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.

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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….

https://kavustorabi.bandcamp.com/releases

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.

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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.

https://lux-aeterna.bandcamp.com/

http://lux-aeterna.uk/

https://violetadeoutono.com/

https://violetadeoutono.bandcamp.com/

 

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 .

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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.

https://ianeast.bandcamp.com/album/inner-paths

Dave Sturt – Dreams and Absurdities

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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.

https://www.davesturt.co.uk/

 

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 http://www.planetgong.co.uk

Lapis Lazuli – Brain

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It’s practically incomprehensible that Lapis Lazuli have only been in my consciousness for a year, given that the first time I became aware of them was at the Canterbury Sound event last October, where, with due respect to the various academics, writers and contributing musicians, they rather stole the show. Scarcely believable because having gorged on their entire back catalogue within the months that followed, they’ve become such a familiar sound to me that the anticipation surrounding the impending release of their fifth album ‘Brain’ was for me, very real. That Canterbury gig was one of the first to showcase a band shorn of the integral sax sound of Phil Holmes – and whilst it focused on two tracks from the then current album ‘Wrong Meeting’ it also featured a band member (bass player Luke Mennis) who had not recorded on that album. So, unbeknownst to me, the band I saw was in transition, not that you would have guessed from a performance that was both compositionally complex, sonically innovative and unbelievably polished.

In retrospect, it is now clear that the band’s sound was becoming more uncompromising, understandably dominated by two guitars and their effects, set against a rhythm section including the extraordinarily versatile drummer Adam Brodigan, who rarely settles into a groove for long. Whilst the first couple of albums flipped between any number of styles, be they Latino, reggae, Balkan or jazz, softening their impact through extended lineups which incorporated brass, flute, accordion, extra percussion, didgeridoo and even occasional vocals, there is a real sense that Lapis Lazuli have arrived at a definitive sound and style, discarding all fripperies (if not necessarily all Frippisms) en route.

So what does ‘Brain’ sound like? The 5 pieces, clocking in at 10 minutes or so each (mere snippets in the band’s history of extended compositions), are guitar heavy, funky and intricate. There’s no jamming here (for that you need to listen to the band’s alternate ego, which I’ll link to at the bottom of this review), just a continuation of the most tightly composed music I’ve heard since National Health, delivered alternately in joyful or tortured fashion. Yet beyond that it’s so difficult to pin the band’s sound down: in an attempt to try and describe it I’ve played it to various people in the rash hope of pigeonholing the music – but when the responses vary from Sonic Youth to Gentle Giant, the Ruts to Rush, you know you’ve got a job on…

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What is indisputable is that the centrepiece of the album is ‘Hired Soul’ – which provides the memorable whistle-along themes for this album in the same way that ‘School’ did for ‘Wrong Meeting’. The style smacks of the Eighties, is Foalsesque even, with its anthemic, almost pompous melodies and the fulsome keyboard chords produced by guitar, before one of many forays back into Seventies funk. Any doubts that this is the effect that the band was aiming for are dispelled by the ‘Hired Soul’ official video, the latest in a series by Brodigan, this one clearly a take on aspirational fitness videos from that era with its own ‘Green Goddess’ in the lead screen role. Whilst you’ll find elements of this track impossible to get out of your head, you wouldn’t be able to reproduce more than half a minute if asked to recall it unplugged – as with most Lapis tracks it’s gloriously twisted.

 

‘And Stay Out’ and ‘Low Key’ are more dominated by recognisable guitar sounds, but no less complex, the latter paradoxically introduced by a Spaghetti Western guitar line which suggests briefly that the band might be straying into Tortoise territory, and the former by that Ruts-like riff.  In fact ‘Low Key’ morphs into the wildest guitar thrash-out on the album, memorably captured in brief on the youtube clip ‘Neil Ascends’ here.

But before this, the band have already worked their way through a reggae passage, a stark guitar duet in some indecipherable time signature, brutally punctuated by crashing chords and followed by some ‘La Villa Strangiato’-like noodling. ‘And Stay Out’, is dare I say it, a more conventional series of rock riffs, whilst ‘The Slug’ is the stop start piece that had me laughing out loud during its performance at Kozfest. At the other end of the scale is ‘Falling Line’ , dominated by Luke Mennis’ bass, a Seventies jazz-fusion ballad cheesed out by some Alan Gowen-esque effects, bass meandering and a drum solo augmented by samba hand percussion which Mennis and Lander memorably add to when this piece is performed live. Whilst at times this track veers, quite deliberately, towards muzak territory, the edge is maintained by several ‘wrong’ chord progressions – clever stuff indeed.

For me the prevailing feature of  ‘Brain’ is the almost telepathic interplay between the guitarists: Neil Sullivan’s lead is evocative and Phil Milleresque in the way it ekes out a melody; Lander’s rhythm work, amongst the finest I’ve heard, alternates between funk licks and math rock structures.  This twin assault on the senses reminds on more than one track of Frederic L’Epee’s multi-guitarist bands Philharmonie and Yang, the latter of whom, like Lapis Lazuli retain a desire to rock through the intricacy. The pair contribute so many memorable passages, weaving in and out of sections which alternately pulverise and gently cajole, a case in point being the ‘Shower Scene’ section of ‘Hired Soul’ an alternative clip of which is here.

Ultimately though, it’s ALL wonderful stuff, a joyous nightmare to review. As one friend put it, Lapis Lazuli set out to confound, and they’ve certainly achieved that..

Postscript: this album is available direct from the band, and a vinyl version includes extra tracks not reviewed here. 

http://www.lapislazuliband.co.uk/wp/

https://lapislazuli.bandcamp.com/album/brain

‘Shall We?’ – a 30 minute improvisation by the band is viewable on Youtube here:

 

PHIL MILLER – A LIFE IN MUSIC – memorial concerts, 6 January 2019

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Phil Miller (1949-2017) would have turned 70 next January. In a double tribute concert (separate afternoon and evening performances) on 6th January 2019 at London’s Vortex Jazz Club (near Dalston Kingsland station), his music will once more be brought to life by an extensive line-up of those associated with Phil throughout his nearly 50-year career.

In various combinations, the 20+ musicians will perform a set of Miller compositions from his early bands Delivery, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North and National Health, and then a second set focusing on the In Cahoots repertoire, the band he led from 1982 to 2011 which often performed at the Vortex.

The two concerts (at 4pm and 8pm) will feature variations in both repertoire and line-ups, to ensure enough variety for those who choose to attend both, but rest assured that Miller’s best-known compositions, including “Calyx”, “God Song”, “Underdub” and “Nan True’s Hole”, will be fixtures of both.

The bands will feature: Roy Babbington, Fred Thelonious Baker, Paul Booth, Doug Boyle, Sarah Gail Brand, Paul Dufour, Jim Dvorak, John Etheridge, Simon Finch, Mark Fletcher, John Greaves, Carol Grimes, Marc Hadley, Mark Hewins, Jakko M Jakszyk, Peter Lemer, Alex Maguire, Didier Malherbe, Patrice Meyer, Jack Adam John Monck, Michael O’Brien, Simon Picard, Trevor Tomkins and Nick Twyman.

BOOK TICKETS NOW ! at : http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/event/16314/

Further news and updates (plus many previously unheard recordings by Phil’s various bands) can be found at: https://philmillerthelegacy.com/

Soft Machine: Hidden Details album review; Soft Machine Live at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge 9 November 2018

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The idea of strolling to your local venue to see the Soft Machine is something I would have considered preposterous when I first heard the ‘Third’ album back in 1985. Yet here I was seeing the band for the third time in 18 months, promoting their new album ‘Hidden Details’ to a sell-out audience at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge.

‘Hidden Details’ has been in my possession since September and rarely far from my CD player since. Yet I’ve been waiting for the time, space and context to include a review of it on the Facelift blog. The impetus has finally come from this rousing gig, epitomising a surprisingly fresh direction for the band.  Whilst albums from the Soft Machine Legacy, the name under which this outfit toured and recorded as part of an evolving dynasty from previous line-ups involving Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper , were worthy enough, recent tours had given a sense that this band was tightening up its identity with careful selection of archive tracks from ‘Third’ through to ‘Bundles’ to suit its melodic motifs and rocky grooves. ‘Hidden Details’ adds the final pieces of the jigsaw through the authoring of a cohesive set of new tunes. My own feeling on hearing ‘Hidden Details’ for the first time, was that the band almost felt a sense of responsibility to live up to their newly shorn name. Chatting to saxophonist Theo Travis at the gig, the only member of the band who doesn’t hail from band line-ups in the early to mid Seventies, he echoed similar sentiments.

The opening bars of the eponymous title track which opens both the album and live sets are quite startling: the dissonant angular guitar theme with which John Etheridge launches affairs is untypical of the Soft Machine from any of its eras and as such is an almost a statement in itself – this rumbustious track, powered by Roy Babbington’s growling fuzz bass and John Marshall’s omnipresent drumming makes it clear that this is not a band to rest on safe ground. If Travis sets his stall out for the album with a rousing tenor solo, it is if anything surpassed by the Frippian high notes at the end of Etheridge’s finishing shot.

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But this is just for starters.  With a set list which includes at least half a dozen tracks played from ‘Hidden Details’, the majority of which add rather than detract from the overall impact, it’s clear that certain elements from the previous repertoire had to give, and the chief casualty appears to be some of Etheridge’s stately guitar themes from ‘Softs’. And so convention is swiftly discarded, with even ‘Life on Bridges’ with its memorable anthemic melody played in triplicate in unison by guitar, sax and bass, dissolving into a ‘Fletcher’s Blemish’-like mess. Whilst not played live, there are further sonically uncompromising tracks on the album such as ‘Ground Lift’ and ‘Flight of the Jett’ which confirms that the band are not content to hide behind an undoubted gift to craft beautifully accessible melodies.

That said, there remain instantly identifiable Etheridge tunes, ‘Heart Off Guard’, with wonderful Travis soprano soloing over acoustic guitar; whilst the more electric ‘Broken Hill’, aired memorably live, contains perhaps the most evocative Etheridge guitar theme of the album. Elsewhere, ‘One Glove’ sits somewhere between the heavy rock grooves of ‘Seven’ and various post-Softs compositions from Hugh Hopper, with strutting guitar and sax to add. This one went down a storm live with Roy Babbington in his element.

Three tracks which the band were already playing in their repertoire prior to ‘Hidden Details’ are included on the album and are now staple parts of the set list– all are distant nods to the past, with ‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’ one of many tracks to benefit from Travis’ dexterous flute, plus two parts of ‘Out-bloody-rageous’, the latter introduced through an innovative triggering of samples and effects from the keyboard of Theo Travis;  followed by the track’s main theme duetted by guitar and sax – Travis’ solo is a joyous romp through a much loved Softs ‘standard’.

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The live set is completed by other notable pieces carefully picked from the discography – the funky ‘Gesolreut’, a highlight from their gig in Manchester a year ago, ‘Chloe and the Pirates’, which started a much-deserved encore, Hugh Hopper’s ‘Kings and Queens’, beautifully crafted, and a medley including ‘Tarabos’ and the inevitable set ender ‘Hazard Profile’. The latter two were separated by a quite unexpected, lengthy and almost angry drum solo from John Marshall, quite remarkable in its dexterity, almost a raging against the years.

It was interesting seeing the band in a small provincial environment, subtly different from the more metropolitan audience I saw the band last play to where the audience was consistently appreciative throughout, but never quite lost their cool. The Trades Club audience are a fickle lot, took a while to warm up and then seemed to be colossally won over by the end with a noisy primal adulation which I think took the band a bit by surprise. John Etheridge is a charming, self-effacing, slightly mischievous front man, taking time between each tracks to ingratiate himself gently with the audience – with lovely references to both how tonight contrasted with the band’s seamless, non-verbal interactions in the Seventies, (Mike Ratledge was outed as only ever having spoken to an audience once, when an entire rig went down!); or somewhat closer to home relating the story of the band’s extended trip that day from Scotland to the night’s accommodation, including an only too familiar stakeout close to the venue on a single track road where two vehicles (one belonging to the band) refused to budge for the other. It seems almost patronising to mention the band’s vintage (Marshall and Babbington are in their late Seventies) but to produce musicianship of this demanding nature on a regular basis with set lists lasting up to 2 hours cannot pass without mention – it was an admirably high class performance.

Final word must go to ‘Hidden Details’ – a hugely impressive album whichever way you look at it. After you’ve worked your way through many of the tracks described above, you’re left with a final couple of pieces, not contained within the live set but well worth waiting for. ‘Fourteen Hour Dream’ is a weaving piece which jams lightly around a fine Babbington groove with superb flute from author Theo Travis. There are hints here of Seventies band Catapilla or perhaps more pertinently, the Forgas Band, and strange to say that Etheridge’s subtle, understated guitar licks are amongst my favourite moments from him on the album. The vibe is continued in more meditational mode on the lovely dronish ‘Breathe’, and one could not find a greater contrast with the album’s opening salvos. Perhaps the only evidence on view that the band are considering winding things down – let’s hope not just yet…

www.softmachine.org

www.moonjune.com

www.theotravis.com

www.johnetheridge.com

 

Gigs…Albums…Projects

Update 21 October

A few items of news have come in since this article was last posted back at the start of September.

Phil Miller Memorial Concert

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A hotly anticipated memorial concert for Phil Miller will be held at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston,  on Sunday, January 6th, 2019. Many musicians familiar to readers of this blog are due to appear – news of acts and tickets will appear in the next few weeks at the excellent Phil Miller legacy site 

Lapis Lazuli

Superb Canterbury band, now a four piece, release their 5th album ‘Brain’ on 30th November hopefully to be followed by a tour. One confirmed gig is in Bristol at Crofters Rights http://croftersrights.co.uk/ on 7 December.

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You can pre-order their album here 

Syd Arthur

Canterbury’s other current mercurial sons are apparently on a sabbatical, with a couple of members newly introduced to the joys of parenthood. However, I understand that Matthew Watkins, author of the unique history of Canterbury ‘You Are Here’ reviewed here, is curating a series of archive releases by the band (and there are some very fine cuts to choose from there)

Yamma

Yamma, who I described as a ‘pop-up’ band in my review of Kozfest here have happily decided to continue their good work – the band, which includes singer/synthesiser player Cary Grace, Mike Howlett, Graham Clark and Zorch twiddler Basil Brooks have a gig at King Arthur’s in Glastonbury on 10 November

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Richard Sinclair

News since the first post of Richard Sinclair’s appearance on an album by the O.A.K band from Rome. Richard appears on an album described as a Progressive Rock Opera dedicated to the life of Italian philosopher and monk Giordano Bruno, who was burnt alive at the pyre as a heretic in Rome 418 years ago – other guests include Sonja Kristina of Curved Air, Dave Jackson of Van der Graaf Generator and the late Maartin Allcock of Jethro Tull/Fairport Convention.


richard sinclair.jpgLots of links to get a fuller flavour of this:

http://www.oakgiordanobruno.eu (information on the album and the whole project)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfgvlt9alv4 (promo video of the project)

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=oak%20oscillazioni%20alchemico%20kreative (

http://www.oaksound.com/it/ (band website)

The album is available from the links above or via Amazon

Billie Bottle 

billie pic

‘The Other Place’, the latest album by Billie Bottle  (major collaborator with Dave Sinclair in recent years) is almost upon us – full details of the project here with a startling teaser called ‘Plebs’ described by a few online as ‘Slapp Happyesque’ available to listen to here

Invisible Opera Company of Tibet

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And finally, for the moment, news of a further gig by that living slice of Camembert, The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, who play the Prince Albert in Brighton on 24 November.

Tickets here:

 


 

Original Post September 4, 2018

News of autumn tours in the UK by Caravan and the Soft Machine, a rare Stewart/Gaskin gig plus the recording of a new Gong album got me musing about quite how much new stuff there is currently happening…

In the absence of any recognised forum for forthcoming gigs and albums (although the excellent Calyx Canterbury internet resource has a gig page here and the Gong Appreciation Society does also regularly update its gig page here , here’s an attempt to sum up what I know about (with a request to let me know what I may not know about).

Soft Machine

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…are already 5 dates into an extensive 50th anniversary tour (the anniversary being of the release of their first album, rather than the band’s inception, which was actually 2 years earlier) to promote their new album ‘Hidden Details’, which on a few initial listenings (review soon) sounds like a startlingly strong release. A number of dates during September in Germany, Italy, Austria, Holland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are followed by 12 dates in the USA and Canada before launching a 10 date UK tour in November from Canterbury. Then back to the States in the New Year. There is an excellent new Soft Machine website at www.softmachine.org which includes a tour blog

Caravan

… have their own 50th anniversary mini-tour of the UK in November (maybe more dates will be added), mainly in the south of England. In fact you have a unique choice to see Caravan and Soft Machine on consecutive nights if you’re willing to travel the length of the country, the most insane combination being the Soft Machine in Kinross on 8 November, followed by Caravan in Herne Bay on the 9th, a mere 504.9 miles! You could then pop back up north to see Kavus Torabi DJing in Halifax on the 10th (see below)

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Caravan will continue their tour in the New Year, hopefully visiting Poland in January and Germany in May. Updated details on the official Caravan website at https://officialcaravan.co.uk/

Geoffrey Richardson is currently working on a new album for Cherry Red provisionally entitled Nethersole Farm’, Jan Schelhaas has a new album available via PledgeMusic entitled ‘Ghosts of Eden’ , and with the news that Pye Hastings has relocated back to Canterbury from Scotland, hopefully there is a real chance of collaborations with Geoffrey and the boys at some point in the future.

Gong

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After a series of UK festival gigs this summer, following visits to Finland & China, are currently creating material for a new album, the second from the Kavus Torabi-led line up that produced the brilliant ‘Rejoice I’m Dead’! They are also touring Japan and Canada in the autumn, augmented by Steve Hillage (a hint of this was given when I saw them at Beatherder performing, sans Hillage, part of ‘Fish Rising’). These gigs are in October and November respectively – details at https://www.gongband.com/shows/

The new album will hopefully be released in 2019, and be followed by gigs. One date already confirmed is at the Madhatters Music festival in Devon next May

In the meantime, individual Gong members all have solo projects, which I am hoping to write a feature on in a future blog.

Kavus Torabi embarked on a series of solo gigs last spring to back his mini-EP Solar Divination, featuring, perhaps surprisingly a new direction partly performed on harmonium. He also continues to do DJ sets with Steve Davis with an extensive series of dates detailed here: Kavus has a number of excellent albums available with his own separate band Knifeworld.

Fabio Golfetti, having recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the seminal Violeta de Outono debut album and its follow-up Em Toda Parte with a remastered release of both on Voiceprint, continues to create new material with both Violeta and his own Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. He also has a project with his son Gabriel called Lux Aeterna which has an album’s worth of often excellent material

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Dave Sturt does the occasional gig with Gong violinist Graham Clark and has an excellent solo album ‘Dreams and Absurdities’ available here . He is also performing one gig (alongside Theo Travis) to celebrate Bill Nelson’s 70th birthday in Leeds on 1 December – details here:

Ian East has numerous non-Gong projects and an extremely innovative album entitled ‘Inner Paths’ available here

Dave Sinclair

Released his latest solo album, the crowd-funded ‘Out of Sinc’ earlier this year and maintains a website detailing forthcoming gigs, projects and his extensive back catalogue at  http://www.dave-sinclair.com/

dave sinclair

Richard Sinclair

Richard Sinclair is actively gigging over in Italy where he now resides – word is that he is potentially producing new material which may be released next year under the project title ‘Kent’. Some Italian gigs are listed on the Calyx gigs page:

Dave Stewart/Barbara Gaskin

As mentioned, the duo performed an extremely rare UK gig in London on to launch the release of their latest CD ‘Star Clocks’. A couple of Japanese gigs follow in October 20th & 21st 2018 – full details of both here:

Ultramarine

Ultramarine, who collaborated with Robert Wyatt (on ‘United Kingdoms’), Kevin Ayers (on ‘Hymn’) and assorted other luminaries such as Jimmy Hastings and Lol Coxhill, release their new album Signals Into Space on Les Disques du Crepuscule in November. After a lengthy hiatus, the duo have been recording again in the last few years, and this excellent sounding project breaks out of some of the minimalism of later projects to merge the ambient vibe of ‘Every Man’ with some of the jazzy feel of ‘Bel Air’. It also features ex-Bill Bruford’s Earthworks saxman Iain Ballamy. It’s amazing to think that it’s 25 years since ‘United Kingdoms’

Wizards of Twiddly

who backed Kevin Ayers for a couple of heady years in the 90s, but who remain probably my favourite ever live band, are taking the chance to celebrate their own 30th anniversary in their native Liverpool. Much more to come, but their annual December bash in Liverpool is on December 14th with the promise of further gigs in the New Year. Tickets for this gig at the Zanzibar are here:

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If you’ve never tuned into their madcap world, a good recent taster might be here https://vimeo.com/139203907

Lapis Lazuli

After premiering material from their forthcoming album at Kozfest (reviewed here) the band went into Big Jelly Studios in Ramsgate, and spent 3 days recording the 6 new tracks that will make up the new album mixed by guitarist Neil Sullivan and produced by Al Harle.  As with most of their other recordings it’s predominantly live with additional overdubs. Release date hopefully in December followed by gigs. There are also several videos in the pipeline (for a flavour see here)  including the release of an improvised session from a few months ago.

Galen Ayers

Kevin’s daughter Galen now lives in the US and has recently released an album called Monument. She has also been seen recently in duo gigs with Bridget St John (who did a couple of memorable duets with Kevin in the early Seventies, notably ‘The Oyster and the Flying Fish). She hopes to bring the duo to Europe next year, funding permitting.

 

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Please let me know anything I’ve missed and I’ll do my best to update this post.

Phil Howitt, September 2018

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’.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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