Monday, April 21, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 48)

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An old (medieval?) French tune played with Pok, Aurelie and friends as The Lost Troubadours, at The Gladstone in Brighton. This was the Troubadours' first and only gig, a spirited but rather ropey affair, some of which can be heard here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 14

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 14

The very earliest and latest Soft Machine covers (both 7" B-sides and the former from a most unexpected source), a string of Canterbury miniatures, Geoffrey Richardson playing Robin Williamson, Robert Wyatt (sort of) playing Buddy Holly, Kevin Ayers going pseudo-Malaysian, Gong getting all cosmic, more Indonesian jazz, an impressive piece of Roxy Music, another dub gem and a block of new sounds from the Canterbury of 2014 (Lapis Lazuli, Kairo, Koloto, Syd Arthur). Also featuring a one-hour mix from guest contributor LTJ Bunkum [sic], the perfect introduction to the band Stereolab.

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 47)

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A spontaneous little saz-and-harp jam with my old friend Rosie, after meeting randomly atop West Kennet Long Barrow near Avebury a day or two after summer solstice 2010. At a certain point you can hear one of her friends trying to identify a wildflower, at which point I suggest "cranesbill".

A collection of recordings from this solstice can be found here.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 46)

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Another version of "Uffington Riddle" with my Exeter-based trio Orbis Tertius?, recorded at the Cube Microplex cinema in Bristol in December 2008 as part of a kind of pre-Christmas anti-consumerism celebration. Jim Invisible on guest melodica. Henry on drums, Keith on bass and me on saz as usual.

Equinoctial Lapis blowout

The Ballroom, Canterbury
20th March, 2014

This couldn't have been timed better. After an amazing equinox walk back to Canterbury along the North Downs Way (which coincides with an old pilgrims' route) with Miriam, then drifting around the Cathedral cloisters at dusk, sustenance at Club Burrito, then over to the Veg Box Cafe for coffee for a catch up with Fred from Syd Arthur (he's the drummer) about their latest American adventure and a few notes of Robert Mitchell's virtuosic piano playing (for it was Free Range night), we headed over to The Ballroom.

Support was from a SOAS band called "Lunch Money". Everyone seems to agree that that's not a great name, but they're a great band, an excellent match to Lapis with their aggressive horns, Afro-funk rhythms and all-round high energy. The connection is that their drummer is Stewy, the Northern Irish drummer in Cocos Lovers in recent times.

Lapis Lazuli yet again rose to the occasion, from the "Incessant Creakings..." opener to the multi-dimensional tango piece they closed with (what is that one called). Lapis always seem to pull in a great crowd when they're in town and blow the roof off. They're off on a UK tour soon, and it's not so easy for unfamiliar audiences to "get" their sprawling, ambitious sound (and gigs are often underpublicised, and the public are getting increasingly blasé about live music). So good luck to them. The tour ends in Canterbury on April 21st at the Penny Theatre, where they'll be debuting their new epic 40+ minute piece "Alien" (one of two pieces on the new album). As well as a new local psychedelic band called Plume, Professor Appleblossom (a.k.a. me) is on the flyer — they've asked me to give a guest lecture about aliens, alien consciousness, etc. I already have my labcoat ready, just have to put the lecture together.

For now here's an excellent promo video they've put together featuring the first 12 minutes or so of "Alien". I absolutely love the ending of this, a serendipitious find by Adam and Neil while combing through 50's B-movies looking for alien footage:

Latest news: Koloto (a.k.a. Maria Sullivan) is also on the bill for the Penny Theatre gig! That's unless she's given birth before the 21st...

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 45)

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A jammed version of a tune we were working on at Higher Grow Studio in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium in September 2009. As usual, I'm playing saz and Inge's playing mandolin. Although the actually recording sessions weren't usable due to a technical problem, other rehearsal and jam recordings from the previous days can be found here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

United Nations of Dub demo

I'm just about to head up to North Wales to the United Nations of Dub Weekender. Alan suggested that I go and promote myself as a saz-dub instrumentalist, make some connections with dub producers, DJs. So I've made a demo CD to circulate, me playing saz over some late 70's/early 80's classics (King Tubby, Prince Jammy, Scientist), plus a few pieces from my reworking of Midnite's Intense Pressure that I put together out in New Zealand. So here it is:

This was all done quite spontaneously using a cheap mic and an ancient laptop — no real production, just some minimal editing and a little bit of EQ and reverb. The idea is just to convey something of what my playing sounds like and how it fits with dub riddims.

1. King Tubby - "Fittest of the Fittest"
2. Prince Jammy - "Round 4"
3. Scientist - "Time Warp"
4. Prince Jammy - "Round 2"
5. Scientist - "Dance of the Vampires"
6. Midnite - "Intense Pressure Dub"
7. Midnite - "True King Dub"
8. Midnite - "Eyes of Fya Dub"
9. Midnite - "New Life Dub"
10. Midnite - "Mighty Race Dub"

Christchurch lecture

Saturday 22 March 2014
Canterbury Christchurch University

This was part of CCCU's new MA in "Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred" (presumably raising eyebrows in certain quarters) organised by Angela Voss (who knows a lot about Ficino, used to play in early music consorts, is now becoming a jazz and rock drummer). There's another blurb here.

It seemed to go very well. The 3:4 polyrhythm clapping exercise (which involved dividing the audience in halves, rather like at old-skool hiphop jam..."I want everyone on the left side of the mixing desk to say shout 'ho-oh'", etc.) wasn't 100% successful, but broke the ice and got the basic idea across. What I discovered in the process of putting this talk together is that if you speed polyrhythms up you hear harmonic intervals! It would be a perfect fourth in the case of the 3:4 polyrhythm. It's pretty obvious once you understand the basic physics of what's going on, but I was astonished to realise this. I assumed someone else must have noticed this by now, and later Googled it to find that (it seems) only Stockhausen had. I think he may have based some experimental composition on the idea, but no one else seems that bothered. Which I find incredible. Harmony is polyrhythm speeded up 100's of times and polyrhythm is harmony slowed down 100's of times!

I spent quite a lot of time putting together a slideshow presentation and sound files for this, so it'd be nice to do it again. Fortunately almost none of my local muso friends who said they intended to come actually showed up, as I'd told them it was going to be free (it wasn' was an "open lecture" to the public, but £9.50!). Only Jamie and Josh from Kairo, and the organisers kindly let them come in. But I would like to do this presentation for a bunch of musicians (rather than academics, astrologers and New Age-y types). I'm sure that will happen.

My next unusual speaking engagement (I keep getting asked) is as Professor Appleblossom, my even-more-eccentric alter ego, supporting Lapis Lazuli for their Alien album launch tour at the Penny Theatre on April 21st. They've asked me to talk on the theme of aliens and alien consciousness, so that should be fun...

Frances Knight and Geoffrey Richardson in Deal

The Lighthouse, Deal
16th March 2014

This was Canterbury jazz piano legend Frances Knight and Caravan/Penguin Cafe Orchestra multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson's first gig together. It's what Frances is calling "acoustic loveliness".

It was an afternoon gig, a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon by Deal seafront, and The Lighthouse was packed out with mostly older couples who'd been enjoying Tyrone's weekly Sunday afternoon "reggae roast". A seated, listening audience. Quite a lot of old Caravan fans, I expect. They played some of Geoffrey's songs and instrumentals, the title track off the new Caravan LP Paradise Filter (not my cup of tea, I'm afraid), some folkie things with GR on penniwhistle, a couple of PCO numbers with him on ukelele, cuatro, etc.. Frances was playing a mix of keyboard and accordion (or was that a bandoneon?). The highlight for me was an instrumental version of the Incredible String Band's "The Circle is Unbroken" with Geoffrey on viola and Frances on squeezebox. That made my week! And then back to Canterbury for a game of Go and a view of the full moon from the Dane John Mound. A great day, all round.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dreamtime saz performance

I just stumbled upon this...funny to think of my saz playing showing up in someone else's dream. It took a while to confirm, but I gradually deduced that (as suspected) this was Simon Egan (one of the original COTD trio). He's got a whole dream blog! I wonder who the woman playing piano was...

"At the end of the track is a concrete hut. Music comes from inside. Dr Matthew Watkins plays saz, sat under a floating surface, accompanied by a pianist. The blonde woman improvises blues guitar chords on the open piano strings. Indrid sings, and I filter the bandwidth of her voice with a finger up her nose. I wish I had my midi guitar."

A shame Si hasn't got an iPhone app to rip the audio from his dreams, cos this would have made a great Soundcloud track-of-the-week!

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 44)

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A jam with former members of the Flemish psychedelic dub band Oort Cloud at a reunion get-together in September 2010. I'm playing saz with Christophe (bass), David (drums), Sven (guitar) and Alan (percussion). Sorry about the distortion!

The whole collection can be found here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 43)

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A piece recorded near Helford on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall with Stef (mandolin) in April 1998. The whole collection can be found here.

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 13

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 13

Episode 13 features an excellent one-hour guest mix from new Canterbury-originated project Bison Bonasus. Also, news about the new Gong lineup, Mike Ratledge playing flute and Hugh Hopper playing sax with Soft Machine in 1969, Caravan playing a 41-year-old classic last year, a mysterious Robert Wyatt cover from Italy, 'broken beat' electronica from Kyoto 2002 and some mellow jazz fusion from Indonesia 1967. From the Canterbury of today, the new single from Syd Arthur and a new track from the debut EP from Koloto.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Koloto and Ekoda Map

Club Burrito, Canterbury
8th March 2014

Cocos Lovers, Arlet and Famous James and the (New) Monsters were playing at St. Mary's church in Sandwich that night, a big night organised by Cocos as an attempt to raise the funds for their imminent trip to SXSW in the USA. I was offered a lift (the last train back from Sandwich isn't quite late enough), but it fell through due to a communication breakdown. But I wasn't disappointed, because going to Sandwich involved missing this.

Koloto (Maria) and Ekoda Map (her partner Tom) are soon to be parents, so this may be the last chance to see them play live together for a while. I saw a Koloto set just after getting back from NZ, but being jetlagged, ill and squashed in a noisy pub it wasn't the ideal listening experience. This was a much improved environment, and a very enjoyable social scene too. Club Burrito didn't sound too promising as a venue name, but turned out to be a really groovy little space (Mexican fast food bar downstairs, art installations involving religious kitchiness and wrestling masks, rough wooden benches and space for DJs/musicians upstairs). And they've got their social media mojo working, too:

Wehtam Yelthgiek (yeah, it's his name spelled backwards...sounds better than 'Wehttam Sniktaw', doesn't it?!) also played a laptop-based set, although it didn't make too much on an impression on me. It was one of those situations where there's electronic music playing and you can't tell if the person is still setting up or has started their set! Tom's set followed, also using an Akai MPD26 like Maria, but in a less percussive way. Speaking to him recently, I was impressed to learn that he's making all of his tunes on a ten-year old Toshiba laptop (also involved in his live setup). Maria's set was quite short, just the five tunes from her Mechanica EP, I think. As with the last set I saw her play, people watching who hadn't heard these tunes before were clearly blown away by their intricacy and inventiveness. Apparently there's an Ekoda Map EP in the pipeline, and more joint gigs to come. It'd be nice to see them really develop this, with visual projections, etc. (having seen The Orb live last autumn, I now see the potential for live, purely electronic music).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Piano in the Woods 10

Littlehall Pinetum, Canterbury
9th March 2014

The antepenultimate PITW performance happened on a beautifully warm and sunny afternoon. Sam Bailey again played directly on the strings with various objects and devices (the keys having long since become unusable) interspersed with readings from a very impressive young poet called Sam O'Hana and (often comical, occasionally slightly disturbing) operatic interventions from a singer called Claire (?). Gentle wind in the conifers, prolific birdsong and woodpecker rhythms added nicely to the sonic ambience. An audience of about fifteen semi-encircled the piano, listening intensely, almost meditatively. One of the best things about PITW is the way it gets those of us in the audience to really listen to the total sound environment.

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Next month Sam will be collaborating with Kentish experimental trio Hand of Stabs, and the finale in May will provisionally feature lithophonic percussive genius Toma Gouband!

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 42)

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Stella Homewood live at The Con Club, Lewes on 1st March 2014, the title track of her second album. I'm accompanying on saz. This was her album launch gig.

The evening also included Twenty-One Crows and Swell Park Schism. The Crows won me over after initially seeming to be another gloomy-Americana kind of thing in the style of Bonny Prince Billy via Sons of Noel and Adrian (vocals, acoustic guitar, accordion, heavily processed electric guitar and bass). The sound opened up from song to song, and singer-guitarist Jon Griffin's endearingly rambling banter reminded me of the Cardiacs' Tim Smith (albeit shyer and less deranged). At one point they played an amalgam of the hymn "Nearer, My God to Thee" and a popular early 20th century waltz, both of which have been claimed to be the last thing played by the band on the Titanic as was sinking. By the end I loved them. Swell Park Schism is a temporary trio version of local quartet Small Shipwrecks, which involved multi-instrumentalist Michi playing violin, nyckelharpa and banjolele, singer-guitarists Matthew and Charlie taking turns singing their songs and a cover of a Neutral Milk Hotel song involving an autoharp. Altogether an excellent evening.

Glancing through a local paper at the bar I learned that Arthur Brown (The Crazy World of...) is a Lewes resident — the article covered a story about an experimental collaboration he's been involved in with a neuroscientist which allows him to control a synthesiser directly with his brain via an appropriately sci-fi-looking helmet. He claims to have learned the necessary technique of controlling his theta waves from Native Americans (and who am I to doubt the God of Hellfire?)!

I also got to meet Roddy, a Scottish writer who's doing some marketing and promotion work for Stella (she used a painting by his wife Catriona for the cover of her first album Ordinary Day). When I mentioned having come from Canterbury he enthusiastically started telling me about having played in a Soft Machine covers band in Aberdeen in the early 70s! They got to support various prog bands on the university circuit during that era (including King Crimson and Gentle Giant). He was excited to hear about my Canterbury Soundwaves podcast.

Free Range archiving

Veg Box Cafe, Canterbury

Keen to get copies of certain recordings from the Free Range archive, I found myself volunteering to take on the role of FR audio archivist. So recent days have involved a lot of wave editing and organising of the FR Soundcloud stream (which hadn't been updated for months, Sam Bailey having far too much on his plate to deal with it). It's looking pretty good now, everything properly named, dated and placed in appropriate playlists. I might put together an hour mix of recent sounds for an episode of my Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast in the next few months.

The last few Free Range events:

SPLEEN (20/02/14). The idea was to get people with strong feelings about local issues to rant about them for a few minutes, with musical response/interventions. It didn't quite work like that, but three people did speak (rather than rant) about various issues, leading to open discussion. It was a pleasant surprise to hear certain FR regulars (who I'm used to seeing sitting and listening) expressing themselves vocally. The highlight was an adaptation of a John Cooper Clarke poem concerning the local Kentish Gazette. Afterwards I headed over to The Ballroom to catch the end of a set by Radigun, a new folkie duo involving Ben from Arlet (guitar) and Fred Holden (violin, and brother of Rosie from Arlet). A small but enthusiastic crowd stomped and twirled to the celtic tunes, and I got a chance to catch up with Jamie Dams (who'd supported them with a solo acoustic set). Radigun take their name from St. Radigund, via the street in Canterbury. I'm not quite sure why they dropped the "d", but there's a nice connection with local 70s prog-folkies Spirogyra who lived on St. Radigunds Street and named their debut LP St. Radigunds.

Oscillate (27/02/14). This is a new FR feature which will presumably happen periodically, showcasing artists from CCCU's new Oscillate Records label. Sets from Name Pending and Meloja, the former sitting motionless behind his laptop creating dense waves of sound, the latter standing and vigorously head-nodding throughout his eclectic set (which also involved a quick bit of wah-wah guitar played over a hiphop-derived segment). Both artists seemed to have brought contingents of followers along, so these sets were extremely well received.

Sarah Riggs and Jonathan Skinner (06/03/14). A particularly good solo improv piano set from Sam involving a tin box full of marbles(?) on top of the piano strings, followed by a couple of poets. Jonathan Skinner edits an eco-poetry journal and read a series of short poems based on the calls of various warblers. Having been out walking footpaths most of the day in the sunshine(inspired by reading Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways) I was pretty wiped out, but still managed to enjoy it (and win a game of Go by a decent margin).

Kairo and Cocos

Gulbenkian Theatre Cafe
University of Kent at Canterbury
22nd February 2014

Kairo and Cocos Lovers

This was a bit of a strange setup, half the audience being older Gulbenkian regulars, unfamiliar with the bands, seated and seeking to be entertained, the other half being the usual suspects, amassed off to the side of the stage dancing.

Jamie Dams now has a name for her band — Kairo. It's down to a trio now, Phil Holmes (saxophone) has left, so just Jamie (electric guitar, voice), Toby (bass, also in Lapis Lazuli) and Josh (drums, also in Bison Bonasus). But sounding really strong, the jazzier and more progressive elements coming to the fore, Jamie's voice powerful and clear.

Cocos' set was almost entirely from the last album Gold or Dust, apart from a couple of lively encores from the early days (Josh from Kairo was called up on stage to play some guest percussion for these). There were also a couple of new ones but I couldn't really focus on them as I'd been drawn into a conversation — but Will has since emailed me demo versions to listen to...they're called "The Land Where No One Dies" and "The Light". And they're off to SXSW in Austin, TX soon!

I ended up down at The Unicorn in St. Dunstans a couple of days later to celebrate Jamie's birthday, ran into Joel and Liam from Syd Arthur. They've got their second album Sound Mirror ready to go, to be released in a few weeks by the revived Harvest label. Joel sent me an MP3 copy the next day, and it's MIGHTY! Also, as well as gigs at SXSW and Coachella in the USA soon, they've been booked onto a North American tour supporting Sean Lennon's band (I assume that's The GOASTT), and they'll be playing the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin in late May while I'm out there. Looking forward to that!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

more sonic brilliance from Canterbury 2014

The first track has just been released from Syd Arthur's forthcoming Sound Mirror LP. And it doesn't disappoint. Again, they've done that thing they do where several aeons seem to get compressed into four minutes. They've become so economical with their musical expression that they don't need to make extended tracks in the traditions of psych- and prog-rock (although if/when they do, I'll be the last person to complain):

[I've heard the whole album, but they're kind of keeping it under wraps for a while, so I shall say no more...]

AND a few days ago Koloto dropped her debut EP Mechanica, a thing of extraordinary beauty which you really should just stop whatever you're doing and listen to right now:

You can buy it (at a price of your choice > 50p) here.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 41)

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This was recorded at Syd Arthur's rehearsal studio, Boughton-under-Blean, on 14th November 2010.

Brothers James (drums) and Dave (guitar) Hatton were part of Cocos Lovers (Dave still is). Jamil (bass), Phillipe (drums), Marcus (sax), Ollie (MC'ing), Lawrence (percussion)and Stef (percussion) are friends from their former home of Kingston-upon-Thames. The Late November collective had been getting together around this time every year just to jam, but on this year there was the intention of preparing for a gig (which I think may never have happened).

My main memories of the day were James' car breaking down en route, helping push Jamil's car out of a muddy orchard once we arrived, and not being able to hear my saz once the Jamil's bone-rattling bass kicked in!

The whole collection can be heard here.