Canterbury Sound: Place, Music and Myth, Christ Church University, Canterbury, 28 October 2017

It’s taken nearly a week to post something up about this amazing event, but then it’s taken nearly a week to surface from quite a whirlwind few days down south.

After around 25 years of correspondence, I finally got to meet Aymeric Leroy, author of the Calyx website, Big Bang progressive fanzines, moderator of the What’s Rattlin’ Newsgroup, and more recently author of the ‘L’Ecole de Canterbury’ biography. We met at Phil Miller’s funeral in Plaistow on Friday, chatted at the wake, where he kindly introduced me to many of my heroes, and shared a car down to Canterbury later that evening where he was kind enough not to comment too harshly on my lack of nous about directions! Aymeric’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Canterbury music (and beyond…) is not just confined to carefully filed reams of information – it is matched by instant recall of dates, places and anecdotes which sometimes make me feel like a half-arsed amateur!

lapis lazuli

Lapis Lazuli – photo: Asya Draganova

We’d been brought together as fellow speakers at the Canterbury Sound event, an event hosted by Christ Church University in the city, and curated by leading university academics Dr Asya Draganova and Professor Shane Blackman. The whole-day event consisted of a series of talks, including ones from Aymeric about Calyx and his book, my own about the genesis and development of Facelift, and other more academic perspectives from speakers jetting in from places as far flung as the US and Australia. My favourite slots were the insights provided by musicians Geoff Richardson (who came to settle in Canterbury in 1972) and Brian Hopper (who was already there!) and guitarist Jack Hues (a current practitioner). Talks and general discussion (all speakers also contributed to an ongoing ‘panel’ fielding questions from the floor) centred about what exactly the Canterbury scene/sound was, whether it had occurred as a result of local and cultural factors, and how it matched other geographically-based scenes. I’m not sure that the panel really came to any firm conclusions, but maybe that wasn’t the point. Personally, I liked most Geoff’s perspective that he was a ‘moth drawn to the flame’ of Canterbury, a phenomenon that I have observed so many times both in terms of musicians relocating geographically, but perhaps even more so metaphorically its many fans.

canterbury soundAny doubt that the flame is being kept alive was dispersed by the utterly memorable music which punctuated the day, initially with Jack Hues and the quartet, augmented for the most part by lengthy spoken word sections. The music was alternately sparse, atmospheric and driven, backed by the rhythm section of the very fine Led Bib. I would love to hear more of this. Koloto, a local composer followed in the afternoon with a set of electronic soundscapes, before the conference venue was cleared for the evening’s main performances.

With their unfathomable name, freakish promo photo and the eloquence of drummer Adam Brodigan who provided an insight into the local music scene in one of the later talks, a sense of anticipation built up for local band Lapis Lazuli, who for me were the revelation of the entire day. Extended but extremely tightly-knit compositions (‘Reich’ and ‘School’) from their superb ‘Wrong Meeting’ album, bought on the spot, revealed a power-driven quartet consisting of two guitars, bass and drums, producing intricate, funky compositions. The great thing about bands that you’re often instantly sold on is that you can’t accurately compare them to anyone else, because, they’re … um… unique. That’s how I felt about Syd Arthur when I first heard their folk-infused early stuff – but Lapis Lazuli are spikier, grungier and rarely staying in one spot long enough for the audience to settle in their groove, before they move on to the next meticulously scored passage. During Adam’s earlier words, he described the evolution of gig venues and clubs in recent years from smoke-filled dens of iniquity to a much cleaner environment where psychedelic stimulation had to come from the music alone, and how Lapis Lazuli aimed to take you there. Such was the mind-bending nature of the music that they certainly got (me) there tonight.

Headliners and equally anticipated were Soup Songs, the jazzy outfit performing the songs of (and thoroughly approved of by) Robert Wyatt. I’d never seen this much-vaunted band before and quite aside from the sheer privilege of hearing for the first time, live performances of iconic tracks such as ‘Sea Song’, (possibly my all-time favourite track, complete with the heart-rending coda played out by Annie Whitehead’s trombone), and ‘O Caroline’, here was a band that genuinely grooved. Backed by an all-star rhythm section of Tim Harries and Liam Genockey, names familiar to most Canterburyfiles in different contexts, and an all-female frontline of Whitehead, Sarah Jane Morris and singer/guitarist Jennifer Maidman, this was a classy, gutsy performance. Whilst the main soloists were Steve Lodder on keyboards and Mark Lockhart (sax); Geoff Richardson was invited on stage for several memorable viola interventions, whilst Brian Hopper stole the night with an extended sax solo on ‘Soup Song’ itself. A fitting way to end a memorable day from one of the founders of it all…

matt watkins

Postscript: The event provided an opportunity to display some of my old newspaper clipping archives which Aymeric had brought back from France, alongside no less than 7 different Canterbury family trees. Last thoughts regard the publication of ‘You Are Here’ by Matt Watkins, author of the Canterbury sans Frontieres soundblog. A full review to follow when this whirlwind week stops and I can start to dive properly into his unique and beautifully illustrated book. Matt gave a short talk starting to plot the geographically significant points of Canterbury mythdom through an interactive Google Map – this was the part of the day that perhaps unwittingly drew the most audience participation, and was presented with a wryness which added to the delivery. More on the book soon…

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