Saturday, November 18, 2017

Belgian recordings from July

I've finally got around to editing the recordings I made in Belgium this July when Alan was over visiting from New Zealand and Inge came up from the south of France for a musical reunion of our old saz-and-mandolin duo Ail Fionn, supplemented by Alan and Sven on percussion. This was all recorded during an ongoing social gathering, so there are quite a few voices (friends and their kids) mixed in with the "medieval spacerock" (as someone once described our busking sound). As my usual excuse goes, it's all a bit rough. There's some wind noise on the microphone. But I'm really happy with this collection. Spirited.
 

Listen Here

Friday, November 03, 2017

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 52

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 52

This episode is dedicated to the memory of Phil Miller (1945—2017), guitarist with Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North and National Health. As well as an early guest appearance on a Caravan instrumental and an experimental improvisation with Hugh Hopper, the programme contains an hour-long mix of some of his finest work, and almost entirely of his compositions. Also, an Egg classic, a Riley/Softs-influenced mid-70s saxophone trio, fellow-Louth residents Kinfolk playing a folkie version of a Robert Wyatt favourite, Carla Bley with Julie Tippets, the cosmische sound of Agitation Free in '73, more neo-prog/psych from Jane Weaver and Magic Bus, and Hugh Hopper improvising with local pianist Frances Knight and others. From the Canterbury of today, the title track from experimental pianist Sam Bailey's forthcoming album Shipwreck.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds

Jazz Cafe, Camden
Saturday 14th October

I'd just flown back in from the States this day, met up with old E. Kent friends Eldad, Nick D, Tracy and Nick for this gig. Benjamin Z doing his thing with a solid dub band backing him up, great vibes:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Funkyard Dealers and Soul Symmetry

Saturday 7th October, 2017
Rookies Sport Pub, Stevens Point, WI

I saw this poster and, having been impressed by Soul Symmetry out at the Yes!tival recently, decided to have a night out after a period of quiet insularity. The poster and name of the support band weren't too promising, but I was pleasantly surprised. Young whiteboy funk band? Yes, but a great one — big slabs of funky music, interwoven with psychedelic jams and nicely laid back. None of that Chilli Peppers in-yo'-face-ness. The Dealers and Soul Symmetry appear to both be part of a lively, cheerful friendship group in the area who came out to have a good time — mostly UWSP students and ex-students I would guess — so there was enough energetic interaction between musicians and audience to create an intimate jam-band-type experience. The colourful mandala drapes they put up behind the stage helped brighten up the rather sterile setting too — good effort.

It was a completely different demographic to the Yes!tival crowd (older hippies, average age mid-40s, kids and grandkids running around...) but Soul Symmetry were able to connect with this audience (for whom a lot of their influences have a completely different meaning) just as effectively, playing an extended version of the set I heard them play last time. Incredible chemistry between these players. I'd forgotten that they do reggae too (very well, not a watered-down version — their one reggae number was heavy). They could be an extremely competent dub/reggae band, pure blues-rock band, space-rock band or funk-rock band, but instead they're choosing to explore and fill in the spaces between these nodal points, in the American jam-band tradition. They served up a satisfying amalgam of Southern-boogie-psychedelic-funk vibes, mostly strong original material but also including covers of the Allmans Brothers' "Whipping Post" and (as an encore) "Statesboro Blues", Elmore James' (via SRV?) "The Sky is Crying" and a remarkably effective pairing of Pink Floyd's "Breathe" and "Time" which sent the crowd into ecstasy. They played one less-than-appealing slow smoochy pop-funk thing near the end of the set, but other than that I couldn't fault them. One glass of water, no conversations (it was too loud for that), hours of dancing, I walked off into the Central Wisconsin night with a big smile.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Anna Jo and Luke Callen

5th October 2017
Emmy J's, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Anna Jo's from (the geographically interesting corner of) Kansas, but seems to have adopted Stevens Point as a home. Luke was originally from La Cross, WI, but met her out in Colorado where he no lives. He's a folk singer living out of a van, living his dream, loves John Prine, can deliver a convincing "talking blues"... They played some stuff together, plus alternating solo mini-sets. Nice.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 51

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 51

Soft Machine rehearsing at Ronnie Scott's in 1969, a 1977 Daevid Allen & Euterpe rehearsal tape, Coltrane and Pharaoh playing, and Robert Wyatt singing, the same jazz standard, an African Can cover, some Chilean spacerock, very Caravanesque sounds from Totnes's Magic Bus and something beautiful from the new Jane Weaver album. From the Canterbury of today, Syd Arthur live in Hyde Park a couple of summers ago plus sounds from local producers Xylitol and Humble Pious. The middle hour is a guest mix provided by local psych/prog musician Harry Hayes.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Crash of Moons DJ sets (Chroma/The Brackish)

Bramley's, Canterbury
27th September 2017

I did my usual monthly Crash of Moons Club DJ set as Professor Applebossom despite being thousands of miles away in Wisconsin. This entailed sending over prepared mixes created for the occasion. It was trickier than usual because the two acts featured that night were so different: a local hiphop crew and a skronky/weird postrock quartet from Bristol. But I think I succeeded. The first part is a straightforward mix of underground hiphop (not something often heard at Bramley's), the second part (between acts) morphs gradually from hiphop into guitar-based noisy/disjointed postrock, and the third set (as usual) was for dancing, starting this time with Suicide's "Ghost Rider" (which I've since heard at least one person there really loved). Listen here:

Yes!tival 2017

Amherst Junction, WI
Saturday 16th September 2017

This is an annual mini-festival to commemorate the life and music of Chad Kelly, a local legend and musician I used to hang out with and jam with back in the 90s when visiting central Wisconsin. Chad turned me on to the Holy Modal Rounders, among other things. He moved out to San Francisco quite a while ago and we lost touch, and then he was gone... So some friends round here put on a party (2009 or 2010?), which has evolved into a really excellent little festival.

Anna Jo Banjo was playing a set (just her on guitar/banjo and Dot on washboard) when I arrived, good to see her again. I got caught up in socialising some distance from the stage but enjoyed what I heard of Tuck Pence's set (he's a barroom guitarist/singer with literally 1000s of songs up his sleeve, a lot in the classic/southern rock vein). Irene's Garden played next — the Yes!tival is hosted by Sarah Ludeman, one of the two sisters at the heart of this local institution. Their lineup has settled into the one I saw in April (and thought at the time might have been a sort of semi-acoustic one-off): Sarah's playing cajon instead of acoustic guitar, Jennalee has switched from electric bass to double bass and there's a new violinist. They just keep evolving. This set was a bit looser and more jammed-out than usual, an aspect I enjoyed a lot. Guitarist Jeff apologised for having been a bit drunk but I thought it brought out a new, refreshing side to the band...nice playful interaction between his guitar and the violin.

Easily the highlight for me was a new, young Stevens Point band called Soul Symmetry who are really into the Allman Brothers among other things. Their opening instrumental was a kind of southern-space-boogie rock kind of thing, and their set included a masterful reading of "Breathe" → "Time" from Dark Side of the Moon as well as some impressive originals. At one point I felt a bit weary and sat down in a conveniently placed chair. They then went into an incrediblyt intense version of the Allmans' "Whipping Post" and while the people up front were flailing around I was like...

And I remember thinking "Chad would have loved this band!" He really would. He loved classic/southern rock as well as all the freakier stuff, and these boys could seriously rock. I could see Chad up at the front with a beer, a smoke and a big Chad Kelly grin...

Burnt Toast and Jam from Shawano played last. It was getting late and I decided to enjoy their country-rock sounds horizontally in my tent. I've seen them sporadically since '91 when they were basically a Grateful Dead cover band. This time they just played a lively "Don't Ease Me In" among their own material... I'd have got up for a full Dead set! A ridiculous amount of rain fell that night. Fortunately I was in the middle of an unnecessarily large tent and woke up dry but with a puddle either side of me. Nice to catch up with a few more people the next morning before heading back to town.

So much respect to Sarah and friends for keeping this going. There are now people (including that band who blew me away) who for reasons of age or geography never got to know Chad, but they can still enjoy this event that's held in his name. What a great way to be remembered — having yourself woven into the calendar and tied to an event that's all about peaceful togetherness, rockin' sounds and ecstatic celebration. YES!

Riverside Jazz Festival

Pfiffner Park, Stevens Point, WI
Sunday 3rd September 2017

So I find myself unexpectedly in central Wisconsin. I haven't been here at this time of year since 1987. In recent times, the UWSP jazz department and WWSP 90FM (I think) have been curating an annual, free jazz festival at the bandshell beside the Wisconsin River. I saw a poster and, not being in much of a mood to go out (considering recent events in my family), just wrote it off as the worst in populist/smooth/loungey/winebar jazz. I was probably being overly judgemental, as I didn't actually recognise any of the names! The Saturday was a complete washout — torrential rain all afternoon into the evening. But Sunday evening was pleasant so my mum and I cycled over to have a look. We arrived to see a large audience enjoying the Latin combo Salsa Manzana. We caught the end of their set — "Oye Como Va", etc... so populist, yes, but in a really good way I thought. Next up was jazz guitarist Russell Malone. The MC reeled off a list of names of people he'd played with, including Bobby Hutcherson, which got me interested. It was suprisingly technical jazz for this audience, I thought. Loved the piano player. But after a bit of people-watching (an absurd series of scenarios involving people coming over near where we were seated by the river's edge, taking selfies with the sunset), we headed home. I'm glad this is happening though, and glad to have caught at least a bit of it even though I wasn't really in the mood for live music and crowds.

   

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

RIP Walter Becker

Walter Becker
February 20, 1950 — September 3, 2017

I heard this for the first time just over a year ago and it completely changed my opinion of Steely Dan:

RIP Holger Czukay

Holger Czukay
24 March 1938 — 5 September 2017

My favourite track from the first Can album I heard (from the vinyl stacks of UKC Radio, in basement of Eliot College, Canterbury, late '88):

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 50

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 50

Robert Wyatt singing a socialist anthem and a Cuban song, Caravan playing Gershwin live in Canterbury in 1970, a very special Gong lineup playing an old favourite at the Gong Family Unconvention in Amsterdam in 2006, Kevin Ayers in '76, the title track from a curious Greaves and Blegvad album (1977) and some poetry from Daevid Allen's last days. Ambience from Eno, a Dorothy Ashby album side, prog-medievalism from Gryphon, George Harrison, the Grateful Dead, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and a surprisingly wild piece of late '30s swing. From the Canterbury of recent times, a live recording from the acid-folk duo Bearded Sphynx and a Kevin Ayers cover from the much-loved Max Martin (RIP).

Friday, September 01, 2017

...and Josh too

Oh God, this is too much. Not just Max, we've lost Josh too. Hard to believe. An insanely gifted guitarist and beautiful human being.

I knew he was a keen skater, but never saw him in action or realised how good he was. This just turned up, 2012 footage from the skatepark near Whitstable when Josh was sixteen:

He approached guitar playing like a skateboarder, always pushing himself to the limit, attempting the near-impossible, falling down, cheerfully getting up and trying again, and again, until he'd taken his skill to the next level. Gone at 21. I can't begin to imagine what he'd have been able to do with a guitar with another ten years of constant playing and integrating new styles.

I'll forever have happy memories from this night, recorded after an epic walk around the Broad Oak Valley together with Juliet, Becci and Tom Holden. My saz playing sounds a bit clumsy (and I was too close to the mic), but that hardly seems to matter now. RIP Josh.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

RIP Max

I still don't know the story, but it seems we've lost dear Max Martin, tireless music enthusiast and, in the last couple of years, prolific busker who rapidly went from learning some chords to amassing hundreds of songs and playing every open mic going. He poured his soul into his music like few people can. I can't quite believe this has happened. Canterbury won't be the same without him. I'll always remember joyfully dancing in the rain in the High Street one Saturday night while he was busking this (a request from Juliet, a close friend of his who must be completely devastated right now):

He had a bit of a Kevin Ayers thing, too, did a nice job with this:

Local legend Luke Smith said it all:

What unspeakably tragic news about dear, sweet Maximum Martin, one of Canterbury's finest.

Shocked and gutted beyond words, to think of not seeing Maxy again, having been touched by his cherishable friendship for nearly two decades. It’s impossible to measure the positive impact this warm and lovable man has had on Canterbury, as he’s truly made it a brighter place for so very many people, over so many years.

Maxy embodied one of the most sacred human attributes of all time. Enthusiasm.

He was a bright, bumbling, brilliant barrage of hearty human passion. An open-spirited, bravely uncynical being, who genuinely cared about spreading kindness, fun, and friendship.

Maxy was generous with his musical loves. He wanted to hurl them out there to the world, in great big trusting bucketfuls. Not for vain, self-regarding reasons, but because he had a sincere, exuberant desire to share the treasures he prized, with everyone he met. He was a shining presence on the scene, and the loss is heartbreaking.

Here's to you Maxy, with thanks always, for the hundreds of lucky hours spent in your effervescent company. You will not be forgotten. xxxx

Goodnight Maxy, you were much loved...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

RIP Dad

William F. Watkins
19th May 1924 – 18th August 2017

My dad never got a lot of the weirder music I listened to, but there was plenty of common ground.

Being an old-school socialist, I remember him singing and whistling this anthem when I was a kid (the Labour party used to sing it at party conferences back then, not these days). I played him this once and he really liked it, the only Canterbury Scene music I think he ever heard (I don't think I'll be able to listen to this for a while without it bringing a tear to my eye):

His youth coincided with the Swing era, so for him, jazz never got any better than this (Benny Goodman with Harry James on trumpet and Gene Krupa drumming):

I used to think Goodman was part of an affluent white cultural appropriation of jazz, turning it into a safe commodity. But having just read about him, I discovered that he grew up in abject poverty on the South side of Chicago (a Jewish immigrant family) and was the first prominent bandleader to have a racially integrated band. And listening to that recording of "Sing, Sing, Sing", trying to imagine being a teenager in the late 30s, I suspect it would have sounded as wild and mind-bendingly intense as "Interstellar Overdrive" did to me in the 80s. So I've had to concede that my dad was actually a lot more far-out than I'd given him credit for.

He had a deep love for classical music too, and I never did find out where that came from (certainly not his family or his shipmates in the US Navy). Generally he went for the bombastic post-Baroque stuff, whereas I can't really handle that, preferring earlier composers (Bach, Byrd, Dowland, Gibbons, Hildgaard von Bingen). His favourite symphony was César Franck's Symphony in D Minor. A lot of that is too bombastic for my ears, but this movement is nice:

Here's something very much in the overlapping region of the Venn diagram of our musical likes. We used to play a lot of chess when I visited, and in recent years I'd tend to put on Ellington and Count Basie so we could both enjoy the sounds while playing. Mid-period Coltrane and Monk were a bit too far-out, but tolerable to him, and the extended Eno ambient works I'd put on occasionally didn't seem to bother him (he was too absorbed in the chessboard). But we both rated this one highly:

Love you, Dad. Thanks for everything...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

You Are Here book launch

Tuesday, August 15th
The Old Synagogue, King Street, Cantertury

The cosmology > geology > natural history > pre-history > local history > stream of consciousness book I've been working on for the last three-and-a-bit years, called You Are Here: The biography of a moment got completed and printed in time for the third anniversary of the day on which its narrative ends (2014-08-15). I wanted to put on some kind of appropriate launch event and in was amazed when the King's School allowed me to use the Old Synagogue (built in Egyptian temple style in the 1840s during a period of British Egyptomania). As well as promoting the book, selling a few, giving some away, and bringing people together, this gave me a chance to put on some of my favourite local music on somewhere new.

As well as book signing, lots of lovely people milling around in a far-out building and drinking wine (while Frances Knight played in the background on the Steinway grand piano) and a lively question-and-answer session, there were sets from Koloto (half an hour of glorious glitchy organic electronica, with psychedelic projections by Mark Rangolio) and Arlet (forty-five minutes of pure musical bliss). Suprisingly good sound in this high-ceiling'd spaced. But I suppose it is the King's School's music recital room for a reason.

A couple of dozen Tuesday night party people carried on the festivities at the afterparty (a secret location near Canterbury) featuring, amazingly, a set from Bristol's bonkers-prog-gods The Evil Usses... Oh how I love this band! Much silly dancing, other people flopping out, grinning, fairy lights woven all over Dan's drumkit by event photographer Rosemary of Harbledown. And they had to drive back to Bristol that night. One of the best days of my life, it felt at the time. A couple of days later I was to learn my dad was dying in hospital, which rather put things in perspective. But all the love and appreciation I'd felt on this occasion (and a couple of days earlier) helped to cushion that blow.

Trojan Sound System in Margate!

Dreamland, Margate
Saturday 5th August, 2017

I'm so glad Emilia told me about this. Trojan Sound System playing for free, outdoors on a beautiful sunny afternoon/evening at Dreamland, Margate, and featuring one of the great Jamaican deejays, Big Youth (or "Jah Youth" as he now seems to prefer). I saw a few other Canterbury friends there, but it was mostly a Thanet crowd...great to see working class families, hipster colonists, hippies and aging skinheads all enjoying this beautiful occasion together. We even got an almost-full moon rise as the sun was setting.

I arrived to catch the end of a set billed as "The History of Black Music with Ashley Beedle and Jo Wallace featuring the Ramrock Allstars Greg Blackman, Taz and Mark Professor". That was a DJ with a couple of MCs, quite an edgy dancehall vibe, but great to hear that bass on a decent system! Between that and Big Youth appearing on stage there was an intriguing reggae/dub set from the UK DMC (scratch DJ) champion Jon1st who, rather than scratching as such, played lots of little bits of roots'n'dub classics on one turntable and added all kinds of psychedelic-dub-type sound effects with the other one...worked very well. And Jah Youth was a joy to see and hear, working his way through all his hits, still very youthful in his energy levels!

Radigun, Three Cane Whale and Arlet in the woods

Thursday 17th August,
secret woodland location near Canterbury

This'll probably be the last one of these woodland gigs for me this year. While setting up for it I learned from a voicemail that my dad was in hospital in Wisconsin, and it was serious. I was on a plane less than twelve hours later. So the gig itself rather passed me by, but it was good to have something to get on with, something to focus my mind a bit and then distract it.

My musical brother Sven, visiting from Belgium, had the difficult job of playing a hastily prepared solo set after having heard my news. But his versions of "I Can't Stand the Rain" and "Kaya" were just what were needed at the time. A great set, including his comic metal-tinged German-language "Rambo III". Love you Sven.

I'd planned another of these gigs for the next evening, which was able to go ahead anyway because of a few kind friends who stepped in to take care of things in my absence. It took place while I was in Chicago's O'Hare airport waiting to board a small domestic flight north. Three Cane Whale from Bristol, a wondrous trio involving Alex, the mandolin player from Spiro. They'd been booked up for the Broadstairs Folk Festival, had a night off, and had contacted me about playing in the woods, to my amazement and delight. From what I've heard it was a great night, the band loved the space and ended up sitting round the fire afterwards with the late crew. Hopefully I'll see them there one day, and who knows, perhaps even Spiro.

There was one more gig planned — Arlet (Sunday 27th). I coordinated the invitate list, etc. from across the Atlantic, managed to get together a good-sized audience of receptive listeners for them. As with Three Cane Whale, Adam compered, he and Kim cooked a curry, various other people brought stuff or helped out in some way, and everything got done.

I don't think Aidan (Arlet's accordionist and primary composer) would mind this in the public domain — I'm sitting here in Wisconsin processing several recent deaths and some kind words go a long way:

"...I wanted to say a big thank you for your efforts in making the Arlet gig happen last Sunday. Without exaggerating I can say that it was probably about the best gig we've done. Somehow everything just slotted into place...

Your absence was obviously sorely missed, but we were chatting afterwards and Rosie said that she thought we were playing in a way which you had probably imagined we could in the early days. So perhaps we're getting closer to reaching that potential, but I think all of us in Arlet take a lot from knowing that you believed in what we do even when we weren't managing to quite do it.

So thank you for that, and the occasional reminder to keep doing it! We will, and we're even starting to take some pride in it as well."

Frances and Miriam, Sam and Jess in the woods

Sunday 13th August, 2017
secret woodland location near Canterbury

Sadly Joe Evans couldn't make it to play his ragtime guitar support set (he was in Waawles). So I asked Max Martin, who seemed honoured to have been asked, but was already booked up to play somewhere else (he seemed unstoppable at the time, now this turn of events seems particularly tragic). Anyway, in stepped Sam Sytsma, Canterbury Cathedral lay-clerk, who sang a selection of French impressionist songs from 19th century (by several composers whose names I didn't catch) in both baritone and alto registers at the (proper piano-sounding) keyboard, assisted by his wife Jess. She read an English translation of each lyric, beautifully, over extended piano intros, and played violin on one song. The format worked extremely well. They ended with a very familiar instrumental piece (which Sam apologetically admitted was something you'd regularly hear on Classic FM), called "The Swan" I think. The audience was pretty stunned by this stuff, many having heard nothing like it. I was hearing pre-echoes of William D. Drake and Tim Smith (both of the Cardiacs) in the impressionist compositional styles (perhaps having filtered down via Henry Cow, who strongly influenced them).

The other act on this occasion was radically different despite having the same voice/violin/piano instrumentation: Frances Knight and Miriam Gould doing some refreshingly interesting things with jazz standards. Miriam played viola and violin when not singing, and rather than the "trading solos" approach, they went more for the psychedelic jam everyone-solo-at-the-same-time thing. Very effectively. After minimal rehearsal — this was their first public appearance as a duo — they already have a strong musical chemistry. It was pleasing to have motivated them to do this, and in such a gorgeous setting. They also did Thelonious Monk's "Round About Midnight" because I'd mentioned it hopefully to Miriam a week earlier (she hadn't known it, but learned it, now loves it, sang it so soulfully). The set also included "Empty Room", written by her parents (her dad, the great tenor sax player Sal Nistico, wrote the music, and her mum Rachel wrote the lyrics some years after Sal died). It all felt very intimate, and made me happy, just seeing two of my favourite local musicians having such a good time and playing so well together.

Their encore took them beyond their prepared material. They needed a familiar standard, so I requested "Autumn Leaves". She'll soon be off to Australia with her Little Bulb Theatre company to perform their interpretation of Orpheus and Euridyce at the Brisbane Festival, a show that went down a storm in London and elsewhere, and which includes that song.

free Ladysmith Black Mabazo gig

7th August 2017
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

I got offered a free ticket to see Ladysmith Black Mabazo at the last minute. From the upper circle of the Marlowe (never been up there before). It would never have occurred to me to go otherwise (I never liked Graceland or the populist, commodified "world music" thing that it ushered in). It was a tightly scripted, choreographed show, not the kind of thing I generally go in for, but (no surprise) incredibly beautiful harmony singing throughout. Two sets, a song about Nelson Mandela and an "Amazing Grace" encore. The Canterbury world music demographic left very happy that night. Thanks John and Vicky!