in your direction and pause only to mention that here are a couple of things from the Summer that I’ve been meaning to post for … a while…

Steven Black, Sea Change

Steven Black (as I’m sure you know) records mostly under the moniker of Sweet Baboo, as well as playing with a number of everyone’s favourite Welsh artists, and has recently released a record of “ambient” compositions with Paul Jones as Group Listening. It’s a lovely record, that I was quite taken with over the Summer and was moved to write these lines about it at the time.

And I saw him in August at Sea Change performing the record in a church as part of the Sea Change festival with Coleser and a number of other chums. It was all part of a gorgeous “festival-without-canvas” if you remember, and a fine time was had.

He’s a chubby, unprepossessing feller who at first glance doesn’t quite have the shambling charisma of Gruff, the gawky eccentricity of Hawkline or the arch surliness of Cate, but is currently producing better records than any of his band leaders. The Group Listening affair is charming, moving back and forth between quirky easy listening and magical (kosmische) enchantment with nods in many a strange and agreeable direction.

And that’s pretty much how the Saturday afternoon went, with Black and Jones deftly running through the songs of the record – carefully, lovingly and artfully preserving the spirit of a collection of songs for which they clearly have a fondness. The venue being a church and all that, you might’ve expected hushed reverence from an audience of chin-stroking devotees, but actually it was all a bit more fun than that – people came and went, a baby cried sporadically, echoes and hums whirled around the stage. It all felt very cosy and seemed to add something to the general ambience of “field recording” there is about the songs.

Coleser’s fondness for a front seat meant we were in the very front pews and the upshot is a certain amount of nervous fiddling and general cack-handery with the recorder, but I like to think it all adds to the feel of the show. Here are a couple of songs you might want to give a listen to:

Happy Whistler

Maryan (it wouldn’t be Partly Porpoise…)

Introducing “Happy Whistler”, they mentioned it was originally a find from a 1963 record by Raymond Scott called Soothing Sounds for Baby. And by the wonders of YouTube, you can hear the original, pretty odd track (One of the comments mentions a similarity to King Tubby, and he’s not wrong. This is a bit of a treat, you probably need to give it a listen…)

 

Rare as the afternoon had been, Sea Change was still to reach its high-water mark (oh yes!) later on that evening, and Steven Black was again the catalyst…

It being quite a small festival with a few big names shoe-horned into two bulging days, there were a couple of ugly timetable clashes that prompted something of a difference of opinion amongst our cheery party. The long and short of it was that yours truly went over to the main hall to see Gwenno while the rest of the group went back to church for Josh T Pearson. A reunion for Sweet Baboo later on in the evening was planned. Gwenno was pretty good (although at this rate I’ll probably never get round to posting) and the hall was packed (including Steven Black himself. And an effervescent Big Jeff spotted at the front, so clearly I win – to be fair, I barely mentioned it…)

Towards the end of the set, I got a couple of urgent-sounding texts from others telling me to get my tail over to the intimate and exclusive surroundings of the upstairs pub room for Sweet Baboo before they closed the doors. An anxious trot across town sufficed and saw me safely bounding upstairs, hailed cheerfully from the bar and a beer thrust in my hand, as the band struck up. A feeling of enormous well-being rushed across my ruddy cheeks and for a moment I honestly felt like I was in a Bacardi Breezer advert. What a life!

Sweet Baboo didn’t disappoint, adding drummer Rob Jones from the excellent Surfing Magazines (who had sounded great the evening before from the warmth of the wine tent), and playing a selection of chart-topping favourites from his previous couple of records, particularly his latest, Wild Imagination. It was actually a very similar sort of occasion from when I saw him in the Prince Albert in Stroud a few years back – boisterous, funny and amiable.

The recordings are also pretty boisterous, stood as I was by the bar, flushed with well-being and generally “in my cups”, but all the better for it I’d say.

Clear Blue Skies

Lost Out on the Floor

The second song isn’t on Wild Imagination but was introduced as being his attempt at making an Abba / Chic style floor-filler that was rejected by the record company but was available as part of a sausage vending machine promotion in Cardiff, and therefore possibly “the best song ever released on sausage”.

Unlikely as this might sound…

Generous of lyric, Jehovah’s Witness

Nearly October, and doesn’t Summer seem a long time ago?

(After some thought, I’ve decided to break with tradition completely – in fact I’m establishing a whole new tradition. No more starting posts with abject apologies about how long it’s been since I last posted. It’s dull, right? And I was always taught not to apologise if you don’t mean it. So from now on, I’m going to start each post with some sort of trite platitude, quite possibly about the weather, or with a commonplace but penetrating observation about the absurdity of modern life. It’ll be fine…)

So, doesn’t Summer seem a while ago?

Last time I posted, I was licking my metaphorical lips about the prospect of the first festival for a while. Well, Sea Change came and went and was rather jolly. Saw some bands, enjoyed some good company, drunk some beer and made some recordings. Pretty much what the doctor ordered and all very nice.

Drinking and chatting aside, the main draw for the weekend was the chance to see a genuine legend.

Damo Suzuki, Sea Change

You’ll of course know that Damo Suzuki was the exceptional and idiosyncratic vocalist of great (and getting greater) German band, Can, singing in English, German, Japanese and at times an indeterminate other tongue. Leaving the band after Future Days, he spent ten years doing, erm, other stuff before returning to music ten years later. Similar to the (scarcely believable) time Arthur Lee turned up at Gloucester Guild Hall, another fairy-tale figure gracing a West Country stage was something I wouldn’t want to have missed.

Sea Change was rather fine – a couple of lovely little venues and one larger one, a crowded but friendly Totnes and a series of charming sets that made for a lovely warm and companionable weekend.

Actually, the whole “gracing a West Country stage” thing started somewhat less than auspiciously. This apparently was the first year that Sea Change had brought in an out-of-town stage, “a short bus ride” away in Dartmouth, I would imagine in order to put on one or two slightly larger acts. In the event, the large marquee tent that was promised failed to materialise (burnt down, I was told) and the stage stood shivering and alone in a field as the predictable festival rain set in. To a soft-as-shite middle aged chump, it felt like all the Green Mans I’d ever been to.

Fortunately, a large wine tent was available for shelter, and by the time Damo came on, I felt sufficiently fortified to venture out and see what the old eccentric had to offer. And it was quite eccentric…

Coming on stage without addressing a fair crowd of robust, wine-soaked punters, he started less than promisingly with a series of gruff inarticulate noises that sounded a bit like Louis Armstrong doing that Tibetan throat singing.

Looks were exchanged…

Fortunately, his band, redoubtable Japanese noise artists Bo Ningen, started to come in at about the 3 or 4 minute mark and as a discernible jig began to unfold, the whole performance began to take shape and make a little more sense. I frankly didn’t know what to make of Damo but as Bo Ningen started to strike up the whole thing began to sparkle. By the end, the whole spectacle had become thrillingly hypnotic.

If Damo Suzuki is a bit of a one, Bo Ningen were also a pretty thorny bunch. They provided Damo with sheets and pulses of impermeable sound, behind and beneath him, but at the same time brought enough of a Can-ish groove to the performance for one or two adventurous souls to start moving at the front of the stage. They were an enthralling and shaggy bunch to watch as well, with bassist Taigen Kawabe particularly hard to tear your eyes from, both spidery and weirdly erotic at the same time.

(It wasn’t until I was back in the winey fug of the beer tent that another punter referred to these weird, genderless creatures in the masculine. I’d kind of thought they were all women. To be fair, this… This is certainly the Twenty First Century…)

After one forty minute song, an exhausted Damo brought the performance to an end, saying that there’d be an intermission but they they’d be back soon. The second number was pretty much the same as the first and, the spell having been broken, we wondered happily back off to the car. Damo had been fun, but Bo Ningen had been astonishing and as I clambered back into a friend’s Beetle, I left feeling more than a little Bo-curious… (I thang you…)

This is a family Blog, so I’ll spare you the whole performance, but I think you might manage 13 minutes or so, no?

Damo Suzuki & Bo Ningen, Sea Change

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