Monday, September 15, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 69)

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A recording Inge and I made in the spring of 2001 of something I made up. With percussion from our Belgian friend Sven and his Moroccan friend Abdel Kader. The whole session can be found here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 19

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 19

A new release featuring Hugh Hopper's bass and John Greaves reading from William Burroughs' novel The Soft Machine, a woozy Gong cover from Oregon psych band Grails, cosmic Afro-jazz harp from Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, quite a lot of German early 70's Kosmische sounds, Steve Hillage, Gong, Matching Mole, Soft Machine, Nucleus, Terry Riley and a rather sweet Kevin Ayers duet with Bridget St. John. Also, a couple of American remixes of current Canterbury-based artists Koloto and Syd Arthur, some new Afrobeat sounds from the City, and a near perfect forgery from Hamilton, Ontario.

Smugglers Festival 2014

28th-31st August 2014
Little Mongeham, near Deal

I could easily lose several hours writing about this, but I'll limit myself to saying that for the fourth year running Will Greenham and co. have put together just about the best festival I could imagine, the amount of incredible music this year being almost overwhelming. If you want to know about the other aspects of the experience (the friendliness of everyone, the overall aesthetic, the endless fascinating conversations with strangers that glue the whole weekend together) you'll just have to get yourself there next August!

Thursday evening: Having cycled over I was mostly setting up and reconnecting with the Sondryfolk crew and extended family (we were all camping together behind the mini-cinema), but various bands could be heard playing in the background. That day's lineup culminated with Garance and The Mitochondries, led by an extraordinary young French singer/accordionist who seemed extremely familiar, but I think that was just her mastery of facial expressions, archetypal character portrayal and general clownish performance. Her rambling monologues between songs were totally captivating and very, very funny without it being quite clear why. Leonie Evans and Brooke Sharkey got up to sing a bit with her, and the band seemed to have been assembled from a collective of like-minded musicians who play together in endless permutations. Very reminiscent of the kind of vibe Little Bulb Theatre project.

Friday:

  • Billy Glynn and Phil Self: 2/7 of Cocos Lovers, filling in for Famous James and the Monsters who'd had to pull out. Over the last few years Billy's evolved from a bass player to a talented bass player, guitarist and songwriter. He's got a batch of excellent songs now, and they were playing these. I only caught a couple, then the stage was invaded by a very happy, probably quite drunk, woman offering to sing backing vocals. The graceful and spontaneous way they handled this was quite touching.
  • Kairo: Josh back behind the drums after the Syd Arthur tour in the US, Jamie's voice more confident and expressive than ever, the sound is increasingly that of a unified whole since they reduced to a three-piece. I expect they'll be on another plane altogether this time next year.
  • Whiskey Moonface: Led by lovely Louisa Jones (a Hexhamshire lass, the first I've met) singing her songs and playing accordion, with Dakota Jim on double bass and the ubiquitous Ewan Bleach on clarinet. I saw Louisa backing Theo Bard at John and Vicky's wedding the weekend before, so it was good to hear her do her own thing. The last song had a bit of a klezmer vibe (and Louisa's self-confessed "terrible cockney" vocals), so they got a second clarinet player up, from Minimal Klezmer (Italians) who I'd missed earlier in the evening. They took turns ripping it up, astonishing stuff!
  • Lapis Lazuli: They played the whole Alien suite! One unbroken, bonkers, piece and everyone was with them from beginning to end. Mighty!
  • This Is The Kit: A real highlight, this. I was still glowing from a couple of nights before when they'd played up in the woods. This time the lineup was slightly different, Vincent having returned to France, but their English bass player Rozi having joined them. Jesse was mostly playing electric guitar (behind his head at one point!), and it was a joy to hear all those songs again but differently arranged. Will had given me the option of compèring whichever bands I wanted, so I introduced them. AND Kate and Jesse ended with an old song called "Appleblossom Time", sung together with little daughter Mo, jointly dedicated to Professor Appleblossom (Kate had sat in on part of one of my freestyle maths seminars) and John & Vicky, as it's a wedding song.
  • Syd Arthur: Oh my. They always rise to the occasion at Smugglers Festival, but this year, fresh back from a long North American tour supporting Yes (and that following rapidly on another supporting The GOASTT) they were ON FIRE. They were clearly glad to be back on Kentish soil, relaxed and happy in front of so many friends, able to play a longer set that the half hour they'd been opening the Yes shows with, and every song a classic, played with equal parts ferocity and sensitivity, squeezing every bit of life of every phrase, smouldering jam sections... I was GONE. Perfect sound (John Evans behind the desk, so no surprises there). Josh still filling in on drums, so a bit more wildness on that front. Fred has been recuperating at a Buddhist retreat centre in Ireland apparently, and everyone's hoping his hearing issues will have settled down and he can be back in action soon. But respect is due to Josh for stepping up so effectively at a time of need. The "Ode To The Summer" encore was the perfect way to mark the end of another summer.
  • Dakota Jim Band: This was more-or-less Whisky Moonface permuted, with Louisa's bass player swapping bass for her accordion and fronting the band, a few guests on stage, lots of instrument swapping, a spontaneous rendition of PCO's "Music For a Found Harmonium" and Louisa belting out a song in very convincing-sounding Russian! I think they were filling in for someone who'd cancelled so the set had a bit of a thrown together festival feel to it, but we like that...
  • Into the Moon: Late night, over by the old "Full Moon stage" (chalky mound) Laurie of Sondryfolk built a couple of summers ago. All a bit blurry, but I remember an amazing French violinist, Marc Ribot-type American guitarist, a couple of busking amps, perfect for the setting.

Saturday:

  • Piano in the Woods: Sam Bailey got involved in curating some Free Range avant garde events this year, including a couple of PITW things in the "piano graveyard" (the old festival absinthe bar in the woods where various old pianos have been dumped). The first one involved him with poet Juha Virtänen and the Medway "neolithic soul-drone" collective Hand of Stabs. I missed the beginning, as Prof. Appleblossom hadn't quite finished his freestyle performance maths seminar next door in the former Sondryfolk Forest. I had been asked to compère these events, so had downloaded some text about each act and cut it up, Burroughs-and-Gysin style. I caught most of the performance, and decided it would be appropriately avant garde to introduce them at the end, so that's what I did. It's amazing how well an audience can respond to someone reading some randomly scrambled text with sufficient aplomb!
  • Good Biscuits: Awwww! Leonie Evans and her bluesman boyfriend Ben Sayer got the whole "village green" to sit down and listen in near silence to their afternoon set from the tiny "Garden Stage". They did their usual mix of Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, etc. with Ben playing some ridiculously unpredictable slide and Leonie throwing in a bit of sublime washboard that showed her intricate rhythmic capabilities are up there with any scratch DJ.
  • The Boot Lagoon: They've only played a couple of gigs since last year's festival, yet they sounded like they'd been rehearsing together continually for twelve months. So tight, such a rich sound. Cameron's been off being a session bass player round the world, Callum's been playing a bit with Bison Bonasus (as has Seth, but handling electronics rather than drumming) and I don't think Pete's had much opportunity to play guitar. But you'd never guess. And there seems to be new material that sounds like they've been playing it for years. Magnificent, and appropriately well received. I urged them later that night to crowdfund an album (they still haven't recorded one, and easily have the material, the ability, the production connections to make something truly great). I'm also hoping that they'll one day take me up on my offer of an acoustic set in the woods (double bass, harmonium, acoustic guitar, drums-with-brushes).
  • Cocos Lovers with Arlet: A special collaborative set, with members of Arlet coming and going from the stage adding various orchestral textures to the Cocos material. There was also a kind of "Cocos Lovers overture" to begin, which Aidan had composed, involving various melodic themes from their songs. A HUGE sound throughout, and although stage-sound complications meant that you couldn't always pick out individual instruments, the Arlet contribution was always audible texturally and always perfectly judged. This made for one of the most interesting Cocos sets yet, and still worked in a raucous party atmosphere. But I'm looking forward to when they attempt this again at the Gulbenkian in late November. I have a faint memory of an African musician joining them onstage at one point (and was Josh Magill called up to play some percussion too?), but it's all a bit blurry now.
  • Diabel Cissokho Band: Wonderful Senegalese music featuring gimbri (I think) and kora. In a similar sort of vein to what Nuru Kane and his band do, but with less focus on a charismatic frontman, just a group of humble musicians joyfully delivering trance-inducing danceable grooves. And lots of happy people grooving there were.
  • Arlet: This was another Free Range event, this time in the Gilly's Wood amphitheatre, unamplified. I introduced them with some cut-up text, and a five-piece Arlet (the usual crew, minus Lucy) then launched into their set with "Big Red Sun", a set I hugely enjoyed from my vantage point on the threshold of sleep. A new piece, currently known to the band as something like "G-flat 5/4" was renamed by the audience as "Chips" in response to the postmodern/ironic "CHIPS" jumper Thom H was wearing. Their cover of Eno's "The Big Ship" made me happy, as it always does — they're hoping to include this one on the soon-to-be recorded second album, although the almost complete lack of Eno covers to have been released in the last 40 years does make me wonder if there will be licensing complications. But I hope not — in fact, I'm quite sure that if Eno himself heard their version he'd be delighted with it. They ended the set with the wonderful, soaring "Mattematix" (was there an encore?)
  • The Quartet: This was a three-man Quartet, just Jack Hues, Sam Bailey and Liran Donan (not sure what happened to drummer Mark Holub). The set heavily featured songs Jack composed as part of the Free Range collaboration with poet Kelvin Corcoran, as well as some other songs (Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song" among them). Unfortunately sleep got the better of me at this point, so I only caught fragments of this, woven into blurry dreams. The audience seemed to like my cut-up text intro, though.

Sunday:

  • The second Piano in the Woods event of the weekend, also in the "Piano Graveyard" featured the multimedia quartet SLAP (formerly Slapsdash): Sam on destroyed pianos (and Indian-style harmonium), Tom Jackson on clarinet, David Leahy on double bass and dance, and Tina Krasevic dancing. As with the previous morning, my engagement teaching maths as Prof. Appleblossom meant I had to introduce them at the end. But I caught most of the set, and was impressed by the way they responded to their environment (both the physical one — a mocked-up Parisian absinthe bar which this year was changed into a US Prohibition era speakeasy — and the sonic one: a bluegrass group kicked off very nearby in mid-set, and rather than looking annoyed, David immediately started playing crude hillbilly slap bass along with their tune...)
  • Zimbaremabwe (in woods): Sitting chatting with Chilton and friends at Rosy's "Chai-Angles" geodesic dome cafe (the former name, "Chaicosahedron", went over most people's heads, sadly), I kept thinking "The music's started — I really should get up and check some out" but kept getting drawn back into conversation. When I finally got myself on my feet, I realized that a Zimbabwean mbira trio were sitting playing just a couple of metres away in the woods. Joy! They were just playing a few pieces to announce their main stage set later and explain the history of the mbira to the delighted few who happened to be hanging around the firepit.
  • Rae: We were getting spoiled at this point! Everyone sitting down in the main tent to catch Rae playing a set of material from their forthcoming Awoken album. Leonie's voice never fails to amaze, and the band's attunement and subtlety is getting to a point where it almost feels like they're not doing anything! No flashy displays of virtuosity (which they're all perfectly capable of), as that's not what Rae are about. So subtle. Can't wait for that album!
  • Jouis: A last minute booking to replace a band I won't name (but a lot of people present seemed pretty gleeful that they'd cancelled!). I was right up at the front, being amazed both by the clarity of the sound and the way they were playing their instruments (a particularly jaw-dropping bass solo from Joe during "Loop", and Louis possibly the most animated keyboard player I've ever seen). They were clearly having the time of their lives, and everyone was loving it. Mostly material from the forthcoming Dojo album. Incredible control, use of effects, ensemble playing.
  • Bison Bonasus: possibly the most discussed act of the weekend, largely because of the way they stood out from everything else. Opinion was strongly divided over breakfast in the Sondrycamp the next morning. For some it their set had been the festival highlight, others just didn't get it. The quite explicit 80's influence (filtered through "hypnagogic pop" influences, primarily Ariel Pink), the tortured vocals, the disjointed rhythms, the ultracool ambiguity — clearly not everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I'm still at the "intrigued" stage. It's hard to know what I'd think if I didn't know them independently of the band. I'm happy to see them exploring, developing their vision, but the music is primarily of interest to me for its unclassifiability. It took me quite a few gigs before I "got" Syd Arthur (and I'm still not sure if that was because their sound evolved into something I could "get", or something changed in my perception) — so perhaps the same will happen with Bison. Their current eclecticism suggests that they could go in any number of directions (quite possibly several at once), and there's a healthy un-hingedness about it all.

    The lineup has shifted a bit since last Smugglers' gig a year earlier: Callum and Seth from The Boot Lagoon have replaced Aidan Shepherd and Adam Dawson on samples/electronics and keyboards, respectively. So BB are now a kind of Zoo For You-Boot Lagoon hybrid. Former Zoo For You bandmates Thom and Owen (in tuxedos!) joined the band for the end of the set and the magnificent "My Name Is Gone" which has a bit more of the familiar ZFY groove about it, more accessible to a festival crowd, perhaps. But they definitely had an enthusiastic response from the crowd throughout, so the divided opinions suggest that they're having an effect, stirring something up.

  • Hellfire Orchestra: The perfect choice of band to wind things down on the main stage. Drummer Jolleffe is about to head off to Fiji for a couple of years "to save the world" joked singer Jamie (I think it's some kind of conservation project), so this was to be their last gig with him for a while. Jamie's poetic lyrics were distinguishable in the mix (this is the deciding factor in any Hellfire gig, as he doesn't really sing as much as snarl — and it's all in the lyrics). Relatively new song "Year of the Tiger" is one of their best yet. Phil was firing off lightning speed mandolin licks throughout, and his Cocos bandmate (and festival organizer) Will Greenham got to let his hair down and indulge in a spot of crowd surfing towards the end!

Bands I half-saw and wish I could have been able to give my full attention: Lunch Money, The Yossarians, Simo Lagnawi Trio London Gnawa, Luca

Acts I unfortunately missed: Will Varley, Jodie Goffe, Brooke Sharkey, Tantz (a klezmer band who blew everyone away on Sunday night), Le Skeleton Band (an unclassifiable band led by an eccentric, charistmatic frontman, who did likewise)

Cycling there and back with my saz was worth it in the end. Festivals with so much scheduled music are often not very good for spontaneous jamming opportunities. But I was recruited as a life model for Laurie-of-Sondryfolk's charcoal drawing morning on Saturday, and ended up sitting on the old Full Moon Stage mound we built together a couple of years earlier, playing saz while being sketched from all directions. Lots of wonky charcoal rendering of a weird-looking bearded bloke playing a weird-looking instrument on a mound resulted, along with some really rather good ones. My favourite doesn't even show the saz, focusing instead on my head and the background (the artist appeared out of nowhere on Sunday night to claim responsibility and she seemed familiar, but...):



Aidan from Arlet came by at one point with his accordion and joined in, seemingly curious to try to pick up some of my tunes (this was just starting to work when he had to rush off for the Arlet-meets-a-string-quartet gig in Gilly's Wood). There was also a woman sketching who recognized "Now the Green Blade Riseth", and so we got into an interesting conversation about hymns, origins of folk tunes, etc. During the Sunday morning drawing session, a woman with a guitar was singing (she ended with Nick Drake's "River Man", just what my brain needed at that point). I then took over and played a bit of saz. That night Leonie failed to appear for her scheduled late night "Leonie and friends on the Moon" gig (she'd only just got back from a month in Japan, so her body clock was all over the place, and had fallen asleep in her tent). A group of us waited around for a while and then decided we might as well just jam. Adam from Lapis got a small drum kit together, Toby got his bass and amp, Phil and Owen their saxes, and I joined on unamplified saz. Some wobbly 12-bar blues gave way to more interesting jams until Will G arrived to politely ask that we stop as the neighbours were complaining about the sound having overrun the agreed curfew.

Huge respect to Will G, Sophie B and everyone else who put so much work into making this event happen! I cycled away in a state of bliss on early Monday afternoon.

This Is The Kit and Abigail Hubbard in the woods

27th August 2014
secret woodland location near Canterbury

I suspected that this might be a real highlight of the woodland amphitheatre season, and I wasn't wrong. We got lucky with a brief window of clear weather, and a perfect-sized audience (I was concerned about it being so soon before Smugglers Festival, and This Is The Kit not being so well known around here, but everyone showed up, and everyone loved it.).

I hadn't met Abigail Hubbard before this evening, just seen her sing briefly in the medieval Eastbridge Hospital undercroft during the 2011 Sondryfolk ArtsTrail. Yiannis had mentioned her a while ago as someone whose music would work in the woodland setting, and then recently I met Matt, her collaborator in the electronica duo Liotia (an old friend of my old friend Sarah — ancient Whitstable connections). The fact they've named themselves after a genus of sea snails is a definite plus in my book! She turned up with her Welsh friend Rhiann who added a little bit of glockenspiel to a few songs, very sweet. I won't try to describe her remarkable voice or songs — check her stuff out on Soundcloud. Her cover of "Police and Thieves" was a lovely surprise, great choice. I'm glad to have been able to set up such an attentive audience for her, and she seemed very happy with the whole event.

This Is The Kit had turned up in the afternoon. I was just expecting Kate and Jesse with acoustic guitars, but they had two of their French band with them: Phillipe the drummer (who quickly improvised something involving cymbals, string, and an old plastic dustbin) and Vincent. "We're looking for something for Vincent to play, maybe a melodica," explained Jesse. I suggested my harmonium (a pedal harmonium I was given last summer and whose bellows I gradually repaired), and they leapt at the opportunity. The harmonium was carried into the woods, I rigged up something with a blanket at the back to slightly dampen the sound, lubricated the pedals, and they were away. I was coming and going from the amphitheatre sorting things out — on one occasion I arrived to find Vincent playing The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" on it, and on another to find the four of them filming themselves practicing a doo-wop song-and-dance routine (part of another project they've got going on in Paris — clearly a genuine love of doo-wop involved, but also a great deal of mirth!).


the afternoon "soundcheck"

In the end Kate played banjo, unamplified semi-acoustic guitar, and sang, Jesse played bass through a little busking amp, a bit of guitar, some backing vocals, Vincent on harmonium, banjo and vocals, and Phillipe was tucked away at the back with his swinging cymbals and dustbin foot taps (surprisingly good bass!). If you don't know Kate Stables and her singing and writing, again, there's no point me trying to describe it. Just check it out here. I think it's fair to say that quite a few people left that night with a new favourite band. Kate has such a strong presence, and the voice and words seem to come from somewhere very deep within. So confident, yet without the slightest trace of ego affecting her performance. She's got an incredible gift and she's decided to share it with everyone. Jesse and friends are the perfect crew to help her do so.

She started the set with a couple of songs on her own — "Birchwood Beaker" and then "Creeping Up Our Shins" (the latter involving some body percussion from the other three). Then "Easy Pickings", "White Ash Cut", "Nits" (stunning! gorgeous harmonium accompaniment), "Silver John", "Moon" — such tasteful backing from Vincent, Phillipe and Jesse.

Then some serious magic wherein Kate, Vincent and Jesse gathered close at her beckoning, put their hands on each others' heads in overlapping triangles (initially inducing giggles from the audience), then suddenly started singing chilling harmonies about mortality and the unknown, which then descended into a choral drone, then into a primal psychedelic, almost krautrock riff (the kind of thing The GOASTT have been doing quite well) this chugging along very pleasingly for a while, even interpolating a crazy freakout banjo comedy segment! The ability to effortlessly shift between profundity and silliness (even within a single piece) is what characterises a lot of my favourite psychedelia — The Incredible String Band, Gong, Circulus — and TITK are happily at home in such territory.

A song called "Magic Spell" featured a chorus taken from a song by Ebo Taylor, "Two Wooden Spoons" was dedicated to John and Vicky (one involving that lovely whistling Kate does), just a tiny bit of bass at first, the full band gradually fading itself in. Then a cover of a Connie Converse song "One By One" (I'd not heard of her, but the song's perfectly suited for Kate). Then four more classic originals to finish: "The Spores All Settling", "Floorboards" (I think), "Treehouse" and "Spinney" — a thrillingly insistent, propulsive energy in that last one. Vincent's use of the harmonium made all those hours of bellows-reconstruction (chamois leather and Araldite if you ever want to try it) seem worthwhile That instrument has great potential.

Before deciding on an encore, Kate explained how they'd not really properly rehearsed the set 'cos they were having so much fun in the woods during the afternoon messing about and singing doo-wop. "Doo-wop!" shouted someone enthusiastically, so we got a lovely "Daddy's Going To Tell You No Lie" (three voices + percussion) which Kate helpfully told us was by Sun Ra (I would never have guessed — a 1960 single credited to "The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra & Arkestra"). Beautiful and funny at the same time, this was a huge hit with the audience, a perfect conclusion.

* * *

Elise, Sophie and Laurie, the Sondryfolk collective who originally inspired the creation and use of this woodland amphitheatre, were in attendance, which made me very happy. Before heading off to Smugglers Festival the next day we all got to have a memorable, ultra-relaxed social breakfast with the band. One of those occasions which reminds you how good life can be. Thanks to everyone and everything involved!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 68)

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This was a late night jam in Paul and Kristina's garden on Trewavas Street, Motueka, Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the autumn of 2006 while the TreePeaceWalk were camping there. Alan's Maori Rasta brother Ras Levi was playing some simple, barely audible guitar which inspired my saz lines. Alan's on percussion, various voices audible in the background (Kristina, Tahu, Lilli, Damara, Vanessa, Toni). Very happy times! More recordings from the 2006 TreePeaceWalk can be found here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 67)

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An improvisation for saz and acoustic guitar, recorded with Mark Hewins at his house in Margate on 27th February 2012. More from this session can be found here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

an English country wedding (and a proper party!)

23rd—24th August 2014
near Deal, Kent

John Evans is usually behind the mixing desk when Syd Arthur are playing live. On this occasion they were out in LA about to support Yes in front of possibly their biggest audience yet, but John was here in Kent marrying his beloved Vicky. They're not doing the official registry office thing until tomorrow, but this was the wedding celebration and ceremony for friends and family held at the now familiar Smugglers Festival site. The festival's next weekend, so there was already quite a bit of decor and a couple of marquees up. Perfect weather, perfect setting. Lots of waistcoats.

Bizarrely, my eccentric alter ego Professor Appleblossom was asked to start the proceedings with a brief maths lecture(!). Vicky had originally suggested the near-impossible topic "the mathematics of love", but I still managed to come up with something linking ethnomathematics, the number 5, the Wolfgang Pauli's dream analysis, quantum mechanics, imaginary numbers, the "roots of unity", the pentagram and Golden Rectangle. In preparing this I'd discovered someone's already made a Golden Rectangle wedding ring:


The punchline involved revealing the plot of a 2-d surface embedded in x-y-z space described by a 6th degree polynomial equation I'd which baffled everyone with at the beginning of the talk:


This went down surprisingly well (delivered in the clearing what has been the Sondryfolk Forest for the last three festivals) and ended with me transitioning from "the least appropriate medium with which to talk about love, i.e., mathematics, to the most appropriate, i.e. music and song" at which point Vicky's favourite singer-songwriter Theo Bard took to the stage with his bass-playing friend Louisa Jones (she and I seem to have a number of mutual friends, so a secret woodland gig with this duo may be on the cards). They started with a gorgeous rendition of Richard Thompson's "Beeswing", followed by a number of Theo's originals.


They were followed by some a cappella singing from Vicky's good friend Sarah Yarwood together with her mum Cathy and dad Charlie (who years ago sang together as half of folkie quartet Beggars Velvet). They started with a traditional wedding song from the South of England, the sort of song that would have traveled via sheep fairs, Charlie explained. The rest of the set consisted of traditional-style love songs, including a couple written by their old friend Dave Webber. Vicky and Sarah's friend Claire was brought up to sing with them on a couple of numbers.

A bit later in the evening, after a touchingly sincere-yet-irreverent ceremony, a first dance, and a second first dance (Vicky and John being joined by a gaggle of little girls on the dancefloor as well as Will and Natasha Greenham's dog), John's DJ friend Rod played a dub set, with me guesting on saz on four tunes (some King Tubby, Mad Professor, etc.). Ben on sound put me through some heavy reverb, and unsurprisingly (John being in charge of the sound setup), the tunes sounded massive in the forest.

[Curious side note: On the train to Deal, I'd been lamenting the lack of feedback from the saz-dub demo CD I'd circulated at UNOD this spring, but then deciding I was OK with that because it had led to this wedding gig. Moments later my phone rang — an unrecognised number, and I was on a noisy moving train so I let it go to voicemail. This turned out to be someone called Spyda who'd picked up one of the discs and UNOD, then lost it, then found it months later and claimed to have been playing it nonstop for days "BANGIN' tunes bruv! Quality, quality stuff. Bless up!" and seeking more of the same. So maybe there is some mileage in this saz-dub business...]

the funk and soul DJs took over, kicking off with King Curtis's "Memphis Soul Stew", followed by a string of perfect choices that had the place seriously jumping continuously until the 1a.m. curfew. It's all a bit blurry now, but there was definitely some James Brown and Maceo Parker involved, "Superstition", "Soul Man", "Once in a Lifetime", "Lost in Music", Aretha's "Respect" (a staggering dubstep remix thereof slipped in later in the night), "Voodoo Ray", "Pump Up the Volume" (I think), a bit of quality disco and house... I haven't danced like that for far too long. At some point in the evening Cocos Lovers played one of their livelier, stompier festival-friendly sets (ending with "Old Henry the Oak", of course), about which I can primarily remember the various silly hats the band members were wearing. A great occasion. Congrats to Vicky and John, and thanks for a magnificent party!

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 66)

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Something a bit different this week. While walking down Castle Street in Canterbury the other day, recording sounds and impressions of the City on my Zoom H2 digital recorder, I noticed someone walking towards me in a broad-brimmed hat with rucksack, staff and dog. I soon realised it was Will, a familiar face and committed pilgrim [see http://awalkaroundbritain.com/]. We naturally got chatting about where he'd just come from, about the history of the City and about pilgrimage in general.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 65)

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Recorded as part of a COTD session at St. Stephens church in Exeter High Street in the mid 2000s. This features what appears to be the German shipping forecast which I spontaneously picked up on a mediumwave radio (the title is an attempted German translation of "shipping forecast").

This track featured on our fifth compilation CD, Falling Together.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 64)

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A simple saz tune that came to me one afternoon walking in Honey Wood just north of Canterbury. This version was recorded beside the "Broadwell" or "laughing spring" near Alton Priors in Wiltshire just after summer solstice 2010, accompanied by some gorgeous birdsong. More recordings from that trip can be found here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 18

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 18

Featuring Egg, Caravan, Kevin Ayers (solo, duetting with Lady June and playing bass with Soft Machine), a couple of short Hatfield pieces, a couple of Eno collaborations, an Italian Terry Riley soundalike, some millenial Afrobeat, live psy-trance from System 7 in Kyoto 2011, new music from Canterbury 2014 in the form of Kairo, Lapis Lazuli and Syd Arthur, plus a second hour-long mix of Stereolab and related projects from guest contributor LTJ Bunkum [sic].

Friday, August 08, 2014

Kairo and friends in the woods

secret woodland location near Canterbury
Monday 4th August 2014

Two short support sets from Meg Janaway (a traditional song and three of her own) and Sarah Yarwood (singing a cappella, with Claire Highfield to begin and end).

This was the last ("secret") night of Kairo's summer tour, with Adam from Jouis filling in on drums (Josh being away touring the USA with Syd Arthur, filling in for Fred). Jamie and Toby playing low-volume electric guitar and bass respectively, with unamplified drums and vocals. Some great new stuff in their set — this band just gets more and more interesting. It was really satisfying to gather a few dozen people who've heard this band a few times before and really get them to listen properly to the subtleties and nuances. More woodland musical magick. Perfect weather conditions again. Jamming a bit of saz and guitar with Tom H afterwards as people slowly drifted off into the night.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 63)

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A piece Inge and I used to play in the late 90s, recorded in Belgium in 2001. Sven on bass plus Sven and Abdul Kader on overdubbed handclaps. More from this session can be found here.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Nuru Kane at the Gulbenkian

Gulbenkian Cafe, University of Kent, Canterbury
31st July 2014

A pan-African Lammas eve treat, but very few people showed up for it. No one I recognised, instead just a smallish seated audience of people who looked like they were probably Gulbenkian Theatre regulars who were inspired to come from the blurb in their mailout events brochure. Clapping along was as interactive as it got. Nuru Kane and his crew are not really a band for sitting down to! Fortunately it was a warm summer evening and all of the doors were open along the side of the stage, so I danced out on a patch of grass nearby. Despite the rather vibeless setting, they gave out their usual flood of positive musical energy. What really stunned me was how many people wandered past the building, within a few metres of the band, and didn't even turn their heads to look to see the colourfully clad crew making this amazing music! Beyond belief...

I caugh most of a support set from a young Afrobeat/jazzy/funky band who I would guess were linked to Christchurch's music department, reminded me of Zoo For You in their early days before Bruno stepped forward from the horn section to be a frontman. Prog guitarist/bandleader Joe Inkpen was depping on bass as were two other people, so there were music stands involved, and they probably weren't as tight as the usual lineup would have been. They forgot to mention the name of their band, though, but I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. [Note added 2014-09-02: They were the Luca Afrobeat Band (or just "Luca", not sure), check them out here!]

Monday, July 28, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 62)

No embedded player? Try here.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Boxing Octopus + Hey Maggie + Colonel Mustard

24th July 2014
The Ballroom, Canterbury

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 61)

No embedded player? Try here.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mahalas and Jouis in the woods

Wednesday, 7th July 2014
secret woodland location

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mo recommends...

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cocos residency + Syd Arthur documentary gig

30th June—4th July 2014
secret woodland location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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