I know it's a deadly sin and everything, but I can't help feeling proud of my role in this. Yumi Hara Cawkwell just got in touch to say that she'd recently got together a band called Half the Sky to play the music of bassoonist/composer Lindsay Cooper. This turns out to have been the direct result of me contacting all the musicians I was in touch with requesting covers of Henry Cow's miniature "Slice" (an LC composition) for my special edition of Canterbury Sans Frontierès paying tribute to Lindsay after she passed away in 2013. The band has played some gigs in Japan and at Rock in Opposition 2016 in France (see videos below). Excitingly, Chris Cutler's on drums and Knifeworld's Chlöe Herington is handling the bassoon parts.
This is from the RIO2016 programme notes, written by Yumi:
"In 2013, soon after Lindsay Cooper passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 8’. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it a few times when we were both in Japan and NY. Soon after, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put together Half the Sky (‘Women hold up half the sky’) to play Lindsay’s music in Japan. In its constitution, Half the Sky follows her general practice and the example of the original bands, Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).
With the exception of Slice, it was only after, and because of, the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces, painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and a careful analysis of the recordings, become available. A handful of the News from Babel songs — none of which had never been performed live — were reconstructed by Zeena Parkins, the rest I had to do from scratch, also rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments. This concert is conceived very much as a music of the present, and not an academic reconstruction."
12 October 2016
Colyer-Fergusson Building, University of Kent at Canterbury
This was the first free lunchtime concert of the season, involving a classical percussion quartet. They played a bit of John Cage, some Senegalese djembe rhythms, an instrument-free (mostly clapping) piece and, best of all, Peter Garland's "Apple Blossom" involving all four members playing on a single marimba, producing, as the UKC music blog the put it "a shimmering curtain of sound". That was an extraordinary few minutes, I couldn't quite believe that what I was hearing was coming from a single acoustic instrument.
Some excerpts from Robert Wyatt's discussion with the University of Kent at Canterbury's vice chancellor back in April, interspersed with relevant sounds from Daevid Allen, Annie Whitehead's "Soupsongs" band and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Also, Daevid getting all bleak and technoid on his last US tour before disappearing back to Oz for the 80s, the Softs' oblique tribute to an Irish TV presenter, Kevin Ayers from a '76 Peel session, Nucleus live on the BBC in '74 and Hatfield live in '75. Some William Burroughs cutups, more Aksak Maboul, more neo-Cantuarianism from Amoeba Split, Third Ear Band on French TV and ancient electronica from Suzanne Ciani and Soul Oddity. From the Canterbury of now, a new album side from Lapis Lazuli and Syd Arthur jamming freely for the 2009 Winter Solstice.
This started with some solo prepared piano from tireless FR organiser Sam Bailey. That then led into a highly entertaining "blessings"/"blastings" poem by ZONE collective poet Kat Peddie (with some input from the audience) to celebrate the opening of year five of Free Range. There was a decent audience (including most of the "Chai-Angles" crew I worked with at Smugglers Festival a few weeks ago), but not overpacked as it can get in this rather small space.
The main attraction was some traditional Korean bamboo flute (taegŭm) and drum by Hyelim Kim and Jeunghyun Choi, respectively. There were no electronics involved (despite what the blurb promised), but I don't think anyone was disappointed. The best bit came at the end: Sam asked if they wanted to play one more, and Hyelim (who just confessed that she'd fallen in love with Canterbury, this being her first visit) suggested they all do an improvisation together. So Sam returned to the piano for some sparse but perfectly placed tone clusters, Kat read some select lines with impeccable timing, the whole thing worked superbly — I'm looking forward to the recording on the FR audio archive.
Friday 30th September: After spending a bit of time in The Lady Luck (subculture pub whose wireless password is "rocknroll" and whose playlist effortless jumps between The Band, The Ramones, The Everly Brothers and some millenial nu-metal), I went to check out a choral performance billed as "Sacred Songs" at St. Peters Methodist Church across the road.
The flyer artwork and names of the choirs misled me into thinking I'd be hearing some 16th-century-and-earlier stuff, but it mostly turned out to be rather contemporary (including a composition by the choirmaster). Still, celestial singing in a beautiful acoustic space, nothing to complain about. Unlocking my bike on the High Street immediately afterwards I was suddenly confronted by local MC Laszlo (aka Humble Pious) and a few members of the UKC Psychedelics Society, past and present. I ended up back at Lasz's place on Spring Lane listening to (and having explained to me) trap music. A pleasantly weird evening in good company. At one point I just had to intervene and put on Terry Riley's "A Rainbow In Curved Air" — everyone was very understanding!
Saturday 1st October
Luca Afrobeat at The Lighthouse, Deal. I got a lift with Phil from Lapis who's part of their current lineup. Apart from the general reticence of the Deal crowd to get up and move (that didn't stop me and Loyda), this was a great gig. We're really spoiled around here at the moment!
Sunday 2nd October
secret woodland location near Canterbury
Phil Holmes and Aidan Shepherd plus Cloudshoes
Stewart couldn't make it, so the Papylonians we were expecting for a support set surfaced in the form of Phil and Aidan playing sax/accordion duets. The first half of their set was improvised. Magic music, illuminated by firelight, enjoyed by an enthusiastic and attentive audience. Cloudshoes is Conrad Singh (sometimes solo, as this time, sometimes with a band) from Bristol's Bloom collective. He's currently playing with The Evil Usses, Yama Warashe, Dubi Dolcek, Tezeta and possibly others. He turned up with his old blue Strat and a suitcase of musical clutter which he put to great effect in what turned out to be a totally unclassifiable, thoroughly engaging performance. Towards the end, he invited me, Phil and Aidan up for an open ended jam. The first improvisation morphed into Cornrad singing a spirited "Gallows Pole". Despite the presence of some seriously accomplished musicians in the audience (e.g. Liam and Josh from Syd Arthur, just back from touring the USA again), and me being rather rusty due to not playing enough lately, I felt completely at ease playing my saz in this setting. For the second piece I suggested "Whisky in the Jar", the first thing I'd heard Conrad sing at a Spirit of Music camp on Dartmoor maybe seven years ago. I recorded all of this, but have yet to listen back (such a magic night, sometimes I like to let the memory settle in before reliving the audio-only version).
24th September 2016
Marlowe Theatre Studio
Predictably wonderful stuff from Spiro, in a fairly intimate setting (at least in the first few rows where I was sitting). The place was half empty, though, possibly because the Marlowe messed up (again) and promoted the event as part of a "Children's Festival" (??) They played stuff off all four albums, and came up to mine for tea and chat the next day, lovely...
Promotional night for an arty 'zine (Adbusters-like aesthetic) put on by some of the more interesting students up at UKC. I dropped in with Matt Tweed (visiting from Cornwall to get started on the illustration of my forthcoming experimentally-formatted local history book) so we could catch newish local acid-folk duo
Bearded Sphynx. Also caught sets from live hiphop band The Brewdelics, a rather abstract MC, and Bulgarian psychonaut/producer/MC Yanik playing some hard techno.
20th September 2016
Crash of Moons Club
Some great post/mathrock from Ashford's South At Zero followed by some wonderfully heavy doom-prog from Bristol's ANTA. I was fascinated by ANTA's bass player's "overhand" approach to playing his instrument. This wasn't as well attended as it should have been, but there was an enthusiastic audience. Included were a couple of members of Witchdoctor (Herne Bay prog band who played a COMC this spring, the only one I've missed, being away in the States) who were very excited to hear me play a couple of Cardiacs tracks. Here's Professor Appleblossom's before/between/after DJ set.
She was best known for her "space whisper" contributions to Gong, but there was a lot more to Gilli than that. She was a few years older than Daevid Allen and already teaching at the Sorbonne when he met her in Paris in the mid-60s. Her highly intelligent fusion of pagan, mystical, political and feminist themes always endeared her to me, and I'm glad I got to see her play with Gong twice (the almost-classic lineup with Steve Hillage here in Canterbury in summer 2009, and on the "99% Tour" in 2012 in Brighton, when she already looking quite frail, but totally committed and getting the biggest cheer of all that night when she appeared on stage).
It was a busy summer, musically, but not so much saz playing involved. Still, there were a few bits.
As usual, I made my way to the Avebury area for summer solstice, cycling in along The Ridgeway from Goring. I stopped to play a little bit beside the White Horse of Uffington, looking down at the amazing landform known as "The Manger" and Dragon Hill. A bit further on I stopped to play at Waylands Smithy, being rewarded with a dried rosebud and £4 spontaneoulsy gifted to me by a couple of cloaked characters who seemed genuinely moved that I was playing music at what they described as "this sacred space". Solstice eve was spent down in the Stones, my saz being elsewhere (a bit of a logistical thing, I ended up having to look after some other peoples' stuff, but quite contentedly), playing a percussive shakey egg semi-obsessively all night. Stef, Peni and Aaron were doing their usual pipes and drums thing, sending the party people into a frenzy. A very peaceful vibe, despite quite a lot of people in various states of intoxication, with a beautiful silvery full moon hanging over the stones. I managed a bit of twanging up on Windmill Hill after sunrise but was rather hindered by someone else deciding to tune a guitar at great length. Hmmm. But later that day, Stef, Peni and her sister Fearne wandered back down to the stones and we sat up on the henge bank jamming with saz, "ukeladle" (a stringed instrument Stef made, a bit like a very large wooden spoon) and wooden flute — nice tunes, nice feeling, flowing music. Later that evening beside the track up to Windmill Hill we had a barbecue, me jamming with Nathan, then more music around a fire. A lot of Welsh tunes. I was feeling a bit rusty, but enjoying being there doing it nonetheless.
23-24 July 2016 Lammas Eco-village, Pembrokeshire
A month later I was back in Stef and Peni's company. She'd secretly organised a surprise 50th birthday gathering for him, and old friends came from all over — Scotland, Cumbria, Cornwall, Barcelona, Canterbury... A lot of Glastonbury-area friends, and a lot of people from our travelling days in the Southwest. Nonstop music for the whole weekend, in a beautiful setting. All the old Breton, French and other European folkdance tunes we used to play, except everyone's playing is better than ever, and there were loads of us, an orchestra practically. There was a wonderful feeling of warmth, of time having passed but yet certain essential things staying the same, and a kind of (sub)cultural evolution still rolling on. So many lovely moments, I can't begin to go into detail, but among the loveliest were seeing Fraggle and Mandy (once 2/3 of Bristol's cheerful activist Trolley Theatre) reunited and singing the wondefully silly "National Anthem of the Ancient Britons", and Selena and Marnie singing Galician songs together in the sunshine. I got involved in quite a lot of playing (when my saz was likely to be audible over all the bagpipes, etc.) and even managed a bit of freeform jamming with Stef and Stevie P. Oh, if only there were more of that in my life...
First half of August I undertook a rather ridiculous coach-based journey out to the West Coast of Ireland, then down to the French Pyrenees. A lot of time spent on coaches, but it didn't seem as grueling as I'd expected (a good book, earplugs, a neck cushion, enough water and sleep definitely helped). I spent a few days with Kris, Birgit and family out in Sneem, Co. Kerry. Kris and I managed a little bit of jamming (he with electric guitar, jazz chords and loopstation), but mostly it was walking, talking, playing Scrabble, hanging out. Nothing got recorded.
I had a few hours between coaches in London, so made my way to Primrose Hill and played a little bit of sOlo saz there. Another long coach journey later, in Lannemezan (in the foothills of the Pyrenees) I recorded 5-6 hours of saz/mandolin (and a bit of saz/fiddle) jamming with Inge. I've yet to start editing that, but it should be interesting. On one hand it felt like we were completely locked in, as if no time had passed since we used to jam all the time... on the other, it felt like a bit of a struggle, my playing being rather rustier than it's been in a while. We had a pretty spectacular drive in mountains one day, to go and visit Zymbii, the mule I bought in Ireland 20 years ago, who we travelled around Ireland, Wales and Cornwall with, and who she continued travelling with down into France after we separated in the spring of 2000. Beautiful sunlight in the lush valleys, listening to Garcia and Grisman's Pizza Tapes (which I'd somehow not heard before) and Culture's International Herb. Zymbii's retired now, being well looked after, and seemed quite happy to hang out with us in the corner of his field while we played music. I have not idea if he "remembered" me or not, but he did look at me in a certain way a few times to suggest that perhaps he did...
(I'll post my edits of our sessions here in due course.)
Back from my mad trip to Ireland and France, I had a couple of days at home in Canterbury before rushing off again, this time to Devon to give a talk on "retrocausality and other reverse time phenomenon" at the Weird Weekend, a kind of cryptozoology/Fortean conference up near Hartland. I got to spend a few days with Vicky, her son Thom and his very cool Italian noisenik girlfriend Joanna, helping fix up a garden shed. I managed to squeeze in a jam with Henry and Keith, playing mostly our old Orbis Tertius? material — all a bit wonky, but perhaps worthy of preservation:
Back for a bit longer, I was very happy to join in the first Bramleys Psychedelic Jam on 23/08/16. There's been a regular fortnightly jazz jam down at Bramleys for a while now, which spawned a blues jam (to keep the blues players from taking over the jazz jam) and even a funk jam. Jules, who's behind all this, had been pushing for a psychedelic jam for some time, and despite some hesitance from the management, finally made one happen:
Lapis Lazuli (minus Phil) acted as the house band, with various other people joining in (Sir Richard of Sealand on theremin and electronics, Ellen from Bearded Sphynx on flute, someone from Witchdoctor on guitar...) I played for about the first half before my tiredeness got the better of me... I spent the second half perched at the front of the stage on the cusp of sleep, the heavy psych vibrations washing over me. I felt very connected, able to lock into Luke's crazy basslines, Adam's frenetic drumming and Dan and Neil's intricate guitar work. I really hope there are more of these to come, as it's a rare opportunity for me to be able to get out and jam with all these amazing local players who are usually otherwise occupied rehearsing, recording or gigging. Here you can just about see Adam behind the drums and me (pink-orange-red shirt) playing my saz:
Neil recorded all this on a Zoom H4 but set the levels too high so it clipped badly. The quieter bits are pretty listenable though, he assures us, so hopefully those will eventually make their way to me.
The saz made it to Smugglers Festival, as usual, but only emerged from my tent on Sunday night for a very sleepy/wobbly jam with Leonie, Graeme, Conrad, et al.. The next morning was more promising, with Andrew Prowse (helping sister Rosy with the chai dome) got his guitar out and we jammed a bit on various fragments he's composed. He's planning to move back from Devon soon, so there may be more of this to come. We'll see...
The autumnal rains and cool temperatures have finally arrived, and it's about time I caught up with my blogging. Here's some of the music-related stuff that's been passing through my consciousness this summer:
23rd June 2016 Club Burrito, Canterbury
Lovable local outsider singer-songwriter Max Martin organised this, and it was the first time I'd seen him play (for years he was best known for his local radio slot "The Local Hoot"). He won me over with his amusingly chaotic approach to performing and by playing Kevin Ayers' "The Oyster and the Flying Fish". Mysterious street character Angus requested a Roky Erikson vampire song from Max's repertoire, and as well as some Max originals we also got "Eve of Destruction" and a song by Morphine. Also on the bill were Tiny Ghost, a garage rock trio from Faversham, great stuff, plus Struan Robertsons's latest iteration of Hotrods and Dragsters and Colonel Mustard, a band called M.U.T.O. They brought their own "M.U.T.O." neon sign and Struan seriously impressed by playing theremin with his bass neck (while kicking out the jams on the bass itself). The set morphed nicely from from garagey stuff to funky stuff, got people dancing. I was in the mood for an evening of loud rock'n'roll, so loved this, also saw quite a few friends, including Jamie Dams, who was still hoping to get into Glastonbury Festival (and somehow succeeded, I later learned!).
Glastonbury Weekend: Needless to say, I wasn't there, but had an amazing musical weekend here in East Kent. On the Friday, the supremely talented Mikey Kenny and band of cheerful scousers played a woodland gig I'd put together, supported by Ben from Arlet and his concertina-playing friend Chris. A lovely sunny evening, a chance to get everyone's mind off the Brexit vote for a few hours. There was dancing, and an Irish folk session late into the night involving all five performing musicians plus Andy Renshaw on bhodrán. The next day I was at a gathering at Ginge and Ellie's place in Perry Woods, organised by area tribal psy-trance enthusiast Lewis. There was bit of box/fiddle playing from Nick and Lucy with John Evans on bass, then Nick's new space-funk band with John again filling in on bass, then a jam involving a lot of hand percussion and Adam B on drums. I nearly got my saz out, then a guitarist suddenly walked up and set up an arsenal of pedals, so I just lay down and enjoyed the sounds. The next morning John E mentioned in passing that there were free tickets to see Ernest Ranglin (with Tony Allen on drums!) at The Marlowe the next day. I wasn't even aware that the great ER was still alive! The venue had failed to promote the gig and needed to fill up a lot of empty seats, so a couple of rows were filled with friends, utterly blissed out at this incredible music. He's 84 and yet as nimble on the fretboard as ever, having such a good time with his amazing band. As well as Allen, this included the Senegalise percussionist Cheikh Lo (who also did some powerful singing), London saxophonist Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson on piano. Although there were recognisable elements of reggae, ska, jazz and various African musics, the whole thing was woven into a unified tapestry — just music, utterly joyful, life-affirming music. They're obviously very relaxed and into jamming, as apparently when the stage manager asked them what the running times would be for their set(s), the reply was "Well, how long do you want us to play for?" Needless to say, they got a standing ovation, one of the few I've witnessed that was thoroughly deserved.
Here's a snippet of the band on the same tour in Bristol not long after:
29th June 2016 Crash of Moons Club
Lapis Lazuli returned for a mighty set, supported by a recommendation of mine, Sharawadji (Steve and Jeremy formerly of the Jimmy Jones Band, plus a drummer). Bassist Jeremy couldn't make it so it ended up as just Steve (guitar) and the drummer, playing under the spontaneous name of "Hand Cymbal". Steve's bank of effects pedals resembled the control console for a small space station, and the sounds he was producing were pretty outer-space-oriented too. There was some crazy robo-funk stuff going on, but best of all was when he launched into "a folk song" (vaguely familiar) which he poured his soul into before deconstructing it, taking us on a mesmerising improvisation journey, then landing us back on Earth with the original melody/theme.
Lapis took to the stage with their new bass player, Luke Menniss (their fourth!). He'd learned their entire catalogue in about a week and appeared totally calm about it all, played like he'd been in the band for years. Dan had a broken foot in a cast, so played sitting on a pew (was he wearing pyjamas, or did I imagine that?) so he could trigger his pedals with the other foot. John Evans was on sound this time (usually it's Big Will from the Smugglers crew who does COMC nights), and it was flawless. Lapis came with a full-on CRUNCH to their sound, playing pieces off all four albums, but due to time constraints only a little bit off the forthcoming one Wrong Meeting. Here's an album teaser they've put together for that:
As usual, my eccentric alter ego Professor Appleblossom's DJ'd before/between/after the bands. Here's an approxiate playlist.
9th-10th July 2016 Smugglers Trail
Minchinghampton Common, near Stroud
I was originally going to be helping Rosy out with her "Chai Angles" geo-dome on a few of these Smugglers Trail events, but ended up only being able to do Walmer and this one. It was a very pleasant, family-oriented kind of thing, and we discovered that the people of Stroud really like their tea and cake. We were so busy, in fact, that we hardly got a chance to see any of the music, but were near enough to the main marquee that we could enjoy hearing it. And I got to select music between bands. The highlight of the weekend was getting to meet my godson (no. 3!) Arthur and hang out with his mum (my old friend Melski) and dad who came up from Dursley to check out the event and amuse themselves people-watching. I got to enjoy (from a distance) the sounds of Mikey Kenny, Hot Feet, Cocos Lovers and Count Bobo. And there were horses and donkeys wandering freely on the Common too, earthworks nearby, orchids...lovely. And a lift there and back with Will from Cocos and his parner Gabrielle. The fact we broke down on the way (before leaving Kent) meant that I got to spend a night at his new venue-to-be (a bit of a building site when we were there) in Margate, the latest extension of the benevolent Smugglers Empire.
13th July 2016 Electrowerkz, London
This was the first time I'd seen Syd Arthur for a while (they've not played in Canterbury for a couple of years). A fairly high-profile headline show in London.
Our friend Chilton was responsible for some excellent visual projections, the sound in Electrowerkz was pretty good (vocals and keyboards perhaps slightly muffled). Powerful stuff throughout, not one moment of lull or hesitance. They played the whole forthcoming album Apricity minus the title track, plus a couple of songs off Sound Mirror ("Hometown Blues" and "Autograph"). They opened with "Sun Rays", the track they'd been pushing off the new album, and although I quite like the studio version, it made a lot more sense live. They were planning a longer set, but were advised by management at the last minute to cut it down, a bit of a shame. Raven stuck to keyboards and his four-string tenor guitar, no violin at all, and just a little bit of mandolin shredding during the mighty "Chariot" → "Singularity" encore. Personally I'd rather here more of his fabulous acoustic string playing, but the band are evolving, he's really into analogue synths at the moment (and the current approach circumvents a lot of feedback/volume issues he's struggled with in the past). There was some excellently fluid soloing from Liam, too, he's still growing as a guitarist. If the management's idea was to leave the audience wanting more, they certainly succeeded, as everyone was howling for a second encore.
15th-16th July 2016 Dave's 60th birthday weekend
secret woodland location near Canterbury
On the Friday I'd organised for Molly's Lips (Phil and Billy from Cocos Lovers) to play a woodland set. Bandmate Stewy joined on percussive wheelbarrow at the end, and then I put in a request for Tom Waits' "Come On Up to the House" which they fulfilled magnificently (once they'd remembered the words, much hilarity involved there). My old friend Sven arrived from Belgium that day and I managed to persuade him to play a short set too, which went down a storm.
The party itself was on the Saturday, with me DJ'ing mellow soulful music while people mingled, ate and drank. Later in the evening, Dom and Miriam of Little Bulb Theatre played a set (jazz standards, etc.), then young local troubadour Sam Brothers played a mix of old blues, gospel, "Reynardine" and his own, excellent, compositions. The night culminated with a woodland disco, me selecting funk, soul, latin, afro, disco sounds (initially working from a list Dave provided, then branching out). The night ended with everyone swaying to the last tune, a perfect ending to a memorable weekend, Canonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy":
27th July 2016 Crash of Moons Club
Another COMC night. The Douglas Sisters didn't play in the end. Luca Afrobeat Band played a blinding set, even more remarkable as they'd just reformed to play this gig (I'd suggested them to Adam, who'd got in touch to find out they'd split a while ago). Their old horn section was replaced with the exceedingly capable Phil Holmes (of Lapis Lazuli) on tenor sax, and Luca's keyboard player covering some of the other lines. They apologised that it was "more prog than Afrobeat" due to the relative dearth of horns, but the sound fit perfectly into the COMC universe and they got the place grooving nicely.
Cocos Lovers were missing Nicola (away in the USA, did I hear?) and Natasha's violin was in the repair shop, so she just did some singing. So this was basically the boys rockin' out. And it suited them. They mostly played new stuff, a couple of older things, lots of swirly guitar effects, quite a heavy kraut/spacerock vibe, even a touch Radiohead (without the misery). At first I thought "this isn't the band I came to know and love", and then realised that no, it's not, but I actually prefer them this way these days. The folkie/acoustic/rootsy element are rapidly receding and something pretty amazing is coming to the fore. A lot of this revolves around Stewart's inimitable drumming, which has allowed them to make this leap. It's also led them to scrap their fourth album (it was going to be called Twisted Moon, but they're now planning to just release some of it as an EP and then forge on with their new path on their eventual next album). Will, a London-based artist who came along with Sven and I, had no idea what to expect and was staggered. He certainly couldn't hear a lack-of-violin, and couldn't get over why they're not a nationally known band. Perhaps they will be soon.
Here's DJ Prof. Appleblossom's (approximate) playlist from that night.
30th July 2016 Secret woodland location near Canterbury
I was delighted to be able to host Jennifer Bennett, the virtuosic "early musician" who'd played in the space twice before as part of Circulus. She and Michael Tyack have since (amicably) separated, and she was excited to return with her new percussionist friend Tim. They played quite an experimental set...singing, chanting, polyrhythmic percussion, and her usual amazing viola da gamba playing. Support was from Owl Light Trio, a new venture featuring my old friend Jim Penny (concertina) and his friends Jane (violin) and Colin (guitar) who were all together in Telling The Bees and Wod until quite recently (Andy Letcher decided to dissolve the Bees, although Jim and Jane are continuing Wod as a duo). They all live on the canal north of Oxford, on the same mooring, so play together a lot, and it really showed. A lot of Breton stuff got played that night, not so familiar to the Canterbury crowd. Toward the end of the set they invited Jo (melodion player who I used to travel with in Cornwall) and her partner Mikey (amazing fiddler) up to join them. Wonderful. A session spontaneously erupted after the gig proper, and Ellen from young local acid-folk duo Bearded Sphynx joined on flute, her first visit to the space, and as expected, she and her partner Harry were very keen to come and play at some point, which happened a few weeks later at the end of August (I was away in Ireland, France and Devon for most of that month →
29th August 2016 Secret woodland location near Canterbury
I'd booked Bearded Sphynx to come and play, and my old cosmic brother Pok was due to visit too (I was helping him with some website stuff), so I suggested he play a support set, which he was more than happy to do. This consisted mostly of stuff he'd written back in the mid-80s, which he was revisiting, mixed in with some psychedelic poetry and some of his newer bardic material. To end, I suggested Dylan's "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" (probably more about Augustine of Hippo than Augustine of Canterbury, but yeah...). He got everyone singing along on a couple of songs too, and really won everyone over, I felt. Nice. Bearded Sphynx were as enchanting as I'd expected, Ellen playing flute and singing in a Jacqui McShee-type voice, Harry playing guitar and harmonising beautifully. They're very much influenced by Pentangle and the Incredible String Band, including "My Name Is Death" in their set and encoring with "The Half-Remarkable Question". And she's just finished her A-levels...very encouraging!
1st-4th September 2016 Smugglers Festival
Little Mongeham, near Deal, Kent
So much amazing music this year! A lot of it was on a new stage at the far end of the site (an area that had for the previous five festivals never quite found its true calling). It's become "The End". Rosy P had her "Chai-Angles" geo-dome down there and I helped out there with selling teas and coffees and selecting music between bands.
Thursday (all at The End):
Gorgonzola (Ben, Elisha, Jason from The 13 Club, Richie from Plume on drums) — they're playing funky jazz-fusion, though not as cheesy as their self-deprecating selection of name would suggest. The 13 Club is still a thing, this is just a side project. Nice to see Richie gigging again, and Jason's electric guitar playing is becoming something incredible. They played before sunset with a wheatfield as their backdrop, framed by ivy-covered trees, lovely! Rozi Plain, who I know from This Is The Kit, played with her own band (an excellent lineup involving Conrad, Yoshino, Leon and Dan from Bristol's Bloom Collective), then This Is The Kit played an absolute blinder. Kate & co. can do the gentle/intimate thing but they can clearly also rise to the occasion for a lively festival audience and rocked out nicely. Kate dedicated "Numbers" to Professor Appleblossom and plugged my/his freestyle maths sessions (Friday-Sunday 12-2pm, as usual), very touching. Seeing Rozi and Kate beaming and locked in on bass and guitar, respectively, brought to mind the empowered, joyful, sisterly early 80s vibes of Raincoats et al.
Cloudshoes (that's Conrad Singh's sort-of-solo project) — wonderful eccentricity and electric guitar skronk (he was joined by Yoshino, Leonie, Graeme and others for a final, entrancing improv piece). That was in the little amphitheatre in Gilli's wood. Then over to the Sun-Moon geo-dome stage to catch Effra, Aidan Shepherd's mildly proggish folk trio involving a fiddler and guitarist... extremely competent and a breath of fresh air from the usual folk festival thing. Later that day in the same space I caught a bit of Bitch'n'Monk, an intriguing duo. I'd spoken to Heidi (who does the vocals/guitars/loops) earlier when she was buying a cup of tea, and she mentioned Henry Cow as an influence. You could hear a lot of the Lindsay Cooper/Maggie Nicols/Feminist Improvisation Group thing in there too....lots of loops, lots of flutes...fascinating, although I had to run to catch Volume 13 at The End. This is an amazing new project curated by Barney Pigeon (Bison Bonasus, formerly Zoo For You), playing classic Ethio-groove as well as some Afrobeat and even a Tortoise number. Stewart and Bill from Cocos on drums and bass, James (formerly of Cocos) on percussion, Jamie Dams and Aidan both on keyboards, Benji and the Mansion of Snakes horn section. A bit of a Smugglers scene supergroup, and possibly the most enjoyable thing I heard all weekend. Jamie, Poggy and Bill all sang one song each (Bill delivering an unbelievably impassioned vocal on Marijata's "No Condition Is Permanent"). Jamie looked so happy behind her keyboard, meanwhile Aidan playing some killer solos as only he can, using all my favourite early 70s keyboard sounds. Amazing rhythm section, amazing horns, and in the middle of it all, holding it down on guitar, and very happy-looking Barney. The woods were jumping that night. Earlier that evening I'd seen Stewy drumming with his SOAS band Lunch Money (terrible name, but an excellent band)...they've evolved considerably since I last saw them, a lot weirder (in the best possible sense) than the funky afro-style band I remember. The night ended with Lapis Lazuli playing a storming set in the Absinthe Bar, surrounded by drunken chaos (people nearly falling on Adam's drumkit, etc.), while all wearing flashing blue headlamps. I had to sleep at this point (I can remember a DJ spinning Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids" as I headed for my tent and wondering what it was — great tune!) and unfortunately missed Evan Parker's sunrise set in a nearby field. All the strung out party people still going at 5am were rounded up and cheerfully pressganged into being an audience for this remarkable event, many having no idea who Evan Parker is... Juliet's poetic description of the event was so vivid I almost felt like I'd witnessed it, and now there's a bit of video:
The utterly unique, wonderful Dubi Dolcek (Graeme's creation) had everyone so drawn in to his ultra-quiet songs that you could almost hear a pin drop in Gilli's Wood. He was backed up by the Bloom Collecive's Pete, Leon, Conrad and Dan, plus guest vocals from Yoshino, Leonie et al. Songs like "I Met Her At the Laser Dojo" and "Fishscale Jim" have stayed with me in great detail. This man's a genius and a beautiful soul. Later that day he was on the mainstage with a woven wastepaper basket on his head playing sax with Yoshino's band Yama Warashi — Lewis on bass, Dan, Lorenzo and Conrad in silly hats...Japanese songs, really intruigingly otherworldly. Then it was Leonie Evans and friends — she played most of her new Collaborations album, minus Flying Ibex (a cheerfully inebriated but entirely competent Mikey Kenny stepped in on fiddle for that song), Liam Magill (touring North America with Syd Arthur) and Honey Feet...her koto playing was my favourite bit. Vels Trio (at The End), again beautifully framed against a field and playing jazz-fusion, had all the drummers on site in awe of their Dougal. Then over to the Sun-Moon dome for Jesse Morningstar's project The Fantasy Orchestra (this was a combined orchestra drawing on the Paris, Bristol and Whitstable versions, at the end of a bicycle tour they'd done of Kent) — this was a total revelation. They played a lot of the stuff I'd heard them do in Whitstable: Morricone, Ellington's "Caravan", Dr. John, etc., but then "Strawberry Fields Forever", "White Rabbit", "Move On Up" and finally... "Bohemian Rhapsody"! At first I was like "You can't play that!" but everyone got into it, started singing along, lighters in the air, and it suddenly felt quite revolutionary, like a reclaiming of true folk music or something, a complete dissolving of audience-band boundaries... Considering that the Orchestra is totally welcoming and inclusive of anyone at anyone at any level of playing, it sounded incredibly well arranged, orchestrated, executed (and a miraculously well-balanced sound, considering there were 25 people on stage...much respect to Rory L!) Dan from Bloom (having never played with them before) was holding it all together on drums as almost no one else could, with Jesse conducting (and shredding) wonderfully throughout. The set reached a climax like very few I can recall anywhere, at any time, and I reckon they got the most intense applause of anyone all weekend. Then it was outside to catch Electric Jalaba warping things out nicely with their full-on trance dance vibes, a big crowd grooving despite a little rain...so cooool that band! I had to sleep in order to get up for a morning cafe shift, so missed Mansion of Snakes in the Absinthe Bar, but had some fantastic visual imagery going on while trying to drift off despite the sound of Adam Dawson's Japanese mechanoid funk DJ set nearby, a kind of Goddess vision in the form of an animated Klee/Miro painting, stained glass hands and a kind of exquisite rainbow light piercing my heart...WOW!
Musical highlights included The Papylonian Babooshkees (Stewy from Cocos — unbelievable what he can do with just a frame drum — has joined Phil and Aidan to create an excellent acoustic trio, whose set now involves surreal banter about fictional republic on Japanese-Ukrainian border... a bit like a 3 Mustaphas 3 vibe); Early Nite, the only Free Range-curated thing I got to see, a young, groovy free jazz trio (drums, bass, sax, nice vibes); Tezeta, Bristol's Ethio-groove collective...WOW! They're playing all original material now (last summer I saw them play a set of classic by Mulatu Astatke, et al. and that was already seriously impressive); Ichi — WOW! again...Rachel Dadd's Japanese husband and absurdist one-man band whose creativity and inventiveness seeingly knows no bounds; Alabaster Deplume — a profoundly entertaining (and entertainingly profound) singer-songwriter who sort of deconstructs/ psychoanalyses himself while performing, hard to describe, just go and see him; Yndi Halder (recently re-formed postrock band with a bit of a following... they involve the brother of Nicola from Cocos, and now Phil Self, who recently toured Japan and China with them) — someone engaged me in conversation during their set at The End, so I was unable to give them my full attention, but I loved the ending when they came down off the stage with chime bars, forming a ring in the audience, playing a simple, circular melody, gamelan-style; The Evil Usses — MASSIVE sound, they're just insane, can't wait for the new album! Then there was Prof. Appleblossom's late night DJ set, playing Afrobeat, funk, soul, Motown, disco and ska, getting the people dancing, a real success...usually when I/he DJ's, it's between bands in indoor venues, and most of the audience is outside smoking. No such problem on this occasion, and after four days of Smugglerising, everyone was well primed to dance. Some people who'd been to the Prof's freestyle maths sessions were surprised to see him onstage DJing, others who know me quite well were surprised to hear me play stuff like Stevie Wonder and The Marvelletes... A midwinter dance party with Prof. Appleblossom somewhere in the Canterbury area is now looking like a real possibility.
8th September 2016 The Cube, Bristol
I'd been invited (as Prof. Appleblossom) to give a talk on retrocausality at the 6D loft space for the Bristol Biennial, which was great fun (I was "introduced" by a sudden screening of the Deerhoof "Dispossessor" video which "he" features in). An excellent bonus to this flying Bristol visit was getting to see amazing Tuareg band Imarhan (described by the press as "Tinariwen's little brothers" — I bet they hate that!). Tezeta had played a support set, which sadly I missed, but I arrived in time to catch almost the whole Imarhan set, then got to spend the evening with Leonie, Conrad, Dan Inzani, Graeme, Lewis and others from the Bloom collective (Leonie and Graeme singing old songs late into the night while the rest of us babbled about who-knows-what).
11th September 2016 The Lady Luck, Canterbury
Luke Smith was playing an almost acoustic set, and had Max Martin play a guest set too — nice to see him building in confidence as a performer. Lots of friendly faces there that night, which meant that I didn't pay as close attention to the music as I otherwise would have.
15th September 2016 St. Gregory's Music Centre, Canterbury
Sam Bailey had been recording a new experimental piano album at St. Gregs for a few days, culminating in this public recording session. It was delayed by a day at the last minute, which meant I could go. The audience (seven of us) were provided with singing bowls to play on one piece. The long second piece (weaving together various unfinished fragments he's composed, I think he said) involved quite a Canterbury-ish sound in places, I could detect certain Wyattisms...nice. And it was the first time I'd had any luck getting a consistent, sustained sound out of a singing bowl.
I then headed straight over to Club Burrito to catch live hiphop band The Brewdelics. I'd seen them once briefly at the Penny Theatre in late August when my old friend Amanda was visiting (a nice connection, as she got me back into hiphop in the late 90s, taping stuff off Bristol pirate stations form me). Asya, a Bulgarian academic who once interviewed me for her research into local music scenes, is now playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vocals...her family were over from Bulgaria as she'd just graduated with her PhD that day — I wonder what they made of it... Laszlo (a.k.a. Humble Pious) got up to freestyle at one point, spat some excellent verses, and then dropped his new rhyme "Squat" (inspired by life on the local Spring Lane Estate), the videoshoot for which Professor Appleblossom had been involved in the previous weekend (a surreal/decadent masqued ball kind of theme, everyone masked except Lasz, with live graffiti, a live taratula(!), furniture smashed, money burned, and a lot more...it's currently begin edited, watch this space).
Dedicated to the memory of Gilli Smyth, this episode features a one-hour mix of her work, including classic Gong, Shapeshifter Gong, Mother Gong, Glo, solo recordings and poetry. Also, some '71 Soft Machine, '76 live Caravan, new neo-Canterbury stylings from Galicia's Amoeba Split, pre-Univers Zero recordings from almost-forgotten Belgian band Arkham, allied "Rock In Opposition" ensemble Aksak Maboul, some live Miles from '73 and a couple of slices of neo-Ethio-groove from Munich and Paris. From the Canterbury music scene of today, live recordings from Arlet and The Boot Lagoon, plus work from Seth Scott, Nelson Parade and Vels Trio.
An obscure recording of some superb live Caravan from '76, Terry Riley collaborating with John Cale, as well as being interpreted by a late 60s French-Canadian activist collective, Ollie Halsall playing some completely insane guitar with Kevin Ayers, a new North Sea Radio Orchestra cover of a Robert Wyatt song, something Oregonian with a suspiciously Wyatt-like vocal sample-loop, a little bit of Schoenberg 12-tone piano, some Squarepusher, the origins of drum 'n' bass, Henry Cow, Soft Machine, Matching Mole and the conclusion of Gong's 25th birthday party. Also, from the Canterbury today, Humble Pious, Jamie Dams and a Koloto remix.
The first video from the new Deerhoof album "The Magic", featuring a rare vocal from guitarist John Dieterich (an old friend from central Wisconsin):
Sunday June 12th 2016: one of the most extraordinary afternoons in Prof. Appleblossom's career. He was filmed demonstrating the Banach-Tarski Paradox using a variety of objects supplied by a mysterious entourage who he encountered in a woodland clearing near Little Mongeham, in a remote corner of East Kent. Claiming to be representatives of a shadowy San Franciscan organisation calling itself "Deerhoof", their objects included a coffee cup, a hula-hoop and a tube of toothpaste, each of which he was able to replicate with the help of a blackboard full of equations and a good old-fashioned handkerchief, although the relevance of the aforementioned paradox to the "Deerhoof" was never made fully clear to him. At some point, the Professor, getting somewhat carried away, appears to have "Banach-Tarski'd" himself, possibly having stumbled upon a mathematical route to the "bilocation" of Yaqui sorcerers as described by Castaneda. This further complicates an already deeply convoluted relationship between Professor Appleblossom and his eccentric alter ego, a mathematician/author he calls "Matthew Watkins".
A Soft Machine Peel session from 1969, Caravan live in 1972, a Kevin Ayers single from 1970, Mike Ratledge solo, Isotope featuring Hugh Hopper, a cosmic Gong remix, some Faust, Slapp Happy, a Fred Frith piano miniature, also '90s tracks from Mother Gong, Robert Wyatt, Ultramarine, Red Snapper and Kid Loco. From today's Canterbury, music from Syd Arthur, Jamie Dams, Arlet and Frances Knight.
This episode features quite a few discoveries found in back issues of the Canterbury Scene fanzine Facelift (late 80s into the 1990s): Stomu Yamash'ta's East Wind (featuring Hugh Hopper), David Bedford (featuring Kevin Ayers), a Mike Ratledge 1977 film soundtrack, a Bridget St. John B-side written and produced by Kevin Ayers, Short Wave, Glo (featuring Gilli Smyth), Forgas and Paragong. Also, a live cover of Soft Machine's "Facelift" by a Toronto band, an extended Jon Hassell/Brian Eno piece, Sun Ra's Arkestra taking a look in The Sound Mirror and System 7 collaborating with a couple of Detroit techno innovators. From today's Canterbury, new singles from Jamie Dams and the title track from Syd Arthur's forthcoming album "Apricity".
Despite the widespread impression that there's not much going on in Canterbury these days, there's been a wealth of live music since I got back from the States four weeks ago:
17/04/16 a funk jam at Bramleys — I was expecting the usual jazz/blues jam crowd playing funk, but it was a completely unfamiliar crew (from Margate I think), imported by the tirelessly enthusiastic Jules.
Garance & The Mitochondries, also at Bramleys, a couple of days later — only found out about it a few hours before... Ewan Bleach on clarinet and baritone sax, an excellent new rhythm section, the brilliantly entertaining Garance on accordion, vocals and remarkable facial expressions, plus Leonie Evans on some backing vocals
22/05/16 The Fantasy Orchestra + La Mirastella at St. Peters Hall, Whitstable — the Fantasy Orchestra was something put together by Jesse Morningstar (sometime member of This Is The Kit with his wife Kate), involving an assemblage of local musicians playing/singing Morricone, Ellington, Hendrix, Bowie, the Star Trek theme and more...this is based on the model for "conducted" grassroots orchestras he's developed in Bristol, and as a bonus he was able to guarantee a decent, enthusiastic audience for La Mirastella, a new Parisian psych band he wanted to help get some gigs in the UK (they were described as psychedelic tropicalia, but I could't hear the tropicalia...still good though)
26/05/16 Pillowspeaker, Ekoda Map and Koloto at Club Burrito — a very attentive audience for this (mostly) electronic evening...Tom (Ekoda Map) debuted a new track based around a sample of his little son Milo babbling about cars, and Maria (Koloto) included the newer tracks "Life in Clay" and "Fay" along with the now classic Mechanica EP material, always great to hear her stuff through a decent PA.
a couple of woodland gigs I helped facilitate: 29/05/16 The Miserichords (jazz/poetry/improv featuring Mavernie and Will from The Happy Accidents, plus experimental bassist David Leahy) with Leonie Evans (always a treat) and 13/06/16 Chris Banks (spacey guitar voyaging) plus Familia Fortouna (Yiannis and Alexis playing beautiful rebetika on guitar/lyra and bouzouki, respectively).
14/06/16 Adam Coney and Pete Bennie at Bramleys... I only found out a couple of hours earlier that these two members of the mighty (now largely dormant) Morviscous were playing an instrumental guitar/bass set. I last saw Pete at a Speakers Corner Quartet gig I helped put on, when he lent me a copy of Richard Mabey's Food For Free... that was four years ago, so it was nice to be able to return it! They played some far out stuff, lots of exploratory bowing from Pete, some looping, Adam playing a petrol can guitar, a piece based on four notes of a Wet Wet Wet song that had "earwormed" him some years ago and a barely identifiable reworking of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" to conclude. I was running on minimal sleep, so experienced that one on the cusp of waking consciousness, not a bad place to experience it from though.
And Deal's as busy as ever. On 02/06/16 I dropped into The Lighthouse to see Meg Janaway & The Bujo Band (still Rachel on cajon, but now also playing some drumkit, Lulu on fiddle, with Jules having joined on double bass). A bit of a noisy crowd that night, so Meg's lyrical poetry got swamped by inane conversation, but still a good set. My birthday 11/06/16 coincided with the first date of the "Smugglers Trail", a one-day pop-up festival on Walmer Green (by the beach, across the road from The Lighthouse). I was helping Rosy with her "Chai-Angles" geodome cafe, DJing, washing up, and generally trying to be useful, but got to see some of the music, which included Molly's Lips (Phil and Billy from Cocos Lovers, Phil on the eve of flying to East Asia to tour with Nicola's brother's post-rock band, including six dates in mainland China!), The Douglas Sisters, Whisky Moonface (lovely!), The Boot Lagoon (Leonie and I ended up "prog-waltzing" in a variety of odd-numbered time signatures), Me and My Friends, and Dilla V & the Oddbeats.
So, a really great birthday. And then the next morning I walked up to Little Mongeham (the Smugglers Festival site) to take part in a film shoot for a new Deerhoof video as my eccentric alter ego Professor Appleblossom (more on that soon, watch this space!)
So, Syd Arthur have finally released something off their forthcoming third album, Apricity. They've made a video for the title track, which is a reworking of an old acoustic number called "Honest Land". It's taken me a while to get used to this heavily sequenced version, as the original "breathed" in a way very particular to Liam and Raven's extraordinary musical interaction. But they've got really into their analogue synths of late and it makes for an interesting departure, this new album (I heard the whole thing months ago but promised not to share it!).
This was filmed at an old WWII "pillbox" in a field off the Thanet Way, our friend Chilton on projections:
And here's something that a lot of us have been waiting for. A couple of summers ago a US-based crew (directed by Dilly Gent, an Englishwoman responsible for numerous Radiohead videos) came to Canterbury to make a documentary about them. I helped to facilitate the woodland gig which Liam, Raven and Joel played, featuring some tracks off Sound Mirror and "Dorothy" from On An On, have been curious to see how it came out:
I spent an enjoyable evening catching up with Phil Holmes of Lapis Lazuli the other night, interspersed with some sax/saz jamming. He played his chalumeau a bit, too, and Miriam joined us with some wordless vocals later on. Nothing groundbreaking, but some nice moments in here: