Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Exeter to Canterbury via Brighton and London

My week in Exeter culminated in another Orbis Tertius? gig at the North Bridge Inn. We were joined by Henry's jazz guitarist friend Bruce for most of the second set, which really added a lot to the sound, really inspired me. Unfortunately there wasn't much of an audience, but I was happy with our performance and we got a decent recording out of it.

gig flyer

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Unbeknownst to us, someone was filming some of the set. Here's a few minutes of us jamming on the Northumbrian ballad "Bonny at Morn" (a pretty good example of our playing, as well as our total lack of visual appeal!):

It was a bit of a challenging week, as I had a nasty cold which lasted the entire time, and had a large batch of mathematical proofreading to deal with. One pleasant break from this involved getting a bus out to Dartmoor Friday afternoon, going for a walk along the River Teign, then seeing Gadjo (with Henry, Lucy and their daughter Nikki) at Chagford Jubilee Hall. I got to spend a bit of time with them before the gig, and they'd all got the same cold as me (which I first felt coming on as I left them in Bath a few days earlier). The hall was beautifully decorated (by friends of Sam, I gather - he used to live on the Moor) and soon filled to capacity. Neither their colds nor the awful acoustics stopped them putting on another storming gig to a highly enthusiastic audience.

During the Orbis gig, we used a sample from the film Performance (which is riddled with Borges references) in which Mick Jagger actually says "Orbis Tertius" (as part of a disjointed rant he directs at the James Fox gangster character to generally weird him out: "...and the tetrarchs of Sodom and Orbis Tertius..."). I was able to say to our tiny audience that if anyone was having trouble pronouncing the name of our band (which everyone seems to), we got Mick Jagger to say it for us. When Henry went to the library to get that DVD out he also came back with a copy of what's probably my favourite album ever (and one I've not had a copy of for ages), the 1957 Smithsonian field recording Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest - so that was a pleasant surprise.

Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest - album cover

The next morning I was on a train to Brighton to do some recording with Stella, as a consequence of our random, fortuitous meeting at the BGG. She's actually living in Lewes, so I headed over there, had dinner with her and Colin, then Richard (who used to be part of Hearth, associated with the Heathens All crowd) arrived to join us. Stella, Richard and I had a quick play through her new song "Nightingale" before Colin drove us over to The Loophole, a small studio in Brighton, where we recorded it. Stella and Richard put down a two guitar track first, then Stella did her vocals - this all took a while, which suited me, as I was sitting outside the booth noodling along on my saz, working out my own part. By the time I was in the booth I was feeling very relaxed and confident - I did three takes, the third would work as it is, but I'm hoping Simon the engineer will splice together an even better version from all three takes (I've provided my recommendations for where to make the cuts). The rough mix we took home (two guitars, vocals and my third saz take) sounds very good to me already.

We stopped by Pok and Aurelie's new place in Moulsecoomb on our way back, which was very amusing - there were a couple of tiny kittens, one of whom escaped (Stella's newfound skills as an RSPCA "cat whisperer" were employed in the process of recovering him). Stella, Pok and Richard hadn't seen each other in years (Pok and Stella both having been Spacegoats at various times). I stayed there, sitting up late with Pok, babbling, making squelchy analogue noises with a Korg MiniSynth and listening to Terrapin Station.

I spent most of the next day in the house, pottering about and interacting with the kittens while Pok was at work ("packing Buddhas", apparently!). I listened to Future Days and the extended recording of the extraordinary pigeon funeral ceremony at St. Georges Church a few years back, found in his collection (there's something truly wonderful about hearing him singing "Ride it on out like a pigeon in a sunbeam" to the melody of "Ride a White Swan". When he got back (a bit flustered) I gave him a hand getting his stuff together for the Shambala Festival (Fraggle had mentioned it, as Gadjo were playing there too, before heading back down to Barcelona). He told me about the new project he and Aurelie have in the pipeline ("The Lost Troubadours of Magmu", involving droney stringed instruments, costumes, Aurelie's voice, the Korg MiniSynth - I envision a kind of "medaevil spacerock" vibe).

I headed back to Lewes in the early evening, stopped in to Richard's workshop (he's now a full-time luthier, making mostly guitars, but also mandolins and some bouzoukis) where he was running a little evening class. Very good to see him in action and learn a little bit in the process. Stella's place is a short walk from there - I wandered over, and we spent the evening making rough MiniDisc recordings of some of her favourites (a lot that she sung in the Pachamama chai tipi at the BGG): "Love Minus Zero/No Limit", "Seven Bridges Road", "Suzanne", "Wild Mountain Thyme", as well as her new songs "Nightingale", "Feral Moon" and "Sanctuary" (just a sketch at this point). There was also some lovely stuff that went unrecorded (Stella adding wordless vocals to my piece "Ayurvedic Toothpaste", attempting to work out "The Cuckoo" after enthusing about Pentangle's Basket of Light LP).

Stella with guitar
Stella with guitar

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The next day I helped her set up a MySpace Music profile using her two recent studio recordings and a couple taken from the previous evening's MiniDisc session ("Scarborough Fair" and "Feral Moon").

I then had to get a coach up to London, arrived at Mark's to find out that we (he, his sister-in-law, niece and nephew) were going to a gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire. He'd just wanted to take them out to a London rock concert as a new experience, and it had ended up being The Hoodoo Gurus (who I remember from the mid-80's, but they'd never heard of). The support acts were Phantom, who played a respectable set of psych-surf-garage rock, including covers of The Sonics' "Strychnine" and Suicide's "Ghostrider Motorcycle Hero") and The Hot Melts from Liverpool, who truly rocked - could easily imagine them having the whole Reading Festival crowd going mad in a year's time - I can only describe the sound as "stupid rock'n'roll", but that's not a criticism...the singer was completely ridiculous, totally into it, the songs were all short, sharp, catchy - good luck to them. The Hoodoo's also rocked, much to the delight of the 95% male, probably 75% Australian audience who were largely reliving their mid-80's youths. I recognised 2/3 of the set from hearing those songs on student radio in Wisconsin back then (the album Mars Needs Guitars! was very popular on the local station, I remember). Their guitarist was another ridiculous rock star ("a bit Spinal Tap," Mark commented, but no one minded - they were good fun, very entertaining, if unnecessarily loud).

Saturday was my new Godson Charlie's "post-Christening party", and I was given the task of compiling some compilation CDs for the occasion from Mark's collection - a nice mix of blues, jazz, Cuban sounds, early rock'n'roll, Bob Marley, Beatles, etc. It also transpired that I'd almost certainly picked up that cold in London on the way to Bath, then given it to the Gadjo crew (before I'd noticed it coming on), who'd taken it on tour with them to Dorset and Cambridgeshire (sorry, everyone!).


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