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:
Four weeks in central Wisconsin mid-April to mid-May that I haven't got around to blogging about yet.
I didn't cross paths with musician friends as often this time as I have done on previous visits (I was happily working on my history book, so that was fine). My saz playing was mostly limited to the weekly "songswap" down at The Elbow Room on the square in Stevens Point. This evolves from year to year. At the moment, the old crew are sort of playing an early shift, then making way for a younger crowd (very confident UWSP students playing proficiently and singing harmonies). The first visit I remember the old crew (guitars and double bass, but also including an excellent trumpeter I didn't know) playing "Almost Cut My Hair" and The Byrds' "Mr. Spaceman". The trumpeter got a Trombone Shorty jam going before they all drifted out to be replaced by the new crew (who I assume are mostly in a band together) who'd all been at a funeral, so all dressed in black. Guitars, ukes, hand drums, playing CCR's "Looking Out My Backdoor", "Billie Jean", "Rocky Racoon", various songs I didn't recognise, possibly their own. I enjoyed just taking this in while chatting to Loopy, et al. A punky girl with a banjo sang that Four Non-Blondes song, at least partly ironically, I would assume. But I was blown away to hear one of them sing "Finnegan's Wake", having memorised a LOT of its innumerable verses. I was reading Ulysses at the time, thinking a lot about what it'll be like to read Finnegans Wake when I get round to that. Not too much of a sense of the sing-a-long togetherness which the songswap is good for creating, but I was happy enough to play a bit, listen a bit, drift off into the night.
A few days later I was back in the same bar listening to Prince on the jukebox with Johnny Pea and Gavin. None of us had been into Prince when I lived there and knew them in the mid-80s, but we'd all come to (slightly grudgingly?) admit to his creative brilliance. So JP rang up and suggested a Prince session at the Elbow. We ended up sharing Prince memories and general mid-80s cultural memories — I'm glad that happened, just stopping and looking back at that period from thirty years away. The next day my sister Kate told me about how Niagara Falls had been lit up purple that night (for the Queen's 90th birthday, but NOBODY was thinking about the Queen that night...).
The next song swap, I can remember some old time fiddle, Chaz and Gerry singing a Nick Lowe song, a Marcus Bovary (and then another by request from a major fan, the fan and Jim "The Oz" Oliva singing along, everyone singing MB's praises). A lovely moment when I was just about to leave, but Tiata called me over to play, so I played some solo saz, everyone went surprisingly quiet, really listened, and it was one of those rare occasions these days where I felt that I played quite well). That went on for a bit until Cody and UWSP friends came in. He sang Mike Pinto's "Tricky Nicky" (fun to play along to), a couple of originals, then Wayne Cochran's 1961 teen tragedy song "Last Kiss" (as resurrected by Pearl Jam?!)
I did a quick visit to Madison to see Kenny, Maggie and baby Frances, plus Peter and friends. Pete took me over to his bass player Charles' house for a basement jam (saz, bass and P on drums). The levels were a bit high, so the recording's rather "hot" (but that adds a grunge feel, Peter reckons).
The next night we caught a set from old Stevens Point character Mike McAbee at the Parched Eagle microbrewery. He lives in Iowa now and makes a living touring Midwest bars with his guitar and "menu" of songs (people just shout out requests from the menu and he plays them, has a lot of fun in the process (he's got a wireless pickup and headmic setup, so wanders comically round the bar, even outside, while he's playing). I got him to sing "The Rocky Road To Dublin" off the short "Irish" section of the menu (it was mostly classic rock and country, but stuff like the Violent Femmes too — he does a great "Add It Up").
Back in Point for the next songswap, various configurations of musicians young and old worked their way through John Prine's "Spanish Pipe Dream", Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey", "Mrs. Robinson", a wildman guitarist singing "St. James Infirmary" with his punky washboard-playing girlfriend (great!), "Country Roads", a "La Bamba"/"Twist and Shout" mashup... That was more of the old songswap vibe that I remember.
I got out to the Northland Ballroom in Iola once for Sloppy Joe's weekly session (they play a set, host an open mic for a while, backing up singers who want backing up, and then play another set). JP, Marty and I arrived in the middle of the open mic bit, and then I ended up sitting in with Jeff, Steph, Bobby and Dale (Gavin had to leave early for work reasons, but we got to connect at the bar first) playing a late set for almost no one but ourselves (it was killer stuff, and typically one of the rare occasions I wasn't recording): "Cold, Rain and Snow", a Gordon Lightfoot song I'd never heard before, "Pretty Polly" (pretty wild), Michael Hurley's "Moon Man". I sat out for banjo maestro Dale's new twisty, turny tune "Roundabout".
A couple of nights later, not long before heading back to Canterbury, I caught Moogie (Chaz and Gerry, a lovable local couple who play guitar and bass, plus my friend Shelly on drums) at a new venue called The Beat. A nice, chilled low-key bar gig where they got to have fun playing all their favourite Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, etc. plus some originals.
Like most people who've listened to BBC Radio 4's long-running Desert Island Discs (I suspect), I've found myself contemplating which records I would choose, were I on the programme.
Well, as an ultra-obscure author/blogger/musician, it's highly unlikely that this will ever happen. But I did get asked by Jon Downes, the noted cryptozoologist and person behind Gonzo Multimedia, to participate in the weekly online Gonzo magazine's "Desert Island Discs" feature (Gonzo Web-radio syndicate my Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast). Unlike on R4 where you only get to choose ten individual songs/pieces, Jon says "there are no rules". So as well as albums, I threw in some box sets. I mean, it's one thing to list some records to give an impression of what music you like, but another altogether to imagine being stuck somewhere with those records and no others, for the rest of your life. So I tried to imagine that situation and came up with my list, which you can see on pp.68-69 here.
Now I'm thinking "Wot, no Astral Weeks? No Spirit of Eden? No Byrd, Dowland, Orlando Gibbons, Goldberg Variations? No In A Silent Way? No King Tubby's Meets The Rockers Uptown? No Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics?" Still, I think I could find sonic contentment with the list I chose.
'72 Soft Machine radically reinterpreting something from the Third album, Henry Cow improvising magnificently in Sweden in '76, a 2006 Steve Hillage remix of the only existing Paragong studio recording, a Hatfield radio session from '74, plus Caravan and Kevin Ayers getting sampled by underground hiphop producers. Also, some fabulous modal Coltrane, a classic slice of Ethiopique, 70s fusion from Finland, France and Iowa and something new from the Claudia Quintet. From the Canterbury of now, Lapis Lazuli, Arlet, Liam Magill, Ekoda Map, Koloto and Bodhi Glitch. AND...Salman Rushdie singing Kevin Ayers (really!)
An amazing week in New Orleans (my first visit there), as seen from a musician's-eye-view, thanks to Leonie...
4-11 April 2016
Monday On the plane from London, listening to Astral Weeks, an unfamiliar Björk LP, Richard Thompson's Still, the Cecilia String Quartet playing Mendelssohn and CCR's Green River. At Atlanta airport baggage claim, a guitarist called Mark who happened to be in Angie Stone's band stopped to ask about my saz — they'd just been out at a jazz festival in Capetown.
I was met by L and her friend at Louis Armstrong International Airport. When Sabine started her car, the first five notes of Miles' "In A Silent Way" came on the radio (and then it switched off)...instantly recognisable and a perfect jazz welcome via local station WOZZ (which I didn't ever find time to listen to). L and I ended up sitting up late on her friend Brian's back steps chatting — hearing about life in New Orleans (which already felt like a categorically different kind of place to the rest of the USA) and the latest about her new multi-collaborative album, etc.
Tuesday I met Ali in the morning (about to head to NYC for a folk festival), and she helped shift our stuff over to Jonathon's house a few blocks away where we'd be staying. He'd been working on arrangement of his old-time songs for an album project. We then cycled over to "New Canada" (a small colony of lovable musicians from Ontario) so L could confer with Craig about a possible Italian tour this summer. He was caught up rehearsing with half a dozen others in the garden, so we sat and listened to the incredibly gorgeous song "Maureena" by Duff, one of the Canadians (part of The Ever Lovin' Jug Band)...kind of a Roy Orbison thing going on. I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing — on one level, just some people outside a house playing music, but on another, something of world-class quality and incredible beauty. We cycled over to Lee Circle where L and Sabine had a gig singing with Dave Hammer from Akron (who turns out he knows Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh's son Jacob)...lovely gospel/country/folk vibes after sets from a singer/songwriter called Connor, and Kia doing solo banjo/guitar and singing Cat Power style. After Dave and co., it was Camille and a friend harmonising beautifully, but I was nodding off by then. I remember the incongruity of hearing Hawkwind's original version of "Motorhead" (with Simon House on violin) on the stereo between sets.
A whole crew of us then cycled together (fun! i was on a borrowed Huffy cruiser) over to Maggie's, a gay bar on Elysian Fields that hosts a Tuesday Country night. It wasn't particularly country that week, but still good. Things started with "Andrew Mill and the 5a.m. Rumble Strip" from Scotland playing a mix of "celtic country" and some jigs, reels and marches with whistle, fiddle and alto sax involved. Next it was the 99 Playboys from Elton, LS, a cajun trio. I couldn't figure out where the bassline was coming from at the time — it seems to have been a bass uke that was being played along with the fiddle and box. I was listening from the threshold of sleep while numerous couples two-step danced. Finally it was the Slick Skillet Serenaders. L was getting sweaty from dancing and drinking, having a great time while I nodded out happily on a barstool. We cycled back late and listened to some tracks from her new album (including one with Liam from Syd Arthur and one in which she sings in Japanese and plays koto!)
Wednesday We hurriedly cycled over to Royal Street so L could join a busking crew — the Hot Minute Jazz Band, her regulars. I filled my rucksack with groceries from Rouse's, then sat on the pavement breakfasting and listening to a killer brass band (trumpet, two trombones, sousaphone, two drummers). Lots of tourists filming and dancing — nice vibes. Black/white musical segregation seemed a thing here, though: whites playing old-time, ragtime, country-blues and old jazz, blacks playing the brass band music they learn at school for the parades, etc. L was playing washboard and singing, consistently getting major applause for her "frumpet" (simulated trumpet) solos. She'd got a puncture on her back tyre, so after busking we walked the bikes over to a bikeshop on Frenchmen Street (closed, but the owner was hanging around outside and went to get a tube for her). We then lazed around in a park for a while waiting for Craig to come and talk about the Italian tour. A couple of locals with an amp started blasting bad hip-hop via local station WQUE. L was annoyed, wishing instead for WOZZ, but I was quite interested to know what the local black population generally listened to (clearly not jazz these days!) Craig turned up, then a couple of other friends. All the musicians get around on bicycles, I was happy to see. It turned out that Merle Haggard had died that day — the new arrivals play country and had been churning out the Merle songs on the street earlier. We walked over to Craig's where there were tools and I was able to sort out L's bike, then we cycled over to Dorian's for a weekly jam. Dorian's a young French guitarist and these jams tend to be super-fast gypsy jazz, apparently, but L got them off on a different footing with a couple of slow jazzy numbers, and it just rolled from there. Musicians kept turning up, I just sat in the corner, a bit sleepy, but overwhelmed by the quality of the playing and listening. Double bass, clarinet, violin and numerous guitars. Not your typical jam.
Thursday French Quarter Festival started, so the streets were noticeably busier. After philosophising with Jonathan in his kitchen. we cycled back over to Royal so L could busk some more with Hot Minute (a different trombonist this time, plus Swee on violin and a a tap dancer). L sang "Sweet Lotus Blossom" and "A Thousand Goodnights" before there was a changeover and she was suddenly busking with "Eight Dice Cloth" (a lot of the same people). Drinking Heineken in the shade and listening, my jetlag was almost gone, but I had a minor background headache. When they were done we cycled over to Felipe's Tacqueriea, chatting to Alejo (nineteen-year-old trombonist from Long Island) and Maxwell (Bay area runaway acidhead-turned-banjo player). We carried on over to the river so they could sit and smoke, then I headed back to J's alone for a shower and some healthy food, before cycling with L over to the Saturn Bar to see Twain (a hairy, beardy bloke in the "new weird America" vein, touches of Beefheart, his weird sprawling confessional songs and tortured vocals somehow bringing to mind Thom Yorke — very original), then Canadian Duff's band (a short set, ending with the gorgeous "Maureena"), then his bass player Max with "His Martians" (I'd seen him playing resonator guitar with Tubaskinny earlier, seems very active on the scene). Just a soup of funky, jazzy, freeform American music going on. A traditional R'n'B band were about to play, but I was too sleepy, so cycled home.
Friday I cycled in to catch L busking with Hot Minute again, then stopped to listen to a rad young fusion trio (The Yisrael Trio from Birmingham, Alabama, two brothers and a sister). They were playing funky, jazzy, free arrangements of Stevie Wonder, etc. The tourists loved it. I loved it. I got the feeling some of the old-timey musicians disapproved, but this felt like music that wasn't stuck looking backwards, or in a museum. The keyboard player superb, excellent drumming and bass playing. They even ended up on my Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast. Busking went on longer than planned, so I went back to check Yisrael and Tubaskinny again. Then down to the river (heaving with humans, with the FQ Festival on) to sit on rocks with L, Swee, James, et al. Bad country music was heard from the "Hand Grenade" stage nearby. We then headed over to the St. Roche tavern for pool and greasy chips, punk and metal on the stereo. L rinsed all the boys at pool (me twice). Damn! Then over to John's house to pick up something, in the same Holy Cross neighbourhood as J. Coleman came over with his guitar and we listened on YouTube to DeZurik Sisters ("Cackle Sisters"), Merle Haggard, Jim and Bob and "Only a Faded Rose", a song, which L wants to learn.
L urged me to walk over to J's and get my saz, and we had a little jam, played a few country songs — the only time I got the saz out in New Orleans. But I'm glad that happened. Before leaving Coleman mentioned Dolly Parton's "I'll Oil Wells Love You", which we watched (a Grand Ole Opry clip)...I had no idea she was so clever...great guitar licks too:
We headed back to Frenchmen to hear Loose Marbles playing. Friday night! Busy! But apparently most nights feel like this in NOLA. Lots of dancers again. L got up to sing "Harvest Moon" with them (the old standard, not the Neil Young song). They were fab — an eight piece: two banjos (incl. Maxwell), guitar (Coleman), drums, bass, clarinet and trumpet. A great ragtime/dixieland feel. We then proceeded to The Spotted Cat for me to hear through the door and watch through the window ($5 to get in, and stuffed with tourists) L sing "Knock Myself Out" with The Cottonmouth Kings. "You BADASS, girl!" enthused the woman next to me when she came back outside after her spot. After that, she and some of the Hot Minute crew headed uptown to play for a blues dance gig. I headed home for spaced out conversation and an epic game of chess with Jonathan.
Saturday Hanging out at the house talking about recent Smugglers Records developments with L. We tried Skyping Will G, but couldn't get the audio to work and gave up. Listening to Lee Perry and Michael Hurley. Procrastinating. Finally we cycled down Jourdan to a backyard all-day party at some friends' place. A couple of weak singer-songwriters were playing when we arrived, but then L played a magical set of mostly her solo stuff with Sabine harmonising beautifully. Then Duff drumming for a couple of women (I was getting quite blurry at this point), then playing his own stuff on guitar (pretty zonked now). Back to J's for deep sleep...
Sunday L introduced us to Sibylle Baier via YouTube, then Jonathon introduced me to almost-forgotten folkie Karen Dalton. L played me some of her friend Yoshino's wonderful new project (like a Japanese Count Bobo, involving some of the Bristol Bobo crew I think). We cycled to a "cajun brunch" (a monthly thing, I forget the venue, on the corner of Royal and Clouet) and sat outside (windows open) enjoying the music and breeze. Then on down Royal, where L busked with English Joe and his Canadian friend for a couple of songs, then the Hot Minute crew for three sets. I wandered the Quarter, saw a few OK things on the stages (The Shotgun Jazz Band probably the best of them), then headed over to Maison on Frenchmen to hear L sing with Loose Marbles again. Then a lovely falafel wrap from an Arab place while a loud brass band with a flamboyant dancer tore it up on the corner opposite. Then L singing "I'll See You In My Dreams" with the Palmetto Bug Stompers (some of the same players as The Cottonmouth Kings) at d.b.a. VERY chilled, laid back Dixieland type vibes.
Outside with the band for a bit, chatting to Robert the bass player (the only native New Orleanean I met, I think). They all adore L and want her to move to NO! Back in for the last set, she sang "Bumblebee Blues" and blew everyone away with an amazing frumpet solo. We ended the night listening and dancing to the wonderful Rhythm Wizards playing on a pavement on Frenchmen: Two trombones, a kind of rhumba/bossa/calypso melting pot sound — like a NOLA Count Bobo...felt like the best thing ever at the time! AND the locally famous "Tambourine Lady" stopped by to raise the energy. Here she is some time earlier:
Monday Chilling at Jonathan's and cleaning the kitchen. Coleman dropped off a CD of a ragtime porch session with some friends (great stuff), plus a couple of songs L wanted to learn. J's band came over to practice in the garden and Dave Hammer came over to rehearse with L and Sabine for an evening gig. Sabine drove us all over to the St. Roche Tavern, singing along to Irma Thomas, Etta James, etc. There was a great, but short, gospelly set from Dave (with singers, bass and drums — great guitar soloing — he's got so much energy!). Then the Jon Hatchett Band playing country, country rock and honkytonk...fun! We then drove (more singing in the car) to Sidneys to see King James and the Specialmen (Robert on electric bass), a bit of a local institution playing classic R'n'B. They ended with their silly "Iceman" song and then "Good Night Irene"...ahhh... Finally over to Big Daddy's to play pool. I managed to get "Cortez The Killer", the Dead's "Bird Song" and Zep's "Kashmir" on the jukebox before we had to leave ($1 very well spent).
Tuesday Returning my borrowed bike, packing, goodbyes, a lift to Amtrak station with J. As I was listening to music on shuffle as "The City of New Orleans" (the train made famous by Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie) headed north through Mississippi, Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep came on — a forgotten gift from Melski, and somehow the perfect soundtrack to that train ride. I was asleep shortly after we pulled out of Memphis and woke up heading into Chicago the next morning.
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An interesting feeling arose during my time in NOLA: the feeling that the peculiar atmosphere of the place (relative to the rest of the country) is partially due to an acknowledgement of the dead. I saw this flag hanging outside a rather run down looking house in poor Holy Cross neighbourhood...
...and a couple of days later, saw a mobile recording truck from WOZZ, the local jazz station, with a treble clef logo painted on it involving a vertical cartoon bone, and the slogan "Music To The Bone". This imagery, together with a vague awareness of the influence of ancestor worship via Africa and the Caribbean, the Creole tradition of little family altars, the prominent, celebrated status of the cemeteries in the city and the reverence towards the great jazz players of the past, led me to the feeling that in some of the wilder music-and-dance scenarios I'd witnessed in my week there, something else had entered the scene. I could even entertain the possibility that spirits of some of the long-deceased jazzers and blues players from the city were hanging around, waiting for opportunities (when their modern equivalents were in various receptive states due to whisky, reefer, hours and hours of playing music without proper food or sleep) to take a solo via someone living, or nudge the jam in a certain direction. Although this feeling and imagery will stay with me, this isn't something I'd be capable of debating with a rationalist skeptic. But the sense of tradition the place is so proud of, with its music, parades, etc. induces a feeling of "We're here doing this, but others long gone were here doing it before is, and others not yet born will probably be doing it here after we're gone and forgotten." Hence a genuine sense of culture, something greater than oneself.
This news is months old, but as I'm catching up with my blogging, I had to include an acknowledgment of Pixi's departure from this Earthly plane.
I have very happy memories of meeting him in the pub at Avebury after summer solstice '95, then catching up with him in Cardiff a couple of weeks later when cycling across Britain with Inge, climbing into the grounds of Cardiff Castle with him, King Arthur and others after an evening at The Four Bars pub, playing music late into the night. He put us up in his flat for a few memorable days, and let us sleep in his van (parked behind an abandoned mosque on the edge of the city) on another occasion. Inge and I ran into him again in Trowbridge town centre when walking from Glastonbury to Avebury with Pok the summer of '96, ended up spontaneously busking together ("Star of the County Down", etc.). In years after that I'd periodically running into him in Avebury, can remember one lively music session with him and Stef outside the pub there, Stef encouraging him to sing his old favourites like "Eat, Drink and Be Merry".
This obituary from Chris Stone (who I knew separately, from Whistable, years earlier) says it all. And it's from the Guardian website, amazingly! RIP Pixi. Here's a playlist of various videos of him performing, for those of you who missed out of seeing him in person.
early 2015: others' musical exploits - live around Canterbury
23/01/16: Saw mystic busker and poet Kallum Sutton and his raw, sprawling soul/folk collecting Pinnochios at The Ballroom. Terrible sound up there, Sam Brothers' bass totally inaudible. But they still managed to raise some energy. A couple of really powerful songs carried by harmony vocals from Kallum, Sam and Meg. Afterwards, everyone ended up next door at the Bramleys blues jam. Sam was spontaneously pulled up on stage to play bass, ended up taking a couple of verses of the vocals during a rather lightweight, ineffectual "House of the Rising Sun", bringing a real wildness and snarl to it.
06/02/16: Making "punkrock sauerkraut" from red cabbage in a kitchen in Nunnery Fields while blasting Culture Shock's 1988 ska-punk classic Onwards & Upwards, drinking strong local cider and then heading over to the nearby Maidens Head pub for the end of a free punk all-dayer memorial gig for Davee Wild, the dynamic young organiser of many punk gigs in town who died tragically back in 2014. I also caught a set from The Restarts. Wild, drunken punkrock energy down there, as you'd expect after a whole day of it. Old UKC friends (part of a anarcho-comedy punk band called "Degeneration" circa 1988) Nick Dent, Welsh Adrian and Peter Kite showed up and joined me huddling to the side of deafening speakers, just beyond the moshpit. Dick Lucas and the band played a short, energetic set. More cider. Hangover (very rare) the next morning, urgh.
10/02/16: Another Crash of Moons Club night with Jouis from Brighton, Cheap Wine from France and me (as Professor Appleblossom) DJing. I heard rumours afterwards that this might have been the last time we get to see Jouis live, due to geographical strains (JD having moved ot Oxford), but have since heard that they're regrouping. It would be a real shame if they did split, as they were sounding magnificent that night. Not just beautiful songs played well with harmony vocals, but a total psychedelic musical journey with little jammed-out sections and transitions. The best set I've heard from them, I think. Cheap Wine were LOUD. Kind of unnecessarily loud, but I got into it at the time. They've got the primal garage rock thing mastered, and a frontman who harks back to the time, as Miriam put it, "when frontmen were frontmen". Medallion, sweating profusely, hair in face, howling, twisted limbs plus bonus flamboyant theremin playing! I selected a lot of lush harmony-based psychedelic pop before Jouis, heavier drone psych before Cheap Wine, and then a danceable set afterwards — here's the playlist.
09/03/16: Arlet Big Red Sun album launch at The Lighthouse, Deal. Support from Phil of Lapis Lazuli and Aidan from Arlet, playing their new accordion/tenor sax duo material. Arlet started with a new one they're calling "Deep Space Nine", then played most of the new album (no "Big Ship" or "Metaphor", though), plus the "skid jigs" from the Quartet EP from last year and "Bowerhouse 2" from the Trio EP which comes as a bonus disc with Big Red Sun and involves just Aidan, Owen and Rosie. They ended with "Mattematix" and encored with what they described as a "new old one" called, I think, "SamSong". I thought I was hearing another musical peak in the evolution of Arlet (the last one being in autumn 2013 when I saw them play at the new CCCU venue with Annie on trombone and Nick on trumpet), but later found out that they mostly felt they hadn't quite "got there" during this performance.
The new album comes with a beautiful hand-printed art book, with a page (or more) dedicated to each of the ten tunes (some more obviously linked than others). The page for "The Big Ship" (their wond'rous Eno cover) features a reproduction of an email I sent Aidan years ago suggesting that he attempt an arrangement of it, and the page for "Mattematix" features a beautiful cartoon drawing by Matt Tweed which features me bringing the band tea, while pondering the Riemann–von Mangoldt explicit formula, during their woodland residency in 2013:
I think the whole of Cocos Lovers were there that night. It was a seated, attentive audience. Much higher energy was achieved at Bramleys on 16/03/16 when they did their Canterbury album launch at Crash of Moons Club (lively standing crowd). Amazing stuff from them that night! Aidan was part of the support set from The Binnewith Amnesiacs (me, Tom, him plus Juliet on visuals) that evening too.
17/03/2016 I got a message that afternoon from Juliet that Ben from Arlet (who she'd studied Wittgenstein with a few years ago) was playing that afternoon at The Jolly Sailor. I couldn't imagine why (it was a Thursday). And I'd planned a woodland walk (it was a beautiful sunny day), so didn't think I'd make it. But I found myself back at my bike with just enough time to bomb it down St. Stephens Hill and catch the end of his set. I made it, immediately realised from the Irish-themed decor that it was St. Patrick's Day, hence the afternoon gig (he finished with "The Galway Girl"), and requested the Incredible String Band's "October Song" as an encore. He kindly obliged, while I overheated by the fruit machines from my furious bikeride. Spontaneous Canterbury music magic. Kallum and Max M there with Juliet.
25/03/2015 A joint Smugglers/Crash of Moons thing at The Astor in Deal with local youth rockers "The Stranded Lights" (Stewy from Cocos filling in heroically on drums), teenage ultra-delicate psych-folk duo The Selkies (upstairs while the bands switched over downstairs) then Bison Bonasus (Spencer from Lunch Money filling in for Callum on bass, he off in Florida with his funk band), Lapis Lazuli and Flying Ibex. Bison, Lapis and Ibex all sounded better than ever. I DJ'd as Professor Appleblossom (a bit pointless, as almost everyone headed outside to smoke between bands) — here's my playlist.
And then there were the woodland sessions (secret location near Canterbury)...
04?/01/16 Arlet (Lib's 40th birthday)
06/03/16 Phil and Aidan supporting a trial run of the Binnewith Amnesiacs audio-visual experience which was later presented at Bramleys
14/03/16 Sam Brothers supporting Dominic Conway
20/03/16 Meg Janaway (backed up by Lulu on fiddle and Rachel on cajón), Houdini's Hat (Josh and Jules), and then an equinox jam involving all of them
27/03/16 The Douglas Sisters (Natasha from Cocos + Poggy)/The Ladies of the Lake/The Selkies (one Selkie being Jo from LOTL's daughter)
03/04/16 Liam Magill playing half of the new Syd Arthur album acoustically (plus three songs from Sound Mirror) followed by a set of gospel/folk/blues from Kallum Sutton, assisted by Sam Brothers
...and off to New Orleans the next morning.