I don’t know if you can hear me…

I seem to be starting all my emails, texts and messages with “Well, this is weird, isn’t it?”

All the weirder for the fact that the sun’s out, our pond is stirring into life and signs of Spring are peeping coyly over the skyline. I’ve spent the morning in the garden, talking over the fence to neighbours (at a safe distance…), watching newts lolling about in the duckweed and generally feeling like I’m on holiday.

An extraordinary holiday, for sure, and one that scoffs unwisely at the probability that we’re most likely on the brink of something truly terrible. My heart goes out to all my friends who have relatives in Italy and Spain… Truly, we’re living through history.

You might be imagining that as a teacher, right now I’ve been lounging around all week in a smoking jacket, flicking playing cards into a top hat. But you see that’s just where you’d be wrong (this afternoon excepted…). As a freelancer, there’s all sorts of readjusting and rearranging I’ve been sorting through this week, not the least of which is the knotty business of learning how to use various video-conferencing apps and remote classroom tools (a problem that becomes near-Gordian when you have to explain it all to non-English speakers from your vantage point of a whole 2 days mastery…).

So pretty much like many other people, I guess (minus the Polish and Fula obviously)

There has, of course, been a constant soundtrack to all this, and the more I listen, the more apposite it seems…

 

My generation’s Byrds, they were.

A perfect song on an absolutely perfect album, that one day will be officially inducted onto The List.

(And somehow all the more perfect for being in front of a bunch of quizzical Australian kids…)

I’ll tell you something – you can dance till you don’t exist

In your laser-like scrutiny of these pages, some of you will have noticed (chiefly, I’d suggest, because I’ve told you) that periodically I go through something of a personal crisis as the realisation strikes me that despite being a gentleman of advancing years, I’m still yet to resolve the issue of my Top Ten Records. This is obviously something any self-respecting chap should consider a priority in these uncertain times. I’d imagined I would have had this pretty much nailed down, it’s not such a big ask, after all – your ten favourite records of all time, recorded faithfully in longhand amongst your personal papers, maybe neatly typed out, at the very least committed to memory in readiness for that decisive, in-your-cups conversation at the end of a long evening.

Yeah, well… about that.

You’ll have guessed, keen eyed marksman that you are, that this list is still not quite ready. I’ve always known three or four of them, but the rest of the spots are still unclaimed. It’s a poser, for sure

The good news is that there’s one less place to play for…

Barafundle

Having spent Sunday afternoon watching Gloucester’s slim chances of making the last eight in the Champions Cup disappear pretty quickly (dicked in the South of France), a knock on the door revealed some poor beleaguered feller delivering a couple of CDs. I’d almost forgotten that I’d spent some Christmas money from in-laws, hoovering up a bunch of reasonably-priced CDs by folk heroes Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. What a lovely surprise.

And this was also another issue I’d been meaning to address for a while, knowing as I do relatively little about Euros Child’s wunder-band. Apart from Barafundle, that is.

The band’s fourth album (if you count back from Gorky 5 – sixth if you include their cassette-only records, released while the band were, marvellously, still at school) has forced its way onto the only list that really matters. You’ll know all the stuff you need to know about Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci by now, I’d imagine, and if you don’t, well, you should probably sort that – I wouldn’t trust me to get it right for you.

Bursting with gentle, curious melodies, awkward lyrical turns and moments of straight genius, it’s a record that has charmed me for ages and now I’m thinking that way, it beats me why I’ve not written about it before. Time to step up.

A bumper package of sixteen songs by most bands might be a little intimidating but sixteen songs as complex, varied (and simple) as these, is perhaps the reason why I’ve never gone here.

There’s a bewildering variety of instruments (and musicians) used for starters – bodhran, violins, voila, flutes, jew’s harp, recorders, hurdy-gurdy, shawm (“a conical bore, double-reed woodwind instrument”, as you’re asking) and crumhorn (oh… look it up yourself…) are all credited (as is Euros’ and Megan’s father Lynn). The arrangements are increasingly complex as the record develops belying the “feel” of the record, which is endearingly simple and heartfelt.

There’s any number of favourite tracks I could pick out, frankly, but right now, I’m loving “Starmoonsun”, partly because it illustrates what I’ve just said about being complex and simple at the same time, and also because it features a fair few of those exotic instruments (and what sounds a lot like Stanley Unwin as the song fades out).

From the beguiling plinky-plunk of the plucked violins behind Child’s organ, through the harsh, earthy sound of what I’m guessing is the sound of the shawm, to the over-exuberant pixies on back vocals, it’s a gorgeous, twisty donkey ride.

The lyrics are light (but pretty) and are graced by a melody of actual, straight up genius (yep – it’s a hill I’m willing to die on), the passage where “and when you cry, there is no sky” dissolves into that shawm, brings a great big, soppy lump to my throat. Breath-taking…

It’s also one of the songs that illustrates what I’d say is another of the features of the whole record – it’s really organic. So many of the songs feel like they have grown independently, developing unexpected but entirely natural twists and diversions. I like to imagine that songs such as this one and others like “Pen Gawg Glas”, “Cursed, Coined and Crucified” and “The Wizard and the Lizard” might have taken on a whole wilful life of their own in the studio, musicians raising a quizzical eyebrow at the end of each session.

I’m also rather keen on Richard James’s beautiful, mystical “Sometimes the Father is the Son”. Led gently by Megan Childs’ insistent violin and accompanied (as in “kept company”) by James’ delicate guitar, you’re on a bit of a Lal Wateron-style journey of uneasiness, dressed gaily but awkwardly in pretty, pretty colours.

There’s quite a lot of this surface loveliness, veiled seductively over lyrics like “all that’s safe to hear, is collapsing around your ears”, only a cheap, cheap comfort afforded by the most beautiful of melodies. Richard James is behind so much of the prettiness of the whole record, I wonder how he put up with the craziness around him for so long.

Actually that’s another of the things I love about the record, and pretty much everything about Gorky’s – their relentless oddness. I’ve spoken before about how much I admire the Daevid Allens and Robert Wyatts of this world, defiantly (and even “deviantly” as I typed at first) garbed in the daftest of pixie hats and knitted gimp masks, while the rest of us smirk and poke fun. Much as I love Gruff Rhys and the other Great Welsh band of the nineties, I’m not sure whether their demented spark would have had such a jolt without the aid of bountiful supplies of stimulants (God bless them). The Gorky’s, on the other hand, would’ve sounded much the same with or without drugs. Their fundamental otherness comes from … I’ve no idea where.

I also love the gorgeous richness of “Better Rooms” with it’s almost New Testament hopefulness, it’s incoherent gasps and it’s clipped, brushed drumming, and of course, it’s Barret-esque lyrics (“the birds and trees they talk to me”)

I could go on (surely someone needs to be extolling the pervy virtues of “Barafundle Bumbler” or “Miniature Kingdom”) but I think I’ve probably tried your patience quite enough already.

The Internet is disappointingly thin on this period of Gorky’s but I’ll leave you with possibly the only clip from Jools Holland’s show that doesn’t involve boogie-woogie piano…

 

Enjoy. Marvel. Treasure.

It’s still a beautiful world…

Ten thousand years I fall in love, one thousand years I fail in love

Having daubed red crosses on the windows and employed a manservant to shuffle awkwardly around the estate with a hand bell, we’ve crawled gingerly out from the covers this last day or so, scratching ourselves and feeling a little less groggy. We’ve been something of a sick house for the last seven days or missed pretty much all of the week between Christmas and New Year, which is a massive shame – I look forward to those seven lazy, loafe-some days almost as much as the feasting…

But here we are, on the brink of a another loveless decade.

I can’t be arsed to do a review of the year (let alone the decade), mainly because … well, I can’t be arsed, but also because, you’ve had enough of all of this malarkey by now, I’m sure…

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the Modern English record (plus the various extras that have surfaced over the year); the Black Midi record was fine (but possibly not as great as their lean, haughty live set); also Amon Tobin’s Only Child Tyrant thing and Beak>’s last record (although I think that was last year).

Other than that the year has been soundtracked by a dizzying round of idiosyncratic nonsense from the Move, Sun Ra, Terry Riley and various Spanish artists (so pretty much like last year, then).

There was one lurid shaft of 2019 gold that has lit my way, though:

 

Proof that God still loves us…

She is burning for you some dreadful incense

Where to start?

It’s a relentlessly gloomy prospect stretching out in front of us. The dissemblers and card-sharks have done it. Despite being found out again and again, they’ve won over. Our childish, credulous nation has lifted its head from its zero-hours contracts and food banks and said, Yes, please, we’ll have some more of this. Five years of malice and asset-stripping lies before us and we find ourselves having to button up and brace ourselves for vicious winds, icy showers and shitty pavements.

(And if that sounds a little self-pitying, maybe you didn’t just watch Gloucester lose an 11-point lead in the last four minutes of a crucial European game.)

Or maybe you haven’t been listening to this…

Black Lesbian Fisherman

Forget the silly Gaye-Bikers-on-Acid name, and get ready for something very dark, indeed.

Black Lesbian Fisherman are some sort of Greek/British/US collective specialising in an atmospheric psychedelia that simply could not have come out of the nineties or the 000s – my thoughts maybe turned towards the maudlin at this moment but this month’s The Metaphysics of Natron feels a lot like a record for today’s uneasy times.

This slightly po-faced band bio from their Bandcamp page will fill in a few background details:

About the BLACK LESBIAN FISHERMEN…
ALAN TRENCH has been involved in experimental/left field music since the founding of World Serpent Distribution in the early 90s; his current projects include Howling Larsons & Temple Music. Brainwashed found ‘…ritualistic drone, String Band like avant-folk, and moments of blistering krautrock assaults…’
NIKOS FOKAS is an Athens based musician and sound designer. He is a member of Vault Of Blossomed Ropes, and recently released a solo album on Midira – ‘The Eternal Creak Of The Icebreaker.
R LOFTISS of Oklahoma’s Gray Field Recordings was described as “…a cohesive vision of folk, classical and experimental styles…” by The Unbroken Circle and “totally original and…absolutely haunting” by New York Music Daily.
STRATIS SGOURELLIS Drama based Stratis is a member of Vault Of Blossomed Ropes. With a background in punk and psychedelia, he moved into funk, jazz & improvised musicks and is now experimenting with electronic sounds.
STELIOS ROMALIADIS is the founder of LÜÜP, of whose album ‘The Canticles Of The Holy Scythe’ Metal Temple said: Darkness is sweeping across the land, as blood rituals are performed in the name of those you dare not speak of…

Helluva a lot of proper nouns there, none of which mean anything to me…

The record’s a pretty macabre set of eight recordings, most of which drift across stage ill-formed, discordant and eerie, with seemingly little purpose other than to unsettle the incautious listener. Have a listen to “To Sic a Goddess”

 

The previous record, 2015’s Ectopic Apiary (oh yes) is a somewhat lighter affair than this but obviously things have taken something of a turn…

The lyrics are hard to hear and harder to pin down, and R Loftiss’ singing (such as it is) comes from the whispered, plaintive Beth Gibbons school of distressed souls.

Happily (hmmm…) the lyrics are preserved for us on something called the Hermetic Library, and they’re predictably disturbing, listing the ingredients for some sort of jealous lover’s curse:

Dappled goat’s fat, blood, and filth
the heart of one untimely death of a dog
a woman’s embryo, skin of a doe
sour wheat husks, salt, and a single onion
mastic and myrtle, bay and barley
dog-faced baboon shit, crab claws, fig, and fruit pits

Mmm…

The shrouds of ambience billowing moodily around each piece are disorientating to say the least and some of the field recordings that circle the basslines are damn creepy.

Sitting in amongst all this desolation, you’ll also find an unlikely track like “Third Rubric” which while not exactly a banger, does feature some conventional drums, a beautifully reedy organ and some gloriously clanking twanging guitar. Something for everyone, really. Sort of…

All of which gives you something of a garishly gothic backdrop with which to drink yourself numb as you consider an increasingly hoary future…

 

Anda jaleo, jaleo!

I know…

It’s been a busy few weeks, to be fair. The Boy moving out of his flat and shipping off to the Smoke; some mostly self-induced stress at one of my jobs, a couple of new projects and a couple of torrid afternoons with the rugby football at Castle Grim. Not a moment to spare, I tell you…

But I’m here now and that’s what counts, no?

Although I’m sure there’ll be a good few sidling off pretty quickly when they see that for this post, I’m once again indulging my Spanish fixation…

I can’t remember if I’ve written about Josephine Foster before, I suspect not, chiefly because I blow a bit hot and cold with her fairly distinctive style and delivery – its feverish brittleness to the point of mania can be a bit of an “ask” at times. I can think of a few hysterical females and lugubrious males that repel and fascinate in equal measure whose appeal is fleeting but echoing (CocoRosie, Joanna Newsome, David Thomas Broughton, Alexander Tucker, I’m thinking of you…). Sometimes, I just can’t be doing with all that nonsense and others, well, fetch out the sackcloth, Miss Havisham…

And right now, I’m there.

Josephine Foster & the Victor Herrero Band

American guitarist/harpist, Josephine Foster has a bunch of pretty idiosyncratic projects under her belt, some of which I know and others I’m still tantalised by, including a psychedelic rock album and a collection of interpretations of the poems of genuine Mad Woman in the Attic, Emily Dickinson. From 2011, however, she spent some years living in Andalusia, studying the songs of Federico Garcia Lorca and digging deep into the sounds of Flamenco music.

Flamenco is still pretty much a closed book to this punter, (it’s hard not to remember the heyday of the Spanish package holiday in the seventies and the resulting “spots” on variety shows that dominated Saturday night viewing as a child), but the resulting two records, coming out jointly with her partner Victor Herrero, are honestly gorgeous affairs. The instrumentation is simple but, I suspect, technically brilliant and there is liberal use of clacking heels, abrupt stops and (FFS) even maracas.

But I’m strangely OK with all these much used Spanish tropes, mostly I imagine because of the keening, distraught style of Forster’s own vocals. It’s beguiling. I have a friend who started learning Spanish purely because of how beautiful the language sounded, and listening to these songs, I can really see it. (His own Spanish – way better than mine – is not quite as beautiful, drenched as it is in his broad Glawster tones…)

Here’s a video of Foster talking about her stay in Spain, which is illuminating and contains a few of her songs:

 

The song she sings from about 6:50, “Anda Jaleo”, is my personal favourite, and it’s more than a little frustrating that it is broken into a couple of times by further interview.

It’s one of the songs she’s reinterpreted from the poems of Lorca and although I can’t find a version of Foster and Herrero performing it, there are many more traditional versions online, most of which are, well, pretty hard to listen to.

There is though, this proper old-school version, recorded in the thirties by Encarnación “La Argentinita” López, which incredibly enough actually includes Lorca himself playing piano. Considering the man’s position in Spanish folklore and literary history, and his death at the hands of Nationalist militia during the Civil War, it’s astonishing that recordings of him exist. That we can have this gossamer-like thread to a very distant Spanish past is frankly jaw-dropping.

 

And here’s Foster and Herrero’s version which having none of the gravitas and rumpty-tumpty grandness of this original, fares pretty well, by stripping and slowing the song down, bringing it closer to the scrub and dust of its Andalusian pedigree:

 

I’m very fond of this version.

But saving the best till last… maybe you want to go full-blown seventies Viva España? Perhaps you’d like to see some proper package holiday Flamenco? Groups of dancers dressed like Manolito, in a full-on percussive duel which descends into a proper Guys and Dolls-style rumble?

 

C’mon, people, rise up!

Your Dreams Among My Dreams

Present company excepted, probably the only music Blog you need is obviously Aquarium Drunkard – this much has been clear for a very long time.

Back when this Blog was still in short pants, trading Panini cards and obsessing about whether to comb its hair forwards or back, I spent a formidable amount of time consulting music Blogs, snorting up freebies and collecting must-try tips. Gradually, I’ve lost interest in all that mullarkey, but Aquarium Drunkard remains an interesting and worthwhile read.

This is particularly good…

Modern Nature

I have enough trouble keeping up with Jack Cooper’s dizzying output without him releasing new stuff under different guises (a weary recourse to Wikipedia fetches up Beep Seals, another incarnation of which I was numbly unaware…). So I didn’t twig that this was even a Cooper thing, originally when I saw mention of it on Twitter. But with Ultimate Painting no more, and no apparent desire to release another solo record, a new venture has appeared in the shape of Modern Nature.

Actually, the band he’s put together here is something of a PP supergroup, teaming up with Woods’ drummer, Aaron Neveu, and Beak> keyboard player, Will Young, amongst others. But pretty much true to form, I’m maybe six months behind on it, the first release, an EP called “Nature” coming out in March, followed up by an LP (I know, old habits…) in August.

Here’s “Supernature” the meandering, compelling counterpoint to the EP’s title track:

 

Beautiful, isn’t it? And not a little hypnotic… Bella Union’s notes to it site Alice Coltrane and Fairport Convention. I’m not a fan of these sort of hybrid comparisons but I’ve got to say that pretty much nails it. Gorgeous stuff…

I’ve only heard the long player (I know…) online but it sounds like an absolute beaut, mixing the sort of unhurried mysticism of the above track with the sort of more disciplined gentle songcraft you hope for from a Jack Cooper record.

But to return to Aquarium Drunkard, one of their regular features is their Laigniappe Sessions, where guests give away a couple of tracks, usually covers, recorded especially for the site. It’s a bit of a treasure trove of quirky freebees, made in the spirit of back-in-the-day by quite prominent artists, with recent contributions from Gruff Rhys, Mikel Cronin and Damian Jurado.

Cooper has made previous recordings too. But has recently made two more with Modern Nature including a version of “Fine Horseman”. Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be aware that I’ve recently developed a bit of a thing for the long-departed but vividly oddball Lal Waterson. That Cooper should record a cover like this is actually not such a surprise (a version of Anne Briggs’ reading of “Blackwaterside” is one of the other tracks on “Nature”) but that he should be accompanied on it by Lal’s daughter Marry is something of a coup. It’s a bold reworking with dense, claggy percussion and lugubrious saxophone all over it, preserving the damp strangeness of a song that will always stop you in your tracks.

It’s available for download, but I’m obviously not going to try to palm it off here.

Step this way, folks…

See the buildings start to really burn!

Term time has once again stolen upon us. The evenings have started to close earlier, the mornings start a little later, and I’m on the point of putting away my shorts for the season. Summer’s promise has faded.

It’s a little sombre, for sure, but pretty soon the good things of the Autumn will start to kick in properly (not least of which is the start of the rugby season, one that promises much this time round…)

In the meantime, this is brightening up my life…

The Move

 

I can only imagine the skill and craft required to pen something as flawless and keenly focused as this, and Roy Wood’s colourful genius can be summed up in these peerless two and a half minutes. Effortless and exhilarating, innocent and knowing, mainstream and off-centre, all in one and the same breathless passage.

It’s a great song that I’ve played to death since I bought the first Move album as part of my London haul. The whole record is a treasure (“Cherry Blossom Clinic”, “Flowers in the Rain”, “Kilroy Was Here” and a Moby Grape cover are amongst the other highlights) from a band I’m afraid I’ve under-appreciated over the years. Wood-less years I’m never getting back…

The clip’s notable not only for Wood’s down home accent and gleaming talent (not to mention his gleaming chin) but also the fact that I think it’s live, (although if you told me it’d been pre-recorded I’d believe you straight away, so close is it to the sound of the record).

The more I watch it, though, the more my attention has started to drift towards poor old Carl Wayne, for whom the writing must’ve been daubed upon the wall, in great technicolour (Kilroy) letters. Rarely has a lead singer looked more redundant. For most of the song he is reduced to backing vocals and novelty “ooh”s, although Wood graciously allowed him to sing the bridge. For the rest of the song, he furiously clicks his fingers and does his best to look as if he cares not one jot for his reduced circumstances. In figure-hugging white slacks and black open-neck shirt, he is starting to look like the cabaret singer, Eurovision hopeful and future star of Crossroads he would later become.

All of which is a bit unfair on the man – by all accounts he was a brilliant and attention-holding front man in the earlier days, with a great voice and a genuinely rough edge.

I found this wonderful clip from 1966 which certainly complements the sophisticated flair of the Wood vehicle of the later sixties. The first half of clip is an interview which you can skip (till about 5:30) but is notable for how young the band look and sound (although I’m pretty sure Kefford’s not actually 14), but also for the fact that Wayne is clearly the band leader at this point.

The second half of the clip is the thing though – some pretty raucous footage of the band playing a gig, in full-on auto-destruct performance art in the style of the Who or the Creation – a speaker appears in flames at one point and in best Pop Art tradition Wayne takes an axe to a TV… Happier times, I’d imagine.

Hoarse chaotic brilliance.

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