Monday, February 01, 2016

the latest from Canterbury

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, 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!

back in G(h)ent

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]:

   

There was also an evening cooking in the downstairs kitchen listening to, of all things, the new ELO album ("Jeff Lynne's ELO" — he plays all the instruments), which was strangely comforting. Likewise, some of Roy Orbison's A Night In Black and White tribute concert.

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.

Seville and back

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:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

RIP Signe and Paul

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...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 30

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 30

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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Coltrane/Riley mashup

Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive has created this incredibly beautiful mashup of recordings by two of my favourite musicians ever to have lived, John Coltrane and Terry Riley. Check it out!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Free Range Presents: Canterbury Sans Frontières

I was on CSR FM last night. This is a local community/student station that's mostly dominated by student broadcasting and, as far as I can tell, listened to by very few people. Sam Bailey who organises the Free Range events in Canterbury has initiated a weekly one-hour broadcast on Wednesday evenings with four presenters in rotation. I'm doing a condensed version of my monthly three-hour Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast. It was pre-recorded, so I got to hear myself on the radio briefly (and delight in knowing that '68 Soft Machine was spiraling out through the local aether!) before hurrying down to Water Lane Cafe to catch a one-off Wednesday Free Range event (with improv clarinet virtuoso Tom Jackson and friends). Typically, the first programme went out while the only people likely to be tuning in were at this live event. So I've uploaded it as a streamable podcast, if anyone's interested:

Mixcloud stream

Thursday, January 07, 2016

original COTD trio reunion

2nd January 2016
Exeter

The day after new year's day, Simon, Keith and I (the original trio who formed Children of the Drone back in 2001) met up in Vicky's front room for a jam — the first time this has happened for many years. Keith brought an acoustic bass guitar, Simon an iPad and a "You Rock" Midi guitar controller (the one used in the Rock Band computer game, but, alas, he forgot to bring fresh batteries). So it was saz, bass and iPad, with Simon making use of a slide guitar app, among others. We had one (admittedly rather languid) eighty minute jam in G minor and then ended up chatting for ages until they had to go. Not the best improvising we've ever done, but great to get together again. I've extracted four excerpts which I consider worthy of preservation:

Listen Here

Friday, January 01, 2016

slippin' into the future

This was the first thing I heard in 2016. Vicky, Thom, Joanna and I ended up putting BBC6 Music on the radio just before midnight last night (a very chilled New Year's Eve!), and it's what Nemone (former Radio 1 DJ) decided to drop. I remember hearing it a lot on American "classic rock" radio in the 80s, being unimpressed and thinking Steve Miller had just been an opportunist rocker tapping in to the cosmic aspirations of the time, but I must admit it now sounds quite good:
 


 

Rather a different kettle of fish, this — possibly my favourite "new" discovery of 2015, an instrumental trio from Derbyshire. I came across them when searching for tunes to play during the last Crash of Moons Club night (I was delving into Fridge, Bibio and various glitchy, minimal electronica and "folktronica"):

And, of course, RIP Lemmy. I listened to the whole of Hawkwind's Space Ritual (on which he plays monster bass throughout and sings some of) today, thanks to dear Stan on his late-night WFMU show. And he also threw in this 1975 Hawkwind B-side (with honking Nik Turner sax and a violin solo!), which I'd not heard for years:
 

A nice quote from the great man relevant to this song: "And yes, I am the only person to fit the word 'parallelogram' into a rock'n'roll number! I'm very proud of that."

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Canterbury midwinter

The acoustic project I've been working on with Tom Holden (still provisionally called "Binnewith News") suddenly took on a completely new life and direction in the weeks leading up to winter solstice.

First, Aidan from Arlet got involved musically, playing accordion, making very helpful arrangement suggestions (even transcribing some of our tunes as sheet music, which was quite strange and flattering to see). Tom and I were both taken aback that someone with that level of musical and compositional skill would want to get involved with us, but delighted by his enthusiasm.

Second, our friend Juliet got involved as a kind of "art director" for the project, an open-ended assignment that could have involved creating visuals, costumes, projections... we weren't exactly sure, but I had great faith in her insight and imaginative powers. She came to a couple of rehearsals, sat in the corner listening and sketching in her notebook. "I think I'm going to put you on a raft," she eventually announced. Characters and costumes were soon sketched out — Tom a kind of psychedelic/steampunk pirate, me a kind of Arab prince/scholar (with curly-toed slippers, crucially), and Aidan, having expressed a strong desire not to get involved in any kind of acting, a monk under a vow of silence.

A premise then emerged between us: Three amnesiacs waking up on a raft with musical instruments — they can remember how to play various pieces of music, but not who they are or how they got there. Slowly, gradually, by playing music, they're able to work out how to navigate the sea of ontological uncertainty that they're adrift on, leading to all kinds of possible encounters with fantastic entities, etc. It seemed a great starting point for an experimental project like this, a kind of initial test/sketch where we wouldn't have to worry too much about "getting into character", as we wouldn't know what our characters were (just had to adopt silly costumes and get on with it).

Holly had offered her bedroom in a shared house in Wincheap for the first performance (without having much of a picture as to our intentions, just expecting an acoustic trio to play, I think), and we came up with the winter solstice (well, 21st December, technically the evening before) as a date that would work. Several nights leading up to that were spent in Juliet's garage, painting scenery, constructing a large cardboard raft, working with papier-mâché, origami and other media to get all the necessary props and visuals together. There was a real sense of excitement about this, entering into some kind of unknown reality...

Aidan showed up just before the gig, having been at home practicing the tunes (while we figured out how to hang scenery in Holly's room, and fussed with the various props, etc.). None of us had any idea quite how this was going to work, but it went astonishingly well. An invited audience of twelve was summoned from the kitchen by Juliet (wordlessly, wearing a blank mask and a black veil) and led upstairs to find a maritime scene: we had two types of crinkly semi-translucent blue fabric ruffled up on the floor to represent the sea, seascapes Juliet and Tom had painted on sheets hanging on three sides, and the raft at the back. Tom was strumming idly on his ukulele, me "asleep" and Aidan sitting in silence beside his accordion. After a while, I "woke up" in a state of total confusion, Tom and I quickly ascertaining that we had no idea who we, or each other, were, and that "Brother Aidan" might know something, but wasn't saying.

The first couple of tunes were just Tom and I, Aidan remaining in silence. Eventually he started fiddling with his accordion, in a very playfully percussive way (he turned out to be an excellent silent actor!), then wheezing a few chords, and then bursting into his full musical brilliance for the third tune. Between pieces, Tom and I riffed on the "what is this place? how did we get here? who are we? and how do we know how to play these instruments and tunes?" themes. There were references to a feeling that we were being watched (some giggles from the audience then), but otherwise we acted like the audience wasn't there, and they sat attentively until the end. There was no break, it got rather hot in the room, no one left for a toilet or smoke break, and the whole thing went on for nearly two hours. I was wearing a turban Juliet had wound onto my head (and a kind of paisley dressing gown, as well as baggy trousers and curly-toed slippers I'd made from papier mache), so was sweating profusely by the end...no drinking water on the raft...but this just added to a sense of endurance and authenticity. The whole thing had quite a comedic aspect, and afterwards I was happy to hear Holly compare our aesthetic to The Mighty Boosh (praise indeed!).

Juliet's role during the performance was as a kind of controller/programmer/deity responsible for the world in which we musician characters had inexplicably awoken. Keeping her blank mask and veil on, she stood up on a chair in the corner after each piece to announce its name (speaking in an ominous voice through an echoey "thunder drum"). This gave Tom and I something to talk about (what was that voice? where did it come from? what did it say? what could it mean?). After a while she got into her stride and started addressing us with other cryptic pronouncement and acted as a kind of sporadic narrator. None of this was planned or scripted, so afterwards it was surprising and encouraging to find that many in the audience had assumed it was.

Holly's housemate Tim had installed a very expensive looking microphone in the room and had recorded the whole thing on ProTools, and there were a few photos discretely taken during the gig, so some of that may make it's way here in due course.

Liam from Syd Arthur was in the audience, we were happy to see, and his words of praise for the whole experience were hugely encouraging. We also learned that the new SA album, currently being mixed, is to be called Apricity, an almost forgotten word which he'd found, meaning "the warmth of the sun as experienced in winter", or something to that effect. I'd seen Liam and his brother Joel a few nights earlier at a little gig at The Refectory Kitchen in St. Dunstans — Jeremy and Steve, formerly of the Jimmy Jones Band (a long-defunct Canterbury fusion band) have formed a new trio with a drummer I didn't recognise. They're called Sharawadji, and it was only their second gig, really interesting stuff that suggests great things to come. I just looked up the Googled the name and found out that it means this:

"[A]n aesthetic effect which characterises the sensation of plenitude sometimes created by the contemplation of a complex soundscape whose beauty is unexplainable. The effect comes about as a surprise and will carry you elsewhere, beyond strict representation — out of context. In this brutal confusion, the senses get lost. A beautiful Sharawadji plays with the rules of composition, manipulates them and awakens a feeling of pleasure through perceptual confusion. Whether in a dreamlike or anxious state, we are sometimes completely deaf to the environment. However, while on a walk or on a journey, our spirit can combine availability, attention, perspicacity and therefore become receptive to new things, including sonic fantasy."

A good name, then!

A few days later I made my way to The Unicorn (also in St. Dunstans) for the customary Christmas Eve gathering of Canterbury friends and musicians linked to the old Furthur scene (members of Syd Arthur, Zoo For You, The Boot Lagoon, also Adam "Oko" Dawson and Tony "Care Package" Onuchukwu and others from various interlocking circles of friends). I got a chance to catch up with Laurie from the Sondryfolk collective, too, back briefly from Bristol. She got to visit the rainforest in Ecuador this year as part of her work as assistant to the artist Mariele Neudecker, a project which includes some sound art, like this:

Adam from Lapis Lazuli has a birthday on the 27th, so invited a load of friends out to his cabin near Barham on Boxing Day for an evening of playing pool on a wonky pool table he'd rescued, drinking whisky and spinning old vinyl (a lot of it from Leonie's collection, which had been left there): Led Zep III, Beefheart's Strictly Personal, Yessongs, Roberta Flack, The Staples Singers, the new Evil Usses and Count Bobo albums...

The reason Adam didn't do this on the 27th was that Native Productions were hosting their annual xmas-time gig at The Penny Theatre, with various Native DJs playing sets, and a live set from The Boot Lagoon. The latter was extremely well received. A howl of approval after the first, energetic, number led Callum (who does the somewhat reluctant between-tune talking) to exclaim "Wow, that went better than expected!". And it was all uphill from there, The Boot tearing it up in their characteristic fashion. Cam and Seth were the usual flawless rhythm section, and Pete and Cal seemed more confident than ever in their playing. I made a recording on my Zoom H2 and later found out that guitarist Pete took some video on a GoPro, so these will eventually be combined and the resulting clips embedded here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ju's Garage

The shared house on the Hales Place estate in Canterbury where Juliet's living has a garage which has recently become a hive of creative activity. It started with her painting on the walls, then inviting musicians back for jams after gigs in town, then it became the HQ for the "Binnewith News" project (Tom H, Aidan and I playing acoustic music with Juliet as visual/conceptual director).

13th December 2015

After a Sunday evening rehearsal with Tom and Aidan (Juliet sitting in the corner, sketching ideas for visuals), we ended up down in The Shakespeare (a new extension at the back that's accessible from The Buttermarket). Jules (who co-organises the Bramleys fortnightly jazz jams) and Josh (a young dreadlocked busker from Whitstable who's been getting into playing a lot of gypsy jazz lately) have a weekly residency there — just two acoustic guitars. We caught a little bit of their second set, after which Josh was curious to see my saz and we ended up jamming together for a while (he plugged me into the spare input on his amp so I didn't have to play too vigorously to hear myself). That went really well, and he seemed very interested in doing more.

A couple of night later, Josh was playing guest guitar and Jules playing keyboards with The Pinocchios, a wild, chaotic "soul-folk" collective based around Callum Sutton, a singer-songwriter and prolific busker who showed up in Canterbury not too long ago. Meg Janaway was on backing vocals (the two of them just howl together, it sounds great), Callum's busking pal Sam Brothers played harmonica and sang a bit, the ubiquitous Dan Sayer was playing a soprano-type sax he recently designed and 3D printed himself(!), the drummer I recognised (it was Neil who was in the briefly reconfigured Famous James & The Monsters with Tom), there was an older, very skilled lead electric player with a bluesy touch, and a newly recruited bass player who I've seen at the Bramleys jams. With that many players and no one mixing, it was bound to sound a bit ropy, but with a bit of advice from the small, friendly audience, they got the mix into a vaguely acceptable shape. But the whole thing felt more like the most exciting rehearsal session ever, rather than a polished performance. Which suited it perfectly. There may have been a cover or two, but it was basically Callum's writing, the one that's stayed with me being called (I think) "We're All Gonna Die Some Day". Powerful stuff, and it will no doubt sound even more powerful if they can keep the band together for a few rehearsals and get someone behind the desk mixing. Here's an earlier lineup playing on the same stage a few weeks earlier:

Afterwards, almost everyone involved, plus Toby from Lapis Lazuli and a couple of others, traipsed up the hill to Juliet's garage (interpolating a long sojourn outside an off-license in St. Dunstans and another in Beverley Meadow while various people got lost and refound). An all-night session then ensued (songs were being sung and played almost as soon as someone had time to get a guitar out of its case). This was fueled by Polish lager, Scotch whisky and countless rollups, with Juliet's Bulgarian housemate Yanik coming out to join us and do a bit of MC'ing at one point. I lasted until about 5a.m., I think, but it carried on after that.

Songs I can remember jamming along to at various points through the night: Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey", "Moondance" and "Sweet Thing", "Got My Mojo Working", old-time American songs about the Blue Ridge Mountains and lonesome whistles blowing, "King of Bongo", "Cocaine Blues" → "Silent Night" (Sam discovered that they segue surprisingly well), some gospelly stuff like "Hold On", "Ain't Got No Home In This world Anymore" and "Down By the Riverside", Django's "Minor Swing" and "Nuages", some of Callum's songs including the sublime "So Far Away From Me", "St. Louis Woman Blues" (Toby singing) and similar one about a "Crazy Mama", "Hit The Road Jack", Dylan's "I Shall Be Released", "Banks of the Ohio", "Shady Grove" and "St. James Infirmary". And that was just a small fraction of it...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 29

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 29

The hidden origins of a Matching Mole classic, a ridiculous organ solo by Mike Ratledge (Soft Machine live '67), profound silliness from Gong in '73, one of Hugh Hopper's last projects (featuring Lol Coxhill and Robert Wyatt), some Beefheart and Kevin Ayers, various works involving drummer/visionary Charles Hayward (Quiet Sun, This Heat, Fred Frith's Massacre trio, etc.), Canterbury-sounding pieces from Toronto and Texas, and an hour of diverse instrumental music which has emerged from the Cathedral City in recent times.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

This Is The Kit, Ramsgate Music Hall

Ramsgate Music Hall
30th November, 2015

This was my first visit to RMH, about which I'd heard nothing but good things. Best of all is their "listening policy". There's an upstairs bar with a big screen and speakers so that anyone who wants to talk can go up there and still feel like they're at the gig. Anyone talking in the main hall gets asked to go upstairs. If only every venue could be this way. A day or two before, they'd won the NME "Best Small UK Venue" award for 2015

Support was from the Rozi Plein band, which was the same band as This Is The Kit, just permuted so that Rozi was playing electric guitar and singing, with Kate playing bass. Rozi caused extensive mirth by innocently saying "It's great to be here in Margate..." and then realising what she'd just said! It was a very supportive and forgiving audience, but she was clearly mortified (in an amusing sort of way) for the rest of her set. Jamie was on drums and Neil on lead guitar (which got quite shoegazey at times, to great effect.) This was the last date of their UK tour, and they were clearly enjoying themselves (getting to emerge on stage via a trapdoor proved especially popular!) I suspect they've been touring with a hagiography, as during the TITK set, Kate casually announced that it was St. Andrews' day (the patron saint of both barren and pregnant women, as well as a protection against sore throats). Lots of relaxed banter with the audience in between her jewel-like songs, each one perfectly formed. If you haven't heard Kate Stables/This Is the Kit yet, then there's no point in me trying to describe them. Just watch this (the same lineup, filmed in the South of France this spring):
 

They ended with "Spinney", possibly my favourite (it was surprising how many favourites didn't get played, and yet the whole set was perfect from beginning to end — just shows what a wealth of wonderful material they now have), with Kate re-emerging via the trapdoor to play a spellbinding new song as an encore.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

the last three Free Range sessions of 2015

Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury
26th November 2015

This event was jointly a Free Range session and part of a residency at CCCU's Cooper Gallery, involving local turntablist/international sound artist Matt Wright working with Vietnamese/Swedish trio "The Six Tones" to peform a multi-media piece called Inside/Outside. This involved the three musicians in traditional Vietnamese costume, playing đàn tranh, đàn bầu and another stringed instrument (Swedish? Vietnamese?), inside glass boxes, while the sound was centrally processed by Matt and his laptop setup, then sent to speakers around the space. The boxed performers embellished their playing with strange, stylised gestures which turned out to be extreme exaggerations of gestures which female musical performers of Vietnamese folk music are expected to use in popular televised (and mimed) performances set against beautiful natural backdrops. It was explained that this "tradition" of musical choreography is an entirely post-1950s, Western-media-influenced invention, these instruments having been played solely by men, and never for concert-type audiences, prior to that. So there was a feminist, post-colonial angle to the whole thing.

The audience was encouraged to wander around the space during the performance, which led to continually shifting visual (due to the reflections in the glass) and sonic (due to the speaker positioning) perspectives. This was so interesting that I went back the next day to see a lunchtime performance (just me, Juliet, Kirsty, a handful of retired people and a gaggle of Simon Langton schoolgirls on a cultural outing).

Here's video of a performance of the piece at the Inter Arts Center in Malmö a year ago:
 

Prior to the Inside/Outside performance, there was a set of free improvisation from the same quartet, minus the costumes and choreography...

...and some super-intense poetry from locally-based Finnish performance poet Juha Virtänen, clanking chains, sporting tinfoil gauntlets, and overloading our nervous systems with his menancing, mechanoid recital of ominous, fragmented postmodern techno-verse over the top of a pre-recorded noise soundtrack:

From there, a total change of scene. Wandering down the High Street past the Lady Luck (Canterbury's punk/"alternative"/all-subcultures-welcome pub) I noticed a poster for a London-Irish punk band called The Lagan. I had some editing work to do on my laptop so I thought I'd stop for an orange juice, make use of their wi-fi, and catch a bit of celtic raucousness. I sat in the back room near a couple of middle-aged Polish punks deep in conversation and another couple playing pool badly on what appeared to be a very drunk first date, listening to the first two support bands — Dutch Courage playing earnest folk-punk and Thumbscrew & The Flicknife Barbers from Ashford playing some very attitude-based punk with lots of swearing and cheeky humour — while editing Paul J. Sally's bibliography. By this point I was punk'd out, so never got to hear the main attraction, but wandered home contentedly.

Ahh! Canterbury...

* * *

3rd December 2015
Water Lane Cafe, Canterbury

This was billed as a celebration of Saturnalia, the "pre-Christian winter celebration involving gift giving, over-eating and general lawlessness". First up was young Welsh hurdy-gurdy virtuoso Dylan Cairns. From the general reactions in the room, I get the impression that many present had never heard/seen a hurdy-gurdy played before. Having lived around them for years (and been to the luthiers' festival at Saint-Chartier a couple of times) I've heard a lot, but never like this. Dylan Cairns is like some kind of medieval synth wizard. His solo set was rather short, quite a bit of time taken up by him politely answering the inevitable questions about his instrument.

After a short break, an experimental collaboration began with Medway's "neolithic soul drone" beatnik trio "Hand of Stabs" improvising (electric guitar, frame drum and bowed/FX'd bicycle wheel) around the poet Carol Watts reading and Dylan (rather cautiously) injecting some gurdy drone action into the resulting soundscape. I have almost no idea what Carol Watts' words are "about", but I do like hearing them (she did a reading with HoS last Free Range season, over at Mrs. Jones' Kitchen, a great success). Perhaps the fact that she shares my mother's birth name has biased me, but I don't think so. The performance was intended to "explore the remnants of paganism that lurk under the surface of British culture" — I'm not sure how successful that bit was, but the performance was over far too soon for me, and those I spoke to afterwards:

* * *

10th December 2015
Water Lane Cafe, Canterbury

Leonie Evans played a solo set, all songs from her forthcoming crowdfunded album (she's been travelling around the country recording a song each with her favourite bands: Jouis, Count Bobo, Honeyfeet, Hot Feet, Cocos Lovers, Flying Ibex, Syd Arthur, etc.) apart from "My Plan", from the last Rae album. Leonie being Leonie, the place was packed out — nice to see members of The Boot Lagoon, Thirteen Club and Syd Arthur all out that night enjoying the last Free Range session of the 2015.

The main act was Bog Bodies, a collaborative audio-visual project involving CCCU's Robert Stillman (tenor sax, electronics), Anders Holst from Denmark (electric guitar, electronics), Seán Carpio from Ireland (drums, electronics) and Ben Rowley (analogue and digital projections). They played a long set, one continuous drone piece, at times abrasive, at times serene, all very dreamlike with the space visually immersed in patterns of dots and squiggles, montages of wildlife, decontextualisedd car chase scenes and other found footage. I imagine the audio will surface soon so I can embed it here. For now, here's some video from elsewhere to give you the general idea:
 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crash of Moons Club no. 4

25th November 2015
Bramleys, Canterbury

Another great COMC night organised by Lapis Lazuli's tireless drummer Adam Brodigan. This month we were treated to sounds from Care Package, Patchwork Natives and Vels Trio.

Care Package is Tony Onuchukwa (he recently changed his stage/producer name from
"B£AMS"), a Simon Langton graduate (from whence came The Soft Machine, as well as most of Zoo For You and Arlet), and currently a doctor at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital! He delivered a set of eclectic, understated electronica, and seemed to approve of my opening set as DJ Prof. Appleblossom (Bibio, Fridge, Caribou, etc.)

Here's something he put together a while ago:


 

Patchwork Trio are a magnificent mathrock/postrock trio from Brighton. Some insane bass playing (lots of tapping, etc.)...

Here they are doing their thing in London not long ago:


 

Vels Trio are a project involving local heroes The Boot Lagoon's bass monster Cameron Dawson with his London-based friends Dougal (drums) and Jack (keyboards). Three virtuosos playing lush jazz-fusion with a tinge of Canterbury sound. Apparently they were having a hard time, feeling underrehearsed, but I don't think that was at all evident to the audience. Props to The Boot's Callum Magill for supplying a mini-Moog at the last minute when Jack's went on the blink:

As DJ Prof. Appleblossom I attempted (successfully I think) to weave a sonic journey linking the bands, glitchy/lo-fi electronica into postrock into prog/fusion. After Vels Trio I selected some more danceable stuff (Afrobeat, Ethio-groove and soul-jazz). I look forward to the next one (February with Cheap Wine and Jouis, apparently).

Here's a recent clip of Vels playing a new tune:

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Kasai Masai

Colyer-Fergusson Hall
University of Kent
12th September 2015

A free lunchtime concert! There are something like 20,000 students at this university, and less than half a dozen showed up. There was a decent audience, but mostly retirees – I was one of the youngest people there. Kasai Masai play beautiful Congolese soukous music with a brilliantly fluid lead guitarist. They got a few of us up and dancing by the end of their set. Here they are elsewhere:

The Frances Knight Trio at the Lighthouse

The Lighthouse, Deal
6th September 2015

It's always great to see Frances Knight playing, such a graceful and inventive keyboard style she's got. This was with her trio involving Vince Clarke on drums and Alex Keen on bass, supplemented on a few numbers by Paul Zec on alto sax and Daniel Cano on trumpet (who I saw playing with Glasshouse last time I visited the Lighthouse).

Two sets, the first truncated by some technical problems (handled in a very expert and relaxed way by the Hatton brothers who run the place), including some samba-tinged jazz, "Spooky", and this John Taylor number which Frances is just introducing into her repertoire (she was apologetic about its imperfections, but it still sounded great):
 

I had to cycle off for my train just before the end of the second set, when they were in the midst of "Ode To Billy Joe". Frances can seemingly make everything sound good, and in a really effortless way. There was a particularly weird moment when I was mulling over a strange dream involving a mysterious female friend having ascended a tower of people in the back garden of the house where I used to live in Exeter and broken in through an upstairs window, and Frances announced they were going to play something from her "misspent youth", a Beatles number I instantly recognised but couldn't identify. It turned out to be "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window", of all things. Spooky indeed!

Here they are at the Lighthouse during the summer, playing the title track from their last album, Frog In Love:
 

I ran into Frances in Canterbury a couple of days later, was going to mention the jazz jam at Bramleys that night, but didn't for whatever reason. But she showed up anyway (the first time she's been down there, as far as I know). Dulcie who co-organises it is now taking piano lessons with her, a nice connection. Hopefully she'll become a regular in 2016.

The Flowing album launch

LV21 Arts Centre, Gillingham Pier
4th December 2015

The Flowing launched their new album Talk About Wonder aboard the decommissioned lightship LV21 (now an arts centre), a very special occasion for which I got the train up from Canterbury (respect to them for starting/finishing early enough so that those of us who came by train could catch the last one home). Good to see them on their home turf (er, well, sea, I suppose — quite appropriate given the maritime heritage of the Medway towns, and the album art).

We were treated to two sets of pure beauty. Singer and songwriter Dave started solo for the first couple of songs, surprisingly on electric guitar, but then switched to acoustic when joined by Sophie (ukelele/vocals), Vicky (French horn/accordion/vocals), Hannah (violin/vocals) and Theo (bass/vocals) for the rest of the first set. Sophie started the second set solo with a couple of her own songs (sung with acoustic guitar), one involving a major spoken word component, and Vicky had a solo spot a bit later accompanying herself on "If I Were A Blackbird" on accordion. But mostly it was Dave's deeply moving, poetic songs backed up wonderfully by this exquisite ensemble. They ended with the rousing "We Will Not Go" and a poignant "Seasons" (dedicated to two recently lost friends), then encored with "The Eyes of Great Men", all three songs being instant classics. I haven't had a chance to listen to the CD yet (who has a CD player these days?), but if it's anywhere as near as good as this performance, it should win over legions of followers. You can check it out on Bandcamp, but here's some video from the gig for now:
 


 

Looking forward to seeing them play in Canterbury in the spring (they're booked to play a Crash of Moons Club event with Arlet, that should be another truly great night).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 28

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 28

A couple of very "Canterbury" sounding bands from early 70s France and one from late 70s East Coast USA, an intriguing Henry Cow demo, Archie Shepp employing a synth to great effect in '71, a set of Canterbury-related pieces (Hopper, Wyatt, New York Gong) involving saxophonist Gary Windo, gems from Eno, Beefheart and Radiohead, and a couple of Annette Peacock songs. Also Caravan, Hatfield and the North, and Richard Sinclair accompanied by a church organ in Harlingen. From the current Canterbury music scene, pieces from The Thirteen Club, Vels Trio, Syd Arthur and Arlet (covering Eno!).

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gettin' booglarized in Margate

Winter Gardens, Margate
18th November 2015

Captain Beefheart's Magic Band have been touring in one form or another since Simpsons creator Matt Groening urged them to reunite for an All Tomorrows Parties festival he curated in 2006. I remember hearing a John Peel session around that time and being quite bowled over by how great they sounded (and how well John "Drumbo" French handled Beefheart's vocal lines). In recent times they've been down to Drumbo and "Rockette" Morton on bass, plus a bunch of new recruits, and then for this tour, Rockette had to pull out as he's recovering from heart surgery. So it was just Drumbo and some relative youngsters — but WOW! what a band...

They played songs from across the Beefheart canon, the setlist being more-or-less this:

set 1
My Human Gets Me Blues
Low Yo Yo Stuff
Diddy Wah Diddy (Bo Diddley cover)
When It Blows Its Stacks (featuring an incredible "shredding duel" between the two guitarists)
Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles
Tropical Hot Dog Night
Nowadays a Woman's Gotta Hit a Man
Ant Man Bee
Circumstances

set 2
Drum Solo
On Tomorrow
Hair Pie Bake I
Bat Chain Puller
Suction Prints
Click Clack
Bellerin' Plain
Steal Softly Through Snow
Electricity
Moonlight on Vermont
Grow Fins

sort-of-encore:
Glider
Big Eyed Beans From Venus

Drumbo didn't just do the vocals (with total commitment and flair), he also handled the Captain's saxophone and harmonica parts as well as getting involved in the drumming (otherwise the responsibility of Andrew Niven). It could all have seemed a bit weird and forced, but in the moment it seemed like the most amazing live band you're ever likely to see. The two guitarists (Max Kutne and Eric Klerks) were mind-bogglingly talented, while the newest recruit (Brian Havey) calmly held down the crazy bass parts on his keyboard.

The audience were largely ecstatic by the end (a lot of us up and dancing for "Big-Eyed Beans From Venus" encore), but not everyone was into it from a couple of things I overheard — I think they were disappointed that Von Vliet himself wasn't there, but surely they knew what (not) to expect? Anyway, I was fully booglarized, and am likely to stay that way for a while now...