Thursday, January 29, 2009

out and about in Canterbury

I still haven't really made the musical connections I'm seeking down here, but I'm still trying.

Some time in December I went to see Amanes (Phil from Canterbury Wholefoods plays sax and accordion - a sort of gypsy jazz/ska/Mediterranean fusion outfit based around Yiannis Zaronis (from Greece?). They were a three-piece then, and Yiannis stuck to his guitar, his Cretan laouto being out of action, disappointingly. It was enjoyable, but lacking the energy of something like Gadjo (there were only three of them, after all). Phil told me a few weeks later that Alexi(?) - another Greek multi-instrumentalist was back in the area, playing with them down at Casey's, so I went along, to find they'd been double booked and wouldn't be playing until the next week. Instead I got a suprisingly enjoyable evening of unexpected heavy guitar bands: Magnets, a trio from Folkestone - sounded like a Radiohead clone when i walked in, but there's more too them than that...elements of Godspeed type postrock and MBV-type noise. Very versatile guitarist. Next were Sàvlön (four-piece mostly from Canterbury) - newish band, seem to be connected to the Furthur crew (Joel from Syd Arthur was doing the sound - we had a bit of a chat). Quite prog, in a post-rock kind of way (interesting time-signatures, stop-start type stuff...some unexpected grindcore-style vocals); finally, Mother Hydra, with same drummer as Sàvlön - quite grindcore - two flailing howling vocalists, dreads flying, good energy. Their MySpace profile gives their location as Canterbury/Staines/Bristol - how do they keep THAT together?

The next week I went along and did see Amanes, except now they're called "Madam Molotof", and they had a bass player (who has rejoined, after leaving a while ago) incredibly inventive bass player, who took the music to another level. They were able to get into some dubbed-out spaces with Phil's accordion doing a kind of Augustus Pablo melodica thing. I really enjoyed that set.

Syd Arthur
Syd Arthur

The same week (I think) I thought I'd give Syd Arthur another go - couldn't really get into their set at the Lounge on the Farm festival a couple of summers back. They were about to go of on a south-of-England tour, playing to a very enthusiastic young Canterbury crowd at the Farmhouse. Again, despite really wanting to like them, admiring their musicianship, appreciating their overall presence and the vibe they bring, it just didn't do it for me. They've got their Canterbury scene influences in there somewhere, but there's just too much funk in the mix (I blame the Red Hot Chilli Peppers for corrupting a whole generation of young rockers with their bland, turgid funk-rock!). Not even 'funk' really, but a sort of angularity which I don't think suits the sound - my ears wanted something less jerky, more flowing...but they're doing their thing, regardless of what my ears want. Before the gig started, a tall, vaguely familiar person spotted me at the bar - it turned out to be Chris, the avant-garde trumpeter I'd met on the coach down to Devon last year (at the time, he was en route to play a gig with Natural Causes at Britain's smallest cinema, the Blue Walnut in Torquay). He's been recruited by Zoo For You (another Furthur-connected band), had been part of their horn section for a New Years Eve gig, this was his second time with them. Their stuff was also funky, but in a Factory/post-punk sort of way - A Certain Ratio, Talking Heads, that kind of thing. Good stuff, although I'd tired of it somewhat by the end of the set.

Most recently I dropped into the Good Food Cafe above Canterbury Wholefoods for the first of their first-Sunday-of-the-month "open acoustic jams". Although I had a good afternoon up there, I was disappointed by the way that everyone else seems to interpret the word "jam" as "I turn up with my guitar and play/sing my songs". No jamming at all (apart from me accompanying a lot of these songs). At one point, a trio of students with acoustic guitars/bass introduced themselves and played a six-song set. Jam? When I arrived, a very friendly guitarist/singer called Roly was already playing/singing, so I joined in, which he was very appreciative about. I'd seen him playing an open mic at Orange Street, singing "Circle Around the Sun", a variant on "I Know You Rider". So we did that one next. He mixed his own songs in with "The Port of Amsterdam" (the original French version), a familiar song from The Buena Vista Social Club and Randy Newman's "Marie". Chris Banks, a fabulous guitarist who I'd seen at the same open mic playing wild modal 12-string jams, then turned up, with a six-string acoustic, and Roly gave way to him. It was great stuff to play along with, but Chris was the first to admit that he can't really follow, so it was very much accompaniment rather than jamming.

I'm starting to strongly conclude that I'm really not interested in music-as-performance...I'm really looking for music-as-communion. People making music together, rather than taking turns to 'perform'. I don't mean to blame any of the performers I've mentioned here (most of whom I really enjoyed listening to and/or accompanying), but our culture is sorely lacking a framework within which musical communion can occur. Even the good-old Irish-style pub singalong is pretty much extinct, and 'folk clubs' are often dominated by singer-songwriters clambering onto the lower rungs of a career ladder to nowhere.

This sounds a bit bitter, perhaps. Here's a picture that's worth several thousand words about where I'd like to get to, musically:

Gong Family teaparty, c. 1970(?)
Gong Family teaparty, c. 1974


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