The Wizards of Twiddly (and Rodney Slater’s Parrots), Zanzibar Club, Liverpool 14 December 2018


It’s an unexpected pleasure to be blogging about the Wizards of Twiddly in 2018. In the early Nineties they were, bar none, my favourite gigging band as they purveyed their own particularly brand of punky, jazzed up lunacy around various small-time hip joints in the cities of the North, as well as arts venues in the satellite towns in between. Generational contemporaries to myself, they struck a particular chord in appropriating influences from seemingly everywhere whilst the mainstream music press stuck to its own turgid agenda. They had a noisy brass section, a guitarist who rivalled Allan Holdsworth in ridiculous virtuosity, and three part harmony vocals, but most of all they had an anarchic, theatrical vibe which meant that they threw so much at you in their own slices of 3 minute heroics that you scarcely had time to draw breath. I was already writing about them in Facelift (as an indulgence chiefly  to myself) when the news came through that they were the new backing band for Kevin Ayers in 1994. I interviewed them for the second time here and also reviewed their Radio 1 Mark Radcliffe session here as they embarked on a series of double headers with Kevin. Their star flickered brightly for a few more years, still tragically under-recognised, before band members moved on to other projects. In intervening years, the December reunion gig in Liverpool has become a bit of an annual tradition, there have been archive albums of unreleased material (The Upendium in 2007 and People with Purpose in 2010), and even, most recently the splendid and typically daft video shown below, but only recently has there been the rumblings of something more substantial with their own 30th anniversary looming.

First on the itinerary (after a couple of aborted gigs last summer as trumpeter Martin Smith was suffering from pneumonia) was this weekend’s gig at the Zanzibar, stalwart venue for the band over the years(in fact a live EP available here was recorded there), an evening compered with some elan by Michael Livesley, a somewhat larger than life persona who is also the lead singer for the night’s support act, Rodney Slater’s Parrots, a Liverpool-based outfit featuring said Rodney, the sax and clarinet playing veteran (and founder member) of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. The Wizards themselves have sometimes been compared to the Bonzos, but even they, despite their own bonkers vintage, would struggle to compete in terms of jaw-dropping daftness, with jaunty, pleasing ditties accompanied by clarinet, violin, saxes, keyboards, guitar and rhythm section, interspersed with hilarious, stream of consciousness narrative veering between Lancastrian self-deprecation (not to mention the deprecation of band members and audience!) and upper class twittery.

If this was a genuine delight to warm an assembling crowd on the coldest night of the year, then a clearly identifiable collection of Wizards aficionados retained their warmest welcome for the main event. Launching into ‘Eye of the Potato’ (complete with Survivor riff gone horticultural), the band ripped through any number of old classics from the first two albums, be they the spiky ‘Clunksville’, the lush tones of ‘Jazz Ian’, the alternatively soothing and menacing ‘Herod’s Creche’ or the classic Sixties pop of ‘Large Georgraphical Features’. There were also standard set list items from the Ayers era such as ‘Cardboard Banjo’, and ‘The Great Unwashed’.


To be fair, given the general bonhomie all around me, and the delicious familiarity of immersing oneself back into the world of the Twiddlies, I can’t remember all the tracks they played, testament to the band themselves so effortlessly stepping back into the groove. What I can recall is at least four new pieces, a typical Simon James track (I’m guessing) based around double standards called ‘Yes We Can’t’ (complete with compulsory audience shouting!), a glorious 60s song in the vein of ‘Large Geographical Features’ (from Frizell?) called ‘The Inescapable’ and two pieces of a more twisted bent, ‘Eryops’ and ‘Sit Down Punch’, the latter a quite stunning groove-based instrumental from the pen of Carl Bowry. It was this which provided my prevailing memory of the night, as the band looked genuinely quite taken aback by the audience’s voluminous response.

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Most of the trademark Wizard features are still very much in evidence: the contrasting styles of the two lead vocalists (with Simon James angrily ranting or Andy Frizell alternatively crooning or impishly sniping); the staccato brass work of James and Smith (whose trumpet soloing is these days quite outstanding); the rhythms driven on in pinpoint manner from the gloom by Andy Delamere’s drumming (he also adds a sweet third voice); or the astonishing guitar work from Carl Bowry, as understated a stage persona as you’ll see, but with a repertoire of blistering effects-strewn assaults on the ears, flying fretwork and subtle harmonics.

Highlights on the night were hearing for the first time that raft of new tunes, the buzzing guitar rhythm and singalong rant of ‘Hooverman’, the evergreen daftness of ‘Septic Tank’, and a re-work of ‘Man Made Self’ as an inevitable finale, as Andy Frizell looks back regretfully (and forgetfully) at his Nineties character’s aspirational self. With various members of the band charging around the stage, screaming into microphones and leaving the arena to tumultuous applause, it was very much like old times…


Gong solo projects reviewed: Kavus Torabi, Fabio Golfetti, Ian East, Dave Sturt

With recently announced news of a Gong tour in May 2019, alongside current recording of a new album, it’s high time that I published a long-promised feature on the recent activities of individual members of the band’s current line-up.

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Firstly let’s not forget that the entire current Gong line-up (Kavus Torabi, Fabio Golfetti, Dave Sturt, Ian East, Cheb Nettles) was in situ in the last days of Daevid Allen, with the first four contributing to the Gong album, ‘I See You’ in 2014. Whilst this collection of musicians joined Gong at different points from 2009 onwards, their coherency as a unit behind Daevid Allen was so apparent that it was no surprise when, with Daevid Allen’s health declining, the quintet struck out alone. This new dispensation (with Daevid Allen’s blessing) culminated in the brilliant album ‘Rejoice! I’m Dead’, reviewed here, with various Gong live gigs reviewed here and here. What may be rather less known as that each of the 5 surviving Gong members are band-leaders, or at least project leaders in their own right.

Kavus Torabi – Solar Divination EP

Kavus Torabi, the band’s frontman is indeed a man of many facets. Long-time leader of Knifeworld, that left-field progressive/experimental project which features a plethora of brass, vocalists and innovative combinations of other musicians, the band have been in existence for around a decade, recording half a dozen albums and EPs. However last spring Kavus also launched a completely solo project. Whilst I missed one of a series of solo gigs in April (Peter Hammill was playing a rare gig elsewhere in Manchester that night, I seem to remember), a taster of his wares is available on an EP, ‘Solar Divination’, consisting of a mere three tracks. Given his angular, sometimes abrasive guitar work, the predominant instrument here is something of a surprise, being the harmonium no less. I’d not heard this instrument played in anger since Wandana Bruce accompanied Daevid Allen’s dronish sets back in the spring of 1988, but here it underpins most of the sound in somewhat more searching mode.


Whilst the title of the EP gives an indication that the approach veers towards the devotional (with nods towards some of Steve Hillage’s early solo work) this is not easy to categorise, with purer guitar-backed songform on the two shorter tracks undermined by more obtuse sounds from said harmonium, whilst ‘The Faceless Undead’ is underpinned by dissonant strumming and stop-start vocals. One has to wait until whilst the last track ‘Slow Movement’ to see perhaps the best way forward: this lengthy piece is an open-hearted invocation which makes total sense of Kavus’ apparently mesmerised persona when singing ‘Selene’ or ‘Master Builder’ with Gong. It would have been fascinating to see that Kavus solo gig to see which styles or even instrumentation dominate in his live world – he has so many apparent strings to his bow. Apparently there is an album on the way which might give us a clue….

Fabio Golfetti – Lux Aeterna – Parallax

Fabio Golfetti, as some readers of this blog will be aware, is someone Facelift has a long history with, all the way back to the early Nineties when cassette tapes from Brazil arrived periodically, both from the punchy three piece Violeta de Outono, to the more extended workouts of Fabio’s licenced Brazilian version of the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, whose splendid live album ‘Glissando Spirit’ featured sleevenotes first published in Facelift here. Both bands survive to this day and the excellent Violeta have released relatively recently their 7th studio album ‘Spaces’ and have become one of my all-time favourite bands in recent years. I would and probably should say more about this here, but as I’d love to do a proper interview with Fabio (who I finally got to meet 25 years later in 2016!) about Violeta de Outono, that side of things will have to wait for the moment.


In the meantime, let me direct you towards Lux Aeterna, Fabio’s current project with son Gabriel who provides much of the musical backdrop . Currently only available in digital format, this album-length series of 3 recordings is electronic in conception, synth heavy, which if one were to say it had a chill-out vibe would not do justice to its experimentation. Daevid Allen is on record as saying that Fabio was his favourite glissando player, and the 30 minute opus ‘Glissando’ confirms Fabio’s virtuousity in that regard, a beautiful extended drone in the vein of Allen’s ‘I Am’ or the backdrops to Mother Gong’s ‘Magenta’. However, in terms of general excellence it’s a struggle to get beyond the title track ‘Parallax’, an gloriously uplifting piece which starts in dronish stasis, graduating to an Erpland-ish/Hawkwind synth theme with scattergun percussive effects, and suppressed guitar soloing before finally opening out into a quite spine-tingling conclusion. The somewhat shorter ‘Tick-Tock’, after some initially unsettling scene-setting, veers between some of the synth sounds of Steve Hillage’s ‘Green’ and the bird-like guitar effects of System 7’s ‘Sirenes’. For an album which appears, as things do these days, almost unnoticed as a bonus project on the soundcloud/bandcamp platforms this is high class, lush music for the senses.


Ian East – Inner Paths

Gong are blessed to have Ian East as their resident woodwind player, filling with gusto the intimidatingly large boots left by two sax giants in Didier Malherbe and Theo Travis, the latter most recently seen in fine form with Soft Machine. If Travis captured more of Didier’s jazz sensibilities, then East is perhaps more playful, his side-projects with the Balkanatics possibly nodding more towards Didier’s eastern influences .


Yet Ian’s remarkable solo album ‘Inner Paths’ sounds like neither, a genuinely innovative project consisting of a mini-orchestra entirely of his own making, with up to a dozen different instruments multi-tracked to provide a rich, layered, multi-faceted ticking and whirring of acoustic sounds. The overall sound is rhythmic, stately, almost mediaeval – Ian East doesn’t go as far as delving into crumhorns and the like, but the overall sound is evocative of music from an era past, interspersed with influences from North Africa and the aforementioned Balkans. With the basic rhythm set down by bass clarinet and a selection of percussive instruments (bells, shakers, cajon and udu), other lower register reed instruments (principally tenor) interweave to allow a further saxophone to solo over the top. If the album title suggests that this is a largely introverted project, then it’s only the lack of other personnel (East also recorded and mixed the album) which reflects this: at times the music is joyous and genuinely grooves. In addition, when we spoke following Gong’s performance at Beatherder Ian revealed that Ian has actually attempted gigging this project live, courtesy of triggered loops, which Ian admitted was genuinely a challenge to pull off. If all 4 albums reviewed here are somewhat off the scale in terms of what might associate with Gong music, than ‘Inner Paths’ is probably the most ambitious – it’s a remarkable achievement.

Dave Sturt – Dreams and Absurdities


Way back before bass player Dave Sturt joined Gong, among the many projects he was involved in was Jade Warrior – and for some reason I received a copy of ‘Breathing the Storm’ in the early 90s for review and squeezed in a few words in Facelift, not for any Gong/Canterbury connection that I knew of, but purely because it got played to death at Facelift HQ. Amongst many elements collaborating to create a gorgeous, gently rolling groove for Jade Warrior was Dave’s fretless bass, as likely to take the lead lines as flute or keyboard. On hearing the first few bars of ‘Mirage’, the opening track for Dave’s album ‘Dreams and Absurdities’, with fellow Warrior John Field on congas and the bansuri of Waqas Choudhary, one could be forgiven for thinking that this solo project was going to continue in a similar vein. In fact, this album is as diverse as ‘Inner Paths’ is homogenous: looped pieces such as ‘Transcendence’, the jazzy impro noodlings of ‘(In My Head) I’m Swimming (with Kavus Torabi) and the lush atmospheres of ‘White and Greens in Blue’ (with Bill Nelson)  rest alongside more upbeat numbers and the frankly strange ‘Bouncing like Gagarin’, where a spoken word piece (courtesy of Jennie Winson-Bushby) is accompanied  by a ‘talking’ bass which punctuates each word uttered.

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Four pieces are key for me: ‘Hollow Form’, immaculately introduced using layers of bass motifs with Sturt soloing over the top, before the piece settles into a multi-layered loop over which bass, cello, violin and the soprano of Theo Travis solo in turn. Some deft brush work from Jeff Davenport completes the groove on what is a minor masterpiece. ‘Jaffa Market’, a reference to the piece’s origins during a Gong tour in Israel in 2009 is another piece that starts in stately  fashion before stretching out William Orbit style into an eastward-looking dancey number. The icing on the cake here is Steve Hillage’s glorious unfettered guitar soloing – Hillage completists will recognise this as one of his finer moments… A less planned guest appearance is Daevid Allen’s wonderful glissando parts to ‘Unique and Irreplaceable’, rescued posthumously from the vaults from a Cipher recording session, here contributing to a brooding and atmospheric drone also featuring Fabio Golfetti – another highlight. Finally the title track ‘Dreams and Absurdities’, a slow waltz where cello and violin intertwine to create the backdrop for more lead bass soloing, set against a bizarre sample apparently from an Asian fish market which sounds almost like the throat singing credited earlier in the album! For me, ‘Dreams and Absurdities’ is the best of the four albums reviewed here, simply for its breadth of style and sheer polish.


And as for Cheb Nettles? My lips are sealed….


For information on all these albums plus current gig news from all Gong musicians, please visit