Soft Machine – Leeds Jazz Festival 26 May 2023

Having missed Soft Machine’s two North West gigs over Easter, this one-off performance at the Leeds Jazz Festival was my first chance this year to see the band, in a rather unique space, the City Variety halls, once home to the Good Old Days, and retaining much of its olde-worlde charm, tucked away off the main drag on a busy Bank Holiday weekend Friday.

With a new album, the forthcoming ‘Other Doors’ recorded but not yet released (the compere flashed its rather fetching album cover from the stage), there’s a sense of waiting to see what the future will bring after the excellent ‘Hidden Details’ album saw a real musical rejuvenation of the band. Fred Baker and Asaf Sirkis are the ‘new’ rhythm section (although both are far from being strangers to the band), on the announcement of the retirements, post ‘Other Doors’, of stalwarts Roy Babbington and John Marshall. Fred appears throughout the new album, and his virtuosity we know all about on these pages, Asaf less so… First things first – he fits in superbly, with precision and a real sharpness, and although hidden from view from my own vantage point, he has a genuine ‘presence’ sonically, without ever dominating proceedings. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of him.

With over two sets of at least an hour each, the band ran through a blend of old and new: tracks are carefully selected from the back catalogue not for their iconic status, but for how they blend into the narrative of the night’s performance – so, you’ll get Penny Hitch from ‘Seven’ easing the audience in with a warm, enveloping vibe, before the newbie title track ‘Other Doors’ rips things up with the spikiness best associated with later Soft Machine Legacy and current Soft Machine music. ‘Visitors at the Window’ was one of two lengthy improv-based pieces showcased from the new album: its spooked intro, with scratchy percussion, rumbling bass and mellotron sounds from Theo Travis built into a somewhat beastly crescendo.

Theo Travis

‘Tales from Taliesin’ calmed things a little, at least for a while, until John Etheridge’s frantic solo, set only against a drum backbeat provided the night’s first transporative moment. Theo Travis’s superb stretched-out ’14 hour dream’, for me a most un-Soft Machine like track (and revealed tonight to be inspired by tales of the 1967 bash at the Ally Pally) was the obvious first set closer, but in fact was gazumped by one further fling – in a moment of genuine hilarity, Etheridge and Travis were already grinning from ear to ear at a ridiculously adept bass intro to ‘Gesolreut’, before Fred Baker decided to take it up a notch with an outrageous fuzz overtone.          

Fred Baker

Set Two started up with the title track from ‘Bundles’, with outstanding soprano sax from Theo Travis. ‘Fell To Earth’ is the second lengthy improv, a messy mélange of styles and themes, finally concluding with a riff not unlike one of Daevid Allen’s sixties guitar motifs. John Etheridge, who had maintained his trademark droll commentary between tracks – an early comment about missing a ‘B natural’ could easily have been as much a recognition of a persistent insect buzzing above the musician’s heads as a rare bum note – now settled into what is always a highlight: the achingly beautiful twin ballads ‘One Glove’ and ‘Broken Hill’ – proof that whilst fretboard virtuosity can drop the jaw, it’s those simple, beautiful manicured themes that really wrench the gut. The same goes for possibly the most eloquent performance of Hugh Hopper’s ‘Kings and Queens’ I’ve heard, all floating flute and warm bass angles, which might have been the earliest track from the repertoire we’d here, were it not for the stripped down version of ‘Out-bloody-rageous’, with nods to both Mike Ratledge and author of the book of the same name, Graham Bennett. My only gripe here is that throughout the band’s second set the sax in particular appeared way too low in the mix – whilst this allowed some superb rhythm guitar to be showcased, as well as accentuating some quite astonishing bass work, some of the impact of the intricate guitar/sax dual lines were lost to the audience.

I’d been waiting for a rendition of the excellent ‘Hidden Details’ track, and was not disappointed with the set-closer, although an added twist was that rather than finishing with the album’s astonishing guitar solo, the piece instead morphed into the bridge of ‘Hazard Profile’, an unexpected treat. The band barely made it off stage before the encore, which initially seemed to be intent to send the audience on their way in something of a reverie, thanks to a rendition of ‘Out of Season’ from ‘Softs’, but actually graduated onto ‘Grapehound’ from the first Soft Machine Legacy album, a jaunty, upbeat finale.

John Etheridge

The final memorable image of the night – following a visit to the merchandise stall and chats with all the band – was hovering around the venue considering a further drink, only to witness a vision of John Etheridge heading off, guitar slung over shoulder on a warm balmy evening, into the feral Leeds nightscape..

Other Doors is available to order here

Further Soft Machine gigs in the autumn in the US and UK.

The Phil Miller Guitar Prize – Birmingham Conservatoire 16 March 2023

The Phil Miller guitar prize is an annual competition at the Birmingham Conservatoire, conceived by Phil’s partner Herm alongside Conservatoire tutor (and long-time Phil collaborator) Fred Baker, with Conservatoire students competing for a £1000 prize and performing Phil’s pieces to an audience in the intimate Eastside jazz venue. This was the second edition of the competition: due to COVID and Fred’s touring commitments with the Soft Machine, for whom he is now a full member, the event has had a slightly wonky history, but looks to be a permanent inclusion on the calendar, testament to Herm’s desire to maintain a lasting legacy of Phil in the public eye (Phil’s scores have also been donated to the institution for students to peruse).

Portraits of Phil Miller by Herm Mew

The evening’s events started off with a performance of initially solo guitar from Fred, morphing into a three piece with bass player Mickey O’Brien and ‘new’ drummer Jim Bashford (Jim confided later that he’d been a student of Fred’s back in, I think, the Nineties). Fred started with ‘Calyx’ and moved via the first of the night’s three tracks from ‘Out of the Blue’ into the mini-band set, with performances of the classic Eighties numbers ‘Eastern Region’ and ‘Above and Below’ before finishing with a wild version of ‘Delta Borderline’.

Fred Baker

If I’d had any doubts as to who the competitors for the award might be, a cursory glance around the audience revealed them, as a number of knowing grins appeared from some identifiably younger faces in the room as Fred worked his way through a number of effects boxes and flying excursions around the frets. Highlights for me were a beautiful placid introduction to ‘Above and Below’ and the pulverizing thrust and counterthrust of ‘Delta Borderline’ – a tune Fred admitted that him and Phil had codenamed ‘Brain Damage’, such are its convoluted counterrhythms. He also let slip that he’d missed practicing the guitar whilst on tour with Soft Machine on bass, and there was a certain amount of letting rip here as a consequence! There are plans to perform Phil Miller material with this trio, and an initial thought was that this prequel to the main event might have set the bar rather high!

The Fred Baker Trio: Fred Baker, Jim Bashford, Mickey O’Brien

After a short break, the student performances began, each taking what appeared to be around 10 minute segments of various parts of the Miller repertoire. The nature of the music surprised me: this was almost an antidote to the Phil Miller memorial gigs in London in 2019, where a cast of many hammered out tightly scored compositions in the various denominations of musicians who’d been associated with Phil through his career. Tonight’s performances were largely singular and highly interpretative – at times almost only nodding to their original sources, but all reflecting facets of Phil’s playing or compositions in one form or another. It was uniformly excellent and at times quite breathtaking.

Adam Roberts

Alfie Dean

Oliver Canham opened up with a very impressionistic version of ‘Phrygian Blues’, in many ways the most adventurous of tonight’s performances with great use of dynamics and a real creative feel, ending with a lovely looped outro which faded beautifully around the room; Alfie Dean performed a lengthy version of ‘Truly Yours’ with incredible poise and sensitivity; Adam Roberts, tonight’s only student bass player produced an adventurous rendition of ‘God Song’, in two parts, the first a relatively straight picking out of the melody, the second soloing beautifully to a looped backdrop. Timothy Alan in performing an interpretation of ‘Green and Purple’ eked out a series of guitar lines so quintessentially Phil – no single note was wasted – that I was quite transported (and forgot to photograph the performer). It also somewhat brought the house down and one might have felt, in one’s own subjective way, that this rendition could not be topped. But the eventual winners, the only duo (Joseph Hiles and James Coni) stole the show with their mesmeric ‘Digging In’, with intertwining acoustic guitars trading themes.

foreground are eventual winners of the Phil Miller Guitar Prize 2023: Joseph Hiles and James Coni

As tonight’s events were all filmed from front of stage, there is a hope that this music might all appear on the Legacy site for you to make your own judgements, but what was without question was the joyous release of all performers getting stuck into a concluding ‘Nan True’s Hole’ alongside Fred and drummer Jim, the 6 guitar players all taking it in turn to solo, concluding with Fred. As with the memorial gigs at the Vortex, a glorious way to send us all on our way.

Nan True’s Hole! The Phil Miller Guitar Prize Collective

A few concluding thoughts: great to be able to chat to Fred and Herm and Lynette (who were all so instrumental in organisign those memorial gigs) and to meet Mickey and Jim who I’ll hopefully see again with the Fred Baker Trio. Great also to bump into an old Facelift writer – Martin Mycock, who produced many a fine piece in the magazine’s early days – we worked out we’d not met since convening at a Richard Sinclair RSVP gig in Chester in the Nineties. The walls were dominated by Herm’s 10 portraits of Phil – the miniatures you will have seen as part of the promotional stuff for this concert are extraordinarily almost photographic in their nature, but tonight was a chance to see them in their full glory, I would estimate each is over a metre in length; also it was lovely to hear Phil’s music piped through the wires before, after and between sets, a real treat. But the main thing I would say is to encourage any fans of Phil’s work to make it to the next Guitar Prize night – this was a night of unexpectedly high craftmanship and innovation towards the work of one of our scene’s giants.

Phil Miller’s Legacy site is here:

My interview with Fred Baker in which he talks about Double Up 2 and other Phil Miller projects is here:

Karl Jenkins: Penumbra II (Jazz in Britain)

There’s a whole wave of unreleased material of fabulous vintage being unearthed across at Jazz in Britain and ‘Penumbra II’, in addition to being of  clear interest to readers of this blog, might be one of the best yet. Dating from a lost radio broadcast from 1971, not long before Karl Jenkins jumped ship from Nucleus to join Soft Machine, this is a suite in three parts cumulatively clocking in at 30 minutes, (the length of a contemporary radio broadcast at that time). And it contains both musical styles and personnel common to both groups around this time, albeit that Jenkins somewhat turns the tables in that as bandleader and composer, Ian Carr (here on flugelhorn) is one of his subordinates (rather than vice versa as things were in Nucleus).

Chris Spedding

As detailed in Aymeric Leroy’s typically thorough and incisive sleevenotes, this session was so buried in Jenkins’ memory banks that he hadn’t been able to recall it in a conversation for the ‘L’Ecole de Canterbury book’ around 20 years ago (that was rectified for a more recent conversation specifically for this release, snippets of which appear within the 16 page booklet) – that’s perhaps surprising given the coherence and significance of this excellent performance. The 10-piece collective performing ‘Penumbra II’ is peppered with familiar names: Jenkins, Roy Babbington, John Marshall, Ray Warleigh and Alan Skidmore all had, or would have connections with Soft Machine; Dave MacRae would go on to play with Matching Mole; Brian Smith and Chris Spedding also appeared with Nucleus.  Whilst the opening movement, a 4 minute introduction, is really just a scene setter, the centrepiece is the wonderful second movement, particularly once it breaks out of a beautiful Macrae-led piano trio melody (on which Roy Babbington plays double bass). Babbington switches to electric bass and the piece is built around his admirably metronomic groove as the various band members whirl around him. Star of the show may well be the deft licks of guitarist Spedding but there are wonderful crescendos, strident blares, muted responses and exultant solos from the 4 strong brass section, as well as hints of later, more exotic Nucleus grooves, thanks to the augmentation of Frank Ricotti’s  marimba and congas to Marshall’s backbeat. This ambience of this piece is reminiscent of the wonderful laid-back detachment of 1970’s ‘Elastic Rock’, held in glorious suspension whilst tension rises slowly, is released, then builds again…

John Marshall

Whilst the highlight is undoubtedly this 19 minute second movement, the third movement will be instantly familiar to Soft Machinists, with a somewhat different version of what would become ‘Fanfare’ on Soft Machine ‘6’. At the risk of alienating a significant number of people here, I’ve always regarded the 6/7 era as a slightly muted affair, where for all the notable underpinning themes, the soloing sometimes seemed strangely soulless, stripped of the unpredictability of its predecessors, with ‘Fanfare’, with its flattened saxophone theme the embodiment of that approach. If that is indeed the case, then the version here is its antithesis: a multi-faceted blast with fluid soloing and upbeat interjections all around the room – its conclusion might be somewhat messy but is symptomatic of a rather joyous addition to our collections.

Roy Babbington

Hugh Hopper biography roundup of 2022 part 4

Final part of the 2022 story about research for ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’, to be published by Jazz in Britain

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

It was whilst in Canterbury itself at the start of October (starting a separate project, details of which I will share soon…) that I got a message from Steve Hillage clearing up another of my queries about the Steam Radio Tapes sessions on which both himself and Hugh played.

Meanwhile, on the Glass bandcamp website and the Phil Miller Legacy site, one of the most important Canterbury releases for years, namely the Canterburied in Seattle recordings, was appearing (a second even longer set of recordings would follow later in October), important for showcasing largely unreleased live collaborations and guest appearances at the Progman Festivals of 2002 and 2003 by the likes of Richard Sinclair, Phil Miller, Elton Dean, Pip Pyle, Fred Baker etc etc, and of course Hugh Hopper. Hugh appears extensively on the second set at in an all star pop band, and in the first memorably playing with Hughscore on ‘Was A Friend’, as well as a cut down version of Softworks performing ‘Ratlift’, but in truth these releases are just wonderful audio documents of latter day Canterbury music in action…

On my return from Canterbury I received some in depth thoughts from Matt Howarth, the American comic artist – Matt told me the story about how he had interviewed Hugh for his Sonic Curiosity  website in 2001 and this had led, at least in part, to the ‘Stolen Hour’ CD-R release on Burning Shed – the second of Hugh’s fabulous Noughties jazzloops albums both of which have been remastered and will be released in March 2023 –

There was also an email in my intray from drummer Laurie Allan, who I’d contacted about his various musical connections with Hugh, an exchange which was friendly enough but with little further detail..

Driving back from a second trip to Canterbury I’d started listening in depth to Caravan’s ‘All Over You Too’, which features a cameo appearance from Hugh on ‘Ride’. I’d already spoken a little to both Pye and Julian Gordon Hastings about this a while ago, but it struck me that Doug Boyle, whose imprint is all over the reworkings of classic Caravan material here, might have some thoughts – and indeed he did!

Doug Boyle – taken from Doug’s Facebook site, pic Carolyn Longstaff

Whilst in Canterbury, we saw the Jack Hues septet perform a mixture of originals and covers as part of their set for the Canterbury festival – after the Delta Sax Quartet performance in York, the second time I’d heard ‘Facelift’ performed live in 2022 – review here

Jack Hues singing ‘Sea Song’

On the same trip I spent 2 or 3 hours in the company of Brian Hopper in a sunlit back street of Hastings – a chance to catch up chat for the first time since the Phil Miller memorial concert in 2019.

Brian Hopper (left) pictured in Hastings

I woke up one morning in November to the most unexpected birthday treat, an email from near namesake Phil Howard, a drummer so elusive that he appeared to have disappeared off the face of the earth for the last 47 years. Phil gave me a few cryptic and pointed comments about the music business before disappearing back into the ether again!

Shortly after this, I got the lowdown from American multi-instrumentalist and composer Dave Willey on his ‘Immeasurable Currents’ album – Hugh made contributions to 4 of the tracks on this album having been blown away by Dave’s ‘Hamster Theatre’ band at Progman in 2002, although the CD would only see the light of day in the years after Hugh’s death. Immeasurable Currents is still available here:

In the very early 1990s, when I was first in touch with Hugh Hopper, he passed on an A4 sheet (long since lost) of people I should contact in the early stages to help with development of the Facelift fanzine. One name on there was Steve Lake, who I recognized immediately as being the Melody Maker journalist who wrote a lot of seminal articles on Canterbury scene artists in the mid Seventies. I never pursued this particular line of enquiry at the time, but tracked Steve down via ECM records in November, sent him a series of questions and then sat back in amazement as I received, over the next few weeks, a set of beautifully considered and written responses, alongside scans of correspondence which shuttled between Hugh and Steve during the 70s, 80s and 90s. A real coup!

An important initial contact at the start of research in 2020 was Tim Bowness – Tim, in his capacity as Burning Shed co-supremo, was responsible for the release of various CD-Rs involving Hugh (including Jazzloops and The Stolen Hour), but also performed live with Hugh at at least one of the Burning Shed showcases in Norwich, as well as including Hugh as a collaborator on his solo album ‘My Hotel Year’. We talked about all this and more during an extensive interview in mid November. One further bit of news right at the end of the year was the news that Jazzloops and The Stolen Hour would be re-released on Cherry Red Records in March 2023 at budget price.

Tim Bowness

At the end of November I had a lovely exchange of emails with Herm Mew, who I’ve met over the years a number of times as she often travelled with husband Phil Miller to gigs. Herm had already agreed to let me publish a wonderful painting she did of Short Wave in the garden at home, with Hugh in the foreground, but we talked in a bit more detail about the interweaving of her life with that of Hugh and others both in Canterbury growing up, but also in the late Sixties in London through to Hugh and Phil’s musical interactions. Herm is instrumental of course, in the Phil Miller Legacy project which amongst other things has posted many recordings which involved both Hugh and Phil here

And to round the year off, probably the most famous interviewee yet: thanks to a few connections facilitated by Pam Windo, I got the chance to speak to Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason – the context being mainly, once again, Gary Windo’s ‘Steam Radio Tapes’ sessions – we spoke largely about the use of the embryonic Britannia Row Studios to host these.

Nick Mason

Where will 2023 take us? It feels like the vast majority of interviews for the book are now done, although in theory there could be as many as a further 50 people I’d like to speak to! There are inevitably some avenues for research which won’t go any further but I continue to be amazed at how generous Hugh’s collaborators, be they fellow musicians, record label owners, friends etc etc are with their time and thoughts, even though I am often asking about things which happened in excess of 50 years ago. Please keep looking at the Facelift Facebook page for more updates in 2023 and put a few pennies by for when the book eventually comes along!

Hugh Hopper biography roundup of 2022 part 3

… in which we sum up the research which took place between June and September 2022 for the forthcoming biography of Hugh Hopper to be entitled ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ (to be published by Jazz in Britain).

Part 1 (January – February) is here:

Hugh Hopper biography roundup of 2022 part 1

whilst Part 2 (March – May) can be seen here

Hugh Hopper biography roundup of 2022 part 2

June saw the release of ‘Branes, the album Glass member Jeff Sherman did as a distant collaboration with Hugh, to go alongside the various contributions Hugh had made to three separate Glass releases – all are available at . Jeff spoke to me at length about various work he had done with Hugh in an interview we did in 2021. In June I also had the first of 4 exchanges with people who had taken part in Gary Windo’s ‘Steam Radio Tapes’ sessions between 1976 and 78 at Britannia Row studios – this one with guitarist Richard Brunton, who had also appeared on the ‘Hoppertunity Box’ album.

Things were winding down a bit for the summer break, but in July I managed to eke out a few words from Veryan Weston about the Oh Moscow gigs in Russia in 1991. And then right at the end of the month I was privileged to get the much anticipated semi-tome from Kramer, musical maverick and Shimmy Disc at . Kramer has much to say about the two duo albums he did with Hugh: ‘A Remark Hugh Made’ and ‘Huge’, as well as the shortlived supergroup ‘Brainville’ (with Kramer, Hugh, Daevid Allen and Pip Pyle), and there had been a suggestion that he might hold this back for his own memoir (which will certainly be a blast!), but almost overnight he was kind enough to pen and give me 15 or so pages of text about these and the never-intended-for-release ‘Still Alive in 95’ album recorded during Hugh’s first trip to Japan.

Staying with the Japanese connection, July also saw the release of a 6-CD box set on Esoteric Records of Stomu Yamash’ta material, including the 2 CDs which Hugh Hopper played a full part in, ‘Freedom is Frightening’ and the film soundtrack ‘One by One’.

Back to phone calls and Zoom for August and after a chance posting on Facelift the month kicked off with an interview with ‘Kip’ Stewart, who grew up with Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen and the Hoppers in Kent and had some entertaining stories of the very early days… And then a lengthy conversation with drummer Charles Hayward, who talked me through his involvement with Hugh for Clear Frame, Numero d’Vol, the Triklops project (with Lisa Klossner) and other even lesser known projects. A very illuminating couple of hours.

Charles Hayward

It was round about this point when news came through of the sad death of another drummer (and interviewee for the book) Trevor Tomkins..

September also saw the latest in a series of email snippets from American musician Virginia Tate – her unfinished and unreleased album with Hugh: ‘V’ remains one of the unheard mysteries of Hugh’s later output, although enticing written contributions about the project continue to arrive periodically. Electronic experimentalist Bernard Wostheinrich sent me a few thoughts about a Burning Shed showcase gig he did with Hugh in 2002 in Norwich, whilst an email to flautist/saxophonist Jimmy Hastings brought a friendly response in relation to involvement in Soft Machine’s Third and Fourth albums but, as would reasonably be expected, few specifics. This became something of a familiar theme as the year progressed …!

Bernard Wostheinrich

Another Schnittpunkte snippet following communication with Belgian guitarist Gilbert Isbin, this produced some details of a concert he did with Hugh in 2005, as well as a fabulous audio document here:

In late September I received a phone call from guitarist Gary Boyle; we’d spoken a couple of times in the last 2 years about the Hugh project, as well as an interview a little further back for the Isotope at the BBC release on Hux Records. The last time we’d spoken, it was in still during lockdown and I implored Gary to let me know if he played any gigs post-COVID (we live in the same sliver of Pennine countryside). True to his word, he did and my thoughts of his pop up gig at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge (where I had a chance to meet and chat for the first time – with some hilarious tales of Bilschen in 1969). Review of his concert here:

Final part of the round-up tomorrow!

Hugh Hopper biography roundup of 2022 part 2

continuing the story of research and releases during 2022 for ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ to be published by Jazz in Britain

(part 1 was published here:

March kicked off with an entertaining hour in the virtual company of Johnny Atkinson, chanteur extraordinaire whose band Hugh played with – Johnny appears singing vocals on several tracks on Hugh’s albums ‘Odd Friends’ and ‘Parabolic Versions’ but has made more recent albums here:

Eddy Moust was another of those lesser known names (to me) who had cropped up on Hugh’s timeline, a bit of delving revealed him to be a Belgian guitarist still active on the scene, and he sent me a few lines about his one off gig in a Dutch library with Hugh in 1985!

Eddy Moust

In the middle of the month Richard Sinclair popped up from nowhere for what turned out to be the 50th ‘live’ interview for the book, adding a few thoughts to the story he’d given me a couple of years previously – he has proven to be increasingly active with gigs in the second half of the year in Italy, which is great to see.

Richard Sinclair in conversation!

One of the great unexplained items on the Hugh Hopper discography, which I’d compiled early on in the research process (and which is constantly being added to) is the ‘Mind Capsule’ album, an excellent heavy riffing guitar project from Rob Sadowski over in the States, featuring a monstrously foot-tapping version of ‘Facelift’ including a guest appearance from Hugh himself. A series of email exchanges elicited the full story behind this release, as well, as later in the year two physical copies of the album, one of which I was able to give personally to Hugh’s brother Brian.

Mid March saw a series of lengthy email exchanges with keyboard player Steve Franklin. I saw Steve play alongside Hugh with In Cahoots in 1987, as the ‘odd one out’ amongst a lineup of Canterbury luminaries: Phil Miller, Pip Pyle, Elton Dean and Hugh, but of course he also collaborated with Hugh on both the excellent Numero d’Vol and Conglomerate projects, as well as a near miss for the North and South outfit which went up to Scotland in 1995. Steve got stuck in Bali during COVID and was still there when we communicated!

In Cahoots circa 1987: Steve Franklin far left

Another enticing entry in the timeline was a ‘Childhood Vigil’ at Canterbury Cathedral in 1990 with few further details, and I had a series of exchanges with Pam Mudge-Wood about this event which managed to combine appearances from various luminaries who may have included Richard Sinclair, Andy Ward, Peter Lemer and Ralph Steadman!

The end of the month saw me dipping my toes into researching another series of European musicians of whom I knew little. First of these was saxophonist Peter Ponzol who played alongside Hugh, Elton Dean and Joe Gallivan in Germany in March 1984.

Peter Ponzol

All of this digging into unfamiliar names and places got me thinking – Hugh had an entry in his timeline for November 1994 saying simply ‘dubbing fuzz bass on Morcheeba’. Could this by any chance be ‘the’ Morcheeba, the trip hop outfit that came to the world’s attention in the wake of Portishead, Tricky etc. The dates implied that if Hugh had indeed done a session with Morcheeba, it would precede even the own band’s document of when they first became active. I tracked down Morcheeba’s record label Fly Agaric, who turned out to be run by Ross Godfrey, one of the two brothers who founded the band, and after a couple of promising emails, we ended up speaking – the session did indeed turn out to be a long-lost, day long session for a single track in a neighbouring studio to the Spice Girls, also recording a debut single. Both bands failed to secure a recording deal!


A brief break from researching, off to see Soft Machine at the Band on the Wall, where we saw former bandmates of Hugh’s Theo Travis, Fred Baker and John Etheridge play a rejuvenated gig with Nic France including Hugh’s ‘Kings and Queens’ before opening up April with the first 4 way interview – myself versus two members of the Delta Saxophone Quartet, namely Pete Whyman and Chris Caldwell, alongside occasional interventions from previous interviewee Frank van der Kooij. We covered the story of the Deltas commissioning composers to interpret classic Soft Machine tracks (many composed by Hugh) for the 2007 ‘Dedicated To You’ album at Myself and Chris went off piste whilst waiting for the others to join the Zoom call when Chris went into the story of the three saxophonists visiting North Korea … more on this at a later date…

Sax appeal: clockwise from top left: Pete Whyman, Frank vd Kooij, Phil Howitt, Chris Caldwell

At the other end of April, to mark Hugh’s birthday we saw the first digital appearance of another track by Far Cry, the trio of Hopper, Hewins and singer Lisa Klossner, this one ‘So Sorry’

Further delvings into the German/Austrian hinterlands via communication with musicians who had played with Hugh in pop up bands at the Rudersdorf Schnittpunkt festivals in 2005 and 2007, namely drummer Wolfgang Reisinger and guitarist Armin Pokorn who both gave me thoughts about brief appearances with Hugh: sadly Wolfgang passed away later in the year.

Wolfgang Reisinger RIP

The Delta Saxophone Quartet played in York on 8 May: an abbreviated second half of their set consisted almost entirely of Hugh Hopper compositions and is reviewed here

2022 – Part 3 to follow shortly!

Hugh Hopper biography roundup of 2022 part 1

An update on the Hugh Hopper biography, ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’, to be published by Jazz in Britain. More to be published in the next few days!

Lots more research in 2022 with no less than 45 interviews or contacts with various musicians who collaborated with Hugh over the years. There were a few dead ends, and other exchanges were no more than a couple of sentences exchanged by email about fleeting collaborations, but there were plenty of  extensive interviews too over Zoom extending to a couple of hours. A number of recordings which included Hugh performances also appeared in 2022, whilst the Facelift blog included a number of reviews of gigs involving people who have worked with Hugh over the years. I’ll include details of all of these things in my round-up below…

The year started with an exchange of messages with guitarist Fred Frith, my interest piqued because of a one off concert in New York in 2006 alongside Chris Cutler. Fred told me not just about this but also of Hugh’s influence on his bass playing, and of reviewing, anonymously, Hugh’s work, for a British music paper.

Fred Frith

A day later, I received the first of a series of emails from Julian Raphael. Julian, who now lives in New Zealand was the co-ordinator of the Maridadi Singers, a Canterbury vocal collective who Hugh recorded a couple of tracks with for a limited release CD of the project in 2000. As some of Julian’s original files are now corrupted or lost, we managed to piece together the complete album thanks to the help of pianist Frances Knight, who composed the track ‘Singing My Way Free’, which Hugh contributes bass to.

The Maridadi Singers

Next up was a long anticipated conversation with Steve Feigenbaum, head honcho at Cuneiform Records and Wayside Music, personally responsible for producing and distributing high quality releases of a huge portion of the HH discography over the years. We talked about everything from his involvement in putting out the first Phil Miller album ‘Cutting Both Ways’ all the way through to Steve gaining the rights to release the (then) forthcoming Soft Machine 3 disc album ‘Facelift France and Holland’, and there is a fabulous story of how a well known rapper unwittingly helped support Hugh financially in his final days…

Steve Feigenbaum

Orphy Robinson, the renowned jazz vibraphone player and percussionist gave me an entertaining interview in early January about his work with Clear Frame, the free outfit which combined the talents of himself, Hugh, Lol Coxhill and Charles Hayward, (as well as, from a distance, Robert Wyatt).

Orphy Robinson

To finish off the month, one of the best and most informative interviews of the entire project: Hugh’s right hand man on so many of his European projects in the 80s, 90s and Noughties: the unique guitarist Patrice Meyer: Patrice spoke with love, insight and humour about his lengthy association with Hugh.

Patrice Meyer

In January there also appeared the latest of a number of Hugh related recordings from the Phil Miller Legacy website. This one, although not personally featuring him, is poignant as it contains footage of a benefit gig held to support him and his family at a critical time not long before his death – it also features many of the members of projects he was working on in his final years.

Many of the people reading this will be aware that there were a number of websites over the years containing Hugh’s ‘timeline’ of recording sessions and gigs (one of which is still contained in part on the Calyx website here: and will know that this remarkable document contains a number of anomalies and question marks about projects, in part as some of the 1970s dates were assembled long after the event. One such query was regarding a Stomu Yamasht’a gig in 1974 at the Drury Lane Theatre with an extended lineup. I contacted singer Maxine Nightingale, who performed at this gig, and trumpeter Henry Lowther, (who may have done), but neither could recall any specifics. Meanwhile minimalist composer Terry Riley was contacted over in the States, as I was curious as to whether his path crossed with that of Hugh on his visit to Paris to see Daevid Allen in the early Sixties – although interaction between Terry and Daevid is well documented, it would appear that Terry had left Paris by the time Hugh arrived on the scene. Terry was kind enough to reply to confirm this, and also left complimentary comments on Hugh’s bass playing with Soft Machine.

Terry Riley

February started off with a lengthy interview over the ether with Norwegian (but for many years resident in the UK musician and head of Compendium Records) Frode Holm – Frode told me the story of the label from record store to Oslo and London offices, the release of the ‘Hoppertunity Box’ and ‘Cruel But Fair’ albums and background to the subsequent Hopper Dean Tippett Gallivan tour of Scandinavia.

Frode Holm

During the 90s I was lucky enough to be on the mailing list for Carbon 7 records in Belgium, and more recently have come across the work of Univers Zero bass player Guy Segers, including some excellent Hopper-inspired bass playing on Mini Hugh for Dave Newhouse  Guy talked to me about Hugh’s influence on his own playing, as well as his involvement, as a promoter or audience member, for various Cahoots, Equip Out, Short Wave, Mashu and Hugh Hopper Band gigs in the Low Countries in the Eighties and Nineties.

Guy Segers

In early February, the third of a trio of previously unreleased albums by the Cortex, the three piece combining the talents of Hugh Hopper, guitarist Mark Hewins and saxophonist Frank van der Kooij, appeared on Mark Hewins’ bandcamp platform here:

Next interview off the rank was fellow bassist Fred Baker. Fred succeeded Hugh in both In Cahoots, and, after a long gap, in Soft Machine Legacy/Soft Machine, but for the purposes of the biography we mainly talked about the Progman concerts in Seattle in 2002/3 where both musicians appeared, indeed, alongside each other… As this interview also coincided with the release of the ‘lost’ Miller/Baker album ‘Double Up 2’ and Fred officially joining the Soft Machine, Facelift published parts of the interview here:

Fred Baker

Another little diversion in February was managing to track down Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti to talk about his involvement on the Soft Heap album in 1978. Radu could remember little about the recording session other than the origins of the track ‘Fara’ which he appeared on.

The release of ‘Facelift France and Holland’ in March seemed particularly relevant as on the 21st of the previous month I had a short but illuminating interview over the phone with none other than Lyn Dobson, stalwart of Soft Machine septet, quintet and occasionally quartet lineups from 1969 and 1970. Lyn gave me his own version of events…

A couple of days later came the first chance to see a former collaborator of Hugh’s in action, as Guy Evans (who played with Hugh in Mother Gong) took his customary seat behind the drums to play for Van der Graaf Generator at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Guy had given me his thoughts last year about those Oxes Cross sessions. The gig is reviewed here

Guy Evans

Right at the end of the month, the prolific Greek drummer Chris Stassinopoulos, who performed alongside Hugh on one of his last live appearances (in Athens in 2008) gave me his thoughts on that concert (which also featured David Cross).

Gong/Ozric Tentacles, Sheffield Academy

18 November 2022

I suspect the idea for this tour has been brewing for a while since Gong toured with Ozric Tentacles’ main man Ed Wynne as support a few years back. Two heavyweights of the psychedelic genre, whose paths have run in parallel, occasionally intertwining, since the early 1990s when the Ozrics reached their critical and commercial peak at a time when Gong were just reinventing themselves for the umpteenth time on Daevid Allen’s return to the UK. Both bands have undergone significant changes since: the Ozrics jettisoning many of their original members to focus around a core ‘family’ group, whilst still maintaining a prolific output; Gong ploughing on through the Steffe/Howlett, Theo Travis, and 2032 eras and latterly carving out a convincing new identity in the post-Daevid era, based around probably their most stable ever lineup.

Kavus Torabi

This whistletop criss-crossing of the country is knowingly labelled as a ‘Joint’ tour, complete with ripped-off roach poster and retro artwork. The band share equal billing in a nightly 3 hour assault on the senses: Gong open up for the first part of the tour, they will ‘headline’ later on…. It’s difficult to assess which band most of the audience are here for: the crowd are colourful, often wizened, possibly a more straightened-out version of themselves from 30 years ago (or perhaps not), but the fan-base I suspect is broadly similar. Familiar faces are everywhere, not least from the Kozfest diaspora – we chat to Snake, co-organiser of that fine festival, and it turns out he’s from the neighbouring town to where I grew up, I should have spotted the Derbyshire drawl…

Fabio Golfetti

The tour is largely using the ‘O2’ franchise of ‘Academies’, and we ummed and aahed deciding which venue to attend: across the next couple of weekends the Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester gigs are all within 90 minutes drive; none are within an hour. We plumped for Sheffield: Leeds was sold out long ago, we’d caught Gong and the Steve Hillage band in Liverpool and Manchester’s Academy, based on a recent trip to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor remains a sticky, muffly, impersonal barn. In fact most of these complexes have multiple stages and given the relatively small numbers here tonight (in the low hundreds), there’s a good chance that, as with tonight’s gig, you will get to see the bands in a slightly more intimate setting, which in the case of Manchester will help enormously. Tonight’s venue was a curiously arranged but not entirely unappealing room: on arrival the audience area almost seemed like a corridor between door and seated bar area, merchandise store off to left of stage next to the toilets, low ceilings adding to a sense of confinement. It did mean that everyone could get relatively close to the stage, but the band later expressed disappointment that there was too little room to set up their (normally mindblowing) light show. Overall sound was decent enough although the Gong mix was somewhat lopsided, more of which later…

Dave Sturt

Gong are in the process of putting down tracks for the eagerly awaited third studio album from this formation, it feels like it’s been a long, COVID-induced break in transmission since the last, although there have been plenty of gigs in the meantime, honing the set and confirming the band’s self-confidence in the very strong material they have written since 2016. If you’d just emerged from a 1990s or 1970s fug, you’d certainly recognize the Gong vibe even if you weren’t conversant with the material. Familiar recent paths are trodden: three quarters of ‘The Universal Also Collapses’, with the reflective opus of ‘Forever Reoccuring’ as its opener, the snappy ‘If Never I’m and Ever You’ to follow,  and best of all the manic, tribal ‘My Sawtooth Wake’, where in amongst a tightly curated rhythmic romp, Fabio Golfetti’s glissando seemed to be woollier and slightly more sinister than normal, whilst Ian East added wild, Windo-esque saxophone to add to a sense of nihilism. The previous album, ‘Rejoice I’m Dead’ was well represented too: Daevid’s legacy track ‘Kapital’ receiving its customary rousing outing, alongside ‘Rejoice!’ itself, from its spiky call and response intro all the way through to the exultant guitar centrepieces. I might bore myself somewhat in continuously raving about the Kavus Torabi guitar solo on this track, but if I could bottle up all the different versions of it, I’d happily spend an hour or two comparing their merits: it’s a breakneck but tortured exploration of the fretboard, like a Phil Miller on speed, where every note is fleetingly considered for its gut-wrenching impact before flying off elsewhere.

Ian East

On to the more unexpected, which as a Gongspotter is what I really came to see: three newbies (apparently there were even more unearthed on the summer European gigs): ‘Tiny Galaxies’, ‘My Guitar is a Spaceship’ and ‘O Arcturus’ . I’ll fully reserve judgement until I hear in their full sonic glory on release but all sounded strong: I recall some Magick Brotherish early Gong vibes (with flute), some anthemic multi-vocal parts, plenty of gear shifts, some unexpected time changes, lots of crashing guitar chords, grins all round… normal service maintained, really.

And then finally, the oldies: ‘Selene’ was briefly hinted at as the intro to ‘O Arcturus’ whilst the requisite ‘Master Builder’, was as transformative as ever, aided on its long build by the unexpected appearance on stage of Saskia Maxwell (she of Silas and Saskia, who we saw as support to Ozrics Electronica a few months back). Although aware she is a talented multi-instrumentalist (keyboards, guitar, flute, and possessing a fine voice), her main impact here was as a dancer positioned somewhere centre stage, a somewhat evocative moment as, I think, the first female presence with the band since Gilli Smyth’s passing.

‘Master Builder’ with Saskia Maxwell

One slight gripe is that of a few of the recent times I’ve seen Gong, that the sound mix has been a bit askew. Perhaps I’m greedy in wanting to hear equally all of Ian East’s sax breaks, Dave Sturt’s thundering bass, Cheb Nettles’ razor sharp drumming, Fabio’s glissando washes and Kavus’s incisive guitar work but it appears a struggle to find that perfect mix. Lead guitar was low in the mix tonight whereas on other occasions sax has been practically inaudible. The set concluded, as it often does, with the euphoric ‘Insert Yr Own Prophecy’. I would have been happy to slink off home, somewhat exhausted at this stage, but of course, we were only half way into proceedings.

Ozric Tentacles: Ed, Brandi and Silas Wynne

Gong’s band members (except of course their elusive drummer) emerged during the second half of the gig in dribs and drabs to watch the Ozrics from the vantage point of the merchandise stall, itself festooned with a range of new products: some fabulous new Flying Teapot T-shirts, the ‘Joint Tour’ merchandise, Ozrics T’s, badges, albums including the Steve Hillage Glastonbury 1979 CD, vinyl, all the fun of the fayre in fact. What came through from the recent Ozric Tentacles Electronics tour was Ed Wynne’s desire to move back to the halcyon days of output from the mid-Eighties onwards, albeit stripped down to a two piece with limited ‘live’ additions. But tonight here Ed (predominantly on guitar) and son Silas were joined by the familiar face of Brandi (on bass), intermittently by Saskia on keyboards and flute, and throughout by an energetic young Swedish drummer whose name I missed. Whilst I am probably parlant with every track the Ozrics have ever released, the names of them blur, particularly as the catalogue extended through the Nineties and Noughties. However what I can tell you is that the band tonight aired many of the classics from ‘Pungent Effulgent’ and ‘Erpland’: ‘0-1’, ‘Kick Muck’, ‘The Eternal Wheel’, ‘White Rhino Tea’ et al, as well as choice cuts from the wonderful early cassettes which preceeded them: ‘Sliding Gliding Worlds’, ‘Sniffing Dog’ etc. If later, more recent Ozrics material, although worthy enough, often morphed into a multi-layered, slightly indistinct blend of electronica, with Ed’s guitar breaks disappearing reedily into the general overall sound, this outfit not only provides definition between its various live components but crucially provides the platform for the band’s most valuable asset: Ed’s glorious guitar work. Kavus confided on stage and afterwards that Ozrics music was his way into spacerock at the end of the Eighties, and that mirrors my own listening experience after the long dark of the previous decade. …After 3 hours of music of pulversing and pulsating music, good company and a fair bit of gyrating to the music, we were spat out in the Sheffield night in a heady state, whilst the bands were already packing up to head onwards to their next port of call or, as Dave Sturt put it earlier today, to ‘levitate Liverpool’…

Jack Hues (with friends from Syd Arthur and Led Bib), Westgate Hall, Canterbury, 25 October 2022

The common thread running through my three recent visits to Canterbury are watching guitarist, singer and composer Jack Hues play live. Firstly at the ‘Canterbury Sound Day’ back in 2017, where Jack, in his role as local music lecturer, as well as practicing musician, was also one of the speakers. Secondly at a night celebrating 50 years of the Gulbenkian Theatre (on the same bill as Caravan and Soft Machine), and tonight, at the Westgate Hall with his band featuring members of Syd Arthur and Led Bib, alongside long-standing collaborator Sam Bailey.

This concert was part of the Canterbury Festival, a lengthy series of arts events which on successive nights at the Westgate, an appealingly spacious seated venue just the wrong side of the city walls, was hosting not just Jack Hues but also the mighty Caravan, the fact that tickets had long sold out precluding a commentary on that gig too, unfortunately.

Since I last saw Jack, somewhat distantly from our seats at the back of the Gulbenkian, I’ve become a little more familiar with his music: principally through the very fine ‘Primitif’ double album, ostensibly a guitar-driven vehicle for his singer songwriting talents, but notable for both the heartfelt starkness of its ballads, as well as the driving, transportative hypnotics of its stretched out pieces, notably ‘Whitstable Beach’  and ‘Winter’. This album is far from what might associate with ‘Canterbury’ music: rhythms are pounding rather than ever shifting; layers are provided by guitars rather than keyboards or extended instrumentation; lyrics are often bleak and heartfelt.

But tonight’s event, promoting a new live double vinyl album ‘Epigonal Quark’ (Jack promised to reveal the title’s origins but I think got so immersed in the night’s proceedings that it must have gone out of his head), was a very different kettle of fish – Jack has a number of alter egos (the most well known is his leadership of 80s band Wang Chung, recently back from a 6 week tour of the States). This one is the stretched out jazzy outfit, actually not the ‘Quartet’ at all, but seven strong to include 2 drummers, acoustic and electric bass players, keyboards, saxophones and the leader himself. Jack largely eschews his own material to perform interpretations of others’ work, and this is where it gets relevant…

Joel and Josh Magill

It takes some balls to tackle Robert Wyatt’s ‘Sea Song’ in what was its author’s own back yard. I’ve written elsewhere about various covers of this iconic Canterbury track –  tonight’s version acknowledged The Unthanks’ rather haunting interpretation a few years ago, Jack leaving his guitar alone to navigate a few minor vocal and lyrical twists with the band hinting at the song’s glorious coda between verses tackling it in full, this one a foot-tapping crescendo with the drums hinting at the full on assault of Rock Bottom’s final track.

Jack Hues singing ‘Sea Song’

Elsewhere, the band had opened with what appears to be their signature tune, a 20 minute excursion of Beck’s ‘Nobody Fault But Mine’, possibly a misleadingly sedentary start to proceedings; whilst an anguished ‘Myrrhman’, dedicated to its author Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) and complete with unexpected twist into Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, sent some knowing glances between band members and a few grins within the audience.

Chris Williams

The ‘Epigonal Quark’ album also features the Radiohead track ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, but given the strength of the largely self-penned ‘Primitif’ album it should be perhaps no surprise that Hues is at his best peddling his own material. ‘Tokyo Angelic’, featuring rich keyboard sounds from Sam Bailey, and ‘Magonia Heights’ are both from earlier eras in the Quartet’s repertoire, but by some distance the best is the splendid ‘Non Locality in a Sea of Electrons’, which flips between breakneck unison lines from Bailey, Hues and excellent saxophonist Chris Williams, crashing discordance, and dreamy moments of reflection – this is the track that reminded me of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks last time around. The mid section, where Josh Magill takes a muscular lead in a compelling drum duel with Mark Holub was arguably the highlight of the night.

Sam Bailey/Liran Donin

If it was ‘Electrons’ which brought the first half to a rousing conclusion, then I’d rather set my stall out on what I was hoping would be the finale of the evening – the septet’s version of ‘Facelift’. It’s perhaps not that well known that Syd Arthur’s Joel Magill used a Hugh Hopper bass for their second album ‘On an On’, tonight he provided the rockout riff (whilst brother Liam whooped from the audience), in what transpired to be a balls-out, heavy electric romp through a seminal classic. This band’s version stretches to around 15 minutes with many key moments: the triple lines of guitar, sax and keyboard screaming out its various themes, the thunderous undercurrents from the expanded rhythm section, but most of all a particularly eyecatching double bass solo from Liran Donin. I can’t quite believe that having waited over 35 years to hear first hand the track that spawned the fanzine, the blog, the Facebook group and hopefully eventually its author Hugh Hopper’s biography, I’ve witnessed ‘Facelift’ performed twice in 2022, neither time by the Soft Machine – the musical legacy lives on, not least in its own birth town…

Epigonal Quark is available as a numbered, signed, limited edition double LP (also containing a digital version on the accompanying CD) here

The Gary Boyle Band, Puzzle Hall Inn, 29 September 2022

Less of a review and more a collection of thoughts this one, but I didn’t feel I could pass this over without commenting on a really uplifting evening.

A couple of days ago I got a call from Gary Boyle, guitarist supreme, best known in these shores for his work with Brian Auger, Stomu Yamash’ta, Isotope and various bands under his own name. We’ve spoken a few times over the years, initially back in the Noughties when I wrote the sleevenotes for the Isotope Live at the BBC CD release, but more recently during research for the Hugh Hopper biography (to be published by Jazz in Britain) where Gary proved to be probably the most affable and agreeable interviewee of the lot, as well as furnishing me with numbers of some of his and Hugh’s more distant collaborators from the early to mid Seventies.

But, although I’d seen Gary play a couple of times over the years, this was probably the favourite performance of his that I have witnessed. He’d confided when we spoke a couple of years ago, when the world was in the first wave of COVID, that he doubted that he would ever get to gig again – the hands were harder to get moving again and the impetus to practice was receding in a world where performances were going virtual and venues had closed their doors.

The phone call had happened because we live on barely opposite sides of the Lancashire/Yorkshire border and he’d promised to let me know if he started gigging again. The venue tonight was the Puzzle Hall Inn, in Sowerby Bridge, just shy of Halifax, a tiny community pub which I believe has raised itself from extinction since the last time I went there. Word in the crowd was that Gary had played the Puzzle’s first ever gig, possibly in the Nineties, and I had also seen him play here many moons ago in its intimate settings.

Gary mentioned that he’d played a gig the previous weekend in Manchester, which he’d not been totally happy with, but tonight’s performance in the face a couple of mishaps prior to the gig, was wonderfully executed. Normally he would play his own material, but tonight, shorn of his regular drummer (Dave Walsh stepped in), his quartet stuck to standards, airing pieces from Miles, Shorter, Brubeck, Joe Henderson and numerous others; slick, warm, mood enhancing expositions of a very high standard; Gary with his mellow guitar sound stretching his solos out across the top of the frets and adding subtle licks elsewhere, and exchanging solos with an extremely fine pianist in Andrzej Baranak whose performance was simply mesmerising. Throw in a sensitive but rock solid accompaniment from double bass player Ed Harrison and a captivating performance from a beaming drummer and this was a gig you could never take your eyes off: we’d spent the first set in an alcove looking at the back of Gary’s head (his best side, he quipped later) before moving directly in front of the band for the second half, close enough to nick enough his drink if we’d chosen to (we didn’t).

I had a nice chat with Gary between sets: it’s the first time I’ve met him in person and he’s as humble and generous as he is friendly. The mention of an email exchange I’d had earlier in the day with Belgian guitarist Gilbert Isbin, who talked in florid detail about the Bilzen Pop Festival in 1969 (where both Gary – with Brian Auger; and Hugh – with Soft Machine – are captured on file) drew out a hilarious and unsolicited memory from Gary of the festival which I can’t repeat here!  

Gary confided that his amp had packed up on arrival at the pub but thanks to some dexterous work from Andrzej had been fixed in time for the start of the gig – set times were fluid as Gary moved through the crowd chatting, and the ad hoc nature of the band and its repertoire added to the ambience as announcements were lost in the hubbub and the band conferred on where to take the set next. For me, the contrast with a gig seen the previous week in Manchester could not have been more stark: a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert at the Academy was characterised by inflated prices, sticky dancefloor; muddy, echoing sound; the band positioned several cricket pitches away and visible only if you were 6’5”; and the audience edgy and stressed – tonight’s gig was funded by a magic hat handed around at the interval (donations appeared to be generous); the beer was cheap and excellent; sounds crisp and immediate; band up close and intimate; seated audience soaking up a warm and convivial atmosphere. Where would I rather be? I don’t think I need to answer that one…

Sophia Domancich – Simon Goubert: TwoFold Head (PeeWee)

Like all good releases, this duo performance by Sophia Domancich and Simon Goubert has found its way into my subconscious over the past few months, meaning that my largely self imposed break from reviewing has somehow got temporarily compromised by needing to put something down in print about this very fine album.

I interviewed both Sophia and Simon in 2021 for the Hugh Hopper biography – Sophia was charming and eloquent and kind enough to indulge me in an interview in English rather than endure my pigeon French; and later in the conversation was thoughtful enough to pull in Simon from a back room to add an extra perspective to their collaborations with Hugh. Together they were two parts (alongside Elton Dean and Hugh) of the Soft Bounds project which produced two albums, one posthumously, blending classic Softs/Hugh material with a whole raft of new pieces. Sophia’s association with Hugh went back to the first Pip Pyle Equip Out band (alongside both Elton and Didier Malherbe) but she really announced herself to Canterbury scenists as an unexpected fourth member of Hatfield and the North in 1990, when Central TV reconvened the band as part of their Bedrock series. It must have been intimidating enough for her assume the keyboard seat of Dave Stewart in full view of a fairly obsessive Hatfield fanbase, but she slotted into this jazzy update of the band effectively enough, even contributing her piece ‘Blott’ to the concert, captured on the TV screening, ‘Live 1990’ CD and subsequent video release.

A somewhat more coherent vehicle for her talents proved to be Equip Out’s second album ‘Up’, alongside double bassist Paul Rogers, Dean and Pyle, an uplifting blend of themes and free improv a la Soft Head, whilst her masterful solo album ‘Reve de Singe’ helped develop a solo career in beautiful lyrical style which has continued with apace and includes the acclaimed ‘Snakes and Ladders’, released in 2011.

Magma, Band on the Wall, Manchester – Simon Goubert is far right

What prompted my return to ‘TwoFold Head’ was unexpectedly witnessing Simon Goubert last month on tour with Magma; their 11 piece, vocal-heavy incarnation airing both new material and an old classic (‘Mekanik Destructiw Kommandoh’) at the Band on the Wall in Manchester. They performed a set of probably the most extraordinary music I’ve witnessed for a number of years. I knew Simon was part of the current band, but as a relative Magma non-afficionado had assumed he would provide a second set of drums to leader Christian Vander; in fact it is him that provides, amongst other things, the repetitive keyboard motifs which are one of the main calling cards of MDK, here executed in the most astonishing fashion with its 7 part vocal arrangement – he also provided memorable solo bridges between different parts of the opus. And so, whilst flicking between recent Magma footage on Youtube, I arrived at ‘Pause’  which contextualises ‘Two Fold Head’, as it turns out this very fine album is actually just the audio footage of an intimate, live in the studio performance of 7 pieces.

What you have here is minimal: largely a jazz-inflected, single passing of the hands across a piano with textural, empathetic accompaniment by Goubert on drums; on many tracks there is scarcely a beat to be found. Occasionally a second organ line finds its way into the mix, undetectable visually, often to add an element of disquiet or counterpoint to the main melodies, most notably on the opener ‘Cafard’. Domancich largely eschews virtuosity to purvey melodies of clear and evocative simplicity, nowhere better than ‘David and Nino’ – her ability to craft memorable themes before breaking out subtly into variations is really her strongest suit. ‘Stairs’ stretches out more freely, ‘Twofold Sense’, ‘Surface de Reparation’ too, but all start from that same contemplative source, namely simple, roaming piano or keyboard, before wandering further afield. The standout track may well be ‘Organum V’, which reverts to a repetitive, hypnotic reverie underpinned by uncomfortable counter-notes, and propelled by ever more urgent drumming. Watching this track’s performance in particular on video adds a powerful indication of how mesmerizing the duo must be live: pictures of the faces of the performers often show them, eyes-closed, in a trance as the tension builds. Their mutual understanding is almost telepathic and we’re lucky to have both visual and sonic evidence of this.

Buy Twofold Head at

Sophia and Simon play at the Au Sud du Nord festival on 2 September – details at

Elton Dean Quartet – On Italian Roads – full streamed preview exclusive to Facelift!

Thanks to Matt Parker of British Progressive Jazz, we have, for a limited time period only, an exclusive full stream on the Facelift blog of the forthcoming new release showcasing the Elton Dean Quartet live in Italy in 1979, featuring alongside Elton the late Keith Tippett, Harry Miller and Louis Moholo Moholo.

Canterbury scene fans will recognise a highly charged version of Elton’s epic composition ‘Seven For Lee‘ (Soft Head, Ninesense), as well as the track ‘Fara’ which also appeared on the Soft Heap album (and about which I conversed with trombonist Radu Malfatti recently)… plus much more besides.

Full ordering details below. The CD booklet features extensive liner notes by Riccardo Bergerone and Roberto Ottaviano but is also available as a download.

The CD Booklet includes dozens of previously unseen images of the quartet by Sergio Balletti and Carlo Verri.

On Italian Roads (Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979) by Elton Dean Quartet

Yes, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Those that know me well may recall that that there was a not so brief period in my early and mid teens when I was tangibly more into the band Yes than any artist before or since. My obsession extended to waking up in the morning having dreamed entire imaginary ‘lost’ albums, and I distinctly remember my excitement in around 1982, whilst in a caravan in France, hearing on the radio that Yes were to reform, somewhat tempered by the crushing disappointment of the subsequent release of ‘90125’. I rather lost interest at their new music at that point, and remain relatively unconversant in the subsequent group politicking, but as my own tastes refined and splintered off, it didn’t diminish the highpoint  of interviewing original Yes drummer Bill Bruford in his own home in the final days of Facelift. I still return to those early Yes albums, but amazingly enough had never seen any of their various incarnations live, a legacy possibly my early fan days, during a nadir in progressive rock recognition, when you just didn’t get to see your heroes; or subsequently when I couldn’t afford to!

So it’s something of a surprise to find myself at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, home of the Halle Orchestra, for the second time a few months (the first time was Van der Graaf Generator), hearing Yes perform the album that started it all off for me, ‘Close To The Edge’, that astonishingly polished, funky, exploratory and yet still relatively accessible album with its 3 classic tracks. Chris Squire died in 2015, Bill Bruford somewhat ostentatiously ‘retired’ a few years back, Jon Anderson has had his fair share of health issues but is currently preparing a counter-performance of the same album; and Rick Wakeman is doing other things. Add into the mix the fact that long standing drummer Alan White died suddenly a few weeks back (he was due to play on this tour) means that the current Yes line-up is somewhat removed from any notion of a ‘classic’ line-up, with only Steve Howe present from the original ‘Close’ members, albeit that singer Jon Davison, bassist Billy Sherwood and keyboard player Geoff Downes all have considerable previous pedigree with the band’s various post 1980 lineups and Jay Schellen, who fills the empty drum stool (somewhat poignantly as he was a friend of Alan White and had previously performed live alongside White with the band).

The tour is billed as a ‘UK Album Series Tour’, and I believe originally was due to perform, before COVID got in the way, the classic 1974 album ‘Relayer’, presumably as Alan White had also been involved on that album. However a change of plan was made a while ago to tie in with ‘Close To The Edge’s’ 50th year anniversary. In fact, the second half performance of that entire album turns out to be only part of tonight’s story: the gig is introduced by none other than Roger Dean, extraordinary album cover artist whose artwork is intertwined with Yes’ output from 1971 album ‘Fragile’ onwards. Alongside a tribute to White (backed by piped music to ‘Turn Of The Century’ from the ‘Going For The One’ album) , Dean somewhat elegantly managed to hint that he didn’t have the rights to present his own artwork in front of this audience, whilst also pointing out that he was on tour with the band for the first time since the Seventies. He was also available at the mid-session interview to talk to fans alongside an exhibition of his work including early sketches for some of the albums’ artwork, a charming and modest bloke.

Once on stage, the band launched into ‘Silent Wings of Freedom’ from 1978’s ‘Tormato’, an album so (deservedly?) unheralded I scarcely recognised it, before starting to dip into the heavy hitters: ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’, which really launched Steve Howe into public consciousness on 1970’s ‘The Yes Album’: here made memorable, as I’d anticipated, through the guitarist weaving through his series of contrasting solos at the end of the piece. I’ve seen debate recently on social media about whether Yes’ first two albums should be considered part of their seminal period – I’ve always had my doubts – but tonight ‘No Opportunity Necessary…’ represented that era, Howe pointing out that although his tenure in the band post-dated its recording, he had originally arrived in time to perform it live.

Jumping between eras ‘Does It Really Happen’, from 1980’s Drama album (on which Downes appeared), a track I’d entirely forgotten about, dominated by Billy Sherwood’s rasping bass replication of Chris Squire’s original memorable line, was unexpectedly one of the evening’s highlights, before the mood softened firstly with Howe’s guitar piece ‘The Clap’ and a faithful rendition of the band’s greatest hit ‘Wondrous Stories’.

At this point it’s probably worth giving you an insight into the current band both visually and sonically as it’s quite a curious spectacle: Howe is clearly the master of ceremonies here – although his often startling lunges towards the audience are a tad ungainly and unexpected – with a whole library of guitars to his left, wheeled out (sometimes on stands) by a guitar tech; his mastery of styles remains undiminished although his dexterity is perhaps slowing a little. Billy Sherwood, his expression rarely breaking from an apparently troubled countenance, grumbling bass often gloriously up in the mix punctuating those seminal Squire bass lines, and a fine backing vocalist too – we’ll skirt over for the moment the occasional technical mishap or bum note with his bass – his desire to slightly push the envelope was appreciated. And for dedicated progwatchers, he was the only one of the band becaped, with guitar leads apparently trailing from his coattails, seemingly almost bungeed to his amps as he frequently wandered towards Howe stage left but never quite got there… Jon Davison cuts a slight, trim figure with long hair billowing, presumably coiffeured from some unseen airvent; the fact that his vocal register is so perfectly matched to that of Jon Anderson’s is somewhat unnerving – his voice is clear, he never misses a note and amongst the entire band is the only one who oozes natural self-confidence… but those of us who have never seen Jon Anderson perform live could perhaps be forgiven for wondering if he has quite the same otherworldly  tinge to top end of the register.  Geoff Downes is way down the mix to the benefit of both guitar and bass: perhaps a nod to a desire not to try to recreate Rick Wakeman’s virtuosity, and stands within a U-shaped arrangement of a slightly preposterous arrangement of no less than 9 keyboards; whilst Jay Schellen, mouthing each of the beats as he plays them, performs diligently enough, without ever being allowed to stray into Brufordian realms of invention.

Yes: Billy Sherwood, Alan White, Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe

The first set concludes with two tracks from ‘Quest’ (last year’s new album featuring all members here bar Schellen) of variable but not entirely unworthy merit before a Sherwood-fuelled rendition of ‘Heart of the Sunrise’, one of the great bass lines tackled with gusto. This track is so hardwired in my brain that I was expecting Bruford’s subtle embellishments as the piece builds: no joy there but the interplay between the main themes remains extraordinary…

Often the second set of performances are more of a blur – nothing to do with any alcohol imbibement I hasten to add but more a testament to a familiarity with the environment and an immersion in occasion. Possibly also bands raise their games a little and/or the audience’s expectations is higher. Either way, the rendition of the entire ‘Close To The Edge’ album was mesmeric: the chaos of the opening 3 minutes of the title track with the seemingly random vocal interjections; the beautifully rendered reflective middle section; and once again a composition which builds and intertwines  so memorably. ‘And You And I’, involving Davison on an extra acoustic guitar was breezed through with fine vocals, until a high-octane rendition of ‘Siberian Khatru’ (alongside ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ my favourite Yes track) saw things off in style courtesy of an astonishing extended guitar solo from Howe.

Yes were (and are) such an extraordinary mixture of styles: wonderfully clear 3 part harmonies, driving, funky bass lines, nods towards country music, and classical references which at least until after ‘Close To The Edge’ didn’t stray into the pompous. This perhaps explains why that album for me remains the high point of the band, wonderful to hear 50 years on and it was for the most part expertly recreated.

Perhaps I could be forgiven for regarding the two encores as somewhat superfluous after the main event, but for the record, a rumbustious ‘Roundabout’ (where Downes and Schellen were finally released from their shackles) and an uplifting ‘Starship Trooper’ sent the punters home happy.  

Alan White 1949-2022

Catch the remainder of the Yes tour below:

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 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’….


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…

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

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!

Double Up 2 is available at

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

Phil Miller Legacy website is at

Fred’s master classes are at

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.

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…