23rd June 2016
Club Burrito, Canterbury
Lovable local outsider singer-songwriter Max Martin organised this, and it was the first time I'd seen him play (for years he was best known for his local radio slot "The Local Hoot"). He won me over with his amusingly chaotic approach to performing and by playing Kevin Ayers' "The Oyster and the Flying Fish". Mysterious street character Angus requested a Roky Erikson vampire song from Max's repertoire, and as well as some Max originals we also got "Eve of Destruction" and a song by Morphine. Also on the bill were Tiny Ghost, a garage rock trio from Faversham, great stuff, plus Struan Robertsons's latest iteration of Hotrods and Dragsters and Colonel Mustard, a band called M.U.T.O. They brought their own "M.U.T.O." neon sign and Struan seriously impressed by playing theremin with his bass neck (while kicking out the jams on the bass itself). The set morphed nicely from from garagey stuff to funky stuff, got people dancing. I was in the mood for an evening of loud rock'n'roll, so loved this, also saw quite a few friends, including Jamie Dams, who was still hoping to get into Glastonbury Festival (and somehow succeeded, I later learned!).
Glastonbury Weekend: Needless to say, I wasn't there, but had an amazing musical weekend here in East Kent. On the Friday, the supremely talented Mikey Kenny and band of cheerful scousers played a woodland gig I'd put together, supported by Ben from Arlet and his concertina-playing friend Chris. A lovely sunny evening, a chance to get everyone's mind off the Brexit vote for a few hours. There was dancing, and an Irish folk session late into the night involving all five performing musicians plus Andy Renshaw on bhodrán. The next day I was at a gathering at Ginge and Ellie's place in Perry Woods, organised by area tribal psy-trance enthusiast Lewis. There was bit of box/fiddle playing from Nick and Lucy with John Evans on bass, then Nick's new space-funk band with John again filling in on bass, then a jam involving a lot of hand percussion and Adam B on drums. I nearly got my saz out, then a guitarist suddenly walked up and set up an arsenal of pedals, so I just lay down and enjoyed the sounds. The next morning John E mentioned in passing that there were free tickets to see Ernest Ranglin (with Tony Allen on drums!) at The Marlowe the next day. I wasn't even aware that the great ER was still alive! The venue had failed to promote the gig and needed to fill up a lot of empty seats, so a couple of rows were filled with friends, utterly blissed out at this incredible music. He's 84 and yet as nimble on the fretboard as ever, having such a good time with his amazing band. As well as Allen, this included the Senegalise percussionist Cheikh Lo (who also did some powerful singing), London saxophonist Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson on piano. Although there were recognisable elements of reggae, ska, jazz and various African musics, the whole thing was woven into a unified tapestry — just music, utterly joyful, life-affirming music. They're obviously very relaxed and into jamming, as apparently when the stage manager asked them what the running times would be for their set(s), the reply was "Well, how long do you want us to play for?" Needless to say, they got a standing ovation, one of the few I've witnessed that was thoroughly deserved.
Here's a snippet of the band on the same tour in Bristol not long after:
29th June 2016
Crash of Moons Club
Lapis Lazuli returned for a mighty set, supported by a recommendation of mine, Sharawadji (Steve and Jeremy formerly of the Jimmy Jones Band, plus a drummer). Bassist Jeremy couldn't make it so it ended up as just Steve (guitar) and the drummer, playing under the spontaneous name of "Hand Cymbal". Steve's bank of effects pedals resembled the control console for a small space station, and the sounds he was producing were pretty outer-space-oriented too. There was some crazy robo-funk stuff going on, but best of all was when he launched into "a folk song" (vaguely familiar) which he poured his soul into before deconstructing it, taking us on a mesmerising improvisation journey, then landing us back on Earth with the original melody/theme.
Lapis took to the stage with their new bass player, Luke Menniss (their fourth!). He'd learned their entire catalogue in about a week and appeared totally calm about it all, played like he'd been in the band for years. Dan had a broken foot in a cast, so played sitting on a pew (was he wearing pyjamas, or did I imagine that?) so he could trigger his pedals with the other foot. John Evans was on sound this time (usually it's Big Will from the Smugglers crew who does COMC nights), and it was flawless. Lapis came with a full-on CRUNCH to their sound, playing pieces off all four albums, but due to time constraints only a little bit off the forthcoming one Wrong Meeting. Here's an album teaser they've put together for that:
As usual, my eccentric alter ego Professor Appleblossom's DJ'd before/between/after the bands. Here's an approxiate playlist.
9th-10th July 2016
Minchinghampton Common, near Stroud
I was originally going to be helping Rosy out with her "Chai Angles" geo-dome on a few of these Smugglers Trail events, but ended up only being able to do Walmer and this one. It was a very pleasant, family-oriented kind of thing, and we discovered that the people of Stroud really like their tea and cake. We were so busy, in fact, that we hardly got a chance to see any of the music, but were near enough to the main marquee that we could enjoy hearing it. And I got to select music between bands. The highlight of the weekend was getting to meet my godson (no. 3!) Arthur and hang out with his mum (my old friend Melski) and dad who came up from Dursley to check out the event and amuse themselves people-watching. I got to enjoy (from a distance) the sounds of Mikey Kenny, Hot Feet, Cocos Lovers and Count Bobo. And there were horses and donkeys wandering freely on the Common too, earthworks nearby, orchids...lovely. And a lift there and back with Will from Cocos and his parner Gabrielle. The fact we broke down on the way (before leaving Kent) meant that I got to spend a night at his new venue-to-be (a bit of a building site when we were there) in Margate, the latest extension of the benevolent Smugglers Empire.
13th July 2016
This was the first time I'd seen Syd Arthur for a while (they've not played in Canterbury for a couple of years). A fairly high-profile headline show in London. Our friend Chilton was responsible for some excellent visual projections, the sound in Electrowerkz was pretty good (vocals and keyboards perhaps slightly muffled). Powerful stuff throughout, not one moment of lull or hesitance. They played the whole forthcoming album Apricity minus the title track, plus a couple of songs off Sound Mirror ("Hometown Blues" and "Autograph"). They opened with "Sun Rays", the track they'd been pushing off the new album, and although I quite like the studio version, it made a lot more sense live. They were planning a longer set, but were advised by management at the last minute to cut it down, a bit of a shame. Raven stuck to keyboards and his four-string tenor guitar, no violin at all, and just a little bit of mandolin shredding during the mighty "Chariot" → "Singularity" encore. Personally I'd rather here more of his fabulous acoustic string playing, but the band are evolving, he's really into analogue synths at the moment (and the current approach circumvents a lot of feedback/volume issues he's struggled with in the past). There was some excellently fluid soloing from Liam, too, he's still growing as a guitarist. If the management's idea was to leave the audience wanting more, they certainly succeeded, as everyone was howling for a second encore.
15th-16th July 2016
Dave's 60th birthday weekend
secret woodland location near Canterbury
On the Friday I'd organised for Molly's Lips (Phil and Billy from Cocos Lovers) to play a woodland set. Bandmate Stewy joined on percussive wheelbarrow at the end, and then I put in a request for Tom Waits' "Come On Up to the House" which they fulfilled magnificently (once they'd remembered the words, much hilarity involved there). My old friend Sven arrived from Belgium that day and I managed to persuade him to play a short set too, which went down a storm.
The party itself was on the Saturday, with me DJ'ing mellow soulful music while people mingled, ate and drank. Later in the evening, Dom and Miriam of Little Bulb Theatre played a set (jazz standards, etc.), then young local troubadour Sam Brothers played a mix of old blues, gospel, "Reynardine" and his own, excellent, compositions. The night culminated with a woodland disco, me selecting funk, soul, latin, afro, disco sounds (initially working from a list Dave provided, then branching out). The night ended with everyone swaying to the last tune, a perfect ending to a memorable weekend, Canonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy":
27th July 2016
Crash of Moons Club
Another COMC night. The Douglas Sisters didn't play in the end. Luca Afrobeat Band played a blinding set, even more remarkable as they'd just reformed to play this gig (I'd suggested them to Adam, who'd got in touch to find out they'd split a while ago). Their old horn section was replaced with the exceedingly capable Phil Holmes (of Lapis Lazuli) on tenor sax, and Luca's keyboard player covering some of the other lines. They apologised that it was "more prog than Afrobeat" due to the relative dearth of horns, but the sound fit perfectly into the COMC universe and they got the place grooving nicely.
Cocos Lovers were missing Nicola (away in the USA, did I hear?) and Natasha's violin was in the repair shop, so she just did some singing. So this was basically the boys rockin' out. And it suited them. They mostly played new stuff, a couple of older things, lots of swirly guitar effects, quite a heavy kraut/spacerock vibe, even a touch Radiohead (without the misery). At first I thought "this isn't the band I came to know and love", and then realised that no, it's not, but I actually prefer them this way these days. The folkie/acoustic/rootsy element are rapidly receding and something pretty amazing is coming to the fore. A lot of this revolves around Stewart's inimitable drumming, which has allowed them to make this leap. It's also led them to scrap their fourth album (it was going to be called Twisted Moon, but they're now planning to just release some of it as an EP and then forge on with their new path on their eventual next album). Will, a London-based artist who came along with Sven and I, had no idea what to expect and was staggered. He certainly couldn't hear a lack-of-violin, and couldn't get over why they're not a nationally known band. Perhaps they will be soon.
Here's DJ Prof. Appleblossom's (approximate) playlist from that night.
30th July 2016
Secret woodland location near Canterbury
I was delighted to be able to host Jennifer Bennett, the virtuosic "early musician" who'd played in the space twice before as part of Circulus. She and Michael Tyack have since (amicably) separated, and she was excited to return with her new percussionist friend Tim. They played quite an experimental set...singing, chanting, polyrhythmic percussion, and her usual amazing viola da gamba playing. Support was from Owl Light Trio, a new venture featuring my old friend Jim Penny (concertina) and his friends Jane (violin) and Colin (guitar) who were all together in Telling The Bees and Wod until quite recently (Andy Letcher decided to dissolve the Bees, although Jim and Jane are continuing Wod as a duo). They all live on the canal north of Oxford, on the same mooring, so play together a lot, and it really showed. A lot of Breton stuff got played that night, not so familiar to the Canterbury crowd. Toward the end of the set they invited Jo (melodion player who I used to travel with in Cornwall) and her partner Mikey (amazing fiddler) up to join them. Wonderful. A session spontaneously erupted after the gig proper, and Ellen from young local acid-folk duo Bearded Sphynx joined on flute, her first visit to the space, and as expected, she and her partner Harry were very keen to come and play at some point, which happened a few weeks later at the end of August (I was away in Ireland, France and Devon for most of that month →
29th August 2016
Secret woodland location near Canterbury
I'd booked Bearded Sphynx to come and play, and my old cosmic brother Pok was due to visit too (I was helping him with some website stuff), so I suggested he play a support set, which he was more than happy to do. This consisted mostly of stuff he'd written back in the mid-80s, which he was revisiting, mixed in with some psychedelic poetry and some of his newer bardic material. To end, I suggested Dylan's "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" (probably more about Augustine of Hippo than Augustine of Canterbury, but yeah...). He got everyone singing along on a couple of songs too, and really won everyone over, I felt. Nice. Bearded Sphynx were as enchanting as I'd expected, Ellen playing flute and singing in a Jacqui McShee-type voice, Harry playing guitar and harmonising beautifully. They're very much influenced by Pentangle and the Incredible String Band, including "My Name Is Death" in their set and encoring with "The Half-Remarkable Question". And she's just finished her A-levels...very encouraging!
1st-4th September 2016
Little Mongeham, near Deal, Kent
So much amazing music this year! A lot of it was on a new stage at the far end of the site (an area that had for the previous five festivals never quite found its true calling). It's become "The End". Rosy P had her "Chai-Angles" geo-dome down there and I helped out there with selling teas and coffees and selecting music between bands.
Thursday (all at The End):
Gorgonzola (Ben, Elisha, Jason from The 13 Club, Richie from Plume on drums) — they're playing funky jazz-fusion, though not as cheesy as their self-deprecating selection of name would suggest. The 13 Club is still a thing, this is just a side project. Nice to see Richie gigging again, and Jason's electric guitar playing is becoming something incredible. They played before sunset with a wheatfield as their backdrop, framed by ivy-covered trees, lovely! Rozi Plain, who I know from This Is The Kit, played with her own band (an excellent lineup involving Conrad, Yoshino, Leon and Dan from Bristol's Bloom Collective), then This Is The Kit played an absolute blinder. Kate & co. can do the gentle/intimate thing but they can clearly also rise to the occasion for a lively festival audience and rocked out nicely. Kate dedicated "Numbers" to Professor Appleblossom and plugged my/his freestyle maths sessions (Friday-Sunday 12-2pm, as usual), very touching. Seeing Rozi and Kate beaming and locked in on bass and guitar, respectively, brought to mind the empowered, joyful, sisterly early 80s vibes of Raincoats et al.
Cloudshoes (that's Conrad Singh's sort-of-solo project) — wonderful eccentricity and electric guitar skronk (he was joined by Yoshino, Leonie, Graeme and others for a final, entrancing improv piece). That was in the little amphitheatre in Gilli's wood. Then over to the Sun-Moon geo-dome stage to catch Effra, Aidan Shepherd's mildly proggish folk trio involving a fiddler and guitarist... extremely competent and a breath of fresh air from the usual folk festival thing. Later that day in the same space I caught a bit of Bitch'n'Monk, an intriguing duo. I'd spoken to Heidi (who does the vocals/guitars/loops) earlier when she was buying a cup of tea, and she mentioned Henry Cow as an influence. You could hear a lot of the Lindsay Cooper/Maggie Nicols/Feminist Improvisation Group thing in there too....lots of loops, lots of flutes...fascinating, although I had to run to catch Volume 13 at The End. This is an amazing new project curated by Barney Pigeon (Bison Bonasus, formerly Zoo For You), playing classic Ethio-groove as well as some Afrobeat and even a Tortoise number. Stewart and Bill from Cocos on drums and bass, James (formerly of Cocos) on percussion, Jamie Dams and Aidan both on keyboards, Benji and the Mansion of Snakes horn section. A bit of a Smugglers scene supergroup, and possibly the most enjoyable thing I heard all weekend. Jamie, Poggy and Bill all sang one song each (Bill delivering an unbelievably impassioned vocal on Marijata's "No Condition Is Permanent"). Jamie looked so happy behind her keyboard, meanwhile Aidan playing some killer solos as only he can, using all my favourite early 70s keyboard sounds. Amazing rhythm section, amazing horns, and in the middle of it all, holding it down on guitar, and very happy-looking Barney. The woods were jumping that night. Earlier that evening I'd seen Stewy drumming with his SOAS band Lunch Money (terrible name, but an excellent band)...they've evolved considerably since I last saw them, a lot weirder (in the best possible sense) than the funky afro-style band I remember. The night ended with Lapis Lazuli playing a storming set in the Absinthe Bar, surrounded by drunken chaos (people nearly falling on Adam's drumkit, etc.), while all wearing flashing blue headlamps. I had to sleep at this point (I can remember a DJ spinning Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids" as I headed for my tent and wondering what it was — great tune!) and unfortunately missed Evan Parker's sunrise set in a nearby field. All the strung out party people still going at 5am were rounded up and cheerfully pressganged into being an audience for this remarkable event, many having no idea who Evan Parker is... Juliet's poetic description of the event was so vivid I almost felt like I'd witnessed it, and now there's a bit of video:
The utterly unique, wonderful Dubi Dolcek (Graeme's creation) had everyone so drawn in to his ultra-quiet songs that you could almost hear a pin drop in Gilli's Wood. He was backed up by the Bloom Collecive's Pete, Leon, Conrad and Dan, plus guest vocals from Yoshino, Leonie et al. Songs like "I Met Her At the Laser Dojo" and "Fishscale Jim" have stayed with me in great detail. This man's a genius and a beautiful soul. Later that day he was on the mainstage with a woven wastepaper basket on his head playing sax with Yoshino's band Yama Warashi — Lewis on bass, Dan, Lorenzo and Conrad in silly hats...Japanese songs, really intruigingly otherworldly. Then it was Leonie Evans and friends — she played most of her new Collaborations album, minus Flying Ibex (a cheerfully inebriated but entirely competent Mikey Kenny stepped in on fiddle for that song), Liam Magill (touring North America with Syd Arthur) and Honey Feet...her koto playing was my favourite bit. Vels Trio (at The End), again beautifully framed against a field and playing jazz-fusion, had all the drummers on site in awe of their Dougal. Then over to the Sun-Moon dome for Jesse Morningstar's project The Fantasy Orchestra (this was a combined orchestra drawing on the Paris, Bristol and Whitstable versions, at the end of a bicycle tour they'd done of Kent) — this was a total revelation. They played a lot of the stuff I'd heard them do in Whitstable: Morricone, Ellington's "Caravan", Dr. John, etc., but then "Strawberry Fields Forever", "White Rabbit", "Move On Up" and finally... "Bohemian Rhapsody"! At first I was like "You can't play that!" but everyone got into it, started singing along, lighters in the air, and it suddenly felt quite revolutionary, like a reclaiming of true folk music or something, a complete dissolving of audience-band boundaries... Considering that the Orchestra is totally welcoming and inclusive of anyone at anyone at any level of playing, it sounded incredibly well arranged, orchestrated, executed (and a miraculously well-balanced sound, considering there were 25 people on stage...much respect to Rory L!) Dan from Bloom (having never played with them before) was holding it all together on drums as almost no one else could, with Jesse conducting (and shredding) wonderfully throughout. The set reached a climax like very few I can recall anywhere, at any time, and I reckon they got the most intense applause of anyone all weekend. Then it was outside to catch Electric Jalaba warping things out nicely with their full-on trance dance vibes, a big crowd grooving despite a little rain...so cooool that band! I had to sleep in order to get up for a morning cafe shift, so missed Mansion of Snakes in the Absinthe Bar, but had some fantastic visual imagery going on while trying to drift off despite the sound of Adam Dawson's Japanese mechanoid funk DJ set nearby, a kind of Goddess vision in the form of an animated Klee/Miro painting, stained glass hands and a kind of exquisite rainbow light piercing my heart...WOW!
Musical highlights included The Papylonian Babooshkees (Stewy from Cocos — unbelievable what he can do with just a frame drum — has joined Phil and Aidan to create an excellent acoustic trio, whose set now involves surreal banter about fictional republic on Japanese-Ukrainian border... a bit like a 3 Mustaphas 3 vibe); Early Nite, the only Free Range-curated thing I got to see, a young, groovy free jazz trio (drums, bass, sax, nice vibes); Tezeta, Bristol's Ethio-groove collective...WOW! They're playing all original material now (last summer I saw them play a set of classic by Mulatu Astatke, et al. and that was already seriously impressive); Ichi — WOW! again...Rachel Dadd's Japanese husband and absurdist one-man band whose creativity and inventiveness seeingly knows no bounds; Alabaster Deplume — a profoundly entertaining (and entertainingly profound) singer-songwriter who sort of deconstructs/ psychoanalyses himself while performing, hard to describe, just go and see him; Yndi Halder (recently re-formed postrock band with a bit of a following... they involve the brother of Nicola from Cocos, and now Phil Self, who recently toured Japan and China with them) — someone engaged me in conversation during their set at The End, so I was unable to give them my full attention, but I loved the ending when they came down off the stage with chime bars, forming a ring in the audience, playing a simple, circular melody, gamelan-style; The Evil Usses — MASSIVE sound, they're just insane, can't wait for the new album! Then there was Prof. Appleblossom's late night DJ set, playing Afrobeat, funk, soul, Motown, disco and ska, getting the people dancing, a real success...usually when I/he DJ's, it's between bands in indoor venues, and most of the audience is outside smoking. No such problem on this occasion, and after four days of Smugglerising, everyone was well primed to dance. Some people who'd been to the Prof's freestyle maths sessions were surprised to see him onstage DJing, others who know me quite well were surprised to hear me play stuff like Stevie Wonder and The Marvelletes... A midwinter dance party with Prof. Appleblossom somewhere in the Canterbury area is now looking like a real possibility.
8th September 2016
The Cube, Bristol
I'd been invited (as Prof. Appleblossom) to give a talk on retrocausality at the 6D loft space for the Bristol Biennial, which was great fun (I was "introduced" by a sudden screening of the Deerhoof "Dispossessor" video which "he" features in). An excellent bonus to this flying Bristol visit was getting to see amazing Tuareg band Imarhan (described by the press as "Tinariwen's little brothers" — I bet they hate that!). Tezeta had played a support set, which sadly I missed, but I arrived in time to catch almost the whole Imarhan set, then got to spend the evening with Leonie, Conrad, Dan Inzani, Graeme, Lewis and others from the Bloom collective (Leonie and Graeme singing old songs late into the night while the rest of us babbled about who-knows-what).
11th September 2016
The Lady Luck, Canterbury
Luke Smith was playing an almost acoustic set, and had Max Martin play a guest set too — nice to see him building in confidence as a performer. Lots of friendly faces there that night, which meant that I didn't pay as close attention to the music as I otherwise would have.
15th September 2016
St. Gregory's Music Centre, Canterbury
Sam Bailey had been recording a new experimental piano album at St. Gregs for a few days, culminating in this public recording session. It was delayed by a day at the last minute, which meant I could go. The audience (seven of us) were provided with singing bowls to play on one piece. The long second piece (weaving together various unfinished fragments he's composed, I think he said) involved quite a Canterbury-ish sound in places, I could detect certain Wyattisms...nice. And it was the first time I'd had any luck getting a consistent, sustained sound out of a singing bowl.
I then headed straight over to Club Burrito to catch live hiphop band The Brewdelics. I'd seen them once briefly at the Penny Theatre in late August when my old friend Amanda was visiting (a nice connection, as she got me back into hiphop in the late 90s, taping stuff off Bristol pirate stations form me). Asya, a Bulgarian academic who once interviewed me for her research into local music scenes, is now playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vocals...her family were over from Bulgaria as she'd just graduated with her PhD that day — I wonder what they made of it... Laszlo (a.k.a. Humble Pious) got up to freestyle at one point, spat some excellent verses, and then dropped his new rhyme "Squat" (inspired by life on the local Spring Lane Estate), the videoshoot for which Professor Appleblossom had been involved in the previous weekend (a surreal/decadent masqued ball kind of theme, everyone masked except Lasz, with live graffiti, a live taratula(!), furniture smashed, money burned, and a lot more...it's currently begin edited, watch this space).