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!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 68)

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This was a late night jam in Paul and Kristina's garden on Trewavas Street, Motueka, Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the autumn of 2006 while the TreePeaceWalk were camping there. Alan's Maori Rasta brother Ras Levi was playing some simple, barely audible guitar which inspired my saz lines. Alan's on percussion, various voices audible in the background (Kristina, Tahu, Lilli, Damara, Vanessa, Toni). Very happy times! More recordings from the 2006 TreePeaceWalk can be found here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 67)

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An improvisation for saz and acoustic guitar, recorded with Mark Hewins at his house in Margate on 27th February 2012. More from this session can be found here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

an English country wedding (and a proper party!)

23rd—24th August 2014
near Deal, Kent

John Evans is usually behind the mixing desk when Syd Arthur are playing live. On this occasion they were out in LA about to support Yes in front of possibly their biggest audience yet, but John was here in Kent marrying his beloved Vicky. They're not doing the official registry office thing until tomorrow, but this was the wedding celebration and ceremony for friends and family held at the now familiar Smugglers Festival site. The festival's next weekend, so there was already quite a bit of decor and a couple of marquees up. Perfect weather, perfect setting. Lots of waistcoats.

Bizarrely, my eccentric alter ego Professor Appleblossom was asked to start the proceedings with a brief maths lecture(!). Vicky had originally suggested the near-impossible topic "the mathematics of love", but I still managed to come up with something linking ethnomathematics, the number 5, the Wolfgang Pauli's dream analysis, quantum mechanics, imaginary numbers, the "roots of unity", the pentagram and Golden Rectangle. In preparing this I'd discovered someone's already made a Golden Rectangle wedding ring:

The punchline involved revealing the plot of a 2-d surface embedded in x-y-z space described by a 6th degree polynomial equation I'd which baffled everyone with at the beginning of the talk:

This went down surprisingly well (delivered in the clearing what has been the Sondryfolk Forest for the last three festivals) and ended with me transitioning from "the least appropriate medium with which to talk about love, i.e., mathematics, to the most appropriate, i.e. music and song" at which point Vicky's favourite singer-songwriter Theo Bard took to the stage with his bass-playing friend Louisa Jones (she and I seem to have a number of mutual friends, so a secret woodland gig with this duo may be on the cards). They started with a gorgeous rendition of Richard Thompson's "Beeswing", followed by a number of Theo's originals.

They were followed by some a cappella singing from Vicky's good friend Sarah Yarwood together with her mum Cathy and dad Charlie (who years ago sang together as half of folkie quartet Beggars Velvet). They started with a traditional wedding song from the South of England, the sort of song that would have traveled via sheep fairs, Charlie explained. The rest of the set consisted of traditional-style love songs, including a couple written by their old friend Dave Webber. Vicky and Sarah's friend Claire was brought up to sing with them on a couple of numbers.

A bit later in the evening, after a touchingly sincere-yet-irreverent ceremony, a first dance, and a second first dance (Vicky and John being joined by a gaggle of little girls on the dancefloor as well as Will and Natasha Greenham's dog), John's DJ friend Rod played a dub set, with me guesting on saz on four tunes (some King Tubby, Mad Professor, etc.). Ben on sound put me through some heavy reverb, and unsurprisingly (John being in charge of the sound setup), the tunes sounded massive in the forest.

[Curious side note: On the train to Deal, I'd been lamenting the lack of feedback from the saz-dub demo CD I'd circulated at UNOD this spring, but then deciding I was OK with that because it had led to this wedding gig. Moments later my phone rang — an unrecognised number, and I was on a noisy moving train so I let it go to voicemail. This turned out to be someone called Spyda who'd picked up one of the discs and UNOD, then lost it, then found it months later and claimed to have been playing it nonstop for days "BANGIN' tunes bruv! Quality, quality stuff. Bless up!" and seeking more of the same. So maybe there is some mileage in this saz-dub business...]

the funk and soul DJs took over, kicking off with King Curtis's "Memphis Soul Stew", followed by a string of perfect choices that had the place seriously jumping continuously until the 1a.m. curfew. It's all a bit blurry now, but there was definitely some James Brown and Maceo Parker involved, "Superstition", "Soul Man", "Once in a Lifetime", "Lost in Music", Aretha's "Respect" (a staggering dubstep remix thereof slipped in later in the night), "Voodoo Ray", "Pump Up the Volume" (I think), a bit of quality disco and house... I haven't danced like that for far too long. At some point in the evening Cocos Lovers played one of their livelier, stompier festival-friendly sets (ending with "Old Henry the Oak", of course), about which I can primarily remember the various silly hats the band members were wearing. A great occasion. Congrats to Vicky and John, and thanks for a magnificent party!

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 66)

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Something a bit different this week. While walking down Castle Street in Canterbury the other day, recording sounds and impressions of the City on my Zoom H2 digital recorder, I noticed someone walking towards me in a broad-brimmed hat with rucksack, staff and dog. I soon realised it was Will, a familiar face and committed pilgrim [see]. We naturally got chatting about where he'd just come from, about the history of the City and about pilgrimage in general.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 65)

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Recorded as part of a COTD session at St. Stephens church in Exeter High Street in the mid 2000s. This features what appears to be the German shipping forecast which I spontaneously picked up on a mediumwave radio (the title is an attempted German translation of "shipping forecast").

This track featured on our fifth compilation CD, Falling Together.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 64)

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A simple saz tune that came to me one afternoon walking in Honey Wood just north of Canterbury. This version was recorded beside the "Broadwell" or "laughing spring" near Alton Priors in Wiltshire just after summer solstice 2010, accompanied by some gorgeous birdsong. More recordings from that trip can be found here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 18

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 18

Featuring Egg, Caravan, Kevin Ayers (solo, duetting with Lady June and playing bass with Soft Machine), a couple of short Hatfield pieces, a couple of Eno collaborations, an Italian Terry Riley soundalike, some millenial Afrobeat, live psy-trance from System 7 in Kyoto 2011, new music from Canterbury 2014 in the form of Kairo, Lapis Lazuli and Syd Arthur, plus a second hour-long mix of Stereolab and related projects from guest contributor LTJ Bunkum [sic].

Friday, August 08, 2014

Kairo and friends in the woods

secret woodland location near Canterbury
Monday 4th August 2014

Two short support sets from Meg Janaway (a traditional song and three of her own) and Sarah Yarwood (singing a cappella, with Claire Highfield to begin and end).

This was the last ("secret") night of Kairo's summer tour, with Adam from Jouis filling in on drums (Josh being away touring the USA with Syd Arthur, filling in for Fred). Jamie and Toby playing low-volume electric guitar and bass respectively, with unamplified drums and vocals. Some great new stuff in their set — this band just gets more and more interesting. It was really satisfying to gather a few dozen people who've heard this band a few times before and really get them to listen properly to the subtleties and nuances. More woodland musical magick. Perfect weather conditions again. Jamming a bit of saz and guitar with Tom H afterwards as people slowly drifted off into the night.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 63)

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A piece Inge and I used to play in the late 90s, recorded in Belgium in 2001. Sven on bass plus Sven and Abdul Kader on overdubbed handclaps. More from this session can be found here.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Nuru Kane at the Gulbenkian

Gulbenkian Cafe, University of Kent, Canterbury
31st July 2014

A pan-African Lammas eve treat, but very few people showed up for it. No one I recognised, instead just a smallish seated audience of people who looked like they were probably Gulbenkian Theatre regulars who were inspired to come from the blurb in their mailout events brochure. Clapping along was as interactive as it got. Nuru Kane and his crew are not really a band for sitting down to! Fortunately it was a warm summer evening and all of the doors were open along the side of the stage, so I danced out on a patch of grass nearby. Despite the rather vibeless setting, they gave out their usual flood of positive musical energy. What really stunned me was how many people wandered past the building, within a few metres of the band, and didn't even turn their heads to look to see the colourfully clad crew making this amazing music! Beyond belief...

I caugh most of a support set from a young Afrobeat/jazzy/funky band who I would guess were linked to Christchurch's music department, reminded me of Zoo For You in their early days before Bruno stepped forward from the horn section to be a frontman. Prog guitarist/bandleader Joe Inkpen was depping on bass as were two other people, so there were music stands involved, and they probably weren't as tight as the usual lineup would have been. They forgot to mention the name of their band, though, but I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. [Note added 2014-09-02: They were the Luca Afrobeat Band (or just "Luca", not sure), check them out here!]