This was a bit like a five-day musical weekend.
Wednesday 16th November, 2016
Crash of Moons Club, Bramleys
This was Lapis Lazuli's Wrong Meeting album launch. Support came from Oneirhythm, the first UK gig for this excellent young French band who bridge the gap between Hatfield and the North and Tame Impala, who consider Canterbury to be their spiritual home, and who really dug Prof. Appleblossom's DJ selections (playlist here, starting with Moving Gelatine Plates, another French Canterbury-obsessed band, but from 40+ years ago). Oneirhythm are, remarkably, from Rheims, Canterbury's twin city. We learned that it isn't actually pronounced like "reams" (there's a Rheims Way which forms part of the ring-road, and that's how everyone says it here), but more like "ghhhhrrrrauuun"!! They have a very dynamic and enthusiastic lead singer, but my favourite part of the set was when they played an instrumental called "Harum Scarum", prefaced by a keyboard improvisation which Léopold started with a lovely quote from Soft Machine's "The Moon In June".
Adam insisted that I end my set with "Leave Me Alone" by Michael Jackson (some kind of in-joke with the band), so I made it clear that this was being played under duress:
Still in Professor Appleblossom mode, I introduced Lapis with a disorienting spoken word intro, mashing up various text excerpts that I'd found by searching for the words "wrong meeting" via GoogleScholar. This involved everything from bluefin tuna fishing management to irritable bowel syndrome to holocene coastal changes in the Netherlands (a lot of people have found themselves in a lot of wrong meetings over the years!). New recruit Jules, soon to be replacing Phil, added a second tenor sax and a bit of flute on the first piece "School" (one of three twenty minute album side epics that make up Wrong Meeting). A certain someone, having overdone a certain something, fell off the stage at one point, vanished for a while, but returned to finish the song, if rather wonkily. They powered through "Phighphye" and "Reich" despite the wonkiness, somehow managing to contain it with their collective precision. But this was all very upsetting for Adam (along with the fact that Lapis couldn't fill the venue for a hometown album launch that cost £5... what's up with that?), so the evening ended on a bit of weird note. But it's to the credit of the sober majority of the band that most of the audience seemed unaware that anything was wrong and left elated after a great night.
Thurs 17th November
Rose Hill Tavern, Bristol
This was another date on Leonie's album launch tour, this one time backed up by 3/5 of Jouis (Louis, Adam and Joe Woodham),currently a band in transition.
As Prof. Appleblossom, Leonie had asked me to do a freestyle maths set before she played. Joe Woodham warmed the crowd up first with a solo set of his thoughtful, lyrical songs (he's an excellent fingerpicking guitarist as well as a bass monster!). I wasn't sure how it would be received, but the Prof's first pub gig went down remarkably well. I'm sure it helped that this was an "arts hub" pub in Brighton, run by Cassia, one of the singers in the local reggae/dub band The Resonators. But regardless, people asked questions about the ontological status of number, about imaginary numbers, Schrödinger's Cat, the usual sorts of things, and I got fully engaged with my blackboard (and an oil wheel lightshow behind that — psychedelic maths in effect!)
Leonie's set was perhaps my favourite thing I've ever seen from her, mostly because of the backing band. Joe, Adam and Louis play together as such a tight unit these days, as well as being individually virtuosic. Louis was playing his Nord keyboard mostly, but turned around and made use of the pub's piano for one of Leonie's Cuban-tinged Spanish language numbers, as well as unleashing his Roland Juno arpegiations at a few strategic moments. Again, Leonie asked me to play saz on "Kagayaku" and "Freya". The first of these worked especially well, with Louis arpegiating throughout. The Rose Hill crew were extremely hospitable, I got fed and paid, and we all ended up back at Enterprise Point (the "legal squat" where Louis and Adam live and the band have their studio space) listening to Texan-Thai instrumental trio Khruangbin and chilling late into the night.
Friday 18th November
Colyer-Fergusson Building, UKC, Canterbury
Joel rang that afternoon to ask if I'd compere the event, to which I agreed. I got an easy lift from Brighton to Canterbury with Adam, his girlfriend Rosie and Leonie (she was on the bill, again backed up by 60% of Jouis) and then spent a few hours hanging about during the setup, scribbling down ideas for band introductions that would add useful context and make sense of the whole thing to people who weren't already familiar with the scene from which Syd Arthur both sprang and helped create.
First up was the oblique art-pop of Bison Bonasus. Jamie Dams was depping on keys for Callum, away in Barcelona, with her beaming smile, singer Bruno also looked like he was really enjoying the occasion. They got a nice clean mix, the best through which I've heard them, and as with each former Bison gig, they made a bit more sense to me than the previous time. Their new stuff (part of a forthcoming EP, to be released soon with a comic book, and in cassette format!) is perhaps the best yet — "Eddie's Gone To Tel Aviv" is the only title I can recall.
As people filed out of the main hall, Luke Smith and the Feelings started up on a small stage in the foyer. Their sound got a bit lost in the hubbub, but still quite a lot of people listening intently and enjoying it. Local veteran player Peter Cook added some guest sax to "When You've Seen A Bit Of Life", and apparently the monitoring was so problematic that Tom H played all his bass parts by memory, not hearing a single note of his own playing. Despite the difficulties with the sound, Luke remained cheerful. His post-Brexit rewrite of "Luke's National Anthem" was particularly noteworthy (the original was a rather sweet, explicitly non-nationalistic ode to what he loves about England, but he felt he had to change the words after the referendum vote).
The Quartet, featuring Sam Bailey and Jack Hues (but the original old lineup with Matthew Senior on drums and Rutledge Turner on bass, rather than the Led Bib rhythm section) were up next in the man hall. They started with an Eric Dolphy number, then a long, wonderfully jammed-out "Begonia Heights" (a track the Syd boys introduced me to when I interviewed them for Canterbury Soundwaves back in 2011), a new Jack Hues ballad (instrumental)... This was deep, spacey psychedelic jazz, and it worked amazingly well in the context, much better than I was expecting.
Back outside again, and Leonie was on. Jamie D sang harmony vocals on three songs, which it turned out that she'd only just learned from the album (one in Japanese and one in Spanish...and she smashed it, as is said these days). Once again, Leonie called me up to played saz on "Kagayaku", rather familiar by now, so the fact I couldn't really hear myself in the monitors wasn't as much of a problem as it might have been.
Syd Arthur took the stage to the sound of Terry Riley's "A Rainbow in Curved Air" (their intro music on the recent UK tour) and delivered a killer set, with a HUGE sound. The setlist was similar to what I saw in Brighton: they opened with "Ode to the Summer", played the whole of the new album minus "Plane Crash", interspersed with a few tracks from Sound Mirror. The "Garden of Time" and "Singularity" jams were incandesent, even "What's Your Secret" (not a great favourite) was hard not to like with it's new synth-heavy arrangement. As usual, I wish I could have chosen the setlist ("All and Everything", "Paradise Lost", "Planet of Love" → "Hermethio" and "Pulse" would have been in there), but they filled the place up, it felt like everyone was behind them, the event a huge celebration of their ten years of musical evolution. Not a weak moment. They encored with latest B-side "Monster" and then title track "Apricity" ("Willow Tree" or "Mystic Mole" would have been nice, but yeah...). Afterwards, we all ended up down at a late night bar adjacent to the Westgate Towers, a former police station called The Pound, being subjected to unnecessarily loud R'n'B, but I got a chance to catch up with Tom H, Luke Smith, Hannah and Adam Dawson so it was worth another late night.
Saturday 19th November
The Fox and Firkin, Lewisham
This almost didn't happen. Adam had asked me about DJing for this some weeks earlier, but it had escaped my mind. Fortunately I answered an unrecognised number (a phone he'd borrowed) on a whim the afternoon before, and sorted out a cheap coach ticket to Lewisham. This was the last of four gigs that Lapis did with Oneirhythm (the first being the problematic night at Bramleys). As usual, the Prof. selected tunes before, between and after the bands, trying to stitch their live sets into a seamless musical journey (an approximate playlist is here).
Ashley "Famous James" is now the manager of this place (it's an eclectic music pub linked to The Magic Garden in Battersea) and so we all got treated with incredible hospitality (got fed, paid and a place to sleep for the night). Oneirhythm's songs already seemed very familiar, despite only having heard them a couple of times before. Again, the instrumental "Harum Scarum" was a highlight, although Leopold's into didn't include the "The Moon In June" reference, that seemingly just being a nod to the Soft Machine for the audience down in Canterbury a few nights earlier. Lapis were on staggeringly good form, a real contrast to the gig at Bramleys, the two guitars meshing together as one, everyone focussed and enjoying the experience of playing together. New bassist Luke is seriously loving being in the band (he'd been a regular at gigs for some years before) and is bringing a new energy and enthusiasm to the lineup.
Everyone else had to head back to Kent, but Adam and I stayed up late with the French visitors, selecting classic prog tunes, talking nonsense, conducting the final movement of "Atom Heart Mother" with my toothbrush, etc.. The next day I didn't even have to walk back to the coach stop, getting a lift back with Ash (who's moved back to Canterbury, despite working in London), ended up in Barham having lunch with Adam, Kim and Baby Lila, talking things over.
Sunday 20th November
I was hoping to make it to The Lighthouse in Deal to catch Meg Janaway's set, but not surprisingly spent a good part of the day catching up on sleep!