Ça, c’est un théière volant, originale!

In truth, I’m feeling a bit under the weather at the moment – I feel like that cartoon of a stoned guy with his face melting – alas nothing as exotic as that, just a dose of man-flu and generally feeling a bit sorry for myself.

It’s half term, so I’ve not got any demands on my time for the moment – I can afford the luxury of moping around at home, watching Hammer films and generally loafing. Can’t complain…

Gong, Rockenstock, 1973

Disappearing down a YouTube wormhole is one of life’s pleasures, I reckon, and today I’ve just spent a happy hour and a half wandering through a series of hopelessly silly prog videos, inspired by a chance mention of the Matching Mole video that I’ve talked about before. That was a clip from a French TV program, called Rockenstock, presented by Pierre Lattès and released in January 1971. It’s great and worth another look, not only for the home-knitted gimp mask that Wyatt wears, without comment, but also for the great chunk that’s missing from the man’s high hat by the end of the show.

I’ve only this afternoon realised there’s a few other Rockenstock programs available, including this gem of a film made about Gong.

I’ve always had a lot of time for people who are utterly sure of themselves and are absolutely committed to do what they do regardless of whether the rest of the world thinks they’re a bit of a dick. And just as I have a huge regard for Wyatt’s psychedelic gimp mask, I can only grin foolishly and applaud Daevid Allen with his ridiculous knitted (again) pixie hat, third-eye headband and orange tunic.

The show is recorded in the band’s French house in the countryside outside Paris, where they all lived as a community. It’s terrifically barmy and features electric performances of “I never glid before” and “Witches Song / I am your pussy” (complete with ‘Whispering’ Gilli Smyth in all her feline splendour), all interspersed with chatty interviews in the band’s kitchen, surrounded by bowls of salad, teapots (flying of course) and an alarming number of bees.

There’s a delightful piece at the end when Lattès interviews a number of the older local people, including the Master of the local Hunt, who are all charmed by the hippies (“Everywhere they go they pay their bills”) and are disappointed at their decision to move back to England.

I originally watched this version which has no subtitles, picking up what I could from my schoolboy French, but just enjoying the whole thing, erm… pataphysically but if you don’t fancy that there is a longer video which adds various other Gong clips and crucially, does include subtitles.

Close the curtains, pour yourself a beer and settle in… Gong, in all their charming silliness:

You’ve been living in a world forgotten!

Turns out the odd dose of indolence and slovenliness can save you more than a little embarrassment. Who knew?

I thought about posting this a good fortnight ago, but the iron had begun to cool and I’d still not struck – as is my wont I allowed the moment to pass… But actually the fates gave me a second chance when I noticed by purest chance that the record I’d been loonishly head-bobbing along to in the car was not actually the one I imagined it was. I’d been thinking it was the latest by rangy cowpokes, Omni, but whadya know? I’m an idiot. Turns out, when I eventually prized it from the stereo, I’d actually been listening to the band’s 2016 debut, Deluxe, rather than their 2017 sophomore Multi-Task.

In my defence, I’d just stuck the thing in the car stereo without looking overmuch at the track listing and ran with it heartily. Actually, this has turned out rather well, as it’s meant that I get to start all over again with the new one, having loved the previous one. It’s also meant that I’ve managed to avoid looking like a bit of a burke (go on, I’m just going to let you have that one…).

Omni

Omni are a trio from Athens, Georgia, led by sinewy guitarist Frankie Broyles, specialising in twitchy, funky post-punk and signed to one of my regular favourite labels, Trouble in Mind. (I think I did a post about how you can pretty much pick any of TiM’s bands and blow your paper-round money on them. And, that’s clearly still the case…)

I’ll stick to thinking about this year’s record today, but I genuinely can’t decide which of the two I prefer – they’re both wondrous, boisterous things that I’d wholeheartedly recommend you get hold of.

Here’s the first track on Multi-Task, “Southbound Station”:

 

You’ll have been struck by the very first bars, I’ll warrant:

“You said to meet at the centre of Lennox Square / I’m drenched in sweat / And you can bet I’m already there,”

and in best Pitchfork-style, I’m going to take that as some sort of mission statement for the band, although I’d better qualify it by saying I don’t think this is really middle ground stuff, I think they’re throwing you off the scent a little. It’s all a clever left-field ruse…

There’s heaps of feverish running around and general rootlessness all through the record – trains, hotel lobbies, RSVPs, mints on pillows – and even as this the first song moves into its next verse (“You said to meet at the corner of Boulevard”) you’re getting used to the fact that there’s more than a little misdirection throughout.

As well as this, I reckon I can also hear a fair amount of “found”, overheard snippets of rush-hour conversations, studiously collected and languidly delivered by bassist Phillip Frobos (and feverishly embellished by Broyles’ dot-to-dot guitar work). It makes the lyrics sound as disjointed and fragmented as the tunes themselves.

Musically, the songs are pretty chaotic too. Tight, zany, Devo-ish chords collide with each other like so many cartoonish cars concertinaed together after an unlikely traffic incident. Actually, I’ve said “Devo” (I’ve read XTC a couple of times too), but over the week I’ve thought again and again about Bill Harkleroad and Jeff Cotton’s Through-the-Looking-Glass guitar pieces from Trout Mask Replica. It’s all a bit breathless and hysterical.

Have a listen to “Tuxedo Blues” and tell me it ain’t so…

 

Cracking stuff and not for the first time, I’m left thinking “Where would we be without the good Captain?”

It was kinda stormy with an RnB beat

I’ve just downloaded an intriguing new record from eMusic (and when I say “new”, you’ve probably guessed I mean “really old and a little odd”…)

Graham Bond

It’s “Love is the Law” by gravelly-voiced sixties growler Graham Bond, a man who played a star role in bringing the mighty Hammond organ to the sixties public (and at least one suggestible West Country lad, twenty years later). Bond was also responsible for giving breaks to Jack Bruce, John MacLaughlin, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Ginger Baker and probably a few others in his Graham Bond Organisation. As well as being a band leader and organist, he was also an accomplished alto sax player and apparently played both on stage (at the same time).

Image result for graham bond love is the law

“Love is the Law” came out in 1969 and even by then, it was beginning to look like the ship might well have sailed for the GBO – his various alumni had graduated to high-profile posts in the Rock Cabinet, and Bond was increasingly looking like a latter-day Boris Johnson, his Bullingdon pals having timed their runs a little better than he had. With the exception of the drum parts, he played all the other instruments himself (he was also one of those organists who would play basslines on his pedals…)

By this point, he’d become somewhat erratic and unreliable, (there was a disturbing reliance on kaftans). On top of this, he was obsessed with Aleister Crowley and occultism (the record actually credits Bond with a kind of magickal extra “e”), and had spent time in hospitals fighting depression and addiction. The poor feller died under a tube train in 1974.

I’m still exploring the record – it’s a little patchy to be fair – but there are some strong moments, and the ubiquitous ringing organ and spiteful vocals are certainly worth a go, if anyone fancies a slightly different seventies blues, sans guitar.

On a whim, I thought I’d see if there were any live performances on YouTube (there are, go look…) but as I was looking I came across this glorious piece of raybanned silliness from some sort of cult film called “Gonks Go Beat”:

Go! Go! GO!

 

(definitely Ginger Baker on drums, Heckstall-Smith on sax and I think it’s Bruce on harmonica too…)

The distance between love and your heart is too far beyond my imagination…

A beautiful sunny bank holiday morning, how often does that happen. eh? What better way to take advantage of it than sitting in your attic room, headphones on, surfing the Internet?

When I first started this Blog, way back when Gloucester and Arsenal weren’t the butt of jokes; when Trump was just a racist property-developer and before hucksters ruled the world (simpler times…), I used to spend quite a lot of time reading other better-informed, more dynamic Blogs. And occasionally I return to these sites just to see what’s happening, (and to scav a few tips, of course).

I went back to one of them last week, the always interesting, always revelatory Aquarium Drunkard and came across this fabulous mixtape compiled by a musician called Ahmed Gallab, known as Sinkane, and hosted by AD. It’s a wonderful selection of tracks back from Gallab’s childhood memories growing up in Sudan, which he prefaces with “Every Sudanese family has a drawer full of cassettes in their home”. All rather wonderful…

I know next to nothing about Sudan but the first few bars of the first track, by Abdelkarim Al-Kabli got me checking where exactly Sudan is, and sure enough, it borders with the capital of seventies swing and sway, Ethiopia. I’m unaware of there being an actual “Swinging Khartoum” scene but the crossovers between these tracks and all that Ethiopiques madness are obvious to hear, and I’m sure are literal as well as figurative.

Here is Mr Al Kabli, performing “Hani Ardon” (semi-) live, backed by a full string section, languid, tumbling hand percussion and his own work on the oud:

 

I know, it’s video footage with an audio soundtrack over the top, which is certainly a massive shame. Still, a treat, no? (By the way, if you go to YouTube to watch the video, the comments underneath are informative too).

My favourite track from the AD/Sinkane collection is this belter from Al Balabil, three sisters from the Wadi-Half region of the country, who became known as the Sudanese Supremes (watch it, before you scoff).

 

You see! It’s great isn’t it? I love the unhinged rhythm and the monomaniac bassline. The vocals really rock, too, stomping a careful, deliberate path between traditional ways and a raucous fifties-style rhythm and blues.

“Al Balabil” (or “Al Bilibal” as Sinkane would have it – vowel sounds are tricky when you have to move between scripts) translates as “The Nightingales”, a real Motown name, if ever I heard one. The sisters were encouraged in their career by their father and as you can imagine caused quite a stir, singing, dancing and travelling unaccompanied around the country but were apparently massively popular in Seventies Sudan before narrowing attitudes and the inevitable military coup caused the clouds to close back in and the sisters to retire. I’ve done this whole lost-in-the-midst-of-horror thing before and there’s not a whole lot more to say about it.

And I’m not going to pretend know much about them myself. But fortunately, as ever, there are people who do. There’s a great biog of the Nightingales here, which I heartily recommend (although the link to a collection is, alas, dead).

Go on, here’s some more… (This one might be even better)

Apparently, two of the sisters having moved to the USA, there are occasional trips back to Khartoum for reunions and actual dates played. Wouldn’t that be something?

Two guitars and a whistle, basically…

 

Just come back from a very agreeable week of getting-it-together-in-the-country, ensconced in a converted barn near Abergavenny. A lovely few days of doing very little, apart from indulging ourselves to a ridiculous degree. We ate like fish, drank like students, read like kings and walked like things that walk a lot. All very restorative, I can tell you. No wifi of course, so I stocked up on podcasts and spunked away my eMusic allowance on all sorts of feckless exotica, including one particular whimsical Celtic delight.

As a callow trippy youth, I remember reading about Edinburgh’s archetypal acid-folksters the Incredible String Band and their “masterpiece” The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. Amazingly, (and presumably in error), Gloucester HMV actually stocked it – as the years have gone by and HMV has become ever more dull-witted, this has seemed more and more unlikely, but it really happened – and I spent an astronomical £4.99 on it.

I think it’d be safe to say that a naïve Doors/Hendrix/Soft Machine fan was in no way prepared for the degree of strangeness and fantastical silliness that I was to encounter from note one. It took a whole lot of frantic listening (and more than a little desperate determination) to convince myself that I’d not wasted my money and to become reconciled to the highly idiosyncratic Heron/Williamson style.

These days, I’m kind of OK with a bit of Incredible String Band, but if I could go back in time I’d probably spring in front of the aforementioned callow youth, and suggest that he might like to try a bit of Dr Strangely Strange first before going straight on to the String stuff.

Dr Strangely Strange

This over-extended and fairly tortuous analogy is my way of saying that Dublin’s Dr Strangely Strange were a bit like the Incredible String Band, less “Incredible” but still quite “Stringy”.

Formed in 1967 by guitarists Tim Booth and Ivan Pawle, and then joined by multi-instrumentalist Tim Goulding on harmonium and ping pong bats, Dr Strangely Strange became favourites of John Peel and managed to get the String Band’s producer, the great Joe Boyd, to work on their second record 1970’s Heavy Petting.

It’s a pretty varied, mainly acoustic affair with all manner of exotic instrument being trundled out – harmoniums, mandolins, dulcimers, ocarinas, banjos, a whole range of flutes and whistles, and some “distinctive” vocal stylings. The songs are charming time-pieces of gossamer-thin folksiness, touching lightly on pastoral life, requited love, church organs and wasps.

On the whole, however, the odd dash of blues (and a few bursts of electric guitar from a teenage Gary Moore) keeps the record safely on this side of the bank, and would have ensured that my younger self felt a little less adrift than the poor feller was with Hangman’s.

My favourite track is the lugubrious “Sign on my Mind” with its two distinctive extended instrumental breaks, one more pastoral with some exquisite acoustic guitar and mandolin meanderings, the other more bluesy (I think this may be where Gary Moore gets his chance…)

 

The lyrics, without scaling the fey heights of silliness that Heron and Williamson managed, are playful and mainly pretty daft – but again the use of a fair smattering of Christian images and the odd earthy metaphor ensure that the first time listener has a helpful line of breadcrumbs to follow out of the woods.

As we drove home from our brief sojourn, we came past Glanusk, the home of the ever-wonderful Green Man festival, and it struck me that obscure and largely forgotten as the Strangelies are, their legacy and that of the String Band is writ large upon the hillsides of today’s folk scene. Gorky’s fans, for example, will be familiar with many of the sounds and stylings of Booth and Pawle, and I’d be very surprised if there’s not a copy of Heavy Petting nestling coyly in Euros Childs’ record collection.

Even in the heady days of the late sixties, (and even with the patronage of Joe Boyd) success eluded the slender fingers of the band and Goulding left to enter a Buddhist monastery (as one did in those days), with Booth and Pawle struggling on for a few months before separating by 1973.

There is, however, a rather fine documentary about Dr Strangely Strange, called Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal, which is available in three parts on YouTube. Here’s the first part as a taster (although sadly it cuts out in the last couple of minutes):

 

The sound track to a wander in the Welsh hillsides…

Sitting on some grass drinkin’ beer…

It’s been a long time, no?

For this I can again only apologise and offer up the customarily weasely excuses of having great bucket loads of work and the occasional spell of just-can’t-be-arsed-ness.

I’m here now, though, and I like to think that’s what counts, eh?

What’s been playing up and down the grassy lanes and country roads of the Cotswolds, you ask? Well, I’m glad you brought that up…

Cool Ghouls

Stumbled across this group of jangling, frizzy-haired student types a couple of weeks ago, and immediately wondered how I’d not done so earlier – we’re already into a third Cool Ghouls record. This in itself is both haunting (all those lost, grey mornings of unwitting emptiness) and immensely encouraging, just when you feel there’s nothing new under the sun, and you’re scraping around for something fresh…

This third record, Animal Races, is wholly brimming with all the goodies I love in a band – psychy guitars, sixties harmonies, garage band attitudes, and all my favourite records referenced regularly – loads of Byrds, some Gram, some Love, some Elevators and the general languid, cool of the Parquet Courts debut, or maybe the Allah-Las one. It’s all good. Sometimes it bothers me disproportionately when an artist so openly shows his influences (took me ages to overlook Riley Walker’s obvious love of Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and John Martyn) but then other times, I’m good to go from the start, it’s just not a problem.

Here’s a song about goofing off…

 

According to this Fogg Fuzz interview, Cool Ghouls are bunch of self-consciously dudish Californians who just want to make a record a year and play. They drink beer, smoke weed, started their own college band five years ago and want to go into Space. That’s pretty much all you need to know, right?

But for the completists among you…

I’ve also given the even-more-garagey second record, A Swirling Fire Burning through the Rye, a good listen and there are some real gems on there too, the first track “And It Grows” being my favourite:

 

There’s a first album for me to explore yet and also a (ho-hum) cassette-only tour release, called Gord’s Horse which in spite of the title is also available for download or streaming from their Bandcamp page. All of this, and Summer, to look forward to…

School’s out!

Bathed in Sweat

Once again, this Blog is in danger of turning into one of those sniffy, crate-digging exercises in one-upmanship, as another obscure world beat thingamy takes over the car stereo, my footballer-style clumpy headphones and the faux record player that sits up in our top room. But with eMusic somehow keeping their heads above water and at the same time packing their catalogue with all sorts of saccharine goodies, and then plying me with credits, what’s a feller supposed to do?

It really is out of my control.

Alceu Valença

Alceu Valença trained as a lawyer in the late sixties in Brazil before (brilliantly) running away to record music in the Brazilian jungle state of Pernambuco, hundreds of miles to the north and east of Brasilia and even further away from Rio or Sao Paulo. While the world was watching Pele duping hapless Uruguayan goalies, Jairzinho scoring in every round of Mexico 70 and Carlos Alberto thumping in The Greatest Team Goal Ever, Valença was presumably twanging away on a selection of exotic stringed things and getting high with his mates. (Much as I enjoy compartmentalising things, life tells me that this oddest of niche musicians was actually, almost certainly in a bar, celebrating in traditional style with the rest of the country…)

By 1974, however, with Cruyff and Neeskens ending a sulky-looking, (blue-shirted!) national team’s reign, I prefer to think that Valença was by now properly getting it together in the country and getting on with releasing his first solo record, Molhado de Suor.

I don’t know enough about Brazilian indigenous music or culture to understand half of what’s going on here, but from everything you read about the record, it’s a right old melting pot of ideas and styles. To these western, middle-aged, 21st Century ears, however, it sounds like a frantic explosion of breathy rhythms and flighty strings and woodwinds, with each song packed full of imagination and playful energy.

Songs like “Punhal da Prata” and “Dia Branca” have a busy, locomotive get-up-and-go that are terrific fun. They suggest a feeling of eye-rubbing good fortune, that Valença was in something of a hurry to get his ideas out and onto vinyl before someone somewhere stopped him (not just wild-eyed paranoia, when you consider that a number of musical figures of the day were imprisoned or exiled by the military government of the day).

Other tracks (the title track, for example, which translates as “Soaked in Sweat”) are a little more leftfield – quirkiness hot-housed to almost grotesque levels, with a bewildering range of whirring rhythms and stringed beasties running around Valença’s frequently cracked vocals. Again, eye-wateringly good fun and more than a little catchy.

Unfortunately, if you search for Alceu Valença on YouTube, you get a loads of modern clips (he went on to have an enduring career which I’ve not explored) with the man looking more like Michael Bolton than an Amazonian freak bathed in salty paranoia and elicit substances. This is perhaps not a surprise…

Amazingly, however, just when you thought you’d imagined the whole unfortunate episode, there’s this:

 

Crikey!

Go and have a shower, I would…

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