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

I was already claimed by the song that I heard…

There are few things better (and here I’m including fine wine, suitcases of cash and the love and respect of your fellow man) than a chum unexpectedly telling you he has a ticket for a gig with your name on it.

Yee-haw!

And thus was a humdrum Thursday transformed into something just a little bit special when my mate Adam texted me the news that a ticket for previously unknown-to-me act the Barr Brothers did indeed literally have my name written on it (in a metaphorical sense).

At Thekla too… a blessed and fortunate man, for sure.

The Barr Brothers, Thekla

I’d heard of the Barr Brothers without actually being moved to search them out at any point. And I probably did have time to do a bit of pre-gig research but, in the spirit of the day, I spurned the opportunity and took the DExEu line, breezing into the hall without notes, grinning stupidly at other punters as they struggled beneath the weight of their prep. This approach continues to work well for many but has also served me well in the past – the Lemon Twigs and Meilyr Jones spring to mind. Expectation levels were moving towards unrealistically high levels.

Thekla has apparently had something of a refurb recently, and the old tub was indeed looking grand, resplendent in a fresh coat of black paint, pipework looking ever more random, the floor triumphantly unstickied. I love Thekla, unfeasibly and with some heart (the head says “Fleece” but the heart, well, it wants what it wants); and it’s always gratifying when a band (usually American) is also a little bit giddy at the prospect of playing on a… you know … boat.

The little thinking I had done about the evening had me envisioning the Barr Brothers as some sort of goodtime bluegrass boys – beards, booze and banjos – but now I’ve done a little googling, I see little could be further from the truth. Brad and Andrew Barr are proper brothers and are in fact Montreal-based. No banjos, no beards, a mug of coffee, as it turned out. Brad writes and leads the songs, Andrew provides light and wristy accompaniment on drums. A bassist and a deliciously skilful pedal steel guitarist join them on stage, plus today a two-man brass section, but the third member of the band is actually harpist Sarah Pagé who apparently no longer tours (which was a shame) but is still active in the songwriting and recording.

Opening songs were strong and a little rough around the edges with some wonderful keening touches from that pedal steel player (Brett Lanier, as you’re asking – he was great, although on a tight leash most of the time – once or twice I thought he was on the point of going off all Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but regrettably kept his discipline). A good few of the songs featured some tough old Jason Molina-style break-outs on guitar from Brad Barr which became full-on howling feature points (all of it accompanied by furious eyebrow work). He also did this weird thing with loose strings on his guitar, conjuring them high and coaxing odd layers of sound from them like a Theremin – I’d not seen anything like it before – and by the end there was some backward guitar looping too (go figure…).

Barring a lengthy blues work out that overstayed its welcome at the two-minute mark, the rest of the set was by turns tight and sloppy, blunt and incisive, and buzzed with a zesty melancholy. It was really very good and I felt moved in a feckless act of heady flamboyance to buy both the CDs available at the merch stall (their 2nd and 3rd records, Sleeping Operator and Queens of the Breakers). I may still grow to love them but right now they sound a little over-produced and currently have been tossed carelessly on the back seat of the car, some Somali goofiness having usurped their place in the stereo (I probably need to sort this).

The live recordings, though, are much harsher and all the better for it, I reckon.

These were my favourites:

Look Before It Changes (some gorgeous Midlake-style electronics from Lanier here)

Come in the Water (apologies for the yelping ninny in the audience who “joins in” whilst Barr does his own nifty wah-wah pedal work)

Song That I Heard

A lovely night, all the better for its unexpectedness…

They Gots Beef

Emusic’s been down for a couple of days (cue furious ranting from folk on the message board and a general fear that this Blog’s music provider of choice has finally gone under – it’s going to happen one day…) but this has meant that I’ve not recently bought anything much new. In fact, I’ve been forced to fall back on the sparse resources I’ve built up over a mere 40 years of obsessive music procurement.

This has actually been fun – I’ve been dousing myself liberally in Pere Ubu, the TV Personalities and the splendid brilliance of the Soft Boys (Underwater Moonlight, is definitively in my Top Five) – and has synched neatly with my reading Peter Hook’s book about his time in Joy Division. I’ve therefore had a perversely miserable time this week re-acquainting myself with Unknown Pleasures.

I couldn’t help but be struck by how much the record fitted in perfectly with so many of today’s indie-releases but at the same time felt like opening a musty, monochrome time-capsule from my teen years – even as a middle-class lad growing up in the West, it still evokes the smell of municipal gloom and crumbling warehouses which it’s easy to forget existed in the seventies and eighties (Gloucester Docks anyone?). What times…

Impossible to conceive of this group of dayglo ninnies in times like those.

The Evil Usses

I think I mentioned the Evil Usses before, in my Here Lies Man post, with rash undertakings to return to them Very Soon. If you were hanging on, eagerly awaiting the promised lines, well, I commend you for your youthful optimism and maybe this post will afford you a few more days of wide-eyed hopefulness…

Yes, so Bristol’s Evil Usses supported Here Lies Man on a cold Sunday afternoon in March, the original Friday evening date having been suspended because of heavy snowfalls. Very odd to be walking into a pub of a Sunday afternoon with all the familiar anticipation that a dose of live music still gives this old chap, and as myself and Coleser did so, the slightly surreal feeling was hardly alleviated by the absolute racket coming from the stage area.

Evil Usses had already started and were lumbering and honking through a truly bizarre set of “rocky notjazz, jazzy notrock” that confused and amused by turns. The Evil Usses are a sax/synth-guitar-bass-drums four-piece with clear Beefheart / Zappa love and an ear for squelchy disruption.

Watch this…

 

 

(As was pointed out, you know it’s left-field when even Big Jeff loses the thread)

There were no vocals and nothing lyrical about them at all, just a dollop of saucy smart-aleckery played at enthusiastic volume and a determination to play at at least one step’s divorce from anything else you’re going to hear this week. I should qualify the Beefheart thing, though – they’re a swinging version, more like a post-funk Magic Band (and I’m not talking about the Captain’s own rather creepy, insecure attempts to make a seventies “pop” record). It was enormous fun and left me grinning foolishly to myself until Here Lies Man came on and did their thing.

Despite Coleser’s prudent counsel (I have “form” in this area…), I snuck off to the merch stall and bought what turns out to be the second Evil Usses record, Amateur Pro Wrestling, and I’m glad I did – it’s not quite as exhilaratingly daft as that afternoon’s set, but certainly a fun listen. Turns out their eponymous debut and their just-released third, Muck, are both available on the newly restored Emusic (the latter characteristically mislabelled) and I’ve just spent a blissful Sunday afternoon immersed in their goofy genius…

I also have a couple of recordings from the set, which I’d like to think capture some of anarchic enthusiasm of the afternoon.

Buzz Gots Beef

Grouse

Wellard J Fowler

You’d also be well advised to pay a visit to the band’s Soundcloud page which is full to bursting with tracks and outtakes.

Ridiculous…

I’m not a kid, and you’re not a baby

This is poor, even by my laggardly standards…

Six (yep, six), weeks ago, I went down to The Lantern in Colston Hall to see the dazzling and always rewarding Field Music, and then, apparently fell asleep at the wheel. To be fair, I was convinced I had written a post, uploaded a few recordings and, starting off on another jaunt to Madrid, had very much filed this under “dealt with”. Imagine my surprise…

Hmm. I’m listening to my recording of the evening now to try to regain a little of the frisson and some of the exhilaration of another evening in the company of The Best Band in Britain. And maybe… just maybe…

Think very hard, people, and maybe we can achieve one of those surely not credible time-ripples employed on children’s TV shows to such great effect.

Field Music, The Lantern

Imagine a younger, less grizzled PP, still in possession of a full head of hair – naïve, hopeful, yet to be brought low by the cares and vicissitudes of a pitiless world. Simpler times.

It was under circumstances pretty much similar to these that I found myself alongside a similarly youthful, sable and care-free Coleser, both of us as giddily expectant as any right-thinking man would be, awaiting the arrival of the Brewis brothers. I think I’ve seen them five times now, and it’s still a uniquely assured experience – you know you’re not going to be disappointed.

The new album, “Open Here”, is another entertaining, ambitious and complex affair, with a few straight up, near political statements that confirm the band’s status (if it were ever in doubt) as a couple of Life’s Good Guys.

And so it came across onstage.

Seventy five minutes of apparently effortless precision – noisy bonhomie, fidgety riffing and general goofing around with time signatures. I may be imagining it, but I felt there was something of a leap in confidence in the performance – there was none of the apologetic, almost disbelieving, gratefulness at the audience reaction. It looked to me like it may have recently dawned on the lads that they have a hell of a product; a genuine gifting.

And also, by now, a pretty devoted following. There was a time when I feared for the boys, imagining that grinding under-appreciation and lack of cash might do for them, but actually I don’t worry about it anymore. They look like a band secure in the knowledge that they’re doing it right and that people know they are. They looked happy, secure and confident in a load of good songs and in particular a great new record.

The minutes flashed by and the announcement that they were now on their last song was greeted with puzzled disbelief as a group of enchanted punters, collectively looked at their watches and scratched their heads.

Many, many highpoints, but I give you a couple of sparklers from “Open Here” and their “big hit” of yesteryear (as if…)

Count It Up

Disappointed

No King No Princess

Such a band…

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

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…

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