Sometimes four things can be going on at once…

An engaging first for me this week…

Rubén, my Asturian pal, who once a week in the pub listens uncomplainingly to my painful Spanish and makes courteous suggestions, had a hankering to see some live music and hauled me over for my debut appearance at the Cheltenham Jazz festival on Friday. Not really my cup of tea, thinks I, but utterly unable to express thirty years of a troubled relationship with jazz in schoolboy Spanish, I opted for “Sure, why not?”

We were actually up for tickets to see Georgie Fame, which I quite fancied (for old time sake, Twenty Beat Classics was a much-loved early acquisition of mine back in the day) but we dithered and unfortunately missed out. So, at random, we picked out a band we’d neither of us heard of…

Partisans, Parabola Arts Centre

I’d not heard of the Parabola Arts Centre either, which turns out to be some sort of concert hall for the Cheltenham Ladies College, but it’s a pretty little venue, immaculately swathed in dark wood and leather furnished seats. And the sound was really excellent. (It was certainly a far cry from my usual haunts – no sticky floors and pillars; no haunting sound of a beer bottle being tossed into a bin; no glimpse of a shaggy-maned Big Jef at the front – all very genteel. I could get used to it…)

Partisans have been around for 24 years (who knew?) and are apparently genuine Post Jazz commandos, plying their gawky trade all over world to general fizz and acclaim (there’s a great interview with them here – in the ominously named All About Jazz magazine). Consisting of a revved up guitarist, an impressively coifed saxophonist, electric bassist and busy, busy drummer, they ploughed through a dizzying set that from the first nimble skips of the bass blew asunder my silly reservations about being at a jazz concert. It was clearly going to be more Sun Ra than Georgie Fame.

It was a genuinely exciting set, goaded along by a ridiculously tight & loose rhythm section and powered by the occasional wah-wah and often fuzzed up guitar of Phil Robson. The recordings don’t quite bear witness to this, but at times it made me think of what I imagine the Third-era Soft Machine might’ve been like (before Wyatt exited, taking his zany genius with him).

The best tracks were a lot of fun, sounding modern and trad at the same time – each song swooping and summersaulting through distinct phases, twisting around traditional riffs and into bafflingly oblique passages that made the senses and scalp tingle.

Here’s a clip from the Montreux Jazz Festival a few years back, sounding more than a little Beefheart-y:

 

Sometimes, we were reminded that this was, when all’s said and done, still a jazz evening, and it did get a little dreary but at such times you can always focus on the drummer. Jazz drummers are an absorbing watch, generally much more interesting than rock drummers, and this was certainly true of Gene Calderazzo, a New Yorker with a fidgety, busy style and the low boredom threshold that marks his kind – he simply would not stay on the same shift for long and was constantly adding new fills and patterns. As well as all this, he could also maintain a different rhythm with all four limbs. Astonishing stuff. (His partner in rhythm is bass player Thad Kelly, who was  terrific too. Could there be any more Be Bop names than Thad and Gene?)

A strictly-curated hour-long set was over a little too soon for some, but for me it was about right, my attention was starting to wander – any longer and it might have started to chafe.

Here’s the opening two tracks from the evening…

Max / That’s Not His Bag

But if you play that for an hour you will continually hear new things …

Well, I’ve had another unnervingly good weekend, how was yours?

If last weekend yielded the headiest of double-headers (Pigs x7 and a Gloucester/Northampton clash), this weekend has been just as good, possibly better. And now I think of it, the pattern of blessings laid down then was pretty much how it’s unfolded this weekend too. Again, a famously thrilling recovery and win for Gloucester – its’ the Big One, some of the people I stand with consider their season made or destroyed by this game… (but again I’m sure you’ve watched and re-watched the highlights enough times, and like me you’re basking in the afterglow of the Cherry & Whites being once again The Best Team in the Land).

Anyway, eschewing the siren charms of the Fountain, the Cross Keys or the Pelican, a mere forty minutes later I could be found me hurtling (footling, maybe) down the M5 for a charming evening spent in the distinguished company of Terry Riley.

Terry Riley, St George’s

I’m definitely no expert on Terry Riley. My introduction to his works has been startlingly late – I think I was quite literally unaware of him a year ago – my curiosity was only really piqued watching the “Tones, Drones and Arpeggios” series of programmes on BBC4 last Autumn. I loved his idea of notes shifting and changing in relation to each other, and the way that his compositions change and can be performed with different rules for different occasions.

Fascinating stuff, all of it, but Riley comes in at about 20 minutes.

But aside from this (and a growing love of A Rainbow in Curved Air), I had not much idea of what to expect from the evening as I ambled in through the fine (new?) entrance of St George’s.

If Lee Perry was a scarcely believable 82 years old, I should perhaps point out that Riley would have been a full two years ahead of him at High School (now I think of it, I’m very much attracted to the idea of a High School that could house both men – one, a crazy maverick who would spend days on end in a darkened studio, creating new musical worlds with tape machine and reefer, the other, Lee “Scratch” Perry).

And, to be fair, wrinkly eyed and silver bearded, he did look every bit the octogenarian as he crept uncertainly onstage with son Giyan by his side. Clearly life continues to sparkle and glow in his mind and nimble fingers, however, as he spent the next two hours skipping and twirling through a series of enchanting compositions, mostly on keyboard (although there were a couple of appearances from a magnificently reedy melodica) and imaginatively accompanied by son on guitar.

If I hadn’t quite known what to expect before the performance started, I was at least imagining that the evening might be a bit challenging, a bit modernist. There was certainly one lengthy piece that was Kluster-esque in its awkwardness, played by fingertip on something that looked like a set of electronic steel drums (but almost certainly wasn’t). There’s a clip of it, here, (I think) on YouTube:

 

But a lot of the evening was made up of playful improvisations, led by the probing insistence of Riley’s keyboard and coloured enthusiastically by surreal guitar fills from Giyan Riley, with occasional vocal interventions in a Native American style. Sometimes, the compositions meandered, sometimes they coursed forward with purpose and direction. All of it was performed with relish and a sense of joy. I don’t think he addressed his audience once (there was one apologetic aside from Gyan) but I never felt he was aloof, It was a giddy, friendly, captivating and occasionally jazzy feast.

I’ve got some quite nice recordings of the evening, although I have absolutely no idea of names – I’ve tried to disguise this lack of knowledge by taking the post-modernistic approach of numbering rather than naming them. Of course, if anyone knows better…

No 2

No 4

It’s a snake with a line, a shape with only one eye!

Whoo-hoo! The Easter holidays have well and truly begun!

Teachers around the country can lie in, loaf about and generally look back sheepishly at the days when they thought they were going to have to get a real job.

Usually this is the cue for scenes of modest revelry – possibly even a trip to the pub on a Tuesday night, but this Easter has begun with myself and fellow-traveller Coleser jumping into a car, zig-zagging across the country in search of the full range of sybaritic delights the East Midlands can offer. With his customary eye for the deal, Coleser had spotted that not only were Gloucester due to play that Sunday in Northampton, a town where we have friends who could be persuaded to put us up for a night; but also this lot of grubby hooligans were due to play there the night before.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Esquires, Bedford

We probably should get this out of the way, first – the name, it’s just daft, a pain in the arse, and not the only thing about the band that I don’t really get (and I’d be adrift without Coleser’s ingenious nursery-rhyme-themed way of counting off the “pigs”).

In what’s becoming something of a recurring theme, I was not really familiar with the porcine oeuvre, excepting the odd (ultimately unsuccessful) foray onto YouTube. The impression I was left with was that this was lead-lined, heavy, heavy music.

A gig’s a gig, though, eh? And we rocked up at what may turn out to be my only visit to Bedford’s foremost indie venue, with hope in the heart and a ticket in the pocket – and let me tell you, friends, life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. In times of national humiliation and chicanery, a Gig is, refreshingly, still most definitely a Gig.

Support band Blóm were kind of fun, exploiting the full freedom a limited pallet of bass, drums and shouting can offer, with a number of nervy forays into the audience that involved mic wires trailing provocatively over and around feet, in a health & safety nightmare that had me looking around anxiously for some of those yellow floor signs – “Caution! Screaming in Progress!”

Shambling on, to the eager tones of the Grandstand theme, Pigs x7 were soon among us, though. The sound was as heavy and blunt as I’d imagined and was somehow intensified by the deadening effect of a man with the cloth ears that thirty years gig-going will give him. It was exhilarating but pretty one paced – all a bit Black Sabbath without “Paranoid”, Motorhead without the silliness. At their most successful, they sounded like a sedated T Rex, but there was not really enough humour about them to maintain this. I’d been promised dark scenes of reckless abandon in the mosh-pit – men tearing their shirts off and losing all semblance of discretion – which didn’t quite materialise. There were moments, for sure, but nothing that made me fear for my safety.

Chubby frontman, Matt Baty led the battery with bare-chested enthusiasm and an ill-advised line in mic-lead S&M poses (again… will nobody think of the health & safety implications?), but there wasn’t a lot of texture in the set, no light and shade over the course of the evening – pretty much just shade. I’d been hoping for some ironic, Ripley Johnson –style motorik behind it all…

It was actually a better night than I think I’m making it sound – there are few experiences as electrifying as the feel of the floor thrumming beneath your feet or the sense of your ears weakening at every touch of the bass player’s fingers on nylon.

I do have a couple of recordings for you, the first and last songs of the night, which I am reliably informed are the Pigs x7 “hits”. I’ve not tried to clean them up, they remain beguilingly grimy (x7)

GNT

A66

[Oh, and to complete a cracking weekend, a patched-up Glaws team with a scrum half at full back, an inside centre at fly half and a flanker on the wing, held on for a famous win at Franklin’s Gardens. But you knew that already, right?]

Today we are all astronauts, so let’s get ready to go far from home

This Indian Summer doesn’t know when it’s beaten, does it?

The clocks go back next weekend, Halloween is round the corner and then the miserable trudge into Winter begins. All of which is something of a downer, no? Let us think gaily back to happier times, lighter moments and smoother transitions. Come back with me, if you will, to the sunny uplands of Summer ’18, August to be exact, and lift a glass to sunshine, cobalt skies glinting water and cheerful company.

The more cynical of you will straight away have recognised the whiff of a fancy metaphor when you catch it and spot the tricks of a wily old Blogger, who’s got a couple of things from the Summer he’s been meaning to post for weeks but simply couldn’t be arsed. I choose not to acknowledge your scorn, thumb my nose loftily in your direction and pause only to mention that here are a couple of things from the Summer that I’ve been meaning to post for … a while…

Steven Black, Sea Change

Steven Black (as I’m sure you know) records mostly under the moniker of Sweet Baboo, as well as playing with a number of everyone’s favourite Welsh artists, and has recently released a record of “ambient” compositions with Paul Jones as Group Listening. It’s a lovely record, that I was quite taken with over the Summer and was moved to write these lines about it at the time.

And I saw him in August at Sea Change performing the record in a church as part of the Sea Change festival with Coleser and a number of other chums. It was all part of a gorgeous “festival-without-canvas” if you remember, and a fine time was had.

He’s a chubby, unprepossessing feller who at first glance doesn’t quite have the shambling charisma of Gruff, the gawky eccentricity of Hawkline or the arch surliness of Cate, but is currently producing better records than any of his band leaders. The Group Listening affair is charming, moving back and forth between quirky easy listening and magical (kosmische) enchantment with nods in many a strange and agreeable direction.

And that’s pretty much how the Saturday afternoon went, with Black and Jones deftly running through the songs of the record – carefully, lovingly and artfully preserving the spirit of a collection of songs for which they clearly have a fondness. The venue being a church and all that, you might’ve expected hushed reverence from an audience of chin-stroking devotees, but actually it was all a bit more fun than that – people came and went, a baby cried sporadically, echoes and hums whirled around the stage. It all felt very cosy and seemed to add something to the general ambience of “field recording” there is about the songs.

Coleser’s fondness for a front seat meant we were in the very front pews and the upshot is a certain amount of nervous fiddling and general cack-handery with the recorder, but I like to think it all adds to the feel of the show. Here are a couple of songs you might want to give a listen to:

Happy Whistler

Maryan (it wouldn’t be Partly Porpoise…)

Introducing “Happy Whistler”, they mentioned it was originally a find from a 1963 record by Raymond Scott called Soothing Sounds for Baby. And by the wonders of YouTube, you can hear the original, pretty odd track (One of the comments mentions a similarity to King Tubby, and he’s not wrong. This is a bit of a treat, you probably need to give it a listen…)

 

Rare as the afternoon had been, Sea Change was still to reach its high-water mark (oh yes!) later on that evening, and Steven Black was again the catalyst…

It being quite a small festival with a few big names shoe-horned into two bulging days, there were a couple of ugly timetable clashes that prompted something of a difference of opinion amongst our cheery party. The long and short of it was that yours truly went over to the main hall to see Gwenno while the rest of the group went back to church for Josh T Pearson. A reunion for Sweet Baboo later on in the evening was planned. Gwenno was pretty good (although at this rate I’ll probably never get round to posting) and the hall was packed (including Steven Black himself. And an effervescent Big Jeff spotted at the front, so clearly I win – to be fair, I barely mentioned it…)

Towards the end of the set, I got a couple of urgent-sounding texts from others telling me to get my tail over to the intimate and exclusive surroundings of the upstairs pub room for Sweet Baboo before they closed the doors. An anxious trot across town sufficed and saw me safely bounding upstairs, hailed cheerfully from the bar and a beer thrust in my hand, as the band struck up. A feeling of enormous well-being rushed across my ruddy cheeks and for a moment I honestly felt like I was in a Bacardi Breezer advert. What a life!

Sweet Baboo didn’t disappoint, adding drummer Rob Jones from the excellent Surfing Magazines (who had sounded great the evening before from the warmth of the wine tent), and playing a selection of chart-topping favourites from his previous couple of records, particularly his latest, Wild Imagination. It was actually a very similar sort of occasion from when I saw him in the Prince Albert in Stroud a few years back – boisterous, funny and amiable.

The recordings are also pretty boisterous, stood as I was by the bar, flushed with well-being and generally “in my cups”, but all the better for it I’d say.

Clear Blue Skies

Lost Out on the Floor

The second song isn’t on Wild Imagination but was introduced as being his attempt at making an Abba / Chic style floor-filler that was rejected by the record company but was available as part of a sausage vending machine promotion in Cardiff, and therefore possibly “the best song ever released on sausage”.

Unlikely as this might sound…

Generous of lyric, Jehovah’s Witness

Nearly October, and doesn’t Summer seem a long time ago?

(After some thought, I’ve decided to break with tradition completely – in fact I’m establishing a whole new tradition. No more starting posts with abject apologies about how long it’s been since I last posted. It’s dull, right? And I was always taught not to apologise if you don’t mean it. So from now on, I’m going to start each post with some sort of trite platitude, quite possibly about the weather, or with a commonplace but penetrating observation about the absurdity of modern life. It’ll be fine…)

So, doesn’t Summer seem a while ago?

Last time I posted, I was licking my metaphorical lips about the prospect of the first festival for a while. Well, Sea Change came and went and was rather jolly. Saw some bands, enjoyed some good company, drunk some beer and made some recordings. Pretty much what the doctor ordered and all very nice.

Drinking and chatting aside, the main draw for the weekend was the chance to see a genuine legend.

Damo Suzuki, Sea Change

You’ll of course know that Damo Suzuki was the exceptional and idiosyncratic vocalist of great (and getting greater) German band, Can, singing in English, German, Japanese and at times an indeterminate other tongue. Leaving the band after Future Days, he spent ten years doing, erm, other stuff before returning to music ten years later. Similar to the (scarcely believable) time Arthur Lee turned up at Gloucester Guild Hall, another fairy-tale figure gracing a West Country stage was something I wouldn’t want to have missed.

Sea Change was rather fine – a couple of lovely little venues and one larger one, a crowded but friendly Totnes and a series of charming sets that made for a lovely warm and companionable weekend.

Actually, the whole “gracing a West Country stage” thing started somewhat less than auspiciously. This apparently was the first year that Sea Change had brought in an out-of-town stage, “a short bus ride” away in Dartmouth, I would imagine in order to put on one or two slightly larger acts. In the event, the large marquee tent that was promised failed to materialise (burnt down, I was told) and the stage stood shivering and alone in a field as the predictable festival rain set in. To a soft-as-shite middle aged chump, it felt like all the Green Mans I’d ever been to.

Fortunately, a large wine tent was available for shelter, and by the time Damo came on, I felt sufficiently fortified to venture out and see what the old eccentric had to offer. And it was quite eccentric…

Coming on stage without addressing a fair crowd of robust, wine-soaked punters, he started less than promisingly with a series of gruff inarticulate noises that sounded a bit like Louis Armstrong doing that Tibetan throat singing.

Looks were exchanged…

Fortunately, his band, redoubtable Japanese noise artists Bo Ningen, started to come in at about the 3 or 4 minute mark and as a discernible jig began to unfold, the whole performance began to take shape and make a little more sense. I frankly didn’t know what to make of Damo but as Bo Ningen started to strike up the whole thing began to sparkle. By the end, the whole spectacle had become thrillingly hypnotic.

If Damo Suzuki is a bit of a one, Bo Ningen were also a pretty thorny bunch. They provided Damo with sheets and pulses of impermeable sound, behind and beneath him, but at the same time brought enough of a Can-ish groove to the performance for one or two adventurous souls to start moving at the front of the stage. They were an enthralling and shaggy bunch to watch as well, with bassist Taigen Kawabe particularly hard to tear your eyes from, both spidery and weirdly erotic at the same time.

(It wasn’t until I was back in the winey fug of the beer tent that another punter referred to these weird, genderless creatures in the masculine. I’d kind of thought they were all women. To be fair, this… This is certainly the Twenty First Century…)

After one forty minute song, an exhausted Damo brought the performance to an end, saying that there’d be an intermission but they they’d be back soon. The second number was pretty much the same as the first and, the spell having been broken, we wondered happily back off to the car. Damo had been fun, but Bo Ningen had been astonishing and as I clambered back into a friend’s Beetle, I left feeling more than a little Bo-curious… (I thang you…)

This is a family Blog, so I’ll spare you the whole performance, but I think you might manage 13 minutes or so, no?

Damo Suzuki & Bo Ningen, Sea Change

They Gots Beef

Emusic’s been down for a couple of days (cue furious ranting from folk on the message board and a general fear that this Blog’s music provider of choice has finally gone under – it’s going to happen one day…) but this has meant that I’ve not recently bought anything much new. In fact, I’ve been forced to fall back on the sparse resources I’ve built up over a mere 40 years of obsessive music procurement.

This has actually been fun – I’ve been dousing myself liberally in Pere Ubu, the TV Personalities and the splendid brilliance of the Soft Boys (Underwater Moonlight, is definitively in my Top Five) – and has synched neatly with my reading Peter Hook’s book about his time in Joy Division. I’ve therefore had a perversely miserable time this week re-acquainting myself with Unknown Pleasures.

I couldn’t help but be struck by how much the record fitted in perfectly with so many of today’s indie-releases but at the same time felt like opening a musty, monochrome time-capsule from my teen years – even as a middle-class lad growing up in the West, it still evokes the smell of municipal gloom and crumbling warehouses which it’s easy to forget existed in the seventies and eighties (Gloucester Docks anyone?). What times…

Impossible to conceive of this group of dayglo ninnies in times like those.

The Evil Usses

I think I mentioned the Evil Usses before, in my Here Lies Man post, with rash undertakings to return to them Very Soon. If you were hanging on, eagerly awaiting the promised lines, well, I commend you for your youthful optimism and maybe this post will afford you a few more days of wide-eyed hopefulness…

Yes, so Bristol’s Evil Usses supported Here Lies Man on a cold Sunday afternoon in March, the original Friday evening date having been suspended because of heavy snowfalls. Very odd to be walking into a pub of a Sunday afternoon with all the familiar anticipation that a dose of live music still gives this old chap, and as myself and Coleser did so, the slightly surreal feeling was hardly alleviated by the absolute racket coming from the stage area.

Evil Usses had already started and were lumbering and honking through a truly bizarre set of “rocky notjazz, jazzy notrock” that confused and amused by turns. The Evil Usses are a sax/synth-guitar-bass-drums four-piece with clear Beefheart / Zappa love and an ear for squelchy disruption.

Watch this…

 

 

(As was pointed out, you know it’s left-field when even Big Jeff loses the thread)

There were no vocals and nothing lyrical about them at all, just a dollop of saucy smart-aleckery played at enthusiastic volume and a determination to play at at least one step’s divorce from anything else you’re going to hear this week. I should qualify the Beefheart thing, though – they’re a swinging version, more like a post-funk Magic Band (and I’m not talking about the Captain’s own rather creepy, insecure attempts to make a seventies “pop” record). It was enormous fun and left me grinning foolishly to myself until Here Lies Man came on and did their thing.

Despite Coleser’s prudent counsel (I have “form” in this area…), I snuck off to the merch stall and bought what turns out to be the second Evil Usses record, Amateur Pro Wrestling, and I’m glad I did – it’s not quite as exhilaratingly daft as that afternoon’s set, but certainly a fun listen. Turns out their eponymous debut and their just-released third, Muck, are both available on the newly restored Emusic (the latter characteristically mislabelled) and I’ve just spent a blissful Sunday afternoon immersed in their goofy genius…

I also have a couple of recordings from the set, which I’d like to think capture some of anarchic enthusiasm of the afternoon.

Buzz Gots Beef

Grouse

Wellard J Fowler

You’d also be well advised to pay a visit to the band’s Soundcloud page which is full to bursting with tracks and outtakes.

Ridiculous…

I’m not a kid, and you’re not a baby

This is poor, even by my laggardly standards…

Six (yep, six), weeks ago, I went down to The Lantern in Colston Hall to see the dazzling and always rewarding Field Music, and then, apparently fell asleep at the wheel. To be fair, I was convinced I had written a post, uploaded a few recordings and, starting off on another jaunt to Madrid, had very much filed this under “dealt with”. Imagine my surprise…

Hmm. I’m listening to my recording of the evening now to try to regain a little of the frisson and some of the exhilaration of another evening in the company of The Best Band in Britain. And maybe… just maybe…

Think very hard, people, and maybe we can achieve one of those surely not credible time-ripples employed on children’s TV shows to such great effect.

Field Music, The Lantern

Imagine a younger, less grizzled PP, still in possession of a full head of hair – naïve, hopeful, yet to be brought low by the cares and vicissitudes of a pitiless world. Simpler times.

It was under circumstances pretty much similar to these that I found myself alongside a similarly youthful, sable and care-free Coleser, both of us as giddily expectant as any right-thinking man would be, awaiting the arrival of the Brewis brothers. I think I’ve seen them five times now, and it’s still a uniquely assured experience – you know you’re not going to be disappointed.

The new album, “Open Here”, is another entertaining, ambitious and complex affair, with a few straight up, near political statements that confirm the band’s status (if it were ever in doubt) as a couple of Life’s Good Guys.

And so it came across onstage.

Seventy five minutes of apparently effortless precision – noisy bonhomie, fidgety riffing and general goofing around with time signatures. I may be imagining it, but I felt there was something of a leap in confidence in the performance – there was none of the apologetic, almost disbelieving, gratefulness at the audience reaction. It looked to me like it may have recently dawned on the lads that they have a hell of a product; a genuine gifting.

And also, by now, a pretty devoted following. There was a time when I feared for the boys, imagining that grinding under-appreciation and lack of cash might do for them, but actually I don’t worry about it anymore. They look like a band secure in the knowledge that they’re doing it right and that people know they are. They looked happy, secure and confident in a load of good songs and in particular a great new record.

The minutes flashed by and the announcement that they were now on their last song was greeted with puzzled disbelief as a group of enchanted punters, collectively looked at their watches and scratched their heads.

Many, many highpoints, but I give you a couple of sparklers from “Open Here” and their “big hit” of yesteryear (as if…)

Count It Up

Disappointed

No King No Princess

Such a band…

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