As we stand in line in the pouring rain…

It’s too late to do a “Best of ‘18” list now, isn’t it?

In any case, “list” might be stretching a little – at the moment, I’d only have two records on it.

Since Christmas, I’ve dabbled with a few things (narrowly missed losing my December downloads from Emusic…) but I’ve mainly listened to only a couple of records. And whaddya know, they’re both bone fide New records, not “new” but actually, genuinely released-in-the-last-twelve-months New. Oh yes.

Thought I’d celebrate my newly-regained cutting edge by doing a bit of a thing about one of them here…

BEAK>

(The other record, by the way, is the Surfing Magazines’ debut which is just great, but seeing as I’ve mentioned them en-passant a couple of times recently, I’ll leave them for another day…)

I’ve a feeling I’ve done something about BEAK> before (and I can’t believe I didn’t mention the “>” thing as well) – I remember being rather keen on all the Bristol landmarks in their song titles. But, characteristically, I may have dreamt this, so I’ll proceed, insensible, as if this is all virgin territory.

Anyway as any ninny knows, BEAK> are the current vehicle of omni-instrumentalist and studio professor Geoff Barrow and last September’s release was the band’s third record. Have a watch:

 

That’s a great video, no?

I love this song for its reedy resolve and the swelling, ballooning effects fanning from Will Young’s keyboard. It makes me think of that great first Suuns record and some of the Yeti Lane stuff (both of these two seem to have gone off the boil recently). I think this might be the first time, I’ve watched the band actually perform on video and I’ve got to admit I didn’t picture Barrow as quite the drummer he is, all wrists and groovy economy. Quite the Robert Wyatt figure (without the gimp mask, regrettably). The video is a bit Dr Who, but I’m on board to be honest, and in the best traditions, the whole thing’s larger on the inside than out.

“Allé Sauvage” is a great song but it’s only one of a cluster of punchy songs that elbow their way into your face, all beery belligerence and unwelcome persistence. “King of the Castle” and “RSI” are also belting songs – lots of period electronics and motorik dynamics forced up to 11. Storming, grim stuff.

I’m also very keen on the closing pair of tracks.

“Abbot’s Leigh” is absolute dissonance explored, tightly confined and barely controlled – horribly menacing, very Centre Cannot Hold and something for our times. Wikipedia tells me that Abbots Leigh, aside from being a village in Somerset, a few miles from the centre of Bristol (of course) is also the name of the tune that “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is set to. All very pastoral and maybe a little folk-horror. Which is exactly what the second track of the pair, and closer of the record, “When We Fall”, had already made me think of. It sounds like something that might pop up on the “Blood on Satan’s Claw” soundtrack, amidst scenes of the sun rising on fields of corn and general rural idyll, (shortly to be horribly and irrevocably interrupted).

 

If you can be arsed, you can, of course, be justifiably sniffy and talk about how derivative BEAK> sound (can’t be denied, to be honest). But why would you do this? They are clearly a massive homage to Can, Klaus Dinger, Faust… but hey! Good spot!  Now get on, enjoy the commotion, stifle a shudder, turn it up. Who knows how long we’ve got?

I mean, what else? You can’t eat music.

Amongst the empty absinthe bottles, Pringles tubes and pistachio shells, strewn about the house, something’s wrong. Having dutifully watched hours upon hours of Talking Pictures TV, and absolutely, categorically had enough of Oliver Reed’s camp thuggery, I still have a niggling feeling… Gone to enough school and office parties to take me safely through until next year, but I’ve definitely forgotten something.

True, there’s still half a chocolate orange (saved. Obviously you need something to see the New Year in with); having checked and double-checked the Radio Times, I can find no screening of Escape to Victory (and if Die Hard can be a Christmas movie…), so that’s not it. But there’s something else…

Ah! Bugger.

End of Year lists.

I knew there was something.

Seven Tinsel-decked Tings from 2018

Truth be told, 2018 has been a desperately grim year, with all sorts of indefensible shithousery going on from the people we’ve recklessly entrusted our futures to. I don’t remember a year when I’ve watched the news more obsessively, and sworn more rancorously at the TV (unless you count 2017, of course. Also 2016…). 2019 isn’t looking like it’s going to get much better either.

I don’t think the two things are linked but 2018 is a year when I’ve bought less brand new music and been to less gigs than for a long a time. No new records spring to my lacklustre mind for this year, and a glance at the more established End of Year lists hasn’t really altered my thoughts on this. I’ve seen a couple of really good live sets (Here Lies Man and Damo are the ones I’m thinking of), but not a great haul.

Having said this, my jammy grandfather clause with eMusic has meant that there’s still been a whole bunch of “new” music floating in and around the estate this year. So I’ve decided to go for seven treats from the PP music year, trying particularly to think about things I don’t think I’ve written about previously (so no Here Lies Man, Sweet Baboo or Damo Suzuki, I’m afraid) but which have been tiny candles amongst the gloom…

Spanish Warbling: Josephine Foster – “Dame Esa Flora”

I’ve managed to step up my efforts to improve my Spanish this year and am hoping to go again with this in the New Year. And one of the things that I’ve done is listen to more Spanish music. Now I’ve written before about warbly-voiced female singers in less than complimentary terms, and Josephine Foster is certainly ones of these. But hey, if she’s warbling in Spanish, it’s different, right? She has a few records out but two in particular stand out which were recorded with the Herrero Brothers. The first was a collection of songs by Lorca and a second album, Perlas, was made up of other traditional songs from various regions of Spain, including this one about Cadiz. We went to Cadiz this year and were again taken by it, so this feels right; and once you’ve warmed to Foster’s voice and are settling into the beautiful mandolin (?) breaks you realise that this is, after all, damn fine:

 

Somali Dance: Dur Dur Band

A quick look through my music of this year confirmed a couple of things: firstly, that, yes, I got very few records from this year; and secondly that I acquired an alarming amount of African music from the seventies – Zamrock, the Ethiopiques series, a lot of Somali music, and pretty much all of it from the seventies and eighties. I did already post about some of this and plugged the Likembe website back in the Summer. But one of the bands covered there, Dur Dur Band from Mogadishu, was also the subject of a new collection from Analog Africa which is just excellent.

This track which doesn’t seem to be on the new compilation or the other LP I have, rollocks along like a train (a funk train), powered by hand drums and an impossibly tight rhythm guitar. The brass is cut-throat and there’s some great twisted lead guitar work. Ah, the days when bands still wrote their name on the bass drum…

 

Japanese Clatter: Bo Ningen – “Koroshitai Kimochi”

I did also write about this bunch of androgynous oddballs after I saw them supporting Damo Suzuki at Sea Change, so I won’t go on. But every time I see clips of this, it gets more and more white-knuckle. It’s utterly out to lunch – deafening, nutty, double-jointed – all of these in a good way. What a racket.

I need a snakeskin-effect poncho…

 

The Cosmos: Terry Riley – “Shri Camel” album

OK, so this is an hour long video, so get a drink or something, but do commit yourself. The first part is an interview with the man which is complex but disarmingly low on bullshit and generally really interesting. I believe everything he says.

There was a really excellent series of shows on BBC4 earlier this year covering experimental music which introduced me to the idea of Terry Riley. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything about what he does, but the one idea that stuck me from the programs was the idea of single pairs of notes moving in and out of sync with each other and then returning to their relative positions like planets in a solar system.

This is grown up music…

 

English Folk Music: Lal Waterson – “Fine Horseman” / Sandy Denny – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

I seemed to spend a lot of time this year reading about folk music – Nick Drake and Sandy Denny biogs, Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the Incredible String Band book I posted about in the summer – all of it fascinating (I’ve also got a Peggy Seeger biog in the pile by my bed…). And on that theme, these two songs are remarkable:

I bought the reissue of the Waterson’s Bright Phoebus this year, which is a great record but the stand out moments all involved the monochrome tones of Lal Waterson, a singer I am ashamed to know I knew nothing about before this. It’s an eerie song that feels like it’s been passed from lip to ear for generations – misunderstood, reinterpreted, weirdly distorted – but is actually a genuinely strange original.

 

The Sandy Denny song is another thing of splendour, crafted carefully and possessing of the most achingly poignant single line choruses. Denny’s life is sad enough and beautifully captured in Mick Houghton’s book, but really you only have to hear this song…

 

Italian Horror: Goblin – “theme from Profondo Rosso”

This was the year I finally got around to watching The Exorcist and a whole bunch of Hammer and folk horror stuff. And there’s some cracking music to accompany some of these films. I’m yet to see Profondo Rosso but I like the Goblin sound track.

 

Oh go on, while we’re at it, Goblin’s theme tune to another horror movie – Suspiria.

And a new album! The Surfing Magazines “New Day”

I didn’t actually see the Surfing Magazines at Sea Change but I heard them from the warmth and safety of the beer tent. I did pop out for a couple of songs and they struck me as having a similar live act as Woods – a basic understanding of the sixties rule book and a willingness to wig out at any given moment. They were fun.

Made up of members of the Wave Pictures and Slow Club, I’m very much hoping this isn’t just a cheery side-project and that there’s more to come.

 

So there we have it, 2018. Some highlights and not too many grumbles. Here’s to the next one, God help us all…

Can’t ya hear them bells a-ringin’?

Whoo-ee!

School’s out, other stuff’s all finished, and I’m done for Christmas…

Yee-ha!

 

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Up in the air!

Most years at about this time, I do some sort of snivelling post about feeling like I should be doing a review of the year’s releases or rounding up gig highlights, but then , regular as Christmas, I go off in some other random direction.

I appear to be powerless…

So, anyway, a recent discovery that the nothing if not unpredictable Emusic has something like 150 Sun Ra albums stacked up in its dusty shelves, has prompted what started off as a tentative toe-dipping into another universe but is now rapidly turning into something of a full-on Arkestra bombing.

The man who prompted sober social commentator George Clinton to comment “This boy was definitely out to lunch” has a pretty intimidating reputation and a somehow more daunting back catalogue that I’m unlikely ever to get too far with.

But at the same time, if you accept that this is one river the opposite banks of which you’re never going to reach (and are also willing to overlook the extending of an unconvincing aquatic metaphor), it’ll be OK, believe me. I know this because I’ve spent the weekend lolling around on my flowery plastic inflatable, figurative mojito in hand, novelty sunglasses sliding down my nose, being biffed back and forth by some of the strangest bluebeats there are. And it’s OK.

I’m doing my darndest to avoid the J word, but I should speak plainly here – these are, well, Jazz records, and this can be a bit of a problem. After spending a lot of my early twenties fancying myself a bit of a Jazz-fiend and pretty much OD-ing on Charlie Parker records, I’ve struggled to give Jazz a fair hearing ever since – the late eighties were, after all, an age when apparently rational people were buying Sade records, and, lordee, it’s a long way back from there… So, if this is a problem for you (and, I hear you…), I’ll bid you a rueful farewell and see you in the next post.

But if you’re still with me, here are seven stonking and stonkingly weird Sun Ra tracks that I’ve recently discovered…

Sun Ra

Lucky Seven – Sun Ra

Aside from the fact he was apparently born on Saturn (It’s true – I’ve checked it) and liked a headdress or two, I’m not going to pretend I know a whole lot about Sun Ra, in fact I’ve put this together with almost no research (go on, it’s Christmas…). I’ve written a few thoughts on each track as I’ve been listening but if you want some background before trying them, watch this (it really takes off at about 26:15):

 

Universe in Blue

This gawkily moody organ-led piece apparently originated from a regular spot the Arkestra had at “Slug’s Saloon” in the Lower East Side, playing every week from 1966 onwards, often doing seven-hour sets that would finish at 4:00 AM. It’s a live recording and does sound like an early hours, ghostly meander built over many months and wouldn’t be out of place weaving eerily through the corridors of Dr Phibes’ castle. It’s clunky, it’s technicolour…

Plutonian Nights

This is irresistible. The darkest of horn riffs make the hairs on your legs rise and your socks slide weakly down into your boots. There’s crafty bass and sax solos during the course of the track but you find yourself waiting for the return of that great rasping chin-jutting horn. Only a heart-breaking four and a half minutes long…

Astro Black

This is pretty unconventional… There are vocals here (although hardly orthodox) and initially a skittish double bass that scampers around June Tyson’s strident, dogged tones, but they’re fighting something of a rear-guard action surrounded by great chunks of dissonant noise and waves of industrial-sounding drone. Once the bass and vocals wander dolefully offstage, you’re pretty much on your own, left to fend for yourself in the face of an 11-minute assault of … erm… “free jazz” interplay.

Ancient Aethiopia

Driven on by thundering Hammer-horror drum beats and snarling, grandly-riffing horns, this is a gorgeous journey through the bush, led initially by twin flutes that cross paths with each other and frequently step on each other’s toes. The uneasy harmony is regularly broken by jarring percussive intrusions and only partially soothed by the sax and piano pieces that succeed the flutes. You find yourself clinging optimistically to those bass and drum rhythms and the voices that do eventually make themselves heard are not exactly promising…

Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus

Starting off like any furiously-played jazz standard, (albeit one announcing the departure of today’s commuter to the stars), you find yourself bombarded by a series of pulsing horn riffs that dance recklessly around you until you are giddy. From there the excursion veers off into less familiar bass tones, which once they start to be bowed become odder and odder. The call for the next stop brings you back down to Earth (even if “… the second stop is Jupiter, the second stop is Jupiter, the second stop is Jupiter…”)

Mayan Temples

This is a lumbering beast of a track, powered by those hoarse, bellowing horns and a gently insistent bass line. There are the twin flutes again and some weird organ and keyboard work that sounds like clinking and latterly smashing glasses. The pace never picks up and it’s another forbidding journey into an unsettling Kurtz-ian world, beset by distracting, contrary percussive work that trudges and labours somewhere off-camera. It’s another live performance, taken from the “Of Mythic Worlds” album which, on the record at least, is then followed by this:

Over the Rainbow

Yes, it’s the Wizard of Oz standard, although for the first minute or so, it’s not really recognisable as such. In fact, although the Arkestra treatment does involve it moving in and out of focus, alternating between tunefulness and weirdness, with varying degrees of the Ra-filter, he does treat it with a genuine fondness. There’s a discernible gasp of relief and applause from the audience when he allows the song a cheeky run of its own.

And there you are, seven belters from the enormous back-catalogue of an errant virtuoso. Another 140-odd albums to collect, so you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got a rocket to catch…

It’s fackin’ Lucifer!

So, this, obviously…

 

(and yes, even though it’s been said, possibly the most effective guitar break anywhere – although I’m very partial to Jan Savage’s clunky solo on Pushin’ Too Hard…)

Sad stuff, clearly, and it’s a shame that a chap’s passing makes you realise what a great talent he was. Great songwriter, beguiling frontman and by all accounts an all-round good bloke. It got me ruminating loosely on the idea that the good too often die young (although a genuinely younger feller would presumably spit out his pint in comedy fashion at the notion that 63 is anything like “young” – but, well, these days…)

In truth the idea had been bouncing around the hamster wheel that passes for my mind for a couple of weeks.

Jah Wobble came to the Guildhall a few weeks ago and yours truly was in attendance. I’ve not bothered posting about it because (well… do I have to do this?) but also in truth pretty much everything I said here when I saw him at the Fleece was pretty much how it was this time too. Wobble was witty, self-effacing and mischievous, with a number of laugh out loud moments (“It’s fackin’ Lucifer!”), and is of course one hell of a bass player – still the only guy I know, currently playing lead bass. It was another great evening and I was glad that the springy-floored splendour of the Guildhall and the gawping masses of my hometown had been witness to the Wobble grandeur.

I’ve been reading Nick Kent’s memoirs, “Apathy for the Devil” and have enjoyed it immensely, and as chance would have it a couple of days later I came to his account of the infamous chain-whipping he received at the 100 Club at the hands of Sid Vicious. I’m not sure Kent is the most reliable of witnesses for all sorts of reasons, but it is perhaps surprising that he doesn’t really seem to bare any grudge against Vicious (indeed he went on to share a good few mattresses and needles with him over the next year or so). He saves most of his anger for Malcolm Maclaren (whom he claims directed the attack) and for Jah Wobble:

“He held an open penknife and was waving it no more than two inches from my eyes. There was dried blood on the blade and a look of pure sadistic delight in his piggy eyes… Then he stepped back allowing Sid dead aim at my skull.”

It’s an unpleasant image, and it made me remember a couple of passages in Wobble’s own book which paint him in a pretty unflattering light. I remember reading the passage where he stands on top of an old and priceless recording desk and urinates all over it for a laugh, and thinking “this isn’t great, or funny – it’s just boorish …” And it all makes you realise that for all his older, more mature affability and humility, at one point in his wilder years, Wobble was actually a pretty abrasive character. I’m not sure, you’d have felt very comfortable around him (and in fairness, he’s said this himself).

And then you think, for all the fun and dexterity of later period Wobble (his term, not mine), has he done anything better than this?

 

How good do you have to be?

Seaweed tangled in our home from home…

A couple of days last week, tucked neatly away in a provincial coaching house, was sound-tracked by a return to what I now see is one of my very favourite records (although weirdly I have not always done so). At this point, regular readers may want to pass on to the next item on their “to read” list, I’m banging on about Robert Wyatt again…

Rock Bottom

I don’t need to say anything about the opening track (there’s a good Blog post about it, not mine, here) – everyone’s favourite Wyatt track, much coveted, much covered and the lucky subject of a certain Blog (although to be more fair than is strictly necessary, the choice was deliberately random – I’d listened to it the morning I started off on this long, strange pilgrimage, a spotted handkerchief of favourite lyrics bundled up and slung rakishly over my shoulder…). In fact, for a good time, I overlooked much of the rest of the album, such was my fascination and love of its lead song.

Soft and daft really, there’s so much other stuff to dwell on, so many other high water marks and beguiling shallows to settle on and spend an afternoon paddling aimlessly around in.

To fill in, Wyatt had disbanded Matching Mole in September 1973, after a tour supporting Soft Machine, and began writing material for the record that would become his second solo album. All of which was thrown into confusion when he broke his back falling from the 4th floor window of a Maida Vale flat during a party. An enthusiastic drinker and a spinning top of creative energy and self-destructive behaviour, friends had felt a metaphoric if not literal fall had long been on the cards. The accident obliged Wyatt to re-evaluate his lifestyle and forced him to change the direction and the outlets for his furious inventiveness. He has famously said that the accident saved his life.

Friends and musicians rallied around – Warren Beatty offered to pay his hospital bills; Julie Christie bought a flat for him and Alfie to live in (Alfie was Nicolas Roeg’s assistant on Don’t Look Now, and Wyatt apparently spent a fair amount of time bumming around the set); Pink Floyd and Soft Machine played benefit gigs for him. Rather charmingly, John Peel announced the news and exhorted all his listeners to write him cards and messages of good will.

 

The record that came out just a few months after his release from hospital, featured old chums from his Soft Machine days, including Hugh Hopper and Mike Oldfield, and also contributions from Fred Frith, Nick Mason, former “Wilde Flower” Richard Sinclair, and, of course, Ivor Cutler.

I’ve just spent a fond few moments buffeted and braced by the chaotic frenzy of “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road” with its promenading bass and piano lines, its angry swirling trumpets and musical hall confusion – “Oh blimey, mercy me, woe are we!”. I love the forwards-backwards-forwards vocals, I love Cutler’s soft intrusive nonsense (“I want it, I want it, give it to me. I give it you back when I finish the lunchtea…”), I love Wyatt’s desperate incoherence. I think I read that the song was composed before the accident but it’s impossible not to hear the overwhelming turmoil of a hospital bed in the arrangement of it. It’s powerful and disturbing…

Equally strange and equally wondrous is second track, “A Last Straw”, meandering along at its own pace, deliberate and confidential, a product of time stretching lazily out in front of Wyatt at the prospect of his new world, and something of a contrast to the furious pace of both the “Little Red Riding Hood” tracks. I love the way he plays around with words and relishing the sounds they make; and I especially love the way the track fades out with a solemn procession of notes up and down the keyboard, trudging off in turn.

I think I’ve said before, how much I admire folk who are prepared to be as out-and-out weird as they feel they should, regardless of ridicule and common sense. And there’s certainly something craftily ridiculous he’s doing in these songs (I’m just too dull-witted to figure it properly). It features throughout his records from the “Concise British Alphabet” tracks on Soft Machine Volume 2, through pretty much all of the Matching Mole stuff on to the backwards and absurdist lyrics on this record. I gather it’s linked to the idea of “pataphysics” that Wyatt filched from his time in Paris. French philosopher Alfred Jarry called it “the science of imaginary solutions” and it’s something about playing with different words, notes and letters, rejigging sequences and meaning, re-cutting and rearranging sense into nonsense, looking for obscure meanings, codes, jokes.

I’m also very keen on the two Alfie tracks. Again, they amble along at their own restrained pace, (the first opens with a refrain of “Alife” which manages to sound like both a metaphorical and a literal life support machine); again there’s linguistic foreplay, jazzy wordlessness and Goonish nonsense; again there’s an almost uncomfortable intimacy in its devotion; and once again both tracks mooch off into strange directions. They’re  heart-felt and heart-breakingly touching.

Just imagine if there was footage from French TV, recorded in, say, 1975, with the man on a grand piano, maybe with a few garish balloons tossed around for no apparent reason, maybe with a few clips of Alfie walking him the park, and an interview with the man discussing Rock Bottom and playing “Sea Song” and “Alife”…

Wouldn’t that be something special?

 

My admiration remains boundless…

Corre el río al mar

Ah.

That thing’s happened again.

That thing where I scuttle around, earn a few pennies and generally take care of business and, bugger me, after a bit I find that the thing I like doing most, and do actually take some pride in, I’ve not actually been doing. The annoying thing is, I’ve genuinely got some good things to write about. Saw some fine stuff at Sea Change and had a generally swell time, brought a load of great records recently and overall have listened to a lot of top music (Oh, and rediscovered a shoe-in for my still nebulous All-Time Top Ten… Rock Bottom, as you’re asking… what a gorgeously unconventional and languid affair it is…)

So anyway, something else.

Tsunamis

Tsunamis are a band from Santiago, Chile that I’d not heard of until very recently, who’ve just released their fifth record, Trans Express Sudamericane, the first coming out in the early 2000s. By your fifth record, universally established conventions require you to have mellowed a little and found your groove somewhat. This appears not to have been accepted in the more psyche-y barrios of Santiago (or maybe they were positively feral back in the day…) as this is a pretty noisy affair, all trashy guitars, X-Ray-Spex saxophones and over-eager tub-thumping.

Actually, I know they were pretty out-there, back in the day… (I think this is the same band, although, I gather there have been some changes – I can’t see the blond-haired guy in the second clip…)

 

And all in Spanish too! I’m totally there…

Well, sort of…

I’ve stumbled through this review of TES in Sonidos Ocultos, over-reaching my uncomplicated Spanish somewhat, and to be honest I’m not a whole lot wiser – feels a bit like picking your way through a Paul Morley NME piece circa 1980 in moon language (or indeed English) – but I have gleaned a couple of things from it.

  1. Goli Gaete, singer and guitarist, reckons Chile has taken over from Argentina as the vanguard of popular and underground music (cue a Scooby Doo-style “uh?” at this point)
  2. Sonidos Ocultos reckon Tsunamis are “Nuevo-nuevo-nuevo canción” – for those of us with only the passing-est of acquaintances with the original Nueva Canción, I’m guessing this is the equivalent of post-postpunk (or maybe they’re just really, really, really new songs…)
  3. And this might do it for you, Tsunamis are on BYM records, the home of the only other Chilean band you’ve heard of – the colossal Follakzoid. It’s a stand-up reference.

Best songs on the record are the loopy “Patina en Agua” and the sweaty garage punk of “Corre El Río”, a performance of which I’ll finish off with here…

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