Wednesday, February 25, 2009

COTD returns to St. Stevens

Children of the Drone at St. Stevens Church, Exeter - Tuesday 24th February (Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras)

I almost missed this one, having not read the email announcements carefully enough, thinking it was again at St. Mary Arches. But after a confused phonecall from James S (who I'd mis-directed), things got resolved.

James T - piano, percussion, poetry, slide whistle, xylophone
Henry - Roland SamplePad, vocals
Richard - electric guitar
Tim - electric guitar (bowed and otherwise)
Lucy - alto saxophone
James S - octave mandola, treated vocals
Mick - electric bass guitar
Dominic - double bass (first set)
Pok (briefly) - mandola
me - saz, balalaika, percussion, slidewhistle, facial hair

It was an unusual one in some respects. A rare Keith-less Drone (he was at home with a bad cough), making me the "only original member", and thinking about how the sound has evolved from our tenuous saz/sitar/mandola noodlings of spring 2001. Tim has become more forthright with each session - the first time he Droned, he did so so discretely that no one could hear him...this time he was torturing his guitar in various ingenious ways, pushing the sound closer to a full-on noise jam than we've ever gone. We also had three basses for the first time (I think) - two electric and one acoustic, all very different styles of bass playing. The St. Stevens acoustic is notoriously soupy (everyone prefers the carpeted space at St. Mary Arches, but that was unavailable on this occasion), and with up to ten players, it got a bit sonically claustrophobic. There wasn't really space to inject melody lines, etc. so it ended up having to be a lot more textural than usual.

My recording came out horribly distorted, having set my record levels far too high (and not having anticipated such an unusually loud session). Fortunately, Henry also recorded it on his Zoom H2:

Listen Here

I've just learned that Dominic's mother Wendy was one of the violinists in Centipede, the early 70's free-jazz big band whose album was produced by Robert Fripp, and whose ranks included Robert Wyatt, many of the later Soft Machine players, and quite a few eventual members of King Crimson.

James T read a poem called "Contexts" inspired by Barbara Hepworth's sculpture garden in St. Ives (something I unfortunately missed during my time down in West Penwith)

Barbara Hepworth's sculpture garden in St. Ives

A few days before, I had bumped into Michael Parker in an Exeter pub, once part of the local postrock trio Appliance. (Actually they were recording their stuff before the term was generally in circulation, so you could say they were 'prepostrock'.) He's now living in Plymouth, no longer playing music, and wishing he were, so I invited him up to the Drone. He'd played with us a couple of times before, once spontaneously on the steps of the Phoenix in 2004, when our set in the bar got cut short 'cos we were too loud(!) for the Suns of Arqa who were playing in the main auditorium. You can even see the back of his head in the last of the photos in this collection. I invited him up to this Drone, and he seemed quite keen, but couldn't make it in the end (probably just as well, as this wasn't the best introduction to the current COTD sound, if you can talk about such a thing).

One amusing thing he mentioned when discussing his time with Appliance: apparently their contract with Mute Records (based on a standard template drawn up in the 60's) explicitly covers recordings they might make on "any of the planets in the Solar System"! This was back in the days when colonies on Mars seemed a likely future possibility.


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