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…

You wanna do what? You wanna do what?

Evening, all.

There are a couple of ways we can approach the iffy subject of another extended absence from my post. And in best post-modern conventions, I’ll let you form your own conclusions (if you haven’t already…) We could, for instance, say that I’ve been over-extending myself in the dizzying world of work, fingers to the bone etc. (charming though the image of me swanning around like Hugh Grant smoking cheroots and drinking absinthe, may indeed be, I do actually have a job and domestic staff to pay…). Alternatively, we can venture down the “Phew! Rock And Roll!” route and wave off your (justifiable) protestations, with a foppish wave of the hand and a few off-hand, barely caught words about near-constant ligging and a particularly heavy week of burning the candle at both ends and then blow-torching it from the middle.

As I say, there’s truth where you seek it (and in any case, truth? Who needs it?)

Anyway, after months of anticipation, I stole (softly through snow) down to the Fleece last week to see this chap – a genuine living legend of the Rock circus.

John French, The Fleece

Although he’s billed it as an evening with the Magic Band, French himself acknowledges that this is a little steep, there being by now just the one member of Beefheart’s long-suffering troupe of freaks still on the circuit, and therefore this has been denoted a Farewell Tour, my last chance to see the man who did so much to bring us the music of Captain Beefheart. He looked pretty dapper to me and was genuinely up for it, so whether this really is the end of a very strange journey indeed remains to be seen. But it was good enough for me (in the words of the song) and the deal was done…

The Fleece was pleasingly packed full of balding, whiskery old gits and the merch stall in particular looked a little like a Furry Freak Brothers convention. No support band, just two substantial sets from French and his band of young acolytes, who certainly knew their Beefheart and threw themselves into what must be one of the more difficult songbooks in music. An evening of refreshingly awkward music ensued, running from Safe as Milk right through to Doc at the Radar Station, Shiny Beast featuring heavily. Highlights were a galumphing “Bat Chain Puller”, a snorting, sooty “Click Clack” and four awkward buggers from Trout Mask Replica.

French led from the front, hooting, growling and howling his way through the evening in appropriately lupine fashion. He threw in some blues harp and a heap of suitably demented, van Vliet warblings on sax. He did do a spell behind his kit, too, which was a real treat, his shuffling, stuttering style always a genuinely exhilarating and interesting listen.

I’ve spoken before about his revealing, uncomfortable biography “Through the Eyes of Magic” and I think talked about French’s remarkably forgiving nature, given Beefheart’s treatment of him – he re-joined the Magic Band on more than one occasion, even after having been physically thrown out of the house, post Trout Mask Replica. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that he could’ve done with being a little more steely with his band – the twin guitars of Eric Klerks and Max Kutner occasionally threatened to take over, going over all White Denim at times. Not sure the good Captain would’ve put up with it. (Although nothing a six month stay at the Trout House and a cupful of lentils a day wouldn’t put right…)

To be fair, French is now 69 and playing two full sets plus spending the interval at the merch stall, he could certainly be forgiven for taking the odd breather while the young pups played.

It was a great evening, one which found me pinching myself at times to be sure that I was really there; an evening I will remember for a very long time. John French, in his role as facilitator of the one of the weirdest, most ambitious records of all time, is to my mind one of yer actual Sixties legends, whose position as such is rarely recognised because of the vast, glowing shadow he stood in.

Have a listen to the samples here, they’re not bad at all and, I’m afraid, as close as we’re going to get to those strangest of times…

Bat Chain Puller

My Human Gets Me Blues

Click Clack

Dropout Boogie

Everybody knows, that you’ve been untrue

As Glaws suffer another (historic) drubbing in Salford, my thoughts – never the most robust – drift towards the maudlin…

If, God forbid, I was to pack up now and meet an insalubrious end over a half-marked pile of Maths books or putting away grassy netballs in an ill-lit PE shed, well, let’s just say I’d not really have my papers in order. Pension provision: patchy. Tax affairs: still unresolved. General final arrangements: yet to be put in place. Most alarming of all, I’ve still (still!) not settled on my All-time Top Ten Albums.

I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but suffice to say, I’ve not really made much progress… Inexplicably, this band’s oft-neglected masterpiece has somehow never put up its hand.

The Flamin’ Groovies, the Fleece

As an older bloke, you have a little more money and the CDs come and go – thick, fast and with a little less gravitas than in the days of youth. As a teenager, you have no money and the records you do get hold of you hold onto hard, listening to them with a fury and determination you never match later on. I can remember as, say, an 18-year-old I probably only bought a handful of records – Forever Changes, 5D, Closer, Nuggets, The Velvet Underground & Nico, Smash Hits (and a few others I do not care to share with you at this point). And the Groovies’ wonderful Shake Some Action.

Some of those records haven’t aged as well as others but Shake Some Action still sounds as fresh and world-weary as it always did. Packed full of light but scuzzy Beatles-y pop songs that turned out to be a full ten or fifteen years out of time – too late for the Beat Explosion, too old for the punks. Graceful, crafted and grimy.

To be fair, very little else of their output gets anywhere near it – most of their other records are pretty much standard rock‘n’roll and 12-bar blues Of course many other bands did quite nicely out of doing exactly that but not the Groovies – I don’t think they even found a niche on the pub rock circuit. Who knows?

So, all in all, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I eagerly snapped up tickets on the announcement of a UK tour, back in the Spring – not the least because I had a ticket to see them in Barcelona on holiday a few years back. Then, the euphoria lasted less than 24 hours when news came out that the gig was cancelled with Cyril Jordan in hospital.

There was a pretty good turnout at Bristol’s favourite gummy-floored rock venue, with a smattering of younger faces and even a few ladies amongst the sea of battered leather and feathery hair loss. Thankfully, Jordan looked in pretty good shape, boldly dapper in some sort of polka dot (or possibly cake pattern?) shirt and still in possession of the most San Fran of all haircuts, parted defiantly in the middle. Buddy Chris Wilson looking a little more middle-aged, lead most of the evening taking most of the vocal duties and the occasional guitar lead.

As the opening notes of “You Tore Me Down” rang out across the floor, something of a shiver ran down my spine, and the arrival of the distinctively thin twin-vocals was genuinely memorable. Don’t mind admitting, I felt a little emotional.

I like to think it was a proper Groovies evening with jaded harmonies; effortless Berry-esque guitar breaks; a few sound problems, accompanied by some earthy language and an absolute wagonload of riffing. As well as being one of those “I never thought I’d see this” sort of nights, it was actually really good fun. There was a fair amount of reminiscing and story-telling between songs but also a couple of new ones played. (They were greeted with some good natured booes and a few laughs onstage but were actually OK. There’s a new record out – I was tempted…). But I counted three songs from Shake Some Action and a final run of “Teenage Head”, Shake Some Action”, “Slow Death” and “Jumpin’ in the Night” gives you an idea of the evening. A great night…

In these nervy days, you often get searched going in to gigs, so I’m not keen on taking my proper recorder. I do have some phone recordings, though, which are not quite as “warm” as the others but still pretty good and give a good account of a cracking evening.

You Tore Me Down

I Want You Bad

Slow Death

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