Tuesday, July 03, 2012

"chanelling the genius loci"

Thursday June 28th, Veg Box Cafe, Canterbury:

This was the last of the Free Range series (it'll start up again in September). Very well attended — I got there late and couldn't even get into the main room. A Christchurch music student called Simon (I think) was sitting cross-legged on a table, manipulating pre-recorded sounds on an iPad and singing very expressively over them. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this at first, but was soon won over. He has a soulful voice, in a similar realm to Mark Hollis — one of those voices where you can't really make out the words, but it doesn't matter. The main act was 'Jack Hues and The Quintet', a variant on the-quartet, which is Jack on guitar with Sam Bailey on piano plus a varying rhythm section (lately Liran and Mark from Led Bib). The Quintet involved a bass player, flautist and clarinet player, no drums. They played a number of 'songs arranged for an improvising ensemble' including Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright", Steven Stills' "Almost Cut My Hair" and Elvis Costello's (via Robert Wyatt) "Shipbuilding", plus an original piece by Jack.

It's always slightly odd seeing him perform, as his face is etched into my teenage MTV-watching memory as the singer in the early 80's pop group Wang Chung!

I got talking to Sam, the organiser (to be featured on my Canterbury Soundwaves podcast in a couple of episodes) and we ended up talking about Jack's amazing new turntable, and his (Sam's) intention of listening to the full four-disc Escalator Over the Hill set by Carla Bley, et al. on it as soon as possible! Somehow we then got onto Tyondai Braxton (free jazz sax legend Anthony Braxton's son, formerly in post-rock innovators Battles) and his solo album Central Market (of which I knew nothing), particularly its extraordinary centrepiece "Platinum Rows" which I checked out the next day:

Friday June 29th, 2012, The Farmhouse, Canterbury

This was a Dawn Chorus evening with local heroes Syd Arthur and their mates from Brighton Jouis. Cycling over to Wincheap for a game of Go with Andy R before the gig, I bumped into Will Varley coming out of Canterbury East station — I'd forgotten that there was another gig on that night, The Turncoat and his Hellfire Orchestra (supported by Will) at Casey's. This meant a smaller audience at The Farmhouse than there otherwise would have been, but it was still a healthy size, and very enthusiastic. Quite a few new faces who seemed to know all the songs on the new Syd album On and On, which must be encouraging for them. And there was more room to move about, which was welcome. John Edwards did a magnificent job with the sound — I wasn't alone in commenting that it was the best sound ever experienced in that problematic venue. Syd Arthur's set was similar to the one they've been touring (most of the album and some of the previous EP), except they slotted in a couple of new ones: "Out of Control", more counterintuitive song structures, but an instant Syd classic, and a second one which they ended with, didn't catch the title, harder to find my way into that one, seemingly in a more embryonic state. Raven played Pianet throughout the latter one, the only other time it got used being on the gorgeous ballad "Dorothy". But whenever they break out new material is a fascinating event ("what are they doing? how are they doing it? how does this work?" you find yourself wondering...). Liam's singing was as strong as it's ever been, and Joel and Raven's backing vocals are really starting to take shape. "Pulse" and the "Exit Domino" encore went down a storm and people were shouting for more, but it was getting late and Jouis were yet to play.

I had a word with Andy's friend Steve afterwards, not your typical gig-goer, older, with family, into permaculture and the Transition movement. He was deeply impressed, pointing out how lucky we are to have this on our doorstep. "They're not just another great band," he opined, "They're more than that. There's nothing urban about them. It's like they're channelling the genius loci."

All the hard work is starting to pay off, too: check this review in the latest Mojo.

Jouis have played down here before, but I've always missed them. Liam met them when he was on a music course in Brighton when they were a pretty straightforward indie band, but they've since opened up their musical horizons and play what they describe as "psychedelic-progressive jazz pop" which is a pretty good description. Great songs with four-part harmonies and classic-psych keyboard and guitar sounds (and lyrical themes), but with unexpected warpings of conventional song structures. Even when they played what at first seemed to be some straight-up rock'n'roll to end their set it went all weird on us. They seem to have an organic inability to play in a straight line, which is to be admired. Despite the late hour and the non-obvious nature of the songs, they had an enthusiastic audience throughout (which suddenly swelled at the end — smokers coming back inside?) who then clamoured for a well-deserved encore.

I was glad to see that the life-sized Robert Wyatt stencil across the road is still there. I'm guessing that whoever's house it's on has decided that it's an asset rather than an act of vandalism (the fact the local paper reported a "mysterious image of a local music scene legend appearing mysteriously" may have helped). This is just next door to The Beehive where Wyatt would have played with the Wilde Flowers and early Softs, and we're dealing with something approaching fifty years ago, in other words local history. People who were standing around outside smoking were wandering over to have a closer look, having their photos taken with it, etc. When I stepped outside to see this I got a lovely feeling of Robert Wyatt having been invited to the gig, and everyone making him welcome. The original Latin meaning of genius loci referred to the protective spirit of a place, and it there was one around that night, it was 'im...


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