MPH: Taxonomies (Discus Music) (Alex Maguire, Martin Pyne, Mark Hewins)

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Wholly improvised music doesn’t hit my radar much these days – gone are the days when some of Elton Dean’s more obtuse workings arrived through the postbox with a reverberating clunk – and a slight nervousness on my part as to what they might contain musically. ‘Taxonomies’ is the opposite – an album I actively sought out as it was clear on hearing the first few bars on Bandcamp that this was an album not only worth pursuing, but likely to involve rewards for repeated listening.

Some context: this is a collaboration between three musicians, two with a clear Canterbury vintage. Guitarist Mark Hewins is something of a hero in these quarters: he pursued many of our mutual inspirations to Canterbury in the Seventies where he collaborated with the likes of Dave and Richard Sinclair and Graham Flight in the Polite Force, resurrected Soft Heap with John Greaves, Pip Pyle and Elton Dean in the Eighties, and collaborated with Hugh Hopper extensively in the Nineties. He also pioneered the Canterbury scene’s presence on the web with musart.co.uk, and remains particularly  active in convening various Canterbury ‘supergroups’ of sorts – a resurrected MASHU with Shyamal Maitra and Jack Monck this autumn in Gasny, plus a current collaboration with Lyn Dobson (from Soft Machine’s ‘Third’) and Eric Peachey (Khan). Pianist Alex Maguire was a long-time collaborator with both Pip Pyle and Phil Miller and architect of the remarkable memorial concerts which celebrated the musical legacy of the latter at the start of 2019. Martin Pyne is the multi-faceted percussionist player who completes this rather excellent trio.

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‘Taxonomies’ is relatively sonically benign for the most part: with piano and vibraphone providing wonderfully organic sounds, often in tandem, whilst Hewins alternates between etched out guitar textures one will recall from his ‘Adreamor’ album with Hugh Hopper, and some subtle bluesy themes. Best of all are the opener ‘Tormentil’, where Maguire’s tinklings recall Sophia Domancich’s beautiful melodies on Pip Pyle’s ‘Up’ (common ground here as both were latter-day keyboard players with Hatfield and the North), set against some gently propelling hand drums from Pyne. Or ‘Finger Muscle’, a sleazy jazz growler with cascading piano and vibe brought back to base time and time again by Hewins’ guitar. The eerie building of atmosphere within ‘Meadowsweet’ and the beautiful chimes of ‘Eyebright’ set against the gentle pitter patter of percussion, are also fine moments.  Elsewhere the soundscapes are more questioning, particularly further into the album, where Maguire’s spooked out Hammond organ, particularly on ‘Purple Loosestrife’ conjures up visions of a somewhat nightmarish fairground ride.  Or ‘Rocket Larkspear’ where Maguire’s virtuosic navigation around his piano creates a Keith Tippett-like pummelling of the eardrums.  These later tracks are not an easy ride, but shouldn’t detract from some of the simple beauty of many of the earlier themes in the album.

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Just an explanation of the various exotic titles here: ‘Taxonomies’ was recorded live over two days, taking its inspiration from a variety of unusual fauna and flora, and is namechecked not only in its track listings but also captured in Mark Hewins’ stunning photography contained in the packaging surrounding this unusual release.

‘Taxonomies’ is one of many innovative releases on the excellent Discus Music label – to order please visit https://discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/taxonomies-87cd

 

 

Shooting at the Moon – The Collected Lyrics of Kevin Ayers (Faber Music)

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Perhaps it’s surprising there’s never been a Kevin Ayers biography. In many ways, of the all the Canterbury scene artists, Kevin was the one flecked with stardust, the one who (almost) transcended into the mainstream. Yet in most Canterbury scene accounts Kevin is almost forgotten, his exposure limited to his involvement with Soft Machine’s pioneering psychedelia, or perhaps to the lunacy of the Whole World. Conversely you will often come across people outside of the scene who have an attraction to Kevin without any affinity to where he came from musically.

The closest there came to a biography was Martin Wakeling’s ‘Why Are We Sleeping’ fanzine, and because Martin became a close friend around the time of Facelift’s infancy, I received a kickstart education in Kevin’s history, his foibles and his tendency to disappear to the sun at the point at which he was just about to assume star status. Kevin collaborated with contemporary musicians I knew and loved in the Nineties: the Wizards of Twiddly and Ultramarine, and through the former (who had become his backing band) I attended many gigs which combined consummate musicianship with his own languid charm. I was aware anecdotally that this didn’t reveal the full story and by the  last time I saw him, in 2006 in, of all places a snooker club in a fairly rough suburb of Manchester he had retreated so far into his own bubble that the only lights he would allow were those from the emergency exit door. It was still a fabulous memory. In the last few years I’ve become fascinated by the Deia connection which embraced principally him and Daevid Allen but also many others with Canterbury scene connections, and so soon after a recent visit (where I chatted with people who knew him well) it feels particularly relevant to see this compendium.

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Photo: Claude Gassian

So – whilst ‘Shooting At the Moon’ is not a biography, it is at least a long overdue recognition of Kevin’s talents by someone in the best position to appreciate them – Kevin’s daughter Galen, herself a musician, now based in the States (she has recently released an album called ‘Monument‘). Various interviews surrounding the release of this book have painted a warts-and-all picture of the relationship between Galen and her father, or more pertinently the reality of propping up a character whose disarming demeanour masked a considerably more complex story. This is not an attempt to either hide or embellish the complexities of Kevin’s persona, it is instead a charming coffee table selection of lyrics from all Kevin’s solo albums, beautifully presented, with as many lyrics as possible presented from Kevin’s beautiful own handwriting (whether or not these were transcribed at some point for such a purpose as this book, an aide memoire for concerts, or even originals is not clear, although there’s a fascinating amount of material that was clearly work in progress at some point).

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Photo: Ronald Kienhaus

The book is full colour, softback with lavishly reproduced publicity photographs, photostrips, marketing material, press clippings and some clearly from Galen’s and others’ personal collections. Each album is represented chronologically, a song to each page, with each release accompanied by at least a couple of artefacts and preceded by a quote, either from Kevin or his collaborators. Galen sought out fans’ feedback around 6 months ago about what Kevin meant to them and some of these thoughts are collated at the back of the book as well as various artefacts such as gig tickets which arrived presumably at the same time.

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Photo: Claude Gassian

There are introductions to the book, an eloquent summary by John Payne, a succinct and loving note from Robert Wyatt, and some personal thoughts from Galen, although her personal mark is in fact all over the project in its lovely presentation, alongside some touching photographs of her and Kevin together in her childhood. I suspect if Ollie Halsall had still been alive, he would also have contributed – pictures of his collaborations with Kevin are conspicuous and the Deia connection is captured pictorially on many occasions.

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with Galen Ayers

And if I’ve not commented on the lyrics themselves, then I’ll leave them to you in their entirety to peruse and dissect: often their languid nature mirroring the laid-back nature of the songs; the lapse into silly ditties Syd Barrett style (although Kevin’s were always more knowing); the occasional wry philosophy; the stories of the bon vivant and the lover in his many guises; the cod-tropicana; and the blues-tinged self-references. The one time I did meet Kevin at close quarters, for his live session with the Wizards at BBC Radio 5 with Mark Radcliffe, in one of the most memorable musical evenings of my life, he was effortlessly charming, witty and somewhat baffled by the hectic nature of the furore he had created around him. He craved privacy but attracted adulation. I hope he would be proud of the body of work preserved so lovingly for him here.

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Order signed copies of ‘Shooting At The Moon’ at

http://www.galenayers.com – where you can also buy Galen’s album ‘Monument’

Alternatively order direct from the publisher at

http://fabermusicstore.com/Shooting-at-the-Moon-0571541291.aspx

or

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0571541291/