Like most people who've listened to BBC Radio 4's long-running Desert Island Discs (I suspect), I've found myself contemplating which records I would choose, were I on the programme.
Well, as an ultra-obscure author/blogger/musician, it's highly unlikely that this will ever happen. But I did get asked by Jon Downes, the noted cryptozoologist and person behind Gonzo Multimedia, to participate in the weekly online Gonzo magazine's "Desert Island Discs" feature (Gonzo Web-radio syndicate my Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast). Unlike on R4 where you only get to choose ten individual songs/pieces, Jon says "there are no rules". So as well as albums, I threw in some box sets. I mean, it's one thing to list some records to give an impression of what music you like, but another altogether to imagine being stuck somewhere with those records and no others, for the rest of your life. So I tried to imagine that situation and came up with my list, which you can see on pp.68-69 here.
Now I'm thinking "Wot, no Astral Weeks? No Spirit of Eden? No Byrd, Dowland, Orlando Gibbons, Goldberg Variations? No In A Silent Way? No King Tubby's Meets The Rockers Uptown? No Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics?" Still, I think I could find sonic contentment with the list I chose.
'72 Soft Machine radically reinterpreting something from the Third album, Henry Cow improvising magnificently in Sweden in '76, a 2006 Steve Hillage remix of the only existing Paragong studio recording, a Hatfield radio session from '74, plus Caravan and Kevin Ayers getting sampled by underground hiphop producers. Also, some fabulous modal Coltrane, a classic slice of Ethiopique, 70s fusion from Finland, France and Iowa and something new from the Claudia Quintet. From the Canterbury of now, Lapis Lazuli, Arlet, Liam Magill, Ekoda Map, Koloto and Bodhi Glitch. AND...Salman Rushdie singing Kevin Ayers (really!)
An amazing week in New Orleans (my first visit there), as seen from a musician's-eye-view, thanks to Leonie...
4-11 April 2016
Monday On the plane from London, listening to Astral Weeks, an unfamiliar Björk LP, Richard Thompson's Still, the Cecilia String Quartet playing Mendelssohn and CCR's Green River. At Atlanta airport baggage claim, a guitarist called Mark who happened to be in Angie Stone's band stopped to ask about my saz — they'd just been out at a jazz festival in Capetown.
I was met by L and her friend at Louis Armstrong International Airport. When Sabine started her car, the first five notes of Miles' "In A Silent Way" came on the radio (and then it switched off)...instantly recognisable and a perfect jazz welcome via local station WOZZ (which I didn't ever find time to listen to). L and I ended up sitting up late on her friend Brian's back steps chatting — hearing about life in New Orleans (which already felt like a categorically different kind of place to the rest of the USA) and the latest about her new multi-collaborative album, etc.
Tuesday I met Ali in the morning (about to head to NYC for a folk festival), and she helped shift our stuff over to Jonathon's house a few blocks away where we'd be staying. He'd been working on arrangement of his old-time songs for an album project. We then cycled over to "New Canada" (a small colony of lovable musicians from Ontario) so L could confer with Craig about a possible Italian tour this summer. He was caught up rehearsing with half a dozen others in the garden, so we sat and listened to the incredibly gorgeous song "Maureena" by Duff, one of the Canadians (part of The Ever Lovin' Jug Band)...kind of a Roy Orbison thing going on. I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing — on one level, just some people outside a house playing music, but on another, something of world-class quality and incredible beauty. We cycled over to Lee Circle where L and Sabine had a gig singing with Dave Hammer from Akron (who turns out he knows Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh's son Jacob)...lovely gospel/country/folk vibes after sets from a singer/songwriter called Connor, and Kia doing solo banjo/guitar and singing Cat Power style. After Dave and co., it was Camille and a friend harmonising beautifully, but I was nodding off by then. I remember the incongruity of hearing Hawkwind's original version of "Motorhead" (with Simon House on violin) on the stereo between sets.
A whole crew of us then cycled together (fun! i was on a borrowed Huffy cruiser) over to Maggie's, a gay bar on Elysian Fields that hosts a Tuesday Country night. It wasn't particularly country that week, but still good. Things started with "Andrew Mill and the 5a.m. Rumble Strip" from Scotland playing a mix of "celtic country" and some jigs, reels and marches with whistle, fiddle and alto sax involved. Next it was the 99 Playboys from Elton, LS, a cajun trio. I couldn't figure out where the bassline was coming from at the time — it seems to have been a bass uke that was being played along with the fiddle and box. I was listening from the threshold of sleep while numerous couples two-step danced. Finally it was the Slick Skillet Serenaders. L was getting sweaty from dancing and drinking, having a great time while I nodded out happily on a barstool. We cycled back late and listened to some tracks from her new album (including one with Liam from Syd Arthur and one in which she sings in Japanese and plays koto!)
Wednesday We hurriedly cycled over to Royal Street so L could join a busking crew — the Hot Minute Jazz Band, her regulars. I filled my rucksack with groceries from Rouse's, then sat on the pavement breakfasting and listening to a killer brass band (trumpet, two trombones, sousaphone, two drummers). Lots of tourists filming and dancing — nice vibes. Black/white musical segregation seemed a thing here, though: whites playing old-time, ragtime, country-blues and old jazz, blacks playing the brass band music they learn at school for the parades, etc. L was playing washboard and singing, consistently getting major applause for her "frumpet" (simulated trumpet) solos. She'd got a puncture on her back tyre, so after busking we walked the bikes over to a bikeshop on Frenchmen Street (closed, but the owner was hanging around outside and went to get a tube for her). We then lazed around in a park for a while waiting for Craig to come and talk about the Italian tour. A couple of locals with an amp started blasting bad hip-hop via local station WQUE. L was annoyed, wishing instead for WOZZ, but I was quite interested to know what the local black population generally listened to (clearly not jazz these days!) Craig turned up, then a couple of other friends. All the musicians get around on bicycles, I was happy to see. It turned out that Merle Haggard had died that day — the new arrivals play country and had been churning out the Merle songs on the street earlier. We walked over to Craig's where there were tools and I was able to sort out L's bike, then we cycled over to Dorian's for a weekly jam. Dorian's a young French guitarist and these jams tend to be super-fast gypsy jazz, apparently, but L got them off on a different footing with a couple of slow jazzy numbers, and it just rolled from there. Musicians kept turning up, I just sat in the corner, a bit sleepy, but overwhelmed by the quality of the playing and listening. Double bass, clarinet, violin and numerous guitars. Not your typical jam.
Thursday French Quarter Festival started, so the streets were noticeably busier. After philosophising with Jonathan in his kitchen. we cycled back over to Royal so L could busk some more with Hot Minute (a different trombonist this time, plus Swee on violin and a a tap dancer). L sang "Sweet Lotus Blossom" and "A Thousand Goodnights" before there was a changeover and she was suddenly busking with "Eight Dice Cloth" (a lot of the same people). Drinking Heineken in the shade and listening, my jetlag was almost gone, but I had a minor background headache. When they were done we cycled over to Felipe's Tacqueriea, chatting to Alejo (nineteen-year-old trombonist from Long Island) and Maxwell (Bay area runaway acidhead-turned-banjo player). We carried on over to the river so they could sit and smoke, then I headed back to J's alone for a shower and some healthy food, before cycling with L over to the Saturn Bar to see Twain (a hairy, beardy bloke in the "new weird America" vein, touches of Beefheart, his weird sprawling confessional songs and tortured vocals somehow bringing to mind Thom Yorke — very original), then Canadian Duff's band (a short set, ending with the gorgeous "Maureena"), then his bass player Max with "His Martians" (I'd seen him playing resonator guitar with Tubaskinny earlier, seems very active on the scene). Just a soup of funky, jazzy, freeform American music going on. A traditional R'n'B band were about to play, but I was too sleepy, so cycled home.
Friday I cycled in to catch L busking with Hot Minute again, then stopped to listen to a rad young fusion trio (The Yisrael Trio from Birmingham, Alabama, two brothers and a sister). They were playing funky, jazzy, free arrangements of Stevie Wonder, etc. The tourists loved it. I loved it. I got the feeling some of the old-timey musicians disapproved, but this felt like music that wasn't stuck looking backwards, or in a museum. The keyboard player superb, excellent drumming and bass playing. They even ended up on my Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast. Busking went on longer than planned, so I went back to check Yisrael and Tubaskinny again. Then down to the river (heaving with humans, with the FQ Festival on) to sit on rocks with L, Swee, James, et al. Bad country music was heard from the "Hand Grenade" stage nearby. We then headed over to the St. Roche tavern for pool and greasy chips, punk and metal on the stereo. L rinsed all the boys at pool (me twice). Damn! Then over to John's house to pick up something, in the same Holy Cross neighbourhood as J. Coleman came over with his guitar and we listened on YouTube to DeZurik Sisters ("Cackle Sisters"), Merle Haggard, Jim and Bob and "Only a Faded Rose", a song, which L wants to learn.
L urged me to walk over to J's and get my saz, and we had a little jam, played a few country songs — the only time I got the saz out in New Orleans. But I'm glad that happened. Before leaving Coleman mentioned Dolly Parton's "I'll Oil Wells Love You", which we watched (a Grand Ole Opry clip)...I had no idea she was so clever...great guitar licks too:
We headed back to Frenchmen to hear Loose Marbles playing. Friday night! Busy! But apparently most nights feel like this in NOLA. Lots of dancers again. L got up to sing "Harvest Moon" with them (the old standard, not the Neil Young song). They were fab — an eight piece: two banjos (incl. Maxwell), guitar (Coleman), drums, bass, clarinet and trumpet. A great ragtime/dixieland feel. We then proceeded to The Spotted Cat for me to hear through the door and watch through the window ($5 to get in, and stuffed with tourists) L sing "Knock Myself Out" with The Cottonmouth Kings. "You BADASS, girl!" enthused the woman next to me when she came back outside after her spot. After that, she and some of the Hot Minute crew headed uptown to play for a blues dance gig. I headed home for spaced out conversation and an epic game of chess with Jonathan.
Saturday Hanging out at the house talking about recent Smugglers Records developments with L. We tried Skyping Will G, but couldn't get the audio to work and gave up. Listening to Lee Perry and Michael Hurley. Procrastinating. Finally we cycled down Jourdan to a backyard all-day party at some friends' place. A couple of weak singer-songwriters were playing when we arrived, but then L played a magical set of mostly her solo stuff with Sabine harmonising beautifully. Then Duff drumming for a couple of women (I was getting quite blurry at this point), then playing his own stuff on guitar (pretty zonked now). Back to J's for deep sleep...
Sunday L introduced us to Sibylle Baier via YouTube, then Jonathon introduced me to almost-forgotten folkie Karen Dalton. L played me some of her friend Yoshino's wonderful new project (like a Japanese Count Bobo, involving some of the Bristol Bobo crew I think). We cycled to a "cajun brunch" (a monthly thing, I forget the venue, on the corner of Royal and Clouet) and sat outside (windows open) enjoying the music and breeze. Then on down Royal, where L busked with English Joe and his Canadian friend for a couple of songs, then the Hot Minute crew for three sets. I wandered the Quarter, saw a few OK things on the stages (The Shotgun Jazz Band probably the best of them), then headed over to Maison on Frenchmen to hear L sing with Loose Marbles again. Then a lovely falafel wrap from an Arab place while a loud brass band with a flamboyant dancer tore it up on the corner opposite. Then L singing "I'll See You In My Dreams" with the Palmetto Bug Stompers (some of the same players as The Cottonmouth Kings) at d.b.a. VERY chilled, laid back Dixieland type vibes.
Outside with the band for a bit, chatting to Robert the bass player (the only native New Orleanean I met, I think). They all adore L and want her to move to NO! Back in for the last set, she sang "Bumblebee Blues" and blew everyone away with an amazing frumpet solo. We ended the night listening and dancing to the wonderful Rhythm Wizards playing on a pavement on Frenchmen: Two trombones, a kind of rhumba/bossa/calypso melting pot sound — like a NOLA Count Bobo...felt like the best thing ever at the time! AND the locally famous "Tambourine Lady" stopped by to raise the energy. Here she is some time earlier:
Monday Chilling at Jonathan's and cleaning the kitchen. Coleman dropped off a CD of a ragtime porch session with some friends (great stuff), plus a couple of songs L wanted to learn. J's band came over to practice in the garden and Dave Hammer came over to rehearse with L and Sabine for an evening gig. Sabine drove us all over to the St. Roche Tavern, singing along to Irma Thomas, Etta James, etc. There was a great, but short, gospelly set from Dave (with singers, bass and drums — great guitar soloing — he's got so much energy!). Then the Jon Hatchett Band playing country, country rock and honkytonk...fun! We then drove (more singing in the car) to Sidneys to see King James and the Specialmen (Robert on electric bass), a bit of a local institution playing classic R'n'B. They ended with their silly "Iceman" song and then "Good Night Irene"...ahhh... Finally over to Big Daddy's to play pool. I managed to get "Cortez The Killer", the Dead's "Bird Song" and Zep's "Kashmir" on the jukebox before we had to leave ($1 very well spent).
Tuesday Returning my borrowed bike, packing, goodbyes, a lift to Amtrak station with J. As I was listening to music on shuffle as "The City of New Orleans" (the train made famous by Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie) headed north through Mississippi, Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep came on — a forgotten gift from Melski, and somehow the perfect soundtrack to that train ride. I was asleep shortly after we pulled out of Memphis and woke up heading into Chicago the next morning.
* * *
An interesting feeling arose during my time in NOLA: the feeling that the peculiar atmosphere of the place (relative to the rest of the country) is partially due to an acknowledgement of the dead. I saw this flag hanging outside a rather run down looking house in poor Holy Cross neighbourhood...
...and a couple of days later, saw a mobile recording truck from WOZZ, the local jazz station, with a treble clef logo painted on it involving a vertical cartoon bone, and the slogan "Music To The Bone". This imagery, together with a vague awareness of the influence of ancestor worship via Africa and the Caribbean, the Creole tradition of little family altars, the prominent, celebrated status of the cemeteries in the city and the reverence towards the great jazz players of the past, led me to the feeling that in some of the wilder music-and-dance scenarios I'd witnessed in my week there, something else had entered the scene. I could even entertain the possibility that spirits of some of the long-deceased jazzers and blues players from the city were hanging around, waiting for opportunities (when their modern equivalents were in various receptive states due to whisky, reefer, hours and hours of playing music without proper food or sleep) to take a solo via someone living, or nudge the jam in a certain direction. Although this feeling and imagery will stay with me, this isn't something I'd be capable of debating with a rationalist skeptic. But the sense of tradition the place is so proud of, with its music, parades, etc. induces a feeling of "We're here doing this, but others long gone were here doing it before is, and others not yet born will probably be doing it here after we're gone and forgotten." Hence a genuine sense of culture, something greater than oneself.
This news is months old, but as I'm catching up with my blogging, I had to include an acknowledgment of Pixi's departure from this Earthly plane.
I have very happy memories of meeting him in the pub at Avebury after summer solstice '95, then catching up with him in Cardiff a couple of weeks later when cycling across Britain with Inge, climbing into the grounds of Cardiff Castle with him, King Arthur and others after an evening at The Four Bars pub, playing music late into the night. He put us up in his flat for a few memorable days, and let us sleep in his van (parked behind an abandoned mosque on the edge of the city) on another occasion. Inge and I ran into him again in Trowbridge town centre when walking from Glastonbury to Avebury with Pok the summer of '96, ended up spontaneously busking together ("Star of the County Down", etc.). In years after that I'd periodically running into him in Avebury, can remember one lively music session with him and Stef outside the pub there, Stef encouraging him to sing his old favourites like "Eat, Drink and Be Merry".
This obituary from Chris Stone (who I knew separately, from Whistable, years earlier) says it all. And it's from the Guardian website, amazingly! RIP Pixi. Here's a playlist of various videos of him performing, for those of you who missed out of seeing him in person.
early 2015: others' musical exploits - live around Canterbury
23/01/16: Saw mystic busker and poet Kallum Sutton and his raw, sprawling soul/folk collecting Pinnochios at The Ballroom. Terrible sound up there, Sam Brothers' bass totally inaudible. But they still managed to raise some energy. A couple of really powerful songs carried by harmony vocals from Kallum, Sam and Meg. Afterwards, everyone ended up next door at the Bramleys blues jam. Sam was spontaneously pulled up on stage to play bass, ended up taking a couple of verses of the vocals during a rather lightweight, ineffectual "House of the Rising Sun", bringing a real wildness and snarl to it.
06/02/16: Making "punkrock sauerkraut" from red cabbage in a kitchen in Nunnery Fields while blasting Culture Shock's 1988 ska-punk classic Onwards & Upwards, drinking strong local cider and then heading over to the nearby Maidens Head pub for the end of a free punk all-dayer memorial gig for Davee Wild, the dynamic young organiser of many punk gigs in town who died tragically back in 2014. I also caught a set from The Restarts. Wild, drunken punkrock energy down there, as you'd expect after a whole day of it. Old UKC friends (part of a anarcho-comedy punk band called "Degeneration" circa 1988) Nick Dent, Welsh Adrian and Peter Kite showed up and joined me huddling to the side of deafening speakers, just beyond the moshpit. Dick Lucas and the band played a short, energetic set. More cider. Hangover (very rare) the next morning, urgh.
10/02/16: Another Crash of Moons Club night with Jouis from Brighton, Cheap Wine from France and me (as Professor Appleblossom) DJing. I heard rumours afterwards that this might have been the last time we get to see Jouis live, due to geographical strains (JD having moved ot Oxford), but have since heard that they're regrouping. It would be a real shame if they did split, as they were sounding magnificent that night. Not just beautiful songs played well with harmony vocals, but a total psychedelic musical journey with little jammed-out sections and transitions. The best set I've heard from them, I think. Cheap Wine were LOUD. Kind of unnecessarily loud, but I got into it at the time. They've got the primal garage rock thing mastered, and a frontman who harks back to the time, as Miriam put it, "when frontmen were frontmen". Medallion, sweating profusely, hair in face, howling, twisted limbs plus bonus flamboyant theremin playing! I selected a lot of lush harmony-based psychedelic pop before Jouis, heavier drone psych before Cheap Wine, and then a danceable set afterwards — here's the playlist.
09/03/16: Arlet Big Red Sun album launch at The Lighthouse, Deal. Support from Phil of Lapis Lazuli and Aidan from Arlet, playing their new accordion/tenor sax duo material. Arlet started with a new one they're calling "Deep Space Nine", then played most of the new album (no "Big Ship" or "Metaphor", though), plus the "skid jigs" from the Quartet EP from last year and "Bowerhouse 2" from the Trio EP which comes as a bonus disc with Big Red Sun and involves just Aidan, Owen and Rosie. They ended with "Mattematix" and encored with what they described as a "new old one" called, I think, "SamSong". I thought I was hearing another musical peak in the evolution of Arlet (the last one being in autumn 2013 when I saw them play at the new CCCU venue with Annie on trombone and Nick on trumpet), but later found out that they mostly felt they hadn't quite "got there" during this performance.
The new album comes with a beautiful hand-printed art book, with a page (or more) dedicated to each of the ten tunes (some more obviously linked than others). The page for "The Big Ship" (their wond'rous Eno cover) features a reproduction of an email I sent Aidan years ago suggesting that he attempt an arrangement of it, and the page for "Mattematix" features a beautiful cartoon drawing by Matt Tweed which features me bringing the band tea, while pondering the Riemann–von Mangoldt explicit formula, during their woodland residency in 2013:
I think the whole of Cocos Lovers were there that night. It was a seated, attentive audience. Much higher energy was achieved at Bramleys on 16/03/16 when they did their Canterbury album launch at Crash of Moons Club (lively standing crowd). Amazing stuff from them that night! Aidan was part of the support set from The Binnewith Amnesiacs (me, Tom, him plus Juliet on visuals) that evening too.
17/03/2016 I got a message that afternoon from Juliet that Ben from Arlet (who she'd studied Wittgenstein with a few years ago) was playing that afternoon at The Jolly Sailor. I couldn't imagine why (it was a Thursday). And I'd planned a woodland walk (it was a beautiful sunny day), so didn't think I'd make it. But I found myself back at my bike with just enough time to bomb it down St. Stephens Hill and catch the end of his set. I made it, immediately realised from the Irish-themed decor that it was St. Patrick's Day, hence the afternoon gig (he finished with "The Galway Girl"), and requested the Incredible String Band's "October Song" as an encore. He kindly obliged, while I overheated by the fruit machines from my furious bikeride. Spontaneous Canterbury music magic. Kallum and Max M there with Juliet.
25/03/2015 A joint Smugglers/Crash of Moons thing at The Astor in Deal with local youth rockers "The Stranded Lights" (Stewy from Cocos filling in heroically on drums), teenage ultra-delicate psych-folk duo The Selkies (upstairs while the bands switched over downstairs) then Bison Bonasus (Spencer from Lunch Money filling in for Callum on bass, he off in Florida with his funk band), Lapis Lazuli and Flying Ibex. Bison, Lapis and Ibex all sounded better than ever. I DJ'd as Professor Appleblossom (a bit pointless, as almost everyone headed outside to smoke between bands) — here's my playlist.
And then there were the woodland sessions (secret location near Canterbury)...
04?/01/16 Arlet (Lib's 40th birthday)
06/03/16 Phil and Aidan supporting a trial run of the Binnewith Amnesiacs audio-visual experience which was later presented at Bramleys
14/03/16 Sam Brothers supporting Dominic Conway
20/03/16 Meg Janaway (backed up by Lulu on fiddle and Rachel on cajón), Houdini's Hat (Josh and Jules), and then an equinox jam involving all of them
27/03/16 The Douglas Sisters (Natasha from Cocos + Poggy)/The Ladies of the Lake/The Selkies (one Selkie being Jo from LOTL's daughter)
03/04/16 Liam Magill playing half of the new Syd Arthur album acoustically (plus three songs from Sound Mirror) followed by a set of gospel/folk/blues from Kallum Sutton, assisted by Sam Brothers
...and off to New Orleans the next morning.
This Free Range season all took place at Water Lane Cafe, tucked away between the bikeshop on Stour Street and the river. Unfortunately I missed organiser Sam Bailey's Free Range Piano album launch on 7th January. The next week was a poetry event featuring short readings from a large number of poets, some who'd traveled from afar, with no time spent on introductions or explanations. This worked really well, and the three sets were punctuated by short improv sets from Bad Teeth (Panos Ghikas on percussion/violin and Jennifer Walshe on extreme vocals).
I missed the next three (although stopped to watch a few minutes of the excellent Gufo through the window when hurrying past), but made it along on 11th February to see Ron Geesin (eccentric Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist) and Brian Hopper (once of Wilde Flowers and Soft Machine) who put together a wonderfully eclectic set: there was some of Hopper's teenage poetry, read mock-bombastically by Geesin while Brian improvised on baritone sax, random percussion on the walls and furniture, jazz standards like "Ain't Misbehavin'", wildly original solo piano pieces and, to finish, the thing Geesin's best known for, the final movement of Pink Floyd's 1970 "Atom Heart Mother" suite, which he'd co-composed with Roger Waters.
The next week we were over at St. Gregory's Music Centre (a deconsecrated church, now part of CCCU) to hear the Leon Quartet play pieces by Dimitri Scarlato and Sam Messer (who also played some keyboard). This didn't really feel like a Free Range event, for whatever reason — more like a formal classical musical event. Musically, it was all very abstract. A lot of non-traditional sounds being generated by the strings. In constrast, the Leon's started playing something strongly melodic, anthemic and vaguely familiar as people were leaving, kind of a joke, as it turned out to be a Coldplay tune (they get asked to play a lot of weddings)!
25th February was free improv sax legend Evan Parker backed up by John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums). Edwards managed to break a string and replace it as part of the overall improvisation! Some incredible stuff from this trio, as you can hear here:
That was an altogether excellent evening. Evan approached me (I was surprised he even remembered me), extremely keen to buy my Secrets of Creation trilogy of books, so I was delighted to oblige. Also, I saw Joel from Syd Arthur who arranged to send me the final masters of the tracks from their new album Apricity the next day. And there was an excellent support set from Ian East, the wind player in the last Gong lineup that Daevid and Gilli toured with (he lives locally):
On March 10th, Raph Clarkson's 8-piece band Dissolute Society squeezed into the Water Lane Cafe to provide some spirited youthful jazz energy. The Welsh jazz pianist Huw Warren was part of the band, as well as Clarkson's father Gustav on viola and emerging trumpet talent Laura Jurd. Laura was back the next week to end the season with her own superb four-piece, Dinosaur (she played trumpet and electronics — the event was slightly weird due to someone in the audience collapsing, the band stopping, no one knowing quite what was going on...but it was all OK in the end.) Recordings of those sets haven't yet shown up in the Free Range audio archive.
There was a brief period during which a "Free Range Presents" programme was going out on local community/student station CSR FM on Wednesday evenings, but that got shelved for various reasons. I put together two episodes of this (the second wasn't broadcast due to "technical issues", apparently):
There's been a bit of a backlog with all of this, so I'll keep the descriptions brief:
The recording surfaced from the experimental-musical-theatre-type performance in Holly's bedroom that Tom, Aidan, Juliet and I did as "Binnewith News" the evening of the winter solstice (you can read about that here):
Six weeks later, to mark the largely overlooked festival of Imbolc, Tom, Juliet, her friends Josh (guitarist) and Becci (visual artist) and I went for an epic sunset-into-twilight-into-darkness woodland walk to the north of Canterbury. We ended up in a cosy nook, Tom, Josh and I jamming til late while Juliet and Becci painted on blank jigsaws:
A happy and memorable gathering. A few days later I sat in with Josh as part of the Thursday evening slot he was doing regularly in the back room of The Shakespeare (off the Buttermarket) with Jules as "Houdini's Hat" (a variety of gypsy-jazz, latin and blues material). That didn't get recorded, but we seem to have rapidly established a very easy musical connection.
And here's a mishmash of jams from G(h)ent (when I visited Sven in January), Margate in mid-February (with Kirsty who I met at Knapp Hill, near Avebury, several summer solstices ago) and near Lewes a bit later that month (with Stella playing harp):
"Binnewith News" morphed into "Binnewith Amnesiacs" (via "Binnewith Gnus") in time for our gig at Bramleys, part of the Crash of Moons Club Arlet album-launch event on 16th March, also featuring a three-piece version of Medway's wondersome The Flowing. In the interim there were numerous rehearsals (with and without Aidan's accordion, with and without Juliet's live art projections) as well as a kind of costumed micro- bedroom gig at a slightly odd party. That was just Tom and I, interestingly sabotaged by a tiny northern girl who kept grabbing instruments and "jamming along", i.e., completely ignoring what we were doing and playing badly over the top of it). Local legend Luke Smith showed up and entertained guests on the piano downstairs (I remember him graciously going along with someone's request for Bon Jovi (!) as well as playing Matching Mole's "O Caroline" for me). There was also a chaotic party at Juliet's the next night — no Binnewith representation, just playing stuff like "Shake, Rattle and Roll" hectically in the tiny front room with Kallum, Sam Brothers, Jules, et al.
The Crash of Moons gig didn't go at all the way we'd planned, but ended up being a real success nonetheless. Time pressure, and Juliet hurrying to get the last details together and in costume, meant we didn't start with a sudden proclamation, but rather sort of faded in, Tom and I saz/uke noodling on our cardboard raft, Aidan silent, the audience (who'd accidentally been let into the back room too early) voluntarily going quiet and paying close attention...Miriam said that it felt as if we'd been there playing for eternity. When we finally winded the jam down and looked at each other in our deeply puzzled Amnesiac style, Juliet was ready with her introductory verse, and then we managed to squeeze slightly shortened versions of six pieces into the allotted time with her working the drawing and painting live and manipulating cutout silhouettes and transparencies.
The music didn't get recorded, but I think we played as well as we ever have. The somewhat chaotic circumstances made it happen in a more spontaneous way — Aidan in particular was doing some really interesting stuff and keeping us on our toes. I have no idea what a recording would have revealed, but the combination of the music, costume, set and projected visuals (including some silent film captions I'd made up) seem to have worked to produce some powerful atmospheres. What felt like it could have been a disastrous failure, even when it had already started, turned out to be anything but that. I was left with a strange feeling of "What the hell just happened there?" as if something beyond we four individuals had somehow got involved in the way it had unfolded.
An extended live piece from Daevid Allen's Magick Brothers in San Francisco, '92, the original National Health lineup live in '76, a Caravan classic, a magnificent cover of Can's "Mother Sky", new jazz fusion from New Orleans, a couple of slabs of West Coast psychedelia, more from the Terry Riley/John Coltrane mashup and Kevin Ayers covers from California, Buenos Aires and Zeeland (the latter sung in a Zeelandish dialect!). From the Canterbury of today, new music from Arlet and another piece from Jacob Brant's 2013 Rainmaking EP.
Soft Machine sounding great in '73, a decent slab of Steve Hillage's solo debut, Caravan on the radio in 1970, Henry Cow live in Stockholm, Robert Wyatt singing part of "Finnegans Wake", Hatfield on French TV, plus a pair of lo-fi gems from the Canterburys of 1966 and 2016. Spiritual jazz from Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and Lonnie Liston Smith, plus an extraordinary mashup of John Coltrane and Terry Riley, Canterbury-esque sounds from two Italian bands and one Japanese ensemble, and, from the current local music scene, tracks from Arlet, Bison Bonasus and Syd Arthur (acoustic).
Alex Vann from Spiro (who I last saw at The Bowerhouse, truly one of the best gigs I've seen) is part of this trio, whose name they enigmatically claim originates with "a misspelling and a misunderstanding". He plays numerous stringed instruments (bowed psaltry and zither among them) beyond the usual mandolin. Paul plays acoustic guitar (and miniature harp on one number) and "leader" (well, the one who does the talking) Pete plays trumpet, cornet, a keyboard called a "dulcitone ", harmonium, lyre, glockenspiel and tenor horn. They were on tour promoting a new album called Palimpsest (a great word!).
It being The Bowerhouse (a tiny, intimate venue) there was no need for a PA, so Pete had to reign in the trumpet a bit so as not to drown out the strings. But it worked. I was amused and impressed by Alex's "zither maps" (trapezoidal sheets of paper he slid under the strings for each tune that he played zither on). A lovely, warm, unpretentious kind of gig. It was good to see Ben from Arlet there (they recorded their forthcoming album Big Red Sun in the space, named one of its tunes "Bowerhouse", and take a lot of inspiration from Spiro).
Here they are back in 2012 playing in St. Catherine's Chapel on a hilltop near Abbotsbury in Dorset, somewhere I've been a couple of times and always wanted to play music in:
They announced a gig at a very special venue in London at the end of March, supporting Spiro, so I've already got a ticket for that.
Sir Robert Bunkum recently brought to my attention part of an interview with Foxtrot Echo about his involvement in the pre-Throbbing Gristle performance collective COUM Transmissions. The other day I spotted a poster on the Kent University campus for a DJ set from an ex-Busted (embarrassing boyband) member...
...and found myself thinking "Is this what things have come to?", remembering campus gigs in the late 80s — Spacemen 3 in Eliot Common Room, Cardiacs in Rutherford Dining Hall, local crusty squatter psych-collective Door Marked Summer (plus their dogs!) playing an anti-Poll Tax fundraiser, Sons of the Desert playing up a storm in Rutherford JCR, anarcho-comedy-punk mayhem from Degeneration and the associated Tankerton Dance Ensemble...
But that all seems quite tame now, having read this. I was obviously born 15-20 years too late...
* * *
Can you remember any eventful gigs?
The one at Kent University was quite an extraordinary one. It was 1972 I think, let me just look it up ... we might as well pin down the actual name ... Copyright Breeches, of course. The whole concept of Copyright Breeches had a few layers to it. We used to steal ideas, talk about stealing ideas. Well, not always steal; we'd find them and use them in a new combination. Cross breed. Create mutant forms. Mixing it with something as opposite as possible and seeing what came out of it. Which is quite a creative thing to do. Because we were claiming things as our own we would possibly be sued for breach of copyright so we started discussing all this in the Alien Brain in Hull. That was the name of
Genesis' house, an old jam factory. We were talking about Coum stealing things and it being a copyright breach, and I said, we ought to be
honest about it and just call things copyright breaches. So it was like a whole performance where we'd be accused of stealing things, possibly
ideas. We didn't know if it would be because we made it up as we went along. Genesis had some copyright britches made. The C for copyright as
the pattern on these big broad trousers. And there was the book made as well with the bicycle wheel like Marcel Duchamps work on the cover.
Published by Beau Geste Press. Now that's another story because that's him! Genesis pretending to be another organisation. When he was typing
furiously full time he gave the impression that Coum was a big organisation. Write in the third person things like that. It reminded me
of the scene in the film Beau Geste, the foreign legion is defending the fort and all the legionnaires get killed until there is only one left.
So that the marauding Arabs don't overwhelm the fort he props up the bodies of his comrades with guns and he runs backwards and forwards
behind them firing so it seams like there are more people firing than there is. I used to refer to him as Beau Geste. I addressed letters to
him as Beau Geste and he rather liked that idea. But anyway I digress. At Kent University an old friend of mine, Davy Jones, was quite
sympathetic, so he promoted the gig. Our advance publicity, our notorious reputation was so effective even before we got there that the
University authorities banned us from performing within the university. So the student union, to prove a point, hired this circus tent and put
it just outside the perimeter. Now part of the problem was that there was no direct electricity supply. Somebody rather ingeniously took off
one of the panels on one of the street lights and wired up a direct link to that. So we did have some power.
The national grid!
Unfortunately half way through the evening. It must have caused some problem, a short circuit or something. Half the City of Canterbury was
thrown into darkness because of our performance. The lights went out. It was quite an extraordinary gig because there was the Reverend Cheese
Wire Maull with his guitar, this prepared piano, we ordered in advance, altered it a bit on the day. Genesis had his drum kit. My friend Robo
Ray. Me and Robo Ray did some tapes; we did some for Coum too. Rather like supermarket jingles, slogans from 1001 ways to Coum, information,
we had a xylophone effect and incidental music. It was like Muzak but putting over avant garde ideas in a low key way, like easy listening.
Anyway, there was him. Cosey of course and the dog, Tremble. Me, Foxtrot Echo although I think for the evening Genesis pretended that I was from
the Gay Liberation Front. Because a guy who was also in Coum, Nicholas Bramble an ex-ballet dancer, very temperamental, for some reason he
didn't come and Genesis thought it was such good copy he pretended I was him to the journalist that interviewed him. Because, well, I was wearing
mascara, glitter eye make-up and lipstick anyway. I suppose it was quite credible. Genesis did some sort of playlette wearing transparent
nappies. We were playing improvised music with slogans. Cheese Wire Maull did a Beatles medley and some of his own songs. People shouted
things, we shouted back. There was a load of saw dust that was thrown everywhere. I don't know where that came from. I had some feathers... Then
of course half way through it all became dark. It became touchy feely. Some people got really confused. It became something of a legend. It was
talked about for some time. Banned again.
I put this together for the middle hour of the latest Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast: just about every known version of Kevin Ayers' absurdist composition "We Did It Again", creatively mixed by yours truly...
A Gong obscurity I'd somehow overlooked, some recently surfaced Hatfield and the North from French TV in 1973 and live National Health from the LSE in 1976, neo-Canterbury sounds from The Boot Lagoon (Canterbury), Amoeba Split (Galicia) and Homunculus Res (Italy), some archival Harmonia, a tribute to the Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson (who recently died, on the same day) and an hour-long mix of almost every known version of Kevin Ayers' absurdist composition "We Did It Again".
I've been a bit slack with this music blogging lately (partly because of energy going into my video blog The Reality Report). So here's a bit of a catchup:
I've missed a few Free Range events in recent weeks (being away, or rehearsing), but this one was good (Tom Jackson, Benedict Taylor and Daniel Thompson on 13th January, a one-off Wednesday event, at Water Lane Cafe):
The next night was three sets of poetry put together with a very large number of visiting poets reading, linked to a new local poetry publication called DATABLEED. The truly amazing improv duo of Jennifer Walshe (higher-dimensional vocalising) and Panos Ghirkas (violin extremism) played a bit at the end of each set, but that hasn't yet shown up on the Free Range Soundcloud stream (all the poetry's there, though, well worth a listen).
There's been a Tuesday night jazz jam at Bramleys (very busy again, with all the students back), also a blues jam — Dulcie and Jules are diversifying to accomodate all the musicians who want to jam — the latter had incredibly wild, raw energy, far from the pedestrian twelve-bar jamming I'd expected... at least when I arrived to hear the amazing Ella Morgan (a New Zealander back in Canterbury after having moved to London, apparently, although I was previously unaware of her). She was backed up by a great crew (including Toby from Lapis Lazuli on bass and busker Sam Brothers on harmonica). Sam played after that, backed up by various friend, but I had to get an early night, so missed the rest of the evening's music.
Binnewith News (the musical theatre project with Tom H, Aidan and Juliet) has been evolving nicely. We tried one rehearsal with Juliet doing live painting via an overhead projector we got, really inspiring stuff, endless possibilities emerging. And Aidan's learning more and more of our repertoire, embellishing everything with beautiful, lush, harmonic colours. We've got two or three gigs in the pipeline, including one with Arlet and The Flowing for the Crash of Moons Club event at Bramleys in March. Should be good.
There was a lovely afternoon with Rosy P (back from the West Country to take her driving test) checking out some exhibitions in town and then going to Evensong in the Cathedral. All the standing up, sitting down and liturgical readings a bit weird, but some celestial Poulenc and Telemann was sung (and some curiously prog-like organ playing!), so it was worth it. The next night (16th January) was Lapis Lazuli at The Lighthouse in Deal. I got a lift in the van with the band and friends, deeply enjoyed two long sets. They played the whole new album — all three pieces! — plus "Hot Water on a Dirty Face" and "Big Bird" from the old days. There had been talk about a third, improvised set, but sadly that didn't transpire. They sounded the best they ever have, each of the five players at the peak of his ability, it seemed. Phil's been practicing his tenor sax a lot, Adam continually amazed me with the fluidity and creativity of his drumming, Toby was mercurial on bass, and the interplay of Dan and Neil on electric guitars was the icing on the cake. Superb in every way!
I was over in Gent (the city in Belgium where I lived in the mid-90s) the other weekend. My musical brother Sven has been going through some difficult times, so I headed over to see how he was doing. The first night there we ended up at a jam party at Scottish Dave's, a double bass player who was part of a recent musical project of Sven's. This involved me on saz, Dave on bass, Sven and another guitarist, some percussion, singing and young hang player called Pieter (his C# tuning rather limited things, but here's a nice chunk of the proceedings I recorded at my Zoom H2):
As the local council's busking policy has just been re-liberalised, Sven was considering getting onto a positive flow again by going out busking every day (he's well known in the city, and once he gets out on the streets, things start happening for him). He was talking about learning a new song every day and asked me for suggestions. "Here Comes The Sun" came to mind, and he soon had a nice version of that together to take to the people.
There was a bit of inconsequential spaced out saz/guitar jamming in his attic room, but mostly just talking at great length and wandering the city. The day after he was learning "Here Comes The Sun", we got a bright sunny day (after three grey drizzly ones), so we walked up to the marshy Bourgouyen nature reserve, and I saw my first red squirrel since (I think) the late 70s — nice. We also ran into his friend Abdul Kader, and dropped in on our mutual pal Mickey to drink coffee and watch some cycle racing (a national obsession) — both of them played a little bit on the Ail Fionn Chouchenanna sessions which I recorded with Inge and Sven back in 2000 [there are no photos of Mickey's involvement, but Abdul Kader is pictured upper-right with Sven]:
Also, while out and about, we ran into Sven's old percussion teacher drinking tea in a Moroccan cafe (a Tunisian who urged me to check out Samir Loussif) and local legend/poet Coenraad De Waele, cheerfully drunk outside the Trefpunt in Bij Sint-Jacobs, talking enthusiastically with us about the art of The Beatles and Dylan.
I spent a few days early in the New Year visiting my sister Kate and her family, now living down in Seville. I missed out on the flamenco thing the only other time I've visited, so this time her husband Ron took me to a low-key local venue called La Carboneria (an old coal store) during my last evening there. Almost all the flamenco in Sevilla is now put on for the benefit of tourists, so it's hard to say what, if anything, is still "authentic". But this place seemed to attract a mix of somewhat more discerning foreigners, plus some locals, and I enjoyed the atmosphere a lot. One singer, one guitarist, three people clapping and one dancer. This kind of thing (except we were in the cosier back room setting):
I also returned with a happy memory of doing ridiculous expressive dancing to French experimental electronic composer François Bayle with my little niece Zoe. She's already going to flamenco classes, loves music and dance, and asked me why I had my headphones on one afternoon while I was listening to WFMU. "I don't think anyone else will like this weird music," I told her. But she wanted to hear it, and so we ended up attempting to dance to it together. "I want to be like you, Uncle Matt," she said before I left. I'm not sure if her mother would approve!
I got back to Canterbury just in time for Libby's 40th birthday woodland party extravaganza, with archery! zip lines! a lateral thinking quiz! feasting! and a lunchtime set from the original Arlet quintet! Not the tightest set they've ever played, I think they'd agree, but just right for the occasion. Some old favourites, a lot of tunes off the forthcoming Big Red Sun album (including their Eno cover "The Big Ship") and a promising new one called "Deep Space Nine". Later in the evening Tom H and I got some of our saz/guitar tunes going. Then Aidan from Arlet returned from a rehearsal he'd had to go to, and joined in on accordion, playing some of the "Binnewith News" set we've been working on (sans costumes, set and concept). Then Miriam showed up from Bristol (having just finished a run of shows with Little Bulb Theatre) with her violin, and she, Aidan, Domi (violin) and Owen (clarinet) got a klezmer session started, some lively dancing ensuing at that point. Last to arrive (just after Libby had to go to bed, much Cava having been consumed during the day) was Leonie, who played us her exciting new collaborative album (almost done) via her phone and my Vox battery amp. We played a few old jazz/blues numbers (I can remember "Sweet Lotus Blossom", but it was getting late, and I couldn't keep up with all those chord changes...).
The next morning we awoke to the news of Bowie's passing, had a memorable social breakfast and tidy-up while Radio 6 played nothing but Bowie, people sending in their memories and tributes. Like a lot of people, I've since been re-exploring his back catalogue since. Still haven't heard that last Black Star album he released a few days before the end. Not surprisingly, it's the ambient Berlin-era stuff he did with Eno which is of greatest interest to me, and someone's helpfully compiled this YouTube playlist of all of it:
And I find this drunken pub singalong of "Starman" at the Prince Albert in Brixton (near where Bowie grew up, on the night he died) to be strangely moving:
Oh man, not just Paul Kantner (the news I heard first), but the Jefferson Airplane's original female vocalist (before Grace Slick) Signe Anderson died the same day — Thursday 28th January 2016. The early Airplane music has gone so deeply into me since it awakened me as a teenager in the 80s. Fly high, brother and sister...
Classics from Soft Machine and Caravan, a Spanish band clearly influenced by both of these groups, a pre-Kraftwerk curiosity, Alice Coltrane, Tortoise, some Bowie/Eno ambience and an exploration of the peripheral Canterbury contributions made by synth pioneer Francis Monkman. This episode also features a guest selection from, and chat with, local academic Alan Payne about this PhD research on the Canterbury scene.