Photo credit: Mark Brookes
Cary Grace has become something of a fixture at Kozfest, that annual celebration of psychedelic music which doffs its cap more than a little to the legacy of Daevid Allen and company. On my first visit there she appeared in a band including erstwhile Gong/Here and Now guitarist Steffe Sharpstrings (the performance was captured as ‘The Uffculme Variations’), then in 2018 we saw her with Yamma, a pop up band featuring Mike Howlett, Graham Clark and Basil Brooks of Zorch. She clearly has a knack for getting on board seminal figures in the scene. However, I think Yamma, the first time I’d seen her perform, might have given me the wrong impression of her work, as this ambient, experimental music with only the occasional smattering of vocals, is almost entirely removed from her latest project ‘Lady of Turquoise’, an ambitious double album which is largely song-based.
Cary Grace is an avowed champion of modular synths (and a few squirming Blakeesque motifs are evident of this on the instrumental opener ‘Khepera at the Dawn’), yet ‘Lady of Turquoise’ is more than anything a celebration of hypnotic, droned out guitar from a variety of proponents, including Grace herself. The first notable evidence of this is the excellent ‘Into Dust’, a hypnotic, feedback-heavy trudge with guitar from John Garden and treated vocals. ‘Afterglow’ is doomier still, with restrained guitar distortion in the background as Grace drawls through a spoken word accompaniment, her American accent softened by a decade or so’s residence in the West Country but no less impactful for that – often dipping into edgy, disquieting menace.
The ballad ‘Film Noir’ features an aching introduction courtesy of the sax of Ian East. Often within the chaos of live Gong it’s easy to forget quite what a sweet soprano sound he makes, this is equally matched by the beautifully delivered vocals, perhaps Cary’s strongest performance on the album. This is one of three tracks Steffe Sharpstrings adds guitar to, apparently the original recordings of his contributions dating back to sessions for her album ‘Tygerland’ back in 2015, although he makes his own mark most tellingly through the blisteringly bubbling soloing on the rocky ‘Castle of Dreams’.
Graham Clark also adds an electric violin to the country-ish ‘Costume Jewellery’, alongside the plucked strings of Andy Bole on bouzouki and laouto – this track is notable for some quite Daevid Allenesque guitar obtusions from John Garden in what turns out to be an eleven minute extended cool down, which I suspect might be most representative of the band’s live performances.
Best of all are ‘Letterbox’, elevating from some initial campfire strum’n’croon into glorious raucous wahwah from Garden, and ‘Sacrifice’, another track going into double figure length, a memorably simple slow bluesy guitar riff performed by the author herself, and embellished by frequent soloing breakouts (from Steve Everitt), some lovely Hammond noodling beneath and increasing swathes of texture from all directions – a fantastic barrage of interconnected sounds all told. Whilst there are moments throughout the album of quiet reflection, and Grace’s fine, clear voice means she is adept enough at this (witness the harmonized vocals on ‘Without A Trace’) , the music defaults time and time again to those drawn out bluesy, guitar-heavy drones, powered along by a core band of Andy Budge (bass) and David Payne (drums), It is these core three, who along with Victoria Reyes (keys) and Everitt, will be performing with Cary Grace at the Avalon weekender at Easter and beyond. And as she ascends the Kozfest bill with every passing year, who can predict who else might join her on stage this year?
Thanks to the English Language students at Oldham Sixth Form College for their input into this review!