Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Canterbury Sans Frontieres: Episode 23

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 23

Gong playing a Steve Hillage composition written during his sojourn in Canterbury, a good example of some late period Soft Machine, a very Soft-Machine-influenced slice of Belgian prog-psych, glitch electronica from Canterbury and Reykjavic, recent local live recordings from The Boot Lagoon and Syd Arthur, Caravan playing an early Soft Machine number, an Anglo-French Kevin Ayers cover, Sun Ra, Mingus, King Crimson, Hatfield live in '75 and an extraordinary Malian interpretation of Terry Riley's "In C".

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Saturday 6th June, 2015
Little Mongeham, near Deal, Kent

Will Greenham mentioned to me last year that he was looking to get Tinariwen to come and play at the Smugglers Festival site. I filed that away in the "totally implausible, but this is Will Greenham here, so you never know" folder. And it came to pass.

A brilliant day all round. The weather certainly helped (bright sunshine with cooling breezes). Will had curated a whole day of global sounds building up to Tinariwen at sunset. This alternated between the little acoustic amphitheatre space in "Gilly's Wood" and the new main stage (a beautiful geodesic half-dome, built by the unstoppable Adam Whittaker).

  • Magga Tiempo: Yiannis and Roberto's music was a great way to kick things off, and it was satisfying for me as they'd initially contacted me about playing this event and I'd recommended them to Will. Roberto got his charango out for one Andean tune, the rest a melange of Balkan and gypsy sounds, including a gypsy jazz rewrite of "Für Elise" (i think it was).
  • Hot Feet: The quartet from Stroud. Marianne — what a voice! They're one of these bands which stand out by the near impossibility of describing their music. The programme said "spacious folk or ambient blues", but neither of those is quite right. They're just doing their (very special) thing using conventional guitar-drums-bass instrumentation — just check them out online if you haven't heard them. And no doubt they're sick of this being pointed out, but lead guitarist Jack looks about eight feet tall!
  • Hanami: I'm not sure if John and Keeley were down from Cheshire or over from Bulgaria for this, I've lost track. But I loved them. Their baby Pip was being watched over in a nearby tent, rather than being on "stage" playing with shakers and kazoos as she usually does. They started with Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" set to a totally new melody (I only just figured out what it was before it ended), then a string of their own wond'rous compositions. The first thing everyone picks up on is their harmony singing, but I was again struck by their amazing sense of rhythm (Keeley's brushes-on-snare and John's strumming hand).
  • Poggy Hatton and Band: Various members of Cocos Lovers joined her on stage, but unfortunately no keyboard was available for Adam to play on. The set included a Roches cover ("Runs in the Family") and ended with everyone singing "Happy Birthday" to Poggy's husband/drummer James (with beautiful Cocos harmonies, naturally).
  • Katy Carr: Sweet ukelele songs and lots of intriguing, rambling banter. Lots of references to Poland (she's half-Polish) and songs in Polish. An attempt at singing in Chinese. Much time taken expressing her (clearly heartfelt) gratitude to be there, which somehow was a fully integral part of her set. I totally fell in love with everything about what she's doing. Later, I looked her up online and found out about a connection with Gina Birch and The Raincoats, which totally makes sense.
  • Cocos Lovers: They played a similar-ish set to their recent one at the Astor, though shorter and without Poggy joining them for "Door to the Andes". Very solid, although a bit murky sounding at times ("Emily" suffered a bit from that). Nick, who cycled to the event with me from Canterbury, and who's somehow only managed to see them do low-key fireside sets, pointed out they're sounding less "rustic" these days, which is partly to do with the setting (they project differently to large/festival audiences), and partly just an accurate observation. It's all a bit more polished and electric these days. It's happened so slowly and incrementally that I hadn't really noticed. But they're clearly more and more well-loved everywhere they go these days, nowhere more than on their home turf.
  • The Allen Family Band: The first time I saw Toby from Lapis Lazuli was playing with his American dad (a bluegrass player) and siblings a few years ago. The kids are older now (singer Ruby is now a mother) and all noticeably more skilled on their instruments. Geary on banjo is now lightning fast and yet totally calm in his demeanor while shredding. And it's funny hearing Toby play such simple basslines compared to the stuff he does in Lapis. The set included various bluegrass instrumentals as well as Ruby singing "I'll Fly Away", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Orange Blossom Special", and guitarist Pete singing "East Virginia Blues". Papa Allen provided explanations and historical context and made a point about how this music sounds best unamplified in the open air. It certainly does. I hear a lot of this stuff when I'm out in Wisconsin — too much, really — so I was surprised by how enjoyable their set was.
  • Diabel Cissokho: The Senegalese kora master took to the stage with just a single percussionist, and between them sounded like half a dozen musicians playing their hearts out. Very high energy playing, for kora music, and I did talk to one person who thought Diabel was trying too hard to "get the party started", but no one was complaining at the time. Beautiful!
  • TINARIWEN: After a short break while the South Deal School DJ collective spun Afrobeat, soul and funk grooves in what was once the Sondryfolk Forest (rebranded the "Christmas Tree Forest"), Tinariwen came and brought their powerful, joyful, relentless (in the best sense), magical music to about five hundred entranced festival goers. They started with a simple vocal chant, then gradually built up the energy throughout the set until (during the last third) they were seriously cooking, rocking out with an almost Zeppelin-like intensity, but in a calm, African kind of way, completely lacking in any posturing or "showmanship". The three singer-guitarists took turns playing guitar and singing lead (almost always electric, occasionally acoustic), almost in a "Go on, you have a go now" kind of way. Meanwhile the bass player and percussionist (calabash mostly) were being the most solid rhythm section on the planet. By the time they left the stage, the crowd were beyond ecstatic (organiser Will Greenham and his young son Henry had already been crowdsurfing by this point!), and so a single member of the band came on to play the first of three encores, an acoustic ballad to calm everyone down a bit (although whoops and shrieks were heard from the audience throughout). As it said in the programme, this will be one to tell the grandkids about.
  • Simo Langawi's Gnawa Blues All-Stars: After another DJ intermission in the woods (a strange selection of 70s cheese, and not particularly danceable), we got a third blast of African intensity. Simo now has Stewy from Cocos on the drums, and various guesting soloists, this time a pair of electric guitarist. He pounded his gimbri, dreadlocks flying everywhere, unbelievalbe energy levels, and a perfect way to end the live music for the day before the DJs took over again til daybreak.
THANKS to everyone involved in making this wonderful day happen!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sunday Service in Deal with Leonie

31/05/15, The Lighthouse, Deal

Leonie showed up a bit late for this afternoon "Sunday Service" gig due to a delayed lift back from Wales with Cocos Lovers who she'd been temporarily recruited for to headline the Fire on the Mountain Festival. People were finishing their Caribbean-themed roast dinners (part of Tyrone's weekly "reggae roast"), so no one seemed to mind. She rushed in with guitar and rucksack, straight onto stage, a quick tune-up, no setlist, just asked for requests and played whatever came to mind. So we heard a few songs from her band Rae, done solo, some new songs she'd recently picked up in New Orleans, Memphis Minnie's "Can't Afford to Lose My Man", some Jimmy Rogers, "Frankie and Johnny", "Stardust", "Up the Lazy River". Her "frumpet" (uncannily convincing vocalised muted-trumpet sound she makes with her mouth) was in full effect on many of these. When she turned to me for a request I thought of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Up Above My Head". She pointed out that it wouldn't last long if there was no one playing solos, so Adam Whittaker volunteered to do so on the rickety old honky-tonk piano near the stage. Dave Hatton (doing sound) quickly miked it up, and Adam was well away, incredibly creative, counterintuitive soloing, most impressive. Everyone clapping and singing along, Leonie belting it out, got quite ecstatic. Sister Rosetta would have been smiling down on the Lighthouse from up above our heads...

12th and 13th Bramleys jazz jams

26/05/15 and 09/06/15, Bramleys, Canterbury

The first of these sessions featured some excellent stuff from The 13 Club (at least I think that's what they're called — CCCU music students including Jason from Plume on bass), including Charlie Parker's "Billy's Bounce" and some original fusion numbers. There was another thrown-together ensemble who were also pretty worthy. The second session was pleasant enough, but without any standout moments. Yiannis joined for a version of "Summertime" with an unknown cellist and the excellent vocalist I saw with Glasshouse some months ago. The Lapis Lazuli contingent was lacking (no Phil, Adam too tired to drum, just Toby on bass), but at least co-organiser Dulcie sang a bit — including a lively duet with her friend Diane(?) — which she seems to forget to do on some of these occasions, despite her stunning voice. The final jam with Luke on guitar was a bit rough, but a good note to go out on (they ended with Monk's "Blue Monk").

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 22

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 22

This episode we dig deeper into the recently released Hugh Hopper archives, as well as his brother Brian's "Canterburied Sounds" collection of home tape recordings, including a phenomenal 1972 Caravan instrumental demo. Also, the newly surfaced, earliest existing recordings of Gong from 1968 and something very punchy from their 2014's "I See You" album, an insane piece of prepared piano from Lindsay Cooper's private tape archive, Robert Wyatt singing a poignant John Lennon song as well as singing backing vocals for his biographer's band, Richard Sinclair singing lyrics written by novelist/fan Jonathan Coe, some "Bitches Brew"-inspired Donald Byrd from 1970, a gem from the 80's King Crimson lineup, a Japanese acid-folk masterpiece from 1975, Japanese Canterbury-heads Happy Family from last year, and some loveliness from early 80s feminist collective "Jam Today". From the Canterbury of today, there's a live set from Lapis Lazuli, recorded here last December.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cocos at the Astor

The Astor Theatre, Deal

This was Cocos Lovers raising funds to release their (now completed) new fourth album, Twisted Moon. Support was from ex-Cocos member Poggy Hatton and her band (including Phil and Billy from Cocos, her husband James on drums and new recruit Adam Whitaker on unfortunately not-very-audible grand piano). She played a lot of new stuff, all sounding great.

We were treated to a nice mix of old and new stuff from Cocos (all four albums represented). Many of the new songs were already familiar to me, having heard Matt Tweed's premixes some months ago, and from the woodland residency I hosted last year where they were working on some of them. "Bitterness Gone" is now called "Listening Ear", to be the first single, and the title track is sung by Bill. James Hatton was back behind tje drums as Stewy was away drumming with a gnawa collective in London, and Pog joined for last song, the gorgeous "Door of the Andes" — I never thought I'd hear that played again. Everyone was looking very happy on stage. The eight-piece version of the band from about 2010 returned for a double encore of "Howling Wind" and "Moonlit Sky". We all left feeling very satisfied, like having eaten a healthy, delicious meal, just the right amount of everything. The mix was perfect (apart from a few seconds of feedback during the first encore). Lovely crowd too. Nice to be back in East Kent...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wisconsin again

I'm sitting in my central Wisconsin friend Peter's basement down in Madison, my last night in Wisconsin after four weeks. His band (currently unnamed) is rehearsing — they're playing a kind of intelligent rock music, with elements of prog and spacerock, a new bass player, a young guitar virtuoso ripping it up, etc. Soundibg good. I passed through here shortly after arriving into Chicago a month ago. We usually jam, but that didn't happen this time — we did drop into a bar called Crystal Corner to see a Nick-Lowe-obsessed pub rock band called Bing Bong, though — some nice covers of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and T. Rex's "Bang a Gong" to finish.

Up in Stevens Point, my saz didn't get played much at all (years ago I'd visit and there would be several open mics each week, basement jams, barroom sessions, but things have changed in town). The Elbow Room on the Square still hosts a Tuesday night "songswap" where people stand around with instruments (mostly, but not all, guitars) and, in theory, sing the kinds of familiar songs people can join in with. When it works, it's great, a proper barroom sing-a-long, people expressing themselves musically and giving each other space. When it doesn't, it can be a horrible mess, but people just drink and talk louder then and it doesn't really matter. I got to three of these. Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Creedence, that kind of thing. Mostly American, although the Beatles are popular, Donovan, the Stones, Floyd. I rarely get find myself in situations jamming along to songs by Jackson Browne or Townes van Zandt, but once a year it's quite alright by me. One night I was introduced to Matt, a guitarist from "Shakey", my friend Maggie's Neil Young tribute band from Madison. He's up in Point studying Natural Resources and Public Policy, and admirably saved a particularly unfocussed songswap by belting out a handful of well-chosen Neil songs and getting the whole bar involved. We then ended up having an excellent conversation about Wisconsin politics and the UK general election.

Several key venues have closed down in recent years, so rather like Canterbury, the local music scene has suffered as a result. But I did find a few things. On 25th April (just after Earth Day), the UWSP chapter of Save the Frogs put on an event at the University Center featuring three acts: a nine-piece reggae band Kyerokaya — students and ex-students, I would guess, the kind of large band it's hard to get together in one place an practice regularly, so understandably, some of the details were a bit blurred out in their set, but when they hit a groove, it really kicked in and I was among an enthusiastic semicircle of people dancing to sweet, dubbed out reggae music. Very nice. The last song had a very different character, sung by one of the guitarists (his only vocal) and sounding like something out of the early Kevin Ayers catalogue, kind of "Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes" meets "Caribbean Moon". They were followed by a four-piece "Americana" band called the Hi-Matics, and then an energetic jam trio called Prodo with a very impressive guitarist (exploratory playing, more Trey Anastasio than Jerry Garcia).

most of the Kyerokaya lineup I saw

A week or so later I saw a Milwaukee "jam electronica" band called Undercover Organism play at Guu's on Main. They started very late and I was slipping in and out of consciousness by the time they played their first set. I had to go and sleep before their second set when they had Henry, the guitarist from Prodo, guesting. I'd spoke to him while they were setting up and heard about his experience of finishing his degree at UWSP and then heading out to China to be a professional musician for a few years. The band started their set by stoically explaining that their guitarist had announced he was quitting the band that very morning, so they were just going to jam, and mingle in some of their songs. I can't remember much about it, the kind of spacerock jam that can seem tedious for a while and then becomes briefly transcendent. The cusp of sleep was perhaps the optimal vantage point to appreciate this.

A week after that, Chris Norman and David Greenberg, a Canadian "Celtic folk" duo played a the Sentry Theater north of town (part of a complex associated with the local insurance giant). I wasn't too interested in a concert in that kind of setting, but it was announced that they'd be leading an informal Irish-pub-type session in a nearby restaurant/bar so I went along to that and was surprised to see some locals turned up with instruments to join in (a couple of flutes, a couple of guitars and a harp). It's been years since I've played any Irish music, so I didn't bring my saz along, just sat in a corner with a book of Zen poetry I'd been given and enjoyed the ambiance. I also briefly dropped in on the Portage County Cultural Festival at the local high school a week or so later, saw another local(?) group of folkies playing Irish tunes as well as numerous groups of enthusiasts in anachronistic national costumes demonstrating various music and dance — good to see some growing global awareness in mid-Wisconsin, but for my tastes it was a bit too much of a "cultural supermarket" trading in stereotypes.

(As I type this, Pete's band are working out a minor key "vampire" interpretation of CCR's "Bad Moon Rising"...)

Charles and Santana from Pete's band on stage recently

On 29/04 I got taken out to the Northland Ballroom out in the sticks near Iola to join in with the weekly bluegrass-type-session that's hosted by my friends Sloppy Joe. Gavin was down in New Orleans and Jimmers was at home, so it was just Stef and Jeff from the band, but ably assisted by the inimitable mandolin player Bobby Burns, the even less imitable banjo player Dale and Russ the banjo player from current local heroes Horseshoes and Handgrenades, playing fiddle. My playing was pretty rough that night, but it was fun and I don't think anyone really noticed. Lynn, with whom I travelled down to the Suwannee Springfest in N. Florida a few years ago, has a new trio called Ukelyptus, 2/3 of which played a short set that evening, as well as a newly formed and rather tenuous folkie quartet making their first public appearance (the best place for such things). My highlight of the evening was Kevin the outsider-banjo-player/naive-singer-songwriter singing his transcendentally awkward songs about dinosaurs, Billy Idol concerts, etc. He did a rough-as-it-gets cover of Syd Barrett's "The Gnome" and a totally surreal song about the banjo having been drinking and various other inanimate objects being similarly animate before trailing off into some diffuse instrumentals. A nice social evening too.

Annoyingly, I missed the sunrise on Beltane morning (having lost track of how many days there are in April) but got down to Whiting Park, near the confluence of the Wisconsin and Plover Rivers where there's a cluster of Native American burial mounds, around sunset that evening and played solo saz through the twilight.

The last Elbow Room Tuesday night songswap ended with a really interesting jam involving me and Jacob, one of the guitarists from Kyerokaya, that reggae band I'd seen (he'd been wearing a Nirvana T-shirt that evening, and playing vaguely prog-ish lead parts, so he'd stood out). He was playing acoustic this time, some unusual progressions that I seemed to be able to follow effortlessly (despite the Point beer and background noise), but I can't really remember much more than that.

Heading back via Madison today I got to drop in for the afternoon to see old friends Maggie and Ken and their month-old baby Frances. They're both still involved in various bands (Maggie was still singing with Reptile Palace Orchestra while heavily pregnant), although that will no doubt slow down a little bit for the next while. That afternoon Ken went to pick up his double bass (a late 19th century Austrian or Czech model that had been in his family) after five years in a local repair workshop, quite an occasion. It came back looking and sounding wonderful, and at his urging, I had a go. The total mystery of how anyone manages to play fretless instruments in tune was partially resolved, as I quickly began to find my way around on the fingerboard (a combination of intuition, trial-and-error and adaptive muscle memory). Quite addictive, but I don't think I'll be switching to double bass any time soon.

[Now back in England, continuing this entry:] Then it was over here to catch Pete's band rehearsal. That "Bad Moon Rising" went into a very promising jam, and then Charles the bass player and I somehow ended up talking about Syd Barrett, then Soft Machine. To my surprise, he started enthusing about the first two Softs LPs, how massively influential they were, and about what a great bass player Kevin Ayers was. Very few people I speak to have picked up on this (thinking of him mainly as a singer-songwriter, poet, dandy, character, whatever...), and certainly never anyone in the USA. So I gave him the links for my Canterbury Soundwaves and Canterbury Sans Frontierès podcasts, as I'm sure he'll appreciate them. He turned out to be a pretty serious Deadhead too (saw about 250 Grateful Dead shows, had hippy parents, etc.), was into Blake, Keats, Shelly, Finnegan's Wake... So if I lived in Madison and wanted to get a musical project together, I know who I'd want as my bass player!

Rob the drummer and Tad the keys player had to leave, so Pete suggested I get my saz out and jam with him, Santana (the excellent young guitarist) and Charlie. He plugged me in, added some reverb, then got behind the drums and surprised us all with some very tasteful jazzy drumming. This was a lot of fun, and felt particularly good as I'd not really had a chance to play any free music while over here. Some bits worked quite well:

No embedded player? Try here.

We ended up over at Charlie's house nearby, sitting up late and talking with him and his wife Ginger about music, politics and life in general. A great way to spend a last evening in the States — spaced out, jamming with Charlie Brown (that's his name, no joke).

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 21

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 21

Canterbury Sans Frontières returns after a hiatus of several months. The middle hour of this episode is of course dedicated to the late, great Daevid Allen, godfather (and Pied Piper) of the Canterbury Scene, who passed away in March, with a guest mix provided by Canterbury sound artist and DJ Adam Dawson (a.k.a. Adam Oko). Also Robert Wyatt singing an e e cummings poem set to music by John Cage, some newly released archival Hugh Hopper live recordings, a couple of pieces from the Lindsay Cooper memorial concert last year involving Henry Cow and friends, the jazz piece from which Caravan borrowed one of their most famous motifs, Kevin Ayers with the Wizards of Twiddly live in 1995, a far-out Syd Arthur remix, a solo piano version of Terry Riley's "Rainbow in Curved Air", and much more.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Greyfriars Garden, 12/04/15

It's been a while since I've posted anything about my own music-making here. The Sunday afternoon before I left for Wisconsin, Tom H and I decided to finally go public with the project we've been working on for a while now. We'd chosen six pieces from the twenty or so we've been developing, focussed on those for a few rehearsals. We decided a low-key outdoor thing for an invited group of friends would be appropriate for this music and that the Greyfriars Garden next to Tom's house would be an appropriate setting (this is locally known as the "secret garden", including Binnewith Island in the River Stour, a wildflower meadow and the only surviving Franciscan building in the country, apparently).

It was a bright, sunny spring day, and although we were only expecting a handful to show up, we ended up with about 25 people, a very pleasant surprise. People brought picnics, and because of the rather noisy sound of wind in the trees we chose a sheltered spot between an old wall and the river.


It was a perfect setting. Acoustically favourable, cherry blossom overhead, ducks quacking, a little bit of background ambience from the wind and water, and a robin hopping around us while we played (I didn't notice at the time, lost in my fretboard, but Vicky managed to get a photo of it):

Local multi-instrumentalist Dan Sayer recorded this (he seems keen to get involved in the project, which could be great). Listening back I can hear that I was a bit nervous (so many talented musicians in the audience), my playing's a bit clumsy in places, but overall I'm quite happy with what happened, musically.

Listen Here

And socially, just a lovely occasion. Nice to get all those people together in such a beautiful spot, and see them all before I left. Many of us ended up at The Unicorn in St. Dunstans afterwards. I was left with a mental image of my life in Canterbury and what I've got to look forward to returning to when I'm back in mid-May.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

onward into 2015

I'm just about ready to resume blogging. So here's the 2015 backlog...
  • Weekly sessions with Tom Holden down at his place in the Greyfriars, Canterbury, working on our repertoire of original music for saz and guitar/ukelele. We've been working on about twenty pieces, slowly getting our sound together.
  • 06/01/15: A reunion with Orbis Tertius (me, Henry and Keith) in Exeter. Felt good to be playing that stuff again — we massacred some of the tunes, but some spirited jamming made up for that. And a nice social occasion — we ended up sitting up late listening to Bill Frisell's Floratone and Trio Hadouk afterwards.
  • 07/01/15: A Children of the Drone session, the first one I'd been to for ages. It was all a bit soupy because there were nine of us, but some nice moments. Also noteworthy in that the three original Droners (me, Keith and Simon) were all playing together for the first time in years, plus our first recruit (Henry). My recording of that is here.
  • 10/01/15: Miriam's 30th birthday celebrations. Thankfully we got an unusually mild and still evening and were able to spend it around a big fire in the woods. Aidan from Arlet and his partner Domi played Irish, Klezmer, etc. tunes on accordion/fiddle, then a singalong jam with Miriam's Little Bulb Theatre friends: Tom Waits, "CC Rider", "Wagon Wheel", "Fisherman's Blues" (everyone spontaneously dancing around fire at that time). Ten people playing at one point. I shared a djembe for some hilarious collaborative drumming with Little Bulb Clare for a while. Dom and Zoe singing some Sufjan Stevens. Billy and Phil from Cocos Lovers dropped in (Billy sang Tom Waits' "Come On Up To the House"). Little Bulb then broke out a surprise a cappella "Eleanor Rigby" with new lyrics they'd written about Miriam, very touching. I stayed up til 5, the Bulbs carried on playing and singing til sunrise, of course. Adam and Neil (from Lapis Lazuli) + Monica dropped in for a lazy afternoon the next day. A lovely weekend.
  • 15/01/15: Free Range with Dominic Lash and John Butcher. Wow! John Butcher playing an intimate free gig in Canterbury — we're so lucky... John Russell was meant to be playing with them, but cancelled, so organiser Sam Bailey sat in for the second set. Talking to Richie from Plume afterwards at the Canterbury Tales during the Irish session.
  • 20/01/15: Jazz session at Bramleys. These are now a fortnightly happening, organised by the extremely talented young vocalist Dulcie May Moreno plus the ubiquitous multi-instrumentalist Jules. I think this was the third one. Jason from Plume brought along his quartet playing a mix of bebop and fusion (great stuff), then various permutations of local players involving Toby, Phil and Adam from Lapis Lazuli, plus Jules, Trent Castro and James Ross from the local reggae band Hey Maggie. The highlight was a very tall, jovial Bulgarian MC called Jan rhyming in English and Bulgarian, limbs flailing, to a blues/jazz/boogie jam ("My friend from Brighton/She was really frightened/That the hippies from the 60s/Still aren't all enlightened"!). Nice mixed age audience, felt really alive.
  • 22/01/15: Free Range. My tenure as Free Range archivist ended as I handed over the hard drive to Sam. A CCCU-based enthusiast (who does an experimental music podcast) called Ollie is taking over. Nice to have been involved, but glad someone else is doing it now. Sam played a wonderful but brief treated piano piece (guitar pickups, vibrating object, singing bowls, atop the strings), then readings Sarah Crewe and Chris McCabe (working class Liverpool poets). McCabe's "alchemical treatise against the police" was very entertaining!
  • 29/01/15: Free Range with Dominic Lash, Sam Andraea (saxophonist from Trio Riot) and pianist Karen Ullén from Sweden. Also the X-O-DOS collective from Ashford, delivering an unexpected mix of noise barrage and curious, gloomy songs skillfully played. Then on to the Canterbury Tales with Sarah F and friends for some Irish tunes and beer. Another great Thursday evening in Canterbury.
  • 01/02/15: It being Imbolc, I walked over to Harbledown, visited the Black Prince's Well, saw my first snowdrops of the year. That evening was the first birthday celebration at Lucy P's Wild Goose bar in the Goods Shed (the farmers' market). Phil and Billy from Cocos Lovers were there singing some of their songs, Tom Waits and "Don't Think Twice It's Alright". I managed to talk Miriam into taking the mic and singing "All of Me" with them.
  • 03/02/15: Jazz session at Bramleys again. Good energy with Phil and Toby, James Ross on stage. Another nice mini-set from Jason of Plume's crew. It got a bit self-indulgent after that, but I appreciate the open format and am very grateful for the fact someone is making the effort to put these evenings together. Varying quality is part of the deal.
  • 05/02/15: Free Range again... disturbing poetry from Juha Viränen, then "death metal free jazz" from N.E.W. Visiting Matt Tweed somewhat horrified, but impressed by the broken double bass string! Then to the Canterbury Tales for the Irish session with Aidan (Arlet) and crew. Matt was down in East Kent recording the new Arlet and Cocos Lovers albums.
  • 06/02/15: Two mighty sets from Lapis Lazuli at the Gulbenkian Cafe. They asked me to introduce them so I put together something involving the Epic of Gilgamesh (many lapis lazuli references therein!). Not a huge crowd, but a happy one, some of us dancing. Twenty-five minutes of new stuff. Apparently my intro may get sampled for the new album.

  • 07/02/15: An interesting evening with Matt Tweed and friends (half of Lapis there + Koloto) hearing a lecture from Rupert Sheldrake at CCCU. We ended up eating together at Club Burrito afterwards with a DJ playing electroswing and euphoric house.
  • 12/02/15: A fruitful session with Tom H, then on to Free Range featuring CCCU Broadstairs' "Oscillate" crew (four earnest young men collectively manipulating an electronic soundscape, rather like a 2015 Tangerine Dream), then some Irish tunes at the Canterbury Tales.
  • 13/02/15: Koloto/Ekoda Map/Mologon at Club Burrito. Nice chilled atmosphere, someone filming Maria (with a mini smoke machine behind her!) for promotional purposes. I don't think that video has surfaced yet. Lapis friends in the house.
  • 17/02/15: Another Bramleys jazz session: just the right amount of musicians, listeners, very fluid. Organiser Dulcie May singing some soulful stuff with her Mystery Cats band ("What's Going On?", some Sly Stone), her friend sang "Ain't No Sunshine", there was a Django "Minor Swing" segment with six guitars, based around Yianni and Roberto, and a young Beefheart influenced-looking singer leading a band through Elmore James "Dust My Broom" to close out. All of Lapis in the house, Phil, Toby and Adam playing.
  • 25/02/15: I miss Luke Smith's new "Lo-fi Zone" music night at The Foundry (featuring Poggy Hatton this time) as I'm working on tunes with Stella in Sussex.
  • 26/02/15: Saw Deerhoof at The Oval Space in Bethnal Green with Helen. The support band Cowtown were good fun (a bit Devo-ish), but Deerhoof were just mindblowing. Staggering. What a strange, wonderful band! NOTHING cliched about anything they do. Every note and drumbeat is a revelation. John Dieterich's guitar was wild and multidimensional is a kind of Derek Bailey/Frith/Fripp/Kaiser kind of way. Ran back to St. Pancras along the Regents Canal immediately thereafter just in time for my last train back to Canterbury.
  • 03/03/15: More jazz at Bramleys. Very busy this time — Adam, Kim and Miriam couldn't even get in! Very lively, getting more intergenerational with an older trumpet player called Malcolm and an older trombonist who got up and took a spontaneous solo with Jason's crew playing a Charlie Parker tune (a lovely moment). Some dubious vocalising, some bluesy boogie jazz, overall a nice mix of everything, and good to spend some time with the Lapis crew too.
  • 04/03/15: Rozi Plein and This Is The Kit at the 100 Club in London. A great occasion. I was surprised to see Leon from Rae there (covering on bass for Rozi's set, as she plays guitar for her own stuff, bass for TITK). Kate and Rozi are amazing... "Spinney" (from the last album) and "Nits" (from the new one) are real favourites at the moment, but it was all good, all the way through. A very respectful and warm audience (for Oxford Street).
  • 05/03/15: Frances Kruk and Sean Bonney, a couple of poets, at Free Range (I liked them), but also a bit of bass clarinet and electronics (only caught the end of that).
  • 11/03/15: Sadly, the Exeter music scene lost a wonderful musician and friend. Mick Whieldon RIP. I'm glad I got to play so much improvised music with him over the years, and it was always a joy to run into him busking in town.
  • 12/03/15: A very welcome rare Boot Lagoon live set plus Jack Hues' and the Quartet (a trio) at Free Range. A blinding Boot set was dedicated to Daevid Allen, and ended with excellent new piece called "Halogen".
  • 13/03/15: The sad news of Daevid's passing came through. I was glad I'd been out the night before with a crew of Canterbury heads listening to the Boot Lagoon play a set dedicated to him. He would have liked that. I went home and took a trip to Planet Gong (involving Camembert Electrique, the Radio Gnome Trilogy and then some classic period live tapes. Wow!! Daevid is still very much with us.
  • 14/03/15: Matt Tweed and I journeyed to The Lighthouse in Deal to see a couple of sets from the wond'rous Whiskey Moon Face. We could have gone to a Cocos Lovers equinox gig at St. Mary's, Sandwich (much bigger) but I think we made the right choice. I needed something a bit more intimate that evening. Louisa Jones amazes, as ever.
  • 15/03/15: Cameron from the Boot Lagoon and his sound artist Adam dropped by for the afternoon. Adam's now operating as Adam Oko, has an EP about to come out, just back from Japan where he picked up a load of interesting vinyl. He's involved with NTS Radio in East London now, was looking for some Daevid/Gong rarities for a tribute mix he was putting together. That'll also be included in the re-launched Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast in May.
  • 17/03/15: back from rehearsing with Stella, Bramleys jazz jam (no. 7). A bit ropey (some very tenuous solos), but good stuff when the Lapis players were involved. A nice duo from Chris Banks on harp guitar and Jimmy Ross on tenor, also a young singer guitarist with real presence sang "Moondance", "Autumn Leaves" and (yes!) "St. James Infirmary". Fun.
  • 18/03/15: Luke Smith's Lo-Fi Zone at The Foundry with Luke (who covered the Soft Machine's "Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'" with his dad Dave on drums, in memory of Daevid), also a poet from Sittingbourne and local indie band Picturebox (ex-Psychotic Reaction).
  • 19/03/15: WOW! Byron Wallen's Indigo Quartet blew the roof off Mrs. Jones Kitchen! Unbelievable. Last Free Range of the season. Nice to see Brian Hopper there (Hugh's brother, original Wilde Flower and sometime Soft Machine saxophonist), must be nice for him to see his hometown fully embracing the avant garde 50+ years on from those early experiments with Ratledge, Wyatt, et al.
  • 23/03/15: Saw the Sun Ra Arkestra at Colston Hall with Melski. Two long sets of beauty and madness. 91-year-old Marshall Allen looked like the happiest man alive as he left the stage. That gig made me SO happy, worth the trip to Bristol (I also got to catch up with Sondryfolk friends and others).
  • 31/03/15: Another Bramleys jazz jam. James Ross and Chris Banks doing their not-quite-jazz spacey guitar/sax duos, a "Hey Joe" jam at end led by Joe Inkpen, with muliple wailing horns. Lots of good stuff, not too much ropiness or indulgence. Dulcie May sang something very familiar (not sure what that was) plus "Smooth Operator". She's got a voice like 85% Green & Black's chocolate, she's organised, she's motivated, will probably go far...
  • 03/04/15: Good Friday megagig at the Astor Theatre in Deal. Lovely decor from The Psychedelic Treehouse and just about everyone I know in East Kent under one roof. Totally new set from Lapis Lazli (two tunes, the second "Phighyphe" quite math-y), psych-prog loveliness from Jouis, getting more jammed-out and slightly harder edged, but still those lush harmony vocals — love it. One new tune in their set I think. Intriguing new material from Syd Arthur (suffering from a murky mix and Liam's guitar rig crashing, leaving him with just a clean Strat sound minus all those effects), Raven was playing some kind of 4-string electric tenor guitar shaped thing as well as mandolin (no violin this time). I think Josh was introduced as their new drummer (but murky vocal mic meant that no one could really hear this — Fred's definitely not coming back?) They played five of the best from Sound Mirror and an "Ode to the Summer" encore (with that "Pulse" jam at the end), the rest of the set was new material, can't wait to hear what this new album's going to sound like. They gracefully rose above the technical problems and delivered another crushing set, ending an altogether brilliant evening.
  • 07/04/15: Can't believe I forgot to go to the Sea Slugs/Luca Afrobeat double bill at The Ballroom! Too much going on...
  • 08/04/15: Luke Smith doing his thing at The Foundry, plus some hi-brow poetry from his keyboard-bass player and some percussive/harmonic guitar jamming from a French busker called Bertrand who's been seen around town for a few days. Something very comforting about Luke's songs that night — I needed that.
  • 10/04/15: Lunchtime concert in the Cathedral Quire with newish choir "Cantiacorum". A very pleasant half hour. That evening Sarah and I went to see Medway's finest, The Flowing at The Maidens Head, Wincheap. This involved first sitting through three other acts we weren't too impressed by...pretty tedious, but The Flowing (a four piece, trumpet player John having been dismissed, and ukelelist Sophie couldn't make it) were WONDERFUL! Love this band...
  • 13/04/15: One the eve of a trip to Wisconsin, Dave, Libby and I watched a DVD of the short-lived Soft Machine quintet lineup live in Paris in 1970, projected onto a big screen. Amazing stuff! The disc was a gift from Brian Hopper (Hugh's brother who played sax with the Softs on the second album and some other radio sessions, etc.) who passed on a whole carrier bag of archival goodies to me after the last Free Range. Thanks Brian!
  • 14/04/15: A very ropey jazz jam at Bramleys this time, but worth sticking around for the very end (a cosmic jam with Adam and Toby from Lapis, a brilliant young guitarist (Luke), James Ross on sax and a mystery keyboard player..fabulous). There had been some OK stuff earlier with various permutations of the same crew playing "Blue Monk", "Billy's Bounce", etc.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Farewell Daevid

Any Gongfreaks reading this will by now have heard that the Divided Alien has departed for the Isle of Everywhere.

Here's a lovely photo by my friend Neil Sloman:

I was lucky enough to have spent a day out with Daevid in the Canterbury area in 2012, the results of which can be heard in the final installation of my Canterbury Soundwaves podcast. I also got to see him and Gilli onstage in Brighton on the final Gong tour that year (he had more energy than anyone in the audience, it seemed!) Also very grateful to have caught the Gong lineup involving Steve Hillage in the summer of 2009 (one of the best gigs ever!) and to have organised an intimate little concert in a Kentish bluebell wood for him on Beltane 2013.

On the evening of the 13th when the news came through the only possible reaction was to go home, get into an appropriate frame of mind and put Cambembert Electrique and the Radio Gnome Trilogy on an extended playlist, put on my headphones, and take a trip to Planet Gong. Extraordinary! As the man said, "You Can't Kill Me".

As well as all the fantastic music, poetry and art, he's provided us with a model for how you can get old without losing your spirit of spontaneity, absurdity and exploration, without regard for convention or external judgment. He was riding his cosmic wave 'til the very end.

Thanks for everything, Daevid!

Monday, February 16, 2015

the rest of 2014

This blog is still on hiatus for the next while, but I thought I'd quickly document various musical goings on for the last part of 2014:
  • A lot of saz and guitar/ukelele jams with Tom Holden at his new place (part of the old Greyfriars estate) next to Binnewith Island
  • 17/09/2014: Luke Smith and the Feelings, a free lunchtime concert in the Greyfriars grounds, part of the Wise Words poetry/spoken word festival.
  • 29/09/2014: Jouis and Syd Arthur at The Komedia, Brighton plus afterparty at Jouis's "Enterprise Point" antisquat. Jouis more intense than usual, upping the stakes, Syd sounding amazing to everyone except themselves (they have very high standards!)
  • 09/10/2014: Free Range (at new venue, Mrs. Jones' Kitchen) with Tricko (piano/cello)
  • 10/10/2014: live organic electronica from Koloto (and others) at Club Burrito
  • 12/10/2014: Owen (on clarinet) and Aidan (on my pedal harmonium) from Arlet improvisationally collaborating with Medway's "neolithic soul-drone" collective Hand of Stabs in the woods (two sets, one started by O&A, joined later by HoS, the other vice versa). My curation, very happy with the outcome! Originally this was going to be the first "battle of the clarinet and harmonium duos", but Sam Bailey and Tom Jackson pulled out, so O&A were first declared undisputed champions (without having played a note). And I got along to see Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Malian kora master Seikou Keita play a wonderful concert together at the Gulbenkian that night.
  • 17/10/14: pub reggae with Hey Maggie at The Phoenix (a bit ropey but fun, I was with good company — they seemed to have lost their drummer and organist)
  • October 2014: Listening to a lot of recordings of Syd Arthur on their recent North American tour supporting Yes, helping them choose tracks for a possible live EP. Some amazing stuff. And I got a free Yes T-shirt for my efforts!
  • 23/10/14 Mr. Lovebucket and Les Freres Smith at The Ballroom — Wow! An unforgettable night of Afrobeat vibes, blessed by Parisian visitors. Really good to see/hear Lovebucket back together, too, albeit with largely reconstructed horn section.
  • 29/10/14: Radigun (folkie duo featuring Ben from Arlet and Fred Holden on guitar), Rae and Whiskey Moonface in the woods. Pure magic. Last woodland gig of the season. Felt spoiled!
  • 30/10/14: Missed BLUBLUT at Free Range as I had Belgian visitors. Halloween fire next night with Sven playing some guitar (I didn't get my saz out) and a sweet mouth-trumpet solo from Leonie. 3/4 of Rae headed back to Bristol to record as The Evil Us's, Leonie stuck around for a few days of tranquility, not much music (just silly jams involving Miriam and my harmonium), but lovely to have her around.
  • 06/11/14: Free Range with Tim Long's machine and Lemon Otter reading disturbing poetry in Shipping Forecast voice! Fab.
  • 07/11/14: I missed the wonderful Usurp, Rise playing a gig with Lapis Lazuli at the Penny Theatre (had been invited to a Tim Ingold lecture in London)
  • 13/11/14: Relig Oran, Black Lion Courtiers (from Rochester) and The Flowing at the Ballroom after a particularly bad day. Fell in musical love with The Flowing! Got along to Free Range between bands for a bit of poetry too.
  • 20/11/14: Davy Jones Locker + Frances Knight, Robert Jarvis and Jan Ponsford at Free Range. Excellent stuff!
  • 21/11/14: Lindsay Cooper memorial concert at The Barbican in London. My coach was stuck in traffic so I missed half of the Henry Cow set (short, as they were only playing Lindsay's compositions). But that was followed by News From Babel, The Film Group and the "Oh, Moscow" ensemble, all permutations of Henry Cow and friends. A very powerful, emotional experience. Then headed to Stella's in Sussex to work on some tunes for a possible forthcoming collaborative album project.
  • 23/11/14: back to London for the Robert Wyatt book launch at the QEH. I met his half-brother Mark's daughters Saffron and Annelies + Robert's girlfriend from the 60's Pam (of "yellow suit" fame) and her schoolfriend Ali who used to follow the Wilde Flowers back in the day. Afterwards danced to Orphy Robinson DJ set (he'd played an experimental vibraphone set as part of the event) with tiny Jamaican granny (his mum?)... Met Robert briefly afterwards after Mark's niece Katrina insisted on introducing me! Talked about Lindsay Cooper and not sure what else, but it was lovely.
  • 27/11/14: baryton (renaissance instrument) recital + Begin Again Again at Free Range, then over to the Ballroom — missed Mahalas but caught last hour of new local band Glasshouse (Afro, soul, jazz, Cuban and Ethio sounds...fab!). I didn't even know they existed before this. Beautiful guest vocals on "Children of the Ghetto" (they should recruit her as their permanent vocalist).
  • 29/11/14 Arlet, Cocos Lovers and Hot Feet at the Gulbenkian. Yeah! 16 people on stage for encore. Hot Feet not what I was expecting from the name (in the same general musical space as Rae and Kairo). Matt T down recording Arlet at The Bowerhouse in Maidstone, turned up a couple of days later to play me more premixes.
  • 02/12/14: jamming with Miriam playing mandolin (a blues, simple 3-chord thing and a free jam)... nice end to a bleak-feeling day
  • 03/12/14: The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, free lunchtime concert at new UKC music building: nickelharpa, hurdy-gurdy and Hardanger fiddle. Nice. Very civilised! (Dave and Miriam came along too.)
  • 04/12/14: Bandicoot and Syd Arthur at Rafters, Maidstone. Small crowd, but friendly and enthusiastic. Bandicoot sort of Radiohead-Floyd-Hendrix, pulling in multiple directions, kind of Furthur Tent 2008 material. Last UK date for Syd on the eve of their Irish tour.
  • 06/12/14: Spiro!!! Arlet's Ben, Owen, Aidan and friends all in the audience at the The Bowerhouse in Maidstone. Tiny, cosy venue with cushions and no need for amplification. Two sets of pure awesomeness (not a word I'd use very often).
  • 09/12/14: up to The Forge in Camden for Arlet with The Magic Lantern supporting. Prof. Appleblossom did an intro on "The ontology of n-tets", Dan added some beautiful woodland projections from their residency film for the last number. Miriam (working on a musical one-woman theatre show at Battersea Arts Centre) + some of the Little Bulb crew plus Alex from Spiro in the audience.
  • 10/12/14: trainride to Rochester with Sarah F for The Flowing (support from unknown woman with strong vocal presence). Amazing set from a four-piece Flowing (Dave on guitar/vocals + french horn, ukelele and violin), caught whole thing + encore (just!) before running for last train home.
  • 18/12/14: punk rock Xmas at The Lady Luck. Surprised to see Syd Arthur's soundman John Evans playing bass (didn't know he did) with Rob Gambell and Simon Berry + Tom Holden's brother Ed (No Half Measures). They rocked! This was a band from ten years ago that plays once or twice a year now. A Ramones tribute band (The Remains) which followed were awful, The Ramones stripped of all charm.
  • 19/12/14: Up to Battersea to see Miriam's "scratch" show (and a couple of others).
  • 21/12/14: epic solstice walk (no music, apart from a minute of inebriated saz playing back round the fire with everyone in the woods). Opted out of Deal Smugglers winter solstice thing at Astor Theatre to be with everyone.
  • 22/12/14: Cantiacorum (8-week old choir) singing early music in Eastbridge Undercroft, then on to Sarah F's for mince pies and Jane Weaver's The Silver Globe via Spotify.
  • 31/12/14—01/01/15: Listening to Miriam and Mo playing mostly jazz standards at the Goods Shed while being quizzed by Varley about free will and quantum physics, then on to Tom and Soph's to spin some old vinyl (Richie Havens "Here Comes the Sun" for midnight), Liam and Joel from Syd Arthur + friends all around. Then a tipsy ramble over to The Bungalow on the Old Dover Road (Lapis Lazuli HQ) with Liam, hear about their Irish tour, end up jamming with Oli (jazz guitar), Dan Sayer (flute), Neil S (drums), unknown bass player... Liam got involved with his Teenage Engineering synth module. All a bit vague, but lots of fun. Then on to Tom H's to stand around in kitchen listening to "tunes" off someone's laptop and chatting into the first few hours of the new year.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 20

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 20

The last episode for a while (hopefully the series will be back in 2015)...

Featuring some classic live Soft Machine (and Soft Head), an hour of selections from Brian Eno's Ambient album series, various ex-Kent University students making splendid sounds, Ivor Cutler, Lindsay Cooper, Caravan, Gong, King Crimson, Syd Barrett and two Archbishops of Canterbury (one in a musical encounter with Robert Wyatt!).

If anyone's disappointed that there won't be new episodes in the coming months, this would be a good time to explore the CSF archive (scroll down the right-hand sidebar of the blog). And then there are 28 episodes of the earlier Canterbury Soundwaves series...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

blogging hiatus

Just back from a week away in Bristol and SW Wales...

Friday 19th September, just missed The Evil Us's (Leon, Dan and Lorenzo from Rae with guitarist friend Conrad Singh playing psychedelic jazz rock), having been a stonesthrow away at the Dowsing For Water exhibition opening at The Island. I arrived as they were carrying their equipment out, ended up assisting and then being given a lift to Easton via Leonie's place in Montpelier (a loft full of instruments, analogue gear, vinyl and interesting objects, as you'd expect). This brought me to Hannah's 30th birthday party, a cheery affair that involved dancing til 3a.m. to Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles and... (can't actually remember much about what got played).

Sunday 21st September, took part in the latest Sondryfolk event, "Allez Allez Plonge", which involved a surprise feast in the middle of a busy roundabout near St. Mary Redcliffe church. Music was provided by an Arlet trio (Aidan, Rosie and Owen) and later Leonie with some clarinet accompaniment from Owen. This was the first SF event I've experienced from the outside (rather than as an organiser), and it was even more enjoyable as a result. I was seated at the feasting table next to Kim of Katie and Kim's Kitchen (which has developed a cult following during its relatively brief existence in Bristol). She was telling me about their recent gigs as "Autobitch" (bad drumming and tantrum vocals, kind of ultra-raw post-feminist performance/noise art) and how Channel 4 is interested in launching a Katie and Kim TV series!

The next day I was off to Carmarthenshire for a few days visiting Stef and Penni. Glad to hear they've got The Mordekkers back together. They did some rehearsing with a folksinger friend Lynn while I was there (for an upcoming village hall gig involving Anne-Marie Summers too), and Stef and I got into listening to and discussing some interesting, chilled dubstep he's been getting into lately — but my saz didn't get played during the visit, too busy deep in conversation about the usual range of cosmic and earthly topics.

And now, back in the CT, I've decided to throw myself into a temporary regime of book promotion (my self-published Secrets of Creation trilogy has been picked up by a publisher, should be out in a gleaming new edition in a few months). This might involve some science/maths/philosophy/"big ideas" blogging, a Professor Appleblossom video channel, various other ideas in the pipeline. But if I'm going to do this properly (and I'm not likely to get a second chance with this series of books), I'm going to have to bracket a few things out of my perpetually busy existence, including this blog, the Canterbury Sans Frontierès podcast (after the coming Episode 20 in early October) and my Soundcloud "track of the week" series. All of these should be resumed at some point in the Spring of 2015. I might chuck up the odd YouTube clip of some amazing music if I get the chance, but if you're wondering why no new blogging activity, that would explain it. The more that people help to spread the word about the books, the sooner I can get back to musical activities...

See you later!

* * *

And if you've got nothing better to do, check out the archive of DJ Stashu's recently suspended Dance With Me, Stanley programme on freeform WFMU out of New York. She's similarly had to take a break from broadcasting, but the last dozen or so episodes are nothing short of broadcasting genius in my (admittedly peculiar) opinion. Tuesday mornings won't be the same again, but fingers crossed the mighty Stashu will be back in some form before too long.

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 71)

No embedded player? Try here.

A tune Inge wrote, recorded with her playing mandolin, me bashing out rhythm on my saz and Andy Man on djembe (recorded in a field in Llandecwyn, North Wales, where we were playing to a small gathering of locals). More of this kind of thing can be found here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 70)

No embedded player? Try here.

The "lyrics" here are taken from a theoretical statistics paper which I had been proofreading. The back of one page got used as scrap paper for a note I wrote to Jim Penny, which led him to the idea for this track. He created a piece involving concertina and layered vocals (what he called "statistical funk") on a borrowed four-track, sent it to me, and I overdubbed saz and percussion.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 69)

No embedded player? Try here.

A recording Inge and I made in the spring of 2001 of something I made up. With percussion from our Belgian friend Sven and his Moroccan friend Abdel Kader. The whole session can be found here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 19

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 19

A new release featuring Hugh Hopper's bass and John Greaves reading from William Burroughs' novel The Soft Machine, a woozy Gong cover from Oregon psych band Grails, cosmic Afro-jazz harp from Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, quite a lot of German early 70's Kosmische sounds, Steve Hillage, Gong, Matching Mole, Soft Machine, Nucleus, Terry Riley and a rather sweet Kevin Ayers duet with Bridget St. John. Also, a couple of American remixes of current Canterbury-based artists Koloto and Syd Arthur, some new Afrobeat sounds from the City, and a near perfect forgery from Hamilton, Ontario.

Smugglers Festival 2014

28th-31st August 2014
Little Mongeham, near Deal

I could easily lose several hours writing about this, but I'll limit myself to saying that for the fourth year running Will Greenham and co. have put together just about the best festival I could imagine, the amount of incredible music this year being almost overwhelming. If you want to know about the other aspects of the experience (the friendliness of everyone, the overall aesthetic, the endless fascinating conversations with strangers that glue the whole weekend together) you'll just have to get yourself there next August!

Thursday evening: Having cycled over I was mostly setting up and reconnecting with the Sondryfolk crew and extended family (we were all camping together behind the mini-cinema), but various bands could be heard playing in the background. That day's lineup culminated with Garance and The Mitochondries, led by an extraordinary young French singer/accordionist who seemed extremely familiar, but I think that was just her mastery of facial expressions, archetypal character portrayal and general clownish performance. Her rambling monologues between songs were totally captivating and very, very funny without it being quite clear why. Leonie Evans and Brooke Sharkey got up to sing a bit with her (and Leonie ended up playing drumkit, very well!) and the band seemed to have been assembled from a collective of like-minded musicians who play together in endless permutations. Very reminiscent of the kind of vibe Little Bulb Theatre project.


  • Billy Glynn and Phil Self: 2/7 of Cocos Lovers, filling in for Famous James and the Monsters who'd had to pull out. Over the last few years Billy's evolved from a bass player to a talented bass player, guitarist and songwriter. He's got a batch of excellent songs now, and they were playing these. I only caught a couple, then the stage was invaded by a very happy, probably quite drunk, woman offering to sing backing vocals. The graceful and spontaneous way they handled this was quite touching.
  • Kairo: Josh back behind the drums after the Syd Arthur tour in the US, Jamie's voice more confident and expressive than ever, the sound is increasingly that of a unified whole since they reduced to a three-piece. I expect they'll be on another plane altogether this time next year.
  • Whiskey Moonface: Led by lovely Louisa Jones (a Hexhamshire lass, the first I've met) singing her songs and playing accordion, with Dakota Jim on double bass and the ubiquitous Ewan Bleach on clarinet. I saw Louisa backing Theo Bard at John and Vicky's wedding the weekend before, so it was good to hear her do her own thing. The last song had a bit of a klezmer vibe (and Louisa's self-confessed "terrible cockney" vocals), so they got a second clarinet player up, from Minimal Klezmer (Italians) who I'd missed earlier in the evening. They took turns ripping it up, astonishing stuff!
  • Lapis Lazuli: They played the whole Alien suite! One unbroken, bonkers, piece and everyone was with them from beginning to end. Mighty!
  • This Is The Kit: A real highlight, this. I was still glowing from a couple of nights before when they'd played up in the woods. This time the lineup was slightly different, Vincent having returned to France, but their English bass player Rozi having joined them. Jesse was mostly playing electric guitar (behind his head at one point!), and it was a joy to hear all those songs again but differently arranged. Will had given me the option of compèring whichever bands I wanted, so I introduced them. AND Kate and Jesse ended with an old song called "Appleblossom Time", sung together with little daughter Mo, jointly dedicated to Professor Appleblossom (Kate had sat in on part of one of my freestyle maths seminars) and John & Vicky, as it's a wedding song.
  • Syd Arthur: Oh my. They always rise to the occasion at Smugglers Festival, but this year, fresh back from a long North American tour supporting Yes (and that following rapidly on another supporting The GOASTT) they were ON FIRE. They were clearly glad to be back on Kentish soil, relaxed and happy in front of so many friends, able to play a longer set that the half hour they'd been opening the Yes shows with, and every song a classic, played with equal parts ferocity and sensitivity, squeezing every bit of life of every phrase, smouldering jam sections... I was GONE. Perfect sound (John Evans behind the desk, so no surprises there). Josh still filling in on drums, so a bit more wildness on that front. Fred has been recuperating at a Buddhist retreat centre in Ireland apparently, and everyone's hoping his hearing issues will have settled down and he can be back in action soon. But respect is due to Josh for stepping up so effectively at a time of need. The "Ode To The Summer" encore was the perfect way to mark the end of another summer.
  • Dakota Jim Band: This was more-or-less Whisky Moonface permuted, with Louisa's bass player swapping bass for her accordion and fronting the band, a few guests on stage, lots of instrument swapping, a spontaneous rendition of PCO's "Music For a Found Harmonium" and Louisa belting out a song in very convincing-sounding Russian! I think they were filling in for someone who'd cancelled so the set had a bit of a thrown together festival feel to it, but we like that...
  • Into the Moon: Late night, over by the old "Full Moon stage" (chalky mound) Laurie of Sondryfolk built a couple of summers ago. All a bit blurry, but I remember an amazing French violinist, Marc Ribot-type American guitarist, a couple of busking amps, perfect for the setting.


  • Piano in the Woods: Sam Bailey got involved in curating some Free Range avant garde events this year, including a couple of PITW things in the "piano graveyard" (the old festival absinthe bar in the woods where various old pianos have been dumped). The first one involved him with poet Juha Virtänen and the Medway "neolithic soul-drone" collective Hand of Stabs. I missed the beginning, as Prof. Appleblossom hadn't quite finished his freestyle performance maths seminar next door in the former Sondryfolk Forest. I had been asked to compère these events, so had downloaded some text about each act and cut it up, Burroughs-and-Gysin style. I caught most of the performance, and decided it would be appropriately avant garde to introduce them at the end, so that's what I did. It's amazing how well an audience can respond to someone reading some randomly scrambled text with sufficient aplomb!
  • Good Biscuits: Awwww! Leonie Evans and her bluesman boyfriend Ben Sayer got the whole "village green" to sit down and listen in near silence to their afternoon set from the tiny "Garden Stage". They did their usual mix of Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, etc. with Ben playing some ridiculously unpredictable slide and Leonie throwing in a bit of sublime washboard that showed her intricate rhythmic capabilities are up there with any scratch DJ.
  • The Boot Lagoon: They've only played a couple of gigs since last year's festival, yet they sounded like they'd been rehearsing together continually for twelve months. So tight, such a rich sound. Cameron's been off being a session bass player round the world, Callum's been playing a bit with Bison Bonasus (as has Seth, but handling electronics rather than drumming) and I don't think Pete's had much opportunity to play guitar. But you'd never guess. And there seems to be new material that sounds like they've been playing it for years. Magnificent, and appropriately well received. I urged them later that night to crowdfund an album (they still haven't recorded one, and easily have the material, the ability, the production connections to make something truly great). I'm also hoping that they'll one day take me up on my offer of an acoustic set in the woods (double bass, harmonium, acoustic guitar, drums-with-brushes).
  • Cocos Lovers with Arlet: A special collaborative set, with members of Arlet coming and going from the stage adding various orchestral textures to the Cocos material. There was also a kind of "Cocos Lovers overture" to begin, which Aidan had composed, involving various melodic themes from their songs. A HUGE sound throughout, and although stage-sound complications meant that you couldn't always pick out individual instruments, the Arlet contribution was always audible texturally and always perfectly judged. This made for one of the most interesting Cocos sets yet, and still worked in a raucous party atmosphere. But I'm looking forward to when they attempt this again at the Gulbenkian in late November. I have a faint memory of an African musician joining them onstage at one point (and was Josh Magill called up to play some percussion too?), but it's all a bit blurry now.
  • Diabel Cissokho Band: Wonderful Senegalese music featuring gimbri (I think) and kora. In a similar sort of vein to what Nuru Kane and his band do, but with less focus on a charismatic frontman, just a group of humble musicians joyfully delivering trance-inducing danceable grooves. And lots of happy people grooving there were.
  • Arlet: This was another Free Range event, this time in the Gilly's Wood amphitheatre, unamplified. I introduced them with some cut-up text, and a five-piece Arlet (the usual crew, minus Lucy) then launched into their set with "Big Red Sun", a set I hugely enjoyed from my vantage point on the threshold of sleep. A new piece, currently known to the band as something like "G-flat 5/4" was renamed by the audience as "Chips" in response to the postmodern/ironic "CHIPS" jumper Thom H was wearing. Their cover of Eno's "The Big Ship" made me happy, as it always does — they're hoping to include this one on the soon-to-be recorded second album, although the almost complete lack of Eno covers to have been released in the last 40 years does make me wonder if there will be licensing complications. But I hope not — in fact, I'm quite sure that if Eno himself heard their version he'd be delighted with it. They ended the set with the wonderful, soaring "Mattematix" (was there an encore?)
  • The Quartet: This was a three-man Quartet, just Jack Hues, Sam Bailey and Liran Donan (not sure what happened to drummer Mark Holub). The set heavily featured songs Jack composed as part of the Free Range collaboration with poet Kelvin Corcoran, as well as some other songs (Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song" among them). Unfortunately sleep got the better of me at this point, so I only caught fragments of this, woven into blurry dreams. The audience seemed to like my cut-up text intro, though.


  • The second Piano in the Woods event of the weekend, also in the "Piano Graveyard" featured the multimedia quartet SLAP (formerly Slapsdash): Sam on destroyed pianos (and Indian-style harmonium), Tom Jackson on clarinet, David Leahy on double bass and dance, and Tina Krasevic dancing. As with the previous morning, my engagement teaching maths as Prof. Appleblossom meant I had to introduce them at the end. But I caught most of the set, and was impressed by the way they responded to their environment (both the physical one — a mocked-up Parisian absinthe bar which this year was changed into a US Prohibition era speakeasy — and the sonic one: a bluegrass group kicked off very nearby in mid-set, and rather than looking annoyed, David immediately started playing crude hillbilly slap bass along with their tune...)
  • Zimbaremabwe (in woods): Sitting chatting with Chilton and friends at Rosy's "Chai-Angles" geodesic dome cafe (the former name, "Chaicosahedron", went over most people's heads, sadly), I kept thinking "The music's started — I really should get up and check some out" but kept getting drawn back into conversation. When I finally got myself on my feet, I realized that a Zimbabwean mbira trio were sitting playing just a couple of metres away in the woods. Joy! They were just playing a few pieces to announce their main stage set later and explain the history of the mbira to the delighted few who happened to be hanging around the firepit.
  • Rae: We were getting spoiled at this point! Everyone sitting down in the main tent to catch Rae playing a set of material from their forthcoming Awoken album. Leonie's voice never fails to amaze, and the band's attunement and subtlety is getting to a point where it almost feels like they're not doing anything! No flashy displays of virtuosity (which they're all perfectly capable of), as that's not what Rae are about. So subtle. Can't wait for that album!
  • Jouis: A last minute booking to replace a band I won't name (but a lot of people present seemed pretty gleeful that they'd cancelled!). I was right up at the front, being amazed both by the clarity of the sound and the way they were playing their instruments (a particularly jaw-dropping bass solo from Joe during "Loop", and Louis possibly the most animated keyboard player I've ever seen). They were clearly having the time of their lives, and everyone was loving it. Mostly material from the forthcoming Dojo album. Incredible control, use of effects, ensemble playing.
  • Bison Bonasus: possibly the most discussed act of the weekend, largely because of the way they stood out from everything else. Opinion was strongly divided over breakfast in the Sondrycamp the next morning. For some it their set had been the festival highlight, others just didn't get it. The quite explicit 80's influence (filtered through "hypnagogic pop" influences, primarily Ariel Pink), the tortured vocals, the disjointed rhythms, the ultracool ambiguity — clearly not everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I'm still at the "intrigued" stage. It's hard to know what I'd think if I didn't know them independently of the band. I'm happy to see them exploring, developing their vision, but the music is primarily of interest to me for its unclassifiability. It took me quite a few gigs before I "got" Syd Arthur (and I'm still not sure if that was because their sound evolved into something I could "get", or something changed in my perception) — so perhaps the same will happen with Bison. Their current eclecticism suggests that they could go in any number of directions (quite possibly several at once), and there's a healthy un-hingedness about it all.

    The lineup has shifted a bit since last Smugglers' gig a year earlier: Callum and Seth from The Boot Lagoon have replaced Aidan Shepherd and Adam Dawson on samples/electronics and keyboards, respectively. So BB are now a kind of Zoo For You-Boot Lagoon hybrid. Former Zoo For You bandmates Thom and Owen (in tuxedos!) joined the band for the end of the set and the magnificent "My Name Is Gone" which has a bit more of the familiar ZFY groove about it, more accessible to a festival crowd, perhaps. But they definitely had an enthusiastic response from the crowd throughout, so the divided opinions suggest that they're having an effect, stirring something up.

  • Hellfire Orchestra: The perfect choice of band to wind things down on the main stage. Drummer Jolleffe is about to head off to Fiji for a couple of years "to save the world" joked singer Jamie (I think it's some kind of conservation project), so this was to be their last gig with him for a while. Jamie's poetic lyrics were distinguishable in the mix (this is the deciding factor in any Hellfire gig, as he doesn't really sing as much as snarl — and it's all in the lyrics). Relatively new song "Year of the Tiger" is one of their best yet. Phil was firing off lightning speed mandolin licks throughout, and his Cocos bandmate (and festival organizer) Will Greenham got to let his hair down and indulge in a spot of crowd surfing towards the end!

Bands I half-saw and wish I could have been able to give my full attention: Lunch Money, The Yossarians, Simo Lagnawi Trio London Gnawa, Luca

Acts I unfortunately missed: Will Varley, Jodie Goffe, Brooke Sharkey, Tantz (a klezmer band who blew everyone away on Sunday night), Le Skeleton Band (an unclassifiable band led by an eccentric, charistmatic frontman, who did likewise)

Cycling there and back with my saz was worth it in the end. Festivals with so much scheduled music are often not very good for spontaneous jamming opportunities. But I was recruited as a life model for Laurie-of-Sondryfolk's charcoal drawing morning on Saturday, and ended up sitting on the old Full Moon Stage mound we built together a couple of years earlier, playing saz while being sketched from all directions. Lots of wonky charcoal rendering of a weird-looking bearded bloke playing a weird-looking instrument on a mound resulted, along with some really rather good ones. My favourite doesn't even show the saz, focusing instead on my head and the background (the artist appeared out of nowhere on Sunday night to claim responsibility and she seemed familiar, but...):

Aidan from Arlet came by at one point with his accordion and joined in, seemingly curious to try to pick up some of my tunes (this was just starting to work when he had to rush off for the Arlet-meets-a-string-quartet gig in Gilly's Wood). There was also a woman sketching who recognized "Now the Green Blade Riseth", and so we got into an interesting conversation about hymns, origins of folk tunes, etc. During the Sunday morning drawing session, a woman with a guitar was singing (she ended with Nick Drake's "River Man", just what my brain needed at that point). I then took over and played a bit of saz. That night Leonie failed to appear for her scheduled late night "Leonie and friends on the Moon" gig (she'd only just got back from a month in Japan, so her body clock was all over the place, and had fallen asleep in her tent). A group of us waited around for a while and then decided we might as well just jam. Adam from Lapis got a small drum kit together, Toby got his bass and amp, Phil and Owen their saxes, and I joined on unamplified saz. Some wobbly 12-bar blues gave way to more interesting jams until Will G arrived to politely ask that we stop as the neighbours were complaining about the sound having overrun the agreed curfew.

Huge respect to Will G, Sophie B and everyone else who put so much work into making this event happen! I cycled away in a state of bliss on early Monday afternoon.

This Is The Kit and Abigail Hubbard in the woods

27th August 2014
secret woodland location near Canterbury

I suspected that this might be a real highlight of the woodland amphitheatre season, and I wasn't wrong. We got lucky with a brief window of clear weather, and a perfect-sized audience (I was concerned about it being so soon before Smugglers Festival, and This Is The Kit not being so well known around here, but everyone showed up, and everyone loved it.).

I hadn't met Abigail Hubbard before this evening, just seen her sing briefly in the medieval Eastbridge Hospital undercroft during the 2011 Sondryfolk ArtsTrail. Yiannis had mentioned her a while ago as someone whose music would work in the woodland setting, and then recently I met Matt, her collaborator in the electronica duo Liotia (an old friend of my old friend Sarah — ancient Whitstable connections). The fact they've named themselves after a genus of sea snails is a definite plus in my book! She turned up with her Welsh friend Rhiann who added a little bit of glockenspiel to a few songs, very sweet. I won't try to describe her remarkable voice or songs — check her stuff out on Soundcloud. Her cover of "Police and Thieves" was a lovely surprise, great choice. I'm glad to have been able to set up such an attentive audience for her, and she seemed very happy with the whole event.

This Is The Kit had turned up in the afternoon. I was just expecting Kate and Jesse with acoustic guitars, but they had two of their French band with them: Phillipe the drummer (who quickly improvised something involving cymbals, string, and an old plastic dustbin) and Vincent. "We're looking for something for Vincent to play, maybe a melodica," explained Jesse. I suggested my harmonium (a pedal harmonium I was given last summer and whose bellows I gradually repaired), and they leapt at the opportunity. The harmonium was carried into the woods, I rigged up something with a blanket at the back to slightly dampen the sound, lubricated the pedals, and they were away. I was coming and going from the amphitheatre sorting things out — on one occasion I arrived to find Vincent playing The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" on it, and on another to find the four of them filming themselves practicing a doo-wop song-and-dance routine (part of another project they've got going on in Paris — clearly a genuine love of doo-wop involved, but also a great deal of mirth!).

the afternoon "soundcheck"

In the end Kate played banjo, unamplified semi-acoustic guitar, and sang, Jesse played bass through a little busking amp, a bit of guitar, some backing vocals, Vincent on harmonium, banjo and vocals, and Phillipe was tucked away at the back with his swinging cymbals and dustbin foot taps (surprisingly good bass!). If you don't know Kate Stables and her singing and writing, again, there's no point me trying to describe it. Just check it out here. I think it's fair to say that quite a few people left that night with a new favourite band. Kate has such a strong presence, and the voice and words seem to come from somewhere very deep within. So confident, yet without the slightest trace of ego affecting her performance. She's got an incredible gift and she's decided to share it with everyone. Jesse and friends are the perfect crew to help her do so.

She started the set with a couple of songs on her own — "Birchwood Beaker" and then "Creeping Up Our Shins" (the latter involving some body percussion from the other three). Then "Easy Pickings", "White Ash Cut", "Nits" (stunning! gorgeous harmonium accompaniment), "Silver John", "Moon" — such tasteful backing from Vincent, Phillipe and Jesse.

Then some serious magic wherein Kate, Vincent and Jesse gathered close at her beckoning, put their hands on each others' heads in overlapping triangles (initially inducing giggles from the audience), then suddenly started singing chilling harmonies about mortality and the unknown, which then descended into a choral drone, then into a primal psychedelic, almost krautrock riff (the kind of thing The GOASTT have been doing quite well) this chugging along very pleasingly for a while, even interpolating a crazy freakout banjo comedy segment! The ability to effortlessly shift between profundity and silliness (even within a single piece) is what characterises a lot of my favourite psychedelia — The Incredible String Band, Gong, Circulus — and TITK are happily at home in such territory.

A song called "Magic Spell" featured a chorus taken from a song by Ebo Taylor, "Two Wooden Spoons" was dedicated to John and Vicky (one involving that lovely whistling Kate does), just a tiny bit of bass at first, the full band gradually fading itself in. Then a cover of a Connie Converse song "One By One" (I'd not heard of her, but the song's perfectly suited for Kate). Then four more classic originals to finish: "The Spores All Settling", "Floorboards" (I think), "Treehouse" and "Spinney" — a thrillingly insistent, propulsive energy in that last one. Vincent's use of the harmonium made all those hours of bellows-reconstruction (chamois leather and Araldite if you ever want to try it) seem worthwhile That instrument has great potential.

Before deciding on an encore, Kate explained how they'd not really properly rehearsed the set 'cos they were having so much fun in the woods during the afternoon messing about and singing doo-wop. "Doo-wop!" shouted someone enthusiastically, so we got a lovely "Daddy's Going To Tell You No Lie" (three voices + percussion) which Kate helpfully told us was by Sun Ra (I would never have guessed — a 1960 single credited to "The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra & Arkestra"). Beautiful and funny at the same time, this was a huge hit with the audience, a perfect conclusion.

* * *

Elise, Sophie and Laurie, the Sondryfolk collective who originally inspired the creation and use of this woodland amphitheatre, were in attendance, which made me very happy. Before heading off to Smugglers Festival the next day we all got to have a memorable, ultra-relaxed social breakfast with the band. One of those occasions which reminds you how good life can be. Thanks to everyone and everything involved!