Have you done a pinger? You have, haven’t you?

So, this was meant to be the second part of a post about a terrific evening at SWX a fortnight ago, a companion piece to the post I wrote about Snapped Ankles. The impish Green Men from East London had scampered off a smoke-jewelled stage, leaving a stunned and excited group of lairy punters and I must admitted I feared a little for the Beak boys – how do you begin to follow that?

Beak, SWX, Bristol

(I’ve just realised that other Bloggers and reviewers use the mysterious “>” character after “Beak” – I’m not going to do that, it’s too late for me now and I’m doubling down on not holding any truck with that sort of nonsense…)

This was, of course, a hometown gig for Geoff Barrow and pals, and from the get-go there was a pretty relaxed, confident air about their set. They were like wayward teenagers coming home from uni, unrepentant, without explanations, feet on the sofa, bag of washing by the stairs. We asked no questions, like proper modern parents, and made it clear we were just pleased to see them. They goofed about onstage, interacted with the punters (“Have you done a pinger? You have, haven’t you? He’s done a pinger!”) swore immoderately and banged out an effortless set of hearty, wibbly krautrock that sounded absolutely fine to these ears.

Here’s a video shot in Manchester last year which gives you a feel of the evening, but doesn’t quite capture the whole Brizzle-ness of the evening:

 

It was a much more raucous affair, driven firmly by Barrow’s tight, at times hefty drumming and despairing vocals, with seated bassist Billy Fuller (he didn’t actually have his teeth blacked out, but still…) weaving his way in out of Barrow, providing a busy and full background across which the reedy, wavering synths from Will Young’s corner wandered ethereally. Nervously intoxicating…

They’ve got a really strong set of seventies sci-fi-influenced songs which still work really well and I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever heard something so derivative work so well in a modern context – it’s like modern pop is really ready for what they do and must surely be kicking itself for not having thought of it sooner.  I loved, loved, loved it.

A real party atmosphere meant that there was a lot of noise in the hall, but not thick-headed chumps talking their way through the set, more like groups of tipsy souls having great fun, unable to contain their spirits, in the sure knowledge that no one else would mind (even this old prudish curmudgeon). To be honest, it’s such a muscular, industrial sound Beak have that, frankly, you could’ve driven a combine into the hall and I don’t think too many would’ve noticed.

Highlights of the set were a particularly dashing but brutal version of “Wulfstan II” and the entrancing folk horror of “When We Fall”, with some genuinely witty banter to introduce it.

The recordings are … atmospheric but still for all that, some of the best I think I have, and it’s in that spirit I’m giving you a couple, including a very noisy “Allé Sauvage”, simply because it’s a quivering banger, my favourite track on the latest record:

Allé Sauvage

Wulfstan II

When We Fall

I’m breathlessly excited listening to these again, you really should give them a listen (I tell you I’ll not be responsible for my actions…)

Sucka-sucka-sucka tailpipe!

I’ve just come back from Sea Change in Totnes, a mixed weekend of great music, pretty average organisation and cracking company, with a recorder full of tunes and a bit of a hangover…

It does mean I’m a little behind on a few things here, and tempting as it might be to go straight to a warm Sunday afternoon with Gruff, I’m going to keep things strictly in order, demonstrating the discipline and self-control for which this Blog has become a byword.

Which means this first…

Snapped Ankles, SWX Bristol

This is nothing to do with Sea Change. And technically, Snapped Ankles were actually the support band last Monday evening, backing up booming hometown boys, BEAK, in what I reckon must be one of the very best double bills I think I’ve ever seen. I’ll go on to the BEAK stuff next post (they were terrific) but right now I’ll focus my laser-like eye on East London’s foremost woodland folk / motoric ensemble.

This interview here suggests a whole more thoughtful side to a gang of hormone-busting urchins of which I was completely unaware as a mysterious troupe of costumed figures picked their way across the SWX stage veiled in dry ice. Completely unrecognisable beneath ski googles and shamanistic forest masks (an anonymity that extends to interviews and all publicity), they certainly made something of an entrance, before launching hell-for-leather into a pretty brutal set that went through most of their new record, Stunning Luxury.

The interview suggests that the record is some sort of protest about developers stomping all over rehearsal spaces in the Capital – I’m not really sure where the curious wicker men look comes into this – but to be honest I’m not buying it. Personally, I prefer to believe they’re a bunch of over-excited youngsters dressing up and smashing the hell out of all manner of electronic gizmos, enjoying the buzz they get from sounds their gear was surely not designed to make. You can say what you like about tribal rhythms, I just think they’re having a whale of a time, making it as uncomplicated as they possibly can whilst muddying things to impossible degrees with as many pedals, wires and processors as they can lay their grimy fingers on. Smashing fun…

You should probably watch at least part of this…

 

Lawks!

It was relentless, dizzying and got murkier as the evening went on. By the time their set was over, you could barely see them slinking ghoulishly from the stage because of the vast amounts of swirling, murky algae smoke flowing from the stage.

I’ve got a couple of recordings which are good and certainly capture the sound of the evening but which can do no justice to the sheer exhilarating weirdness of a Snapped Ankles set.

Tailpipe / True Ecology

I Want My Minutes Back

As the boys left the stage, we were left thinking “How on earth are Beak gonna match that?” and I’ll let you know in the next post.

(Spoiler: They smashed it…)

Sometimes four things can be going on at once…

An engaging first for me this week…

Rubén, my Asturian pal, who once a week in the pub listens uncomplainingly to my painful Spanish and makes courteous suggestions, had a hankering to see some live music and hauled me over for my debut appearance at the Cheltenham Jazz festival on Friday. Not really my cup of tea, thinks I, but utterly unable to express thirty years of a troubled relationship with jazz in schoolboy Spanish, I opted for “Sure, why not?”

We were actually up for tickets to see Georgie Fame, which I quite fancied (for old time sake, Twenty Beat Classics was a much-loved early acquisition of mine back in the day) but we dithered and unfortunately missed out. So, at random, we picked out a band we’d neither of us heard of…

Partisans, Parabola Arts Centre

I’d not heard of the Parabola Arts Centre either, which turns out to be some sort of concert hall for the Cheltenham Ladies College, but it’s a pretty little venue, immaculately swathed in dark wood and leather furnished seats. And the sound was really excellent. (It was certainly a far cry from my usual haunts – no sticky floors and pillars; no haunting sound of a beer bottle being tossed into a bin; no glimpse of a shaggy-maned Big Jef at the front – all very genteel. I could get used to it…)

Partisans have been around for 24 years (who knew?) and are apparently genuine Post Jazz commandos, plying their gawky trade all over world to general fizz and acclaim (there’s a great interview with them here – in the ominously named All About Jazz magazine). Consisting of a revved up guitarist, an impressively coifed saxophonist, electric bassist and busy, busy drummer, they ploughed through a dizzying set that from the first nimble skips of the bass blew asunder my silly reservations about being at a jazz concert. It was clearly going to be more Sun Ra than Georgie Fame.

It was a genuinely exciting set, goaded along by a ridiculously tight & loose rhythm section and powered by the occasional wah-wah and often fuzzed up guitar of Phil Robson. The recordings don’t quite bear witness to this, but at times it made me think of what I imagine the Third-era Soft Machine might’ve been like (before Wyatt exited, taking his zany genius with him).

The best tracks were a lot of fun, sounding modern and trad at the same time – each song swooping and summersaulting through distinct phases, twisting around traditional riffs and into bafflingly oblique passages that made the senses and scalp tingle.

Here’s a clip from the Montreux Jazz Festival a few years back, sounding more than a little Beefheart-y:

 

Sometimes, we were reminded that this was, when all’s said and done, still a jazz evening, and it did get a little dreary but at such times you can always focus on the drummer. Jazz drummers are an absorbing watch, generally much more interesting than rock drummers, and this was certainly true of Gene Calderazzo, a New Yorker with a fidgety, busy style and the low boredom threshold that marks his kind – he simply would not stay on the same shift for long and was constantly adding new fills and patterns. As well as all this, he could also maintain a different rhythm with all four limbs. Astonishing stuff. (His partner in rhythm is bass player Thad Kelly, who was  terrific too. Could there be any more Be Bop names than Thad and Gene?)

A strictly-curated hour-long set was over a little too soon for some, but for me it was about right, my attention was starting to wander – any longer and it might have started to chafe.

Here’s the opening two tracks from the evening…

Max / That’s Not His Bag

But if you play that for an hour you will continually hear new things …

Well, I’ve had another unnervingly good weekend, how was yours?

If last weekend yielded the headiest of double-headers (Pigs x7 and a Gloucester/Northampton clash), this weekend has been just as good, possibly better. And now I think of it, the pattern of blessings laid down then was pretty much how it’s unfolded this weekend too. Again, a famously thrilling recovery and win for Gloucester – its’ the Big One, some of the people I stand with consider their season made or destroyed by this game… (but again I’m sure you’ve watched and re-watched the highlights enough times, and like me you’re basking in the afterglow of the Cherry & Whites being once again The Best Team in the Land).

Anyway, eschewing the siren charms of the Fountain, the Cross Keys or the Pelican, a mere forty minutes later I could be found me hurtling (footling, maybe) down the M5 for a charming evening spent in the distinguished company of Terry Riley.

Terry Riley, St George’s

I’m definitely no expert on Terry Riley. My introduction to his works has been startlingly late – I think I was quite literally unaware of him a year ago – my curiosity was only really piqued watching the “Tones, Drones and Arpeggios” series of programmes on BBC4 last Autumn. I loved his idea of notes shifting and changing in relation to each other, and the way that his compositions change and can be performed with different rules for different occasions.

Fascinating stuff, all of it, but Riley comes in at about 20 minutes.

But aside from this (and a growing love of A Rainbow in Curved Air), I had not much idea of what to expect from the evening as I ambled in through the fine (new?) entrance of St George’s.

If Lee Perry was a scarcely believable 82 years old, I should perhaps point out that Riley would have been a full two years ahead of him at High School (now I think of it, I’m very much attracted to the idea of a High School that could house both men – one, a crazy maverick who would spend days on end in a darkened studio, creating new musical worlds with tape machine and reefer, the other, Lee “Scratch” Perry).

And, to be fair, wrinkly eyed and silver bearded, he did look every bit the octogenarian as he crept uncertainly onstage with son Giyan by his side. Clearly life continues to sparkle and glow in his mind and nimble fingers, however, as he spent the next two hours skipping and twirling through a series of enchanting compositions, mostly on keyboard (although there were a couple of appearances from a magnificently reedy melodica) and imaginatively accompanied by son on guitar.

If I hadn’t quite known what to expect before the performance started, I was at least imagining that the evening might be a bit challenging, a bit modernist. There was certainly one lengthy piece that was Kluster-esque in its awkwardness, played by fingertip on something that looked like a set of electronic steel drums (but almost certainly wasn’t). There’s a clip of it, here, (I think) on YouTube:

 

But a lot of the evening was made up of playful improvisations, led by the probing insistence of Riley’s keyboard and coloured enthusiastically by surreal guitar fills from Giyan Riley, with occasional vocal interventions in a Native American style. Sometimes, the compositions meandered, sometimes they coursed forward with purpose and direction. All of it was performed with relish and a sense of joy. I don’t think he addressed his audience once (there was one apologetic aside from Gyan) but I never felt he was aloof, It was a giddy, friendly, captivating and occasionally jazzy feast.

I’ve got some quite nice recordings of the evening, although I have absolutely no idea of names – I’ve tried to disguise this lack of knowledge by taking the post-modernistic approach of numbering rather than naming them. Of course, if anyone knows better…

No 2

No 4

It’s a snake with a line, a shape with only one eye!

Whoo-hoo! The Easter holidays have well and truly begun!

Teachers around the country can lie in, loaf about and generally look back sheepishly at the days when they thought they were going to have to get a real job.

Usually this is the cue for scenes of modest revelry – possibly even a trip to the pub on a Tuesday night, but this Easter has begun with myself and fellow-traveller Coleser jumping into a car, zig-zagging across the country in search of the full range of sybaritic delights the East Midlands can offer. With his customary eye for the deal, Coleser had spotted that not only were Gloucester due to play that Sunday in Northampton, a town where we have friends who could be persuaded to put us up for a night; but also this lot of grubby hooligans were due to play there the night before.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Esquires, Bedford

We probably should get this out of the way, first – the name, it’s just daft, a pain in the arse, and not the only thing about the band that I don’t really get (and I’d be adrift without Coleser’s ingenious nursery-rhyme-themed way of counting off the “pigs”).

In what’s becoming something of a recurring theme, I was not really familiar with the porcine oeuvre, excepting the odd (ultimately unsuccessful) foray onto YouTube. The impression I was left with was that this was lead-lined, heavy, heavy music.

A gig’s a gig, though, eh? And we rocked up at what may turn out to be my only visit to Bedford’s foremost indie venue, with hope in the heart and a ticket in the pocket – and let me tell you, friends, life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. In times of national humiliation and chicanery, a Gig is, refreshingly, still most definitely a Gig.

Support band Blóm were kind of fun, exploiting the full freedom a limited pallet of bass, drums and shouting can offer, with a number of nervy forays into the audience that involved mic wires trailing provocatively over and around feet, in a health & safety nightmare that had me looking around anxiously for some of those yellow floor signs – “Caution! Screaming in Progress!”

Shambling on, to the eager tones of the Grandstand theme, Pigs x7 were soon among us, though. The sound was as heavy and blunt as I’d imagined and was somehow intensified by the deadening effect of a man with the cloth ears that thirty years gig-going will give him. It was exhilarating but pretty one paced – all a bit Black Sabbath without “Paranoid”, Motorhead without the silliness. At their most successful, they sounded like a sedated T Rex, but there was not really enough humour about them to maintain this. I’d been promised dark scenes of reckless abandon in the mosh-pit – men tearing their shirts off and losing all semblance of discretion – which didn’t quite materialise. There were moments, for sure, but nothing that made me fear for my safety.

Chubby frontman, Matt Baty led the battery with bare-chested enthusiasm and an ill-advised line in mic-lead S&M poses (again… will nobody think of the health & safety implications?), but there wasn’t a lot of texture in the set, no light and shade over the course of the evening – pretty much just shade. I’d been hoping for some ironic, Ripley Johnson –style motorik behind it all…

It was actually a better night than I think I’m making it sound – there are few experiences as electrifying as the feel of the floor thrumming beneath your feet or the sense of your ears weakening at every touch of the bass player’s fingers on nylon.

I do have a couple of recordings for you, the first and last songs of the night, which I am reliably informed are the Pigs x7 “hits”. I’ve not tried to clean them up, they remain beguilingly grimy (x7)

GNT

A66

[Oh, and to complete a cracking weekend, a patched-up Glaws team with a scrum half at full back, an inside centre at fly half and a flanker on the wing, held on for a famous win at Franklin’s Gardens. But you knew that already, right?]

Thank you for coming, thank you for going…

In another strange “World Comes to my Doorstep” moment, a genuine rock legend turned up at our special old Guildhall this week. Legendary producer, co-inventor of a whole genre, native of the galaxies, notorious arsonist and truly erratic genius Lee “Scratch” Perry showed up in my hometown.

The strangest of strange privileges.

Lee Perry, Guildhall

In these sort of events, I tend to worry self-consciously about a poor turnout and in what fashion the great and the worthy will be treated by the feckless citizens of my hometown, but I didn’t need to, of course. The chambers were pretty much full and the welcome was enthusiastic. In fact, the demographic was pretty strange – possibly the whitest, baldest gig I’ve been to for ages, with a good few middle-aged chaps who probably should know better, acting like they were indeed ina Kingston ghetto.

Pre-gig tweets (yes, he’s on Twitter) were a mixture of triumphant braggadocio (“MUSIC THAT HEALS YOUR SOUL, CLEARS YOUR HEAD, HEALS YOUR HEART AND LIFTS YOUR SPIRIT!”), photographs of his hairdresser and requests not to bring him greens (“BETTER TO BRING ME LITTLE MIRRORS THAT I ALWAYS USE TO DECORATE MY OUTFITS”) but in there he also named his band ERM (Easy Riddim Maker). At times, they looked a little like a Chuck Berry-style pick up band but were on the whole pretty tight, and were into their third number before Perry paraded onstage, resplendent in gold-braided admiral’s jacket, pink hair and beard and mirror-decorated cap.

In truth, he did look a little slower and older than the last time I saw him but as he’s now an unlikely 82 years old, clearly we’re just glad he’s here and still out there (in all senses). He sauntered through a few almost lucid songs at first but warmed up gradually.

In the end we were treated to a wholehearted and comfortably grooved set of unique takes from a man who was there. There were a few kung fu kicks, some malarkey with a lighter and the occasional break down in communications with his band, but an overall sense of warmth from the stage and from the punters. He’d played for about an hour and a half before he moseyed offstage singing “Thank you for coming, thank you for going, in Jesus’ name…”

Police & Thieves

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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