Have you done a pinger? You have, haven’t you?

So, this was meant to be the second part of a post about a terrific evening at SWX a fortnight ago, a companion piece to the post I wrote about Snapped Ankles. The impish Green Men from East London had scampered off a smoke-jewelled stage, leaving a stunned and excited group of lairy punters and I must admitted I feared a little for the Beak boys – how do you begin to follow that?

Beak, SWX, Bristol

(I’ve just realised that other Bloggers and reviewers use the mysterious “>” character after “Beak” – I’m not going to do that, it’s too late for me now and I’m doubling down on not holding any truck with that sort of nonsense…)

This was, of course, a hometown gig for Geoff Barrow and pals, and from the get-go there was a pretty relaxed, confident air about their set. They were like wayward teenagers coming home from uni, unrepentant, without explanations, feet on the sofa, bag of washing by the stairs. We asked no questions, like proper modern parents, and made it clear we were just pleased to see them. They goofed about onstage, interacted with the punters (“Have you done a pinger? You have, haven’t you? He’s done a pinger!”) swore immoderately and banged out an effortless set of hearty, wibbly krautrock that sounded absolutely fine to these ears.

Here’s a video shot in Manchester last year which gives you a feel of the evening, but doesn’t quite capture the whole Brizzle-ness of the evening:


It was a much more raucous affair, driven firmly by Barrow’s tight, at times hefty drumming and despairing vocals, with seated bassist Billy Fuller (he didn’t actually have his teeth blacked out, but still…) weaving his way in out of Barrow, providing a busy and full background across which the reedy, wavering synths from Will Young’s corner wandered ethereally. Nervously intoxicating…

They’ve got a really strong set of seventies sci-fi-influenced songs which still work really well and I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever heard something so derivative work so well in a modern context – it’s like modern pop is really ready for what they do and must surely be kicking itself for not having thought of it sooner.  I loved, loved, loved it.

A real party atmosphere meant that there was a lot of noise in the hall, but not thick-headed chumps talking their way through the set, more like groups of tipsy souls having great fun, unable to contain their spirits, in the sure knowledge that no one else would mind (even this old prudish curmudgeon). To be honest, it’s such a muscular, industrial sound Beak have that, frankly, you could’ve driven a combine into the hall and I don’t think too many would’ve noticed.

Highlights of the set were a particularly dashing but brutal version of “Wulfstan II” and the entrancing folk horror of “When We Fall”, with some genuinely witty banter to introduce it.

The recordings are … atmospheric but still for all that, some of the best I think I have, and it’s in that spirit I’m giving you a couple, including a very noisy “Allé Sauvage”, simply because it’s a quivering banger, my favourite track on the latest record:

Allé Sauvage

Wulfstan II

When We Fall

I’m breathlessly excited listening to these again, you really should give them a listen (I tell you I’ll not be responsible for my actions…)

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…

Kicking the gong for you (phoria)

There’s a (banjo-toting) elephant in the room, I feel.

I think it’s time somebody, somewhere, said something about the Holy Modal Rounders – clearly someone’s got to tackle this thorny subject, and as nobody else seems to be covering the hippie bluegrass Greenwich Village scene these days, it may as well be this idiot.

Lucky Seven – the Holy Modal Rounders

In as much as anybody spares a thought for the Holy Modal Rounders these days, they’re generally thought of as Fabulous Furry Freak Brother types – daft, ridiculous and tiresome. If you know anything about the Rounders, it’s probably from hearing the novelty strains of “Bird Song” as Jack Nicholson falls in with Hopper and Fonda on the way to Mardi Gras – “Oh, I’ve got a helmet!” (Cue fond memories of seeing Easy Rider in an unlikely midnight showing at the old ABC cinema in Kings Square, Gloucester…)


That’s pretty much the Rounders post 1965 career, to be honest, a prolonged stoned, thumbing of the nose to The Man, making records that sound like they were a whole lot more fun to make than they are to actually listen to, the rest of the world playing the part of being the only straight guy at the Rounders’ own Acid Test. There’s quite a bunch of records like this that ran through the rest of the sixties and seventies and included a period working with the Fugs (imagine…).

But, and this is the point I’m getting to, thankfully there were a couple of releases before all this, which are substantially better. The first of these was recorded in the New Year snow as 1964 gingerly popped its little head out, at precisely the same time as, thousands of miles (and another world) away, yours truly was making his own even-less auspicious debut. Fifty four years on and The Holy Modal Rounders remains one of my very favourite records – it’s an infectious, intriguing, intransigent belter of a record, that charms and exasperates in equal measure.

In the early sixties, the Rounders were idiosyncratic Greenwich Village folkies Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel, brought together by a mutual girlfriend and a love of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. They hit it off straight away and started playing what Stampfel called “progressive old-timey” music based on their love of bluegrass, mountain music and psychedelics.

This first record is made up of lovingly produced trad arrs and “original” songs that “evolved in the usual way – hear song, forget song, try to remember song while adding your adding your own person wrinkles”. The “wrinkles” are of course what make the record so great. It’s a bunch of authentic voices from disappearing generations, passed through the fuzziest of lenses, all livelied up by a twinkling sense of mischief.

Each song is based around Weber’s country blues guitar picking and sparingly decorated with Stampfel’s banjo or fiddle playing. The vocals are pretty distinctive, gruff, harsh, often silly – an acquired taste for sure, but if you listen to the Harry Smith stuff, not so very different…

Men like Clarence Ashley and Uncle Dave Macon infused their songs with a sense of jeopardy, a chill even, which now gives them a certain supernatural life in a new century. The Rounders’ versions on the other hand, fooling around at a carefree distance of fifty years, are full of yippee-ish anarchy, fun (and fondness). Never too precious with the originals, Weber and Stampfel felt free to rewrite lines, add verses and “revolutionise” the content. Famously, in “Hesitation Blues” (a Charlie Poole song from the 20s) Stampfel worked in the first recorded use of the word “psychedelic” (alright, “pyscho-delic”).

I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Rounders treated their source stuff with derision, feeling at liberty to ridicule and spice it up, that’s really not the case – the songs are treated with the sort of teasing irreverence that you might reserve for a twinkly-eyed Nan. But some of the songs do manage to retain the haunting sound of the past to great effect – my favourite being, the poignant “Bound to Lose” (“Riverboat gambler’s born to lose…”). Beautiful, graceful music…

This being 1964, there’s no footage of Stampfel and Weber playing before the peyote broke all pretence of self-control, which is a real shame. So, I’ve done a Lucky Seven collection for you to judge for yourself, and if you do find yourself tempted to seek out a little more W&S quirkiness, tell ‘em I sent you:

Lucky Seven – The Holy Modal Rounders:

Bound to Lose; Euphoria; Hesitation Blues; Mr Spaceman; Low Down Dog; Uncle Joe (from the Live in 1965 record); The Cuckoo (+ Clarence Ashley’s original from the Harry Smith Anthology)

(Still sounds a load more “real” than Dylan to me…)

Thought brought the drought about

A fortnight on and I’m still struggling to say anything sensible about Mark E Smith’s passing… (I’ve agonised about this post – I wanted to get it right – but in the end…)

There have been a slew of farewells, reminiscences, funny stories and “life of a Fall fan” pieces, most of them heart-felt, most of them well worth reading. The radio tributes have been genuinely good and I particularly enjoyed the Radcliffe and Gideon Coe programs. And there’s quite a bunch of stuff on the BBC that I’m yet to go through.

One of the things I read was by Stewart Lee, who talked about how it was important not to make tributes all about yourself (before he went on to do so) but it’s hard not to, really. Smith’s legacy differs from person to person, and I think is probably more personal than most others. Although not always a die-hard fan (I have friends who can – and do – measure the passing of their years in Fall concerts), Fall records have always been there… What are we going to do now?

I’m quite surprised how much of a surprise it has actually been – even though his waning was clear for even the dopiest to see, his lifestyle hardly suggesting he’d be around for ever… I did kind of think he would be.


Another thing that I wasn’t expecting was quite how little people would care about it. Although there has been plenty of media coverage, and my own close buddies and everyone I follow on Twitter were all appropriately stunned, not one of my various work colleagues was remotely bothered (and only a few knew who he was). I’m living in a bubble, clearly.

So anyway, Josie in bed with flu, I found myself in the spare room that night and drifted off to sleep listening to the radio, playing sundry Fall pieces, including “Middlemass” from one of the Peel sessions, and it occurred to me that, winding back a fair few years, the first time I’d actually heard the track, from that session had been in similar beneath-the-bedclothes circumstances back on the day of transmission. Hmm… My Peel Sessions boxset has been in the car ever since. So Peel and Smith being forever linked, and in the absence of anything clever to say, let’s do one of these…

Lucky Seven – The Fall: Seven Peel tracks that made you glad to be alive.

Lucky Seven – Mark E Smith

I’m not sure I’d ever read them before but the liner notes for the boxset by Daryl Easlea are very good. Apart from the session details (interesting in themselves), the main notes are a great read. And it is hard not to see the following lines (about Peel) in particular without a sense of gloomy prescience…

“Hearing the music he played for the first time was a dramatic, life-changing experience. Everyone has memories of hearing their first Peel session. It was a drifting off to sleep moment, awaiting the next school day…”

So I’ll start with this one.

Middlemass – Session 3 (31/3/81)

“The boy is like a tape loop”

Picture if you will a green youth who should’ve been working on his Hardy essay, furtively abed, puzzling over the dark, compact sounds of this 1981 session. As ever, I’d not quite listened properly and went off to school the next day, vaguely impressed that Smith was apparently a George Elliot fan – I’d no doubt have been disappointed by the suggestion of it being about football fans (although Marc Riley was convinced it was about him).

Steve Hanley’s loping bassline impels the song onward while Riley and Scanlon’s scratchy guitar lines add venomous colour to Smith’s words. I had no idea what he was on about and am only a little clearer these days. The sense of the oddness of it all and the befuddlement that I was left with as I drifted off that night is something I’ve grown to cherish.

Garden – Session 6 (23/3/83)

“He’s here! I swear! I saw him! He’s on the second floor!”

I think this is the first of the two-drummer line-up’s sessions, and the doubled down intensity of the drumming that opens the track leads us into ten fun-filled minutes of unyielding obscurity. Craig Scanlon is particularly unforgiving. I only really discovered this song a couple of years ago, and it’s one of Smith’s denser and more intimidating lyrics, which I’ve returned to again and again. Again, I’ve still little idea what’s going on here, but I love it and I love the fact that I’ll be gnawing on these and other Smith lyrics for years to come.

(I’ve always thought it a shame that the similarly impenetrable “Spector Vs Rector” never made it onto a Peel session reel…)

Dead Beat Descendant – Session 12 (31/10/88)

“Take five dead beat steps”

I remember a friend playing me the Mr Pharmacist cover when I first left Gloucester for London. I’d knew they’d recorded it and being a self-styled garage punk fiend by this time, I’d imagined it’d not be a patch on the Other Half original. As ever, I was knocked sideways by what a stonking great romp it was and it opened a door to how much Smith loved a good Nuggety riff – a now obvious fact I’d somehow not twigged. The twangy guitar for DBD was straight off a Seeds (or even Link Wray) record and I’m guessing must’ve triggered mayhem on the floors of student unions and workingmen’s clubs up and down the country.

I could’ve chosen “Cab It Up” for all the same reasons.

New Puritan – Session 3 (24/9/80)

“Hail the new puritan! Righteous maelstrom! Cook one”

This scarcely believable version of an already released song is an example of how Peel Session versions were sometimes really different to the ones that emerged on vinyl, and sometimes even better. Easlea refers to Peel versions as “news bulletins and work in progress from Planet Fall” except this one has become pretty much definitive. The lyrics are feverishly spat out and Smith seems at times to leave Riley and Scanlon playing an uneasy game of catch up.

I know there’s a whole thing about it being a savage tilt at music-consuming elitism and as such the “puritans” are the target of his bile but I much prefer to take it as a hairshirt-wearing Smith’s own crack at a post punk Opus Dei. Paul Hanley’s drums are particularly damaging, and as it plays out each brutal thud, now that I’ve started to think of it as some sort of self-mortification, is making me flinch…

(Also I love the Beeheart thing in the introduction…)

Beatle Bones ‘N’ Smokin’ Stones – Session 20 (18/8/96)

“The strawberry mouth, the strawberry cloth, strawberry cratten-killer, strawberry butterfly, strawberry fields forever”

The Fall were always good for a few unlikely covers, and there were some truly great ones – “Mr Pharmacist”, “Ghost in my House” and “Victoria” all leap to mind – but today I’m going for a cover of the good Captain. I’d venture that for all that Smith was a great original, he couldn’t have gone to half the strange and illicit places he did without some help from Beefheart. Unsurprisingly, the Fall make a deeply spirited stab at an obdurate classic with Brix going over all Antennae Jimmy Semens (recently passed away, too…) and Smith giving the cement mixer to a ragbag of already pretty impressionistic lyrics.

I can’t think of another band whose covers sounded as good as the Fall’s…

New Face in Hell – Session 3 (24/9/80)

“… uncovers secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions.”

Easlea’s liner notes suggest that this session might be the best one of all and it’s hard to argue with that when you consider that the other two songs are a sheet-lightning “Container Drivers” and “Jawbone + the Air Rifle”,

I’m choosing this one though because it showcases the man’s incredible, eccentric shrieking delivery – truly a frontman who “sung” like no other. The “new face in hell!” here is a sound from a scary, scary place, as troubling as it is thrilling. He of course made it clear that he didn’t sing at all (hard not to argue with that) but from the distinctive Gallic –uhs added to the end of lines to the astonishing squeals and high-pitched battle yells, his is one of my favourite voices in music. And that’s before he got the megaphone out (an iconic stroke of weird genius that, by the way)

C ‘n’ C / Hassle Schmuk – Session 3 (31/3/81)

“Oh dear friends, I can’t continue this…”

The seventh one I’ve chosen is again quite different from the record version that turned up on, in this case, the Grotesque album. At the “mithering” point in this version, the band careen off instead into a mickey take of Coast to Coast’s silly “Hucklebuck” song (at the time of the session, sitting at number three in the charts).

The Arthur Askey line is just plain funny – and I wouldn’t ever want to forget that the man was genuinely witty. Nasty, maybe, but always able to make you laugh. (At this point, I should direct you to this page on the NME site for a nice collection of MES savageries – I know, I know, I won’t do it again, but seeing as I’ve borrowed the photo from their site…)

So, there you are. Seven Peel tracks I particularly treasure, in no particular order and each one of them damn lucky to be there – if you’d caught me on another day, there’d be seven other buggers there…



Lucky Seven – Africa

Related imageI trust you all had a cheery Christmas time and that you’ve been far too busy making snow angels, arguing with relatives or making ill-advised photocopies of intimate body parts to be bothered with reading Blogs. Fear not, you’ve not missed anything here, in fact I myself have been tied up doing at least two of those things (answers on a postcard) to be worrying about Blog posts. But as with every year, once you’ve clambered sheepishly off the office equipment, you realise there’s at least one present you meant to sort out but with which you’ve somehow missed the last post.

Lucky Seven – Africa

Lucky Seven – Africa

Belated presents are alright thought, aren’t they? Just when you think you’ve done with it all and thoughts of January gloom begin to circle above you, another present appears! Get in! Christmas! It’s not over quite yet!

This was supposed to be a companion gift to go with the South American group of songs I did last week. Again, they’re not new (and again, there’s not seven) but they’re all tracks I bought in 2017.

Although crate-digger compilations of African records are as common as ever (I have loads and bought a good few this year again), it’s actually much harder to find anything out about the artists behind the music, than say for the Latin American records I was gibbering about. So pretty much anything that follows now, really has to be taken with a pinch of salt (OK, OK…) Hey ho…

In the Jungle (Instrumental) – the Hygrades

This is a belter from Soundway’s Nigeria Rock Special collection, which pops and clunks its way along, guided by Image result for nigeria rock specialleader-guitarist Goddy Oku’s unselfconscious pyrotechnics. In the late 60’s, he was apparently something of an effects guru in his home town of Enugu in Nigeria, applying all sorts of innovative jiggery-pokery to a variety of boxes and pedals, and seems to have used all of them in this track. Look! I can do fuzztone! Wah-wah? You want wah-wah? (Reminds me of that Electric Prunes Vox wah-wah pedal advert – “It’s the now sound” It’s what’s happening!”.)

As well as being the Hygrades’ guitarist, Oku had his own recording studios where William Onyeabor sometimes recorded. The Soundwaves collection also includes a vocal version of the song, but you don’t want singing getting in the way do you?

Maliba – Kaloum Star

Image result for Discotèque 74

Another wild, wild track, taken from a collection called Discotèque 74 issued by Syliphone and picked up from eMusic on a whim. A fidgety, wriggly thing of splendour, it’s again powered by those new-fangled electric guitars and a hopelessly immodest brass section that prances about front of stage showing itself off to great effect. According to this Blog, Kaloum Star were a Guinean band led by saxophonist Mamadou Barry who is apparently still recording. WorldService has also made a few further recordings available. Get over there!


Dzo Le Gbo Nye – Adamah & Agbote

Image result for Togo Soul 70

And a third, rhythm-driven bugger… Fuzz guitar pushed into a mesmerising background, this track is even more percussion driven than the previous two and is framed by the brassiest of brass sections. I can find nothing out about Adamah & Agbote, other than that this was originally a 1980 release – I can’t even say which of the two is the lady providing the charmingly quivery backing vocals. I’ve fetched it off the lovely Togo Soul 70 collection released last year by Hot Casa Records (who are less than exhaustive in their background info).


Hi Babe – Ngozi Family

Image result for day of judgement ngoziThe Ngozi Family are much less obscure, and bandleader Paul Ngozi has a clutch of records to his name according to Wikipedia (yes, he has a wiki entry), although the list they give includes the record this track came from (Day of Judgement) but doesn’t include the record the Family recorded with Chrissy Zebby Tembo that I bought last year. Hewn from the same “I’ve got a pedal and I’m not afraid to use it” block as Goddy Oku, Ngozi was another one who liked an effect or two and wasn’t averse to the odd solo. On “Hi Babe”, the guitar is distorted beyond repair and I’m guessing the poor thing was glad to switch to wah-wah for the solo at least. The lyrics are in English and are disarmingly lascivious – “when I wake up in the morning, I get some places, I meet some girls, I gotta say, “hi Baby!”


Image result for sahara swings malcouns

When the Sun Breaks Through – Karl Hector & the Malcouns

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that this colourful, jazzy track from Karl Hector and his bucking Malcouns is the only record in this bunch that was released this century (finger on the pulse, and all that…). No fuzztone guitars, no lyrics, no solos, just a minute and a half of shapeless, cubist African rhythms, formed in a desert (on the moon) and dedicated (I’m guessing) to John Coltrane. The whole album, Sahara Swing, is like that – nineteen tracks, none of them over the five minute mark and plenty, plenty shorter. Lovely exotic, quixotic stuff.

Africa Africa – Ekambi Brillant

Image result for ekambi brillant africa africaFilched this track from the best Blog I know, the wonderful Aquarium Drunkard (“Come for the drums, stay for the humid washes of Cameroonian fuzz”). Looked this up on eMusic and they have a number of records by Ekambi Brillant, including two “Best of” volumes, neither of which feature this track. None of the samples are anything like a match for this powerful, fuzz-drone, over which Brillant exhorts I know not what (but I believe him).

Awash 1973 – Ali Mohammed Birra

Image result for ethiopiques ali birra

It wouldn’t be right if I did a post about African music and didn’t blither on about the Ethiopiques series at least once. This is from Volume 28 (I know, please don’t stop…), dedicated to Oromo singer, Ali Mohammed Birra who is something of a hero amongst the Oromo people of Ethiopia. This is not the wild, James Brown-esque soul of Swinging Addis fame, but is still backed by and built upon a disciplined brass section which allows Birra’s elegant vocals to weave in and out of an eerie organ piece. “Awash” is one of his best known songs – there are two other versions of the song on this collection – and Birra is still recording today aged 70.


N’nijo (feat. Ensemble Black & White) – Amara Toure

Image result for amara toureI wrote about Amara Toure in June of this year. Nothing to add to it, really, except that it still sounds great (particularly those slightly assonant pair of saxes…)



Avante Juventude – Os Angos

Analog Africa is another great little label, easily as good as Ethiopiques and Soundways, andImage result for angola 2 I’ve bought more than one of their bewitching compilations. This track comes from the lip-smackingly titled “Angola 2 – Hypnosis, Distortions and other Sonic Innovations 1969-1978”, and features beautifully understated guitar work from another band of mysterious heroes. Backed by drums and traditional percussion (it actually sounds a lot like that scratchy cheese grater sound you hear in cumbia and merengue tracks – the guiro), the guitar meanders along with deceptive pace and little sign of a destination. But that’s OK, we’re just travelling right?


Tap it, unwrap it.

Siete de la Suerte!

Every Christmas, I approach this end-of-the-year review business with something of a heavy heart – I warm to it as I get into it, but generally I can’t be arsed with it. Nonetheless, I’m aware of my responsibilities to an attentive audience and was just starting to compile a “Seven Great Gigs of 2017” list when I realised that somewhat embarrassingly 2017 has been more than a little thin on the live music front – suffice to say it was going to be a bit a scrape, barely worth the effort.

So I thought, I’ll start a Best of the Year list (again, pretty much obligatory in the trade) but then I thought “Why?”. Not in a Kenneth Williams, “what’s the bloody point?” sort of a way, more a why not give the hungry reader a Christmas present they actually want?

Like some wonky South American tunes, for example…

Lucky Seven – Siete de la Suerte

Actually, there’s eight, they’re not all South American and (of course) they’re not all new but, hey, it’s a hook. These are all bands and records I’ve enjoyed this year and meant to write about, but, well you know how it goes…

Siete de la Suerte

No Somos Malos – Los Dug Dug’s (from Smog)

Image result for los dug dugs

Los Dug Dug’s (the grocer’s apostrophe is a thing apparently) are a Mexican band and are still making records. This is a cracker straight from the seventies, though, all driving fuzz tone and demented psychedelic flute. It opens their second record, Smog released in 1972 and their “masterpiece” according to one punter. It’s pretty much the template for most of the rest of it – although I’ll spare you the 12-minute closer, Hagámoslo Ahora. Let’s do it!

Acto I – Lula Pena (from Troubadour)

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The other track which isn’t actually South American, this track is also the opener from the second record, but these are pretty much the only links you could possibly make between them. This is your proper, deep Portuguese fado, a genre I’d found pretty much impenetrable until I came across Ms Pena’s breathy, mysterious intensity. Worth soldiering on blindly through ten dark minutes if only for the extraordinary period of rhythmic panting she embarks on towards the end…

Run Montang Run – Flaming Salt (from Brazilian Nuggets, Vol I)

If I was organising things properly this one probably belongs after the Dug Dug track, seeing as how it’s another crazy, arms flailing garage track. I bought a whole collection of stuff I’d never heard in a compilation, thinking it was from the sixties but actually it’s nineties stuff, which is OK, I think. I know nothing about Flaming Salt except they are signed to Sao Paulo label Menino Muquita and that you can download a whole album from them for free from their Bandcamp page (I discovered this about two minutes ago)…

Nunca Olvidarme Mi Acento – Dat Garcia (from Maleducada)

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The Dat Garcia album was a bit of a dark horse with me, again having heard nothing of or about her before. But it’s pretty good album from Argentinian singer/rapper and aural kleptomaniac who has a particular affection for indigenous sounds and rhythms. I’m still a sucker for the sound of sung or spoken Spanish, and during July this was a record I spent a lot of time on. A bit spooky, a bit glitchy, hooked I was.

Atahualpa – Nación Ekeko (from La Danza)

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Another record from Argentina, another singer with sticky fingers and an ear for itchy Latin rhythms. Nación Ekeko are actually the side project of Diego Pérez, who is part of an experimental electronica duo called Tonolec another bunch of furiously acquisitive Guarani fiends. It’s a cracking track driven along insistently by a mixture of electronic beats and hand percussion, and guided round the corners by intricate guitars and strings. Lovely stuff.

Cumbia Volcadora – Orkesta Mendoza (from Vamos a Guarachar!)

I’m sure I reaImage result for orkesta mendozad something once about Cumbia Refrita – cumbia that’s been slowed down, rehashed, re-fried as it were – but I can’t for the life of me find anything about it now. If it’s nothing more than a figment of my fragile imagination, well, it damn well should be a thing…

Sergio Mendoza is a compadre of Calexico and similarly lives in the US but has deep Mexican routes. This is an engaging track, all the traditional elements of Cumbia slowed down and remixed, including the vocals, at times almost like a record at slightly the wrong speed, but like the beans, on the next morning a whole different thing entirely…

Que Me Duele? – Quantic, Nidia Góngora (from Curao)

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Quantic is one of those wizard DJ/crate-diggers who puts together records as well, mostly pretty dance-y stuff, but often with enough other stuff to interest the older, more arthritic listeners too. Nidia Góngora is a Columbian singer who has her own band but whose collaboration with Quantic came out this year and is a hugely entertaining listen with all its African roots clearly on show. Again, all sorts of prickly clever stuff going on behind the prevailing rhythms.

Flores deImage result for soema montenegrol desierto – Soema Montenegro (from Passionaria)

I did actually get around to writing about Soema Montenegro in May and I have little to add to those wise words, other than to say she still sounds as offbeat as she did then and that her third record is now available from her Bandcamp page. Not someone you’d want to be sat next on a long journey…

Felices Navidades!

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