Monday, July 28, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 62)

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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 outsider funk-pop from Colonel Mustard to finish (fronted by the enigmatic Struan who used to front local garage/rockabilly band Hotrods and Dragsters).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 61)

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Recorded near Canterbury, 15th June 2008, with Jim Penny (Telling the Bees, Red Dog Green Dog) on concertina (me on saz, as unusual). 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"
"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...

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 60)

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Recorded on 29th November 2012 at Paul and Ann Clifford's leaving-for-Canada party upstairs at the Astor Theatre, Deal. He'd asked Miriam and I (with whom he'd jammed as part of Random Article) to play on his song "Walter". We never got a chance to rehearse it, and I forgot to take my Zoom H2 recorder out of my pocket, so here we have a muffled recording of a shaky rendition of one of Paul's characteristically odd songs.

Immediately after finishing, Miriam and I had to run for the last train to Canterbury. Still trying to stuff my saz back in it's soft case while running, my bootlaces got entangled and I fell facedown on the pavement. The recorder was still running in my pocket, so that got recorded too!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

long overdue jams with Inge

Friday 4th July, 2014

Inge, the other half of Ail Fionn, was over from the south of France recently, visiting friends in East London for a few days. So we arranged to meet up on Primrose Hill one afternoon. I brought my saz, of course, and not having access to a mandolin or violin, I took Paul Clifford's beaten up old guitar for her to play (the one his Canadian hobo alter ego "Shed" used to busk with).

In between chattering away enthusiastically about our lives in recent times, and times past, we managed to play a few things. Despite being very unpolished, as you'll hear, there was a comforting ease with which we were able to "find each other" musically. We both felt that with some regular sessions, we could get something reall special together again — alas, geography is working against us.

It was a bright, sunny day, but very windy. We found shade under some trees, so there's quite a bit of background noise from the wind shaking the leaves. And tuning issues. And wobbly playing. But, yeah, it made me very happy.

Listen Here

We wandered over to Camden Lock to have some mint tea and watch people starting begin their Friday evenings out. A short walk down Regents Canal we found a quiet spot to play a bit more. For some reason I didn't bother to record that (a shame, as there was no wind noise, and we were starting to get warmed up). We really need to do this more often...

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 17

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 17

Something from a National Health radio session in 1976, a Matching Mole classic, Soft Machine live with Australian mystery man Phil Howard on drums, another obscure Robert Wyatt guest vocal, Faust, some Eno ambience and a couple of Orlando Gibbons compositions, plus a mix of Latin American fusion sounds from the early 70s and an hour-long mix of selections from the "Free Range" series of avant garde events that have been taking place in Canterbury in recent times. Also, news about Daevid Allen's health, and some healing glissando drones recently played worldwide by Gong family affiliates for his benefit.

Kairo and Hellfire Orchestra at The Ballroom

The Ballroom, Canterbury
19th June 2014

It was nice to be back in Canterbury, and a good chance to see a lot of friendly faces in one place. Jamie from Kairo has been taking the initiative of booking a series of gigs supporting bands from elsewhere, and (with the lack of local venues booking live music) these are rare occasions for a lot of friends to get together... the social aspect of that means that everyone's keen to catch up and so the music is backgrounded by a lot of chatter and not listened to with as much attention as it deserves, a real shame. But listening through, I was able to appreciate the fact that Kairo are no longer just Jamie's backing band. As a three-piece (Toby on bass, Josh on drums, Jamie singing and playing electric guitar) they've quite rapidly evolved a distinct group identity. The new songs they played were my favourites (as with other people I spoke to after). I hope they keep moving in the increasingly interesting direction that they have been of late.

Almost three weeks later, as I write this, things have taken an unexpected turn for Kairo: Josh is in New York, filling in on for Fred from Syd Arthur (sadly having to take some time off after more trouble with his ears) playing at Radio City Music Hall in front of 6000 Yes fans! Yes, Yes are touring North America this summer (a semi-classic lineup with Squire, Howe, White and Downes), and Syd Arthur got offered the support slot. They're not too keen on getting bracketed into some kind of revivalist prog-rock category, but they couldn't turn the opportunity down. And Yes are playing the whole of their albums Fragile and Close to the Edge on this tour, so it's the kind of thing I might even be tempted by (if I were nearby). So Adam from Jouis, based not so far away in Brighton, is going to fill in for Josh over the summer. It's great to see how these bands all help each other out, tending towards a gradual melding into one massive musical organism! Most of Zoo For You and 3/4 of The Boot Lagoon have now fused into the London-based but Canterbury-centric collective Bison Bonasus, and they're getting some serious attention on the basis of one intriguing single and a couple of gigs in London. Likewise, Arlet and Cocos Lovers are intending to play some kind of joint set at Smugglers Festival this summer, the two band merging in and out of each other with a continually evolving onstage lineup.

Hellfire Orchestra (Phil and Billy from Cocos, plus Jollife on drums, backing (another) Jamie on acoustic guitar and vocals) were wonderfully raucous, as always. Unfortunately Jamie's properly poetic lyrics got lost in the mix, so only his atonal snarl (which totally suits the songs, when you can hear them properly) was audible. Still, they got us dancing. "Bastille Day" is being released as a single, I think, and they've reworked it with a kind of early 80s New Wave backing, very catchy.

Almost forgot... the evening began with a brief set from Meg Janaway, a singer-songwrite who I think's from Sandwich. She's started showing up on various Smugglers' event lineups, a friend of Toby from Lapis Lazuli. Great voice, interesting songs, very confident — we'll be hearing more from her, no doubt...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 59)

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A guitar-and-saz jam coming out of the tune "The Midsummer Cushion", recorded with Inge on a windy afternoon (4th July 2014) on Primrose Hill, London. It was a beaten up old guitar I'd found for her (the only one available at the time), and we'd not played together for a few years, but despite the rustiness, the music seemed to flow as easily as ever.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

uncut Lapis "Alien" lecture

I've finally got hold of the uncut footage of the intro/lecture I did (as Professor Appleblossom) for Lapis Lazuli's Alien album launch gig at the Penny Theatre in April. I've intercut it with the actual slides I used for my presentation (the projection screen was small, and unhelpfully circular, so this helps viewers to follow what I'm on about):

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 58)

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Recorded with Children of the Drone, the Exeter-based improv collective, on 25th June 2014. James T is reading from a library catalogue and percussing, Keith, Mick and Tim playing electric guitars, Brian playing keyboard, me on saz as usual.

midsummer travels

Another summer solstice pilgrimage to Avebury. Adam (of Lapis Lazuli) and Kim wanted to come along this year, so we drove to near Barbury Castle and walked in on The Ridgeway on solstice eve. Orbiting the henge (after an excursion along the extraordinary valley of Greywethers to the Devil's Den dolmen), we ran into Stef and Peni (of The Mordekkers) with new Welsh percussionist friend Arran, about to launch into some pipes and drums to get the celebrations started. They played for quite a while (creating a kind of acoustic rave vibe), with me adding some shakey egg, until the Kings Drummers (the anthropologists' samba band who turn up every year) began a sort of funky, percussive death-and-rebirth mystery play leading up til sunset.

Stef, Peni and Arran combined forces with the drummers as it got darker, slightly more drunken and hectic, at which point we headed up to our usual quiet space on the fringes for our all-night music-and-fire vigil. Among others, Nathan Vibration was up there with his bouzouki. Peni got a few hours sleep before sunrise, so it was mostly twinkly, stringy jams all night. For the first time in a few years, we got a beautifully clear morning with unobstructed golden sunrise, pipes, mandola, saz and percussion up on the hilltop bell-barrow. Magnificent.

The next day I took Adam and Kim on a tour of the landscape (Swallowhead Springs, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, Waden Hill, The Avenue), in the midst of which we ran into Pok (having just invoked his name). He was on a good one, having just been performing at Stonehenge the night before. He went off to get his out-of-tune harp which he'd earlier stashed in hedge, twanged a bit before we had to move on.

Matt Spacegoat was also there with his new love, Sildy, and a bouzouki, so we got in a few jams too, before making our separate ways up over the Wansdyke to Knap Hill, from where we explored the churchyards of Alton Barnes and Alton Priors, the "laughing spring", etc. After a night sleeping under the old hawthorn trees on Golden Ball Hill, they gave me a lift to Bristol where I connected with Sondryfolk friends Sophie, Laurie, Synnøve, Alice and Hannah as well as meeting up with Vicky's son Thom for a game of Go in Victoria Park (accompanied by the sound of a couple of "outsider loop artists" on a bench messing about with a mic, busking amp, loop pedal, and detuned guitar, clearly having a hysterical time, sampling and looping strange vocal sounds and building up layers of bizarre funky loops which at times sounded quite Krautrock — I was reminded of Damo Suzuki on the mic with Can).

From Bristol it was down to Exeter for the first Children of the Drone session I've made it to for quite a while, with James T, Tim, Mick, Keith and Brian, at St. Mary Arches church:

Listen Here

The next day, after a quick dérive around parts of the city centre with mythogeographer Phil Smith and a trip down to Taunton to catch up with Amanda, an Orbis Tertius? reunion of sorts occured at Henry's. Keith, Henry and I jammed out way through some old set lists Keith had kept from a few years ago when OT? was most active. Henry was on digital drums this time, and we were all wired up to a headphone mix, so there was a real clarity of sound. My playing was disspiritingly sloppy (as I always used to find when we played as a trio), but still, there was something worthy in the overall sound, and it was undeniably fun to play that stuff as a trio again. Keith has suggested getting a few low-key gigs so we could keep it going in some very low-key way. I'd be into that.

Staying up late for the overnight Megabus to London, I watched a concert film that Keith had recommended: Jeff Beck's Live at Ronnie Scott's. Somehow I'd overlooked Jeff Beck, other than his early work with The Yardbirds (e.g. supposedly the first ever psychedelic guitar solo on "Shapes of Things"), but his mastery of the electric guitar was immediately evident on this performance. An effortless dissolving of boundaries between rock, blues and jazz, and a great band too, with sublime bass playing from Tal Wilkenfeld.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 57)

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Recorded on 15th May 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin, the night before I flew back to England. Pete's playing electric guitar, Ken's playing double bass, and I'm playing saz. Just a jam.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

another couple of weeks in Wisconsin

I'm composing this on the coach from Madison, WI down to Chicago's O'Hare airport. Last night was a particularly good last-night-in-Wisconsin. After an afternoon of listening to reggae and salsa on WORT and then some Laosian food, Maggie, Ken and I met up with Peter down at Mother Fool's coffee house for a particuliarly Madisonian event: Guided By Puppets (Bif and Kia from Reptile Palace Orchestra with Jeff on percussion and Lisa on bass and saw) playing two sets between performances by the "Sockrates Sock Puppet Carnival of Morals and Logic". The sock puppets are Kia and Jeff's brainchild, having been building a following around town in recent years (teaching philosophy, dramatising Dostoevsky, and getting involved in protest actions).

Maggie has recently been recruited as a puppeteer, and I even ended up on stage a couple of times getting involved in the puppetry. This was the third or fourth time they've dramatised a selection of bizarre complaint letters sent to the newsletter of the local Williamson Street Co-op, a huge hit with the local healthy eating crowd. GBP used a toy piano and a huge megaphone strapped to a mic stand in lieu of a vocal mic (great concept — Kenny suggested a future "Open Meg" event!). They played a mix of Muddy Waters, Tom Waits, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Daddy Dewdrop's "Chick-a-Boom" and Bif's quirky originals about alien abductions, drunkenness and Mr. Sulu. Quite sloppy for a quartet of highly accomplished players (they were clearly winging it on a couple of numbers) but this somehow worked for the occasion.

Back at Maggie and Ken's, Peter (electric guitar), Ken (double bass) and I (saz) jammed our way through one of Peter's band's songs called "Rolling" (nice groove) and then Black Sabbath's "N.I.B.". The latter was enhanced by backing vocals from a tired and ill (yet characteristically enthusiastic) Maggie laid out on the sofa behind us, and worked so well that the idea of a Sabbath tribute band with this line-up was jokingly floated before we branched out into Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, "Sympathy for the Devil" and various other bits of classic rock. Annoyingly, I hadn't got out my recording device until after "N.I.B.", which was easily the highlight of the session.

Afterwards, we sat up late listening to Camper Van Beethoven's II and III, realising what a great band they were (and still are...Maggie and Ken saw them on tour not so long ago). There are bits of Pentangley medievalism on that album, totally fried Americana like "History of Utah" and "Peace and Love", and their version of "Interstellar Overdrive" gives the original a run for its money (they could have been an amazing straight-up psychedelic band, but would have soon got bored with that, drawing on elements of Balkan trad and whatever else they felt like drawing on at any given time). A real antidote to the mainstream 80s, I realise now that listening to them via central Wisconsin college radio at that time was part of what kept me sane (along with angry hardcore like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag).

The night before, my last in Stevens Point, I went out late to meet up with old skateboarder friends Marty and John and see a couple of bands at a fairly seedy local bar: Indonesian Junk from Milwaukee (a lively pop-punk trio whose frontman seems to have borrowed heavily from our old friend Isaac's stage persona) and an organ-led quartet from Eau Claire called Dingo Factory whose chord-rich compositions brought to mind a grungy Irene's Garden without the beautiful vocals. The night before, we were all down at The Brickhause on the Square to see The Goddamns from Wausau and the two-piece version of White Trash Blues Revival (as we had three weeks earlier), this time joined by Indiana-based Left Lane Cruiser. The singer from White Trash sang "Rolling and Tumbling" with the Goddamns to end their set, and WTBR's drummer swapped his trashcans and beer kegs for a proper drum kit to play with Left Lane). Lots of swearing, tattoos and ironic hipster ersatz-machismo (at least I hope that's what it was). And very loud. But sitting at the back, feeling a bit drowsy, the metallic trashcan percussion and primitive two-string slide (the slide player has made his own lap steel out of a skateboard deck and beer bottle) revealed itself as only a superficial modification of the rawest of Delta blues, and then going a bit deeper in, it became almost indistinguishable from Can or Neu! in its repetitive, modal, insistent mechanoid way...

The evening of my birthday was spent out at the Northland Ballroom near Iola, joining Sloppy Joe (just Stef and Jeff — Gavin had to work and Jimmers stayed home this week — plus Bobby, Dale, Rachel and "other" Nate on banjo) on stage for their regular Wednesday night session. Less people on stage and a lack of rowdy, whooping UWSP students on the dancefloor meant that it was actually possible to hear what everyone was playing, so I enjoyed this one a lot. During the set-break, a young woman in the audience wanted to sing "Jolene", so most of us reassembled and quickly worked out a rough arrangement. Her singing was lovely and so she was urged to choose a second song. She suggested "Streets of Laredo", which Dale knew how to play on dobro, so we fell in behind him and it came together quite well (the melody seemed really familiar, presumably borrowed from an old British ballad). She and her sister then sang a couple of stunning a capella harmony numbers (Stef mentioned the idea of "blood harmony", which only closely related singers can achieve). The second set (which I couldn't record due to dead batteries) was even more fun, played to an audience smaller than the band on stage! We finished with a "saz player's choice"... I couldn't think of anything when put on the spot, so proposed that we play "something simple in G". Rachel suggested John Hartford's "Try Me One More Time" ("Mama killed a rooster, thought it was a duck..."), a simple blues-bluegrass thing which we had a lot of fun playing, Dale putting aside his usual lightning speed banjo pickin' for a simpler, more spontaneous style, and everyone just jamming on the simple melody. I really which that one had been recorded...

Listen Here

During my month in Point, I got to three of the Tuesday night "song swaps" at the Elbow Room (I hear that these are going to have to end due to intervention by ASCAP/!!). It's all a bit of beery blur now, but I can remember sazzing along to "Knocking on Heaven's Door", "Can't You See" (The Marshall Tucker Band), Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" (with very convincing flute from song swap originator Tom), some banjo-and-fiddle tunes like "Shady Grove" and "The Soldiers Joy", "Sympathy For the Devil", "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" ("We keep gettin' richer but we cain't get our picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone"). On the last of these nights, after arriving to a rather sloppy "Tangled Up in Blue", a young Irishwoman called Elaine showed up with some of her UWSP friends with a set of Highland bagpipes. Any half-decent piper would have wowed the Elbow Room crowd, but she was really good! Here she is back in Waterford:

Unfortunately we never got a chance to speak, and I have no idea what brought her to Stevens Point (studying natural resources or water being my best guess).

Monday, June 16, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 56)

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An old American murder ballad performed by Stef (guitar) and Jeff (bass) from Sloppy Joe with friends Dale (banjo), Rachel (fiddle) and Bobby (mandolin) and me guesting on saz, at their Wednesday night session at the Northland Ballroom near Iola, Wisconsin on my birthday this year (11th June 2014).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Canterbury Sans Frontierès: Episode 16

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 16

As this episode was put together while I was out in the USA, it features more American sounds than usual (Grateful Dead, David Crosby, Zappa, Miles, Paul Butterfield Blues Band) alongside the usual Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan and Kevin Ayers. Also some Eno, Henry Cow, Supersister and Squarepusher, and, new from Canterbury, Syd Arthur, Arlet (playing Eno), Lapis Lazuli, Plume, and a pair of remixes from Koloto and Ekoda Map.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Soundcloud track of the week (no. 55)

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A jammed-out version of one of the more melodically interesting Christian hymns, from an outdoor session played just above the orchard at West Town Farm (now home to the organicARTS cooperative) near Ide, just outside Exeter, as part of one of their open days in June 2007. Orbis Tertius? were an improvisational psychedelic folk trio of sorts (saz/bass/drums) which I formed with Keith and Henry from the local Children of the Drone improv collective.

More from this session can be found here.

Syd Arthur and The GOASTT in Madison

High Noon Saloon
Madison, Wisconsin
31st May 2014

This was surreal — Syd Arthur in Wisconsin! They got the gig supporting Sean Ono Lennon's psychedelic band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (a.k.a. The GOASTT), starting in San Francisco, travelling up the West Coast to Vancouver, then down across the Midwest, back up into Canada, and on to the East Coast to finish up in Boston. The first night at the Great American Music Hall in SF, a very special local guest got up for The GOASTT's encore, and Raven and Joel from SA were invited to join them, quite a way to kick off a North American tour! [Check out Rave's solo from about 8:20]

Funnily enough, I'd just emailed this to the band earlier that day:

If you didn't know, the GAMH is where the Dead's "One From the Vault" was recorded in 1975. This was the show where they debuted the Blues For Allah album. Mickey Hart's percussion involved a miked box of live crickets on that occasion (to simulate some of the desert sound effects from the album). According to Phil Lesh's autobiography:

"...during the course of the show, they escaped, one or two at at time, from their sand-filled box through the microphone hole. Healey [their sound man], at Mick's insistence, kept running the cricket track louder and louder ("More crickets!"), as the crickets became fewer and fewer. To the best of my knowledge, they can still be chirping nightly from the highest rafters of the Great American Music Hall."

So listen out for that!

I don't think they heard the crickets, but jamming with Weir probably made up for that...

a few nights before Madison, in Denver

the night before, in monochrome Minneapolis

the night after, in Chicago (bathed in a kind of light last seen in 1976!)

Their Madison set apparently wasn't quite to the standard they've now become used to. The soundcheck was a bit hurried and I could sense they weren't 100% happy with things on stage. But that's only because I've seen them so many times before. Also, Liam had damaged his elbow in an accident after their gig in Des Moines a couple of nights earlier, so their set was cut a little bit shorter than usual (no "Chariots"/"Singularity", unfortunately). But they've got to a stage now where even when they're not at their best, they still sound amazing! The set began with the first three tracks off the new Sound Mirror album ("Garden of Time", "Hometown Blues" and "Autograph", the latter sounding tougher and more energetic than the album version which took a while to grow on me). They played "Dorothy" and "Edge of the Earth" from On an On, plus "Forevermore", "Sink Hole" and "All and Everything" from the new album. Enjoyment of that final number was affected by someone (I think) having something like an epileptic seizure near the front, which created an understandably strange atmosphere. Raven was playing his Prophet analog synth more than I've ever seen before, but mixed up with the violin and mandolin (plus their ever-expanding arsenal of effects) this just meant more textural variation than ever.

Hearing broad Wisconsin accents in a Syd Arthur crowd was inducing cognitive dissonance in me, as was the collision of two previously separate social circles, e.g. overhearing their soundman John Evans chatting to an old Wisconsin friend, Eric Brucewicz, who's both the in house soundman for the venue and brewmaster at a nearby microbrewery (Eric has toured English breweries as part of his work, so knew Faversham well...Joel and friends have worked on the hop harvest for Shepherd Neame brewery there and all like their Kentish ales, so we had an unexpected Canterbury/Wisconsin sound-engineering/real-ale convergence for a moment).

The GOASTT were really very good. About 2/3 of the audience seemed to be older Beatles fans who'd come to see what John's son is getting up to these days, and after each song you could sense them thinking ("Wow, this is actually really good!"). The energy built up and up, and if I'd walked in in mid-set I would have been blown away by what I was hearing and wanted to know who the band was. Unfortunately for Sean he's in a position something like that of a prince...everyone's interested in him primarily because of his lineage, rather than who he actually is. Dealing with the press is beyond tedious, ridiculously fanatical Beatles fans won't leave him alone, and he gets horrible YouTube comments from small-minded people who seem to have some pathological hatred of his mum, and feel the need to lash out at him for not being John Lennon. Poor bloke. But he's dealing with it so graciously. The Syd crew reported that he's been really great company on tour, and spends at least an hour at the merchandise table every night, patiently signing things and listening to American Beatlemaniacs telling him about their feelings for his departed father.

And he's got the music just right for the situation. Fresh, original heavy psych with some Beatles-y chord progressions and enough classic rock riffage to please the people who are there for the wrong reasons, and enough psychedelic weirdness to please the edgier, hipper younger crowd who sense there's something to be discovered here. Of course he, like any music freak his age, is going to be influenced by The Beatles (and Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin) He and his girlfriend Charlotte (on bass) have put together a magnificent band (including someone playing a digital Mellotron emulator!) and their seriously rocked-out encore of Syd Barrett's "Long Gone" was one of the best things I'd heard in ages.

Back at Maggie and Ken's afterwards I had a few very relaxing hours watching some of the new Cosmos series. I'd almost forgotten about the late 70s original with Carl Sagan until recently when Adam (from Lapis Lazuli) and Kim discovered it via YouTube and started enthusing to me. The new one is, as Maggie put it, like "taking a warm science bath"! She and I managed to get up and have a groggy breakfast with John while the band were still asleep at their hotel on the rougher periphery of this otherwise groovy city. We all eventually met for lunch and swapped notes about American culture, the appeal of the jam band scene, etc. before they headed south to Chicago and I headed north to Stevens Point. Ginger Baker's song about Americans' inability to make a decent cup of tea came up in conversation...

After the tour they're hitting the Knitting Factory in NYC, then down to the big festival in Bonnaroo. People over here are hearing them on satellite radio now and travelling hours to see them, and the album's getting great reviews. So good to see such deserving musicians getting these opportunities and this recognition. It'll be interesting to see how far it goes...