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.

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying

A blurry, self-indulgent few days up in that London has very much wrenched me from the voluptuous and comforting embrace of Cumbia. It’s been a whole lot of fun – I’ve drunk too much and spent way too much money – but the main focus was a blistering White Fence gig in Hackney – something of a rude awakening, I can tell you.

I love and respect you all too much, however, to blast straight into the flash and sparkle of Tim Presley’s latest conflagration, so here’s something roughly half way between…

Question Mark and the Mysterians

The inevitable mooch around Berwick St record stores yielded a 27-track “Best of…” CD (Yes, there really were 26 others) which was absurdly cheap and I was unable to resist.

To be fair, the collection is pretty strong, full of grimy fuzz tone and the ever-present sound of farfisa, which belies the image of the band being the archetypical one-hit wonders, and generally does what it says on the box. “96 Tears” is of course the ultimate earworm, so obviously approach with caution…

(Oh! What’s that you say? You want it in Spanish? No problem…)

 

What a gas.

The cutest, dumbest keyboard riff wreathed all over the familiar sound of sixties adolescents rueing their luck in the bitter and (vaguely misogynist) ways of the young dude. Irresistible and best not thought about too deeply.

Here’s an interview with Question Mark done in 1990, looking a lot like Sky Saxon, to my mind, and sounding rather full of himself. He manages to avoid answering questions about how they wrote the song, how old he is, why they thought of the band name (I’d hoped there was some sort of Gerry Anderson link, but no), and generally trying to make it sound like there’s always been a masterplan.

 

I wouldn’t bother with all 39 minutes but if you give it the first 5 or 6 minutes, you’ll get the general idea and tone – including such choice quotes as “There’s always more to my songs, I don’t like to be too obvious” and “Every one of my songs do (sic) have meaning – very profound and deep meaning” (something Trumpian about the latter…).

I’m not too keen on smart, savvy Question Mark, no matter how unconvincing it sounds. I’d much rather have the original inarticulate, naïve Question Mark, who’d clearly rather be goofing off with his mates down on the boardwalk somewhere…

A bit like this, in fact

 

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on.

¡Venga mariposa!

The rain is currently lashing away in Hammer fashion at the windows of our rented Brecon cottage, and with the forecast unpromising for the weekend, I can’t help but think of the hardy souls who are currently packing for Green Man. I consider myself retired these days but I will no doubt feel some envy and regret when people start messaging and tweeting once it starts.

Right now though, not so much…

It’s a classic Welsh August in short, and I can’t think of many things less like the equatorial sounds of Cumbia. Nevertheless, a chance encounter on YouTube recently reminded me what an absolute wealth of exotic, goofy sounds there is in Latin America and as a result I spaffed away a bunch of downloads at my favourite online emporium on newish forms of Cumbia.

And lo!

The hoary clouds start to roll away…

Malphino

A couple of the EPs and single tracks I took were by a band of cheery souls calling themselves Malphino, who are apparently “an outer-national, mystical band from an imaginary tropical island that has dreamt up a cinematic score and audio backdrop to their idyll”. Seems credible…

Here they are doing a sweetly guileless track from their Welcome to Malphino album for Worldwide FM.

 

You’ll have noticed that Malphino, amongst others, employ the services of a tuba instead of a bass. This is a rare and lovely thing – an instrument my uncle used to play in his time with the Cinderford Brass Band but not one you see a lot of, even in the sort of hipster circles I like to frequent. If you can look past the comedy tones though, it’s a great sound – deep, stentorian, unequivocal…

There’s a bit of a piece about Malphino on the Sounds & Colours site which is worth a read, if you can cope with the disappointing news that the mythical land the band hail from is actually South London. Whilst you’re there, you can also download a track from the band’s debut LP, Visit Malphino. There’s also a longer interview with the band here.

The record was released last year by Lex Records but is currently out of stock (indeed appeared to sell out as I was browsing), although earlier EPs (El Lava de Gabacho & Lalango) are great and are available on eMusic. In the meantime, here’s another clip of the band busking in a Colombian butcher’s stall at Brixton Market, performing “Fabiola Amapola” from Lava de Gabacho

 

 

Obviously, I vigorously approve of bands playing their local butchers. I’m also very much in favour of the odd change of tempo, and in this case, a song that appears to get ahead of itself and has to take a self-conscious breath to regain its cool (before dashing off all over again…)

In fact, there’s all sorts of reasons to love this song. Who doesn’t like a ukulele? A tuba solo? A nimble-fingered accordion? (Many people of course, but let us not speak of these types). The version on the EP actually includes a demented pipe organ and an over-enthusiastic cowbell. Yee-ha!

The rest of the EP is great galloping fun too, a super-abundance of accordion, Walken-esque levels of cowbell and the ubiquitous tuba, plus guest appearances from flute, a brass section and even a bit of feedback-y dissonance – this just on the opening track, “Cumbia Policia” (And that’s a picture in itself – bandoliered accordionists and guiro players tumbling out of an on-two-wheels Black Maria as it careens around a corner).

All tremendous, contagious stuff, and if that doesn’t raise a smile on even the dullest of Welsh days, then you, my friend, are flat-lining…

¡Cumbéalo!

The previous two Augusts have yielded a flurry of posts as a welcome by-product of a week getting it together in the Welsh hills, and you’ll no doubt be hoping this year will be much the same. I’m presuming this but on the other hand, knowing the unreliable nature of this fitful venture, you may just have to be happy with what you get.

Whatever, this is an absolute doozy.

Alex Mendoza y sus Poetas del Ritmo

And so again, we’re enjoying seven days of constructive loafing in the Welsh countryside. Reading (Moby Dick), walking (in the rain, of course), drinking (sherry, mostly), chatting (shit, mostly) – you know, generally sticking it to the Man.

Stand by…

As I may have intimated in my last hurried post, there’s a whole wave of Cumbia breaking upon these shores at the moment. I quickly dashed off the last post moments before we set off on a walk across hill and down dale in the temperamental but never less than impressive Brecon Beacons. Throughout the morning, I can honestly say the fragile notes of Alex Mendoza’s timid, brittle guitar didn’t leave my head in the couple of hours we were out.

 

This isn’t really Cumbia at all, as I’m sure you’ve worked out – the trebly surf guitar gives it away as Peruvian chicha – but the loping Colombian rhythms and the itchy & scratchy sounds of the guiro tell us we’re not a million miles away. I love the mishmash of reedy guitar lines warmed up by the sympathetic chords of farfisa-style organ, all given a lop-sided drive by the distinctive rhythms of South America. It’s all going down rather well…

And if you’re not immediately won over by that sleeve…

Disappointingly, aside from the fact that he’s a Peruvian guitarist, there’s pretty much nothing about Señor Mendoza available on the Internet that I can find. I gather the driving force behind the record, however, is Max Weissenfeldt who provides the eight-armed, Tony Allen-style drum patterns behind the record and pretty much is the Poetas del Ritmo.

He’s also the band leader of Berlin-based crate-diggers, the Polyversal Souls and has his own label, Philophon, who release all manner of World treasures. There’s a nice little interview with the fellow here although it does suggest that he might be one of those musical kleptomaniacs who’ll be off somewhere else soon. The fact that this first appeared three or four years ago and there’s been no follow up that I can find, maybe confirms this.

Or maybe, they just thought “We’re not going to better this…”

Here’s a clip of another of his ventures with the Polyversal Souls and Ghanaian singer Guy One. It’s also pretty nifty…

 

So, about that bottle of Amontillado (not going to drink itself, after all…)

I can feel it coming…

 

A cumbia frenzy!

 

 

I’m powerless to resist…

¡Subame el monitor!

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there are few things as insufferable as a teacher launching into his insufferably long summer holidays, so I won’t go on… But hey! It’s summer!

(Actually, once you start there are quite a few universally-acknowledged truths that spring to mind:

  • Isn’t August fantastic? – sorry I wasn’t going to do that…
  • Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy (to mix my writers up)
  • Who doesn’t like wearing shorts?
  • Boris Johnson shouldn’t be anywhere near no 10
  • No matter what Simon Reynolds says, the Pop Group are a fiendishly hard listen – and frankly, why would you bother? Life’s far too fleeting and precious a gift to waste time on that Jesuitical nonsense)

That last one’s a bit random.

Although… not as random as you might think – I’m trying to do to bit more “pop” music, these days.

Spanish Pop

One of the other universal truths that continues to present itself to me is that learning Spanish is still proving to be a stubborn nut to crack – I’d imagined that after a couple of years of ill-disciplined and haphazard “study”, the language would’ve opened itself out to me in inviting and triumphant fashion. I thought by now I’d be prattling away like a good’un, learning interesting and street-wise new idioms and generally impressing all my friends with my easy membership of the continental elite. Sadly (if inevitably), this has not proved to be the case. I still speak like an inarticulate teenager and I suspect sound like the equivalent of one of those bemused, pitiable Japanese tourists you find yourself behind in the queue for a train ticket.

To remedy this, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to listen to more Spanish music. This has been something of a challenge, as you can imagine, not because there’s a shortage (there’s obviously loads, most of it pretty dull – the Spanish do like an auto-tuned voice…). The problem is, of course, my own lofty pickiness.

But in the interests of trying to improve my language, I’ve tried to swallow my pride and listen to a bit more Spanish pop. And actually, against all my better judgement, I’m quite enjoying it.

Here’s Julieta Venegas from Mexico, who is apparently massive around the world and even a grammy award winner, I believe, hardly a crate-digger’s discovery but she does play the accordion (which is never a bad thing – a universal truth, if you like…)

I can’t work out whether I’d be turning my nose up at this under other circumstances (and presumably saying I preferred her early records), if it wasn’t for the fact that she sings in Spanish and such is my current obsession. But hey, the video’s fun (and includes women eating flowers and farting butterflies – another universal truth, if ever I heard one…).

 

Moving back into more familiar PP territory, the twitter feed of proper Bristol legend Big Jeff has introduced me to Catalan duo, Za! who remind me a lot of Siesta!, another wantonly-punctuated band I wrote about a while back (but who seem very quiet these days…).

Hard to see this pair winning a grammy, to be fair… A drums and keyboard/knob twiddly sort of affair, they make a vast and frequently dissonant racket that affords few chances to practice your speaking & listening skills but is enormously exciting. There’s some kraut-y electronics, some tribal sounds, a sprinkling of Sun Ra and loads and loads of overexcited shouting – a heady brew, in fact.

There’s a fair bit of mischief afoot too…

 

I can’t find much online about Za! past about 2015 – their Soundcloud page is pretty old, although there are quite a bunch of recordings there to enjoy, including this:

 

I think Jeff saw them a couple of years ago at Primavera, and they’re still playing dates in Spain – I’d imagine an evening with Za! might be quite a rousing affair… If you watch this last clip, there’s quite a lot of interview but even that’s quite fun, and the live stuff’s breathlessly exciting and includes a version of the above track “Subeme el Monitor” (which I reckon translates as “pump up the volume”)

The air began to sing again…

OK, time to deliver on my long-held (and more than once repeated) promise to give you something on last month’s Sea Change.

Overall a fine time was had by all, I think. Some jolly company, some good music, some beer drunk, I’m a simple feller…

We’d had such a good time last year that booking again this year was something of a no-brainer. And when Coleser told me that a May Bank Holiday festival was planned this year and that he’d cannily managed to rent a house in the centre of Totnes, well, it was all on again.

Anticipation was dampened a little, however, when we found out that very little was being put on in the town this year, most of the music was happening over at the Dartmouth Hall site. One of the highlights of last year had been the casual hopping from bar to street to church, airily waving a wrist band at the door, picking up music all over. None of that this year…

To be fair, the Dartmouth Hall site was a little better this year, but still all a bit a-bunch-of-folk-in-a-field. Not much in the way of food, two beer tents and two stages, so close to each other that they needed to alternate acts. (And that’s definitely not a 30 minute amble from town…)

But grousing aside, I think I saw more good music this year than last, so get a grip, man.

I’m starting here…

You Tell Me

Field Music may well be the band I’ve seen most of all over the years. They’re always engaging, unexpected and make me feel like I should be listening to the records more closely.

You Tell Me are one of Peter Brewis’ side-projects, so not strictly speaking a Field Music gig, the fact that David Brewis turned up playing fretless bass (“you know… a dangerous business”), also doesn’t in any way make this a Field Music gig, oh no.

Battling nevertheless, against Field Music levels of disinterest from a sparsely spread field of punters, they cheerfully ran through at least 8 numbers from their record – I say “at least” because inexplicably I turned my recorder off at one point. I can only apologise.

It really is a lovely record that, true to form, I’ve had to go back and re-investigate on my return from Devon. It’s full of wry observations and rueful glances to the past most effectively from the lips of co-writer Sarah Hayes, supplemented by the twists, turns and unpredictable grooves that collaboration with a Brewis can’t help but guarantee.

At one point, an (alarmingly) rustic burr can be heard gushing soppily about how lovely the Brewis brothers are. I should not do this (for it was I) but there’s something about a Field Music set that loosens the tongue injudiciously (although, drink may also have been taken…). What can I say?

A typically off-centre encore of “Ivor Cutler to a Bo Diddley beat” and they were gone, all too soon and not to be seen again until the next half-empty moderately-sized venue comes into view. Let’s hope it’s not too long, eh?

Get Out of the Room

Enough to Notice

I Worn My Elbows

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