Friday, April 29, 2016

early 2016: others' musical exploits - Free Range

This Free Range season all took place at Water Lane Cafe, tucked away between the bikeshop on Stour Street and the river. Unfortunately I missed organiser Sam Bailey's Free Range Piano album launch on 7th January. The next week was a poetry event featuring short readings from a large number of poets, some who'd traveled from afar, with no time spent on introductions or explanations. This worked really well, and the three sets were punctuated by short improv sets from Bad Teeth (Panos Ghikas on percussion/violin and Jennifer Walshe on extreme vocals).

I missed the next three (although stopped to watch a few minutes of the excellent Gufo through the window when hurrying past), but made it along on 11th February to see Ron Geesin (eccentric Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist) and Brian Hopper (once of Wilde Flowers and Soft Machine) who put together a wonderfully eclectic set: there was some of Hopper's teenage poetry, read mock-bombastically by Geesin while Brian improvised on baritone sax, random percussion on the walls and furniture, jazz standards like "Ain't Misbehavin'", wildly original solo piano pieces and, to finish, the thing Geesin's best known for, the final movement of Pink Floyd's 1970 "Atom Heart Mother" suite, which he'd co-composed with Roger Waters.

The next week we were over at St. Gregory's Music Centre (a deconsecrated church, now part of CCCU) to hear the Leon Quartet play pieces by Dimitri Scarlato and Sam Messer (who also played some keyboard). This didn't really feel like a Free Range event, for whatever reason — more like a formal classical musical event. Musically, it was all very abstract. A lot of non-traditional sounds being generated by the strings. In constrast, the Leon's started playing something strongly melodic, anthemic and vaguely familiar as people were leaving, kind of a joke, as it turned out to be a Coldplay tune (they get asked to play a lot of weddings)!

25th February was free improv sax legend Evan Parker backed up by John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums). Edwards managed to break a string and replace it as part of the overall improvisation! Some incredible stuff from this trio, as you can hear here:

That was an altogether excellent evening. Evan approached me (I was surprised he even remembered me), extremely keen to buy my Secrets of Creation trilogy of books, so I was delighted to oblige. Also, I saw Joel from Syd Arthur who arranged to send me the final masters of the tracks from their new album Apricity the next day. And there was an excellent support set from Ian East, the wind player in the last Gong lineup that Daevid and Gilli toured with (he lives locally):

On March 10th, Raph Clarkson's 8-piece band Dissolute Society squeezed into the Water Lane Cafe to provide some spirited youthful jazz energy. The Welsh jazz pianist Huw Warren was part of the band, as well as Clarkson's father Gustav on viola and emerging trumpet talent Laura Jurd. Laura was back the next week to end the season with her own superb four-piece, Dinosaur (she played trumpet and electronics — the event was slightly weird due to someone in the audience collapsing, the band stopping, no one knowing quite what was going on...but it was all OK in the end.) Recordings of those sets haven't yet shown up in the Free Range audio archive.

There was a brief period during which a "Free Range Presents" programme was going out on local community/student station CSR FM on Wednesday evenings, but that got shelved for various reasons. I put together two episodes of this (the second wasn't broadcast due to "technical issues", apparently):

early 2016: my own musical exploits

There's been a bit of a backlog with all of this, so I'll keep the descriptions brief:

The recording surfaced from the experimental-musical-theatre-type performance in Holly's bedroom that Tom, Aidan, Juliet and I did as "Binnewith News" the evening of the winter solstice (you can read about that here):

Listen Here

Six weeks later, to mark the largely overlooked festival of Imbolc, Tom, Juliet, her friends Josh (guitarist) and Becci (visual artist) and I went for an epic sunset-into-twilight-into-darkness woodland walk to the north of Canterbury. We ended up in a cosy nook, Tom, Josh and I jamming til late while Juliet and Becci painted on blank jigsaws:

Listen Here

A happy and memorable gathering. A few days later I sat in with Josh as part of the Thursday evening slot he was doing regularly in the back room of The Shakespeare (off the Buttermarket) with Jules as "Houdini's Hat" (a variety of gypsy-jazz, latin and blues material). That didn't get recorded, but we seem to have rapidly established a very easy musical connection.

And here's a mishmash of jams from G(h)ent (when I visited Sven in January), Margate in mid-February (with Kirsty who I met at Knapp Hill, near Avebury, several summer solstices ago) and near Lewes a bit later that month (with Stella playing harp):

Listen Here

"Binnewith News" morphed into "Binnewith Amnesiacs" (via "Binnewith Gnus") in time for our gig at Bramleys, part of the Crash of Moons Club Arlet album-launch event on 16th March, also featuring a three-piece version of Medway's wondersome The Flowing. In the interim there were numerous rehearsals (with and without Aidan's accordion, with and without Juliet's live art projections) as well as a kind of costumed micro- bedroom gig at a slightly odd party. That was just Tom and I, interestingly sabotaged by a tiny northern girl who kept grabbing instruments and "jamming along", i.e., completely ignoring what we were doing and playing badly over the top of it). Local legend Luke Smith showed up and entertained guests on the piano downstairs (I remember him graciously going along with someone's request for Bon Jovi (!) as well as playing Matching Mole's "O Caroline" for me). There was also a chaotic party at Juliet's the next night — no Binnewith representation, just playing stuff like "Shake, Rattle and Roll" hectically in the tiny front room with Kallum, Sam Brothers, Jules, et al.

The Crash of Moons gig didn't go at all the way we'd planned, but ended up being a real success nonetheless. Time pressure, and Juliet hurrying to get the last details together and in costume, meant we didn't start with a sudden proclamation, but rather sort of faded in, Tom and I saz/uke noodling on our cardboard raft, Aidan silent, the audience (who'd accidentally been let into the back room too early) voluntarily going quiet and paying close attention...Miriam said that it felt as if we'd been there playing for eternity. When we finally winded the jam down and looked at each other in our deeply puzzled Amnesiac style, Juliet was ready with her introductory verse, and then we managed to squeeze slightly shortened versions of six pieces into the allotted time with her working the drawing and painting live and manipulating cutout silhouettes and transparencies.


The music didn't get recorded, but I think we played as well as we ever have. The somewhat chaotic circumstances made it happen in a more spontaneous way — Aidan in particular was doing some really interesting stuff and keeping us on our toes. I have no idea what a recording would have revealed, but the combination of the music, costume, set and projected visuals (including some silent film captions I'd made up) seem to have worked to produce some powerful atmospheres. What felt like it could have been a disastrous failure, even when it had already started, turned out to be anything but that. I was left with a strange feeling of "What the hell just happened there?" as if something beyond we four individuals had somehow got involved in the way it had unfolded.




Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 33

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 33

An extended live piece from Daevid Allen's Magick Brothers in San Francisco, '92, the original National Health lineup live in '76, a Caravan classic, a magnificent cover of Can's "Mother Sky", new jazz fusion from New Orleans, a couple of slabs of West Coast psychedelia, more from the Terry Riley/John Coltrane mashup and Kevin Ayers covers from California, Buenos Aires and Zeeland (the latter sung in a Zeelandish dialect!). From the Canterbury of today, new music from Arlet and another piece from Jacob Brant's 2013 Rainmaking EP.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 32

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 32

Soft Machine sounding great in '73, a decent slab of Steve Hillage's solo debut, Caravan on the radio in 1970, Henry Cow live in Stockholm, Robert Wyatt singing part of "Finnegans Wake", Hatfield on French TV, plus a pair of lo-fi gems from the Canterburys of 1966 and 2016. Spiritual jazz from Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and Lonnie Liston Smith, plus an extraordinary mashup of John Coltrane and Terry Riley, Canterbury-esque sounds from two Italian bands and one Japanese ensemble, and, from the current local music scene, tracks from Arlet, Bison Bonasus and Syd Arthur (acoustic).

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Three Cane Whale

13th Feb 2016
The Bowerhouse, Maidstone

Alex Vann from Spiro (who I last saw at The Bowerhouse, truly one of the best gigs I've seen) is part of this trio, whose name they enigmatically claim originates with "a misspelling and a misunderstanding". He plays numerous stringed instruments (bowed psaltry and zither among them) beyond the usual mandolin. Paul plays acoustic guitar (and miniature harp on one number) and "leader" (well, the one who does the talking) Pete plays trumpet, cornet, a keyboard called a "dulcitone
", harmonium, lyre, glockenspiel and tenor horn. They were on tour promoting a new album called Palimpsest (a great word!).

It being The Bowerhouse (a tiny, intimate venue) there was no need for a PA, so Pete had to reign in the trumpet a bit so as not to drown out the strings. But it worked. I was amused and impressed by Alex's "zither maps" (trapezoidal sheets of paper he slid under the strings for each tune that he played zither on). A lovely, warm, unpretentious kind of gig. It was good to see Ben from Arlet there (they recorded their forthcoming album Big Red Sun in the space, named one of its tunes "Bowerhouse", and take a lot of inspiration from Spiro).

Here they are back in 2012 playing in St. Catherine's Chapel on a hilltop near Abbotsbury in Dorset, somewhere I've been a couple of times and always wanted to play music in:

They announced a gig at a very special venue in London at the end of March, supporting Spiro, so I've already got a ticket for that.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

COUM Transmissions at UKC, 1972

Sir Robert Bunkum recently brought to my attention part of an interview with Foxtrot Echo about his involvement in the pre-Throbbing Gristle performance collective COUM Transmissions. The other day I spotted a poster on the Kent University campus for a DJ set from an ex-Busted (embarrassing boyband) member...

...and found myself thinking "Is this what things have come to?", remembering campus gigs in the late 80s — Spacemen 3 in Eliot Common Room, Cardiacs in Rutherford Dining Hall, local crusty squatter psych-collective Door Marked Summer (plus their dogs!) playing an anti-Poll Tax fundraiser, Sons of the Desert playing up a storm in Rutherford JCR, anarcho-comedy-punk mayhem from Degeneration and the associated Tankerton Dance Ensemble...

But that all seems quite tame now, having read this. I was obviously born 15-20 years too late...

* * *

Can you remember any eventful gigs?

The one at Kent University was quite an extraordinary one. It was 1972 I think, let me just look it up ... we might as well pin down the actual name ... Copyright Breeches, of course. The whole concept of Copyright Breeches had a few layers to it. We used to steal ideas, talk about stealing ideas. Well, not always steal; we'd find them and use them in a new combination. Cross breed. Create mutant forms. Mixing it with something as opposite as possible and seeing what came out of it. Which is quite a creative thing to do. Because we were claiming things as our own we would possibly be sued for breach of copyright so we started discussing all this in the Alien Brain in Hull. That was the name of Genesis' house, an old jam factory. We were talking about Coum stealing things and it being a copyright breach, and I said, we ought to be honest about it and just call things copyright breaches. So it was like a whole performance where we'd be accused of stealing things, possibly ideas. We didn't know if it would be because we made it up as we went along. Genesis had some copyright britches made. The C for copyright as the pattern on these big broad trousers. And there was the book made as well with the bicycle wheel like Marcel Duchamps work on the cover. Published by Beau Geste Press. Now that's another story because that's him! Genesis pretending to be another organisation. When he was typing furiously full time he gave the impression that Coum was a big organisation. Write in the third person things like that. It reminded me of the scene in the film Beau Geste, the foreign legion is defending the fort and all the legionnaires get killed until there is only one left. So that the marauding Arabs don't overwhelm the fort he props up the bodies of his comrades with guns and he runs backwards and forwards behind them firing so it seams like there are more people firing than there is. I used to refer to him as Beau Geste. I addressed letters to him as Beau Geste and he rather liked that idea. But anyway I digress. At Kent University an old friend of mine, Davy Jones, was quite sympathetic, so he promoted the gig. Our advance publicity, our notorious reputation was so effective even before we got there that the University authorities banned us from performing within the university. So the student union, to prove a point, hired this circus tent and put it just outside the perimeter. Now part of the problem was that there was no direct electricity supply. Somebody rather ingeniously took off one of the panels on one of the street lights and wired up a direct link to that. So we did have some power.

The national grid!

Unfortunately half way through the evening. It must have caused some problem, a short circuit or something. Half the City of Canterbury was thrown into darkness because of our performance. The lights went out. It was quite an extraordinary gig because there was the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull with his guitar, this prepared piano, we ordered in advance, altered it a bit on the day. Genesis had his drum kit. My friend Robo Ray. Me and Robo Ray did some tapes; we did some for Coum too. Rather like supermarket jingles, slogans from 1001 ways to Coum, information, we had a xylophone effect and incidental music. It was like Muzak but putting over avant garde ideas in a low key way, like easy listening. Anyway, there was him. Cosey of course and the dog, Tremble. Me, Foxtrot Echo although I think for the evening Genesis pretended that I was from the Gay Liberation Front. Because a guy who was also in Coum, Nicholas Bramble an ex-ballet dancer, very temperamental, for some reason he didn't come and Genesis thought it was such good copy he pretended I was him to the journalist that interviewed him. Because, well, I was wearing mascara, glitter eye make-up and lipstick anyway. I suppose it was quite credible. Genesis did some sort of playlette wearing transparent nappies. We were playing improvised music with slogans. Cheese Wire Maull did a Beatles medley and some of his own songs. People shouted things, we shouted back. There was a load of saw dust that was thrown everywhere. I don't know where that came from. I had some feathers... Then of course half way through it all became dark. It became touchy feely. Some people got really confused. It became something of a legend. It was talked about for some time. Banned again.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

We Did It Again!

I put this together for the middle hour of the latest Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast: just about every known version of Kevin Ayers' absurdist composition "We Did It Again", creatively mixed by yours truly...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 31

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 31

A Gong obscurity I'd somehow overlooked, some recently surfaced Hatfield and the North from French TV in 1973 and live National Health from the LSE in 1976, neo-Canterbury sounds from The Boot Lagoon (Canterbury), Amoeba Split (Galicia) and Homunculus Res (Italy), some archival Harmonia, a tribute to the Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson (who recently died, on the same day) and an hour-long mix of almost every known version of Kevin Ayers' absurdist composition "We Did It Again".

Sunday, February 07, 2016

new Koloto soundtrack

There's just a trailer at the moment (it's for a feature film called Damsel), looking forward to hearing the whole thing. It's satisfying to see Maria getting this kind of exposure for her music.

Monday, February 01, 2016

the latest from Canterbury

I've been a bit slack with this music blogging lately (partly because of energy going into my video blog The Reality Report). So here's a bit of a catchup:

I've missed a few Free Range events in recent weeks (being away, or rehearsing), but this one was good (Tom Jackson, Benedict Taylor and Daniel Thompson on 13th January, a one-off Wednesday event, at Water Lane Cafe):

The next night was three sets of poetry put together with a very large number of visiting poets reading, linked to a new local poetry publication called DATABLEED. The truly amazing improv duo of Jennifer Walshe (higher-dimensional vocalising) and Panos Ghirkas (violin extremism) played a bit at the end of each set, but that hasn't yet shown up on the Free Range Soundcloud stream (all the poetry's there, though, well worth a listen).

There's been a Tuesday night jazz jam at Bramleys (very busy again, with all the students back), also a blues jam — Dulcie and Jules are diversifying to accomodate all the musicians who want to jam — the latter had incredibly wild, raw energy, far from the pedestrian twelve-bar jamming I'd expected... at least when I arrived to hear the amazing Ella Morgan (a New Zealander back in Canterbury after having moved to London, apparently, although I was previously unaware of her). She was backed up by a great crew (including Toby from Lapis Lazuli on bass and busker Sam Brothers on harmonica). Sam played after that, backed up by various friend, but I had to get an early night, so missed the rest of the evening's music.

Binnewith News (the musical theatre project with Tom H, Aidan and Juliet) has been evolving nicely. We tried one rehearsal with Juliet doing live painting via an overhead projector we got, really inspiring stuff, endless possibilities emerging. And Aidan's learning more and more of our repertoire, embellishing everything with beautiful, lush, harmonic colours. We've got two or three gigs in the pipeline, including one with Arlet and The Flowing for the Crash of Moons Club event at Bramleys in March. Should be good.

There was a lovely afternoon with Rosy P (back from the West Country to take her driving test) checking out some exhibitions in town and then going to Evensong in the Cathedral. All the standing up, sitting down and liturgical readings a bit weird, but some celestial Poulenc and Telemann was sung (and some curiously prog-like organ playing!), so it was worth it. The next night (16th January) was Lapis Lazuli at The Lighthouse in Deal. I got a lift in the van with the band and friends, deeply enjoyed two long sets. They played the whole new album — all three pieces! — plus "Hot Water on a Dirty Face" and "Big Bird" from the old days. There had been talk about a third, improvised set, but sadly that didn't transpire. They sounded the best they ever have, each of the five players at the peak of his ability, it seemed. Phil's been practicing his tenor sax a lot, Adam continually amazed me with the fluidity and creativity of his drumming, Toby was mercurial on bass, and the interplay of Dan and Neil on electric guitars was the icing on the cake. Superb in every way!

back in G(h)ent

I was over in Gent (the city in Belgium where I lived in the mid-90s) the other weekend. My musical brother Sven has been going through some difficult times, so I headed over to see how he was doing. The first night there we ended up at a jam party at Scottish Dave's, a double bass player who was part of a recent musical project of Sven's. This involved me on saz, Dave on bass, Sven and another guitarist, some percussion, singing and young hang player called Pieter (his C# tuning rather limited things, but here's a nice chunk of the proceedings I recorded at my Zoom H2):

As the local council's busking policy has just been re-liberalised, Sven was considering getting onto a positive flow again by going out busking every day (he's well known in the city, and once he gets out on the streets, things start happening for him). He was talking about learning a new song every day and asked me for suggestions. "Here Comes The Sun" came to mind, and he soon had a nice version of that together to take to the people.

There was a bit of inconsequential spaced out saz/guitar jamming in his attic room, but mostly just talking at great length and wandering the city. The day after he was learning "Here Comes The Sun", we got a bright sunny day (after three grey drizzly ones), so we walked up to the marshy Bourgouyen nature reserve, and I saw my first red squirrel since (I think) the late 70s — nice. We also ran into his friend Abdul Kader, and dropped in on our mutual pal Mickey to drink coffee and watch some cycle racing (a national obsession) — both of them played a little bit on the Ail Fionn Chouchenanna sessions which I recorded with Inge and Sven back in 2000 [there are no photos of Mickey's involvement, but Abdul Kader is pictured upper-right with Sven]:


There was also an evening cooking in the downstairs kitchen listening to, of all things, the new ELO album ("Jeff Lynne's ELO" — he plays all the instruments), which was strangely comforting. Likewise, some of Roy Orbison's A Night In Black and White tribute concert.

Also, while out and about, we ran into Sven's old percussion teacher drinking tea in a Moroccan cafe (a Tunisian who urged me to check out Samir Loussif) and local legend/poet Coenraad De Waele, cheerfully drunk outside the Trefpunt in Bij Sint-Jacobs, talking enthusiastically with us about the art of The Beatles and Dylan.

Seville and back

I spent a few days early in the New Year visiting my sister Kate and her family, now living down in Seville. I missed out on the flamenco thing the only other time I've visited, so this time her husband Ron took me to a low-key local venue called La Carboneria (an old coal store) during my last evening there. Almost all the flamenco in Sevilla is now put on for the benefit of tourists, so it's hard to say what, if anything, is still "authentic". But this place seemed to attract a mix of somewhat more discerning foreigners, plus some locals, and I enjoyed the atmosphere a lot. One singer, one guitarist, three people clapping and one dancer. This kind of thing (except we were in the cosier back room setting):

I also returned with a happy memory of doing ridiculous expressive dancing to French experimental electronic composer François Bayle with my little niece Zoe. She's already going to flamenco classes, loves music and dance, and asked me why I had my headphones on one afternoon while I was listening to WFMU. "I don't think anyone else will like this weird music," I told her. But she wanted to hear it, and so we ended up attempting to dance to it together. "I want to be like you, Uncle Matt," she said before I left. I'm not sure if her mother would approve!

I got back to Canterbury just in time for Libby's 40th birthday woodland party extravaganza, with archery! zip lines! a lateral thinking quiz! feasting! and a lunchtime set from the original Arlet quintet! Not the tightest set they've ever played, I think they'd agree, but just right for the occasion. Some old favourites, a lot of tunes off the forthcoming Big Red Sun album (including their Eno cover "The Big Ship") and a promising new one called "Deep Space Nine". Later in the evening Tom H and I got some of our saz/guitar tunes going. Then Aidan from Arlet returned from a rehearsal he'd had to go to, and joined in on accordion, playing some of the "Binnewith News" set we've been working on (sans costumes, set and concept). Then Miriam showed up from Bristol (having just finished a run of shows with Little Bulb Theatre) with her violin, and she, Aidan, Domi (violin) and Owen (clarinet) got a klezmer session started, some lively dancing ensuing at that point. Last to arrive (just after Libby had to go to bed, much Cava having been consumed during the day) was Leonie, who played us her exciting new collaborative album (almost done) via her phone and my Vox battery amp. We played a few old jazz/blues numbers (I can remember "Sweet Lotus Blossom", but it was getting late, and I couldn't keep up with all those chord changes...).

The next morning we awoke to the news of Bowie's passing, had a memorable social breakfast and tidy-up while Radio 6 played nothing but Bowie, people sending in their memories and tributes. Like a lot of people, I've since been re-exploring his back catalogue since. Still haven't heard that last Black Star album he released a few days before the end. Not surprisingly, it's the ambient Berlin-era stuff he did with Eno which is of greatest interest to me, and someone's helpfully compiled this YouTube playlist of all of it:

And I find this drunken pub singalong of "Starman" at the Prince Albert in Brixton (near where Bowie grew up, on the night he died) to be strangely moving:


Sunday, January 31, 2016

RIP Signe and Paul

Oh man, not just Paul Kantner (the news I heard first), but the Jefferson Airplane's original female vocalist (before Grace Slick) Signe Anderson died the same day — Thursday 28th January 2016. The early Airplane music has gone so deeply into me since it awakened me as a teenager in the 80s. Fly high, brother and sister...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 30

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 30

Classics from Soft Machine and Caravan, a Spanish band clearly influenced by both of these groups, a pre-Kraftwerk curiosity, Alice Coltrane, Tortoise, some Bowie/Eno ambience and an exploration of the peripheral Canterbury contributions made by synth pioneer Francis Monkman. This episode also features a guest selection from, and chat with, local academic Alan Payne about this PhD research on the Canterbury scene.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Coltrane/Riley mashup

Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive has created this incredibly beautiful mashup of recordings by two of my favourite musicians ever to have lived, John Coltrane and Terry Riley. Check it out!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Free Range Presents: Canterbury Sans Frontières

I was on CSR FM last night. This is a local community/student station that's mostly dominated by student broadcasting and, as far as I can tell, listened to by very few people. Sam Bailey who organises the Free Range events in Canterbury has initiated a weekly one-hour broadcast on Wednesday evenings with four presenters in rotation. I'm doing a condensed version of my monthly three-hour Canterbury Sans Frontières podcast. It was pre-recorded, so I got to hear myself on the radio briefly (and delight in knowing that '68 Soft Machine was spiraling out through the local aether!) before hurrying down to Water Lane Cafe to catch a one-off Wednesday Free Range event (with improv clarinet virtuoso Tom Jackson and friends). Typically, the first programme went out while the only people likely to be tuning in were at this live event. So I've uploaded it as a streamable podcast, if anyone's interested:

Mixcloud stream

Thursday, January 07, 2016

original COTD trio reunion

2nd January 2016

The day after new year's day, Simon, Keith and I (the original trio who formed Children of the Drone back in 2001) met up in Vicky's front room for a jam — the first time this has happened for many years. Keith brought an acoustic bass guitar, Simon an iPad and a "You Rock" Midi guitar controller (the one used in the Rock Band computer game, but, alas, he forgot to bring fresh batteries). So it was saz, bass and iPad, with Simon making use of a slide guitar app, among others. We had one (admittedly rather languid) eighty minute jam in G minor and then ended up chatting for ages until they had to go. Not the best improvising we've ever done, but great to get together again. I've extracted four excerpts which I consider worthy of preservation:

Listen Here

Friday, January 01, 2016

slippin' into the future

This was the first thing I heard in 2016. Vicky, Thom, Joanna and I ended up putting BBC6 Music on the radio just before midnight last night (a very chilled New Year's Eve!), and it's what Nemone (former Radio 1 DJ) decided to drop. I remember hearing it a lot on American "classic rock" radio in the 80s, being unimpressed and thinking Steve Miller had just been an opportunist rocker tapping in to the cosmic aspirations of the time, but I must admit it now sounds quite good:


Rather a different kettle of fish, this — possibly my favourite "new" discovery of 2015, an instrumental trio from Derbyshire. I came across them when searching for tunes to play during the last Crash of Moons Club night (I was delving into Fridge, Bibio and various glitchy, minimal electronica and "folktronica"):

And, of course, RIP Lemmy. I listened to the whole of Hawkwind's Space Ritual (on which he plays monster bass throughout and sings some of) today, thanks to dear Stan on his late-night WFMU show. And he also threw in this 1975 Hawkwind B-side (with honking Nik Turner sax and a violin solo!), which I'd not heard for years:

A nice quote from the great man relevant to this song: "And yes, I am the only person to fit the word 'parallelogram' into a rock'n'roll number! I'm very proud of that."

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Canterbury midwinter

The acoustic project I've been working on with Tom Holden (still provisionally called "Binnewith News") suddenly took on a completely new life and direction in the weeks leading up to winter solstice.

First, Aidan from Arlet got involved musically, playing accordion, making very helpful arrangement suggestions (even transcribing some of our tunes as sheet music, which was quite strange and flattering to see). Tom and I were both taken aback that someone with that level of musical and compositional skill would want to get involved with us, but delighted by his enthusiasm.

Second, our friend Juliet got involved as a kind of "art director" for the project, an open-ended assignment that could have involved creating visuals, costumes, projections... we weren't exactly sure, but I had great faith in her insight and imaginative powers. She came to a couple of rehearsals, sat in the corner listening and sketching in her notebook. "I think I'm going to put you on a raft," she eventually announced. Characters and costumes were soon sketched out — Tom a kind of psychedelic/steampunk pirate, me a kind of Arab prince/scholar (with curly-toed slippers, crucially), and Aidan, having expressed a strong desire not to get involved in any kind of acting, a monk under a vow of silence.

A premise then emerged between us: Three amnesiacs waking up on a raft with musical instruments — they can remember how to play various pieces of music, but not who they are or how they got there. Slowly, gradually, by playing music, they're able to work out how to navigate the sea of ontological uncertainty that they're adrift on, leading to all kinds of possible encounters with fantastic entities, etc. It seemed a great starting point for an experimental project like this, a kind of initial test/sketch where we wouldn't have to worry too much about "getting into character", as we wouldn't know what our characters were (just had to adopt silly costumes and get on with it).

Holly had offered her bedroom in a shared house in Wincheap for the first performance (without having much of a picture as to our intentions, just expecting an acoustic trio to play, I think), and we came up with the winter solstice (well, 21st December, technically the evening before) as a date that would work. Several nights leading up to that were spent in Juliet's garage, painting scenery, constructing a large cardboard raft, working with papier-mâché, origami and other media to get all the necessary props and visuals together. There was a real sense of excitement about this, entering into some kind of unknown reality...

Aidan showed up just before the gig, having been at home practicing the tunes (while we figured out how to hang scenery in Holly's room, and fussed with the various props, etc.). None of us had any idea quite how this was going to work, but it went astonishingly well. An invited audience of twelve was summoned from the kitchen by Juliet (wordlessly, wearing a blank mask and a black veil) and led upstairs to find a maritime scene: we had two types of crinkly semi-translucent blue fabric ruffled up on the floor to represent the sea, seascapes Juliet and Tom had painted on sheets hanging on three sides, and the raft at the back. Tom was strumming idly on his ukulele, me "asleep" and Aidan sitting in silence beside his accordion. After a while, I "woke up" in a state of total confusion, Tom and I quickly ascertaining that we had no idea who we, or each other, were, and that "Brother Aidan" might know something, but wasn't saying.

The first couple of tunes were just Tom and I, Aidan remaining in silence. Eventually he started fiddling with his accordion, in a very playfully percussive way (he turned out to be an excellent silent actor!), then wheezing a few chords, and then bursting into his full musical brilliance for the third tune. Between pieces, Tom and I riffed on the "what is this place? how did we get here? who are we? and how do we know how to play these instruments and tunes?" themes. There were references to a feeling that we were being watched (some giggles from the audience then), but otherwise we acted like the audience wasn't there, and they sat attentively until the end. There was no break, it got rather hot in the room, no one left for a toilet or smoke break, and the whole thing went on for nearly two hours. I was wearing a turban Juliet had wound onto my head (and a kind of paisley dressing gown, as well as baggy trousers and curly-toed slippers I'd made from papier mache), so was sweating profusely by the drinking water on the raft...but this just added to a sense of endurance and authenticity. The whole thing had quite a comedic aspect, and afterwards I was happy to hear Holly compare our aesthetic to The Mighty Boosh (praise indeed!).

Juliet's role during the performance was as a kind of controller/programmer/deity responsible for the world in which we musician characters had inexplicably awoken. Keeping her blank mask and veil on, she stood up on a chair in the corner after each piece to announce its name (speaking in an ominous voice through an echoey "thunder drum"). This gave Tom and I something to talk about (what was that voice? where did it come from? what did it say? what could it mean?). After a while she got into her stride and started addressing us with other cryptic pronouncement and acted as a kind of sporadic narrator. None of this was planned or scripted, so afterwards it was surprising and encouraging to find that many in the audience had assumed it was.

Holly's housemate Tim had installed a very expensive looking microphone in the room and had recorded the whole thing on ProTools, and there were a few photos discretely taken during the gig, so some of that may make it's way here in due course.

[update, 2016-02-09: the recordings are now available here]

Liam from Syd Arthur was in the audience, we were happy to see, and his words of praise for the whole experience were hugely encouraging. We also learned that the new SA album, currently being mixed, is to be called Apricity, an almost forgotten word which he'd found, meaning "the warmth of the sun as experienced in winter", or something to that effect. I'd seen Liam and his brother Joel a few nights earlier at a little gig at The Refectory Kitchen in St. Dunstans — Jeremy and Steve, formerly of the Jimmy Jones Band (a long-defunct Canterbury fusion band) have formed a new trio with a drummer I didn't recognise. They're called Sharawadji, and it was only their second gig, really interesting stuff that suggests great things to come. I just looked up the Googled the name and found out that it means this:

"[A]n aesthetic effect which characterises the sensation of plenitude sometimes created by the contemplation of a complex soundscape whose beauty is unexplainable. The effect comes about as a surprise and will carry you elsewhere, beyond strict representation — out of context. In this brutal confusion, the senses get lost. A beautiful Sharawadji plays with the rules of composition, manipulates them and awakens a feeling of pleasure through perceptual confusion. Whether in a dreamlike or anxious state, we are sometimes completely deaf to the environment. However, while on a walk or on a journey, our spirit can combine availability, attention, perspicacity and therefore become receptive to new things, including sonic fantasy."

A good name, then!

A few days later I made my way to The Unicorn (also in St. Dunstans) for the customary Christmas Eve gathering of Canterbury friends and musicians linked to the old Furthur scene (members of Syd Arthur, Zoo For You, The Boot Lagoon, also Adam "Oko" Dawson and Tony "Care Package" Onuchukwu and others from various interlocking circles of friends). I got a chance to catch up with Laurie from the Sondryfolk collective, too, back briefly from Bristol. She got to visit the rainforest in Ecuador this year as part of her work as assistant to the artist Mariele Neudecker, a project which includes some sound art, like this:

Adam from Lapis Lazuli has a birthday on the 27th, so invited a load of friends out to his cabin near Barham on Boxing Day for an evening of playing pool on a wonky pool table he'd rescued, drinking whisky and spinning old vinyl (a lot of it from Leonie's collection, which had been left there): Led Zep III, Beefheart's Strictly Personal, Yessongs, Roberta Flack, The Staples Singers, the new Evil Usses and Count Bobo albums...

The reason Adam didn't do this on the 27th was that Native Productions were hosting their annual xmas-time gig at The Penny Theatre, with various Native DJs playing sets, and a live set from The Boot Lagoon. The latter was extremely well received. A howl of approval after the first, energetic, number led Callum (who does the somewhat reluctant between-tune talking) to exclaim "Wow, that went better than expected!". And it was all uphill from there, The Boot tearing it up in their characteristic fashion. Cam and Seth were the usual flawless rhythm section, and Pete and Cal seemed more confident than ever in their playing. I made a recording on my Zoom H2 and later found out that guitarist Pete took some video on a GoPro, so these will eventually be combined and the resulting clips embedded here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ju's Garage

The shared house on the Hales Place estate in Canterbury where Juliet's living has a garage which has recently become a hive of creative activity. It started with her painting on the walls, then inviting musicians back for jams after gigs in town, then it became the HQ for the "Binnewith News" project (Tom H, Aidan and I playing acoustic music with Juliet as visual/conceptual director).

13th December 2015

After a Sunday evening rehearsal with Tom and Aidan (Juliet sitting in the corner, sketching ideas for visuals), we ended up down in The Shakespeare (a new extension at the back that's accessible from The Buttermarket). Jules (who co-organises the Bramleys fortnightly jazz jams) and Josh (a young dreadlocked busker from Whitstable who's been getting into playing a lot of gypsy jazz lately) have a weekly residency there — just two acoustic guitars. We caught a little bit of their second set, after which Josh was curious to see my saz and we ended up jamming together for a while (he plugged me into the spare input on his amp so I didn't have to play too vigorously to hear myself). That went really well, and he seemed very interested in doing more.

A couple of night later, Josh was playing guest guitar and Jules playing keyboards with The Pinocchios, a wild, chaotic "soul-folk" collective based around Callum Sutton, a singer-songwriter and prolific busker who showed up in Canterbury not too long ago. Meg Janaway was on backing vocals (the two of them just howl together, it sounds great), Callum's busking pal Sam Brothers played harmonica and sang a bit, the ubiquitous Dan Sayer was playing a soprano-type sax he recently designed and 3D printed himself(!), the drummer I recognised (it was Neil who was in the briefly reconfigured Famous James & The Monsters with Tom), there was an older, very skilled lead electric player with a bluesy touch, and a newly recruited bass player who I've seen at the Bramleys jams. With that many players and no one mixing, it was bound to sound a bit ropy, but with a bit of advice from the small, friendly audience, they got the mix into a vaguely acceptable shape. But the whole thing felt more like the most exciting rehearsal session ever, rather than a polished performance. Which suited it perfectly. There may have been a cover or two, but it was basically Callum's writing, the one that's stayed with me being called (I think) "We're All Gonna Die Some Day". Powerful stuff, and it will no doubt sound even more powerful if they can keep the band together for a few rehearsals and get someone behind the desk mixing. Here's an earlier lineup playing on the same stage a few weeks earlier:

Afterwards, almost everyone involved, plus Toby from Lapis Lazuli and a couple of others, traipsed up the hill to Juliet's garage (interpolating a long sojourn outside an off-license in St. Dunstans and another in Beverley Meadow while various people got lost and refound). An all-night session then ensued (songs were being sung and played almost as soon as someone had time to get a guitar out of its case). This was fueled by Polish lager, Scotch whisky and countless rollups, with Juliet's Bulgarian housemate Yanik coming out to join us and do a bit of MC'ing at one point. I lasted until about 5a.m., I think, but it carried on after that.

Songs I can remember jamming along to at various points through the night: Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey", "Moondance" and "Sweet Thing", "Got My Mojo Working", old-time American songs about the Blue Ridge Mountains and lonesome whistles blowing, "King of Bongo", "Cocaine Blues" → "Silent Night" (Sam discovered that they segue surprisingly well), some gospelly stuff like "Hold On", "Ain't Got No Home In This world Anymore" and "Down By the Riverside", Django's "Minor Swing" and "Nuages", some of Callum's songs including the sublime "So Far Away From Me", "St. Louis Woman Blues" (Toby singing) and similar one about a "Crazy Mama", "Hit The Road Jack", Dylan's "I Shall Be Released", "Banks of the Ohio", "Shady Grove" and "St. James Infirmary". And that was just a small fraction of it...