Friday, December 02, 2016

Steal This Evening

10th November 2016
Bramleys, Canterbury

Sven was visiting from Belgium — this was the day Trump's election victory was declared, so everything felt pretty weird and uncertain — we decided to go down to Bramleys to catch Bearded Sphynx's set at this event, but just missed them. The night was organised by some uncharacteristically interesting students who publish a (hard copy!) zine called Steal This MagaZine, seemingly influenced by the Adbusters aesthetic. Graham from the UKC Psychedelics Society was spinning some reggae tunes before we caught a bit of a local indie-psych guitar band called Tokyo Tearoom. All rather encouraging. Popping out for chips, we heard tireless troubadour Sam Brothers singing Dylan's "I Want You" from inside the Bell and Crown, so stopped in to listen to his set. By the time we go back to Bramleys the place had filled up, so we headed to The Unicorn in St. Dunstans instead to catch up with Joel from Syd Arthur, his girlfriend Hannah and SA soundman Mark, ended up talking Trump, inevitably. To counteract the gloom, Luke Smith was playing some piano on the other side of the pub. When he saw me come in, he quickly launched into Matching Mole's "O Caroline", bless him...

Max, Witchdoctor and Gneng

4th November 2016
Club Burrito, Canterbury

Max Martin started things off with a pleasingly shambolic set (including the usual Roky Erikson covers), this time with Jules on sax and Rachel on drums — all unrehearsed, but that wasn't really a problem. Herne Bay band Witchdoctor closed the night with their enthusiastic garage-prog mayhem, dropping three songs by their favourite band, the Cardiacs ("Inner City Lining", "Anything I Can't Eat" and "Arnold"), as well as a jokey "Loving You" by Minnie Riperton while adjusting their sound at the outset. In between was a short set from new local space-rock band Gneng, their first ever gig. Gneng are Harry and Ellen from acid-folk duo Bearded Sphynx, guitarist Pete Edlin from The Boot Lagoon (also on keyboards), former Zoo For You bassist Andrew Prowse and Richie Ryan on drums. Harry launched had the project just a few weeks earlier after hearing Gong's Camembert Electrique album for the first time. He got in touch to ask about possible drummers and I suggested Richie (who I'd seen playing guitar in Plume as well as drumming with the CCCU Scratch Orchestra and a new jazz-fusion band called Gorgonzola). Richie may have to move on soon, but he seems to be loving it for the time being — here's a little clip he posted after the gig.

Endwar Powers and Dubi Dolczek

6th November 2016
secret woodland location near Canterbury

Dubi Dolczek and friends at Smugglers Festival, last summer or perhaps the one before

Another wond'rous, intimate occasion, including Endwar Powers (a.k.a. Andrew Prowse) singing in public for only the second time. Mystery man and adventurer Dubi Doczek (a.k.a. Graeme Smith) showed up with only his pal Lewis Fitzjohn (from Yama Warashi) rather than the usual motley crew, but the two of them managed to play a magnificently varied and deeply psychedelic set, mixing up forgotten 20s jazz songs, beautiful old rocksteady and a few songs from the extraordinary Dubi Dolczek and the Haunted Lagoon album ("Fishbone Jim", "A Million Flamingos") plus the forthcoming Dubi In Space ("Planet of the Grey-Haired Babies"). Dubi played something that looked like a hybrid clarinet/soprano saxophone with Lewis on guitar, percussion and battery-powered keyboard. Most memorable of all was the spontaneous doo-wop sing-along they instigated at the end of "(I Met Her At The) Laser Dojo".

Before the gig, I was surprised, but then not, to overhear Graeme enthusiastically discussing oldskool hiphop with Laszlo (local MC Humble Pious). He's got quite a staggering wealth of musical knowledge, and it all filters through into his own, utterly original, work.

Here's some footage of Dubi and friends live in Bristol with (why not?) some superimposed fish species imagery:

end of Syd Arthur UK tour

3rd November 2016
Patterns, Brighton

This was the last night of their UK headline tour promoting the recently released Apricity album, and I got a last minute lift with Jamie Dams (partner of drummer Josh, but also creator of such fabulous music as this), had a fascinating conversation about consciousness all the way to Brighton. Support came from a pretty competent local prog band called Man Ray Sky. Syd played the played whole album minus "Plane Crash In Kansas", plus the "big" tracks from Sound Mirror (minus "Edge of the Earth") and a bit of On An On. The previous time I'd seen them, in London, Raven had brought out his mandolin for part of the mighty "Chariots" → "Singularity" but this time no acoustic instruments were to be seen, he opting to instead shred wholly on his tenor (four-string) electric guitar and paint soundwashes with his analogue synth setup. The vocals were slightly muffled but the overall mix wasn't too bad. My highlight moment was probably the jam at the end of "Garden of Time" where once again I was (to quote Paul Weller from a recent MOJO piece) left standing, drop-jawed, wondering "How the f*** are they doing that?". Jamie and Josh stayed in Brighton, so I got a lift back to Canterbury with the rest of the band, helped them unload the van at Bramble Hall HQ near Boughton.

This Is The Kit at Union Chapel

Union Chapel, Islington, London
1st November 2016

This beautifully curated, celebratory evening marked the end of one-and-a-half years of touring to support TITK's acclaimed Bashed Out album. I'd been bought a ticket and had no idea what to expect — my first time inside the beautiful Union Chapel too. Not surprisingly, the gig was sold out.

The Fantasy Orchestra, directed by Kate's husband Jesse (while simultaneously playing some killer lead guitar), started things off: loads of them, as usual, playing an eclectic diversity of instruments in silly costumes, carnival masks, etc. Apparently quite a few of them had cycled from Bristol to London after a similar gig there a few days earlier. There was the usual dose of Morricone, but also a load of other stuff I'd not seen them do before including (something of a surprise) Jeffrey Lewis' "If You Shoot The Head You Kill The Ghoul". Rozi Plein, the bassist from TITK, came on to do her song "Best Team" backed by the FO. The sound was remarkably balanced throughout considering the number of people on stage.

Another Bristol friend of the band, Rachel Dadd, then played a set with Rozi and Kate backing her on vocals, plus a large part of the Fantasy Orchestra reappearing on stage for the last couple of songs ("Strike Our Scythes" and "Balloon").

TITK is an ever-changing entity with Kate Stables at its centre. I'd thought I'd see the quartet lineup I'd seen in Ramsgate a few months ago (her, Rozi, Neil Smith on lead guitar and Jamie on drums). Instead, it was that lineup augmented by Jesse on electric guitar, plus our dear friend Lorenzo Prati (Rae, Evil Usses, Count Bobo, Tezeta, Dubi Dolczek) and Melanie Wickham (I think) on saxophones. Such a beautiful ensemble sound! They didn't play most of my favourites, but I only realised that afterwards, so enraptured was I by the whole thing. The Fantasy Orchestra joined in for a few triumphant numbers towards the end of the set, and the evening ended with a gorgeous, sparse "Bashed Out" encore before I had to run for my train back to Canterbury.

There was a remarkably warm, inclusive atmosphere about the whole thing. The babysitters backstage even got a shout-out and round of applause, I'm happy to report. A very tasteful lightshow too:

Logos Robot Orchestra, Gent

When I was visiting Sven over the Channel in G(h)ent earlier this year, he pointed out a warehouse space just across from where he was living and told me something about a robot orchestra that an eccentric inventor had created in there. This sounded pretty fascinating, but it faded from my mind until Sven visited recently and urged me to have a look online. Check this out (and stick with it, it might take a minute to figure out what you're seeing)!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Famous Blue Raincoat"

This one was always my favourite. RIP Leonard Cohen.

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 40

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 40

The epic opening track from the new Syd Arthur album, Caravan playing "For Richard" for a '74 Peel session, Kevin Ayers singing Syd Barrett, Syd Barrett singing Syd Barrett (several times), Sun Ra, Terry Riley, an Anglo-Japanese Lindsay Cooper tribute band inspired by this podcast(!), newish chamber-folk from Spiro and North Sea Radio Orchestra, National Health, Robert Wyatt, early Gong and a Soft Machine '68 miniature. Also featured in this episode is an hour-long guest mix from Indonesian fusion archivist Terry Collins, a listener in Jakarta.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Byron Wallen's Four Corners Quartet

27th October 2016
Water Lane Cafe, Canterbury

London-based jazz trumpeter Byron Wallen returned to Canterbury with his new band, just amazing! This was a Free Range event, listed as part of the annual Canterbury Festival, so the tiny Water Lane Cafe was properly packed out. Was that a flugelhorn BW was playing? Guitarist Rob Luft brought an almost Hillage-like "solar guitar hero" thing when he got to shine but mostly just played perfectly-judged, tasteful jazz guitar lines and chords. The rhythm section of Theon Cross on tuba and Rod Youngs on drums would be hard to beat (and RY looked like he was having such a good time). Byron's written pieces were systematically broken down into spaced-out jams, almost telepathically abstract and Grateful-Dead-like at times, where you're left wondering (in the best possible sense) "are they even playing music now, or...?". After seeing Luo the night before, this outpouring of joyful neo-jazz left me with a feeling of deep happiness.

Outside I spent a little while catching up with Andrew Prowse, formerly the bass player from Zoo For You, who'd moved back to Canterbury from Devon a week earlier and already been recruited into Gneng, the new jazzy spacerock project launched by Harry and Ellen of Bearded Sphynx (with Pete Edlin of The Boot Lagoon pn keys/guitar and now, at my suggestion, Richie Ryan of Plume on drums). Exciting musical times in Cantwarabyrig!

Poggy's Woman album

A pre-release copy of Woman, the first solo album by Mary-Anne "Poggy" Hatton has just come my way, another gem from the Smugglers Records collective down in Deal on the Kent coast.

The eleven tracks combine elements of 60s French pop sophistication, 80s jazz-pop (Style Council, Everything But The Girl, etc.) and touches of 90s triphop, Poggy's lyrics dealing with many aspects of womanhood, underlined by her striking vocal strength and confidence, ranging from Sade-like silkiness to the fierce authority of PJ Harvey. The whole thing is propelled along by superb drumming from her husband James and infused with the versatile twin guitars of Phil Self and her brother-in-law Dave Hatton, the latter bringing moments of Marc Ribot-style rawness and angularity to nicely offset the underlying sweetness of the record. Like the album's bassist, Billy Glynn, Phil and Dave are former bandmates of Poggy and James in Cocos Lovers, Smugglers' flagship band.

The rootsiness brought by the Cocos-and-friends crew is effectively contrasted by Richard Bundy's subtle 21st century production touches which at times bring to mind Stereolab or Radiohead (the dubbed-out section in "Memory" is particularly effective). Poggy's recent experience of singing with East Kent's Afrobeat/Ethio-jazz collective Volume 13 (also featuring several of the players on this album) is in evidence: there are some nice Afrobeat touches in the drumming and the choice of vintage keyboard sounds. Best of all are the harmony vocals (mostly Poggy harmonising with herself, but also with contributions from her sister Tasha and violinist Hetty Pound). These run through the album like interweaving veins of precious metal through a rockface. Her ability to put together vocal harmony arrangements like these, let alone sing all the parts the way she does, is particularly impressive. Her deep musicality is further demonstrated in her flute, accordion and cello contributions to the record.

"Need to Change", with its twitchy drum'n'bass-type rhythm, lends itself nicely to some impressive rapping from Oli, a.k.a. MC Kotchin, an old friend of the Smugglers collective (I remember him jumping on stage to spit some bars the first time I saw Cocos Lovers in early 2009). His American-accented R'n'B style of singing (on that track and "You're Alright") isn't quite to my taste, but still doesn't detract. I'm guessing it's also Oli who adds the Bobby-McFerrin-style vocal percussion at the end of the beautiful a cappella "Beautiful Woman". Closing track "Backstreet Blues" make clear the nature of Poggy's contribution to the second Cocos Lovers album Elephant Land (particularly on its standout song "Door to the Andes"). The simple piano lines on "Backstreet Blues" are a lovely touch, and the soulful Soweto-township-style singing feels completely natural, worlds away from the "world music" exploitation of Graceland, etc.

Woman clocks in at a perfect 46m. The warmth in this album's ensemble playing could only have been achieved by a tight friends-and-family group like this. Many of its songs got stuck in my head after a couple of listens and don't seem to be interested in moving out anytime soon...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Luo at Crash of Moons

Crash of Moons Club
Bramleys, Canterbury
26th October 2016

Superb music from beginning to end, with

  • a heavy drone (analogue electronics) set from In Kit Form (someone called Chris Marsh from Canterbury who I was entirely unaware from, but who's go a huge amount of stuff up on his Bandcamp page)
  • another magnificent set from Koloto (a.k.a. Maria Sullivan), local creator of exquisite, bejewelled organic glitchtronic wonders
  • Luo!! Videos of them I'd seen showed a four piece (plus horns), but this was a leaner, more impressive trio (bass, keys/electronics and an unbelievable drummer).

Thanks as ever to Adam for all the effort he puts into getting these Crash of Moons events together. There was a pretty decent audience (and it was a deeply engaged audience), but he really needs to sell the place out every time just to break even. Where is everyone? This city is bristling with astonishing music like never before, has a student population of near 40,000 on top of the local one, so I just don't get it. Anyway, here are my eccentric alter ego Prof. Appleblossom's DJ sets from before/between/after acts, tailored (as ever) to make a continuous musical journey out of the night. That seemed to work this time.

Syd Arthur in Gatefield Sounds

21st October 2016
Gatefield Sounds, Whitstable

The Apricity album is finally out! I've had the tracks ever since they were mastered, but cycled over to Whitstable to pick up a vinyl copy and hear them play a quiet, stripped-down set. Liam was playing electric guitar but with no effect, Josh had the tiniest of kits and Raven was behind an uneffected Wurlitzer 200A electric piano. They told me later how much they enjoyed playing at a volume they could all hear everything clearly, and not having to concentrate so much on triggering effects, etc. so they could concentrate on just playing the songs.

They started with "Portal", the instrumental they've dedicated to Fred (their once incredible drummer who tragically had to leave due to ear problems), also played "Rebel Lands", "Evolution", "No Peace" and the epic "Into Eternity" from the new album, plus "What's Your Secret?" from Sound Mirror (a surprising choice, but it worked for the set). The record shop (serving Whitstable since 1972) was packed out, there were colour-themed orange balloons, craft ales, old friends and family, plus the young guitarist from Herne Bay's up-and-coming prog-rock outfit Witchdoctor, watching from the back, being awed by the band for the first time. Things keep rolling. Here's "Evolution":

A major feature on Syd Arthur appeared in the latest MOJO magazine a few days later, very enthusiastic, and sympathetic to what they're about. (Apricity had already been MOJO's album of the week.) There was an inserted bit written by Paul Weller describing watching them from the side of the stage when they were supporting him on tour, thinking "how the fuck are they doing that?", and I could completely relate to that, remembering back to a gig at the Farmhouse in 2008 probably when something just came into focus and it felt like they were performing sonic miracles. Long may they continue to do so. There's a welcome return to Canterbury on the 18th of November when they play at UKC's Colyer-Fergusson building with various old friends.

And here's something they've quietly slipped out (the original videoshoot for this song didn't work out, due to technical problems with drone photography, I think this works perfectly, in an unexpected way). Footage of Canterbury in the 1920s (I'm guessing) that I didn't know existed:

Penny Rimbaud with Annie Whitehead and Jennifer Maidman

20th October 2016
Water Lane Cafe, Canterbury

That's Penny Rimbaud from Crass — What an amazing thing!

They asked Sam to play a short piano set...

...and then this. Dave who was with me (an often cynical friend) was truly moved, felt like he was in the presence of a William Blake level figure. Annie and Jen's soaring music make the most perfect backdrop to Penny's poetry. Here's the whole set:

Free Range Smugglers takeover

13th October 2016
Water Lane Cafe

This week organiser Sam Bailey handed over Free Range to Will Greenham of Smugglers Records who curated a night with Papylonian Babooshkies (Aidan from Arlet and Phil from Lapis Lazuli with Stewy from Cocos Lovers on percussion), Molly's Lips (Billy and Phil from Cocos) and Ladies of the Lake (Natasha and Nicola from Cocos plus their friend Jo singing a cappella, although on this occasion Phil took Jo's place as an honourary "Lady"). Sam started with a short solo piano set, including the usual prepared-piano-type improv (although I keep hearing little traces of Wyatt slippin in, is it from The End Of An Ear?), this time morphing into an improv based on the melody of Leonie Evans' "Distractions of the Mind":

To end, they all (joined by Sam on piano) played an unusual version of "Moonlit Sky", the song that's featured in almost every one of the many dozens of their sets I've seen over the years:

Bearded Sphynx at Conquest House

18th October 2016
Conquest House, Palace Street, Canterbury

I found out about this at the last minute. A tiny audience, in a tiny gem of a venue, the undercroft of Conquest House (where the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in 1170 spent their last night before the deed). There was a surprise support set from Andrew Prowse, who I've seen many times playing bass with Zoo For You, but had never heard sing or play more than fragments of guitar. He did a full set of songs, really imaginative songwriting, impressively intricate guitar playing and a Tim Buckley/Nick Drake kind of voice. He's just moved back here after a period of solitude in Devon, and this was the first time he's sung in public. He claimed afterwards to have been nervous, but it didn't show. Good to see him getting out and doing his thing.

Bearded Sphynx's set was marred for a while by a couple of troublesome drunks who wandered in and were tolerated for a surprisingly long time by the Conquest House people while they cackled and burbled over the top of Harry and Ellen's celestial musicks (with my eyes closed during their cover of the ISB's "The Half-Remarkable Question", I had an image of two low-level demons in a Tibetan thanka painting, trying unsuccessfully to claw their way into a crystal palace). When they were asked to leave it turned into an unfortunate scene, but our musicians kept their composure and carried on with their songs, including some obscure Donovan, Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and this one, which I'd totally forgotten about (listening back, 20+ years later, I think I prefer Ellen's reading of the song):


Afterwards I learned that their new Gong-inspired band Gneng have recruited not just Andrew (on bass) and The Boot Lagoon's Pete Edlin (on guitar and keys), but also both of my suggestions for drummers — Irish Richie from Plume and Gorgonzola and Irish Stewy from Cocos Lovers, Lunch Money and a million other bands are both interested in getting involved. They've already got gigs lined up... this happened really fast after I had a chat with Harry about Gong and then he went away and listened to Camembert Electrique.

We then headed over to Bramleys for the fortnightly jazz jam. Most of the usual musos were off sick, leaving the magnificent trio of Dulcie May Moreno (golden voiced singer), Steve B (stupidly gifted guitarist with Jimmy Jones Band, Sharawadji) and Ash (drummer in Luca Afrobeat). They were doing "Spooky", "Heard It Through The Grapevine" and such things. It was only near the end of the set that I realised there was no bass player — Steve was using his formidable skills and array of effects to play the basslines at the same time as his mercurial guitar lines. They should form a trio, it was that good. But then these sorts of things just keep coming together organically, so there's no real need to form anything...

Tony Coe, Frances Knight, Ian East

16th October 2016
secret woodland location near Canterbury

Another wonderful evening in the woods. I got to host local saxophone legend Tony Coe (now 82), accompanied by Frances Knight, one of my favourite pianists from anywhere (and she happens to live in Canterbury!). Tony played soprano, Frances got into some beautifully spaced out places and dear Miriam was invited up to sing "Black Coffee" and "Autumn Leaves" (her deceased father, Sal Nistico, used to play in a big band with Tony years ago). Tony arrived saying he wasn't feeling great and wasn't likely to play for long, but the set ended up being more than an hour. He was exteremely well received by the audience and cheered when he left the venue.

This was followed by Ian East, the sax/flute player in Gong since 2012 and Herne Bay resident, playing a mostly solo set involving looping devices, playing saxophone and bass clarinet. Some extraordinary percussive playing at one point (just using the tuned percussion of the clarinet keys). His friend Richard Rozzi joined on electric guitar towards the end of the set (supremely fluid, trippy playing). Ian was promoting his new album Inner Paths which he plays everything on. For live gigs, the percussion has to be prerecorded, which he apologised for in advance, but no one seemed to mind. And some of the later set with Richard was loop free, they were just jamming. And we were so lucky!

Also that evening I heard that our friend Leonie Evans, no stranger to these woods, was going to be in session on Cerys Matthews' Sunday morning programme on BBC6. Couldn't have happened to a nicer person...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

new videos, straight outta tha CT

First Deerhoof, now this... my eccentric alter ego Professor Appleblossom's first appearance in a hip-hop video:

The Prof. neither endorses nor fully comprehends the lyrics, but can certainly vouch for fact that Laszlo (MC Humble Pious) is a wholly sound human being and thanks him for inviting me to participate.

That's a $1,000,000 dollar bill getting burned, by the way.

And then there's this, new from Lapis Lazuli, featuring ubiquitous Canterbury character Max Martin. I missed my chance to appear in the "woodland party" segment of this, was busy digging out bramble roots elsewhere that afternoon. Major respect to drummer Adam B for the no doubt many hours of editing that went into this:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Half The Sky

I know it's a deadly sin and everything, but I can't help feeling proud of my role in this. Yumi Hara Cawkwell just got in touch to say that she'd recently got together a band called Half the Sky to play the music of bassoonist/composer Lindsay Cooper. This turns out to have been the direct result of me contacting all the musicians I was in touch with requesting covers of Henry Cow's miniature "Slice" (an LC composition) for my special edition of Canterbury Sans Frontierès paying tribute to Lindsay after she passed away in 2013. The band has played some gigs in Japan and at Rock in Opposition 2016 in France (see videos below). Excitingly, Chris Cutler's on drums and Knifeworld's Chlöe Herington is handling the bassoon parts.

This is from the RIO2016 programme notes, written by Yumi:

"In 2013, soon after Lindsay Cooper passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 8’. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it a few times when we were both in Japan and NY. Soon after, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put together Half the Sky (‘Women hold up half the sky’) to play Lindsay’s music in Japan. In its constitution, Half the Sky follows her general practice and the example of the original bands, Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).

With the exception of Slice, it was only after, and because of, the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces, painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and a careful analysis of the recordings, become available. A handful of the News from Babel songs — none of which had never been performed live — were reconstructed by Zeena Parkins, the rest I had to do from scratch, also rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments. This concert is conceived very much as a music of the present, and not an academic reconstruction."

Monday, October 17, 2016

free lunchtime concert: Kopanya

12 October 2016
Colyer-Fergusson Building, University of Kent at Canterbury

This was the first free lunchtime concert of the season, involving a classical percussion quartet. They played a bit of John Cage, some Senegalese djembe rhythms, an instrument-free (mostly clapping) piece and, best of all, Peter Garland's "Apple Blossom" involving all four members playing on a single marimba, producing, as the UKC music blog the put it "a shimmering curtain of sound". That was an extraordinary few minutes, I couldn't quite believe that what I was hearing was coming from a single acoustic instrument.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 39

Canterbury Sans Frontières: Episode 39

Some excerpts from Robert Wyatt's discussion with the University of Kent at Canterbury's vice chancellor back in April, interspersed with relevant sounds from Daevid Allen, Annie Whitehead's "Soupsongs" band and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Also, Daevid getting all bleak and technoid on his last US tour before disappearing back to Oz for the 80s, the Softs' oblique tribute to an Irish TV presenter, Kevin Ayers from a '76 Peel session, Nucleus live on the BBC in '74 and Hatfield live in '75. Some William Burroughs cutups, more Aksak Maboul, more neo-Cantuarianism from Amoeba Split, Third Ear Band on French TV and ancient electronica from Suzanne Ciani and Soul Oddity. From the Canterbury of now, a new album side from Lapis Lazuli and Syd Arthur jamming freely for the 2009 Winter Solstice.