You and I can conquer all the negative vibes

I probably need to crack on with this – I’m in danger of missing the boat with it (“You think? – May ’19).

An over-excited voice on the recording (the same one as usual, I’m afraid) can be heard saying more than once “There are literally no situations that can’t be improved by a bit of Gruff Rhys” and without wishing to blow my own trumpet or to deny the existence of all the other instances where I’m clearly talking a load of old bollocks, on this occasion, I stand by this statement.

Gruff Rhys, Sea Change

It had been a bit of a mixed day up to this point, to be fair. There’d been an aborted attempt to see Stuart Lee which had been transformed unbeknownst to us (and a load of other politely disgruntled punters) into a ticketed event during the course of the weekend. There’d been the pure and undiluted pleasure of a new Field Music set (there are, after all, literally no situations etc, etc…) and also the vaguely surreal spectacle of a marquee full of misty-eyed old lags singing along to the songs of Bagpuss.

By now it was late afternoon and a table having already been booked at a likely looking restaurant back in town, this was the last set our happy band was likely to be seeing. So I guess a certain responsibility lay in the hands of the man I took to be our genial host. In three piece suit, red bobble hat and raybans, he wore it easily, of course, and rolled out a trademark set of graceful melody and fanciful whimsy.

I’ll be honest, I’ve taken my eye off the ball of recent and I was completely unaware that another Gruff Rhys record, Babelsberg, had emerged, (last Summer, I think). I need to sort this, because the songs he played from it, “Negative Vibes”, “The Club”, “Frontier Man” and a couple of others, sounded just super.

Here’s a clip of “The Club” recorded last year, which if a little static does the trick, I’d say…

 

New material there may have been, but there was a reassuring familiarity about the whole set – the same shambling rhythms, the same avuncular informality, the same spaghetti western airs – even the applause signs were back. There was a fair smattering of songs from Candylion, American Interior and Hotel Shampoo, and the welcome return of “Pwdin Wy” (broken into its two halves by an interlude where an offending wristband was cut off with the help of a ‘knife amnesty’– “I was alarmed by some of the knives that came out just then. I thought it was a different kind of festival”).

Gruff’s voice continues to be a friendly, melancholic guide in times of creeping uncertainty. His quirks and idiosyncrasies are still more rousing than almost any other artist I know and I’d be happy to continue seeing him once every couple of years for the rest of my days.

We trudged off full-spirited, happy of heart and ready for a spot of dinner.

Lonesome Words

American Interior

Negative Vibes

Literally, no situation.

It’s a hill I’m willing to die on…

They find different ways to suck themselves off…

Another week has flown by.

Another week of cursory achievements which have made people happy, but which has precluded me from doing the stuff I’d like to be doing. You know… reading, chatting, loafing around on my tummy, listening to music.

I could, for instance have been listening to this gaudy, intemperate and monstrously powerful set I recorded at Sea Change…

Black Midi, Sea Change

If my shonky memory serves, the weather was temperate, an early afternoon in a conspicuously Brexity pub watching Glaws’ unlikely attempt to qualify for the Premiership Final had been shaken off without too much trouble (for 51 seconds it had looked so promising…) and “a gentle amble along the river” lay between us and a very promising sounding set from difficult South London likely lads, Black Midi.

An increasingly fretful “amble” saw us 45 minutes later, sloping unfashionably late, into the darkness of a very loud, very dark marquee, vaguely aware that outlandish stuff had been afoot onstage and we were not quite “up to speed” with it.

At first, I put the sense of queasy disorientation down to circumstance and told myself that things would settle. Mercifully, they didn’t…

Black Midi are a surly bunch, make no mistake.

Didn’t do a lot of talking, ran one awkward song into the next, and generally muddied the waters with as much dissonance and feedback as possible. And they were loud. I mean really loud… inordinately, bloody loud. Loud enough to make me consider getting earplugs, although if I did, I would’ve been seriously missing the point, I feel.

They thrashed through a set of broken up songs, which switched from one time signature to another with alarming effect and frequently ascended into horrible chaos. They were like a darker, nastier White Denim, with the same virtuosity but with an instinctive desire to bugger with conventional forms and to experiment furiously. (And when I say “experiment”, I’m talking Karloff).

If you watch this video, you’ll see the guitarist doing some sort of smartarsery with an iPhone on the pick up as they are playing, infuriatingly ingenious…

 

This is of course what young lads should be doing with their guitars…

You get a chance to see drummer Morgan Simpson full on “at it” in the clip too. He was pretty remarkable, another of the “why shouldn’t I be lead?” drummers that I am rather partial too. There was more than a little Drumbo to him, so it’s entirely appropriate that one of the comments to this video is:

“That’s right, the Mascara Snake, fast ‘n’ bulbous!”

`(I’ve said it before, if Beefheart hadn’t existed, we’d have had to invent him…)

You can also get a sense of the maximum David Thomas mode that vocalist Geordie Greep brings to the party – howling, gibbering and berating the audience with a sandpaper hostility that was breath-taking.

What the KEXP (God bless ‘em) clip can’t show you, though, is just how dark (in all senses) the set was. There was a lot of dry ice (Snapped Ankles levels), a lot harsh lighting, a lot of frenzied incoherence and a helluva lot of stylised silhouette work, with Greep sporting a perfect, if silly, huge black Stetson and eventually donning Eastwood-style button up overcoat as he left the stage, swathed in atmospherics (and possibly threatening to kill any man, his wife, his friends and burn his goddamn house down…)

It was a vigorous, ugly set, by a bunch of vigorous, ugly young lads.

bmbmbm

Ducter

Talking Heads

All power to their gangly elbows…

The air began to sing again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m starting here…

You Tell Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Out of the Room

Enough to Notice

I Worn My Elbows

Sucka-sucka-sucka tailpipe!

I’ve just come back from Sea Change in Totnes, a mixed weekend of great music, pretty average organisation and cracking company, with a recorder full of tunes and a bit of a hangover…

It does mean I’m a little behind on a few things here, and tempting as it might be to go straight to a warm Sunday afternoon with Gruff, I’m going to keep things strictly in order, demonstrating the discipline and self-control for which this Blog has become a byword.

Which means this first…

Snapped Ankles, SWX Bristol

This is nothing to do with Sea Change. And technically, Snapped Ankles were actually the support band last Monday evening, backing up booming hometown boys, BEAK, in what I reckon must be one of the very best double bills I think I’ve ever seen. I’ll go on to the BEAK stuff next post (they were terrific) but right now I’ll focus my laser-like eye on East London’s foremost woodland folk / motoric ensemble.

This interview here suggests a whole more thoughtful side to a gang of hormone-busting urchins of which I was completely unaware as a mysterious troupe of costumed figures picked their way across the SWX stage veiled in dry ice. Completely unrecognisable beneath ski googles and shamanistic forest masks (an anonymity that extends to interviews and all publicity), they certainly made something of an entrance, before launching hell-for-leather into a pretty brutal set that went through most of their new record, Stunning Luxury.

The interview suggests that the record is some sort of protest about developers stomping all over rehearsal spaces in the Capital – I’m not really sure where the curious wicker men look comes into this – but to be honest I’m not buying it. Personally, I prefer to believe they’re a bunch of over-excited youngsters dressing up and smashing the hell out of all manner of electronic gizmos, enjoying the buzz they get from sounds their gear was surely not designed to make. You can say what you like about tribal rhythms, I just think they’re having a whale of a time, making it as uncomplicated as they possibly can whilst muddying things to impossible degrees with as many pedals, wires and processors as they can lay their grimy fingers on. Smashing fun…

You should probably watch at least part of this…

 

Lawks!

It was relentless, dizzying and got murkier as the evening went on. By the time their set was over, you could barely see them slinking ghoulishly from the stage because of the vast amounts of swirling, murky algae smoke flowing from the stage.

I’ve got a couple of recordings which are good and certainly capture the sound of the evening but which can do no justice to the sheer exhilarating weirdness of a Snapped Ankles set.

Tailpipe / True Ecology

I Want My Minutes Back

As the boys left the stage, we were left thinking “How on earth are Beak gonna match that?” and I’ll let you know in the next post.

(Spoiler: They smashed it…)

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?]

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