Sunday, December 06, 2009

a bit of a blur

It's all been a bit of a blur lately, so forgive me if I ramble a bit. Almost all of my time has been taken up finishing up work on a book with Matt Spacegoat as illustrator - Volume One of a trilogy, an enormous amount of work. On the surface, it appears to be a book about prime numbers, but there's something of a hidden philosophical agenda. More on that project will no doubt appear here eventually (despite the fact that it's not really part of the musical remit of this blog). Here are the covers, as they now stand:

Secrets of Creation vol 1 cover Secrets of Creation vol 2 cover Secrets of Creation vol 3 cover

While working, we've been listening to a lot of 80's stuff from Matt's collection: Kate Bush, Japan, Cocteau Twins - a lot of things I'd not listened to for years. Some of the mid-80's Cocteaus' EPs still sound rather magnificent (Love's Easy Tears, Echoes in A Shallow Bay, etc.).

At the end of a rather intensive week, we wandered down to Orange Street (a convoluted route, via the UKC labyrinth) to see School of Imagination (Friday 27/11/09). What a lovely band! Their first set was similar to the one they played for the Moonlit Fingertips acoustic night earlier this year. The second was a bit more upbeat. Gorgeous harmonies, wonderful Latin-influenced rhythms. Check them out if you can - I think they're from Salisbury. Liam from Syd Arthur played a solo support set (Raven being away visiting his mum in France), particularly excellent - Matt was well impressed with this, his first exposure to the new Canterbury sound. He was using quite a lot of live looping, and at one point, wandered over to pick up a flute, but then changed his mind and put it down (a shame, maybe next time).

The next day, I caught a lift with him back to the West Country so I could get to the last COTD session of the year (the following Tuesday). I ended up perusing the latest edition of The Wire 'round a friend's house before being taken to see Malcolm Middleton at The Phoenix that evening. This was an interesting juxtaposition, as The Wire's "Epiphanies" feature featured ex-Coil member Stephen Thrower wherein he, of all people, "wittily yet passionately argues the ... difficult case for Yes" (according to the editorial). I used to love Yes as a teenager, but have hardly listened to them since.

The Wire 310 cover

Thrower describes his Damascene conversion, while house-sitting for a prog-fan friend in rural Wales (he'd had the same scathing attitude towards the band that is de rigeur among 'serious' music heads). One point he makes (I wish I had the exact text here) is that Jon Anderson's rather byzantine lyrics, as well as the music as a whole, are infused with a reaching-for-something-higher, AND WHY NOT? Anyone can be cynical, nihilistic ("nihilism is the cock-rock of philosophies" as he puts it). Anderson and Co. were trying to push forward a transcendent agenda, and it's easy to criticise that. But the musicianship is beyond criticism (Chris Squire's, and accusations of self-indulgence don't stand up, Thrower argues, they very much played as an ensemble. With this in mind, about an hour later, I found myself in a dingy space, listening to a miserable Scotsman (Malcolm Middleton) singing miserable songs about miserable weather, his low self-esteem and "shit" song-writing. We left after a few songs. Totally uninspired. If he thinks his songs are shit, why does he make the effort to tour around singing them? Apparently he was in the Arab Strap, who I always assumed were quite OK (never having knowingly listened to them). But honestly... His guitar playing's actually really good, but his performance was like poison for the mind. Back at the house, we listened online to live version's of Yes's "Siberian Khatru" and "Heart of the Sunrise", and they sounded magnificent. Now I may even have to track down Jon Anderson's (much ridiculed) solo concept album Olias of Sunhillow...

[postscript 23/12/09 - just found a copy of The Wire: "And then the biggest stumbling block: Anderson. In the fresh evening air I turned my antennae in a new direction. A singer with no irony. No aggression or mannerism. Optimistic instead of dystopian, with the bravery to try and communicate something bigger than himself. A complete exclusio of nihilism (the cock-rock of philosophy). It's possible to love Anderson without 'getting' his lyrics, which for a singer is vital. I find the poety hit and miss, but he has a phenomenal talent for phrasing. His lyrics are an attempt to unify the disparate strands of world religion: new and old, Christian and pagan, East and West. He seeks worldly analogues for spiritual abstractions, and the spiritual essence in the everyday. These are goals that one can accept or reject, but the ambition, sincerity and unbowed optimism of Anderson still inspire me even when his Gnosis does not...Anderson's total lack of cynicism is sthe ultimate in exotic pleasures if you've drunk maybe too long at the well of disillusionment. His geenerous spirit and faith in the worth of humanity are unforced, unbowed and immune to even the meanest cxriticism - and let's be clear, Yes attracted mountains of it, especially after punk."]

* * *

The Children of the Drone session on Tuesday 1st (St. Mary Arches church) was, unfortunately, one of the least enjoyable I can remember. It felt listless, languid, incoherent, like we were all off in our own little worlds, nothing gelling. However, listening back to the two hours (we played one continuous set, as the church plumbing was in a state of disrepair, so we had to forego our traditional teabreak), it's really not bad at all. Quite interesting, in fact (despite not being one of our best).

Lucy - alto saxophone, percussion
Tim - keyboard
James T - poetry, xylophone, percussion
Mick - electric guitar
Keith - electic guitar, acoustic bass guitar, iPhone (Bebot app)
Vaughan - electric 12-string guitar, dan bau (both played with E-Bow), slidewhistle and/or noseflute, vocals(?)
me - saz, balalaika, acoustic bass guitar

Mick & Matthew Lucy & James
Mick and Matthew; Lucy and James

Listen Here

Afterwards, Keith, Mick and I dropped James T off in St. David's and stopped in the North Bridge Inn (now under new management) for a drink. Both of them had been to see Gong at the Lemon Grove a few days earlier - the same line-up I saw this summer, but with Mike Howlett back from Australia and playing his wonderful basslines. Here's a picture of Mick backstage with Submarine Commander Spillage (a.k.a. Steve Hillage). Andy Bard caught them on the tour in Oxford around the same time, was suitably mindblown, and wrote a blog piece about it.

Earlier that day, I'd bumped in to Chris, a guitarist I'd jammed with a couple of times when living in Exeter. He's now making dark, unclassifiable dance music as "Scope8" - check it out, some of it's really rather good. We had a cup of tea and talked about the evolution of technology, music and politics.

Then it was on to Chewton Mendip where Matt's recently taken up residence, to do some more work on the book and listen to more Cocteau Twins EPs (Googling around, we discovered that Liz Fraser's just come out with a new single after YEARS in musical exile). I got back to Canterbury on Friday in time to catch Syd Arthur at The Gulbenkian. This was part of a £10 event featuring various Kentish talent, but nothing else on the bill interested me - and as they'd already started, I didn't feel like forking out a tenner to have them finish their set ten minutes later. So I hung about outside and listened through some heavy wooden doors. They played almost 40 minutes, so if I'd known, it would have been worth the money. They still sounded good, even through a couple of inches of solid wood.


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