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.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 62)

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A saz-and-mandolin improvisation recorded with Phil Self (Cocos Lovers, Hellfire Orchestra) in November 2011 while he was briefly living in Canterbury. More from this session can be found here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Boxing Octopus + Hey Maggie + Colonel Mustard

24th July 2014
The Ballroom, Canterbury

Herne Bay in the house! I'm not sure if The Fruit Group? (formed by Alexis and Stavros from The Boxing Octopus) are still active, but it seems the Octopus are back in action, or at least they were on this evening. Great vibes from relatively new, relatively young reggae band from Canterbury called Hey Maggie, lots of bits of classic reggae songs (some well known, some less so) mashed up into a long set with only a couple of breaks, nice format. And some fine outsider funk-pop from Colonel Mustard to finish (fronted by the enigmatic Struan Robertson who used to front local garage/rockabilly band Hotrods and Dragsters).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 61)

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Recorded near Canterbury, 15th June 2008, with Jim Penny (Wod, Telling the Bees, Red Dog Green Dog) on concertina (me on saz, as usual). More of this sort of thing can be found here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mahalas and Jouis in the woods

Wednesday, 7th July 2014
secret woodland location

The members of Brighton psychedelic band Jouis and I had been talking about getting them down for a semi-acoustic set since last summer, and it finally came together. They chose to end the main chunk of their recent UK tour at the amphitheatre, a night everyone involved will remember for a long time to come...

"Earthly Emerald Eyes"
"Loop" → "What's New Guru" [the latter being an instrumental that sounds like it could be The Boot Lagoon]
"All That Is And Is One"
"New Moon"
"Misty Maker Stomp"
"Universe Goggles"
"5,878" [the one from the Kaleidoscopic/Psychotropic EP that's reminiscent of The Stranglers' Golden Brown, with some staggering guitar work from JD]
"Yellow Meadow" → "the Medicine Man" [the latter from that EP, the former an old favourite]
E: a jazzy, mostly instrumental thing that I didn't recognise (gorgeous)

Most of these are tracks from their imminent debut album Dojo. They've only put out that one EP thus far, after years of playing and writing together, so there will be a wealth of classic-sounding material concentrated on that disc (which I've heard in pre-mastered form). Recorded in their own self-built studio in Brighton, it was co-produced with Phill Brown!

What really sets Jouis apart from their psychedelic contemporaries are the stunning four-part harmonies — it was like having CSNY coming to sing round the fire in your back garden! And due to the intimate setting and attentive audience, they were able just to sing freely without a forest of vocal mics and an extensive soundcheck. Joe was playing some astonishing "fluttery" bass, other Joe was on acoustic guitar (JD played his electric, but with no effects apart from a little bit of delay, lovely clean, chiming sound, great use of harmonics). Adam played a minimal drum kit with the utmost sensitivity, and Louis brought his Fender Rhodes! They (just about) managed to get this all in one car — the Rhodes is pretty bulky, but it was well worth it. That sound in the woods with those vocal harmonies. Rather than the pallete of analogue sounds Louis normally has access to with his Nord Electro, there was one consistent keyboard sound throughout the set...but it was the best one imaginable. And as Yiannis pointed out, it brought a little touch of The Doors to their sound too, no bad thing.

Afterwards, we found out that they were the most nervous they've ever been about a gig! This was partly due to never having played in this format before, partly the totally focussed listening of the audience (no background chatter to hide behind) and partly the fact that so many people they respect were in the audience, Jouis having as devoted a following around Canterbury as they do anywhere outside Brighton. They clearly loved the experience, though (helped by yet another perfectly still, clear night), staying over and having a lazy breakfast with Miriam and I, then having to make a serious effort to leave despite needing to get back to Brighton.

"Mahalas" turns out to mean something like "neighbourhood" or "ghetto" in at least three languages (including Greek) and is the name of Yiannis' new trio project with Dan (various flutes and slide 6-string ukelele) and Charlie (mini electric bass and percussion). They immediately won everyone over by opening their support set with a jammed-out version of the Breaking Bad theme tune! The've got quite a broad global fusion remit, with Dan playing some raga-like strings, but also adjusting the nut on his ukelele to create a remarkably koto-like sound, used for a piece inspired by something off Ravi Shankar and (Japanese) Friends' East Greets East album. There were also elements of gypsy jazz, Balkan folk, rembetika, various Indian traditions, Lanois-like slide atmospherics, and a Yiannis original called "Sahara" which I've heard him play in other contexts. This was only their second gig, and despite a few very minor wobbles, the improvisational aspects and breadth of musical ambition points in a very promising direction, so I'm sure they'll be back in the woods before long.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mo recommends...

Round at Mo and Nancy's on Friday evening, Mo introduced us to a few new/old things...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cocos residency + Syd Arthur documentary gig

30th June—4th July 2014
secret woodland location

Cocos Lovers are going to be recording their fourth album down in West Cornwall soon, with Matt Tweed (the illustrator of my trilogy of maths books, among many other things). They asked a while ago about having another few days of woodland songwriting residency, with me facilitating, in preparation for the recording. It's always a pleasure to have them around, so I was more than happy to help out. As before, Natasha, Nicola and Dave went back and forth to Deal for various logistical reasons, while Will, Phil, Billy and Stewart stayed put throughout. They had a productive time, as was evident in the fairly impromptu acoustic set they played in the amphitheatre on the 3rd, in support of a three-piece Syd Arthur lineup who were being filmed by a crew from LA for a documentary about the band.

It was a five-piece Cocos that was able to play that night (no Nicola or Dave), only Bill's bass amplified, Natasha playing some mournful harmonica and saw, Stewart drumming delicately, Phil weaving gorgeous mandolin, guitar and banjo lines in and out of everything. All quite stark and melancholy, but typically punctuated by cheery banter and self-described "stupid jokes":

"Sea of Gold"(?); "The Land Where No One Dies"; "Bricks and Mortar"; "Here Comes the Volley"(?), a Billy song juxtaposing an introspective verse and upbeat chorus; "Bitterness Gone" (my current favourite of the new crop); another new Bill song

I can't wait to hear what these and the others will sound like with Nicola's flute and vocals, Dave's electric guitar wizardry and the characteristic Tweed production magic!

The original idea for the Syd Arthur documentary had been to make a film about the band and where they're from (they'd spent a couple of days filming around the city), culminating in a secret gig for their local following. Because drummer Fred has been having trouble with his ears again, they dropped the idea of a full four-piece set at the Penny Theatre, and asked me about using the woodland amphitheatre for a "scaled back" three-piece set. Again, we were more than happy to help them out with this, and the film crew seemed delighted with the turn of events, as they were going to end up with much more interesting footage than the inside of just another venue.

They played six songs from Sound Mirror minus drums, having quickly rearranged them for this trio lineup. I'd thought perhaps it was going to be an acoustic thing, but no, there was the full arsenal of effects, etc., and Raven was using the Prophet analogue synth extensively. Those songs were all they'd prepared, but a joyously insistent crowd managed to get an encore of "Dorothy" (from the last album) — utterly gorgeous. In this one-off musical situation (so much more precious than any one of the thirty-some arena dates they're currently playing in the US supporting Yes), with an added emphasis on sonic texture, I was hearing echoes of The Durutti Column and Cocteau Twins (who I don't think they've been listening to) and Stereolab (who I know they have). In fact, listening back to my rough audience recording, the version of "Autograph" (the song on the album it took me the longest to connect with) almost sounds like it could be a Stereolab remix!

Joel put down his bass and stood aside for "Backwardstepping". This song (on the album it's dominated by fingerpicked acoustic guitar) makes me think of Bert Jansch, and got me thinking how Syd Arthur are something like a 21st century Pentangle in their unclassifiable approach to effortlessly fusing and extending multiple genres (despite the usual "folk" associations that are made with Pentagle — but the bands share a rootedness in something that feels very old, very English and peculiarly difficult to pin down relative to the contemporary music world they find themselves in).

A high-quality recording should surface eventually, as there was a two-man dedicated audio crew alongside the film crew, taking a line out to some kind of multitrack digital recording equipment the size of a small fridge (but they set up discreetly out of view in the darkness). Likewise, the crew operating the three cameras were extremely unobtrusive, barely noticeable in fact. And the producer, an Englishwoman who's worked extensively with Radiohead, never seemed to tell anyone what to do, just calmly radiated a kind of benevolent authority over the situation.

Afterwards, a lot of the audience hung around the fire chatting for longer than usual (the additional lighting may have had something to do with this, and it suited the film crew who seemed keen on capturing some of it for their documentary). As it thinned out, Phil, Bill, Stewart and Will started singing Tom Waits songs ("Come on up to the House", "Chocolate Jesus") and others, Phil playing some staggeringly fast and fluid Django-style guitar (never heard him do that before), Bill astonishing everyone with his every-nuance-perfect Tom Waits impression (singing random pop songs in that voice) and, with some urging, a beyond-hilarious wordless impression of Elton John's singing style, accompanied by exagerrated head and neck movements. He and Dave have got a new joke side-project they're calling "The Open Road", devoted exclusively to pastiches of those 70s/80s rock ballads concerned with the alienation of endless touring, "the road", hotel rooms and the trials-and-tribulations of being a rock star. They're amused by the possibility of being an unknown duo from Deal with no such experiences, confusing audiences with sets of said anthems. They've written a few brilliant ones already that brought to mind Bob Seger's mother-of-all-road-ballads "Turn the Page" (which they'd not heard, but instantly, gleefully absorbed when I played it to them).

A couple of days later, Syd were off to New York to start the Yes tour, with Liam and Joel's brother Josh (ex-Zoo For You, ex-Famous James, Kairo, Bison Bonasus) filling in for on drums. Raven made a touching announcement about Fred's struggle towards the end of their set, urged us all to send positive energy in his direction. They're that kind of band. And they have the kind of audience that understand. I do hope Fred's back in action soon, he's been so committed to his music for so long, it's just tragic that he's had to step down at this time...

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 60)

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Recorded on 29th November 2012 at Paul and Ann Clifford's leaving-for-Canada party upstairs at the Astor Theatre, Deal. He'd asked Miriam and I (with whom he'd jammed as part of Random Article) to play on his song "Walter". We never got a chance to rehearse it, and I forgot to take my Zoom H2 recorder out of my pocket, so here we have a muffled recording of a shaky rendition of one of Paul's characteristically odd songs.

Immediately after finishing, Miriam and I had to run for the last train to Canterbury. Still trying to stuff my saz back in it's soft case while running, my bootlaces got entangled and I fell facedown on the pavement. The recorder was still running in my pocket, so that got recorded too!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

long overdue jams with Inge

Friday 4th July, 2014

Inge, the other half of Ail Fionn, was over from the south of France recently, visiting friends in East London for a few days. So we arranged to meet up on Primrose Hill one afternoon. I brought my saz, of course, and not having access to a mandolin or violin, I took Paul Clifford's beaten up old guitar for her to play (the one his Canadian hobo alter ego "Shed" used to busk with).

In between chattering away enthusiastically about our lives in recent times, and times past, we managed to play a few things. Despite being very unpolished, as you'll hear, there was a comforting ease with which we were able to "find each other" musically. We both felt that with some regular sessions, we could get something reall special together again — alas, geography is working against us.

It was a bright, sunny day, but very windy. We found shade under some trees, so there's quite a bit of background noise from the wind shaking the leaves. And tuning issues. And wobbly playing. But, yeah, it made me very happy.

Listen Here

We wandered over to Camden Lock to have some mint tea and watch people starting begin their Friday evenings out. A short walk down Regents Canal we found a quiet spot to play a bit more. For some reason I didn't bother to record that (a shame, as there was no wind noise, and we were starting to get warmed up). We really need to do this more often...

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 17

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 17

Something from a National Health radio session in 1976, a Matching Mole classic, Soft Machine live with Australian mystery man Phil Howard on drums, another obscure Robert Wyatt guest vocal, Faust, some Eno ambience and a couple of Orlando Gibbons compositions, plus a mix of Latin American fusion sounds from the early 70s and an hour-long mix of selections from the "Free Range" series of avant garde events that have been taking place in Canterbury in recent times. Also, news about Daevid Allen's health, and some healing glissando drones recently played worldwide by Gong family affiliates for his benefit.

Kairo and Hellfire Orchestra at The Ballroom

The Ballroom, Canterbury
19th June 2014

It was nice to be back in Canterbury, and a good chance to see a lot of friendly faces in one place. Jamie from Kairo has been taking the initiative of booking a series of gigs supporting bands from elsewhere, and (with the lack of local venues booking live music) these are rare occasions for a lot of friends to get together... the social aspect of that means that everyone's keen to catch up and so the music is backgrounded by a lot of chatter and not listened to with as much attention as it deserves, a real shame. But listening through, I was able to appreciate the fact that Kairo are no longer just Jamie's backing band. As a three-piece (Toby on bass, Josh on drums, Jamie singing and playing electric guitar) they've quite rapidly evolved a distinct group identity. The new songs they played were my favourites (as with other people I spoke to after). I hope they keep moving in the increasingly interesting direction that they have been of late.

Almost three weeks later, as I write this, things have taken an unexpected turn for Kairo: Josh is in New York, filling in on for Fred from Syd Arthur (sadly having to take some time off after more trouble with his ears) playing at Radio City Music Hall in front of 6000 Yes fans! Yes, Yes are touring North America this summer (a semi-classic lineup with Squire, Howe, White and Downes), and Syd Arthur got offered the support slot. They're not too keen on getting bracketed into some kind of revivalist prog-rock category, but they couldn't turn the opportunity down. And Yes are playing the whole of their albums Fragile and Close to the Edge on this tour, so it's the kind of thing I might even be tempted by (if I were nearby). So Adam from Jouis, based not so far away in Brighton, is going to fill in for Josh over the summer. It's great to see how these bands all help each other out, tending towards a gradual melding into one massive musical organism! Most of Zoo For You and 3/4 of The Boot Lagoon have now fused into the London-based but Canterbury-centric collective Bison Bonasus, and they're getting some serious attention on the basis of one intriguing single and a couple of gigs in London. Likewise, Arlet and Cocos Lovers are intending to play some kind of joint set at Smugglers Festival this summer, the two band merging in and out of each other with a continually evolving onstage lineup.

Hellfire Orchestra (Phil and Billy from Cocos, plus Jollife on drums, backing (another) Jamie on acoustic guitar and vocals) were wonderfully raucous, as always. Unfortunately Jamie's properly poetic lyrics got lost in the mix, so only his atonal snarl (which totally suits the songs, when you can hear them properly) was audible. Still, they got us dancing. "Bastille Day" is being released as a single, I think, and they've reworked it with a kind of early 80s New Wave backing, very catchy.

Almost forgot... the evening began with a brief set from Meg Janaway, a singer-songwrite who I think's from Sandwich. She's started showing up on various Smugglers' event lineups, a friend of Toby from Lapis Lazuli. Great voice, interesting songs, very confident — we'll be hearing more from her, no doubt...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 59)

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A guitar-and-saz jam coming out of the tune "The Midsummer Cushion", recorded with Inge on a windy afternoon (4th July 2014) on Primrose Hill, London. It was a beaten up old guitar I'd found for her (the only one available at the time), and we'd not played together for a few years, but despite the rustiness, the music seemed to flow as easily as ever.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

uncut Lapis "Alien" lecture

I've finally got hold of the uncut footage of the intro/lecture I did (as Professor Appleblossom) for Lapis Lazuli's Alien album launch gig at the Penny Theatre in April. I've intercut it with the actual slides I used for my presentation (the projection screen was small, and unhelpfully circular, so this helps viewers to follow what I'm on about):