Canterbury, Deià and Tomás Graves – a Mallorcan adventure

Any student of Gong and the Canterbury scene doesn’t have to delve far, when following the history of the genre, before stumbling on references to Mallorca, or specifically, Deià, a small village on its west coast. In my case the introduction to Daevid Allen’s  solo work was the 1977 album ‘Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life’, complete with flamenco intro, a track called ‘Deià Goddess’ and a drone named ‘I Am’, announced via a mule’s plaintive bray recorded outside Daevid’s then residence. It remains one of my favourite albums (see here).

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Back cover to 'Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life', Daevid Allen

Deià was not only the village where Daevid, Kevin Ayers and Lady June had houses at various points, but it was home for significant early sabbaticals for Robert Wyatt and Didier Malherbe in the Sixties, and the place Richard Sinclair headed for after the break up of his relationship and Hatfield and the North in August 1975, an episode chronicled in detail in an interview in Facelift Issue 10. Somewhat more recently Deià was also the place Ultramariners Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper gravitated towards in the early Nineties following the receipt of their advance for ‘United Kingdoms’ (an album on which they collaborated with Robert Wyatt and Jimmy Hastings), giving up their day jobs to do so. Once in the village they met Lady June and were directed to Kevin Ayers’ house, a meeting that led to their collaboration on the reworking of Ayers’ song ‘Hymn’.



Postcards from Lady June, mid 1990s

Completely coincidentally, I have an indirect personal connection to Mallorca. My partner Georgina used to live on the island in the early Nineties and her daughter Rosana was born there. Soon after we met in 2005 both disappeared off to the island for the summer to stay with Rosana’s father, Miguel Angel, and I had the chance to go out too. A hire car enabled us to attempt a somewhat ham-fisted pilgrimage to Deià, where the intense heat drove us into a terraced café that would later host Kevin Ayers’ wake, followed by a quick stumble down what turned out to be the ‘Clot’, which housed both Allen’s and Ayers’ abodes, before ending up down at the Cala, a windswept and refreshingly undeveloped beach. Despite being largely unaware of these details at the time I vowed to return to explore properly, but the nearest I got to this was in 2016, when the onset of a serious illness scuppered the chance of visiting the island again on the day we were due to fly out.

In the meantime, the resurrection of my interest in writing about the Canterbury scene in 2016 coincided with me tracking down a book called ‘Tuning Up At Dawn’ by Tomás Graves. Tomás is the son of novelist Robert Graves, and like many of his siblings is also a writer, having published several books including Bread and Oil, regarded as an authoritative examination of Mallorcan and wider Mediterranean culinary traditions and cultural change. He is also, as we’ll see, a musician, as well as a publisher and printer. Prior to Tomás’ book, the main sources of information about the Canterbury/Deià connections were primarily Daevid Allen’s autobiographical ‘Gong Dreaming 1’ plus various newspaper/magazine articles (including some in Facelift). ‘Tuning Up At Dawn’ is a holistic assessment of musical history in Mallorca, but which includes as its first two chapters an account of the author’s early years growing up in an environment receptive to the influx of bohemian emigrees, and then more specifically examining those from the Canterbury axis. Without trying to spoil what should be an essential item on the bookshelf for all readers of this blog, there are nuggets in there about what the initial connection with Canterbury was, and a nickname for Robert Wyatt by which he was known to the Graves family during his first extended stay, alongside some of the more familiar accounts regarding the Daevid Allen’s original ‘seed vision’ which sparked the whole Gong mythology, and the story of Softs benefactor Wes Brunson, the original ‘Stoned Innocent Frankenstein’.


By another coincidence it turned out that Tomás is a neighbour of my stepdaughter’s father Miguel Angel, and mutual friend of several of my partner’s old associates and friends from Palma nearly 30 years ago (including an artist called Eli Sanchez, who recalls being a dancer at a Kevin Ayers/Daevid Allen gig on the island as a 14 year old, at an event we dated as probably 1975). And so I set up tentative plans to meet Tomás should the opportunity arise once in Mallorca.

In our extremely humble abode, a barely converted shepherd’s hut, in blindingly close heat (our task was to look after an enthusiastic dog with a penchant for identifying our children’s sandals as surrogate dog toys – local shoe-selling market traders benefitted as a result) we spent happy days on the beaches at Cala Mondrago, Es Trenc and Cala d’es Mor, and baked-out evenings looking up at a vast, starlit sky, enjoying the first of the season’s shooting stars, listening to the music emanating from across the fields from Porreres, which was ‘in fiesta’, part of a competitive inter-town phenomenon which Tomás describes in his book.

Having acclimatised to what would be our surrounds for the next 10 days, we had another stab at discovering Deià. This was an hour’s worth drive up on the north west coast of the island, nestled within an imposing mountain range above the cove. Despite what appear to be some fairly major traffic-easing infrastructure upgrading, including a colossal tunnel north of Palma through the mountains to Soller, even I could tell that Mallorca was busier than 15 years or so, and one result of this was that on arriving in Deià, and just beyond la Casa de Robert Graves, now a tourist attraction, we found that the road to the Cala was subject to a police road block, apparently as the result of the new-found popularity of the restaurant which provides the portal to the beach on account of it being one of the locations for the recent massive TV hit ‘The Night Manager’.

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Georgina and myself, outside the Bananamoon Observatory, Deià

And so we parked up a little closer to the village, and, it being lunchtime, headed for a shaded spot to cool off. After an excellent lunch at Sa Font Fresca we wandered down the neighbouring ‘Clot’, the narrow lane which meanders towards the Cala, safe in the knowledge that Daevid Allen’s old residence, the second ‘Bananamoon Observatory’, would be the last house we’d find (just in case we were also armed with various identifying pictures of its glorious bouganvillea, courtesy of a post from Brian Abbott). Brian had also told us that Lady June had lived in the flats somewhere to the left – it was from C’An Renou that I’d received a whole host of postcards, tapes, artwork, her trademark calendars and entertaining correspondence at various points in the 90s. In amongst the odd café, the Deya Archaeological Museum and various quaint and characterful cottages, one of which sported a huge whalebone in its tiny garden, we would have also passed Kevin Ayers’ old house – something to check out next time, maybe.


Looking beyond The Bananamoon Observatory, Deià to the church on the hill

From the ‘Observatory’, through the magnificent flora, it is just possible to see the church, occupying, as is almost always the case with Mallorcan ecclesiastical settlements, pride of place and imposing its image on all that it looks down upon. Here, we had been led to believe, was a graveyard where various luminaries were buried, although a quick Google search revealed that the local cemetery was in fact at neighbouring mountain village Valdemossa, casting temporary doubt as to whether we would definitely find what we were looking for. A tiny graveyard, almost an afterthought alongside a fairly substantial church, initially did not reveal what we were looking for, although I did muse as to whether the Biblioni family plot had any connection to guitarist Joan who performed the magnificent Flamenco Zero on the aforementioned Daevid Allen album.


Kevin Ayers headstone, Deià churchyard

Then in a far corner, looking back on the village, we found a stone dedicated to Juan Graves, author and brother of Tomás, alongside that of their mother Beryl, Robert Graves’ second wife, and then down a short set of steps, a more ‘bohemian’ corner containing plaques for Kevin Ayers, his long-time guitarist Ollie Halsall and artist Mati Klarwein, amongst other colourful commemorations containing names I didn’t recognise. Others looking around the graveyard appeared also not to be there by accident. Ollie Halsall’s stone has two guitar dials attached to it, although one is currently missing, it would appear.

I’d contacted Tomás on our arrival in Mallorca, hoping to fix up a meeting – he’d suggested that we come along to his fortnightly gig at a restaurant in another central Mallorcan town, Campos, and have lunch together, towards the end of our stay, which was greatly looking forward to. Then, thanks some unwitting miscommunication from our part, we were cooling off back at base after a day out at the beach a few days after our Deià, and a car pulled up containing none other than Tomás Graves!

Tomás turns out to be an understated but extremely convivial man in his mid-Sixties (he is the youngest child of Robert Graves, fathered as the author approached a similar age). Born and bred in Mallorca (although some of his schooling was in the United Kingdom) he is passionate about Mallorcan tradition, food and culture in all its forms and a proponent of social justice more widely. It may have been the twinkle in his eye, but he reminded me slightly of satirist Peter Cook, albeit a somewhat leaner version… The impromptu visit was probably the best environment in which to speak to Tomás – he admitted the chapters in ‘Tuning Up At Dawn’ were very much anecdotal, rather than a posthumously researched chronology – as a young teenager in Deià when Robert Wyatt and then Daevid Allen arrived in the village the passages he writes in his chapter ‘The Road From Canterbury’ are the recall of someone who grew up with these exotic external influences as normality.

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In conversation with Tomás Graves, Porreres, Mallorca

Conversation developed organically, as likely to veer off into discussions of his mutual connections with my partner Georgina, or a general commentary on Mallorcan culture, as much as pandering to my own Canterbury trainspotting needs. But we did talk about Didier Malherbe – how he’d turned up on in the village on his motorbike having travelled from Paris. Tomás still has a Cine8 film of his brother (Juan) and Didier larking around by the sea which he later sent me a copy of.

We talked of him witnessing Didier teaching himself the flute perched on the horizontal bough of a carob tree and the development of the sheep hut in which he lived within the Graves’ land, and Tomás later accompanying Didier, Gilli Smyth and Orlando Allen on bass when they performed at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival as it briefly decamped to Deià in the mid-Noughties. Of Lady June and her tiny flat in Deià which consisted of barely two rooms, one of which was stuffed full of her artwork, but which nevertheless appeared to always be crammed to the rafters with party-goers. Of doing his O Level Media project (over in England) and being able to choose for his resources back in Deià no less than Daevid Allen himself and his huge stash of International Times; being sent the ‘Love Makes Sweet Music’ single in a brown paper wrapper decorated by Daevid’s handwriting and pre-Gong drawings of his Captain Capricorn figure.

We also talked of Richard Branson’s relationship with Deià and the island, and hotels changing ownership as much as a consequence of dissolving personal relationships (some involving musicians) as of business sense. Of his first hand experience of Mati Klarwein’s construction of his huge artwork masterpiece ‘Annunciation’ which was later shrunk to form the album cover for Santana’s ‘Abraxas’. We also talked about Tomás’ plans to film a documentary about Kevin Ayers, his life in Mallorca and related topics, currently thwarted because a. Spanish television companies approached do not regard the subject matter ‘Spanish’ enough and b. because of the exorbitant price of re-screening archive video clips demanded by the appropriate record companies with who copyright resides.

Tomás has a keen personal involvement with music on the island which informs his writing – and is best known for his longtime involvement (on bass) with the band Pa Amb Oli  (which provides most of the original Catalan title of his first book) but actually trained formally from the age of 7 with Bartolomé Calatayud, the Dean of classical guitar in Palma. He is a much called-upon guitarist for various projects: he cryptically mentioned that his band just recently been asked to provide backing band for what he called a ‘karaoke’ project for various visiting musicians, with a cast that has since been revealed to include Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Bob Geldof, Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon, on the occasion of the 50th birthday party of the latter’s wife – the deal was that Tomás and co would choose the songs and the guest musicians would provide the vocals.


Tomás con Gas: Steve Lambert, Gus Pollard, Tomás Graves - Ca'n Serraller, Campos

The gig we eventually saw on Saturday was an extension of his Tomás Con Gas duo with singer Gus Pollard, now augmented by guitarist Steve Lambert. Gus and Steve have personal connections to Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers respectively which I won’t go into here. Under more baking sun, and accompanied by the best food on the island, the threesome worked through 3 sets of approaching an hour each, encompassing an eclectic and comprehensive mix of folk and blues covers from Little Feat to John Martyn via Curtis Mayfield, a meticulously arranged and performed set, featuring a wonderful voice (Gus), some fine picking (Steve) and accompanying guitar and harmony vocals from a very assured Tomás. A joy to behold as the musicians sang for their dinner and more.

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Gus Pollard, Tomás Graves 

This was almost the perfect way to finish our holiday before we left the next morning: a fantastic meal set against a most agreeable musical backdrop, and further vignettes of Mallorcan life shared as the day wore on. And more than a hint that this might not be the end of the story…



Kozfest 2018

If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, then the only givens at a Kozfest appear to be that a. that at some point you’ll hear ‘The Glorious Om Riff’ being performed on site and b. you’re likely to get passed every few minutes or so by someone wearing a ‘Camembert Electrique’ T-shirt.

As a veteran now of the last three Kozfests  I’d like to add a couple more: c. you’re likely to see Mike Howlett and Graham Clark popping up in guest capacity with numerous bands; and d. you’re going to get covered in orange clay dust following a torrential downpour.

Precisely what Kozfest – A Psychedelic Dream Festival is to you depends on your own personal take: despite the festival capacity being a relatively tiny 500 it takes on many forms. For many it’s a grungy post-Hawkwind vibe, with low-slung basses and leather-clad outfits; for others it’s a chance to fraternise with other grizzled survivors of the free festie movement. You can add into the mix in 2018 a new element: a doomy psych feel  as demonstrated by Saturday headliners, the Cosmic Dead, all flailing hair, dark clothing and unrelenting barrage of noise with few chinks of light permitted.

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The Cosmic Dead

For me, this time around, the Kozfest experience was partly about mingling – the more you go to Kozfest the more connections you appear to make. My 9 year old son came away with a more rounded musical education than me, and I’ll unashamedly admit that in between having a bloody good chat with familiar faces such as Jonny from GAS and Shankara Andy Bole, and making some lovely new connections with Gong violinist Graham Clark and Invisible Opera Company of Tibet luminary Brian Abbott, that my own musical landscape was dominated by those numerous Gong connections which have always drawn me to the festival. I’ve described Kozfest’s unique winning formula in terms of its setup and scheduling when reviewing previous editions, so please refer to them for a fuller flavour than what is written here.

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The author, Graham Clark, Brian Abbott

I’m afraid to say that in amongst my own general mayhem I missed out on seeing previously loved Kozfavourites Deltanaut and Beastfish (whose keyboard player and good friend Mick West, died earlier this year), and caught only snippets of the splendid Deviant Amps, old punky faves Back to the Planet, the folky festival uplift of Flutatious and the band of star bass player Tom Ashurst (he of last years Ozric pop up band, but this year reinvented as a startling guitar soloist with UBOA). I only heard what sounded like a splendid Mugstar performance through the trees from my tent in the Friday headline slot and had left camp complete with soggy gear before Kangaroo Moon and Ed Ozric’s Noden’s Ictus headlined on Sunday night, but for what I did see, well here goes…

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I’d been most excited by the appearance of Canterbury’s scandalously hidden secret Lapis Lazuli, and I was not to be disappointed. I don’t know if by Sunday evening Kozmic Ken was still of the opinion, expressed after their set on Friday, that they’d been the best band of the festival, but I certainly was. This extraordinary quartet of musicians had the confidence to perform an hour’s worth of entirely new material, and they were certainly like nothing else on the bill. Kozfest prides itself on its ostentatious display of the full gamut of psychedelia: be it spacey drones, bubbling keyboards, or driving rhythms interspersed with guitar heroics. But Lapis Lazuli peddle something rather different, and I go back to drummer Adam Brodigan’s take on psychedelia aired at the Canterbury Sound day last October: to bombard the listener with so many ideas, changes and effects that the listener is transported somewhere else entirely during the course of their set.

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Lapis Lazuli

Generally Lapis tracks clock in at around 20 minutes, although there are so many twists and turns that they might get through 10 distinct themes in that time. In fact, for what will be their first album without saxophonist Phil Holmes, they managed to race through a good 8 or 9 different tracks,  but unlike their performance in Canterbury, where they replaced Holmes’ lines with midi’d effects, mainly through the guitar, here the overall sound was more of a guitar power-quartet, tuning into a myriad of styles, the most prominent of which is funk. It’s also a band that appears almost without ego: four very gifted musicians pulling together consummately in weaving their way through a mesmeric, tightly written series of compositions.

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Neil Sullivan, Lapis Lazuli

At times the gear shifts are so complex that one can only laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. A nominal front man might well be Luke Mennis, by far the youngest of the quartet – the Lapis may get through their fair share of bass players, but they are all ridiculously talented: Mennis adds a certain visual presence through an engaging hyperactivity. If I can’t quite describe Lapis Lazuli’s music then that’s in one part testament to their own bloody-mindedness in defying categorisation and in another proof that Brodigan’s vision is being achieved: you are spat out at the end of a set not entirely sure what’s happened, except that an awful lot has. I can’t quite believe this band were off my radar until less than a year ago – each of their 4 albums to date has been stunning, and No 5 sounds like it will be maintaining their own exemplary standards.

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Lapis Lazuli

On arriving on site on Thursday night, we’d headed up to the festival’s main drag, not expecting to witness anything in particular (the music doesn’t start until midday on Friday) but ended up not just watching an old Jimi Hendrix concert on screen  in the tiny Wallys Tent (more of which later) but also talking to various luminaries in the GAS tent. One, I realised later was none other than Basil Brooks formerly of Zorch – it turned out that he was due to play on Saturday in a band calling themselves Yamma – this had the stellar line-up of Cary Grace (American singer and synth player who has appeared in various guises in the last few Kozfests, notably in 2016 with Steffe Sharpsrings on guitar), Brooks, Graham Clark (on guitar) and Mike Howlett. An impromptu supergroup if ever there was one.


The Yamma effect!

A mid-afternoon set saw the crowd in Judge Trev’s tent in chilled out mode and the sounds initially reflected this: building layers of keyboards, effects, the WX7 of Brooks (an instrument I think I’d last seen Didier Malherbe play in the 90s) and subtle guitar themes under Howlett’s hypnotic bass lines. This moved on in the last third or so of the gig to a memorable blues based piece which brought out the best in Cary Grace’s vocals, with some superb inflections, as well as some outstanding touches from Clark’s guitar – this was high class work and I was surprised to hear later that this quartet was a pop-up band working their way through material together for the first time ever, all in an live environment too.

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Cary Grace, Yamma

The rest of Saturday drifted past, kids were put to bed, and just before midnight I found myself wandering back up to the site hoping to catch Shankara Andy Bole’s interpretation of ‘Nosferatu’, something he’d performed last year, but which I’d missed. This was staged in the aforementioned ‘Wallys Tent’, capacity around 20, most of whom were horizontal. Thanks to gremlins the actual film never cranked up, despite various scurrying about by others off-stage, leaving Andy and right hand man Brian Abbott to perform an hour-long continuous piece based on triggered loops from the Bole guitar, with additional themes and treatments.   Andy Bole has an extensive back catalogue of material, most of which I am not (yet) familiar with, but what I can tell you is that he crafts universally beautiful music with a glorious sense of space and imperceptible changes in direction. He is also renowned as a bouzouki player and whilst I don’t think this made an appearance during the set various nods to its tuning were exercised. I haven’t ever watched Nosferatu, but am passingly familiar with the story: what was surprising was that the music was uplifting rather than doomy or terrifying – the duo admitted later that they’d gone off on a completely different tack than intended: whether this was as a result of the lack of visuals wasn’t clear. Whichever way, the result was sublime, and alongside the Lapis Lazuli gig a clear highlight of my Kozfest 2018.

A ripple of anticipation went around the Planet Gong and Kozfest Facebook groups when the line-up for Sunday’s Judge Trev tent went live, showcasing as it did a whole host of Gong-related acts: The Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Sacred Geometry Banned, Magick Brothers, Invisible Opera Company of Tibet and Kangaroo Moon, punctuated by the Gong-ish Sendelica and the more folky Flutatious in mid-afternoon. I missed the first two bands: the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, based around the Seven Drones recorded by Daevid Allen are the perfect Sunday morning tonic after a hard Saturday night’s partying and were quite a spectacle when I saw them in 2016. I’m still not entirely sure about the make-up of the Sacred Geometry Banned who I’ve managed to miss every time at Kozfest (we were packing up our tent at the time), but based on the excellent quartet of Sacred Geometry albums going under the banner of Microcosmic, the band presumably also set out a spacey template for their audience to chill out to. When we finally arrived on site, it was in time to see the wonderful Magick Brothers, sadly reduced to a duo since the death of Daevid Allen but today augmented by various guests.


Magick Brother Graham Clark

Magick was indeed the word to describe my first live viewing of ‘Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do’, the opener from my favourite Allen solo album ‘Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life’, superbly sung here by Mark Robson over his own piano accompaniment. Other superb renditions followed of Robson’s interpretation of ‘Wayland Smithy’ the perfect vehicle for both his penny whistle, probably his finest suit, and Graham Clark’s virtuoso violin. Other tracks included ‘Herbaceous Border’, plus a fiery version of the road protest song which I recognised but can’t at this minute put a name to, complete with apology from Robson for ruining the peaceful Sunday afternoon vibe, and, blessed be, ‘Wise Man In Your Heart’ replete with its trademark bassline performed by the bass player from the original version on ‘Good Morning’, Mike Howlett. Brian Abbott also appeared on guest guitar for the Brothers – of the many gigs I’ve seen by this band, this performance was my favourite…


Mike Howlett guesting with the Magick Brothers

And so, finally (for me), the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. If the Magick Brothers carry forward the Allen acoustic vibe, then the Invisibles rock it up. I didn’t see the full set as we were in a queue for food and listening from a distance, but the way my son shot off into the tent told me that the Om Riff was getting its final incarnation of the weekend as the Invisibles joyously rumbled through ‘Master Builder’ with an extended line-up including Andy Bole, Mike Howlett and Graham Clark. I think by this point they’d already performed ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ but thankfully I was witness to a triumphant finale, a rousing version of ‘We Circle Around’ and finally, courtesy of a manic cameo from Tim Hawthorn on vocals, ‘Bad Self’ from the ‘Jewel in the Lotus’ release. A great finale to our festival as we said our goodbyes, admired the sunset and watched others doing the same, then rather misguidedly hit the road before Kangaroo Moon in order to ‘miss the traffic’ on our way back up north. Two hours surveying the centre of Stafford in all its minutae at 2 in the morning allowed to reflect at our leisure as to quite what a poor decision that had been….

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All photo credits Anne Roberts & Georgina Filby