Friday, November 06, 2009

a day of Canterbury/Belgian symmetry

Thursday 5th November

During the afternoon, I was listening to a Caravan bootleg recorded at the Acutel Festival in Amougies, Belgium just over forty years earlier. It's a mono audience recording with a couple of mystery tracks (which may or may not be Caravan), but most interesting is the extended freak-out version of "If I Could Do It All Over Again..." with Frank Zappa guesting on guitar. FZ played with just about everyone at that festival (including a version of "Interstellar Overdrive" with the Floyd). During the set, Richard Sinclair (or is it Pye Hastings?) apologises for his lack of French, having to announce songs in English.


Interviewer: Do you recall jamming with Frank Zappa?

R. Sinclair: That was later, at the Actuel Festival in Amougies in Belgium, in a big marquee that held about five thousand people. It was a double, round-ended tent with a big gantry through the middle. The Festival was compered by Pierre Lattes, who was a radio presenter. On the bill were artists like The Nice and Archie Shepp. It was like a whole job lot. I’ve still got the programme. That’s where I first saw Gong. On the day that we played they had The Nice, East Of Eden with Dave Arbus, the violinist who still lives in Canterbury, The Band, and Zappa was there to play with everybody.

Just before the concert got going he spoke to every group that he’d seen doing a quick rehearsal. He just said ‘Hello I’d like to play with you for about ten minutes, have you got a tune that could work with us?’ I think Pye suggested that we play ‘If I Could Do It All Over Again’. We made it last ten minutes and he played a solo on it. He was quite a small man actually and he looked very stoned indeed, but actually he made a good job with everybody he played with. I remember him climbing onstage with us and it was like someone putting in the handle to start up a vintage car engine. He just wound it up and it was amazing, just incredible. We were just playing a 7/4 figure over a small amount of chords and Dave was rocking it up. It was really good.

Caravan (in Belgium?)

A few hours later I was at Orange Street, I'm watching a very sweet duo from Brussels playing to an audience of Canterbury heads, and apologising for singing in French (typically, their English wasn't bad at all). They were called "Soy Un Caballo". Joel and Liam had mentioned having booked a French band they knew almost nothing about, and this turned out to be them. Belgians, not French. And not acoustic (the "Moonlit Fingertips" thing was intended to be a monthly acoustic showcase night)

Moonlit Fingertips flyer, November 2009

In fact, they even had a drum machine! But it was OK, they were lovely and gentle. It was "acoustic in spirit", if that means anything. Thomas plays minimalist Stereolab-style electric guitar, Aurélie plays bass and xylophone, and they sing beautiful harmonies. Initially I thought of Stereolab and the Young Marble Giants, but the set gradually went sparser and more ambient (the drum machine was phased out, some prerecorded birdsong showed up at one point). (Almost) everyone listened. Despite them being Walloons rather than Flemings, I recognised that quirky Belgian sense of humour, really warmed to them.

Leonie Evans from Bath (or Totnes?) started the evening. She's got an extraordinary, otherworldly voice, and an unusual guitar style. Her set was mostly original stuff, although there was a cover of Jolie Holland's "The Littlest Birds" (joy!) and something by Nina Simone. She can do that raunchy blues/soul thing with her voice, but I much prefer the etherial weirdness (something like Fat Skier-era Muses).

Liam and Raven then played a set - some pieces were just Liam playing solo acoustic guitar, Raven joined him on violin and mandolin. There was a version of a Trilok Gupta piece I'd heard them do before (but not managed to identify). Also, there was some innovative use of a loop pedal - Liam harmonising with himself and layering his guitar. And a Syd Arthur song I didn't recognise. Not one of their strongest sets, but still a lot better than anything else you'll find happening on an average Thursday night in Canterbury.


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