The Wizards of Twiddly at St Michael’s Church, Aigburth/Delta Saxophone Quartet, Unitarian Chapel, York

What do the Wizards of Twiddly and Delta Saxophone Quartet have in common? On the surface, not a lot – the former purvey a manic, breakneck mélange of styles; the latter a considered performance of commissioned interpretative pieces. Yet both, in their dim and distant pasts have undertaken gigs with ex Soft Machine bassists at their apex and both performed this weekend in temporarily repurposed churches in northern English cities.

The Wizards of Twiddly own their Canterbury connection as much to association and influence as to the nature of their music. A constant gigging force in the Nineties, particularly in the North West, they initially recorded 2 fine, innovative albums before morphing into a backing band for Kevin Ayers which enjoyed 2 heady years in the limelight. Things somewhat dissipated thereafter, bar the occasional reunion gig in Liverpool, many of which I attended. Their 30th anniversary was muted, and the relocation of saxophonist/singer Simon James to the Orkneys, plus the arrival of COVID has rather legislated against further appearances.

Tonight’s gig was at the St Michael’s Church in Aigburth, Liverpool, an extraordinary venue known locally as ‘The Pink Church’, housed in metal and blessed with excellent acoustics, extensive seating and enough space at the left hand side to allow for what bass player/vocalist Andy Frizell later labelled a ‘moshpit’. Perhaps that’s over egging it, but it’s fair to say that when the curator – the church’s vicar (and neighbour of drummer Andy Delamere) invited the Wizards and old gigging partners Wonky Alice to part of the season, he probably hadn’t expected something quite so raucous.

I must have seen Wonky Alice perform in the 90s, they did regular gigs with the Wizards, and as Andy Frizell explained later, the former did various support gigs for the Wizards, before John Peel exposure meant that the Wonkies leapfrogged the Wizards in terms of popularity and the roles were reversed. In my 90s headset of musical snobbery, where most things indie-based were perfunctorily dismissed, I probably didn’t give them much thought, but tonight they were indisputably excellent, powered along by pulsing basslines from Karen Leatham, the lead singer Andrew Costa’s spiky, heart on sleeve lyrics and charismatic delivery were completely engrossing.

And so on to the Wizards: waistlines might have expanded, hair greyed or dissipated and trumpeter Martin Smith’s stage leaping slowed a little but the Wizards sure know how to pack a punch. Given minimal rehearsal (the Orkney factor) this ridiculously nuanced blend of jazz, punk, 60s pop, ‘tanks’ (balls-out thrashy instrumentals) etc etc was as tight as ever.

Seated stage right in our pews, unfortunately we didn’t always get the best of Carlo Bowry’s monstrously adept guitar lines, although luckily the sound seemed to finally kick in to his benefit towards the end of the set, when the band showcased some of the material from the wonderful semi-posthumous third album ‘People with Purpose’, a riffy, chugging guitar-powered project which contained tracks such as ‘Cardboard Banjo’, ‘Big Bigger Bigot’, ‘Hoover Man’, ‘Just Above Your Thing’ all aired here tonight, and all dating from those gigs with Kevin Ayers where the Twiddlies memorably ‘warmed up’ the audience with an hour of mayhem. I think one of the two ‘new’ tracks aired tonight, the growling ‘Sit Down Punch’ might also be a Bowry piece and is right up there in terms of quality, a hilarious false start notwithstanding.

Andy Frizell

The band continue to pluck literally and liberally anything from their repertoire, and for every classic aired tonight (‘Clunksville’ was the first TWOT track I ever heard from the startling ‘Independent Legs’ album; ‘Jazz Ian’ and ‘Septic Tank’ represent the polar extremes of nonsense and virtuosity from ‘Man Made Self), there are many more temporarily in retirement. Note should be made that Andy Frizell was in particularly fine voice for the opener ‘Incapable of Clear Thought’, another newbie ‘The Inescapable’, a 60s pop number of almost unbearable Enid Blyton wholesomeness, and the encore ‘Large Geographical Features’. A couple of other highlights were a track, I’ve never really ‘got’, namely ‘Corks’ from ‘Man Made Self’, here aired as a sort of demonic sea shanty, with band swaying in unison from left to right; and the very wonderful ‘Herod’s Creche’, a grouchy heavy metal riff spliced in between a sweet lullaby melody. But last word should maybe go to the aforementioned Simon James, clearly loving every minute of a return to the city, but struggling to keep up with the pace of his own rapped lyrics to ‘Hoover Man’ as he huffed and puffed furiously before eventually collapsing into a most un-godlike stream of expletives.

Simon James

The Delta Saxophone Quartet purvey a much calmer but no less impactful form of music. It was only during recent conversations with baritone saxophonist Chris Caldwell and altoist Pete Whyman that their modus operandi became entirely clear. Alongside soprano player Graeme Blevins and tenor Tim Holmes, the quartet, who have been established since the Eighties, deliver scored performances of work they themselves have commissioned, either originals; based around either singular pieces, often within the minimalist or experimental genres; or entire projects from a single band or artist. Herein lies the Hugh Hopper connection: in the mid 2000s the ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ project commissioned composers to interpret Soft Machine music with an open canvas as its starting point. The completed scores would then be returned to the Quartet for performance. This could range from relatively faithful interpretations to entirely impressionistic scores consisting of mere hints to the original. Hugh Hopper was made aware of the project almost from its inception, and provided some of the original scripted scores for reference. He also added bass to the recording of his own piece ‘Facelift’ and subsequently appeared with the quartet (initially in Sicily) to perform the pieces live. There were further performances planned until his untimely death in 2009.

Tonight’s performance was at the Unitarian Chapel in York – a somewhat sparser venue than its Liverpool equivalent, housed down a backstreet and presented as part of the Late Music Concerts in York https://www.latemusic.org/ an organisation which concentrates on the promotion of original work from current composers. During an interview with Chris Caldwell and Pete Whyman last month for the Hugh Hopper biography, Chris revealed himself as highly erudite, and a feature of the evening was his eloquent explanations of the history of the pieces commissioned and performed tonight. On a warm evening, with the remaining sunlight of the day illuminating the quartet via the stained glass windows behind them, the first half of the set consisted of performances, I believe for the first time, of several commissions of original music from a series of composers (David Lancaster’s haunting ‘Renaissance’, Christopher Fox’s ethereal ‘Concurrent Air’, a dramatic and intricate 4 part suite from Joe Duddell (who provided one of the arrangements on ‘Dedicated’ ) as well as possibly my own personal highlight, the spikily dissonant David Power piece ‘Systems’). As with all the music tonight, the acoustics were crisp and in lesser hands unforgiving, but the execution of the variously tightly composed scores throughout the evening never deviated in its excellence.

Interpretations of the work of others included a beautiful Philip Glass piece (‘Facades’), Lindsay Cooper’s ‘Bag of Worms’ and the opener, ‘Overture to Coming through Slaughter’, written by Mike Westbrook. Many of the commissioned composers were also present, presumably many hearing their music performed for the first time, and a feature of the evening was at the conclusion of each piece the composers walking down the central aisle to give applause or a general thumbs up.

Chris’s extensive background knowledge of the original pieces themselves (the context to the Lindsay Cooper and Mike Westbrook pieces felt particularly relevant), as well as the commissionees themselves (echoed in a 24 page accompanying booklet for the event) shone through to such an extent that the first half of the performance extended to around 90 minutes, meaning that the second set, dedicated to ‘Dedicated To’, as it were, was somewhat truncated. But immediately things moved up a gear with a fabulous rendition of ‘Facelift’, all obtuse angles with Caldwell underpinning the seminal bass line on baritone.  ‘Everything Is You’ was probably the most beautiful Soft Machine-inspired piece aired tonight, a pastoral delight evoking images of the Garden of England.  ‘Somehow With The Passage Of Time’ takes ‘Kings and Queens’ as its base and was the most detached from its original inception, taking a beautiful original and styling it in a quite a challenging direction. Those in the know will be aware that this particular interpretation was scripted by none other than Issie Barratt, niece of Karl Jenkins no less.

Graeme Blevins, Tim Holmes, Chris Caldwell, Pete Whyman

Piece de resistance was undoubtedly the final piece, ‘Mousetrap’, an all-swinging all dancing extended interpretation of a mere snippet of a section from ‘Third’, an exhilarating interpretation of racing lines between all four saxophones, clucking accompaniments and soaraway themes. Observant readers may have noted all four Soft Machine interpretations performed here are, in one way or another Hugh Hopper compositions, and I hope to be able to share the further thoughts of Chris Caldwell and Pete Whyman within the forthcoming Hugh Hopper biography, entitled, like the Delta Saxophone’s album itself, ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’….

Milkbone

I got a brief message from Phil Scragg back in the autumn informing me of the existence of a trio called Milkbone, citing Canterbury influences, which might be suitable for review on the Facelift blog. I wasn’t really writing much at the time, being somewhat immersed in research, and, other than mentioning its existence on the Facebook group, put it somewhat on the back burner. But, as with all good albums, it slowly wormed its way into the subconscious, and here, many months later, is a review:

Milkbone are a trio consisting of Scragg, James Sedge and Matt Berry, and, if you’re thinking the latter name might be familiar, yes it is indeed that Matt Berry, best known in a variety of comic roles over the last 20 years, although for some years he has had a musical sideline in Matt Berry and The Maypoles which features all 3 musicians here. Milkbone’s vinyl only release came and went in its limited edition format almost immediately, and although I was lucky enough to hear a digital version in advance it was only relatively recently that it’s popped up in both bandcamp and CD format.

The Canterbury influence is certainly there but in terms of overall impact is just one of many components: the whole album is diverse, clean, upbeat, exploratory progressive music of the first order, apparently recorded remotely by the three main proponents, but sounding no less coherent for that.

The opening track ‘Canterbury’ actually echoes those other neo-progressives Zopp in its wide open, symphonic keyboards and bass pedals, topped off with hints of Groove Armada within the trombone solo from Graham Mann, but the album really starts to gather pace with ‘Leaving Hawksbill’ which bristles with Electric Orange-like funkiness (‘Bleak Strategy’ ploughs a similar furrow) and rarely draws for breath thereafter.  

If the album’s greatest earworm is the untypical piano motif of ‘Automatic Foot’ this track is soon subsumed by a rather fine fuzz bass contribution, starting with a very Vol Two like countertheme but continuing with a meandering solo more akin to John Greaves with National Health.

Elsewhere  ‘Milkbone’ (the track) is imbued with Seventies style gangster cheesiness, atmosphere and electric piano noodlings, and beyond the strident grooves of ‘Cecilia’, the album winds down with its only vocal contribution, courtesy of Harriet Langley on ‘Velvet Black’, where that trombone also returns… But the standout track for me may well be ‘Soft Weed’, a beautifully melodic ambient piece which as much as its obvious reference point has a touch of the ‘Floating Worlds’ about it.

As both Scragg and Berry are credited with guitar and keyboards (Sedge is the drummer) it’s difficult to dissemble the exact contributions of each, but what I can tell you is that the bass (played by Phil Scragg) is superb throughout, managing to fit into some both Hopperesque fuzz , fretless growlings and pinpoint clear punctuations. The drums too are razor sharp,  and propel many tracks along with a live drum and bass energy (see ‘Red Shift’) which are another of the band’s defining features. And the range of keyboard sounds throughout dip into many a familiar Canterbury canon.

In drawing comparisons to Zopp as another of the  newest ‘Canterbury’ bands off the block, one thing that struck me was that Milkbone are at an advantage that I think this music could be reproduced live, and whilst I am not sure there are any plans to do so, that would be a mouthwatering prospect…

https://milkbonemusic.bandcamp.com/album/milkbone

https://burningshed.com/tag/Milkbone

Soft Machine, Band on the Wall, 28 March 2022

Soft Machine: John Etheridge, Nic France, Fred Baker, Theo Travis

Is a Monday gig in Manchester the jazz musicians’ equivalent of football’s ‘rainy Tuesday night in Stoke’, (a term coined to indicate a tough date out in the wilds)? That is what was faced the Soft Machine for their eighth date of a sporadic tour which has taken them up and down the country this spring. Since the last time they were here, stalwart Roy Babbington has hung up his bass, whilst John Marshall is appearing only on gigs close to home, the result of ongoing health problems. This means that joining the current lineup of John Etheridge and Theo Travis are two nevertheless familiar faces: Fred Baker (now a permanent member of the band and with a stellar CV, not least as Phil Miller’s right hand man in In Cahoots – and co-author of the wonderful ‘Double Up 2’ recent release); and drummer Nic France, who I think appeared with the band on a recent live streamed performance.

The Band on the Wall, Manchester’s iconic jazz venue, has been refurbished since I last visited before COVID, with a new expanded bar area next door and an enlarged stage in the main hall, which the band appreciatively commented on. The talismanic old BOTW logo has sadly gone, but sound was crisp as ever, and with a few tickets unsold, there was a feeling of space in front of stage (blame that Monday night syndrome). Not that the band were daunted: it was clear from the roar of applause following the established set-opener ‘Hidden Details’ that the atmosphere was a step up from the tour’s previous gigs. There were new pieces from the Softs’ repertoire incorporated for the first time in my memory at least (‘Backwards’/’Noisette’ from ‘Third; ‘Penny Hitch’ from ‘Seven’; as well as ‘The Nodder’ from ‘Alive and Well in Paris’, a slightly downbeat finale to the first set), regular favourites such ‘Chloe and the Pirates’ and ‘Tales of Taliesin’; and deserved showcases for some of the best tracks from the very strong current album ‘Hidden Details’ including ‘Fourteen Hour Dream’.    

Fred Thelonious Baker

Something about the even more familiar highlights in a moment, but a word or two first about the surprises: two extremely strong new pieces: an acknowledged nod to Sixties influences on Theo Travis’s open-ended ‘Fell to Earth’, and the muscular, weaving changes of John Etheridge’s ‘Other Doors’ where Nic France really stated what he brings to the band with some tight, up-front rhythms. It would be lovely to hear more of both of these tracks to get to know them better, first impressions were extremely favourable and suggested that despite line-up changes and COVID, the momentum of recent years is gathering apace again. Add to this a completely unexpected rendition of ‘Joy of a Toy’ (the Soft Machine track rather than Kevin Ayers’ solo continuation) essentially a showcase for the thunderous bass of Fred Baker, who throughout the night brought a dexterous, fluid, grooving feel to proceedings, with a joie de vivre never far from the surface.

John Etheridge

Theo Travis alternated between strident tenor sax on the punchier pieces; beautiful floating flute on ‘Kings and Queens’, ‘Backwards’ and ‘Chloe’, often looped threefold; and keyboard accompaniment underneath many of John Etheridge’s guitar lines, although one of the advantages of having Fred Baker on board is a range of different harmonic alternatives to themes created by the two main soloists. John Etheridge has carved out a memorable mid-set trio of guitar pieces performed from his stool left of stage, a beautiful (and I think untitled) multi-layered guitar loop piece, followed by two lovely ballads from Hidden Details: ‘Heart off Guard’ and ‘Broken Hill’, but pride of place goes to the instantly recognizable riff of ‘Hazard Profile’, a platform for some quite mind-bending high end guitar heroics from Etheridge and outrageous fuzz-bass from Baker; and second encore ‘Gesolreut’ which gets ever more funky, squawky and tonight super extended to test the upper limits of the city centre curfew. As with Gong 9 days before in Hebden Bridge, the sense of an evolving two way connection between band and enthusiastic crowd was palpable: a rapturous reception early on in the performance is continually reciprocated as the band continue to push things just a little bit further. Here’s to many more Monday nights like this…

Many thanks to Joe Orban for the photographs used here

Gong at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

19 March 2022

Of the 8 times I’ve seen the current incarnation of Gong in the last 5 years or so, the most memorable occasions are etched in the brain partly due to the particular circumstances of the venue: the triumphant arrival at Kozfest in 2016; the back-of-beyond vibe of the village hall in Allendale; and Beatherder festival where the band provided an antidote to the all-pervasive techno. But it doesn’t get too much more personally resonant for me than the intimate surrounds of Hebden Bridge Trades Club, a place where I played a small part in bringing Didier Malherbe to these shores with Hadouk, and have also seen Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen perform. It’s also just down the road from us.

Ian East

This was 13 gigs into a continuous 14 day stretch on the band’s current UK tour, performing nightly 2 and a half hours sets, and one might expect the band to be flagging. On the contrary: Jonny Greene (of the essential support network, the Gong Appreciation Society) reckoned the band had just about reached their peak the previous night in York, whilst tonight a revved up band were beaming and talkative afterwards. Reports had been consistently coming in of this tour showcasing the best performances of the current band, and it would be interesting to see whether tonight’s gig would stack up.

Prior to the gig, the question for me was how the band would find something new to say… ‘The Universe Also Collapses’ is 3 years old now, and even the recent appearance of an excellent double live album ‘Pulsing Signals’ can’t hide the fact that COVID has curtailed plans to record a third album of new music, hopefully merely postponed until later this year. The band’s solution on this tour is to air a combination of new and revisited tracks from ‘Rejoice I’m Dead’, alongside some inspired plucking of material from the vaults, and more subtly, a little tweaking here and there in amongst the established set lists.

Gong: Ian East, Kavus Torabi, Cheb Nettles, Dave Sturt, Fabio Golfetti

The Trades Club is small enough (capacity 150) and convivial enough to work your way through a number of different vantage points and gather your impressions without unduly annoying other punters. And my thoughts were these: tonight, the vibe was often Camembertish punky (witness ‘O Mother’and ‘Kapital’), swirly (thanks to a lovely trancey reworking of ‘Eternal Wheel’) and mesmeric (‘Selene’, ‘The Universe Also Collapses’). It was also testament to a ridiculously tight and well-honed performance of some highly intricate compositions. For me the highlight of the set was the completely unexpected rendition of ‘Through Restless Seas I Come’, with spine-shivering vocals from Kavus Torabi; with Ian East, wonderfully audible tonight, memorably adding soprano before the track breaks out. Other high notes was ‘Love Is How You Make It’ from Angel’s Egg, freshly plucked from the archives with Fabio Golfetti dexterously dealing with the tuned percussion lines on guitar. Plus of course the requisite mind-boggling Torabi solo on ‘Rejoice!’; and the phenomenal, often tribal drumming throughout of the increasingly invisible Cheb Nettles (tonight in industrial strength face mask)

When I spoke to my daughter this morning for the post-gig debrief, she asked me firstly how long the band had played for, and secondly whether they’d performed ‘Master Builder’. Somehow my answers to her questions got conflated and I clearly gave her the impression they’d performed ‘Master Builder’ for 150 minutes. One could be forgiven for thinking this sometimes, this piece assumes ever more epic proportions, tonight heralded by a beautiful melodic Dave Sturt fretless bass solo within the introductory invocation. I can’t tell you whereabouts this was in the setlist, or whether I have told you enough about the glissando guitar playing, the light show, the banter between band and audience or the sheer exultation within the audience, but it was that sort of night…

Thanks to Fabio Golfetti. All things Gong at http://www.planetgong.co.uk

An interview with Fred Thelonious Baker for the launch of Phil Miller/Fred Baker: Double Up 2

As part of the series of interviews for the Hugh Hopper biography I had the very great pleasure of having a Zoom conversation last month with Hugh’s fellow bass player Fred Baker. Fred, like me, is a Derbyshire lad and I’ve been a fan ever since I took my Dad to see him play alongside John Etheridge and Elton Dean in Fred’s native Chesterfield in the late Eighties. Fred, of course, replaced Hugh in In Cahoots and I saw him numerous times with the latter band, as well as a couple of duo gigs with Phil Miller, one of which, in Manchester, I helped promote.

Fred has just become the permanent bassist with Soft Machine, a band with whom he has played many times over the years, sitting in for extended periods for, firstly, Hugh Hopper, and latterly Roy Babbington. It was the perfect time to speak to him for not only are Soft Machine already a few dates into their latest tour (with John Etheridge, Theo Travis and a revolving drum seat incorporating John Marshall and Nic France), but also due to the appearance of the long awaited ‘Double Up 2’, a follow up to Phil and Fred’s fantastic first duo album almost three decades ago. This has been released thanks to the enduring generosity of Phil’s widow Herm, and the hard endeavours of her son Kyle, engineer Benj Lefevre, and of course Fred himself.

First we talked about how Fred has kept himself busy through lockdown

“I’m just catching up on things here. I spent time practicing the acoustic guitar and the acoustic bass when we had that first lockdown and even the second. I kept writing. I have to because I can’t play otherwise. Just got to keep the old fingers happening. My 60th birthday fell in the first lockdown, and I had planned to have a celebratory concert in Chesterfield’s iconic church ‘The Crooked Spire’. Originally were going to try and release the duo album and get John Etheridge and maybe Doug (Boyle) to come and play on some tracks to launch it, but we’re not doing that now. We’re going do some gigs though for it at some point. The Crooked Spire is magnificent. I mean, I’ve seen everything there, bell tours, some really nice organ recitals in there and I played percussion with the Youth Orchestra there in 76/77.

The Crooked Spire, Chesterfield

“I wanted to try and do a solo bass performance there with surround bass. The music is stuck in the vaults with Mark Randell, the chief engineer at Derby University. We’ve been recording it with surround sound so you get one string coming out of 5.1, all around you. This takes a lot of mixing just for one track!”

Double Up, a duo album from Fred and Phil Miller, for me is one of the crowning jewels of latter day Canterbury scene music, a relatively undiscovered and beautifully serene series f pieces which Phil and Fred replicated so beautifully live as a duo act. So what about Double Up 2 and what is its history?

“It was always on the backburner a bit. We did various work towards it over the years. We’d got some stuff already put on to ADATs.  Luckily Herm managed to find these master tapes. We had to rescue them because we tried to play one back on Phil’s old ADAT machine and it started chewing it up! So me and Benj said, right, let’s get this done, so we got it all transferred professionally into WAV files and revived a lot of the stuff I knew was there. It was going back over about 25-30 years of stuff that had been transferred in various ways with bits missing, and we had to edit a few things together to make sense of it. Benj worked like a trojan on it, he was incredible.”

So was this always intended to be an immediate follow up to ‘Double Up’?

“The trouble was that we got so busy with the band (In Cahoots) it was really hard to fit things in. We did more work on it in the late Nineties and Noughties as Phil got more equipment, and invested in all that stuff to do the sound processing. But we had problems with that. As Phil got a bit ill, actually he was doing more bits and pieces for the duo than I was. We’d play bits in the garden. We always liked each other’s company, playing music and seeing what each other was up to, so we kept working.

Recording Double Up 2 in Phil’s studio

“Some of those pieces that he’s played with other bands – I remember I finished one off in John Etheridge’s flat years and years ago as kind of a replacement for Underdub, quite an up-tempo thing. I remember doing some of the summer schools working with John (Etheridge) and I stayed at his flat for a couple of days in the early to mid 90s and finished this all off, this and came up with ‘Upside’

“Phil wanted to use it with the band but really I composed that as a duo piece. Some things have had a different life. Other things that were performed with an ensemble we’ve gone back to a duo version.

Phil and Fred, Russia

“Some things won’t appear on Double Up 2 that we tried live, like that amazing piece called ‘Flashpoint’ which was very intricate. But I’m going to do a demo for that for the (Phil Miller Legacy) site at some point. It’s a real finger-buster. When we recorded that for the album Conspiracy Theories I borrowed Richard Sinclair’s bass because mine was too hard to play, I had got the action too high!

Fans of Alan Gowen and Gilgamesh will also recognize the first piece

“When we came and played in Manchester (the duo gig at the Star and Garter) we played Alan Gowen’s piece ‘Arriving Twice’ going into the song I wrote for my dad ‘Big Fred’– it was a lovely blend,  reminiscent of Bach’s music. Benj managed to do a really good mix of those tracks so that all the parts come out well, it is played very straight, as it is written, so that ‘Arriving Twice’ and ‘Big Fred’ are almost what you would have heard live.

“Then there’s other tracks like ‘Upside’ and there are some great pieces on there like ‘Adagio for Fretless Bass’ which Phil was going to use as a string ensemble at some point in the future, like a solo bass with strings. A fantastic bass piece. There are also some experimental things at the end with loops and bits of crazy improv: ‘Looped Out.’. Another track is ‘Out There’ from one of the later In Cahoots albums ‘All That’. Then there’s a lovely piece ‘Folk Dance’ that Patrice and Eth did it at the memorial concert. It’s like a Spanish dance.  Previously Phil changed the melody when he did it with Jack (Monck) and The Relatives but on Double Up 2 it’s really more like a lively Spanish piece with an outside section.  We used my Spanish guitar. Phil had thought about that. In fact Phil had got this lovely 12 string which I now own, a Fender Acoustic.  I’ve got an old 12 string but this is even nicer. Phil was going to play some tracks on the 12 string and then I would have played the other one but we never got round to it unfortunately.

“The challenges with the sound were to keep it interesting for people listening to the music. I think having different textures for guitars is always the thing, trying to get that acoustic thing to happen – to get the sound off the body rather than it being just a plug in PA sound. It has always been the thing for me, the most natural I can get. For me, in the duo format, the hardest thing is trying to incorporate all the parts that a bigger ensemble would normally play. It really makes you think in a different way, with an extra effort sometimes to make these parts work.

“The whole project is, thanks to Benj and to Herm for finding it. Dave Stewart has been very helpful in getting all the links with Burning Shed and technical help from Barbara Gaskin. That’s nice because it’s everybody doing a bit for Phil.”

Phil and Fred, Belgium

We moved on to talk about the legacy of scores, music and performance which Herm, via Fred, has bequeathed to the Birmingham Conservatoire, where Fred has taught guitar and bass for a number of years.

“Jeremy Price, Head of Jazz suggested a Phil Miller Prize – having a competition for a solo guitar. At first it was very open, the idea was in its infancy. Then Herm said she wanted the students to learn to play a piece of Phil’music, so this is now what the competition is.  One of the good things about lockdown is that I actually sat down and worked out how to arrange some of Phil’s pieces for solo guitar which we have filmed as masterclasses for the students. Pieces like  ‘Phyrgian Blues’- because it works fantastically on the guitar as a solo piece if you work it all out correctly, and ‘Early Days’ which is a great bluesy thing with a lot of extra bits to it, with all those incredible changes. It proves how a lot of  Phil’s music can be adapted for solo guitar. Since I’ve done the odd solo concert, or with my trio, I have got a much better hook on all this music, so I sat down to work on it, getting my hands into all sorts of knots!

“Lockdown has prevented the Phil Miller Prize event for the last 2 years since when it has developed to include a solo and a duo prize. The duo prize means that bass players can have a go at this as well. It means that bass players and guitars can get a set together. So hopefully this year this will happen.

“Herm really wanted to make it a night of Phil’s music and we thought it was a nice challenge and maybe other people would get interested in it. We have also decided to have a band, a legacy band playing Phil’s music, to include sax, trumpet trombone and keyboards as well, drummers, whatever. Maybe we could have different guests that could come and play, it could be John (Etheridge), it could be Fletch (Mark Fletcher) on kit, or Alex (Maguire) on keyboards. Every year I could get a guest to come and play. And the great thing about Birmingham is that it has got two proper Hammonds down there, so my intention is to use some Hammonds on tracks rather than synth or Rhodes.

Performing at the Adrian Boult Hall at the Conservatoire (now demolished)

“So the idea is that in addition to getting everything assessed we will get a night of Phil’s music. So: solo, duos and a band, which I will be directing and playing in. It should be the middle of June. It should be a great celebration!”

In terms of the Conservatoire, the ‘legacy’ is more than just a series of planned concerts and prizes, with the Keeper of the Archives: Dr Pedro Cravinho taking possession for the institution of a whole host of material, as he told me via email last year “Over the past year and a half, I have been involved in the process of transferring the Phil Miller collection from London to Birmingham. Now the collection is at the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media (ADM) Archive and soon I will resume the process of cataloguing it”.

Fred continues: “It’s all of Phil’s scores going back over time. It’s important we’ve got access to all this material so that if any student wants to study it, it is all going to be available in the vaults. They are going to get all the original scores – it’s all going to be computerized so everyone has got access to it. Also included are the huge amount of Phil’s Sebelius scores. Hopefully they can get into them all to see what is on there – preserved for infinity.

“In Cahoots did some lovely workshops in the old Conservatoire and I remember getting Elton up there and Jim and we did some specials with Doug Boyle as well. Whenever we had a tour I would try and get a slot so we could do something there. That’s where the connection started”.

Fred also talked about Phil’s music which he has already performed with his trio (containing Nick Twyman and Mickey O’Brien) (video) link, which he hopes to continue to perform. All in all a true legacy!

https://philmillerthelegacy.com/videos/fred-baker-trio-truly-yours/

Double Up 2 is available at https://burningshed.com/phil-miller_fred-baker_double-up-2_cd

Catch Fred on tour with Soft Machine at the following gigs:

Phil Miller Legacy website is at https://philmillerthelegacy.com/

Fred’s master classes are at https://philmillerthelegacy.com/fred-t-baker-master-class/

Many thanks to Herm for the pictures used here

Carla Diratz and the Archers of Sorrow – The Scale (Discus Music)

This album has simmered away in the background since I got it last October waiting for the right moment to fully assault itself on my senses. This is a fairly remarkable project, propelled by an often dense multi-instrumental mix of guitar, saxes and trumpet but dominated by the highly recognisable  voice of Carla Diratz. Carla will be familiar to Facelift readers as the chanteuse on the superb ‘Diratz’ album alongside Dave Newhouse and Brett Hart, but also various other pared down releases over the past few years. For added Facelift interest, the bass player throughout is Gong’s Dave Sturt.

Where to start: it’s not just my recent live flirtation with Van der Graaf Generator which puts that band at the forefront of comparisons with the Archers of Sorrow, ‘The Scale’ is testing, progressive music refusing to adhere to any known category. Diratz’s voice is abrasive, heartfelt and often chills to the core; Martin Archer adds dual saxophone lines (on the eponymous opener at least) which recall David Jackson at his most melodic and often the guitar is thrashy, distorted and rocks out Hammill style.

But these are probably lazy comparisons: for the most part ‘The Scale’ finds a middle ground between structure and improvisation, as does much of Diratz’s work. For me the highlights are the relatively simple song lines and extremely catchy lines of ‘I Am With You’, but also ‘Dove Mi Hai Lasciate’ – (ecclesiastical trip hop anyone?) where the clearly defined backdrop just brings out the voice in more focus. I read somewhere else that Carla Diratz is unusual in that she can fluently switch between English and French in terms not just of delivery but in lyrical composition; add to that a florid smattering of Italian on ‘Dove’ and we find that as with the spine-tingling ‘Random Night’ on the Diratz album, those linguistics particularly suit her vocal palette. The searing guitar motif which lingers long after the main part of ‘Teen Dance’ has finished will also stick in your mind, whilst ‘Desert Prayer’ brings the album to a raucous grooving conclusion.  

The guitar of Nick Robinson is superb throughout, no better than on the clipped rhythms of ‘I Am With You’ although he also opens up too Holdsworth style as a soloist for the final track. Best of the more unstructured pieces is ‘Mother’, a real pastiche of muted trumpet and guitar acoustics which opens out into an almost minstrellish fanfare, its storybook qualities putting me in mind of Gilli Smyth, whilst ‘The Nature of a Child’ has a slow Tortoise-like burn. Lots else to delve into here, not least the 3 ‘Etudes’, stark piano backdrops for the Diratz voice, and special mention should be given to the exceptional trumpet work of Charlotte Keefe in all its many guises. So much more as yet unexplored, testament to an album of real depth and complexity and an excellent showcase for the longstanding, innovative and somewhat underrecognized Discus label.

https://discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/the-scale-124cd-2021

Van der Graaf Generator, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester 22 02 22

Peter Hammill, Guy Evans, Hugh Banton – photo: Richard Hector Jones

Not many people are lucky enough to meet or speak to their heroes, but in my first ever ‘proper’ job, working for a Manchester newspaper back in the early Nineties, I somehow managed to persuade a fairly liberal-minded editor (my job role wasn’t even writing at the time) to let me interview Peter Hammill prior to him going on the road with his excellent ‘Fireships’ album. The justification as far as the newspaper ‘Up Town’ was concerned that the venue hosting him, the Royal Northern College of Music, would put a small advert in the publication (which was entirely funded through advertisements) if we backed it up with an interview. The irony of course was that the revenue generated by the advert (£50 or so) I managed to fritter away with an extended phone call to, I think, Austria, where Peter was on tour. Not that I cared one jot! The article itself, entitled ‘Prince of Angst’, which Peter’s publicists tittered at, is long lost, but the audio transcript remains in my files somewhere, terminated with an exultant slamming of the table as I put the phone down. Things don’t get much better as a budding, wet behind the ears early twentysomething prog fan…

I’ve written elsewhere that I might have started a Hammill/VdGG fanzine in 1989 had someone else not got in there first … hence indirectly the launch of Facelift. Then of course the Canterbury scene, with all its tentacles, entrapped me. But in a lovely moment of symmetry, last year, thanks to Van der Graaf biographer Jim Christopoulos I was given drummer Guy Evans’ email address and I made a tentative enquiry about what he could remember about sessions at Oxes Cross in Devon in 1981 with Mother Gong, alongside Harry Williamson, Didier Malherbe, Gilli Smyth and Hugh Hopper, this for ongoing research for the Hugh Hopper biography ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’. Within 24 hours he’d despatched a page of detailed and humorous recollections about the event, which will be used in the book. He was charming, friendly and erudite.

And so here we are, 30 years on from ‘Fireships’, in another even grander classical music venue, the Bridgewater Hall, home of the Halle Orchestra, watching an oft postponed and pared down Van der Graaf Generator gig. My 12 year old son (who should know better), on finding out that I was going to see the band (it was a last minute decision) asked if the guy who played 2 saxophones at once (David Jackson) would be performing. Sadly that particular ship has sailed, the band have long been reduced to a trio, with Hugh Banton joining Hammill and Evans for three quarters (or three fifths, depending on your viewpoint) of the classic Seventies line-up.

The hair might be white (or gone for good) but the frames are trim and the characteristics are unmistakable: Hammill, dressed from head to toe in linen white, with straight arms scratching out a riff on the electric guitar, Hugh Banton head slightly cocked to the left, weaving his way dexterously through the arrangements on keyboards, and Guy Evans, beady eyed, furtively looking through his drum stands towards Banton, tapping out razor sharp rhythms. Van der Graaf, as is the case with Peter Hammill’s solo tours, regard all of their repertoire as fair game, there is no favouritism, the whole canon is appropriated. If one was to look at relative set lists, I would probably have picked the previous night’s gig in Birmingham purely on reputation: ‘Man Erg’, ‘Still Life’,  ‘La Rossa’ are all fairly essential. But tonight, they performed, for me, the unlikeliest pieces from Still Life and World Record, namely ‘Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End’ and an admittedly excellent ‘Masks’, alongside the magnificently brooding ‘Scorched Earth’ from Godbluff.

The night actually opened up with “In the Black Room”, which could have been (and probably was) a VdGG piece at its inception, with Hammill slowly finding his vocal range, which he had achieved magnificently by the end of the first set with an unexpected and utterly chilling rendition of ‘Gog/MaGog’, also originally a solo piece. This was mercifully shorter than the (almost) side long original, but retaining all the best parts of the main theme with enough free wig-out to follow to cleanse the palette. This was the best possible platform for the menacing Hammill growl, showcased in its full magnificence here.

Other highlights were the supremely abrasive ‘Nutter Alert’, and by contrast the beautifully pared down ‘Go’, but it was the intricate ‘Over The Hill’, something of an elongated masterpiece from ‘Trisector’ that unexpectedly became the centrepiece of the performance with Guy Evans directing the convoluted stop go sections from behind his kit.

I’d expected Hugh Banton to dominate the sound, as he takes on the role these days of not just bass pedals, but also the gaps left by the absence of David Jackson. But unexpectedly it was the piano, razorsharp and dominating the themes, which nearly always set the tone, with the intricacy of the trademark ‘galumphing’ sessions (read David Shaw-Parker’s ‘The Lemming Chronicles’ if you don’t understand the terminology!) emanating from Hammill, whilst Banton continued to weave his web. ‘Refugees’ was the encore, Hammill largely hitting the high notes with keyboards beautifully re-creating the flute lines. One wag in amongst a largely respectful audience had shouted ‘Welcome Home!’ at the start of the performance – a nod to the band’s inception at Manchester University in the late Sixties: COVID bubbles meant that there were no merchandise stalls and no opportunity to chat with band members afterwards. Will there be a next time? One never knows… On the way out I met photographer Sean Kelly who was 2 dates into a 5 stop tour following the band around the UK. I was tempted to hitch a ride…

Hugh Hopper: Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening – Phil Howitt (Jazz in Britain) – an update

It seemed appropriate to mark the Facelift blog’s 100th article with an update research progress for the Hugh Hopper biography. More regular updates on the project are on the Facelift Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1928474387265516

Well, bubbling away in the background I seem have carried out 24 ‘live’ interviews in 2021, with a further 20 or so email interviews and many other shorter snippets and contributions. After a bit of a break over the summer for various reasons, things resumed in earnest in the autumn and I am already preparing to continue in full swing in the New Year of 2022. There have been some surprises, some frustrations (not least that to work at the pace I’d like to, I need to completely give up my day job AND find a way of doing without sleep) but the response from musicians and other luminaries to help create a lasting written legacy for Hugh’s story remains disarmingly generous.

January 2021 started off with an exchange of reminiscences with Starvin’ Marvin Siau, Kevin Ayers’ guitarman, who recalled and shared videos of Hugh playing with both musicians at Gong 25 in 1994, a collaboration I’d forgotten about.

Then my powers of German translation were stretched by a series of lengthy narratives from Alfred 23 Harth about his (and Hugh’s) in Lindsay Cooper’s ‘Oh Moscow’ project in the late Eighties and early Nineties, including ventures behind the Iron Curtain both before and after it was destroyed.

Alfred 23 Harth (right) with Lindsay Cooper and Phil Minton

I also spoke to Lawrence Fletcher, a saxophonist who collaborated with Hugh on a much more low-key level around Canterbury in various jazz groups during the same era. And to finish the month off, an often riotous interview with Yumi Hara, Japanese musician who appears right at the end of the Hugh musical story in 2007/8

Yumi Hara in conversation

February started with a lengthy chat (there will hopefully be more) with Frank vd Kooij, Dutch saxophonist who played over 100 gigs with Hugh and was behind a whole host of Dutch and Franglo Dutch Hugh Hopper bands, as well as NDIO, whose posthumous release ‘Zenith’, released this year, I was asked to write sleevenotes for, incorporating some of the many things we talked about in the interview.

Frank vd Kooij in conversation
The author with vinyl and CD versions of ‘Zenith’

Henry Franzoni, drummer with Caveman Shoestore, gave me his thoughts about the album he recorded with Hugh and later Hughscore members Elaine di Falco and Fred Chalenor plus a link to a previously unreleased track called ‘The Hugest Hopper’!

. Another saxophonist, Scottish resident Steve Kettley spoke to me about his involvement in North and South, one of whose gigs in 1995 appeared on CD as part of the Hugh Hopper archive CD set

; whilst Brian Hopper gave me his fourth interview for the book, this one concentrating on his time alongside Hugh in the Soft Machine in 1969.

Brian Hopper in his studio in Hastings

A very productive month continued with a lengthy and informative video call with film director Sally Potter (about the Oh Moscow project)

Sally Potter

plus the first ‘duo’ interview: this one with Sophia Domancich (who played with Hugh in Equipe Out alongside Didier Malherbe, Elton Dean and Pip Pyle), but also, unexpectedly, her partner drummer Simon Goubert, who was one quarter of Soft Bounds in the Noughties alongside Sophia and Elton Dean.

Sophia Domancich/Simon Goubert

Finally, a couple of snippets, or possibly near misses: a brief exchange with Zoot Money about a gig that took place right before Hugh joined the Soft Machine in 1968 (he remembered nothing, but his response was quite amusing); plus a very nice response from Karen Mantler after I had attempted to contact her mother Carla Bley about Hugh’s involvement in her band in 1977, including permission to use Carla’s line drawing of the band for the book!

Karen Mantler/Pip Pyle. Photo: Joanna Refrain

March saw two phone call interviews with esteemed drummers from Hugh’s work in the 1970s, the first a very illuminating one with Mike Travis, whose delightful collaborations with Hugh continued in the Nineties, and the other Trevor Tomkins who played with Hugh in Gilgamesh in 1978.

Trevor Tomkins

Then unexpectedly, some really nice contributions from trombonist Nick Evans, who gave me a few snippets about his time with the Soft Machine septet.

Soft Machine Septet 1969 – Nick Evans third from left (photographer unknown)

There were 4 live interviews in April, but first I explored the Bone connection: the US power trio which had Nick Didkovsky and John Roulat at its core and whose albums ‘Uses Wrist Grab’ and the posthumous ‘Gift of Purpose’ represent Hugh stretching out outrageously right at the end of his career: both musicians contributed their thoughts via email.

John Roulat

The extremely amiable Geoffrey Richardson gave me his thoughts via Zoom, followed by a fascinating hour with Roy Babbington who gave me an insight into his early days as a guest with Soft Machine, and followed it up with further thoughts via email.

Roy Babbington (photo: Jason Pay)

Shyamal Maitra, percussionist extraordinaire from Gong and Fluvius, spoke to me about his unique musical journey from India to France, and more particularly about his work with Hugh and Mark Hewins within Mashu.

Shyamal Maitra

Geoff Leigh, of Henry Cow, put pen to paper to tell me about the brief appearance in the mid Eighties of Oddjob, a Dutch-based band which also somehow included Hugh and Phil Miller.

Geoff Leigh

Then, thanks to a chance exchange of messages with Van der Graaf Generator biographer Jim Christopoulos, I had the chance to contact drummer Guy Evans, and elicit some wonderful memories of Hugh visiting Oxes Cross in Devon in 1981, a meeting that spawned a number of guest appearances on recordings by Mother Gong and others.

Guy Evans/Yumi Hara

And the month ended with one of my favourite chats, with the effusive Jeff Sherman, one third of Glass and virtual collaborator with Hugh on a number of experimental pieces, many unreleased (as of yet).

Jeff Sherman

Things were starting to slow down a bit in May after this burst of activity, but not before a lovely hour spent in the company of Rick Biddulph, a fellow bass player who had played alongside Hugh (on guitar) in the ‘Hugh Hopper Pig Band’ with Lol Coxhill and Pip Pyle, plus partner Celia Wellcome who offered some lovely insights into Hugh’s work with her late partner Alan Gowen in the late Seventies.

Celia Wellcome/Rick Biddulph

This led directly on to a fantastic insightful interview with sound engineer Pete Ball, who had engineered ‘Two Rainbows Daily’ in Alan’s front room!

Pete Ball

Further activities in may included thoughts from guitarist Tim Crowther about his work with Hugh on the Conglomerate album in the mid-Nineties, as well as snippets from percussionist Frank Perry about the Keith Tippett album ‘Frames’, which Hugh produced in 1978. In May there also arrived a memory stick crammed with artefacts, memories and much unreleased music from French guitarist Micael Gidon, who worked extensively with Hugh in the Nineties. The bundle included a lovely tribute from Micael’s partner, the performance artist Mure Natale.

June was marked by a typically erudite and detailed response to a series of questions from Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler: Chris played with Hugh in the Oh Moscow project but later more extensively with him in Brainville 3, which included regular performances of duo work.

After a summer off, it took the good work of Dutch friend Charles van Waalwyk to kickstart research again as Charles travelled to interview drummer Pieter Bast (of Hugh Hopper Goes Dutch, Hugh Hopper Band, NDIO etc) and sent me a transcript of the interview.

Pieter Bast

This was in September but it wasn’t until being grounded through COVID in October with time to burn, that things ramped up again in a number of new directions. French musician Chrystelle Blanc-Lanuate, who contributed flute to a number of projects in the early Noughties (including Hughscore) sent me her thoughts,

Chrystelle Blanc-Lanaute (second from left)

whilst keyboard player Peter Lemer sent me a snippet about life with In Cahoots (with Hugh, Phil Miller, Elton Dean and Pip Pyle) in the late Eighties. Frances Knight, the wonderfully lyrical pianist who recorded two improvised albums with Hugh (‘The Swimmer’, ‘Mind In the Trees’) sent me some reminiscences via email

Frances Knight

and another chance sighting on Facebook prompted me to contact Virginia Tate, an American musician who recorded a number of unreleased tracks with Hugh in 1999. Initial insights with the promise of more to come… An exciting month was topped off with a very amiable couple of hours spent in the virtual presence of Julian Whitfield, who not only recorded much of Hugh’s output at Delta Studios at the turn of the millennium but also made a very fine (and unusual) album ‘In A Dubious Manner’ with him there.

Julian Whitfield

No less than 5 interviews in November: the first was the longest yet – a very detailed and entertaining chat with Lisa Lawson, who as Lisa Klossner recorded ‘Far Cry’, ‘Different’, ‘Cryptids’ and various other released, emerging and unreleased material, again through the Nineties and beyond.

Lisa Lawson (Lisa Klossner)

Two tentative enquiries through websites produced two informative live interviews with American musicians connected with Carla Bley’s 1977 band which also included Elton Dean and Gary Windo: these with tuba maestro Bob Stewart and French horn player John Clark.

Bob Stewart

John Clark

Meanwhile I had also tracked down (in Denmark) keyboard player Frank Roberts who played on both ‘Hoppertunity Box’ and Isotope’s ‘Deep End’, for a further interview. Alex Maguire, one of the masterminds behind the Phil Miller memorial concerts, talked to me about his crossovers with Hugh in the Noughties and gave me some fascinating insights into the Progman Cometh festivals in the States.

Frank Roberts

December was mainly spent transcribing the November interviews as well as sowing seeds for the New Year, but great to see the year off in the company of American keyboard player and vocalist Elaine di Falco, who recorded three albums with Hugh as Caveman Shoestore and Hughscore. That was the first of hopefully a number of chats with her.

Elaine di Falco

There are lots of things in the pipeline for 2022, with a first interview lined up for 10 January and lots of other possibilities bubbling away and plenty of more research required before writing starts in earnest. I’m going to keep a lid on precisely who I’m hoping to interview as often things stall, take different routes etc but do keep checking back on the Facebook group for regular updates. Any snippets from people reading this, artefacts, contact ideas etc are always appreciated, as well as obviously your support when this book is eventually published by the good people at Jazz in Britain.

Kozfest 2021

Followers of the Facelift blog may have noticed a lack of posts recently. But if anything was going to shake me out of writing torpor, it was bound to be Kozfest, that little slice of July Devonshire psychedelia, returning after a 2 year enforced absence. Let’s not forget that it was our first visit to KF back in 2016 that inspired the creation of this blog in the first place….

We missed the festival in 2019, having just moved house, and so this was our first experience of the new site, perched up on a headland on a sprawling single field site looking over Woollacombe bay. What would it be like? Weather watching from about 10 days out revealed that the site was due to endure fairly cataclysmic thunderstorms on Friday night, and that forecast never really deviated – even being augmented by a BBC report saying that campsites in the south were likely to be closed due to imminent impact. Another unknown quantity was which bands would survive from the previous year’s billing, given changes in circumstances, plus last minute COVID notifications. And probably most important of all, what would be the mood in camp with this being the first festival since the passing of Kozmik Ken, the much loved public face and compere of a previous 9 festivals.

This year we were running the Kids tent, which meant several days of packing up and organising before heading down, (a mercifully short journey clocking in at a tolerable 6 hours), broken up by scrumping a large bag of plums at Gloucester Services, and arriving on site around 6pm, glorious weather still intact. Initial site for the kids tent was hastily reconsidered as space was made for the ‘luxury’ toilets next to the Judge Trev stage, a byproduct of the sanitation company somehow overlooking a long booked order from the festival and having to up their game a little to compensate. Back in our little world, both tents were set up and set out, and kids fed and watered in time for a dusk-time wander around site.

Onsite affection towards Ken was reflected by a large audience present for the premiere of the film based around his life, aired in the Wally tent at 10pm. I’ve never seen the festival so busy at this time of the weekend, people spilling out into the main drag watching a loving tribute to a man I knew little about other than his friendly presence on and off stage at the three previous festivals we’d attended. Curated by Jay Canterbrigge, it featured interviews and reminiscences with many familiar musician faces but it was probably footage of Ken’s appearance on ‘Fifteen to One’ which stole the show. The video is here for a very limited time, I am sure it will appear elsewhere at some point.

Friday dawned, a little windier but still set fair. Some last minute pull-outs, COVID-related, meant that the eagerly awaited schedule for both the main Daevid Allen stage and the more intimate Judge Trev stage, this year both festooned in the festival’s trademark red and yellow stripes, was delayed. In fact the net result was that the music didn’t kick off bang on midday, but times were adjusted on both stages so that things only really get properly going in mid afternoon. Festival co-organiser Paul Woodwright confessed that due to last minute changes in circumstances there would be a certain amount of ‘winging it’. It was the last and only time, from the outside at least, that things didn’t seem to be running like clockwork. I suspect even if that had been the case that the general feeling of bonhomie around site from a somewhat reduced audience would have prevailed (the organisers had very generously agreed to defer tickets for another year for anyone not comfortable with attending in 2021).

Highlight of Friday’s music for me was Magic Bus. Canterbury sounding through and through, with crisp changes of direction, Pye Hastings-esque strummed guitar and a pastoral dreamy vibe, I’d been somewhat nervous that following the departure of excellent integral flautist Viv, the band wouldn’t have the same impact. But, airing material from a number of albums, most notably ‘Zeta’ from ‘Phillip the Egg’, plus salient parts from their latest album ‘The Earth Years’ and buoyed by an extraordinary performance from stand-in and very youthful keyboard player George, this was tightly delivered and sonically pristine music par excellence. Myself and son Joe, a budding guitarist, marvelled at the economy of lead guitarist Terence, bandana and all, no note is wasted…

Magic Bus

We also caught bits of the opening act Aura, an Ultramarinish blend of electronica and live guitar; the lively Dubbal, the excellent driving groove of the Spacedogs, and, alas too late to capture their full set, the really excellent trio Nukli, who I have somehow managed to miss in all previous Kozfests, a travesty as guitarist Kev Hegan and bass player Mark Huxley are fairly omnipresent and create funky, expanding soundscapes which are truly excellent.

Nukli

That just left Friday headliners Here and Now, who arrived on stage to a real sense of anticipation, and for me a real surprise… When we saw them at the Golden Lion a couple of years back it was clear there was some strong new material to back up the best of the Keith Bailey side of the band’s repertoire (‘What You See Is What You Are’, ‘So Glad You’re Here’, ‘Secrets’ etc) but what I didn’t know was their tradition of blindingly good guitarists was continuing with none other than Tom Ashurst, whose duo with H&N keyboard player Mark Robson had  been so memorable. Here and Now were very much an assault on the ears, none better than a hypnotic groove somewhere in the middle of the set I can’t put a name to, which was quite transportational. And it would appear that Tom (also of the Hawklords, who had originally been billed to play here) has found a home for his clear sense of showmanship – his unbelievable guitar abilities were never in doubt…

After all that, I managed to miss the much anticipated storm overnight, enough to flatten a few tents and filter a wet sea breeze through a few more, but not enough to disturb my soundest sleep for several months. We woke up to a watery morning, all intact and set fair for a couple of busy days in the kids tent. Still, I wasn’t going to miss out on Shankara Andy Bole’s set, always a highlight of the festival, a beautifully poised blend of stringed instruments, the primary one being the bouzouki, augmented by guitar glissandoed and electric, built up in looped layers. Another musician later told me this performance had moved him to tears – me too…

Shankara Andy Bole

Andy stayed on stage for a somewhat unheralded set by Zinc RSI, which turned out to be a 45 minute performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’, a composer (and piece) that was so influential for Daevid Allen and other musicians from the first generation of the Soft Machine. One of the performers, Billie Bottle (on keyboards) later explained the process… of there being a set number of pre-written phrases to be delivered,  with musicians having control over when each segment was delivered, and how many times, subject to a sequence order and the various phrases not being too distant from one another between the players. This rather made sense of the fact that whilst Brian Abbott (amongst others) had sheet music in front of him, the page was never turned, even though the music extended into scores of minutes. Intense concentration, beautiful flute playing (from Viv Goodwin-Darke) and multiple intertwining layers of instrumentation (from memory there were multiple keyboards and guitars as well as the flute)  was immersive and hypnotic – a unique and memorable performance.

Zinc RSI

And aside from a rollicking performance from the Judge Trev Band over on the Daevid Allen stage, that was pretty much it for us until the evening, despite the very many treats on both stages, Deviant Amps included. Apologies to the many fine bands not mentioned here, we’ll do our best to catch up with you next time. But I am sure that we were not alone in reserving the greatest excitement for Saturday’s double header of The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, followed by the mighty Gong.

The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet

The Invisibles have undergone a few line-up changes since last time I saw them, due to a variety of circumstances, the most alarming being the absence due to illness of lead singer Jackie Juno (we wish her well). Joining guitarist Brian Abbott (tonight taking on board most lead singing duties) and bass player Phil Whitehouse and two players already ensconced in the band for their last release (drummer Matt and flautist Viv) was last minute addition Billie Bottle on keyboards and vocals. Prevailing memories are of a funked up first half of the set, a most unexpected and euphoric Flute Salad/Oily Way/ Inner Temple/Outer Temple segue which had the majority of the crowd wigging out, and, with time running out, a hastily convened, brusque and hilarious finale. A little back story here: knowing that Billie was appearing with the band, I’d messaged her a week before as my daughter Ella had been asking whether ‘Bad Self’ would be performed by the band. The answer came back as a polite ‘no’, but the seed had been sown, and as Tim Hawthorn burst on to stage in theatrical manner, Ella had the song dedicated to her by Brian Abbott and chaos ensued. A priceless moment.

Dead Otter sounded excellent from a distance over on the Judge Trev tent, shades of early Black Sabbath there, but already thoughts were turning to the main act. I’ve now seen the current version of Gong 7 times, but it is still possible to get extremely nervous as the sun dips below the skyline, crowds start to  build up towards the front of tent and tension builds. The sideshow of having two excited but slightly overawed kids towards the front of the crowd (Joe had met two of his guitar heroes from Gong a little earlier), surrounded by equally excited but shall we say, carefree, adults added to the nervousness. (One of the children even said “I’m staying up at least until they play ‘The Elemental’” – which in retrospect would have been a very long wait!). Kavus Torabi succinctly welcoming the crowd with trademark wide-eyed wonder at the fact that the band and their most ardent audience were celebrating their first post-lockdown performance together (‘Look at all your beautiful faces’!).

Gong

Working their way through the first 3 tracks of the latest album ‘The Universal Also Collapses’ they also fitted in ‘Rejoice!’, the exultant finale ‘Insert Yr Own Prophecy’, and a raucous ‘Kapital’ from the first post-Daevid album and still managed to squeeze in ‘Selene’ and ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ for the ‘traditionalists’. I must have heard the latter track on every single occasion I’ve ever seen Gong, and that is probably more than 30 times now, but tonight’s rendition was electric in the extreme, taking on double significance in the light of COVID and the absence of Kozmik Ken. So, no real surprises in the repertoire, but context is everything and I don’t think the kids, who lasted about half way through the 90 minute set will forget it in a hurry!

I can’t think of any more therapeutic ways of spending a sunny Sunday, particularly after a gnarly Saturday evening, than being in the environs of the Judge Trev Tent. Kozfest Sundays appear to be reserved for gentler, somewhat more forgiving musical sounds, with very obvious links to the Gong global family. This was the first time I had sat through an entire performance from the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, its numbers swelled, as I’d hoped they would be last time Gong played Kozfest in 2016, by Kavus Torabi, and the peerless glissman himself, Fabio Golfetti.

Kavus Torabi and Fabio Golfetti

As Kavus pointed out in his later solo gig, Fabio had made the extraordinary trip from Sao Paolo primarily to play a single gig with Gong here, going through the excruciation of enforced and extortionately expensive quarantine for 10 days en route. I hope this performance soothed his soul a little at least, it sounded good from our vantage point just outside of the tent where Ella met Billie Bottle for the first time!

Ella and Billie Bottle

From a distance I then heard Saff Juno (daughter of Invisibles’ Brian Abbott and Jackie Juno), then a solo violin set from Graham Clark, and then more proximately a solo performance from Kavus Torabi on guitar, harmonium, loops and gliss, particularly evocative for me as his streamed performance of his solo album in the early days of the first lockdown remains the soundtrack for me of the start of a very weird alternative reality for all of us in 2020. The Magick Brothers, consisting of Graham Clark and Mark Robson, very much take forward the acoustic legacy of Daevid Allen, and although again I didn’t see them in person, the strains of ‘No Other Than The Mother Is My Song’ from ‘N’Existe Pas’ stopped me in my tracks a few hundred yards away, another beautiful moment.

Before arriving on site I’d vowed that one of the performances I simply had to see was with Tim Hawthorn’s band The Anarchetypes. Since the last Kozfest I’ve started to delve into his excellent solo work and there is a timeline running through his work with GAS, the Invisibles and Silver On The Tree which would be irresistible enough, even if it were not for some stunning recordings here on soundcloud. Ashamed to say that I missed this also as duty called, apart from a sneaky escape to catch a quick 5 minutes of the set, where some thundering bass remained the prevailing memory. Slightly later on, whilst running an errand, I was startled to hear a rendition of Soft Machine/Caravan’s ‘Backwards’ complete with theremin interjections, courtesy of Canterbury afficionado Richard Armstrong-Sealand who guests (as does Graham Clark) on the latest Anarchetypes CD. Soft Machine with theremin, must be a first. Next time I will see the band in its full glory.

With the kids tent winding down for the evening, we managed to jig our way merrily through the latter half of the Kangaroo Moon set, violinist Elliet Mackrell rarely fails to send one into orbit, before the final Judge Trev offering, The Utopia Strong. As detailed elsewhere, every performance by this three piece involving the modular synths of Steve Davis and Mike York (who also plays pipes) and the guitar and harmonium of Kavus Torabi, is unique, and tonight the music, bubbling away into the night sky, was simply beautiful.

Steve Davis/Kavus Torabi with The Utopia Strong

Whilst the Groundhogs thundered away in the main tent a little while later, and Wally’s Tent continued to offer up a series of low key jammed gems into the small hours, this seemed an appropriate way to sign off for another year.

Massive thanks go to Paul Woodwright and Snake Lee, masterminds behind Kozfest 2021, and to all the crew who made this edition possibly the most memorable yet for us. Great to catch up with Banana Steve and Harma, Shankara Andy Bole and kids, Billie Bottle, Fabio Golfetti, Richard Armstrong-Sealand and partner, Kavus, Ian and Dave from Gong, Tim Hawthorn, Jonny from Gas, Graham Clark, Brian Abbott, Ali and Robert and all the pot pourri of punters and musicians which makes the festival so unique – a testament indeed to the spirit of Kozmik Ken Ingham…

Hugh Hopper biography update – April 2021

So, sometime over Easter it became exactly a year since, during a chance conversation in the early part of the first lockdown with Matt Parker and John Thurlow at Jazz in Britain about something else entirely, I found myself commissioned to write the biography of Hugh Hopper, provisionally entitled ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’.

self caricature used with kind permission of Mark Hewins

I thought it was high time I gave Facelift blogfans and potential readers of the biography an update.

I totted up last night the number of interviews I’d carried out for Facelift and other publications since the early Nineties until the start of 2020 and came up with a relatively miserly count of 14, possibly not much to show for the best part of 30 years on and off involvement in the Canterbury scene.

Well, since the start of the Hugh Hopper project there have been a grand total of 27! –  none of them in the flesh, but all ‘live’ through a combination of landline, mobile, Zoom, Skype and Messenger. So far, I’ve interviewed Brian Hopper (4 times!), Harry Williamson, Dave Radford, Richard Sinclair, Joe Gallivan, Theo Travis, John Marshall, Didier Malherbe, Yumi Hara, Trevor Tomkins, Gary Boyle, Mike Travis, Nigel Morris, Steve Kettley, Lawrence Fletcher, Mark Hewins, Dave Stewart, Jakko Jakszyk, John Greaves, Sally Potter, Frank vd Kooij, Sophia Domancich and Simon Goubert

There have been plenty of remote contributions too via email, messenger and associated attachments, extending from short answers to 25 page essays! Thank you to Robert Wyatt, Pam Windo, Dave Sinclair, Pye Hastings, Hoppy (Akeo Kamiyama), Robert Jarvis, Leonardo Pavkovic, Alfred 23 Harth, Henry Franzoni, Derek Styles, Andy Frizell, Jean Max Delva, Micael Gidon, Geoff Leigh, Hamish McDonald, Graham Clark, Nick Evans and Julian Gordon Hastings.

And there are artefacts contributed for publication not just from many of the interviewees, but also from Karen Mantler (on behalf of Carla Bley), Herm Mew, Didi Ward, Joanna Nestor,  Bill MacCormick and from numerous Hugh fans and fellow Canterbury travellers, too numerous to list here, but they will be credited in the book.

In the pipeline are promised contributions from Chrystelle Blanc-Lanaute, Frances Knight, Nick Didkovsky,  Herm Mew, whilst I am hoping to speak soon to Elaine di Falco, Rick Biddulph and Celia Wellcome, Geoffrey Richardson,  Steve Feigenbaum and Jeff Sherman.

And I’ve made contact and had positive offers of help from Frode Holm, Kramer, John Etheridge, Roy Babbington, Geoffrey Richardson, Mark Fletcher, Alex Maguire, Lisa Klossner, Fred Baker, some of which I really need to follow up sooner rather than later, after all, in some cases it has been a year…

And there are so many more people I need to contact, particularly as they are as much a part of the story as many that I have already spoken to. Hugh was so prolific and collaborated with so many different people and I regard the minutae of Hugh’s low-key gigging in Canterbury in the mid-Eighties as relevant as the well-chronicled history of Soft Machine in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

I have arrived at what I believe is the definitive Hugh Hopper discography, extending to around 200 albums containing unique Hugh Hopper material; am continuing to expand and clarify Hugh’s own 60+ page timeline of gigs and recordings. I am also trying to build a definitive bibliography of Hugh-related press articles, Youtube videos, unofficial recordings and covers.

I’ve had copious amounts of help from lots of people, including, as you might expect, the remarkable Aymeric Leroy, who has generously shared much of his own archive. Also Stewart Spaull, writing a parallel Gary Boyle biography, Cuneiform, Moonjune and Gonzo record labels plus many individual snippets of help. Plus much subtler support and words of encouragement from people following the various posts on Facebook, thank you!

It’s all been a steep learning curve, involving a few dead ends, juggling lots of things in what’s been a really crazy year, refining my archaic interview techniques and trying to recall a myriad of facts at the drop of a hat.

One really exciting thing to come indirectly out of this was being asked to write sleevenotes for the NDIO live album ‘Zenith’ featuring Frank vd Kooij, Hugh Hopper and Robert Jarvis alongside other Dutch musicians, which also includes a remarkable improvised studio piece called ‘Ravel’ from the trio. https://www.voordekunst.nl/projecten/11413-dubbel-lp-ndio-met-hhopper-f-vd-kooij#het-verhaal

I intend to continue researching for the rest of 2021, and continue to interview as many people as possible. Then hopefully start writing in 2022.

How you can help…

Please send me your Hugh-related stories, feel free to share artefacts, details of correspondence with Hugh, rare recordings, links to articles and videos, contacts for people etc etc.

Help me repay the generosity of the huge number of musicians who have contributed their time and energies to the project by continuing to support them, particularly via Bandcamp

Keep up to date with Jazz in Britain’s burgeoning catalogue at https://jazzinbritain.org/

Save a few quid for the book when it comes out!

Buy back issues of Facelift if you don’t already have them from http://www.faceliftmagazine.co.uk, any money generated here goes directly into funding research for the book through postage costs, tracking down some particularly obscure releases from the discography, and eventually, trips to various libraries and archives when things open up!

Contact me at philfacelift@yahoo.co.uk

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http://www.faceliftmagazine.co.uk

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Dave Wragg 1957-2021 – fellow Canterbury scene traveller

Earlier this week I received the very sad news of the death of David Wragg AKA ‘Long Dave’, with whom I traversed the country in the Nineties in search of our common love of Canterbury scene music. His wife Kate contacted me over the weekend to say that Dave had had a short but serious illness and was in the final stages of his life. Sadly he died the next morning. I thought it might be a fitting tribute to Dave to muse over some of the times we spent together as it’s also almost a diary of my own live Canterbury education and will hopefully encapsulate a lot of the excitement of, as Kate put it in her note, sharing a musical journey together over the years.

In the early days of Facelift I left a communal house in Manchester, surrounded by the detritus of 4 years of student excess, to live in a bedsit in West Didsbury, paying £25 a week (and it was literally that, the landlord took great delight in intruding every Saturday morning to collect his rent in cash). In somewhat grotty and claustrophobic surroundings I was probably going somewhat mad, and initially my sanity was only really maintained by the fanzine. This was 1990, and not only was the world of fanzinedom pre-internet and mobile phone, but I didn’t even have a landline. Even post wasn’t safe, as I found out when I discovered that another bedsit resident was routinely rifling through the post downstairs and emptying envelopes of the cash which correspondents often sent from foreign climes for their subscriptions.

Into this gloomy world a few people rescued me from my introspection by turning up announced without any prior connection. All became good friends. Martin Wakeling, who was on the point of starting his Kevin Ayers fanzine ‘Why Are We Sleeping’; Nick Loebner, who would carry out several of Facelift’s interviews; … and Long Dave. They all tracked me down, somewhat bravely, through the address printed on inside the front cover of Facelift. Dave turned up one day, all 7 foot of him (or so it appeared), a decade older than me with long straight hair and slightly unsure of what to say. He didn’t seem overly phased by the chaos surrounding me and we chatted about our common love of music, most probably National Health and Steve Hillage who he’d seen gigging together in the late Seventies. Dave was working over at Whalley Range High School as a science technician, as he was to do for a number of years, and continued to regularly pop by after work thereafter –  he was actually then living over in Mossley, right on the edge of the Pennines.

We started to go to gigs together. I can’t remember which would have been the first one, but I assume we saw some jazz gigs together at the Band on the Wall, maybe Keith Tippett? We certainly saw some of the many Gong Maison and later Gong gigs together elsewhere Manchester. We went a lot to the Witchwood, an extraordinary lowkey club over in Ashton-under-Lyne which seemed to be like a social club which periodically went psychedelic: mutually interesting bands seemed to appear there regularly: Daevid Allen, Mother Gong, Arthur Brown, Here and Now all played there. We laughed our heads off (Dave had a quite distinctive guffaw) at the various Wizards of Twiddly gigs both there and PJ Bells. When we met up for gigs in Manchester with some of my younger Gong-head friends, Dave would sort of deliberately merge into the background, whilst at smaller more jazzy gigs he would make a point of going to speak to the musicians playing. He had a lovely down to earth manner which enabled him to talk to musicians as peers, unlike my own tongue-tied tendency to put them on pedestals.

Dave had a trusty if rather ancient van, I think it may have been an Bedford estate or something similar and this opened up new avenues for me. We travelled far and wide in search of gigs in the early Nineties: Wolverhampton to see Caravan in 1991 for my 25th birthday, a Daevid Allen solo gig in Stoke where a tripping punter ruined the performance by ranting throughout the night, (his misplaced love for Daevid degenerated into shouting all over his ballads and poetry), Richard Sinclair’s RSVP in Chester which teamed up Richard with a dream band including, I think, Patrice Meyer and Didier Malherbe, and much later on with Brainville, back in Stoke, where Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle joined us at the bar between sets. Wherever the gig was, Dave always had it meticulously planned: details of the venue, likely start time of the band, suggested pick up time for me, and nominated CAMRA pub we would visit pre-gig, because Dave also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of real ale hostelries and what guest beers would likely be put on. The pubs weren’t always particularly salubrious: the era of widescale microbreweries and craft beer gentrification was years ahead, Dave just wanted a good pint and was prepared to put in the hard yards to track it down. I was blissfully unaware of the merits of decent ale when I first met Dave, but have taken it on as a personal mission to self-educate myself thoroughly in the intervening years.

A few gigs stand out: Dave was more of a connoisseur of guitarists than myself, and with the   dropped aitches of a fellow East Midlander, was never happier than when talking about ‘oldsworth or ‘illage, but top of the tree for him was Phil Miller. It was therefore a no-brainer when we got the chance to put on the Phil Miller/Fred Baker duo in Manchester, both were held in such high esteem that Dave even referred to them by their first names. Naïve to the extreme in our earliest forays into gig promotion, we managed to procure a cheap venue, better known for rocking out on a Saturday night, promising the owner that he’d make his money back on beer from the hordes who’d turn up. Charlie, the owner, took us at our word and at no point put the radiators on, clearly expecting aggregate body heat to do that particular job. We managed to assemble 50 or so extremely keen but frostbitten punters for an evening of extremely beautiful music where Dave got to put on two of his heroes. It’s a treasured memory.

Somewhat at the other end of the scale, as posted elsewhere on the Facelift website, was a journey with Dave, myself and aforementioned Nick and then wife Julie to see Richard Sinclair’s Caravan of Dreams over in Rotherham, part of a series of gigs put on by the Classic Rock Society. After an interminable journey via Snake Pass we finally got to the venue, I think for once not on time, presumably because Dave hadn’t been in charge of the itinerary, and somewhat farcically in Nick’s Fiat Uno, farcical because Dave was cooped up in the back seat, legs around his ears. Still at least for once he could properly sample the full range of local beers, as he was excused from driving for the night. At some point during the first set Julie remembered having left a pan of soup boiling on the hob back home in Moss Side, and early tracks were overshadowed by some frantic calls on a payphone in the foyer back to Manchester to people who might be able to check. At one point a friend was dispatched from Fallowfield (somewhat further south) to the house to check for potential signs of smoke, but the house appeared to be intact.

Still somewhat worried, we didn’t hang about for an encore after the second set, a shame as we’d built a rapport with Richard, wife Heather, Rick Biddulph and Andy Ward from previous gigs, and ‘raced’ back over the Pennines to ascertain the damage. Somewhere in Hyde there was an acrid pall of smoke inside the vehicle as the ‘electrics’ caught fire and we came to a rapid halt. Cometh the hour cometh the man, and after I had suggested smothering the flames with a coat, Dave more creatively offered to extinguish the tackle the incident with, as Nick later put it, ‘a stream of his own urine’. The offer was declined, although Dave maintained to the last that it might have saved the car. An hour’s wait in the cold waiting for the pick up truck later, we arrived back at Moss Side to discover a pan burnt to a crisp, but mercifully, a relatively unscathed house. The car did not survive the experience.

We went to fewer gigs together in the Noughties and beyond: I’d moved out of Manchester (ironically to the same type of bleak mill town which Dave had vacated), whilst Dave found happiness with Kate and became a proud father of Matthew and Florence, and house husband to boot. We met up at various Gong gigs (I remember the a 2032 gig with Steve Hillage in the awful barn-like acoustics of the Academy, and more recently the Kavus-fronted band at the Gorilla, where Dave struggled with the manic light show and thundering sound). There might have been others too, my memory fails me, I hope he caught Soft Machine at the Band on the Wall with me as he would have appreciated John Marshall’s drumming and John Etheridge’s guitar work. But that sums Dave up, unostentatious, unfussy and unassuming… and most often with a pint in his hand.

Postscript: I’ve just found out that Dave’s funeral is on 29 January. He’d selected 5 pieces of music to be played at his service. These are:

Caravan: A Very Smelly, Grubby Little Oik

Gilgamesh: Arriving Twice

Kevin Ayers: Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes

Phil Miller/Fred Baker: Christine

Hatfield and the North: Share It

RIP Long Dave and all our very best wishes to Kate, Matthew, Florence and family

An Interview with Jakko M Jakszyk

Jakko Jakszyk, Secrets & Lies promo image. August 2020. Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

The latest interview for the Hugh Hopper biography brought me back in contact with Jakko M Jakszyk, someone who I was lucky to speak to twice in the Nineties for Facelift. On that first occasion he gave me an overview of his eventful career to that date, and on the second a track by track run through of his superb album ‘Mustard Gas and Roses’. At the time he was achieving some well-overdue limelight as guitarist with Level 42. Now of course he is the established lead singer (and guitarist) with King Crimson. But as on previous occasions, we convened (this time virtually) to talk about entirely different projects, firstly to touch on a brief collaboration with Hugh Hopper in 2000, but also his latest solo project ‘Secrets and Lies’. ‘Secrets and Lies’ once again showcases Jakko’s unique blend of talents: as a wonderfully clear, melodic voice in the true Canterbury/Crimso canon, a blisteringly fluid guitarist, an orchestrator of multiple instruments and voices, a proponent of both driving music and sweet ballads with just a hint of early Eighties rolled up sleeves and collars, and just as importantly a strikingly personal lyricist with more than most to draw on in terms of first hand experience.

The Hopper collaboration, which took place in 2000, was a reinterpretation of ‘As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still’ alongside Dave Stewart and Egg’s Clive Brooks. Dave Stewart had already given me a fascinating insight into for the book in a rare interview earlier this summer. More of his and Jakko’s thoughts on that topic when ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ is published by Jazz in Britain in 2022.

‘As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still’ was originally commissioned, slightly oddly, for a Soft Machine retrospective compilation called ‘Man In A Deaf Corner’, I say oddly because all other tracks were original Soft Machine or earlier recordings from the halcyon days of the band up until 1970. It then subsequently appeared on a further compilation ‘Canterbury Tales’, as well as on CD2 of what until now had been Jakko’s last solo album, ‘The Bruised Romantic Glee Club’. In fact the recording of ‘Perfectly Still’ had triggered something of an avalanche of interpretations of experimental classics, starting with King Crimson’s ‘Pictures of a City”, as Jakko explains:

“There are moments in the day (in the studio) where you’ve got to copy loads of stuff, and you can’t really use the computer because all their power’s being used. So you sit here for 10 minutes while it’s shifting stuff. And I remember sitting in the studio. I’ve got a sitar guitar on the wall here. I remember the fast running lines for Robert Fripp’s ‘Pictures of a City’ and I thought this sounds brilliant on the sitar guitar. And then I got in touch with Pandit Dinesh (who had played with Jakko on the Dizrhythmia projects), who came down. Dinesh doesn’t know King Crimson or what prog rock is –  it’s all just music to him. So I got him to play along and he came up with this really groovy part. And then he started singing on it.  And then I got Gavin (Harrison) to play drums and I mentioned it to Pete Sinfield, who then rewrote the lyrics so that it was about Bombay instead of New York.

“So then suddenly I had these two covers and I thought, ‘oh maybe I should do some other covers’. I remember asking Gavin if he would play drums for a cover of ‘Nirvana for Mice’ (Henry Cow) and he said I’m not playing this  – it sounds so f***g complicated!” It’s one of those tunes where it’s much more complicated than you think, actually, when you see it written down.

And then I remember calling up Tim Hodgkinson, who I don’t know very well.

And I said, ‘Oh Tim’ it’s Jakko’.

He said, ‘yes’.

I said, ‘apparently Dave Stewart’s said you’ve got some sheet music for Nirvana for Mice’. 

He said, ‘yes’.

I said, ‘is there any chance of having a copy of that because I’m thinking of recording it?’.

He said, ‘yes’.

I said, ‘all right. Well can I give you my address?’,

He said, ‘yes’.

I gave my address and I said, ‘oh that’s great. Well thanks very much. Are you gonna say anything else during this conversation other than yes?’

And he said ‘no’!

And that was my conversation with Tim Hodgkinson!

“So we had these parts and Dave (Stewart) did like a whole MIDI thing. So we knew exactly what all the parts were and I just replaced them with guitars. And I remember in the middle section I said to Gavin, ‘look, on the original – it’s kinda freeform sax’. So I said, ‘look just play anything, play whatever you like’. So Gav played it basically like a drum solo and then I went through the drum solo and I thought, oh that grouping’s nice. So I followed some of it and put bass on it and guitars and then you end up with this arrangement which I’m just following sections of what he improvised. But once you start putting parts on, it sounds like this deliberate arrangement, you know.

So what else did I do? I did ‘The Citizen King’ (also by Henry Cow) and then I did a cover of one of my own things (‘Soon After’) from when I was a kid. It wasn’t even a cover, it was a recording I had from when I was about 14 or 15 off a Revox and I cleaned it up and then I added other stuff too? So that’s kind of how it happened. It wasn’t deliberate.” The album also includes an interpretation of another King Crimson track, ‘Islands’.

Jakko’s stop/start conversation with Tim Hodgkinson belies a relationship with Henry Cow going back to his work as a collaborator with both John Greaves and Peter Blegvad in The Lodge. But in fact his association goes back even further from when he was first actively listening to progressive music.

“I was at a Youth Theatre in Watford and there was a guy there. He was quite politically active, he was on the school council. He was at Watford Boys Grammar.  I remember I was at a party and he said, ‘do you know about the Canterbury music’ (I said no). ‘So right, listen to these’ and he gave me a wad of albums, Soft Machine Two, Land of Grey and Pink and I think Matching Mole. I devoured them and thought, oh man… And I loved, I loved Robert’s singing. I was always drawn to people with an English accent. I really loved Soft Machine 2 – it had such a kind of atmosphere to it. He then said ‘I’ve booked a band to play at the Watford boys school, you’ve got to come’ And it was Henry Cow. I’d never heard of them and it was f****g brilliant. I thought, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’, and they in effect played one long number which was all these pieces kind of interspersed with the glue of free improvisation. And I became quite obsessed. “

Mike Barnes in his book ‘A New Day Yesterday’ quotes our interviewee telling a glorious story of how the band picked a young Jakko up walking home from one of their gigs and ended up at his parents’ house drinking tea post gig, something of a mind-blowing experience for the nascent fan. Jakko takes the story forward a few decades to the 2014 reunion performing Lindsay Cooper tunes: “they played the Barbican in London and I was in the front row. I went with Vic Reeves (the comedian) who’s a big Henry Cow fan. And so Vic Reeves was literally in the front row with me. And then they do two sets and at the end of the first set, John Greaves kind of waves at me. And mimes, ‘have you got passes?’ When we went backstage, John said to me said, ‘F*****g hell!’, he said, ‘it’s unbelievable.  Back in the day, we used to wave to this little 13/14 year old kid ’cause we thought, it’s that kid who comes on his own and sits on the front row. And we reform and f**k me I’m still waving to you!’  And I said,  ‘that’s exactly what I was thinking when you were waving to me!’

“The free improvisation thing was never really what dragged me in. Although you know some of it was intriguing and I love the juxtaposition. It was the writing, it was way beyond everybody really, it was way beyond Crimson. It’s way beyond Soft Machine. Really detailed. Like electronic chamber music, it’s still incredible. I still listen to the first album in particular. You know some of the pieces in that are just amazing. And again, it’s got this unique atmosphere. I know they were fans of kind of late 60s Zappa I guess. Kind of ‘Uncle Meat’. And you can kind of hear that, but they’re so English. It sounds very different, but I still think that’s one of the most extraordinary records.”

Back to the present and an obvious starting point for our conversation about Jakko’s latest solo album ‘Secrets and Lies’ was the wonderful tribute to Pip Pyle, ‘The Rotters Club is Closing Down’, which from its first spine tingling few bars of crystal clear vocals is destined to implant itself permanently into the Canterbury lexicon. I mentioned to Jakko that when I’d posted a few initial thoughts about this track on Facebook, the first two responses from posters who were hearing it for the first time was the apparent involvement of Dave Stewart on keyboards and Richard Sinclair on burbling backing vocals. Both are captivatingly illusory – in both cases down to Jakko himself (in fact, in the case of the latter, it’s a long standing impersonation which apparently goes right back to 64 Spoons days, Jakko’s wonderfully bonkers first band of note in the late Seventies).

“When I first did it, I sent a copy to Jonathan Coe (author of the best selling book, called, of course, ‘The Rotters Club’). That’s exactly what he said. “Oh that’s a great idea. Getting Richard to sing at the end”. I started writing the lyrics in in the car on the way home from Pip’s funeral, right? I had three people in the car, John Greaves. Peter Blegvad and Jonathan Coe. And so everyone was talking about anecdotes and Pip this and Pip that. So I started writing the thing in my head. So, it’s actually an oldish song.” ‘The Rotters Club Is Closing Down’ is an affectionate tribute to an apparently incorrigible rogue, about whom stories are legion, my own favourite being Mark Hewins’s tale of him joining a binmen’s collection round post-gig in Paris. The track not only contains subtle references to the double edged sword of being appropriated into Pip’s antics, but also wonderfully weaves the lines ‘Tadpoles keep screaming in my ears/The Rotters Club is closing down’ into its closing refrain.

Jakko confided that this track might easily already have appeared 7 years ago as a track on a projected Rapid Eye Movement album from the live archives which unfortunately has not materialised as yet. “The minute I got those multitracks I started working on them and they sounded great. You know, and I put guitars on that weren’t on there and I did some vocals. What was really good about it was that (unless they’ve heard those shitty live versions), is that there is stuff that that Dave wrote that no one’s ever heard and some of it is great. You know we did some of the songs that Pip wrote which ended up on his solo record”.

This of course included ‘Seven Sisters’, the superb opener from ‘Seven Year Itch’, an interesting version of which has just popped up on Youtube, which may or may not be related. “Well, I used to sing that live. I sang it before Richard (Sinclair, who delivers it so sonorously on ‘Seven Year Itch’), and it’s a really hard thing to sing. As I recall I have to sing the lowest note I’m capable of singing and the highest note I’m capable of singing without going into falsetto – within the melody – it’s all over the shop, because Pip was writing it on the keyboard. There’s a song called ‘the Hat of Truth’, a thing called ‘Let’s Get the Day Underway’. There’s ‘Cheap Theatrical Fantasies’. There’s a handful of tunes that we’ve only ever played live.”

So what were Rapid Eye Movement like then? I assumed given the era and and in particular the personnel that this would be short sharp, possibly punky material.

“It’s kind of Hatfieldish. ‘Cheap Theatrical Fantasies’ is kind of poppy. We used to do an XTC cover which then Dave subsequently did on an outing with Barbara (Gaskin) called ‘Roads Girdle the Globe’. We used to do a thing called ‘Mechanic Dancing’. And there’s some songs of mine, some of which ended up on my first solo record. There was an old 64 Spoons tune which was ‘Dear Clare’. But Dave’s version was really avant garde. You know, he kind of deconstructed it completely.”

But if progress on releasing this stalled some time ago, Jakko has forged ahead both with becoming an integral part of King Crimson, as well as working on his latest solo album. I put it to Jakko that some of the material on ‘Secrets and Lies’ contained hints of the trademark Crimson sound. I never know quite how to categorise Robert Fripp’s unique angular guitar themes (unless it is, as has been suggested, the genesis of math rock) but Jakko appeared to know what I was alluding to:

Jakko Jakszyk, Secrets & Lies promo image. August 2020. Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

“I think there’s a kind of there’s a harmonic consistency to what Robert (Fripp) does. If you listen to all of King Crimson’s music, you can chop and change and it sounds like 4 different bands, but on another level it’s got the same ingredients. There’s a kind of modal thing that he does, and he’s very fond of flattened 5ths, so there’s always that kind of sense of dissonance. And you know, I was influenced by that before. But of course, once you’re in the group and you’re playing, your hands tend to hear that and it becomes a new part of your vocabulary because you because you’ve been absorbing it.”

Most obviously this is evident in the final track, the expansive ‘Separation’ which Jakko confesses was written for the band (Fripp is co-credited and a number of current Crimson members appear on it), as he has been wont to do since he joined them. “For a while Robert thought they were all great and we integrated them and they became part of the current King Crimson repertoire.

“But some of the later things that I did, we had this bit of an in joke where I would start to play him something. And he would go, ‘I love this, this is marvellous. It would be an ideal track for your next solo album’, which is code for ‘we’re not playing this mate’. So that’s three of those tunes.”

Another, I suspect is the superb opener “Before I Met You”, which manages to incorporate within a few short minutes a Frippian riff, a quite ridiculous Holdsworthesque solo, and Jakko’s searing vocal line, all underpinned by a memorable driving groove, devoid of slappage, from Level 42’s Mark King.

Another killer track is the haunting ballad “The Trouble with Angels”, embellished with an award winning video which has a story of its own, directed by Sam Chegini. “Sam lives in Tehran, right? And originally he wanted to come to England to film me. We had a conversation, I guess it must have been October last year and we agreed about budget and all that stuff. And then he just disappeared. And I kept writing emails anyway. And then the phone rang and it was a guy said, ‘oh I’m a friend of Sam’s. He apologises for not returning any of your emails but he said that Donald Trump pulled out of the Iranian nuclear agreement. And enforced more sanctions against the country and as a result, there’s been some demonstrations on the street, and as a consequence of that, the Iranian government have turned the Internet off’.’ So that’s why he wasn’t replying.

“And then Sam phoned me and said, ‘look? You know, can you write to me ’cause I need an official letter to get a visa to come to England?’ So I wrote to him and I had to, you know post it by snail mail. Nothing and then Christmas Day he wrote an email saying they’d turned the Internet back on but they wouldn’t let him fly to England or the States. He said ‘I can do this in the Netherlands, because I can get a visa but if you’re prepared to travel, we could do it in Turkey because I don’t need a visa’. So I said OK and I found a studio in Istanbul. And I booked it and a hotel and I booked flights. Literally 24 hours after I did that Donald Trump sanctioned the assassination of General Soleimani. And the British government at the Foreign Office suggested you might want to avoid flying anywhere in that area, including Turkey.  The Iranians retaliated and they bombed an air base but they also blew a passenger jet out of the sky by accident. And so the day after that, Sam got in touch and said, ‘they cancelled all flights coming out Tehran’, which is why you see us doing that in Acton. And why Toby’s got his blue Bluetooth headphones on and my iPhone is on Skype and clamped to the monitor on the camera so that he can see what’s going on.

“There is another video that he did which we did in the same way which isn’t in the package because and it’s the video for ‘Uncertain Times’. ‘Uncertain times’ was actually Robert’s title. In fact we called one of the (King Crimson) tours ‘Uncertain Times, and I wrote the song based on that title. And the song is about is about the Brexit thing. I posted a thing up about the Polish centre (which Jakko used to visit with his adoptive father, who was Polish), and then I got all this abuse, like ‘why don’t you f**k off home’ – this as an adopted kid who lives in London…”

The song is one of Jakko’s starker moments, with bleak, deadened vocals, more angular dissonance from guitar and in the video, a montage of far right politicians interweaving with Union Jacks and tickertape, overlayed with graffiti effects and all lapped up by a gleeful onlooking character played by Al Murray. “It’s really good. In fact, I think it’s better than the other one, I’m an animated Banksy in effect!”

Al Murray also appears as the drummer on ‘The Rotters Club Is Closing Down’, and will be much better known to UK readers as a comedian, particularly his alter ego as The Pub Landlord, ironic given the track he plays on. “It was much more pragmatic than that. I wanted to put real drums on it and Gavin (Harrison) had played on everything and he was busy doing other stuff. Al takes drumming very seriously. In fact, he’s got a drum company, which has done incredibly well, called the British Drum Company. When we played in Manchester,  I think the factory’s near Stockport, he took us around the factory and it’s really impressive there.  It’s not just a vanity project –  it’s a serious going concern. And I knew more than anything that he loved the idea that he would be the only other drummer other than Gavin Harrison!”

And so on to the Peter Hammill connection. We are both huge fans and as I knew, but we’d not discussed previously, Jakko has a loose connection with Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator musicians going right back to the early Eighties. “I was making my first album. I’m a kid in a candy shop. I’ve got a budget. I’ve got a studio. And I can employ any musician I want virtually. I said to the record label, can you get hold of Dave Jackson (VdGG’s saxophonist) and he came and played on a load of stuff. He was a very nice man and I got to know his family and his kids who were tiny. I used to go and have Sunday lunch and then we would meet Peter because they were pals back then. So I got to meet Peter socially. We always got on very well and then more recently whenever I saw him he’d say, ‘have you started that solo album yet’. And I’d say ‘no’ and he’d say, ‘you’re mad, you must make it’. So the last time he said that I said, ‘I tell you what Peter, I’ll make this album if you if you agree to be on it on some capacity’. He said, ‘of course’, so that’s how that happened, really.

Peter Hammill’s contribution to collaborate directly in providing an ummistakeable, intro, parallel vocal line and coda to ‘Fools Mandate’ (Hammill fans will recognise the play on words in the song’s title) as well as further lines on ‘Separation’. I put it to Jakko, that, on first hearing about Hammill’s involvement, I’d listened to the album right through and falsely identified him as having provided the bass vocal line on the intensely personal story of romantic betrayal ‘It Would All Make Sense’, another of the album’s highpoints. I put it to Jakko that there were some parallels in their mutual tendency towards intense baring of the soul, which for Hammill himself peaked on the stripped-to-the-wire post-relationship album ‘Over’: “The accusation frequently launched at what is loosely called progressive rock is that the lyrics are always about …. whatever … and of course actually Peter Hammill’s lyrics are unbelievably personal, gut wrenching. I mean like a bit too much at times. So you know my approach to that is definitely influenced by him. You might as well express something within those songs and you might as well try and do them articulately. I place a lot of store on the lyrics. They’re the hardest thing I have to do I think. And you know the fact that musically we’re in some other area, surely that’s irrelevant. You know this is all about emotion and telling a tale and connecting on some level, but hopefully doing it in an original way.

“I don’t know about the actual singing (having parallels). His singing is so extraordinary – I can see how it splits the room but I think it’s brilliant. The first album I heard was ‘Pawn Hearts’ and then I worked my way back and then you know there’s a handful of solo records that were the soundtrack to my teenage years. “

Jakko’s solo projects are peppered with heart-on-the-sleeve manifestations of betrayal, either personal or portrayed (“Before I Met You” is actually based on a Julian Barnes novel), with him confessing that his next solo album, already in the pipeline is likely to contain “a high element of divorce songs”, as that’s what he’s currently in the thick of. Projects such as ‘The Road to Ballina’, an extraordinary spoken word/music piece which was originally aired on Radio 3 as part of the ‘Between The Ears’ series, and subsequently tweaked for release on Rsesurgence in 1997, is a slightly tangential example of this. (see the interview in Facelift issue 9) and was due to resurrect itself last summer. “I was going to work on a one man show that I was going to do in Edinburgh at the festival, which was based on a thing I did for the BBC. And I started working on that because I’ve got to re record everything. I was doing it with a guy called Richard Turner who does all the visuals for Roger Waters and other really big acts and it was being directed by Michael Attenborough. So we were going to try and bring this kind of audiovisual thing and re- recording all the music“. Hopefully this will still happen for next summer’s festival.

I suspect even tracks on ‘Scarcity of Miracles’ (Jakko’s trio album with Robert Fripp and Mel Collins) contained elements of these personal outpourings (witness lyrics such as “I spent a decade on the run, I escaped from nothing and no-one’ from ‘Secrets’). We talked briefly about how that particular project came about too: “the original thing was just me and him (Fripp) improvising in a room and at the end of that day as I was leaving, he gave me this box and I said ‘what’s this?’ He said ‘it’s a hard drive –  this is what we we played today’. I said ‘what do you want me to do that?’ He said, ‘I’m sure you’ll think of something.’ Robert does that. It’s a bit like the TV series on in the 70s called Kung Fu. There’s kind of Grand Master Kung Fu bloke who says all these enigmatic things and  you have to discover what it is that he said. So there’s an element of that going on.

“So I took it home and I thought, well. The obvious thing to do is to go through sections and say that sounds like a section and chop it up and edit it together. So I decided not to do that. And I just started to try and follow wherever it went. So I started improvising vocals, improvising guitars and then I started doing it in chunks like consequences. And then eventually days later just playing it from the beginning and hearing it unfold. And then we got Mel in and part of what Mel played I would then double and then get Mel back into double and do harmonies. So again you’ve got this arrangement which actually comes purely out of improvisation. You end up in this kind of organic way of writing that you would never have written normally.”

I asked Jakko about the compositional process more generally for his solo work, and whether the drivers for his songs tended to be the topic of their lyrical content. “It varies actually, you know sometimes I’ve got a piece of music and I write the melody in the lyrics over the top. Sometimes the lyrics come first and they in themselves suggest some kind of harmonic or melodic approach or mood. Sometimes they kind of happen symbiotically, Sometimes you play games. There’s nothing worse than a blank sheet of paper, you know. I’ve written songs where I’ve kind of  set myself a little puzzle. How can I move this beat around so it sounds unusual and unsettles people you know. And then the mood of that suggests what it might be able to support lyrically, I’m not sawing blocks of wood up and making cabinets in the same way every time.

“Quite often you’ll hear a phrase and that triggers off something else. Or you will have a subject that you would like to write about. You just need to find a way in. “

So concluded an extremely entertaining hour of conversation, with lots left untouched, most notably Jakko’s appearance at the Phil Miller memorial gig at the start of last year, the plans for King Crimson (lockdown has meant the cancellation of a large scale tour in 2020) plus more talk about the specifics of ‘Secrets and Lies’ (in particular the wonderful reflective piece ‘Under Lock and Key’, the reworking of ‘The Borders We Traded’ and the involvement in various guises of both Jakko’s teenage musician children). But given the huge amount of goodwill from Jakko towards the biography, Facelift and the Canterbury scene in general, I am sure it won’t be another few decades before we speak again!     

Jakko Jakszyk, Secrets & Lies promo image. August 2020. Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

To order ‘Secrets and Lies’ and keep up to date with Jakko’s activities visit https://jakko.com/

A brief US Histo(u)ry – written by Rick Chafen, published in Facelift 11, 1993

reprinted October 2020 as a tribute to Rick Chafen 1950-2020

Facelift expressed interest in our US touring network and how it came about, so I’ll use that as an invitation to wax eloquent and collect old notes and memories and thoughts.

In 1965, on my 15th birthday, I got to meet and spend house with … The Zombies, and English band visiting my hometown here in the middle of the States. This proximity may have been significant, for one of them mentioned that Englishcopies of the Beatles albums had 14 tracks, while their American counterparts had only eleven, meaning that Capitol Records could release an extra LP for every three or four… This got me searching for English copies, and English shops which would sell and ship to me.

By 1968, I was turning into a fan of Jimi Hendrix and Cream, contacting Jimi’s record company for tour itineraries, calling the venues during the gigs, and asking the folks who answered to just leave the phone off the hook so I could listen through the lines. Then, I found a gig that was only 600 miles away, so off I went, to Denver, Colorado. I had to first sit through The Eire Apparent, Soft Machine and Vanilla Fudge. The Soft Machine portion of the evening must have changed my life, for I haven’t recovered yet.

This gig set me seriously on the trail of ‘Import Music’, which I collected voraciously. I started seeking and reading newspapers from the other side of the Atlantic – like Melody Maker, which would be filed with new of other things I should try and find, and more of the occasional export shop.

By 1974, I had amassed a nice collection of hard-to-find, but marvellous music from other countries, especially England. I suggested to the program director of a free-form commercial FM station that he borrow some of my records, just to play the music for others. He said that I should produce a radio program for this purpose, and that I should call it ‘Her Majesty’s Voice’. For most of the next 15 years, HMV was a Sunday night fixture on various FM stations around here.

In the early days, 1974 and 1975, I’d write scripts to enthuse about the music and send those scripts, or extracts, to the record companies. I guess I hoped they’d like what I said that that they’d quote my comments in their own adverts or promotions. Well, I don’t remember ever being quoted, but the record companies liked what I was going enough to start sending me everything else they were releasing – well, Virgin and Charisma sent everything but many of the others just sent occasional care packages. Collectively, the results were twofold, lots more material to play on the radio, and more refined personal tastes, by listening to far more than would have otherwise been available.

In January 1978, I got a phone call from Gail Colson, who at that time was still joint managing director of Charisma. We’d corresponded for some years, but she called while in New York and announced that Peter Hammill would be performing in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco during the next month. I suggested in a quick geography lesson that he couldn’t play those three cities without passing over Kansas City twice, so all we’d have to do was get him to stop once. So, our first live concert occurred in February 1978. People came from hundreds of miles in all directions for the event, and I tried to get their names, numbers and addresses.

Our second gig was also a Peter Hammill gig, in March 1979, but then there was a flurry of them: Gong’s travelling Manifestival, an entourage of 22 musicians, including Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Harry Williamson, Yochk’o Seffer, the Zu Band, and more, played an outdoor (well, backyard, really) poetry gig one night, and an extravagant opera house gig the next night. Georgio Gomelsky even showed up for that gig.

Then we did a Robert Fripp Frippertronics gig in a record shop. But meanwhile, Bill Bruford’s band Bruford was touring, and Dave Stewart kept very copious notes on all cities, gigs, venues, contacts, promoters, phone numbers and reactions. Dave shared these notes with me, as I embarked on the unfathomable task of booking a whole tour for National Health for November 1979. Well, somehow, it happened.

During 1980, I worked extensively with Daevid Allen, who was touring with his Divided Alien Clockwork Band show – sometimes opening the show with a poetry reading cum history lesson, and sometimes with a lady vocalist accompanying herself on auto-harp. I think there were some 35 dates on his four cross-country treks – driving all the while – sometimes a broken-down station wagon, sometime a hired lorry, and God knows what else. I think Daevid was living in his car for a while, especially when it was broken into in Los Angeles and his guitar was stolen.

Mother Gong were next – late 1980 and through January 1981, Harry Williamson and Gilli Smyth did their prototypical Robot Woman set to backing tracks calling it Science Fiction Rock Theatre. But there was one dramatic difference from earlier tours – they flew everywhere. Certain American airlines offer unlimited usage stand-by airpasses to foreign nationals. This revelation could have served us very well, except that nobody else came to tour for a while.

I don’t know what happened in the 1980s – all of my contacts moved, or at least I lost track of them. In 1985 I lured Jim Pembroke, the astonishingly brilliant singer/songwriter/pianist – an Englishman who’s lived in Helsinki, Finland, since 1985 – over to our house, but I didn’t know what to do with him, so he played in our living room for two months, also playing a series of Thursday night gigs locally. In 1986, a Finnish folk/jazz band, Karelia, toured briefly, and included a Kansas City show, but these were the only evidence of touring activities in the Eighties.

Shortly after the Mother Gong tour in early 1981, Daevid Allen left the US and moved back to Australia, where I lost track of him. He’d given me the wrong number for his mum’s and I didn’t find him for six years.

But, in early 1987, when I found Daevid at Harry and Gilli’s house in Melbourne, everything seemed to gear up again. They all sent new music for the radio program, and a lengthy interview on the state of their music and their lives.

In 1988, Daevid left Australia for England, and by 1990, the ITV Bedrock series was occurring. My wife Martha and a couple of other people made it to Glastonbury for a Gong public rehearsal and to Nottingham for the TV taping. Everyone in the band seemed to want to tour America. I was the only person they knew who’d arranged such possibilities before, so they said I should do it again. Time passed and plans began to develop. Daevid agreed to be a trail-blazer for a month-long tor in March 1991. I had a hard time getting it going. I started randomly calling record shops across the country, asking if they carried imports, had they ever heard of Gong, and would they like to help sponsor a Daevid gig. Most people were of no help at all, but the beginnings of networking could be seen. I glot loads of new contacts, and eventually coaxed about a dozen people into becoming promoters. First requirement was that they were a fan, and the second requirement was a willingness to embark on the uncharted journey.

I collected enough deposits to pay for Daevid’s airfare and his US airpass. We had some tense moments on that tour – especially when Daevid was ready for his first gig, but his costumes and gear were still in England. He had to do the first gig without costumes, but only the first one.

I quickly made the acquaintance of an airline employee just dashing to London and back and managed to get his gear delivered to a hotel in London, and brought to Kansas City, where I put it on the next flight out to Los Angeles. I suppose little moments like this have created a sort of mystique for accomplishing impossible tasks, but I’m not the only one who’s resourceful. We now have over 45 people who I call promoters, all of whom try lots of different approaches, and because it’s a network, most of them are likely to hear from some of the others about what’s working.

As a network goes, it works in many ways. In some cities, the original fan/promoter makes all of the arrangements personally; in some cities, there are committees or collectives of fans who divide responsibilities and expenses. Some promoters also play in bands they have as the support act for our artists. Some promoters hire halls and PAs, some sell the show to clubs, and some simply talk clubs into letting the acts play there, and collect the proceeds from the door.

I’ve begun to refer to the network as the tour of the 4C’s – Cafes, Cabarets, Clubs and Cathedrals: however; during some tours, I’ve threatened to replace two Cs with Crises and Chaos.

Following closely on the heels of Daevid’s March 1991 tour was a tour for another old Gongster, Hi T Moonweed, Mr Tim Blake himself. This was another exercise in grandiose resourcefulness. In order for Tim to perform solo, he requires a computer, so I arranged with one of the promoters to trade out the cost of the gig in return for the use of the specified computer (an Atari, which is in widespread use in England and Europe, but not the States). This computer was rendered useless by airline baggage handlers after a mere two gigs, so each promoter needed to secure one on anything from a couple of days to a fortnight’s notice.

In August 1991 we were again graced with a Daevid Allen’s Twelve Selves tour, this time with the built in support act, Thom the Poet. Essentially this tour amounted to what we call summer re-runs, as it didn’t end up playing in all that many different cities from the March tour.

In October and November 1991, there was a Mother Gong tour. Things seemed to be escalating, but also seemed to require rather more glue to hold them together. This tour was also quite different in that I went to most of the gigs, actually meeting the promoters to whom I’d only been a voice on the phone. Usually, I live the life of a hermit, handcuffed to the telephone.

The tour of Mother Gong, a tour of four people flying stand-by, began in the Huntsville, Texas public library on a Saturday afternoon, while the library was open! The gig included loads of participatory activities: attendees writing their own poetry and acting the part of a tree at appropriate moments, for instance.

Two friends and I left Kansas City at 1.30 the night before and drove over 12 hours to arrive at the library, two minutes before 2.00 start time. That same night, a gig was set in Houston, an hour or so away. And, again, on Sunday night, another Houston gig, which was a shame really, as between the two there were barely enough attendees for even one.

But then, the adventure began! The band, of course, ,was flying, but my friend (also named Rick – we never get confused but some people do…) and I decided to drive along. Next stop: New York City, for a great gig in a great little club called The Wetlands. Then, on to Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland and Kansas City, where Mother Gong opened for Bob Dylan in a 300 theatre on one night played on their own in an isolated gallery the next. Then, the band flew on to Chicago and San Francisco without me, but with Rick in tow, and then they backtracked to Denver, the last date I managed, although the band continued with another San Francisco and two in Los Angeles.

As I mentioned, my appearance was quite a surprise to most of the promoters for whom I’d only been a voice on the phone. But it proved to be a great opportunity to merchandise and get a great start on a mailing list. By this time, Rob Ayling and I had launched Voiceprint Records, so the need to locate and stay in touch with fans/customers was very apparent.

One of our most popular tours – both in levels of attendance and receptivity – was in March 1992: Daevid Allen’s Magick Brothers. This tour was a bit hectic especially in terms of the tremendous amount of gear travelling with the band. They managed to get snowed in in Rochester, New York, for several days, but didn’t miss any gigs.

1992 was filled with diversity: a solo Gilli Smyth tour occurred in July, and our second Tim Blake tour in September and a bit of October. Tim’s last two dates coincided with the first two dates by members of Finland’s Wigwam. These two dates, Detroit and San Francisco, I also managed to attend. Now I know that Finland (and even Finchley, where Jim Pembroke is from) is a long way from Canterbury, but I’m quite sure that Canterbury afficionados could ery much appreciate the immense talents within any version of Wigwam. For our tour, often mistakenly promoted as a Wigwam gig, Jim Pembroke played electric piano and Pekka Rechardt played electric guitar, some of the finest heard on the planet.

Sometime during 1992, I decided that it was time for a Kevin Ayers tour, so I started telling the promoters that I would be able to offer them this tour later in the year. Kevin didn’t know anything about this until July or August, by which time my rumour had developed quite a lot of credibility. Kevin faxed me that he was interested in our 4 C’s, and I got a tour fixed for November and December. Then it happened that his European tour had been extended by several weeks, so I had to reschedule the whole tour.

In early November 1992, Richard Sinclair rang to say that he’d just done some solo dates in Italy, and was no longer reluctant to do them, so, since Kevin wasn’t coming round, perhaps he’d come and do Kevin’s dates. Great, I said, why don’t you call me two weeks ago before I cancel the whole thing? But, miraculously, we managed to put in 17 dates for Richard – in December – when we didn’t think anyone could tour successfully!

Richard did something which I thought was both brave and clever – he asked me to recruit supportive musicians who could join him for gigs. So he literally was showing up on stage in some cities meeting bands who said they knew his songs. So, that tour occurred with generous helpings of spontenaiety, and quite a few of the gigs remained solo performances, in which he played a remarkable diversity of songs from throughout his colourful history, as well as pieces in progress. Three of the dates had actually been Kevin’s at first, so Richard promised to play Kevin’s songs at those gigs – notably ‘He would have done it again’!

We had already scheduled a Richard Sinclair’s Caravan of Dreams tour for April 1993, before the solo tour occurred, so the solo appearances were supposed to help make the band tour more viable.

With the conclusion of Richard’s solo tour, we began to focus on what I started calling The Tour Of The Month Club, with Kevin Ayers in February, Daevid Allen’s Magick Brothers, Caravan of Dreams in April, Gilli Smyth in May, Phil Miller and Fred Baker in June, and Didier Malherbe and Shyamal Maitra in July. It was my fervent belief that all promoters could benefit by doing more, and by doing it more regularly. In this way, or so the theory went, each gig could include announcements about upcoming dates, hopefully already set in the calendar. But that was only the plan, reality turned out to be quite different.

The Kevin Ayers tour was a great personal delight to me, as I still credit the Soft Machine with giving me my ears, and this was the first time I’d ever seen any of them perform live again. I’d met Kevin in London in 1978, and done an extensive interview, but a solo performance was quite another matter. Audiences everywhere loved his shows, and we got the best press coverage of any tour – so good, in fact, it probably amounts to more than all the other tours combined. The one point the press kept picking up on was that in Kevin’s last tour he’d supported Jimi Hendrix. And, this was his first solo tour anywhere. By its conclusion, Kevin was ready to come back and paly another tour, perhaps even later in 1993.

About halfway into Kevin’s tour we got word that Daevid Allen was again suffering a lingering back problem and would be unable to travel. So, I had to cancel that entire tour. Then Richard Sinclair’s band decided to start two weeks later – on April 15, and Gilli Smyth thought she’d begin ten days earlier than we’d planned. This meant that two tours would be criss-crossing the country almost simultaneously.

As both record company and touring business escalate dramatically, we reached the inception of these two tours, I suddenly had to go to England on Voiceprint business, traversing the country with Rob Ayling.

This necessitated the creation of mountains of forms, charts, and letters to all promoters with flight arrivals for the band, departures information, and providing them with systems by which they can assess their interest and commitment for 8 or 10 upcoming or proposed tours.

I also imagined and suggested an actual travel routing for the next two: Phil Miller/Fred Baker and Didier/Shyamal. In this way, I hoped that promoters would complete the forms and return them to me for my use after returning. Since all this is at the moment still in the future, these outcomes shall have to wait for a later instalment.

As I reflect on what it takes to accomplish and maintain these tours, I don’t know how much of it is actually transferrable. It has required huge amounts of time on the phone, all over the world, and huge telephone bills; it also takes lots of negotiating, for dates, fees and terms. It takes lots of encouragement to keep the promoters going in the face of certain difficulties. Sometimes, the musicians require encouragement as well. There’s been a massive amount of networking, for going on three years now. It takes incredible passion and patience, and the endless commitment to resourcefulness – the certain belief that there’s always another way to accomplish things. And of course, somehow I have to be able to listen to all of the fanatics who call, and screen them to determine which ones are likely candidates to become promoters. But, I know it’s all working – tours continue, more and more promoters and cities continue to develop, and someday it may even start to run smoothly as I’d like, there’s no way I could quit now. As long as these glorious musicians don’t give up, how can I? Besides with Voiceprint issuing and re-issuing so many collectable artefacts, everything should continue to escalate.

Watch this space for reports on upcoming escapades.

Rick Chafen, April 1993

Our thoughts go to Martha and family. I understand Rick Chafen has contributed a chapter to “The Canterbury Sound in Popular Music: Scene, identity and Myth”, to be published by Emerald Press shortly

Homunculus Res: andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco

I’ve had ‘andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco’ in my possession for around a month now and the absence of any prompt review is certainly not down a lack of consistently enjoyable listening. It’s just that I’ve found this wonderfully inventive album somewhat difficult to write about.

First things first: it seems like I’m rather late to the party with Homunculus Res, a Sicilian band who now have 4 albums to their name stretching back to 2013, although the band themselves date back to 2010. They playfully hover somewhere uniquely on the Canterbury spectrum, alternately as quirky as Hatfield and the North, as brazenly harsh as Egg, and as whimsically tuneful as Caravan. Keyboards predominate, with a succession of gloriously dated sounds, and this competes as the dominant force alongside the wistful vocals of Dario D’Alessandro who also is the main songwriter. Other ever presents are the di Giovanni brothers Davide (keyboards) and Daniele (drums). Whilst earlier albums took on board RIO luminaries such as Dave Newhouse and members of Stormy Six, Rascal Reporters and Picchio dal Pozzo, ‘Andiamo’ is a songs-based album, with tracks clocking in at no more than 6 minutes, and extended instrumental interplay mainly limited to later diversions within tracks.

That said, the opener Lucciole per lanterne could almost be a Hatfields outtake, so convoluted are the changes in direction, the crooning vocals, and the instrumental mix which throws in saxophone, Geoff Leigh style, alongside blazing fuzz sounds. But even for the more succinct songs, within each piece there are seemingly mandatory changes of direction, time signatures and ideas, to the extent that the fabled National Health quote “you need 15 legs to dance to us” applies here just as aptly. You’ll need a knowledge of Italian to disseminate the lyrics, but an almost mediaeval feel to some of the tracks is presumably rooted (and certainly reflected) in the band’s name, a term describing the transparent representation of a fully formed human within the womb, incidentally associated with the alchemist Paracelsus (and there’s another National Health reference for you!)

Dario D’Alessandro

Music-wise, it’s all infuriatingly catchy with more than a hint of the familiar: ‘Supermercato’ dons a hat to ‘Lullabye Letter’ before heading off to full-on pastoral baroque noodlings reminiscent of ‘Girl on a Swing’ or the Divine Comedy, whilst ‘La Luccicanza’ serenades the listener dreamily, eventually endearingly quoting ‘Hey Jude’. ‘In Girum’ appears to invite the listener on board a relatively innocent fairground ride until keyboards are steadily destabilized both in terms of timekeeping and sonics. Elsewhere the keyboards are more hardhitting, with the bass grumblings of Tetraktys closer to nouveau-Canterbury band The Boot Lagoon.

Davide Di Giovanni

The songwriting highlight is the wide-eyed inquisitive whatsitallaboutery of ‘La Spia’ with all its sixties’ optimism, but if there’s some crossover here with Caravan’s utopian 60s vibe, a paean to a simpler life, Homunculus Res inhabit a slightly warped parallel universe – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the drivers of the project are all as mad as a box of frogs. But the bottom line is that it’s consistently interesting, innovative and above all, catchy – wander into any room in the Facelift abode at present and you’ll find a small army of Faceliftlings humming a snatched segment from this fabulous album. Whether the influences here are rooted in the 16th century or the 1960s, this is essential listening for 2020.

By the album digitally at https://homunculusres.bandcamp.com/

Physical copies are available here:

An interview with Theo Travis

Photo: Dianna Bonner

Although the revitalised Soft Machine consists of 3 instantly recognisable names from the 1970s’ band in Roy Babbington, John Marshall and John Etheridge, it’s Theo Travis I’ve ended up speaking to primarily at the end of recent gigs at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club and Manchester’s Band on the Wall. A performer of relative youth, he’s nonetheless racked up an impressive palmares that encompasses a decade in Gong, even longer in Soft Machine/Soft Machine Legacy as well as a long association with Robert Fripp. That’s not even to mention a long-established solo career stretching out to almost 30 years.

It seems like every surface I’ve scratched recently has revealed a Theo Travis imprint underneath. These range from a cameo role on the impressive Zopp debut CD; to a superb lost album with Mark Hewins called ‘Guerilla Music’, just re-released on bandcamp; to conversations with Leonardo Pavkovic and Richard Sinclair about gigs which eventually led to the reformation of Hatfield and the North in 2005; and most unexpectedly this week stumbling across his contributions on saxophone on the first House of Thandoy album above Mike Howlett’s marvellous funk bass. His renowned unassuming nature and modesty masks an impressive body of work, and he was an obvious initial point of contact when carrying out initial research for the Hugh Hopper biography.

Whilst familiar with Theo’s involvement with Soft Machine Legacy, a collaboration which dated back to Hugh’s involvement in the band in the Noughties (in fact the last time I ever saw Hugh was with Theo at Marsden Jazz festival in October 2006), in fact their paths had already crossed on several occasions in the preceding few years.

“The first time I met and did anything with Hugh, I think it was at the King of Hearts in Norwich (in 2002). It was a Burning Shed night of improvs andexperimental music and I did a set with Hugh. I think Christine, Hugh’s wife played trumpet on a couple of tunes, and then there was another Burning Shed night (in 2004), and again he was involved. Tim Bowness put them together. He’s a creative chap. The first one (predating Hugh’s involvement) was a kind of looping relay race. I don’t think that was with Hugh. That’s the first time I met Steve Lawson (the bass player with whom Theo collaborated and recorded a duo album ‘For The Love of Open Spaces’ together) –  that would have been 2002, I think. That was various people playing solo sets.  People would start and then hand over to someone else. Tim Bowness is always creative and has an interesting approach to music events, and so I played there. I remember that’s where I first met Markus Reuter too.”

Theo recalls that both of the concerts involving Hugh had also involved Roger Eno, brother of Brian, and based locally, as well as Reuter, Bernhard Wöstheinrich, and Peter Chilvers (the piano player, composer who developed the music Apps with Brian Eno such as ‘Bloom’). In between times, however, Hugh had also been involved in helping to contribute to a re-release of Travis’s award-winning 1994 album ‘View From The Edge’, which incorporated a bonus CD containing re-workings of all of the original tracks, in Hugh’s case an almost unrecognisable revamp of ‘The Purple Sky’. “For the re-release I thought it would be nice to have an extra CD of interesting additional tracks whether outtakes or remixes. So Dave Sturt (with whom Theo has collaborated extensively since 1996 on Cipher projects) did the one of ‘Psychogroove’ and then there was a live recording of ‘The Ghosts of Witley Court’. Hugh had expressed interest in doing remixes and I knew he was interested in creating a looping / psychedelic remix  so I said, do you fancy it, and he said yeah!”.

When Elton Dean was ill in early 2006, Theo Travis was approached to step in initially for Soft Machine Legacy to deputise, but this quickly became a permanent arrangement after Elton’s untimely death. Given Theo’s collaborations with Hugh over the previous 3 years one might have assumed that that was the primary connection. But there had been liaisons with other members of the band going back much further: “John Marshall I met just before the ‘View From The Edge’ album. That was ’94 when I first met him, because I knew Jeff Clyne, who was on the same tracks with John.  John Etheridge I’d done some jazz gigs around London, some sort of pub jazz things, middle of 94ish and then I’d done some gigs in his band. Then I’d asked him to guest on the ‘Secret Island’ album which was in ’96.”

I also pointed out the remarkable trio album with John Marshall and ex-Nucleus guitarist Mark Wood which would have been the first I had heard of Theo’s work. “Yeah, great album, great project – though I think we had more reviews than gigs or sales! It was a wonderful group.  The backstory was that I fixed up a rehearsal to go through somenew music with a bass player who never turned up! So we had a bit of a play, the three of us, and I recorded it and I thought, wow, this is amazing! When it came to the album recording , the only brief was that the tracks were to be completely improvised, and to keep pieces quite short!

“I was a bit gobsmacked at how good it all sounded, and 33 Records agreed to put it out. I applied for an improvised touring scheme bursary and in ‘98 we did an 8-10 date tour largely round the improv scene, just the three of us.

“We were a free improvising group that did not only play atonally or on drones. We would often improvise as a group moving freely harmonically and melodically around as a cohesive unit. That requires intense listening and responding musically and following the harmony which is not that common in free improvised groups. It was special!”

“(But) it’s a hard scene if you want to make something out of it. And some improv people thought we were too musical! I remember we sent a demo recording to Elton Dean at the improv club at the Vortex and he said, ‘is this free improv, I don’t think this is free improv’. Well it certainly was and I told him so. There was just more melody and harmony than often appears on that scene.

Soft Machine Legacy in Japan 2007 – Photo: Naouju Makamura

Theo’s involvement with Hugh in Soft Machine Legacy would last for a couple of years, until Hugh fell ill, and result in the 2006/7 Soft Machine Legacy album ‘Steam’, including heavy Travis compositional involvement, including the wonderful closer ‘Anything to Anywhere’ which featured beautiful interweaving layers of soprano saxophone. “I remember something that Hugh particularly liked when I joined was the fact that I did looping on soprano and flute, and I don’t think it was a secret that Hugh wasn’t so keen on the jazz rocky end of things”. And when I put it to Theo that it must have been intimidating stepping into the shoes of such an iconic figure as Elton Dean, he had this to say: “it was always made clear to me, the way Soft Machine always worked, (at least that’s what John Marshall and John Etheridge always said) is that when someone joins the band that’s where the music starts, it’s not a question of recreating…

“No-one ever asked me to play alto, no-one ever asked me to play more like Elton … it just wasn’t the way they looked at things. Elton did many great things but it wasn’t a case of you need to do it like Elton”. Later of course (Theo reckons from 2012) he was able to add keyboards which have provided the band with even more subtlety and variation.

I asked Theo about the airing of Hugh’s compositions within the band – it’s gone on record that the band try and reinterpret a Mike Ratledge composition with each incarnation of the band, be that a line up change or new album – latest evidence being a joyous rendition of the first half of ‘Out-bloody-rageous’ on ‘Hidden Details’, complete with Theo’s recreation of the introductory Mike Ratledge loopscape on keyboards. But Hugh’s compositions have also featured: “we played those ever since I joined. Right from the beginning. We played ‘Kings and Queens’, ‘Facelift’, there were a few Hugh things. One interesting thing about a year ago, we played the Conservative club in Lewes in Sussex and Brian Hopper lives near there and he came along and he played on the gig. He brought along Hugh’s original charts. Which was lovely, a lovely touch to play with Brian, he was very involved in the early stuff and was Hugh’s brother and had the chart which Hugh had used. He did tenor and I did flute. We’ve always liked playing Hugh’s tunes…”

Soft Machine Legacy, Japan 2006: Hugh Hopper, John Etheridge, Theo Travis, John Marshall

I’ve commented before that I’ve found the resistance amongst followers to the band’s more recent use of the name Soft Machine perplexing, particularly given the strength of the music. “There was this whole strange identity crisis about being called Soft Machine Legacy which I don’t think Elton was that bothered about. It was Hugh who didn’t want it to be called Soft Machine. But I just found it weird, because it does sound like a tribute band name. It’s got more members of Soft Machine, especially when Elton and Hugh were in it, than most so called authentic bands with the original name. I mean it had Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and John Etheridge. Of course it was Soft Machine!

“So what is Soft Machine Legacy? Is it not Soft Machine? I mean it’s not a tribute band. No-one’s got any sort of emotional attachment to Soft Machine Legacy, so what is it?  For me it definitely meant (that) when we dropped the name it was certainly clearer on the gigs, and when we did the album ‘Hidden Details’, the first album that was under the name Soft Machine, that meant something more important  to me. I coined the phrase ‘the first Soft Machine album for 37 years!’. As someone who’s into the whole rock history thing I think it means something.”

‘Hidden Details’, that first Soft Machine album for 37 years is a superb, multi-faceted album well worthy of the band name, and has been followed by a live release ‘Live at the Baked Potato’, which, as Theo eloquently puts it, “It’s a good version of what we do on a good night. It’s had a really positive response. I’m delighted. The CD, the vinyl, people like the recording. Yesterday I (even) saw several posts on Facebook and people were raving about the cover, which was nice too! Originally it was going to be a vinyl-only release, last October or November for the British tour for something to tie us over to the studio album which hopefully we were going to record this spring or summer. The vinyl was delayed until March and then we said that with everything going on we’re not touring this spring and it will probably be next year before the new studio album is released, so we’ll do a proper release (of ‘Baked Potato’) through John Etheridge’s label and Moonjune and Japan and we may as well do the full thing. We weren’t anticipating it, but it’s received a fantastic response.

“I received the multitrack recordings of the Baked Potato gig from Leonardo (of Moonjune Records) last summer and I was pleasantly surprised how good it was, – there’s a great vibe in the room. Everybody played really well. There was very little editing of any.of the performance ”

So what are the plans moving forward for Soft Machine? “We were supposed to be in South America in May and June and then that was off. We had some other gigs. We’ve got the British tour in the autumn but I think that’s going to be postponed. I’ve been busy writing new tunes for the next studio album which we’ll do whenever we can so I’ve been writing and demoing things for that. When we can, we’ll record, when we can, we’ll go on tour. Everything seems to be on hold for the moment so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Theo’s initial involvement with Soft Machine Legacy in fact dates back to a time when he was still involved with Gong, a collaboration which lasted over a decade through the Noughties.

“It was amazing. It was lots of things to be honest. It was my kind of taking a step out of the British jazz world into a more kind of progressive rocky kind of Canterbury world. Because as a teenager I was into, not Gong, but I was very much into Traffic and Pink Floyd and King Crimson and that kind of progressive world. I’d toured in 1997 with Jansen, Barbieri and Kahn with Steve Wilson, but Gong was the first proper crazy rock band touring I did. We sure had some fun. The States trip of 2000 was nuts!

Gong at Nearfest 2009 – Photo: Joe del Tufo

“Daevid Allen was wild and he was many things but he was definitely the real thing. He would infuriate people but at the same time he could be childlike. He was never malicious and it was hard to hold grudges against him even when he was out of order because he had a childlike glint in his eye even as an old man. He was very creative and he was a very good artistic catalyst. He wasn’t an ego man and was lovely.

I’ve talked to Theo before about his huge contributions to the album ‘Zero To Infinity’, for me probably the best Gong album aside from the Trilogy albums and ‘Camembert Electrique’, and Theo told me, “he’d been a catalyst – he’d want to encourage people to do things, he’d want them to write.  It wasn’t like he would say ‘oh, (only) my thing goes..’ He was a very communally creative spirit which was very nice and quite unusual for even, for want of a better word, hippieish band worlds. Daevid wasn’t like that at all. In fact he was the opposite – he was much more comfortable as an anarchist underground/grass roots person than someone in a commercially successful band. That’s exactly what happened in the Seventies, as I understand it, and that’s exactly what happened to the Zero to Infinity band.

Although he loved his time in Gong, Theo did admit that ‘Soft Machine is a much better musical home for me and what I do”. And in terms of the future, “I’m actually writing and recording a solo duduk album! So a mixture of originals, some with electronica, some with strings, and then a couple of traditional pieces and two  or three covers including Gong’s ‘Magdalene’, but my interpretation. It’s quite different from the original version.  I was obviously there at the original session (playing sax) , so I’m just taking it from a different musical angle. I’ve got a home recording setup here so it’s very much something I can work on  whilst I’m at home.

Theo buying his first duduk from Didier Malherbe, July 2017

Before then, as mentioned previously on these pages, in the absence of the prospect of imminent gigs, and hot on the heels of streamed performances by current Gong members Kavus Torabi and Ian East, Theo is gearing up for a solo extravaganza for his own, which he was just off to work out the logistics for after our conversation. On July 30 at 8.15pm he will be performing live: “I’m doing a one-off gig stream, it’s basically going to be solo, flute loops and soprano.”

Thanks to Theo for such an illuminating conversation, more of which will be available to read in the forthcoming Hugh Hopper biography ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ to be published by Jazz in Britain.

http://www.softmachine.org

http://www.theotravis.com

https://softmachine-moonjune.bandcamp.com/

An interview with Didier Malherbe

As part of my research for the forthcoming Hugh Hopper biography it was a great privilege to speak again to Didier Malherbe. If it was Gong which introduced me to Didier’s charms initially back in the late Eighties, this was very soon matched by exposure to his brilliant debut solo album ‘Bloom’ and as his solo career has blossomed, at one point in parallel to his gigging with Gong in the Nineties, but later primarily through his outstanding Hadouk project, I have made it my mission to collect every album, every collaboration, every connection of his. A bit like that of the man whose connection I was talking to him about.

I interviewed Didier back in 1998 when he was touring with Pierre Bensusan. I also helped to bring the Hadouk trio over to Hebden Bridge in 2011 and Didier solved a puzzle for me during our chat by revealing that the astonishing tabla player who accompanied him and Loy Ehrlich on that UK tour was in fact Prabhu Edouard. “Steve couldn’t do the tour so we played with him – he’s very good”. More recently I also wrote a feature about my quest to find his elusive album with Khampha Inthisane.

Hadouk Trio – Photo: Philippe Glorioso

Although Didier and Hugh’s paths certainly crossed  in the Seventies (“Soft Machine played as part of the Fete D’Humanite (Paris, 1971) – we were introduced after the concerts and we shook hands. They had piles of Marshall amps and were playing very loud”) and again during the autumn of 1974 when Gong’s ‘You’ tour was supported by Isotope, the first time they appeared together on record, as a result of the flurry of activity described in my interview with Harry Williamson, their paths didn’t directly cross “I came to Devon but not at the time Hugh was there, as far as I remember”. A number of projects which came out of the melting pot of Oxes Cross in 1981, one of which was the album ‘Melodic Destiny’, whose release has only ever happened on the GAS/Ottersongs tape label.  “We recorded with Yan Emeric, his real name is Yan Vagh, I still see him from time to time. We had a duo together so when we were there, Harry had this idea of printing some cassettes of Melodic Destiny.” This gentle but intricate folky project was somewhat pared down from the funky jazz fusion of ‘Bloom’ and I wondered why it had never been released, since, after all, many albums of worse quality, both musically and sonically, have been plundered from the vaults over the years. “Well, I don’t know either!  I think we didn’t stay very long together as a duet. That might be the reason. I don’t know if the format was commercial enough, the sound is OK.”

Didier’s unreleased album ‘Melodic Destiny’ (1981)

I asked if there had ever been any possibility to release the album on the coat tails of the brilliant ‘Bloom’ album.

“For Bloom, my first record I had the group, I gathered some people, Yan Vagh the guitar player (and Jano Padovani, Winston Berkeley, Mico Nissim) and then we went to a beautiful studio down south with Jacques Loussier and we did the record.  Then the guy who was supposed to produce and pay for the studio  went bankrupt. Karakos – you know the story, a long story. And so he got bankrupt, so I had to wait a year before I could find proper distribution.  It was difficult to find distribution.

“I finally found Sonopresse which was (part of the) Pathe Marconi division but they didn’t do anything. They did the cover, they used a very famous photographer to do the sleeve and then they kind of imposed this photograph idea, I didn’t especially like it, I kind of like the other side, with the spring shoes,  but not the one on the front….” When the album was issued on CD by Voiceprint in the early 2000s, it appeared with a new cover from Christine Malherbe.

Original back cover of Bloom
Original front cover of Bloom
New Bloom cover: Christine Malherbe

“We were supposed to do another EP but they were bought out by an English company, so they didn’t have enough money, so they preferred me to do a single. So I did a funny single (‘Danskorla’), which is kind of a song which is interesting, but the B side is fantastic. ‘The Bong’ Is much better with great musicians, African musicians. Really very good. And I still like it, although the first side is fun.”

Danskorla/The Bong – ‘lost’ Didier Malherbe single

And so the first genuine collaboration with Hugh was firstly Pip Pyle’s Equipe Out, then with Short Wave, which originally started as Hugh Hopper’s ‘Special Friends’ project. More of that in the biography, but we also had chance to talk about a range of other things.

Pip Pyle’s Equipe Out

I asked Didier about whether he had been experimenting with the doudouk as far back as Short Wave. “No,  I was playing the tenor saxophone. And flute, which were the instruments I was playing with Gong. And soprano. (Earlier) I played  Yamaha wind synthesizer. I played this instrument thoroughly for maybe 3 years and then I was really fed up with electronics and I came across the Zeff, which is just a harmonic flute, very simple, and as a matter of fact the Zeff, I worked a lot with it, it was very successful, I played it on TV, day to day music and also for Vangelis, it was very acoustic so it turned me on to the acoustic thing more.

Short Wave Live

“I played that with Shapeshifter. And I played it in Japan with Brigitte Fontaine. We went to a tour in Japan. Although it was a Japanese instrument the way I was playing it they were quite impressed! Then I got fed up with with electronics and cables so I came across the doudouk! And I carried on with it.

“I changed a lot you know. I stopped playing lots of saxophones. I stopped playing with drummers. I was always very much into playing acoustic things – I had a big turning.

“That’s also why I didn’t stay very long in jazz rock outfits. With bass and drums, it doesn’t fit the doudouk much. So I had a big turning at that time. That’s why I didn’t really persist with Short Wave, which is a shame because they were really nice musicians. “

I mentioned that probably my favourite document of Didier performing live is an extraordinary video with a master of the doudouk, Djivan Gasparian alongside Patrice Meyer “we went to Russia. That’s my composition (‘Serpent D’Etoiles’), it’s on Fluvius. It’s a nice one.” So was this during the early stages of learning the doudouk? “yes, I wouldn’t have played the doudouk on TV!. And he played along and improvised a bit, which was amazing.” I put it to Didier that he seemed to have a habit of going back to the source of an instrument’s origins to learn it, and compared his love affair with the doudouk to that of the khaen, the extraordinary instrument from Laos.

“Yes, we went 4 times to Laos. I’ve played the khaen for a long time because when we moved in with Gong in the last house that Virgin had rented for us near Chessington Zoo, I remember there was an old khaen on the wall, abandoned, and I became interested in the khaen. And then the poor khaen, it fell into pieces!” But Didier discovered the instrument again later “I was invited by the Laos French cultural centre, so of course I went there and I met some very good khaen players and I played some nice instruments although it’s difficult to get them tuned in. But anyway I went with Hadouk the second time and I went with my wife the third time, so 3 times.

“I am interested in playing very aged instruments with a long tradition – I bring what I have in me to mix up with the technique of doudouk or khaen, which aren’t very easy. With doudouk there are not so many notes, it is always fingers. It is difficult to master to have a good sound, it takes a lot of breath and it is not very noisy. The khaen is even more difficult because it (has a) keyboard – it is all very illogical. But I play a lot of khaen at the moment. I have some really nice pieces, I’m not sure what to do with, maybe a record.

Which brings us to the present. Most of you reading this will know that Didier suffered an accident around 18 months ago which has limited his ability to play “Something made me faint and my jaw was broken in two places. It’s a handicap – all this time I couldn’t play flute, I had to play straight flute. Fortunately there are lots of instruments I can play like the Ukranian recorder or the Chinese hulusi. But I can’t play saxophone. I’ve managed to play some flute since one week. So I play lots of flute. We try to keep our personal motivations but there are no gigs! No gigs until next year.

Before Covid, Didier had played a little in the last year or so: he appeared at the Hugh Hopper tribute gig in Paris back in May 2019, and also popped up at the festival in October at Gasny, “I do a solo act where I recite some poetry and then I play instruments – I was invited to a place where MASHU were playing”. This completes another neat Hugh link as MASHU (Mark Hewins, Shyamal Maitra, Hugh Hopper – Jack Monck performed at the Gasny gig) were another band Didier guested with back in the Nineties. Let’s hope that Didier’s health continues to improve and that circumstances allow him to continue to perform in the near future. Merci Didier!

For all things Didier, visit http://www.didiermalherbe.com/indexe.html

Soft Machine: Live At The Baked Potato

I was musing in the early days of lockdown about the prospect of not seeing live music for a while and working out who I’d miss seeing most. Based on attendance on gigs alone in the last few years, that would have to be Soft Machine, the four piece of John Marshall, Roy Babbington, John Etheridge and Theo Travis, who, since reclaiming the band’s name in its entirety a few years back have undertaken seemingly endless gigging as well as recording a very fine album ‘Hidden Details’.

Live at the Baked Potato’  which captures a 2019 US performance, and is available both as an LP and CD, to these ears is a superbly captured document of considerable sonic precision. In fact, at times, it’s only the free-fettered whoops from a charged up audience that remind you that this is a one-off take. But it is fairly indicative what you’re likely to get at a Soft Machine gig these days, blending a number of excellent tracks from ‘Hidden Details’ (and it by no means exhausts that particular album’s fine offerings) with some of the re-interpretations of Soft Machine classics which the band (initially under its Legacy moniker) have honed over the last couple of decades in various incarnations.

Photo: Mauricio Alvarado

I suspect that the live order which we are becoming familiar has been somewhat turned on its head for this release. The album starts with Theo Travis’s startlingly accurate recreation of Mike Ratledge’s keyboard loops for ‘Out-bloody-rageous’ followed by the main theme with guitar and sax romping through the Dobson/Dean dual lines with some gusto before Travis’s free-flowing solo eventually winds things back down. John Marshall’s nightly drum solo is truncated to the ‘Sideburn’ aired here, before moving on to ‘Hazard Profile’, usually saved for an encore. I’m not sure anything for me will now top John Etheridge’s jaw-dropping outpouring last time around at Band on the Wall, but this is still pretty mesmerising stuff, underpinned by Roy Babbigntons growling fuzz bass, and then by Travis’s keyboards underneath Etheridge’s majestic split-tone solo.

Things are immediately brought back down to earth with a lesser-recognised classic. Whilst the tradition of the Legacy band was always to incorporate an interpretation of a Mike Ratledge classic into each new phase of the band (and there’s plenty of evidence of that in this performance), it’s nice to see that Hugh Hopper’s beautiful ‘Kings and Queens’ is still a band staple. Those of you familiar with the ‘Romantic Warriors III’ extras DVD will probably, like myself have had Theo Travis’s haunting flute ringing around their ears as it loops continuously on the main menu. As then, this rendition is beautiful, with the building of layer upon layer of flute a personal highlight of the entire album.  ‘Tale of Taliesin’, the iconic track from ‘Softs’ is notable for the way in which breaks out from the beautiful melody to arguably the freeest blow of the album with Etheridge’s somewhat manic solo, backed initially only by Marshall’s rocky backbeat – it provides an unusually stark moment.

Photo: Mauricio Alvarado

It’s then back to the  more tranquil waters, with the outstanding duo of ‘new’ ballads: “Heart off Guard” starts off with a quote from the closing bars from ‘Taliesin’ and is a lovely mellow guitar and soprano sax excursion, an interpretation unique to this performance; before leading on to the  beautiful lament of ‘Broken Hill’. ‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’, re-interpreted on ‘Hidden Details’ later continues the more gentle vein.

‘Fourteen Hour Dream’ is for me a most un-Soft Machine like track, but none the worse for that, a pleasant dreamy flute-led akin to that of Patrick Forgas band, with a brief  keyboard intervention that reminds me of Quiet Sun’s ‘Sol Caliente’.

Photo: Mauricio Alvarado

What really works for this album, aside from the fact that performances are crystal clear, is that there are no dud choices in the repertoire, it’s an excellent representation of the band’s outstanding blending of old and new, with even ‘Life On Bridges’ not deviating into too fractious a freeblow away from its memorable theme. The album is topped off in style with ‘Hidden Details’, this band’s tour de force, the angular, abrasive title track from the first new Soft Machine album in almost 40 years, which has become this band’s calling card. I’ve found that posts on this Soft Machine don’t always seem to get the attention that they merit, or give the band the recognition that their blend of superbly performed old and new material deserves. Personally, I think it’s high time that people woke up to them.

Order your copy from https://www.softmachine.org/ or https://softmachine-moonjune.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-the-baked-potato

Photo: Mauricio Alvarado

A New Day Yesterday – UK Progressive Rock and the 1970s – Mike Barnes (Omnibus Press)

This is the second book based on progressive rock (the first was the Strawberry Bricks reference guide from Charles Snider) that we’ve reviewed in the space of a few months, and is such a colossus that I was reminded of the Forth Bridge painting analogy. Determined to snatch at least half an hour a day to dip into it, nevertheless by the time I’d got to the final page, it felt like it was high time to start reading from the beginning again.

With no less than 586 pages (even before we get to indeces and bibliographies), separate chapters on over 30 bands and a number of entertaining ‘divertimento’, this is an extraordinary project documenting an often maligned and misinterpreted genre of music.  

With separate chapters on Egg, Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North/National Health, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt and Caravan this book should be considered a major Canterbury-related work in its own right. That’s even before you start to delve into the later section on Gong and Steve Hillage, chapters on both Mike Oldfield and Camel, and an examination of Henry Cow. But there are lots of crossovers elsewhere too: the chapter for example on Roxy/Eno/Quiet Sun/801 is peppered with quotes not only from Bill MacCormick but also Geoffrey Richardson whose time at Winchester Art school followed that of Brian Eno. There’s also a few pages devoted to Centipede, who wouldn’t immediately be on the tips of your lips as progressive rock, but as apparently Keith Tippett argued, were “the most progressive group of the era” and that feels particularly insightful at the moment. You’ll also, obviously, find major writings on the ‘big six’ (ELP, Tull, Floyd, Yes, Genesis and Crimson) – with the latter’s Hyde Park performance in 69 the book’s real starting point; alongside other familiar suspects: Gentle Giant, Moody Blues, Renaissance, Barclay James Harvest and Curved Air.

Gong 1974: (Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty)

The strengths of this book are many: Mike Barnes’ easy conversational style makes this a very readable book. His knowledge base is solid, underpinned by many years as a music journalist, but the real coup is the considerable amount of primary source material with a selection of original, personal and often illuminating interviews with many of his subject matter.

One post in the Canterbury scene Facebook group implied rather churlishly that this book added nothing new to the Canterbury lexicon. That was not only unkind, it’s also patently untrue. If you’re an ‘expert’ in any of the particular bands you won’t necessarily be surprised at anything that pops up in Barnes’ succinct summaries of artists’ timelines, but the direct quotes may well provide new insights – as the recollections which have been elicited and used are often delivered in the same relaxed, personal informality as the narrative. What I found personally was that it was nice to step away a little from the context of this blog and be somewhat consumed by chapters of the book for other real heroes of mine (such as Yes, Van der Graaf Generator, Arthur Brown) who I have less of an extensive knowledge base for. It also got me actively searching out new avenues such as the impact of Graham Bond on the whole scene, or the flutatious noodlings of Quintessence.

Kevin Ayers 1974: (Michael Putland/Getty)

It’s hard to approach progressive rock without immediately being consumed by a prevailing image of pomp and overblown virtuosity and  but another of the assets of this book is that it does much to put it into its proper context: an extension of the psychedelia which had been reined back in after 67, the merging of disparate musical styles, the flirtations with orchestration, and the parallels as well as the contrasts to what ultimately swamped it: punk.

Barnes breaks up the book with a series of diversions: mini-essays on facets of the genre which don’t relate to any particular bands, and therefore give more of a wider cultural context: fashion, drugs, sex, festivals, politics, and journalism – relying on personal anecdotes of himself and others, with varying degrees of successful integration into the narrative. Away from this, an interview with Sonja Kristina is incorporated directly and reads very well. There’s a really excellent section on the emergence of punk and its crossovers with prog – a prevailing theme throughout the book is the thoughts of contemporary journalists, including Nick Kent, who as someone who stepped over the threshold into the punk genre both as a musician and reviewer, often provides a telling counter-insight. There’s also an interesting identification of 1974 as the genre’s ‘tipping point’ (Snider conversely identified 1981 as the point of no return), although the subsequent analysis of Yes’ ‘Relayer’ and VdGG’s ‘Godbluff’ perhaps give the lie to that.

Soft Machine at the Proms 1970: (Keystone/Stringer/Getty)

Favourite anecdote of the book has to be a teenage Jakko’s tale of being picked up by Henry Cow as he was hitchhiking from one of their gigs, and driven back to his parents for a cup of tea; whilst Steve Hillage and Bill MacCormick’s tales are equally as entertaining. And there’s probably at least another page of things I need to tell you about. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start painting again…

Buy A New Day Yesterday at https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Yesterday-Progressive-Rock-1970s/dp/1780389205

Magic Bus: The Earth Years

I’d been looking forward to seeing Magic Bus again at this year’s Kozfest. Their last appearance in 2017 there introduced me to their very Caravanesque vibe and the subsequent album ‘Phillip The Egg’ was something of a latterday classic of its genre. Since then flautist and vocalist Viv Goodwin-Darke has jumped ship and joined fellow Devonian psychedelic flag-bearers Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, leaving the band as a five piece.

‘The Earth Years’ is the band’s fourth album and compositionally seems to rein things in a little, with its eight songs all clocking in at between 3 and 7 minutes.  Centre stage is very much vocalist/guitarist Paul Evans’ dipped out tunes – think Gong’s ‘And You Tried So Hard’ as a starting point.  There’s still some of the precise, stop start time changes within pieces, witness the opener ‘Easy Om’, but much less of the lengthier compositions from previous albums which showed off the stellar keyboard riffs of Jay Darlington and the occasional biting interventions of lead guitar.

Most of the time ‘The Earth Years’ is a pleasant ramble through late Sixties flowery songwriting, with understated Hammond and other organ sounds alongside Evans’ Pye Hastings-like strumming. If overall the impact of this album doesn’t quite match its predecessor, it will still leave you with its songs ringing around your head indelibly. The drumming in particular is subtle, precise and a real highpoint throughout.

Occasionally a section makes you sit up – the contrast between the watery vocalising and the sharp strummed riffs on ‘The Road to La Mezquita’, for example.  ‘Barleycorn’, once it steps up a gear, has some lovely vocal lines and sharp rhythms punctuating the sitar and organ backdrop with just a hint that the Bus might be returning to the more obtuse Van der Graaf gallumphing that works so well – there’s even a hint of the Om Riff thrown in to boot.

Probably best of the lot comes from some lovely dreamy interplay between organ, guitars, and drums on ‘Squirrel’ over an undulating bass line – this type of extended instrumental workout, with its very Caravan-like conclusion leaves rather a nice taste in the mouth towards the end of the album. And as we adjust to the prospect of a season with little outdoors frivolity, the final track of this album, ‘We Are One’ at least points onwards towards a summer of happy vibes between your ears….

The Earth Years is released on 19th June. Order it in a variety of formats at:

https://magicbus2.bandcamp.com/merch

An interview with Dave Radford

Dave Radford – photo: Hans Voigt

I’ve told this story before but in the early days of Facelift, probably late 1989 or early 1990 I was in regular correspondence with Hugh Hopper who did his utmost to try and support the fanzine in its infancy. This started initially with a pseudo-grumpy postcard asking why he hadn’t had a copy (the fanzine after all bore the name of one of his more celebrated compositions). One of the earliest letters I received from him included a typed list of around 30 odd addresses of ‘people I should contact’, a fairly heady mix of musicians (Richard Sinclair, Elton Dean, Phil Miller, Robert Wyatt, Pip Pyle); people whose names I knew the context of (Steve Lake, champion of Hugh’s work in the 70s in Melody Maker and Manfred Bress, editor of Canterbury Nachrichten, Facelift’s German sister); and a few names that I didn’t. One of the latter was Dave Radford, with the only clue being in the address: Canterbury Indoor Market etc etc.

I am ashamed to say that I didn’t follow a lot of these leads up, but eventually ended up in contact with most of them anyway. With Dave Radford it eventually, I think was because he stocked a few Facelift in his long-standing record shop. I certainly corresponded with him about his band Gizmo and plugged their 1992 album ‘They’re Peeling Onions In the Cellar’. Unknown to me at the time Hugh also ended up recording with Dave, gigging with him, and even helping out in his shop! All of this, plus the fact that Dave, as a teenager, had been part of a collective putting on gigs in Canterbury including many names familiar and beloved to readers of this blog, meant that speaking to Dave, a good friend of Hugh, was an absolute delight at the start of my research for the Hugh Hopper biography.

We started off by talking about a series of gigs Dave and associates put on in 1971 and ‘72 in a variety of venues in Canterbury “It was just a fluke thing”, Dave tells me modestly. “There were 6 of us started it up and called it Haxmady because we were talking in a shop and it was around Christmas. Somebody muddled up the words, Xmas etc and all the words that were there, and (we) got Haxmady out of it. It was my wife Chris, Geoff Brewster, Rose Cook and Dave Brettingham, and (the late) Phil Martin who was a local guy who later became a roving hurdy gurdy man!”

Dave is currently posting pictures on Facebook on a daily basis of posters of the Haxmady concerts, which included appearances from Egg, Delivery, Kevin Ayers, Matching Mole and Soft Machine as well as many others from early Seventies alternative music culture, usually with backing from local Canterbury bands.

Most gigs were at St Thomas’ Hall on Burgate, a working Catholic church hall “in the end, the caretaker was just fed up with finding bucket fulls of roaches! Which was fair enough, I suppose!” but even in full swing it was not without its limitations “there was a hell of a staircase to the back of the stage which was awful, which all the gear had to come up”. Attendances varied but rarely exceeded 250.

Some of the impetus for the series of gigs appeared to have come from The Great Medicine Ball, a local festival the previous year.  “It went from America over to Europe all being filmed by Warner Brothers and ended up at Bishopbourne. It was a free festival and was very hippy but I don’t think the film ever came out. We went there, there were 200 people and it was Rod Stewart and the Faces, I think Daddy Longlegs, Pink Floyd, I think Mott The Hoople played, and there were other people.  I think Richard Chamberlain was definitely there, sitting right in front of us! And it was brilliant! All free but hardly anyone went.“

Stoneground had also appeared at the Medicine Ball and were another later Haxmady promotion, this time up at the University. “We did a couple up at the uni, because I knew the social secretary there, John, from Beckenham”. One memorable near miss was David Bowie “Phil got a job in an agency and got a lot of private numbers, including McCartney and Bowie. And he phoned Bowie to have him at St Thomas’. At first he was a bit offish, and then once he had sorted himself out and realised that Phil was harmless he couldn’t get him off the phone! And we got him for £200 but he needed a grand piano! And we couldn’t get a grand piano up those stairs. So I approached John at the university and he was well into it, because he came from London anyway and he knew all about how well he was doing. And he put it to the Students’ Union and none of them wanted him to play there. Because he was a ‘has been!’ It coincided with Ziggy Stardust! It’s madness! But there was no way we could have done it at St Thomas’. So we just gave up on it!”

Other venues were the Marlowe Theatre  and also the Westgate Hall. “We also did Stackridge, they did a Christmas type pantomime thing that sold out right throughout the country and we did it at Herne Bay with a very small audience but it was sold out everywhere else”. Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come on the other hand played three times, “It was fantastic, and (he was) one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s just lovely. Kingdom Come – we took them on at St Thomas’ Hall twice and once at Drill Hall, which was falling down, and the police tried stopping it because of the volume” (rather than as a fire hazard, as I suggested to Dave). “I don’t know if you know the Kingdom Come stuff. You know the bit “This is the gig to end all gigs, this is the night of the pigs!” – they put that in just as the police came in, which was brilliant! And I tell you who were playing with them as support – the Supersister band. They were very good.

Gigs even decamped briefly further afield. “We tried doing a few in Edinburgh Cathedral. The first one we did was John Martyn and Al Stewart. John Martyn – what a guy – so nice. He came up from Hastings on a train with an AC30, his guitar and Al Stewart flew in from Amsterdam, went to his hotel and got a taxi! So different, the two of them. I remember that gig, John Martyn being fantastic. And then we put another one on, we put Third Ear Band on, but it fell through, one of them was ill, I believe, and we put Quicksand on instead which was a bit Floydy, and I did a folky support with it, which was a bit nervewracking. I mean the first time we went to Edinburgh, we went in Dave Brettingham’s car, the second time we caught the bus up or vice versa.

“We didn’t even have a PA, we just went into the nearest music shop to see if they had one. Mad! The other reason (was that) it was like a try out – I got near enough to putting on Quintessence in Canterbury cathedral. Alan Wicks was the cathedral organist and music person at the time and I used to meet up with him. It was all fine and they were getting quite into it. Quintessence did one smaller cathedral somewhere and the writeups in the Melody Maker or whatever said about the smell of incense in the air and overnight they just didn’t want to know! “

Eventually the operation ground to a halt because of funds “it sort of fell apart because it’s very hard to get an audience. Soft Machine did quite well, that was when I first met Hugh. I’ve got the figures written down somewhere – you wouldn’t believe how few people went! I think everyone lost in the end. Dave Brettingham, he worked in a factory and I think he ended up paying quite a few of them because he was the only one earning reasonable money.”

Having been a teenager in Canterbury Dave was lucky enough to have caught Caravan in their very early days “I literally saw the first Caravan gigs, there was one at Westgate Hall for the art college and I would have been really young, and it must have been one of the first gigs they did. It was with Coloured Raisins, who were a soul band, which shows you how long ago it was, because there were a lot of soul bands around at the end of the Sixties. I also, I don’t know if that was the same gig but I had a giant poster which I gave to some friends who went to America, there were only 4 or 5 of them in the whole of Canterbury. designed by Kitch who I believe was Dave Arbus’s brother from East of Eden. It was a like a big black and white like Audrey Beardsley type of poster. I gave it away – idiot! “

Warlock (pre-Gizmo) in 1971/2: Dave Radford, Nigel Blow, Martin Judd, Dave Smith. On the wall outside Blue’s Playground where they had been rehearsing (formerly the Bee Hive) 

Dave was also, even back then, a musician, later most associated with Gizmo, a band who recorded 5 albums between the late Seventies and 2015.  But its genesis was much earlier “We were around even then. Things spark off other things. Martin Judd, the bass player (of Gizmo) was in Porcelain Frogg  but I had a band with Dave Smith the drummer, Martin Judd, and Nigel Blow – which was Warlock.  Now ‘Warlock’ (the track) was on ’If I Could Do It All Over Again’. And ‘Nigel Blows a Tune’ is on ‘In The Land And Grey and Pink’, and Nigel was the keyboard player with us! Someone (recently posted)  on the Canterbury scene Facebook group about Nigel Blow, Dave Sinclair’s cousin who wrote the riff on that tune, and I was thinking about this tape that I’ve got of us doing that riff on and on it goes, which would be me, Martin Judd, Nigel Blow and Dave Smith on drums!”. On the 1992 album ‘They’re Peeling Onions in the Cellar’, the album started with a funky, guitar-heavy version of Caravan’s ‘Policeman’. “Richard (Sinclair) liked that a lot. He said he’d come up on stage and do it with me, but it never happened.”

Gizmo album featuring Hugh Hopper on the CD version

Dave’s relationship with Hugh Hopper continued at the end of the Seventies when Hugh gave up music for a few years and amongst other things became a taxi driver in Canterbury. He became a frequent visitor to Dave’s record shop in the Indoor Market, as did other Canterbury luminaries.  “Richard (Sinclair) used to come in a heck of a lot – he would be in every day! Do you know he’s a really good carpenter? I know a couple of people who he fitted kitchens for. The shop was a few doors away from Richard Coughlan’s pub, which was the Cricketers. Pye I knew very well, in fact going back completely years because I used to live up the hill near the university, and Pye used to live up there. And I knew Geoff of course”.

Photo: Hans Voigt

Dave told me a bit more about the shop – he ran it for three decades from 1982 until he was given three weeks notice to up sticks. “With the record store I used to sell things as cheap as possible, and fast… For thirty years. The stuff I had through my hands you wouldn’t believe!

some of the Caravan rarities owned by Dave Radford

It wasn’t middle of the road – it was all rock or punk. I mean I like The Cure and stuff like that. I like Nick Drake, John Martyn, Beatles. If you hear something new which is very unlikely. I just like what I like.” Dave told me about a number of artefacts he’d kept including original reel to reels of Hugh’s ‘1984’, a 7” promo of ‘Place of My Own”, a copy of the original recordings for the Richard Sinclair/Hugh Hopper project which ended up being released in the Nineties as ‘Somewhere in France’ and a scrapbook containing all of the posters and photos of both the Haxmady gigs and a later set of gigs in the Nineties when he put on Gong and Tim Blake.

Original reels for Hugh’s first solo album ‘1984’

But back to Hugh:

“I remember him telling me about Whitney Houston doing ‘Memories’. And he was really upset she didn’t put it on the album because it would have seen him all right moneywise! And do you know within a few weeks I got hold of the French version of the 12” single which I gave him. But isn’t that weird, I wouldn’t have even known…”

Hugh also gigged with the band briefly. There will be more in the book about Hugh’s later involvement with Gizmo (he appeared on a Van Der Graaf Generator tribute CD called Eyewitness performing Gizmo’s cover of ‘House with No Door’ which also later appeared as a bonus track on the CD release of the ‘Gizmo’ album and still available at http://www.gizmo.uk.com/buy-online.html, Our conversation didn’t talk about Gizmo as much but interested readers should check out the extensive Gimzo archive at http://www.gizmo.uk.com/history.html, which includes a biography and full details of how to get copies of the 4 available albums.

 Instead Dave left us a nice story about Hugh helping out in his shop in the Noughties:

“Somebody on the Canterbury scene Facebook group said that he went into the shop to buy a Hugh Hopper CD and Hugh was behind the counter! And he said, “I was so embarrassed I couldn’t buy it!”. I wonder if he bought something else instead or just walked out. But another thing I remember very well. He’d been to Europe and then he went to Japan afterwards and I thought he was back from Japan. Two boys and a man came into the shop, I think the wife might have been outside and they were huge Soft Machine and Floyd freaks, the father and son in particular.  I think the other boy was a friend and he was on holiday from Belgium with them. And I used to have quite a lot of Canterbury CDs and they were pulling out the Hugh stuff and they were saying, ‘oh we saw him in Belgium blah blah blah’. And they said, ‘we’d like to buy these’. And I thought, I wonder if he’s back from Japan? And he was actually half way between Tankerton and Chartham, where the studio was. And I said, ‘There’s a few people here, is there any chance of signing a few CDs they’re buying?’ And, he said, ‘yes I’ll come via Canterbury’, and he parked his bike outside and he came in and got the father and the son and the son’s friend, and they were almost speechless. He signed their stuff and had a chat with him and went over to the studio. The son came back in the evening, he must have spent the day in Canterbury, and he said, ‘thank you for that, that has absolutely made my father’s holiday’. And they went on to try and find Syd Barrett, or his haunts.”

Hugh in 1996, courtesy of http://www.gizmo.uk.com/

Thanks to Dave Radford for being such a willing and open interviewee. Check out the gizmo website at http://www.gizmo.uk.com/history.html

Purchase copies of the ‘Gizmo’ album featuring Hugh Hopper (and other albums) at http://www.gizmo.uk.com/buy-online.html

Thanks also to Hans Voigt for the photos from his visit to Canterbury in September 1999

Follow the progress of the Hugh Hopper biography by joining the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1928474387265516/