Zopp: Zopp (Bad Elephant Music)

zopp pic

I’ve rarely seen excitement from various Canterbury uberfans to rival that which has accompanied the airing of a single sampler track from this debut album, and having been in the lucky position to have had access to the entire release for a month or so now, I can confirm that Zopp is a significant event in the pantheon of new ‘Canterbury’ music even if it emanates from a relatively youthful individual from the East Midlands!

‘Zopp’ is almost a lost album in the Egg canon, albeit imbued with a fresh energy without some of that band’s austere and self-consciously classical reference points. Ryan Stevenson comprises the vast majority of Zopp (the only other ‘constant’ member is drummer Andrea Moneta). Whilst Stevenson acknowledges Mont Campbell as a reference point in conversation, and even more obviously so Dave Stewart in sound, there is a lightness of touch more in common with the expanded instrumentation of Hatfield and the North, the comparisons helped by the fact that Stevenson doubles (or triples) on guitar and bass respectively.

The opener ‘Swedish Love’, with its high plaintive wordless voice (from Caroline Joy Clarke), in unison with keyboards, could not be more of an obvious reference point to Amanda Parsons circa ‘Tenemos Roads’, but it is not long before ‘Before The Light’ sets the project’s stall out fully. Used as a taster introduction to the album (you can listen to it here – tasty indeed) – the  blaring, weaving introduction eventually settles to a myriad of time signatures and keyboard sounds, instantly recognizable from the Canterbury idiom, before being topped off by cyclical Oldfieldesque guitar.

zopp cover

Possibly best of all is ‘V’ –, punctuated almost throughout by mesmeric pulsing keyboards. This also contains many of the classic Canterbury elements. Bass sounds wander around underneath keyboards which alternately ripple or fanfare stridently Dave Stewart style, in search of that perfect countermelody. This is also the track that Theo Travis is credited on for flute, although you could be forgiven for missing this in amongst the orgy of Hammond and Mellotron, whilst fellow Tangent member Andy Tillison, who guests throughout the album, is also credited here for piano. This is a piece which, ‘Newport Hospital’ style, returns time and again to base for its imposing central theme before noodling off for another fine solo.

Also right up there is the final track, the fanfarish, brilliant ‘The Noble Shirker’ where the main theme reprises continually, with keyboard soloing around it in more considered fashion – more Dave Sinclair than Stewart in its clinical quest for each perfect note. As this track develops, it’s clear that this is something of a statement, a triumphal squaring of the circle, an exultant conclusion that recalls Khan’s ‘Hollow Stone’, with the soloing sax of Mike Benson added to boot.

And for a while, those latter three tracks were all I listened to on this album, impossible as it was to wrench myself away from the repeat button. But there are hidden depths and slow burners elsewhere: ‘Sanger’, almost an outtake from National Health’s ‘Missing Pieces’ (or even Gilgamesh), with its dual guitar/keyboard dual lines recalling Alan Gowen and Phil Lee as much as Stewart/Miller, time signatures changing at drop of a hat – themes which are gentle but disquieting rather than soothing  until drums help to ramp up the momentum. ‘Eternal Return’ chugs along with a series of heavy organ riffs competing for space with a National Health-like guitar line, and the lovely piano-based ‘Sellanra’ is a brief moment of reflection amidst the shifting sands of its surroundings. And I’m still discovering new elements on practically every repeated listen.

Zopp is a quite superb project and album, instantly recognisable in all its challenging glory for lovers of the Canterbury genre – how lucky we are to have such a fresh and innovative interpretation of familiar styles 50 years on.

Order Zopp at https://zopp.bandcamp.com/

Discus Music


A short and well overdue post regarding the label Discus Music, Sheffield’s innovative and well-regarded music label which is at the forefront of new releases varying from leftfield rock to jazz and songform, and which also features many musicians fondly regarded by fans of the Canterbury scene.

The label is a champion of releases from Keith Tippett, who in the wake of a very serious illness recently, has a forthcoming album with partner Julie Tippetts which relies on your support via crowdfunding for its release in 2020. Elsewhere in the catalogue is the excellent MPH album ‘Taxonomies’ reviewed here last autumn and featuring Hatfield and the North’s Alex Maguire and the ubiquitous Mark Hewins alongside Martin Pyne. Label owner Martin Archer’s Anthropology Band, an ambitious electro-jazz collective,  is powered along by Gong bassist Dave Sturt, whilst The Eclectic Maybe Project’s  ‘Reflection in a Moebius Ring Mirror‘ is a progressive/experimental album from  Guy Segers which includes recent Facelift reviewees Carla Diratz and Dave Newhouse and Michel Deville, alongside fellow Univers Zero emigre Andy Kirk.

Gong/Magick Brothers violinist Graham Clark appears on East of Eden’s Ron Caines’ album with Archer ‘Les Oiseaux de Matisse‘ whilst ex In Cahooter Sarah Gail Brand and long-standing Elton Dean collaborator Mark Sanders appear on Orchestra Entropy’s ‘Rituals’ and I dare say if you work your way through the 80 or so strong back catalogue you will find many further links. Well worth signing up for email updates perusing the full catalogue at http://www.discus-music.co.uk  or even better sample some of the various wares at http://www.discusmusic.bandcamp.com. A full press release of current/future releases follows:

DEAR LISTENERS – Thanks for taking a few minutes to read about these recent CD/DL releases from Discus Music.  We hope you’ll find some sounds to enjoy within our ever expanding catalogue!  Please visit http://www.discus-music.co.uk to buy or http://www.discusmusic.bandcamp.com to have a browse through the sound files.  Click on each sleeve image below to visit the Discus website.  All prices include post and packing worldwide.  And don’t forget there’s a 30% reduction on everything you spend over £25 on the site (discount not available on Bandcamp purchases) – MARTIN ARCHER

MARTIN ARCHER – ANTHROPOLOGY BAND – DISCUS 90CD.  Taking the electric music of Miles Davis as its starting point, Anthropology Band is about finding the atmosphere through a deep rhythm, a searing blues run, a delicate melody, or a cascading solo statement. Band leader Martin Archer has kept the music as simple as possible – often driven by the bassline – and the structures loose, to enable this who’s who of UK creative musicians to let the music breathe in a different way each time it is played. There are multiple chordal instruments in the centre of the sound, allowing each soloist to sit on a kaleidoscopic wave of intercrossing figures which push the music forward.

“Five stars.  Again a creative project by Martin Archer….. And so we can have two versions in one fell swoop: a great idea, ambitious and winning. The style is towards electric Miles, progressive rock, and, on some tracks, improvised modern jazz. Wide and open structures, imbued with a beautiful blues feeling, which allow those who find the inspiration to assert their expressiveness. However, it is always Miles’ imprint that dominates, not least because of the pervasive presence of Charlotte Keefe’s trumpet ….. Archer’s stable does not disappoint, nor does it disappoint those who, with skilful creativity, organiSe and guide it.” – A. G. Bertinetto, KATHODIK

“Though Martin Archer’s Anthropology Band readily acknowledges its debt to electric era Miles as its starting point, it quickly hurtles off into its own distinctive space.  Chris Sharkey’s vivid, blazing guitar adds a fevered counterpoint to Archer’s sinuous brass themes which frame much of this 2 CD set.  Gong bassist Dave Sturt adds notable definition.”   – Sid Smith, PROG

On this double CD the music is presented in two versions, firstly by the live band:  Martin Archer – saxophones, electronics, composer / Charlotte Keeffe – trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger / Chris Sharkey – guitar, electronics / Pat Thomas, keyboards, electronics / Corey Mwamba – vibraphone / Dave Sturt – bass guitar / Peter Fairclough – drums.  And on the second CD an 11 piece brass and woodwind section, arranged by Martin and Charlotte, is added.  We wrote these parts with the idea in mind “what would Gil Evans have written for Bitches Brew?”

WALT SHAW – BURNT WITH A BRILLIANT LIGHT – DISCUS 91DL. (Download only)  “At the opening of my solo visual art exhibition at Déda, Derby, January 11th 2020, I did a solo percussion performance. I used drums, cymbals, gongs, bowls, home-made instruments and objects.  The performance consisted of 10 short sound ‘sketches’, each one dedicated to a different artist that has meant a lot to me in my artistic development. I am always looking for processes that in some way fuse my love of sound and the visual art medium.  So hopefully each percussion ‘sketch’ appropriately invokes the spirit of each artist with my personal sound interpretation.” – Walt Shaw

“We’re not sure whether he was a painter or a percussionist first, only that he has been doing this for quite a long time and is incredibly talented.  Shaw also makes many of his own instruments (often from scrap) and has a special affinity for gongs.  Earlier this year, his two worlds collided in an enjoyable way: a solo percussion set performed at the opening of his art exhibition at Deda.  Each short “sketch” is dedicated to an artist who has influenced Shaw…..But whether the cover draws the attention to the music, the music to the art, or the titles to the work of others, all components work in connection ~ like an assemblage or a collage.  The circle is complete.”  – Richard Allen, A CLOSER LISTEN

ARTICLE XI – LIVE IN NEWCASTLE – DISCUS 89CD.  Article XI came together in 2014 when Anton was commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival to create a new set of music for large ensemble. This record continues the group’s explorations into large ensemble collective composition, with two new pieces alongside re-imaginings of two pieces from their debut 2018 album. “Live in Newcastle” was recorded at the Bridge Hotel during a concert for Jazz North East, long-standing supporters of improvised music, and a night which bandleader Anton Hunter has had a long relationship with over the years.

Sam Andreae – alto saxophone / Oliver Dover – alto saxophone / Simon Prince – tenor saxophone & flute / Cath Roberts – baritone saxophone / Graham South – trumpet / Nick Walters – trumpet / Kieran McLeod – trombone / Tullis Rennie – trombone / Seth Bennett – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums / Anton Hunter – guitar

THE GEORDIE APPROACH – SHIELDS – DISCUS 84CD.  Ståle Birkeland – Drums / Petter Frost Fadnes – Saxophone & Electronics / Chris Sharkey- Guitar & Electronics

“Shields is their major statement: two long, no-edits performances recorded in a converted Methodist church in Leeds.  The saxophone, guitar and drums trio…..sound like anything but – the huge, echoing rumbles of “North” resemble slowed down whale song or tectonic chatter; they just come from sax or guitar, but flanged and gated and utterly, fascinatingly denatured.  There is a deep understanding between the players, bacause both movements…..move with an almist narrative logic, as if a journey has already been made.” – Brian Morton, THE WIRE


“Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more.” – Adrian Pallant, AP Reviews

“I could do a track by track description, much better to hear this wonderful recording for yourself.  These are all Ron Caines tunes, yet the ensemble is everything.  In places the Gus Garside/Johnny Hunter bass/drums team hang on it like Carter and Williams from the Miles Davis Quartet, such is their stealth.  Laura Cole’s piano (acoustic & electric) structures the fix.  Anton Hunter’s guitar, pithy, not over played.  Archer’s multiple “hornweb” on African Violets, a gift.  He and Hervé Perez provide all kinds of enhancing, yet nothing diverts from the Caines tenet. By the time the ensemble reach the final track, Almazon/1934, they are essential.  That hanging piano rings out a melody like bells from a high tower. Ron Caines, tenor purchasing another plangent melody squeezed by electrophopia. In the transfer from Almazon to 1934 the guitar is pushed through a gizmo, grinding the notes to audio dust accompanied by a field recording of bird song.  And the horn, a lone deity left to flood the senses. Magnificent.” – Steve Day, stevedaywordsandmusic

In this continuing series of releases with Ron – the mastermind behind East Of Eden, one of the most creative and adventurous groups to come out of the 1960s collision between jazz, rock and psychedelia – we seem to have arrived at an interesting place where an ostensibly straight jazz group playing beautifully realised melodic material is somehow unexpectedly pulled sideways into a strange alternative electroacoustic universe. We like this little clearing in the forest which we’ve found for Ron’s music – and in many ways it mirrors the pioneering work of his early music with East Of Eden, all be it with technology which was not available to those musicians in those days. Come hear this master melodist at work. Album artworks by Susan Caines.


Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones
Martin Archer – bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole – acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez – field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter – guitar and electronics
Gus Garside – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums
Gus G

MPH – TAXONOMIES – DISCUS 87CD.  Alex Maguire – piano, Hammond organ / Martin Pyne – vibraphone, drums, percussion, electronics / Mark Hewins – guitars, electronics.

“The titles of the works are inspired by various flora and fauna, sich as ‘False Jasmine’, ‘Meadowsweet’, ‘Purple Loosestrife’, and ‘Sally Lightfoot’. The names are to suggest “timeless narrative, characters, landscapes and mindscapes.” This they do, in full bloom. The catholic palette of settings from lazy daydreaming to rippling directions, and exotic chance, provides the audience with a series of short films for the ears and imagination. ‘Taxonomies’ is very curious, distinguished and inventive.” – Lee Henderson, BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE

MPH is a trio featuring three of the most creative musical minds on the improv scene today. Their music draws from a huge range of genres to create bewitching and astonishingly original sound pictures, shot through with vitality, tenderness and humour. Taxonomies is the trio’s debut album, taking inspiration from a quirky perspective on the natural world.

COREY MWAMBA – NTH – DISCUS 86CD.  Corey Mwamba – vibraphone, glockenspiel, beak flute / Laura Cole – piano / Andy Champion – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums, small percussion

“NTH is a rhythmically minded beast. The beautifully rhythmic drumming of Johnny Hunter allows Corey’s searching vibes and the playful piano of Laura Cole full rein in chasing and tagging one another. To me the vibes always sound as though they are the precursor to something mysterious and unknown; a sense of expectation is always present in that soulful ring and it is never more so than here.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

“The idea for putting together this group, at the time I did, represents a slow movement. This is a group of people that I had wanted to put together for a while; some of the music was written almost fifteen years ago. But then, as it began, we accelerated; we played live four times, the final time coinciding with my last time. Andy, Johnny, and Laura have given so much in performing and dealing with the material. What these musicians and friends have done, to me, reflects a core tradition in jazz — to deal and commit to the material and make new things, present new ways of listening and expressing: to move beyond the limits of the marks on the page, towards feeling.” – COREY MWAMBA

ORCHESTRA ENTROPY – RITUALS – DISCUS 85CD.  The classic language of European free improvisation carefully sculpted into a series of movements for large ensemble by composer / improviser Matt London.

“The Discus catalogue is now large and incredibly varied. This is one of its finest moments.” – Brian Morton, JAZZ JOURNAL

“On Rituals, composer and saxophonist Matt London expands his new music group Ensemble Entropy into a ten piece improvising orchestra.  The musicians are free to interpret London’s language score as they see fit, the intention being to sculpt the improvisations so that the music develops and transforms along an ancient element journey.  As powerful as the full ensemble can be, London maximises its impact by breaking it down into smaller groupings via two trio sub-pieces.  “skelf” (Scots for splinter) is a scrabble of electric guitar, double bass and drums, while “antiphon” is an elegant interlude for strings.  Tom Ward’s inquisitive clarinet and Sarah Gail Brand’s puckering trombone bring the orchestra back in over Mark Sanders’ woodpecker percussion, leading to a stately closing theme reminiscent of Eyvind Kang.”   – Stewart Smith, THE WIRE

“RITUALS is an extended work for ten improvisers presented on two hand drawn panels. This language score consists of various open notations, graphics plus two trio sub-pieces titled skelf (electric guitar, double bass and drums) and antiphon (violin, viola and double bass) for the performers to decipher. The intention is to sculpt the improvisations so that the music develops and transforms along an ancient elemental journey, with the composer not as a totalitarian figure of authority, instead giving the performers the guidance, the licence to explore and discover who they are within it.” – Matt London

Matt London – tenor saxophone, director / Georgia Cooke – alto flute / Tom Ward – bass clarinet / Seb Silas – baritone saxophone / Sarah Gail Brand – trombone / Rebecca Raimondi – violin / Benedict Taylor – viola / Seth Bennett – double bass / Moss Freed – electric guitar / Mark Sanders – drums

ECLECTIC MAYBE BAND – REFLECTION IN A MOEBIUS RING MIRROR – DISCUS 83CD.  A second volume of the Guy Segers (ex Univers Zero) project where the basic live band session is enhanced by an extensive post production involving contributions from a wide range of improvising musicians. Located musically between edgy jazzrock, electronics and improvisation, the release has been a surprise best seller, and this time round the tracks are built around a large and ever shifting cast of players:

Carla Diratz (Vocals)  Cathryn Robson (Vocals) Roland Binet (Flute, Piccolo) Martin Archer (Sax Sopranino & Alto) Joe Higham (Sax Soprano & Tenor, Electronics) Dave Newhouse (Sax Alto & Tenor, Bass Clarinet) Jean-Pierre Soarez (Trumpet) Ariane Plumerel (Violin) Sigrid Vandenbogaerden (Cello) Michel Delville (Guitar) Eric Lemaître (Guitar) Ángel Ontalva (Guitar) Andy Kirk (Guitar, Keyboards) Catherine Smet (Piano, Keyboards) Guy Segers (Bass, Programming Virtual Instruments) Franck Balestracci (Keyboards, Drums) Dirk Wachtelaer (Drums)
“Overall, Reflection In A Moebius Ring Mirror is a release of unparalleled scope, almost astounding in its reach, but with its beauty and sense of questing allowing the listener opportunities to immerse themselves. The players are all superb, and Guy’s way around the studio means that his constructed tracks are seamless yet exploratory. It is well worth taking a dip into these welcoming waters — but watch out for the currents.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

INCLUSION PRINCIPLE – ARKIV – DISCUS 82DL.  Nu-Jazz / electronics / improv group Inclusion Principle has been performing live since 2006. Commencing 2019, we have started to create an archive of our concerts under the ever evolving catalogue number Discus 82DL.  The first three concerts, featuring the group in its early duo format of Hervé Perez and Martin Archer (saxophones and laptops) are available now.

KEITH TIPPETT – THE UNLONELY RAINDANCER – DISCUS 81CD.  We’re massively proud to be bringing to you this re-release from 1980 – Keith’s first ever solo piano release, which predates his Mujician series from the following decade.  These exciting and vibrant performances, recorded live on a tour of the Netherlands in 1979, have been carefully remastered from the source tapes.  In Keith’s view, this music forms the template for his future solo work up to the present day.  Out of print for many years, and unknown to most, this vital document will be a must for all fans of UK creative music.

“The re-blossoming of a long dormant rose.  Or oak, as Tippett twice visits the folk melody of Tortworth Oak, though he soon transcends the tune with his massive chording, ocean-wide sense of dynamics and wrists of iron that allow him to repeat hot forged figures and trills with an unremitting, unswerving attack.  With different pianos at different venues, there is a variation in tonality and ambience, but that adds to the overall richness of the sound quality, the narrative of the tour, as well of each cut.  And that is Tippett’s gift to the listener, that even in the most expressionistic passages, there’s an organic storytelling arc to each piece, even within the epic Steel Yourself.  This is improvised but not avant-garde music that disappears up its own arch.  It’s music with a heart of soul that can barely contain itself.  But it does, just.” – Andy Robson, JAZZWISE – EDITOR’S CHOICE

MARTIN ARCHER – ANOTHER FANTASTIC INDIVIDUAL – DISCUS 80CD.  Solo music for woodwind, percussion and minimal electronics. “This is the first time I’ve made an album on which I’m the only performer. I’ve been playing AACM style saxophone for more than 40 years now, and this collection – a mixture of solo and small ensembles, sometimes with percussion or minimal electronics – presents everything I’ve learned about the instrument as a player and composer in that time.” – Martin Archer

“One of the pleasures of Martin Archer’s recordings is anticipating what he has in store for the listener…Very carefully overdubbed…The improvising is excellent and some of the tunes are masterful…Outstanding!” – CADENCE

FROSTLAKE – ICE & BONE – DISCUS 79CD.  Ice & Bone – long awaited second CD by multi-instrumentalist frostlake (Jan Todd) who has been busy writing and recording for the improvising band Orchestra of The Upper Atmosphere. Ice & Bone is now finally released and the distinctive sound palette of her debut CD ‘White Moon, Black Moon’ continues – acoustic and electronic sounds washed with layered vocals and the creative bass of Terry Todd.  They have played out live as a duo and here are studio recordings of their live set.  The mix of acoustics strings/wind instruments with ethereal synthesizers and percussion takes you to another world- from the gentle terror of ‘60’s B movie ‘The Lake’ to the classic folk horror of ‘When Trees Sing/Find Me’.  Ice & Bone unwraps the darker layers of the mind in dreams and the unexplained.  Driving bass and drums grind it back to reality in ‘Just A Game’ and ‘The Last Time’ so this album is caught between the worldly and the unworldly – British psychedelia at it’s best. Field recordings add a sense of time and place in the eerie, natural world that frostlake creates and shares it’s stranger secrets.

‘Ice & Bone’ is a gorgeous, dreamy and rich with haunted folk, of lost ghosts, calling from another world, whispering sweet things in your ear. – Lee Henderson – BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE

BECK HUNTERS – HAS IT BEEN FOUND? – DISCUS 78CD.   Mick Beck – tenor sax, bassoon, and whistles / Anton Hunter – guitar / Johnny Hunter – drums.  A new set of improvisations from this formidable team of master musicians.

Terrifying thunders, trembling solos, vibrant and powerful climaxes, light, expressive, passionate or luminous melodies, turbulent rolls, breaking sessions, driving sequences of repetitive notes – all these elements and moods are gently combined together. The music has impressive sound – it has driving and expressive mood. – AVANT SCENA

DAS RAD – DAS RAD – DISCUS 75CD.  Nick Robinson – electric and acoustic guitars, loops, electronics
Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinets, flutes, recorders, melodica, keyboards, electronics, synth bass
Steve Dinsdale – electric drums, acoustic percussion, synth.

Stunning prog-friendly improv-rock from Sheffield stock.  If you don’t know the name of multi-instrumentalist and Discus Musics’ owner Martin Archer, then you’ve not been paying attention to some of the most interesting developments in British jazz, psych and rock during the last 25 years.  His latest cross-genre experiment finds him in the company of guitarist Nick Robinson and Radio Massacre International’s keyboardist / drummer Steve Dinsdale.  An extremely accessible, at times almost poppy collection of instrumental tracks, it’s a skilful integration of jazzy muscularity, noodling electronica and invigorating surges of air-punching rock.  Mostly they appear as concisely constructed bursts with a punk-like brevity that brings urgency and impact to scrunching guitar riffs and luminous shafts of Mellotron strings.  However, their two epic-length explorations Porto Steps and London Steps combine mesmeric mid-tempo beats and throbbing bass to frame scudding sax drifts, twinkling daubs of guitar and billowing atmospherics to form a blissful and immersive environment.  Elsewhere two sumptuous acoustic guitar pieces add bucolic interludes to an album already overflowing with expressive tunes and startlinf quality. – Sid Smith, PROG

MAJA BUGGE – NO EXIT – DISCUS74CD.   Maja Bugge – cello

The Norwegian cellist Maja Bugge’s second solo album “No Exit” was recorded inside Standedge canal tunnel by Hervé Perez. The music on this album is mainly improvised and responds to the 3 ¼ mile long tunnels unique acoustic and sounds. She is also using the history of the site as an inspiration echoing the rhythmical patterns of feet moving the boats through tunnels in the 19th century and the sound of stones being carved out of the ground 200 years ago.  This results in a haunting, meditative and expressive improvisation. It is a homage to a unique site and its sound. The “lone” cello responds to the unpredictability of the space and together they make something.

Recorded by sound engineer Hervé Perez in the tunnel, 200 years old and over 3 miles long, of Standedge, West Yorkshire, the disk has the solo performance of the Norwegian cellist, residing in Lancaster, Maja Bugge. Her instrument interacts with the unusual environment, meditative atmosphere-generating sound improvised melodic lines and melancholy. The Standedge Tunnel, five tracks Lullaby for Legging, Passage, Boat and No Exit recall the experience of the tunnel through which the monologue of the arc of the musician seems to seek a dialogue, an interaction, a possibility of communication. The dramatic character of the music is appreciated especially knowing the particular situation of the context of his performance. – A G Bertinetto, KATHODIK


RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS – LES OISEAUX DE MATISSE – DISCUS 72CD.  Ron Caines -alto and soprano saxophones / Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinets, software instruments / Laura Cole – grand piano, electric piano / Gus Garside – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums / Hervé Perez – live sound processing, shakuhachi / Graham Clark – violin, electric guitar.

Ron Caines was the mastermind behind East of Eden, whose groundbreaking first two albums Mercator Projected and Snafu, mixing psychedelic rock, jazz, bluebeat, poetry, electronics and studio experimentation, were massively influential on teenage me at a stage when I was starting to explore the limits and possibilities of music.  It is a massive honour to be able to record with Ron all these years later.  This CD is a collision of pure jazz skill happening in real time and studio collage.  We hope, even though the music is quite different, that it contains a spark and continuation of the “arts lab” ethos of Ron’s early work with E of E.

This is outstanding!  Loose and supple playing. Hints of Mingus at his freest, mixed with Eastern influences and even traditional jazz. Really strong compositional ‘springboards’. Record of the week!! – MATT PARKER, BRITISH PROGRESSIVE JAZZ


LAURA COLE – ENOUGH – DISCUS 71CD.  Laura Cole – piano

“A mood of calm introspection sits over this collection of pieces for solo piano.  Yet, within that, Cole succeeds in exploring divergent avenues of expression.  the first disc contains her arrangements of compositions by various associates from the UK jazz scene:  Jason Yarde’s “Unisome (Unisin, Unison, Unisone, Unisum)!” is a fugue-like puzzle tackled with insouciant Monkish precision;  Kim Macari’s “Default Settings” mingles harp-like sweeps of the piano strings with intensely intimate vocal mutterings:  while Corey Mwamba’s “forgotten letters; Bereft; Tears: bright grey” is a solemn 15 minute suite of scattered stipples and enigmatic phrases.  On the second disc, Cole presents her own compositions and improvisations, revealing a quietly emphatic sense of space:  “The Crossing…” employs long pauses and isolated sonar-like notes, while “Extinguish” bathes in the warm glow of the sustain pedal” – DANIEL SPICER, THE WIRE


“A very personal statement from an engaged  musician! “– VITAL WEEKLY



A snarling mix of prog / zeuhl / Alice Coltrane / Terry Riley

“When it comes to Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere’s Theta Four, describing it as ‘epic’ feels like selling it short. The large ensemble harnesses a hybrid patchwork of electro-acoustic textures that brings to mind the spacey explorations of Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Can et al. Choirs, choppy strings, throbbing beats, dreamy vocals and snarling bass rise and soar into bold themes creating a diverse and thrilling listen. If you’re unfamiliar with their previous three albums, then start here.” – SID SMITH, PROG


“Spare me for a few minutes to tell you about an amazing album that came out last month. This album is θ4 (Theta Four), by the incredible Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere. This experimental album takes you many places, from the atmospheric, almost ambient and contemplative, nebulous threnodies to the upbeat, vigorous, and eclectic parts more reminiscent of some of the more creative progressive rock of the 70s. This album is fabulous and deserves your attention for every minute of its runtime”. – Dave Tremblay, HEAVYBLOGISHEAVY

Cary Grace: Lady of Turquoise


Photo credit: Mark Brookes

Cary Grace has become something of a fixture at Kozfest, that annual celebration of psychedelic music which doffs its cap more than a little to the legacy of Daevid Allen and company. On my first visit there she appeared in a band including erstwhile Gong/Here and Now guitarist Steffe Sharpstrings (the performance was captured as ‘The Uffculme Variations’), then in 2018 we saw her with Yamma, a pop up band featuring Mike Howlett, Graham Clark and Basil Brooks of Zorch. She clearly has a knack for getting on board seminal figures in the scene. However, I think Yamma, the first time I’d seen her perform, might have given me the wrong impression of her work, as this ambient, experimental music with only the occasional smattering of vocals, is almost entirely removed from her latest project ‘Lady of Turquoise’, an ambitious double album which is largely song-based.


Cary Grace is an avowed champion of modular synths (and a few squirming Blakeesque motifs are evident of this on the instrumental opener ‘Khepera at the Dawn’), yet ‘Lady of Turquoise’ is more than anything a celebration of hypnotic, droned out guitar from a variety of proponents, including Grace herself. The first notable evidence of this is the excellent ‘Into Dust’, a hypnotic, feedback-heavy trudge with guitar from John Garden and treated vocals. ‘Afterglow’ is doomier still, with restrained guitar distortion in the background  as Grace drawls through a spoken word accompaniment, her American accent softened by a decade or so’s residence in the West Country but no less impactful for that – often dipping into edgy, disquieting menace.

The ballad ‘Film Noir’ features an aching introduction courtesy of the sax of Ian East. Often within the chaos of live Gong it’s easy to forget quite what a sweet soprano sound he makes, this is equally matched by the beautifully delivered vocals, perhaps Cary’s strongest performance on the album. This is one of three tracks Steffe Sharpstrings adds guitar to, apparently the original recordings of his contributions dating back to sessions for her album ‘Tygerland’ back in 2015, although he makes his own mark most tellingly through the blisteringly bubbling soloing on the rocky ‘Castle of Dreams’.

Graham Clark also adds an electric violin to the country-ish ‘Costume Jewellery’, alongside the plucked strings of Andy Bole on bouzouki and laouto – this track is notable for some quite Daevid Allenesque guitar obtusions from John Garden in what turns out to be an eleven minute extended cool down, which I suspect might be most representative of the band’s live performances.


Best of all are ‘Letterbox’, elevating from some initial campfire strum’n’croon into  glorious raucous wahwah from Garden, and ‘Sacrifice’, another track going into double figure length, a memorably simple slow bluesy guitar riff performed by the author herself, and embellished by frequent soloing breakouts (from Steve Everitt), some lovely Hammond noodling beneath and increasing swathes of texture from all directions – a fantastic barrage of interconnected sounds all told. Whilst there are moments throughout the album of quiet reflection, and Grace’s fine, clear voice means she is adept enough at this (witness the harmonized vocals on ‘Without A Trace’) , the music defaults time and time again to those drawn out bluesy, guitar-heavy drones, powered along by a core band of Andy Budge (bass) and David Payne (drums), It is these core three, who along with Victoria Reyes (keys) and Everitt, will be performing with Cary Grace at the Avalon weekender at Easter and beyond. And as she ascends the Kozfest bill with every passing year, who can predict who else might join her on stage this year?



Thanks to the English Language students at Oldham Sixth Form College for their input into this review!


Exclusively stream ‘Warleigh Manor’, featuring Allan Holdsworth

Ahead of the publication of the Allan Holdsworth biography ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ by Ed Chang, the very good people at Jazz in Britain have allowed Facelift an exclusive stream of the entire contents of a rarity unearthed during research for the book, to be released on April 15th 2020, the same day as the biography.

Warleigh Manor: The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 1 features Allan Holdsworth, Ray Warleigh (ex Soft Machine), Ron Mathewson and Bryan Spring in a free blow from (probably) 1979.

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Many thanks to Matt Parker from Jazz in Britain for allowing us to share this with you.

Full ordering details for the album at https://jazzinbritain1.bandcamp.com/releases

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Full details of how to order ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ to follow…


Lapis Lazuli double live CD featuring Damo Suzuki – with thoughts from Adam Brodigan

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Without doubt currently Canterbury’s most innovative and questioning band, Lapis Lazuli have just released their sixth album, this one a double CD of improvisations, the first capturing their recent performance with ex Can vocalist Damo Suzuki in nearby Ramsgate last September, the latter a series of 8 individual pieces recorded in the studio. The band’s drummer and founder member Adam Brodigan took time to answer a few questions in our latest interview feature.

The first time I saw Lapis Lazuli was at the ‘Canterbury Sound’ Day in 2017 when assorted academics, musicians and writers assembled to not only speak about the genre that we all know and love but to listen to an excellent programme of music including Soup Songs, Jack Hues and the aforementioned Lapis Lazuli. At one point during their blindingly manicured set, the luminary standing next to me, who really should have known better, asked me whether I thought the music was improvised, something of a travesty considering we were listening to two tracks from ‘Wrong Meeting’, possibly the most densely crafted music since the composed work of Henry Cow. Their masterpiece ‘Brain’, released at the end of 2018 was even more meticulously and adventurously structured.

The irony of course is that since that Canterbury gig Lapis Lazuli have started to regularly perform improvised pieces, both live and in the studio. Having heard some of their early excursions (released as a bonus side on the vinyl version of ‘Wrong Meeting’) it would appear that the band have been simultaneously dabbling in improv for quite a while, although ‘Hi Jazz’, as it was collectively known, is probably best described as some initial thoughts from which some of their structured ideas have emanated from. However, the appearance of the extraordinary video ‘Shall We’ rather took this further, a precisely timed 30 minute romp from around the time ‘Brain’ was recorded. Whilst much of this is frankly a row, there are genuine moments of inspiration and coherence and it captures the band’s exuberance as fantastically as hearing them perform any of their 5 studio albums to date.

The bonus material from ‘Brain’ (available as a free digital download if you purchased a vinyl copy of the album) continued the experimentation: whilst some of the tracks are clearly pre-prepared, such as the mellow version of ‘Low Key’, and the magnificent ballad ‘The Slowening’, others are not, and again, this was a blend of the inspired and the exploratory.

Which takes us to the band’s sixth release – the Damo Suzuki recording is a single stream-of-consciousness performance lasting over an hour, which slowly develops from its initial warped churchy, distended feel into a series of slow grooves and funk licks, embellished by Suzuki’s various vocal techniques: spoken word, a fulsome growl here and there, and even some bluesy crooning. I’m aware that Suzuki’s tours often involve him appropriating pick-up bands en route (my good friend, the late Mick West, was in one such when Suzuki played in Hebden Bridge a few years back) but hadn’t realized the process was quite so ad hoc. Adam Brodigan takes up the story “We had quite literally not met Damo, played with him, talked on the phone or anything until about 6pm the night of the gig!”

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But the gig at Ramsgate Music Hall, from which the recording was taken, was far from an accident: “We had got our spot supporting Gong at RMH (in July 2017) because their sax player Ian East had started coming to the Crash Of Moons Club nights I was putting on, at the time in Bramleys, Canterbury. When he told me Gong were booked there, I convinced him to put Lapis as support. That was our way into the venue. After that, Andre and Al (from the venue) were both very impressed and happy with the band, so much that they then booked us for the Acid Mothers Temple support (later that year), and we then went and recorded our album ‘Brain’ with Al at his studio. We were therefore RMH’s first choice for Suzuki’s ‘Sound Carriers’ once they had secured him for the Kent leg of his tour.”

So how does a gig with such an unknown quantity work? “We were told to simply follow his lead, as he probably wouldn’t look round to us, and he’d just do his own thing. It was all spontaneous, the only thing we worked out was who went on stage first, based on choosing numbers, which was his idea”

Suzuki’s vocals are slightly distant, echoed and somewhat spookily appears as almost a commentary on the music or the prevailing atmosphere – a work colleague of mine described a Suzuki gig he’d attended in London as something of a shoutfest, but this is far from the case here. The words themselves might be indecipherable but there is subtlety and coherency as the band adjust to the vocal overlay, or him to the music manifesting around him.

The second CD is a somewhat different beast, shorn of vocals and with many more of the trademarks of the ‘core’ band. ‘Louis Padilla’s Muzik Uzi’ (a cursory examination will reveal this is an anagram of the names of the performers of collaborators from Disc 1) does also contain pieces which are clearly off the cuff performances, and for me the tracks at the more aggressive end of the spectrum (such as the brief riff ‘Free Haircut’) perhaps fare less well, serving as microcosms of some of the more dissonant workouts on previous improvs. ‘James Black’, a jarring funky workout is symptomatic of this – tremendous sparring but never quite finding that knockout blow. But ‘Tribe of Tribes’ gives a lovely hint of what is to come throughout the better half of this album with its mellow bouncy bass theme, whilst drums chatter and guitars noodle. And the last four tracks, sharing 35 minutes between them, are universally excellent. ‘Abrubtion’ continues the bass groove backed by ever more frenetic drumming, ‘Cheap Minor’ starts off slowly but etches out a haunting guitar theme. Best of the lot are the last two pieces: ‘Untraceable Customs’, a superb track opening out from its sirenic guitar to slither into a hypnotic drum and bass rhythm, mellow yet propelling, reminded me of Hugh Hopper’s ‘Hughscore’  in its underlying vibe, topped off by the best guitar interplay on the album. And last up is ‘Sea’s Harp Apocoly’, with its atmospheric midi’d sounds, crafted guitar lines and unmistakeable funked up bass – this could almost be an outtake from the more laid back parts of ‘Hired Soul’ or ‘Falling Line‘ from ‘Brain’. What’s interesting to these ears is that a band so well defined on their composed pieces by Adam Brodigan’s constantly shifting time signatures and Luke Mennis’ dexterous bass playing so easily shifts into extended groove mode in these improvs, providing the space up top for the dual guitar approaches. And ‘Sea’s Harp’ is symptomatic of many tracks on the album that appear so well-formed that it’s difficult to fully accept that these ideas could be straight out of the box.

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This is the first recorded excursion for Martin Emmons who has replaced Dan Lander on rhythm guitar – quite how his interplay with Sullivan will match the sublime intertwining the latter achieved with Lander will probably have to wait until the next composed release: these recordings normally take the form of one guitarist providing the soundscapes, whilst the other etches out a motif.  Of the latest personnel change, Adam was at pains to point out that this was symptomatic of the band being more of an open door than a revolving one:  “The band started life as a four piece, the guitarist of which was a big Hendrix and Ben Harper fan, (and) had a solid, smooth sound. He left and was replaced by Dan, who had a far more aggressive, angular approach, as we expanded to a six piece. We also changed bass players – Luke is the fourth we’ve had! Boiling down to a five piece for ‘Wrong Meeting’ made us lose quite a lot of the palette of sounds we had enjoyed previously, and again losing the sax reduced dramatically the ‘vintage’ and jazzier sound we had adopted.” These earlier line-ups are captured on Youtube performances and often include accordion, trumpet, extra percussion and a much more catholic set of styles. Adam continues, “changing guitarists for the third time has indeed brought a new sound, and as we prepare to write new material it is very clear Martin will take the band elsewhere.”

“Lapis has always been very flowing – no restrictions have ever been imposed within the group on how to tackle composition. It becomes very natural therefore to hear the metamorphosis of the band’s sound as you go from the 2012 material to the latest stuff. ‘Brain’ became grittier and heavier due to the dominance of guitars and Luke’s particular love of ‘spicy’ chords and cross rhythms.”

And as to the band’s burgeoning relationship with improvised music, “our first fully fledged live improvised set came about when Sam Bailey booked us for one of his avant-garde Free Range nights in Canterbury. After this, we played a Crash Of Moons improv set, and a secret warm-up gig for the Damo show, again purely improv. Our recent album launch show was a mix of pure improv, jams of the grooves from ‘Louis Padilla’s Muzak Uzi’, the 20 minute ‘Reich’ (from ‘Wrong Meeting’) and a tune from ‘Brain’. We have only just taught Martin ‘Reich’, and we plan on getting him to grips with ‘School’ from the same album too, so that we have plenty to go between at shows whilst heading toward new compositions.” What was evident from the gig I saw in Canterbury last June (for me one of the musical highlights of the last decade), where Martin made his debut and the band performed ‘Low Key’, ‘And Stay Out’ and ‘The Slug’, all from ‘Brain’, is that the new guitarist barely dropped a note in the performances of these fiendish pieces.

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I put it to Adam that it must grind one down putting so much obvious effort into an existence which is so criminally underrecognised. “It is a labour of love- we keep the small amount of cash made in a pot for band spending, so have to keep our dayjobs and make sure our lives can cope with the band! It has meant avoiding some of the traps in life that would otherwise make this sort of thing impossible. 

“Playing shows where people commend your work passionately helps very much. We do not have a massive reach, and are in no way a ‘big’ band, yet some people show such amazement at our shows that it makes the thing even more worthwhile, mixed with the simple pleasure of trying to get from the very beginning to the very end of one song!”

As I write, the band are just about to head off to France for a 4 date tour “we try to do that every couple of years at least” , and there are further compositions in mind. “There are ideas the other members of the band have been putting forward to work on as new material, which we will start looking at very soon. As for festies, we seem only to have Sonic Rock Solstice and Smugglers Festival this year, – we do hope for a few more though!

Watch this space… Thanks to Adam for agreeing to answer a few questions.

Previews and ordering of all the Lapis Lazuli discography here: https://lapislazuli.bandcamp.com/

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Fred Baker featured!

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Just back from a post-Christmas trip to my native Derbyshire, where my dad had saved me an article from a local monthly free magazine called ‘Reflections’ about Fred Thelonious Baker. There seems a nice symmetry about publishing something about this, as 2019 started with the Phil Miller memorial concerts, of which Fred, who was very much Phil’s right hand man for so many years, was an essential part.

The Reflections article is here

It also brought back memories of a gig almost exactly 30 years ago in Fred’s home town of Chesterfield, not long after I’d started Facelift magazine. In something of a transitional stage of my life, I’d briefly left Manchester and was camped up for a month or so in nearby Matlock with my parents, and had persuaded my dad, an old jazzer, to accompany me to see Elton Dean and John Etheridge. It was a lovely moment when our musical worlds collided – my dad was intrigued to see Stephane Grappelli’s guitarist, who also happened to be one of two ex-Soft Machinists performing. It was also my own live introduction to Fred, and he clearly made quite an impression. Interestingly enough I talked this year at a Soft Machine gig with John Etheridge about this particular band, although I’m still not entirely sure who the drummer was that night. If it was indeed, as is suggested online, Mark Fletcher, then that is also neat symmetry given his phenomenal performances at the Miller memorial gigs.

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Great to see Fred covered in such depth here and given the stories of his own family history, it clears up any doubt as to where his trademark middle name emanates from! And, Fred if you do celebrate your 60th birthday with a solo performance in the Crooked Spire (Chesterfield’s baffling landmark) then I’ll be there…

The review from Facelift Issue 3 is below:

Elton Dean/John Etheridge Quartet – Chesterfield 14th December 1989

Two figures from contrasting eras of the Soft Machine at work here: both are now respected figures in the British jazz scene. The gig itself was billed as ‘fusion’, and indeed, given John Etheridge’s influence over the material, it was some distance away form the type of music Elton Dean performs with his own quintet and quartet. That said, the band appeared to approach the various composite styles in turns, rather than produce a hybrid sound as Phil Miller might. The band played two sets of very lengthy compositions ranging from the free improvisation of a John Coltrane number that I’m certain contained mutilated segments of ‘Seven Drones’, to Etheridge’s flurried, meticulously-structured solos. Etheridge spent the entire gig on his semi-acoustic guitar, producing a sound much closer to the likes of Django Rheinhardt than the strident guitar-hero tones of ‘Softs’ or ‘Alive and Well…’ and sounding all the more accomplished for it.

The real revelation of this band, for me, was Fred Baker: the fretless bassist who succeeded Hugh Hopper in In Cahoots Quite apart from laying down some fairly uncompromising rhythms, two or three times he was allowed to take fairly lengthy solos not only showing a dexterity that most guitarists would have been proud of, but producing some genuinely moving passages, rare for a bassist in an entirely solo environment. One almost takes for granted Elton Dean’s biting intrusions into the line, but no better testament to his talent came during the encore, when, seemingly isolated by an esoteric excursion into the blues by Baker and Etheridge, he almost casually unleashed a ferocious assault on the eardrums on his alto. It’s often difficult to see if there are any new directions left to take in music: this quartet, with the possible exception of Fred Baker, certainly weren’t breaking any new ground, but the music they produced was far more than the tired restatement of ideas that many ‘fusion’ bands seem to be content with.

There are lots more old Facelift articles at http://www.faceliftmagazine.co.uk

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


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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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Photo: Claude Gassian

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

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Photo: Ronald Kienhaus

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

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Photo: Claude Gassian

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

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with Galen Ayers

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


Order signed copies of ‘Shooting At The Moon’ at

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

Alternatively order direct from the publisher at







Steve Hillage Band and Gong, Liverpool O2 Academy Saturday 23 November

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Steve Hillage

After a 3 gig taster in the summer, the Steve Hillage Band set out on a much larger tour in early November, this time with a twist – not only would the current Gong band be the musicians backing Steve and Miquette Giraudy for their extended 2 hour sets each evening, but Gong themselves would be the support act each night. Interestingly enough, this reverses the scenario from exactly a decade ago when Steve, who was then Gong’s guitarist, promoting the ‘2032’ album, did the support act to Daevid Allen’s Gong with a Steve Hillage Band consisting of himself, Miquette, Mike Howlett and then Gong drummer Chris Taylor.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bad gig in Liverpool – I suppose part of that experience is that whilst I’ve  dropped in on many gigs casually in Manchester over the years, every trek down the M62 has been for a special event of some sort.  Plus audiences here seem determined to have something of a party. There’s certainly little standoffishness. The O2 Academy is somewhat more welcoming than its sister venue than the Ritz in Manchester– queues are more manageable, security almost human and the venue, upstairs on a sticky dance floor, somewhat less congested, to the extent that it was possible to navigate around to different spots in front of the stage without seriously cheesing off your fellow gig-goers.


Kavus Torabi

Gong sensed it too – relatively early in the set Kavus Torabi, already beaming from ear to ear, was encouraging the audience to levitate the dance hall and ‘lose their shit’. The band played for an hour but it felt like longer – it was certainly intense enough for one to have quite legitimately wandered away at the end of their set being satisfied with the evening’s events on Gong’s performance alone. The band played 5 tracks, the new opus ‘Forever Reoccuring’, imbued with transcendental atmospherics and a lovely new twist where vocals (whose lyrics I could not fully decipher) embellish the rising mid-piece section; a rather splendid version of ‘Rejoice!’ where Kavus pulled out an extraordinary guitar solo; ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ with an unexpected highlight when Dave Sturt’s bass sound packed in, memorable because of his bisonesque re-joining of the fold once order was restored (“I WAS quite angry”, he later told us); ‘Sawtooth Wake’, a polyrhythmic assault on the ears interspersed with some sweet multi-harmonised vocals; and finally ‘Insert Yr Own Prophecy’ which appears to have become the set-ender of choice, particularly with ‘Master Builder’ off the menu, for reasons which will become obvious. Personally I’d have selected ‘The Elemental’ as my closer and worked backwards – its guitar crashing and discordant vocal harmonies are completely the calling cards of this particular band.

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Ian East


There are interesting parallels here from a gig I saw in Liverpool in the Nineties where the Wizards of Twiddly played a solo set and then backed Kevin Ayers for the main event. There was a clear contrast then between the Wizards’ madcap lunacy and Kevin’s languid tunes, and whilst there is less distance between Gong and Steve Hillage Band in terms of genre, Gong were also clearly not out to make up the numbers: their performance was a total barrage on the senses: cacophonous, embracing and utterly uplifting – if Kavus had indeed helped to levitate the building it would also have taken a small army to scrape the audience back off the ceiling.

Not that there was much respite. Assembled in pretty much the same order on stage, the core Gong band were augmented in the centre by Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy (on keyboards) for the main event. Set against a mesmerising backdrop of visuals and some fairly intense strobes, the Steve Hillage Band continued an all encompassing sound built around Steve’s effortlessly fluid and often blistering guitar work. If I can’t recall note for note the entire setlist, there was familiarity everywhere: entire swathes of ‘Fish Rising’; big chunks of ‘Green’, some of the celebrated ‘covers’ such as ‘It’s All Too Much’ and ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ and more novel outings such as ‘Om Nava Shiva’, ‘The Fire Inside’, the jaunty ‘Motivation’ and a rousing ‘Light In the Sky’ (with Miquette exuberantly conducting the crowd for the chorus).



Steve Hillage, Kavus Torabi, Dave Sturt

It was great to see Ian East’s array of instrumentation and the sound of flute and tenor sax breaking through the melee – there was one memorable moment where I was thinking ‘that sounds like a bassoon’, before realising that, of course they were probably Lindsay Cooper’s lines from ‘Fish Rising’,  perfectly captured; other lines dextrously mimicked Dave Stewart’s keyboard work on the original. Elsewhere Kavus’ intricate dual guitar lines with Steve Hillage proved just how tight this band is. And every time you looked stage right there was Fabio Golfetti, implacably conjuring up the atmosphere on glissando guitar. We were musing later on in the pub (with some of the band) on the phenomenon of the glissando sound: I regard it as a gift from Daevid Allen to an entire genre of music – this otherworldly, evocative sound underpins so much music I listen to that it’s almost become a soundtrack in its own right (or as Billie Bottle recently put it, in relation to Brian Abbott, ‘a heavenly chorus (of teapots)’) The assembled number agreed that Fabio’s work in this regard is only rivalled by Daevid’s own. It’s funny what personal recollections you come away from gigs with, but another memento was when most of the band seemed to congregate around the drum kit which, due to the visual projections at the time, placed  Cheb Nettles at the base of a pyramid – intentionally or otherwise this seemed symbolic  in terms of his phenomenal contributions to the band’s base.


Miquette Giraudy

In terms of tracks: well, the ‘Dervish Riff’ weaved away as bewitchingly as ever, ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ truly wigged out in its instrumental extension, but for me the highlight of the set was ‘Ether Ships’, in its remarkable simplicity and intensity – Steve, with his head slightly cocked to the side, subtly building up the anticipation rave style – it was as if time was suspended for a brief moment whilst we were working out which way things would break. If ‘Master Builder’ was the expected encore, it did not disappoint, less grandiose in its airing than the current Gong’s version, but memorable as all members of the band (bar the drummer) out front, singing the IAO chant well into the main riff. And, as this audience clearly weren’t willing to let the band go even at this late stage, they finished off with ‘Never Glid Before’, an instrumental version of almost deranged tempo, gradually upping the ante to its glorious conclusion.

Back down in the foyer, punters were gathered in front of the GAS stall, reinforced with extra personnel and artefacts, Kavus and Dave Sturt mingling amongst them and spreading the bonhomie of an extraordinarily upbeat night. Later in the nearby pub Ma Egerton’s, just a hint that the band were starting to wind down a little towards the end of what must be a gruelling night after night schedule, nice chats with Dave and Kavus (who was fighting off adulation from all-comers), a brief word with Ian East in amongst a small collection of Gongheads including several Kozfest veterans and Tom Ashurst who has recently shared bills with both Gong (at HRH Prog) and Here and Now. Finally, a long conversation with Fabio Golfetti, with whom I have been corresponding for 30 years (with the promise of more to come). And I might even have spotted Cheb Nettles briefly, but one can never quite be sure….

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with Fabio Golfetti

Invisible Opera Company of Tibet: Jewel in the Lotus 25th Anniversary issue – interview with Brian Abbott

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When the Gong Appreciation Society branched out in the early Nineties to provide an excellent record label covering Gong and related acts, one of the first releases to appear was a short CD of studio pieces credited to the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet entitled ‘Jewel in the Lotus’, alongside a lengthy live track featuring Daevid Allen as a ‘guest’. The band also took their place at Gong 25 in London during 1994 in that 2 day celebration of Gong and its wider family. 25 years on and the album has been re-mastered and re-released with several key differences – in fact almost half of the material here is new. Its curator and ever present band member, Brian Abbott is justifiably proud of a release which brings together the entire original recording session. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions relating to this release and the band in general.

As we mentioned  in our review of their live CD ‘Surfing The Wave of the Mystery’ earlier this year, the term Invisible Opera Company of Tibet has special significance for Gong fans: references to it occur as far back as the early Seventies. I asked Brian as to his understanding of the term. “I believe it’s always been a part of Daevid’s mythology and the whole Gong story. According to Daevid’s  ‘Gong Dreaming 2’  book The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet are a group of ethereal lamas through which the Octave Doctors broadcast their music. They are said to reside in a cave high in the Himalayas.  They are a conduit through which the Gong vibrations issue forth.”


Invisibles flyer of unknown vintage from the Facelift archives

The first time I came across the term in a gigging context (or something approximating it) was also the first time I saw Daevid Allen perform – live in April 1988, soon after his return from a long exile in Australia. In an extraordinarily transformative gig, set somewhat anachronistically against the backdrop of the Afro-Caribbean ‘Hummingbird’ club in central Birmingham, with hefty bouncers everywhere and the constant clank of beer glasses, this was far removed from not just any preconceptions one might have had that Daevid might be about to launch a new Gong, but also from practically anything we’d heard from the Daevid Allen repertoire, although it gave some indication of what he might have been up to during his ‘exile’. I can remember the gig vividly over 30 years on, with Elliett Mackrell (later of Kangaroo Moon) on violin and Wandana Bruce on harmonium and voice whilst Daevid predominantly sang simple ballads and devotional chants, interspersed with the odd rather more humorous sample-based material. I can still remember the audience, many sitting cross-legged, listening to this very gentle music, whilst incense chugged out from stage. There was a fourth member too sat in the gloom to the right of stage: I vaguely remember him being introduced as Brian Abbott, a name which did mean something to me at the time (for reasons which will become clear), but as he was playing tablas, (and as we all know Brian is a guitarist), it was only a recent email exchange which confirmed that it was indeed Mr Abbott on percussion.

A series of gigs in 1988 and a number which followed were billed as the Invisible Co-opera. Brian’s name was already familiar to me as the custodian of GAS from what I had also mis-remembered as Ottery St Mary in the West Country (something I’ve just realised I’ve convoluted that from the fact that Harry Williamson recorded a musical interpretation of his father Henry’s ‘Tarka the Otter’ book in Devon). Brian takes up the story: “I started running GAS in 1981.  Everything then was with Gilli and Harry in North Devon.  Initially I just made contact on a friendly basis, (and) went up to stay a few times.  They were putting together Robot Woman 1 (LINK) at the time.  They had a few cassettes that they did via mail order.  Ark Redman was doing that from Ox’s Cross where they all lived.  So in 1982 they were leaving for Oz and the cassette side of things would stop.  I said I would carry it on and we then between us came up with a whole load more GAS tapes for the catalogue.  I ran it as a mail order business from 1981-1988.  I didn’t make any personal money from it but just ploughed back what little money there was into it to keep it going.  In 1988 I just felt I had done my time with it and it was time to pass it on.  I was not sure who was going to be my successor but I had a lot of communications with Rob Ayling and he seemed very keen to do it, the rest is history.” In fact my own first contact with GAS would have indeed been with Brian as, somewhat wowed by Didier Malherbe’s ‘Bloom’, I began a lifelong quest to get his entire discography, starting with the GAS cassette release ‘Melodic Destiny’. But back to 1988…


Letter from Rob Ayling (GAS) re: Daevid Allen's workshops, 1988 or 89

“When Daevid first arrived in the UK in 1988 he stayed with us in a large communal farmhouse we were all living in (in) Devon.  There was then the first self initiation workshop at Monkton Wylde Cour in Dorset.  Also the first gig at Exeter Arts centre which I organised.  It was billed then as Daevid Allen and friends and it was mostly acoustic.  I played tablas and acoustic guitar.  (We played) songs that morphed into Gongmaison, old Gong songs and sacred chants.  It was sold out. Then Didier came on board when they were in the South of France.  I could no longer continue as I had work commitments at that time.  So very quickly The Invisibles became Gongmaison.” I can remember the bafflement I felt when the original workshop fliers were posted out to GAS followers, both in terms of the content and the prices, but also the excitement as the project progressed to an intensely claustrophobic but exhilarating gig in an upstairs room at the Swinging Sporran in Manchester in 1989 involving Daevid, Graham Clark and Didier Malherbe, and then on to Gong Maison in Manchester and London and onwards – by the time they played at the Going Going/Gong Maison gig Sonic Relief in October 1990 (where I interviewed Hugh Hopper) I’d seen the band a numerous times.

In 1992 Brian resurrected the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet band, but even prior to this there had been other developments involving the project name in other parts of the world. An album simply entitled ‘Invisible Opera Company of Tibet’, and actually dating back to 1987 had appeared from Australia as one of the first releases on Voiceprint Records (the label formed by aforementioned GAS successor to Brian, Rob Ayling) in a collaboration involving predominantly Daevid and Russell Hibbs, but also Gilli Smyth and Harry Williamson. Meanwhile, from Brazil, Brian had been in contact with Fabio Golfetti, these days, of course, Gong’s guitarist. “During the time I was running GAS Fabio was in communication a lot and he sent me cassettes and flexis and albums and this was by The Invisible Opera company of Tibet (Tropical version).  I remember thinking then this really has the Gong vibe, I was very impressed.  When the Australian version released their album I was also made aware of an American version.  I know they did one cassette album. It was 1992 when I had the calling to create a UK version of the Invisibles. Daevid loved it and gave it his blessing.  He loved the idea of all these different bands existing all over the world working under the same banner. It’s an interesting concept.”


Tim Hawthorn at Kozfest, 2018

On ‘Jewel in the Lotus’, Brian is joined by Jim Peters (keyboards, flute and vocals), Steve Hickeson (drums)  and Tim Hall (bass/vocals), and this is the band I would have seen at Gong 25 alongside other notable performers. “For the most part it was the ‘Jewel’ line up.  Ali Young used to be the dancer with the band but went on to pastures new.  At that gig it was Jackie Juno who debuted with us as dancer, then became (our)  backing singer.  She became the main singer in 2008 when we relaunched the band”. Whilst I would obviously have seen Tim Hall alongside the others at Gong 25, it has taken me a while to piece together his pedigree: at the first Kozfest I went to in 2016, I was aware of a rather wizardly figure appearing on stage as guest vocalist for a band called Shom (he rather stole the show), then as a solo artist Tim Hawthorn at a later festival for a performance I missed. Things only fell into place for me when he sprang on to stage with the Invisibles in 2018 for a manic rendition of ‘Bad Self’, which of course he wrote and sang on ‘Jewel’. I could be forgiven for the confusion given the fact that he goes under several names and even more styles – another early GAS CD release is the beautiful acapella ensemble ‘Silver On The Tree’ alongside other Glastonbury luminaries; he also performs with The Archetypes and has some lovely samples, most notably a cover of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Sea Song’ plus a number of traditional tunes including ‘The Snow It Melts The Soonest , which counts amongst the most beautifully sung music I have ever heard.

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Brian Abbott

Whilst I enjoyed ‘Jewel In The Lotus’ in its original format, the remastered and elongated version for me, (shorn of the bonus live version of ‘We Circle Around’ featuring Daevid Allen which didn’t entirely sit comfortably with the separate studio material), turns it into a significant coherent project in its own right. The strength of the opener ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, is such that it took me several listens to get beyond it – it is a Buddhist chant which I’d seen Daevid (and Brian) perform in 1988, here turned into a blisteringly rocky number, inspirationally seguing into a version of ‘Master Builder’ which is amongst the very best versions of this track heard performed. This is quite brilliant. ‘All Coming True’, with vocals by Peters, and Tim Hall’s ‘Mysteries’, new for this edition but familiar from somewhere are good rousing knockabout stuff perhaps in the vein of some of Keith Bailey’s stuff with Here and Now (the sleevenotes make a reference to Britpop, which probably does it a disservice). ‘Bad Self’ is a vehicle for Hall’s latent punk sensibilities – a daft OTT performance which is wonderful fun.


Invisibles in full flow, mid Nineties

The other track from the original ‘Jewel’ is the reggae piece ‘The Size of Minus One’, which is really where I started to sit up, for it is the first of three really excellent dub pieces, which get progressively better. ‘Minus One’ is a turbo -charged number, well paced  with crashing cymbals, echoey top end drumming and a slightly otherworldly soundscape powered by the unmistakeable sound of the glissando guitar, a lesser spotted beast in the world of reggae, but as Steffe Sharpstrings has proven with Here and Now and his various dub projects, a perfect accompaniment. Even more crystal clear are the two vocal dub tracks, both featuring sweet and beautifully harmonised vocals. Both are adapted in somewhat unlikely fashion from traditional tunes – the first a pagan chant entitled ‘Goddess Dub’, the second, the achingly delivered ‘Om Tara’ presumably from Buddhist origins. Both feature guitar chops and tasty licks, roaming bass and nice keyboard touches and effects. Beautifully manicured, these tracks are as slick and refined as one could hope. Perhaps it is because these tracks haven’t been heard before, but after ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, these are the two I’m continually returning to.

Of the revamp of ‘Jewel’, it felt to Brian like unfinished business – the original recordings had been laid down in only 2 days with many elements done in a single take on a very limited budget. “It had been in the pipeline for a very long time.  Dave Kendall the engineer was never happy with the mixes due to the constraints of time and money.  So it was something that both Dave and myself have kept simmering away, doing bits and pieces here and there.  Eventually realising this was the 25th year we decided to bring it out with all the tracks from the session.  I am very proud of it now as its been lovingly restored and polished !”

The CD comes with equally lovingly curated artwork, a trifold with photos and extensive written memories from three of the musicians plus the producer – a fitting

Invisible Opera Company of Tibet 2019

At this point it seemed relevant to ask about the current state of IOCOT – 25 years on, how has the band evolved. Recent additions have been drummer Matt Jackson and also Viv Goodwin-Darke joining from Devonian neighbours Magic Bus, joining Brian, Jackie, bass player Phil Whitehouse and keyboard player Julian Veasy. “At this point it is fair to say – find me a band that hasn’t had its ups and downs.  There have been a lot of musicians over the years that have been within this collective, too many to list here. From its interception in 1992 to the present day we have been gigging and producing music.  There have been fallow periods and difficult times but there has always been a presence. At present there is whole load of new material being written by all members of the band (with) lots of different styles emerging, it’s very exciting.  (We are) just about to start editing the new studio album called ‘the Bardo of Becoming’ based on the Tibetan book of the dead and our journey from death to rebirth.  It will be something very different, exciting and challenging.  Hopefully lots of gigs.  We’ll also be doing the Bardo live. “

All of which could include future appearances at local festival Kozfest where Brian has had a presence one way or another in each of the first 10 years’ events. “Kozfest is a wonderful gathering of likeminded souls.  Initially there was this poster circulating on Facebook with Ken asleep in a chair at a festival dreaming of all these bands that were listed around him.  Lots of people commented saying the bands they would like to see.  This soon became a reality, Kozmik Kens Psychedelic dream festival.  I said we would love to play that.  Us and a whole roll call of bands.  Because I play guitar with another band (Global) we have alternated every year since and have played them all.  Feels like home!”

Thanks to Brian for answering my questions. Lots of information about Brian and the Invisibles and a link to purchase to purchase ‘Jewel in the Lotus’ can be found at www.brianabbott.info but the CD will also be available at www.planetgong.co.uk and  www.burningshed.com

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The Invisibles play a Winter Solstice gig on 21st December 2019 in Glastonbury.

Invisible Opera Company of Tibet Discography

1993 Live /studio cassette (“just found a box of new/old stock!)

1994 The Jewel in the Lotus CD (Gas records)

1994/5 Totally Bananas live cassette

2000 Open for Issness (Un released album)

2006 Totally Bananas CD

2011 Live at Sonic Rock CD

2013 Tried So Hard 7” single

2014 Songs from the Temple of Now CD

2019 Surfing The Wave of the Mystery – Live at Kozfest 2018 CD

2019 The Jewel in the Lotus (25th anniversary edition) CD


Love from the Planet Gong – the Virgin Years 1973-75 – 13 disc box set (Universal)


I’ve resisted the lure of the box set for years.  But it’s fair to say that as a regular peruser of the various social media platforms covering Canterbury scene music I’ve rarely seen a level of excitement to parallel the arrival of ‘Love from the Planet Gong’. This 13 disc box set is the baby of Jonny Greene, custodian for practically as long as I can remember of the Gong Appreciation Society and responsible at www.planetgong.co.uk for the hub which perpetuates the wider Gong global family story even beyond Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth’s physically departure from the Planet. This box set concentrates on a particular slice of Gong history, namely the classic Trilogy era, as well as ‘Shamal’, the album which immediately followed Daevid Allen’s departure.

I’d possibly not realised that this 4 album cycle, which most regard as containing the highpoints of Gong’s career (although that does a disservice to the wonderful ‘Camembert Electrique’) was completed in less than 3 years. It is published courtesy of Universal, or more accurately Virgin, whose confusing tussle for Gong recording rights with Byg/Charly has baffled Gong fans for generations. It’s a massive undertaking, to the extent that this box set is so stuffed with extras that even the ‘core’ albums are padded out with bonuses to reach their digital limits enabling the extra albums to be purely devoted to live performances.


As my own copy arrived rather late in the day, at the tail end of a gargantuan effort at GAS HQ to mail out individual copies of what appears to be a rather popular release, I was already hearing whispers as to what the highlights might be. Chronologically first, but at the same time hard to top, is the remastered version of ‘Flying Teapot’. It’s not putting too much of a gloss on this to say that on first play I was literally hearing elements I’d not been aware of before. Hand drums, female backing vocals, piano are previously unheralded elements of the trilogy album which often receives the least play: if ‘You’ has always been the pinnacle of the Trilogy era to me, and ‘Angel’s Egg’ its swirling predecessor, then ‘Teapot’ often gets overlooked. Where ‘Camembert Electrique’ was punky, and ‘You’ psychedelic, then ‘Teapot’ is very much the jazzy one: Didier Malherbe’s fluent saxophone work is extraordinary, Daevid Allen’s vocals roll along sleazily but at the same time Tim Blake’s ‘Octave Doctors’ reveals itself in a new sonic glory – with genuinely innovative sounds, let’s not also forget that this predates ‘Flute Salad’ as the first solo piece from an individual band member.

Whilst ‘Angel’s Egg’ and ‘You’ also are remastered, there is less of a marked distance from the originals, and so the magic bullets are elsewhere – on ‘You’ it’s an extraordinary demo of ‘A PHP’s advice’ which stopped me in my tracks – this intricate trio version of guitar, bass and vocals is a sonically cut down version of relative complexity which without doubt tops the original which I’ve always regarded as somewhat throwaway. Similarly ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’, possibly superior to its later New York Gong incarnation ‘Hours gone’, is a rousing piece dominated by Tim Blake’s unexpected and cacophonous harmonica.


On ‘Angel’s Egg’ it is ‘Ooby Scooby Doomsday’, previously buried for me on a taped version of the ‘Live Etc’ album, but actually a quite remarkable track in its own right, lyrically closer to Magick Brother/Mystic Sister -style anti-system posturing, and musically to ‘Camembert’, but benefitting from the Trilogy line-up for its full-blown instrumentation. It’s a lost Gong classic which is at the same time catchy, sophisticated and rather silly. Another highlight is a bonus on ‘Flying Teapot’, the ‘Radio Gnome Premix – Story Narration’ – a self-explanatory spoken word introduction to the gnomic cosmology which previously appeared on the ‘Mystery and History’ double CD of oddities, complete with a brief snippet of verse which I’d previously failed to identify as being from the voice of the much beloved oddball Lady June.

‘Shamal’ has always been the odd one out in terms of Gong albums for me. Whilst ‘Gazeuse!’ And ‘Expresso II’ are not everyone’s cup of tea (although I love them both) they are at least homogenous percussion-dominated jazz-rock of the highest order. ‘Shamal’ on the other hand sits somewhere between this and the ‘Trilogy’ material, complete its own whimsical (but not entirely successful) lyrics. It was really nice to hear this again but testament to the fact that it doesn’t quite match other Gong albums in that it had been so long since the previous time. Highlights are the funk bass of Mike Howlett on ‘Cat in Clark’s Shoes’ and the title track; some very Gallic jazz-rock which gives a hint of where ‘Bloom’ himself might be heading on ‘Chandra’; whilst ‘Mandrake’ serves as a taste of what was to come with later Pierre Moerlen-led projects.


We’re then into confusing territory for Disc 5 onwards in that parts to me were instantly familiar but I couldn’t always put my fingers on from quite where. The previously mentioned ‘Flowers’ and ‘Ooby Scooby’ were, for the unitiated, ‘lost’ studio tracks which had previously appeared on Virgin’s double ‘Gong Live Etc’ compilation, alongside various snippets of live gigs from, amongst others, the Bataclan, Roanne, Edinburgh, the Marquee and a BBC radio session. What discs 5-12 largely do is source the original concerts for each of these and reproduce them in their entirety, with added tweaking and compiling. Disc 5 is predominantly BBC Radio sessions, the first of which appeared on the ‘Pre Modernist Wireless Radio’ release from 1997, although the better half of that particular CD (with Kevin Ayers as guest) predates the Virgin years and so is not present here. In fact the highlights on this disc are the early January 74 session, with excellent clarity and fine performances, particularly on the jazzy ‘6/8 Tune’.

‘Live au Bataclan’ of course appeared in the first wave of CD releases on Mantra in the Nineties, but even that was truncated – this version is much expanded across a couple of disks. There are high points here, but as they are generally trumped by the next concert document I’ll neatly skip to ‘Roanne’. At this point you might, like me,  have been starting to get a touch of Gong-fatigue. But I have to say that the ‘Roanne’ gig is something else. Although sampled briefly on ‘Live Etc’, this did not include the ‘Other Side/Dynamite’ medley which represents amongst the most extraordinary 20 minutes I have heard Gong perform. Apparently captured at a small intimate venue on the Manor Mobile’s first outing, this feels almost like a ‘live in the studio’ project, announced exultantly with a ‘Hare Ganja’ shout by Daevid Allen before morphing into a quasi-religious incantation which is quite remarkable. All the other classic elements are here: swirling keyboards, ethereal space whisper, soaring saxophone, acute guitar interjections, all-encompassing drumming and warm, shifting bass. It all feels somewhat otherworldly as the piece morphs into ‘Dynamite’, with Didier Malherbe’s repetitive sax response to the main chant taking us almost back to the Soft Machine’s ‘We Did It Again’ mantra. More familiar ground elsewhere after this initial peak, but mention for the ‘Ooby Scooby’/’Est-ce que je Suis?’ segment, which stands up well against a particularly approximate version on ‘Bataclan’ which was rather spoiled by Daevid Allen’s jarring French accent. Interesting that the latter track was resurrected wholeheartedly for this live band having been initially aired in the very early 70s (and captured several times on the ‘Eclectique’ album), another punky dispensation.


The Hyde Park live CD is rather nifty as it features the band in full promotional glory – a precious document of the full ‘You’ band playing ‘You’ material. Particularly excellent here is ‘A Sprinkling of Clouds’ – largely absent from the band’s set list when I eventually got to see them in the Nineties (unlike practically any other Trilogy track), presumably because Tim Blake’s involvement was essential for any authentic performance. This airing is a masterpiece.

The penultimate discs are the one which catches the band in a brief moment of time between ‘You’ and ‘Shamal’ with Steve Hillage centrestage – this is not only an opportunity for the band to air those ‘Shamal’ tunes, but is almost a double header as the band work their way through a significant part of ‘Fish Rising’. Given that the band is clearly in transition, it is the ‘Fish Rising’ pieces which seem more coherent in a band context, and highlights the fact that perversely there was probably a shorter hop to this Steve Hillage solo album (which of course included many ‘You’ members) to ‘Shamal’. It also feels particularly relevant at present – as I write, the current Gong band are backing Steve in his first major tour as the Steve Hillage Band since the Seventies, themselves playing many tracks from ‘Fish Rising’. Disc 13 is, of course a DVD of Quad mixes of seminal album ‘You’ which will unfortunately require far more sophisticated equipment than I can do it justice with.


Now: the paraphernalia – the box set comes in, well a box, about 10 inches square, containing 4 separate inserts. Two house the various discs, both in  cardboard trifolds, the first containing discs 1-6 (essentially the four studio albums, the BBC live sessions and the first Bataclan disc), encased in the a reproduction of Daevid’s Flying Teapot Spotters Scroll, the second containing the remaining live CDs, plus the ‘You’ Quad mix DVD in a backpocket, these encased within various artwork including the ‘You’ cover, a Virgin press release circa ‘Angel’s Egg’ and a reproduction of Daevid Allen’s conviction certificate for dope possession in Oxford from September 1974. A further 36-page paper booklet entitled ‘lyric booklets and lyric sheets’ contains not just full lyrics but what I believe are most of the original inserts, including character casts and stories and the pink Pocket Introduction to the Planet Gong A6 booklet which you are encouraged to cut out, fold and staple! You’ll hopefully forgive me if I can’t pinpoint the exact origins of everything within this and the main booklet – everything within here has weaved its way to me at some point in assembling my Gong and Canterbury archive (for which I am indeed grateful) but as I do not have any of the original vinyl LPs I can’t tell what comes from where. No matter, for it is all now generally available to you via the box set.

The main 68 page hardbacked book is the chief exhibit, however. Starting with an extraordinary quote from Daevid Allen which I’ve not seen before essentially pinpointing the start of the Gong vision to him smoking ‘West Indian grass’ in 1961, rather than the oft-mentioned ‘seed vision’ chronicled in his first ‘autobiography’ ‘Gong Dreaming 1’, it continues with considerable commentary from Jonny Greene, much from a personal perspective, both initially as a fan, then from the viewpoint of a life fully invested in the Gong story; some splendid photos I’d not seen before; all of the original album front and back covers in full colour; and particularly valuably, contemporary thoughts from principally Mike Howlett, Tim Blake and Steve Hillage, (and also from the ‘switch doctor’ himself Venux de Luxe). Most startling is the account (from both sides) of the events which led to Tim Blake’s departure from the band which is disarming in its honesty.


The tracklistings detailed both on the back of the entire box set and within each CD trifold are reprised in much more detail within the hardbacked book, including writing and performing credits and in particular some fabulous commentary from Mike Howlett, who not only reflects on the origins of each recording and gives anecdotal detail about their circumstances, but how he has painstakingly remixed many of the performances to balance out the sound levels, alongside remastering by original producer Simon Heyworth. This is possibly the crowning achievement of the box set, in providing clear sonic improvements to even ears as untutored as my own.

You’ll hopefully forgive the fact that this review not only does not dissect each CD on display in its full minutae – whilst I’ve been listening to all parts of it in varying amounts for a month or so, I know that I will only truly get to know it well over time. It’s an exhaustive and often exhausting chronology, with enough subtle differences as it progresses to start to get a handle on the staged (but in reality relative rapid) transition from Teapot to post-Trilogy eras, with changing personnel, sounds and ultimately styles. Those of you buying it direct from Planet Gong/GAS are rewarded with a few rather nice extras: a full-size teaspotters scroll poster, a reproduction of the ‘You’ mandala in colour, some promotional stuff for both SHB/Gong and Utopia Strong tours, and 3 rather nice stickers for your collection. And the knowledge that in buying directly from the Planet Gong you have in some small way helped to support the surviving musicians from this most extraordinary musical era.

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The Utopia Strong; Kavus Torabi/Steve Davis, Golden Lion Todmorden 8 November 2019


There’s a very fine ‘Fry and Laurie’ sketch from the late Eighties where an old man in a care home, played by Hugh Laurie looks back on his life regretfully, listing all the things he’s never done (‘never watched a woman urinate’, ‘never killed a man’, ‘never ridden a camel’, ‘never had oral sex’ etc). As his demands for this to be rectified get ever more insistent and surreal (‘I want to drink milk from the breasts of a Nepalese maiden’) he’s put firmly in his place by Stephen Fry’s camp carer ‘Brian’, who suggests, in his passable Yorkshire accent, that such outlandish things could never happen in Todmorden, where the sketch is set. I suspect this is the first (and probably only) ever mention of Todmorden in a skit and was certainly the first time I’d heard of the place.

30 years on and surreal would be the operative word here. It’s scarcely more credible that my local boozer (I now live in Tod) should be hosting the launch of an ex-world snooker champion’s first ever tour as a practicing musician, alongside the lead singer of Gong and a pipe player from the experimentalists Coil. Or that I should be ‘raving’ at 1 in the morning to tunes including Magma offshoots whilst Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi punch the air exultantly from their slots behind the decks.

But that’s the nature of this bizarre and extremely memorable gig. I’ve extolled the virtues of the Golden Lion as a venue elsewhere, as well as Steve Davis’ close connection to the current Gong and the wider field of experimental music and so shall concentrate on the evening: principally The Utopia Strong, the 3 piece containing Davis, Torabi and Mike York, as well as the unexpected delights which followed.

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The Utopia Strong produce great washes of sound, a mix of electronica, and both electric and acoustic instrumentation, somewhat tripped out but at the same time disquieting, not safe enough to be background music and also not totally relying on beats to sanitise it. When I discussed the fact post gig with Kavus that I hadn’t heard any of the tracks on the album performed (I’d been particularly been looking forward to hearing ‘Brainsurgeons’ and ‘Do You Believe in Two Gods?’ it became clear that I’d misunderstood the process – the music is completely improvised, starts from a blank canvas every time, and therefore every performance is unique. If I’ve got this right, the genesis of each piece is a series of initial module sounds triggered and compiled by Steve Davis, here seated studiously stage left, squinting at the mass of wires in front of him, and possibly to a lesser degree from Mike York stage right. Kavus’ job is to add electric guitar, sometimes crashing, sometimes picking, sometimes glissandoed, plus hefty washes of harmonium, voice or the gong-like crescendo of a single cymbal. Mike York adds a descant recorder or, best of all, what appeared to be an uillean pipe into the mix. All elements can be looped and effects abound, particularly reverb. Behind it all is a bubbling, swirling light show, the overall ambience accentuated by the intensity of Davis’ and York’s concentration and Kavus’ occasional wild gestures.

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The audience was a fairly typical Golden Lion crew, not all entirely there for the merits of the music (although the reasons for that will become more clear as this review progresses), some rapt in appreciation, others taking the chance to rattle away noisily towards the back of the room, illiciting some strong reactions from at least one aggrieved punter. This wasn’t a problem until the music dipped more into quieter reflective passages, at which point the general babble could be construed as being just damned rude. The music built organically, unexpectedly and there were several small conferences between Kavus and the other band members mid-piece before things moved off in new directions. Like all improvisations there’s a hit and miss element to the final results, but this was ultimately intense, trippy and totally immersive, not always comfortable listening, but certainly transportative.

A quick check in at the sound desk where we grabbed a few words with Kavus but things were already moving on. Steve Davis, as apparently he did last time he DJd at the Lion, had agreed to take on all comers down in the pool room, and so a memorable half an hour or so ensued in an extremely convivial but rowdy back room downstairs. Did Steve win all his frames? Probably not, given the occasional crowd cheer which raised the roof, but his involvement was genuine and a joy to witness. One of his challengers was an old cricketing colleague of mine who confessed he’d been practicing all week with the game plan of potting a ball from the break, then clearing up all the balls. This cunning plan came to a sticky end as soon he lost the toss to break. Meanwhile we were chatting to Mike York about his pipes, which he identified as actually being border pipes from the West Country, partly inflated by mouth but mainly through bellows pumped via an elbow. He’d not been happy with this particular section of the Utopians’ performance although it had been one of the more stand out moments for us.


But once again things were moving on. Whilst the room upstairs that hosted The Utopia Strong is tiny and at best hosts around 80 people, the downstairs bar opens out nicely, funneling the audience past the bar towards the DJ booth, with a space towards the side complete with sofas and armchairs producing a warming living room feel. Not that many people remained seated for long. The Torabi/Davis set is hugely eclectic, upbeat and danceable as long as your feet are prepared to move in a multitude of directions: there were tracks from Talking Heads and the Beatles, Magma’s near neighbours Offering and Weidorje, a personal blast from the past in Spacemen 3, a spot of The Utopia Strong themselves from their album plus all manner of weird and wonderful stuff not (yet) on my radar. Possibly the most enjoyable DJ set I can recall hearing, all fuelled by a febrile atmosphere, lots of bonhomie and plenty of drink imbibed from both audience and performers. Things were still showing little sign of abating as we left a couple of hours into the set. Outlandish things do indeed happen in Todmorden….


Thanks to Annie Roberts for many of the pictures (the better quality ones!)

Buy the Utopia Strong album at https://theutopiastrong.bandcamp.com/album/the-utopia-strong






Henry Cow – the World is a Problem – Benjamin Piekut (Duke University Press)

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In the early days of producing my fanzine Facelift in 1989 I made the cardinal error of publishing something which suggested Henry Cow might be part of the Canterbury scene. I probably wasn’t even aware of doing this until a letter arrived from their drummer Chris Cutler which politely but firmly admonished me for such a suggestion, before offering support for the ‘zine and putting me on the mailing list for his Recommended Records label and distribution network. Ultimately this opened up a whole new musical world for me: Skeleton Crew, Fred Frith’s ‘Step Across the Border’ and ‘Gravity’, The Art Bears and The Work, much of which was more accessible than the Henry Cow I already knew, whose music was and remains something of a mixed blessing to me.

Henry Cow may indeed not be part of the Canterbury scene but what is indisputable is that the paths of musicians from both genres intertwine inevitably, be it from the days of the Ottowa Music Company ensembles in 1971-2 which involved Dave Stewart; to John Greaves’ involvement in National Health (alongside Georgie Born) and Soft Heap; to Hugh Hopper’s work with Lindsay Cooper; Geoff Leigh’s connections with Phil Miller; plus of course the fact that Robert Wyatt unforgettably co-fronted Henry Cow for a heady few concerts in 1975. Facelift published interviews with Dagmar Krause and Peter Blegvad but also gave column inches to Jakko’s involvement with the Lodge (alongside Blegvad and Greaves), Lindsay Cooper’s ‘Oh Moscow’ and much much more. And so this is why this remarkable 500 page tome from Benjamin Piekut can be viewed as an almost a parallel narrative to that of the Canterbury scene and you don’t have to be a Henry Cow expert (I am not) to fully appreciate the story.

This biography is many things but its main strength is as a chronicle of the band’s extraordinary history which spanned barely a decade, meticulously researched from a vast array of sources, not just from the music papers of the times but via interviews with the musicians, plus access to private musicians’ notes, diaries and minutes from the band’s many documented meetings. This, alongside the fact that a significant number of Henry Cow members and associates were at the book’s launch in London suggests that this is a history with involvement of differing degrees from various members of the band, and it would appear that few stones have been left unturned in attempting to produce a definitive biography.

henrycow group photo

Secondly it’s almost a sociological study of a band who very much set out to be different not just musically but also politically – their creation of difficult, questioning music was not just a function of the considerable musical talents of several significant intellects (the band initially emerged from the university of Cambridge), but of a desire to function as a band somewhat differently from the norm.

I was aware that Henry Cow were keen on documenting their own history, often in situ, but having read little of this other than what came my way as archive clippings from the 1970s music media I learnt a lot which surprised me (but maybe not others) – such as the functioning of a band as a collective with its own payroll incorporating a small army of assistants as equal members (roadies, technicians, administrators). Frequent allusion is made to group meetings which decided every facet of the band’s existence, both musicially, ideologically and logistically. Piekut makes much of the term ‘contraviviality’ – his argument is that the tensions within the group, as well as their constant struggle to survive economically contributed to the efficacy of the music and in some cases may even been embraced as an essential part of the band’s existence.

‘The World is a Problem’ also, perhaps unwittingly, contains the best description I have yet seen of the machinations of the embryonic Virgin empire – the context being how Henry Cow benefitted from the setting up of a label which had a surprise success with ‘Tubular Bells’, which for a while at least helped legitimize the support for non-commercial outfits such as Kevin Coyne, Gong, Hatfield and the North as well as Henry Cow.   That said, Richard Branson, as is well chronicled elsewhere, had little personal interest in either the Cows’ or other roster bands’ music and ultimately Henry Cow began to regard Virgin Records as part of the ‘problem’. There are also interesting passages covering crossovers with Virgin label mates Faust, and much later Mike Westbrook’s ‘Orckhestra’, plus the development of ideas which would eventually culminate in the Rock in Opposition movement involving European likeminds, plus Chris Cutler’s ‘Recommended’ mail order and record label outlets. This is an intensely serious book about what would appear to an intensely serious band, but the mood is occasionally lightened through descriptions of the band’s early Dadaist theatricals, such as a performance where the band staged an argument on stage, then split into splinter groups who performed separately from that point onwards.

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There are heavy going chapters debating exactly the nature of Henry Cow’s improvisational elements, their ongoing ideological ideas and how they fitted into a bewildering spectrum of politically far left experimental musicians, particularly their involvement in Rock for Socialism in 1977. To the casual cynical observer it might appear that Henry Cow created the perfect alchemy to ensure their indisputably marginal audience: extreme music (either intricately composed or uncompromisingly improvised) fringe politics and an alienating intellectualism which is alluded to often within the book (by members of the band) as ‘pompous’. But heartwarmingly this briefly struck a chord in Italy, where the band played to probably their most appreciative audiences, at politically-motivated events where there was the additional novelty of entering a world with little tradition of rock gigs. Elsewhere there is an entertaining discourse about how the band felt about punk, an intellectual analysis which would probably have baffled most of its proponents, and there is a particularly gem unearthed in that Fred Frith was once considered as a producer for the Sex Pistols.


There are also detailed descriptions (and transcriptions) of particular musical pieces that thread their way through explanations of various time signatures – perhaps somewhat unnecessary given the fact that for the small number of people for whom this is essential information may well have already worked it out for themselves. Even if this is in fact necessary to paint the full picture of what the Cow was actually all about, then these extended examinations are of course much less interesting to this reader than the ‘personal’ stuff – the musical tensions that led to particular members leaving the band at various points; Dagmar’s ongoing battles with both health and the practicalities of taking her young son on tour; the various couplings between wider group members; the assimilation then rejection of the Slapp Happy band of Peter Blegvad, Anthony Moore (Dagmar of course remained and became the band’s focal point); the tensions in the core inner circle of Hodgkinson, Cutler and Frith and how it came to be balanced gender-wise by strong feminist personalities in Lindsay Cooper and Georgie Born. And finally, the changing in dynamics within the band over the recording of what eventually became  the album ‘Hopes and Fears’ (credited to the Art Bears)  and its role in the group’s subsequent disbandment.

Piekut is careful not to deviate much from a script that looks at the activities of the Henry Cow musicians purely from within their lifespan of Henry Cow alone – Geoff Leigh and John Greaves for example, drop off the radar pretty much the moment they leave the band. In that regard, for the Canterbury scene student that is perhaps a little frustrating given subsequent collaborations with musicians we all know and love, but an alternative covering the entire Cow legacy, given that this is already a substantial book, would have entailed a monster. One other criticism might be that whilst Piekut often navigates carefully through the musical scores, and has a clear picture of the personal qualities of the indivduals in the band: Tim Hodgkinson’s intellectual vision; Cutler’s work ethic and charisma; Greaves’ sense of fun; Dagmar’s physical fragility, there is barely a mention of each members’ musical ‘voice’. This for me would always be the starting point: Fred Firth’s dissonant multi-instrumental virtuosity; Chris Cutler’s butterfly drum patterns, John Greaves’ warm human bassplaying, Dagmar’s extraordinary mastery of everything vocal from the serene to the guttural and so on. Perhaps too, within the 100 or so pages of references, bibliography and indeces space could have been found for a timeline which in particular would have enabled the reader to keep pace with the various personnel changes within the wider Cow collective.

These, however, are minor criticisms – this remains a remarkable project: compelling, unique and requiring considerable powers of concentration and assiduousness – somewhat like the band themselves.

Thanks to ‘Banana Steve’ for procuring this book for me at the October book launch in London

‘The World Is A Problem’ is best ordered from RER Megacorp (because that way the author will see the best rewards for his work)

Soft Machine: Band on the Wall, Manchester, 17 October 2019

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I wouldn’t want people to think that my social life is a little one-dimensional, but when rifling through my coat pockets before setting out for Soft Machine’s latest gig in Manchester last night I pulled out the ticket for Canterbury Sound gig at the Gulbenkian in Canterbury in June and realised that the last time I’d donned my gig-going leather jacket in anger was also for a Soft Machine gig.

And so for the fourth time in a couple of years (5 if you count the Kozfest performance in 2018 that I heard through the trees – it could have been 6 if you factor in the HRH Prog gig next week that I have tickets for). Same line-up, familiar ground – how could they possibly keep it fresh?

john marshall

The answer is of course obvious: these are consummate musicians for whom no two performances are the same, constantly pulling new rabbits out of the hat in terms of the back catalogue and lucky enough (if that’s the right term) to have an extremely strong album in ‘Hidden Details’ to continue to promote.

For once we arrived at the venue in good time, and were able to make our way almost down to the front of the stage, directly in front of John Etheridge. It struck me that in all my many hours of witnessing musicians at the Band on the Wall, some since its relaunch, but most particularly in the Eighties and Nineties, I have rarely been able to witness musicians at such proximity. With a perfect view of guitarist and the wonderful drumming of John Marshall it was a privilege. Starting with the relatively benign ‘Penny Hitch’, the band were soon ripping into ‘Hidden Details’ and it was here that the band’s abilities to surprise were encapsulated. This particular track has quickly become like an old friend with its reassuringly angular introduction but as it centres around an extended Etheridge solo, and because no two solos are the same, this felt like hearing the piece anew.

john etheridge

‘Fourteen Hour Dream’, a lovely most un-Softs like flute-driven ramble, made its appearance for the first time, the two ballads ‘Heart Off Gold’/’Broken Hill’ genuinely brought a tear to the eye, preceded by a quite wonderful solo filled with Spanish guitar inflections; there was a beautiful version of Hugh Hopper’s ‘Kings and Queens’; and ‘Burden of Proof’, a Legacy number, was dedicated to Allan Holdsworth’s daughter Lynne, who was once again in the audience.  The rasping ‘Gesolreut’, the ever-moving ‘Nettlebed’ from ‘Seven’ (which opened the second set) and ‘One Glove’ from Hidden Details kept things moving at a bluesier, rockier tempo, underpinned by Roy Babbington’s bounding bass.

roy babbington

But the piece de resistance was ‘Hazard Profile’. I think I’ve heard this every time the Softs have played in recent times – it’s an obvious set-closer, a killer riff and general crowd pleaser. But this was something different: tonight performed with possibly the most jaw-dropping guitar solo I have ever seen, even though by this time we’d moved further back from stage. Starting low-end and filthy it gradually built into a quite mammoth investigation of the fretboard, brought to its conclusion in expert style by Theo Travis’ keyboard chords.


The two encores (the reception was so enthusiastic it could quite easily have extended to more) were, a little strangely, ‘Chloe and the Pirates’, but more expectedly ‘Out-Bloody-Rageous’ which is fast becoming the band’s calling card, although I genuinely think they’d forgotten to play it during the main set.

Above all it was Etheridge’s engaging patter which propelled the night along with obvious bonhomie. I’m sure his quips are not all off the cuff, but they are natural and often hilarious: allusions to Roy Babbington’s need to continue gigging because of a large number of children, Theo Travis’ proclivity for different instrumentation being so great that he’d brought a Black and Decker Workmate on stage, or comments about not vacating their stations for the first encore ‘because we’re too old to get off stage easily’, or even a reference to ‘One (G)love’ being a typographical error. I’m sorry John if I’ve revealed all your best lines, but this was gentle self-deprecatory stuff which enhanced the experience. I don’t think the Band on the Wall was full, but, shorn of the seating area from last time (after all if three septugenarians can keep it going for over 2 hours, then why not their audience?), the atmosphere was electric: other than Etheridge the band generally keep masks of inscrutability, but John Marshall broke out into broad smiles at times, not only whilst interacting with Etheridge, but also, as with the rest of the band as a delighted response to the general adulation.

We were lucky enough to grab an extended chat with Theo Travis and John Etheridge afterwards: both revealed their love for the Band on the Wall – in particular John helped me recall, from nowhere, a gig in the early Nineties(?) where he’d gigged with In Cahoots keyboard player Steve Franklin and ‘Rock School’ bassist Henry Thomas. And I talked with Theo about his superb work with Gong for ‘Zero to Infinity’ and his connection to Steven Wilson. Two masters of their art amongst a band of jazz-rock deities. I’m already looking forward to the next time…

softs dates

North Sea Radio Orchestra: Folly Bololey (Dark Companion)


I suspect that for most people reading this blog, the words ‘Foley Bololey’ will be an instantly recognisable part of their own Canterbury lexicon in a similar way to  ‘Punkweed’ or the Octave Doctors. Robert Wyatt’s Learesque lyrics from which this snippet was taken, added greatly to the subterranean otherworldliness of his classic album ‘Rock Bottom’ and it is this album which is reprised in its entirety, alongside other instantly recognisable pieces from the Wyatt canon, for this 2019 release by the North Sea Radio Orchestra.

The NRSO turn out to be a collective of some vintage stretching back to 2002, based around the leadership of Craig Fortnam, propelled along by a small army of classical instrumentation which includes clarinet, bassoon, cello, violin, alongside more traditional rock armoury. This CD, their sixth, is actually credited to North Sea Radio Orchestra featuring John Greaves and (vocalist) Annie Barbazza, which reflects the fact that these two musicians are very much centrestage in the project. The album was recorded live in Italy in late 2018.

‘Folly Bololey’ is just the latest in a number of projects chronicling the work of Robert Wyatt (others include Soup Songs and Comicoperando), who, in involving musicians with a personal connection to Robert, both celebrate the output of a much admired musician and fill something of a vacuum, given that his last real sequence of live appearances were as far back as the mid-Seventies. The prominence of John Greaves on this recording is poignant, for it was he who played bass on the triumphant Henry Cow gigs in 1975, for which Robert Wyatt was a high profile guest.

Despite the large and varied cast, ‘Folly Bololey’ is largely faithful to the originals’ arrangements, with the greatest deviations being more the nature of the instrumentation used rather than any major reinterpretations. So for example Mike Oldfield’s soaring guitar on Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road is partly replaced by soprano vocals; whilst the simple drum patterns which became a necessity following Robert’s accident are often reprised faithfully on full kit by Gong’s Cheb Nettles. Best moments for me are a very thrashy version of ‘Alifib’, which is cacophonous where the original was disturbing; and ‘A Last Straw’ on which the sub-aquatic feel of the original is perfectly captured by a lovely vibraphone solo from Tommaso Franguelli. And John Greaves’ bass is quite stunning throughout, whether it is fulsomely recreating Hugh Hopper’s lines on ‘Alifie’ or slightly subverting the riffs on ‘Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road’ – well up in the mix thoughout the album, it rumbles along magnificently.


Which brings us to the vocals, largely covered by Barbazza and Greaves. ‘Rock Bottom’s’ charm was, as with all Wyatt albums, as much about the prominence of an iconic voice as his compositions, and, even given Barbazza’s acknowledged admiration for his work and Greaves’ personal connection, any attempt to recreate it must have been scary. Credit to Barbazza she neither attempts to mimic the inflections, or sanitise with either classical overtones or operatics – this is a straight performance of appealing clarity. The counterpoint is Greaves’ more idiosyncratic and instantly recognisable voice, but this is mainly confined to the Ivor Cutler monologues from the ‘Hit The Road’ tracks – in alternatively rasping and sepulchral delivery, both work well.

At the other end of the scale, both ‘O Caroline’ and ‘Sea Song’ were so effective in their simplicity first time around that any attempts to match them are perhaps futile – here, the former at least brings up to date the conversational lyrics courtesy of John Greaves whilst the latter doesn’t really start to tingle until vocals join bassoon and guitar for a lovely intertwining coda.

The album features 4 bonus tracks from beyond the original ‘Rock Bottom’ album, two of which, ‘Ship Building’ and ‘Maryan’ were both written for Robert in their original forms, alongside the aforementioned ‘O Caroline’ and ‘The British Road’, a very straight ahead rock version of one of the tracks from Robert’s superbly stripped down ‘Old Rottenhat’. Best is probably ‘Maryan’, that very Rock Bottomesque track from ‘Shleep’ with its abundance of warm acoustic sounds from violin, bassoon and vibes.

I very much sat down to listen to this album from the point of view of needing to be impressed. And in many places I was: you’ll find it difficult to purge from your consciousness the performances of the ‘Hit The Road’ tracks in particular and I would imagine witnessing a live performance would be even better – reports of the gig at Café Oto earlier this year were uniformly glowing.  If you don’t already have this CD, I suggest you purchase soon, as apparently the initial run of 1000 is almost sold out.


The search for the Khaen: Didier Malherbe’s most obscure album?


The arrival of the album ‘Down the Mekong’ through my postbox on Tuesday of last week completes the search for an obscure Didier Malherbe CD which has taken over a year and become an unlikely Holy Grail for myself and another reader of this blog.

I first saw Didier back in 1989 at the Swinging Sporran in Manchester, when, unheralded, he appeared alongside Daevid Allen going under the umbrella of the Invisible Co-opera, in a gig which also introduced me to violinist Graham Clark. The band performed music which was already starting to move away from the devotional material of a year before when Daevid Alen had returned to the UK and played largely acoustic music alongside partner Wandana Bruce and future Kangaroo Moon fiddle player Elliet Mackrell.

The gig cemented a burgeoning love affair for me with the music of Didier, already sparked by his work both with Gong and his own wonderful solo  jazz fusion album ‘Bloom’. Didier was subsequently ever present in the incarnations through the Nineties of first Gong Maison, then Shapeshifter Gong, which also brought Pip Pyle back into the fold, and then the resurrection of the ‘classic’ Gong (or as near as dammit) which saw Daevid, Gilli, Keith Missile, Steffe Sharpstrings, Didier and Pip all hammer out vintage material in what remains my favourite ever live combo. Didier continued to contribute cameo pieces to albums such as ‘Zero to Infinity’ and ‘2032’ as well as the occasional live performance with the band, but by this time his particular ship had sailed to even more fertile waters, namely his own quite wonderful trio Hadouk.


Didier’s solo career is worth (and will sometime get) an article in its own right: by the time I finally got to interview him http://homepages.3-c.coop/facelift/facelift/didier%20malherbe.html in 1998 at Bury’s Met Arts Centre, alongside French guitarist Pierre Bensuasan, with whom he had an enduring and endearing duo, he was already notching up credits with not only Hadouk but a string of solo and guest projects, many showcasing not just only the full gamut of saxophones and flutes one associates him with in Gong, but an increasing range of ‘ethnic’ instruments. Didier was increasingly taking on the task of submersing himself in the intricacies of a number of non-Western wind instruments, before bending their innate sounds to his own interpretations of jazz.

Centrestage of course was the dudouk (or duduk), the mellow, reedy Armenian wind instrument which gave its name in part to the band Hadouk. The dudouk’s emotive wail is perfectly suited to Didier’s lyrical compositions, and over a decade or more the Hadouk Trio produced 5 albums of breathtaking beauty, far removed from the work of Gong, but a colossal entity in their own right.

One of the trademarks of Hadouk was the appropriation, and not just by Didier, of a range of exotic sounding  instruments. If Didier introduced me to the doudouk, and Loy Ehrilich to the hajouj, then it was percussionist Steve Shehan who gave me my first taste of the hang, a wondrously melodic tuned percussive instrument aired on the Hadouk classic ‘Hijaz’,

which for me led to the exploration of a whole new world of handpan drums played by the likes of the genre’s masters David Kuckermann and the Siberian multi-instrumentalist Vladiswar Nadishana. Nadishana guested on one gig with Hadouk in Paris 2008 and eventually took Steve Shehan off to record with the Nadishana trio, thus bringing to an end the Hadouk trio.


I was so utterly consumed with the music of the Hadouk Trio that I vowed to travel to France to see them perform,  but the arrival of children in 2009 and 2011  made such whimsical trips abroad increasingly unlikely. Hence on finally hearing of a gig opening the Scarborough Jazz Festival in September 2011, I believe their first ever UK gig, I checked some dates and worked out that their Scarborough gig would fall just a day after the monthly jazz club event at Hebden Bridge Trades Club. HX7 Jazz was an embryonic monthly jazz night set up by Dave Nelson, a hugely important musical figure in the local community, composer, pianist and later organizer of the Piano40 festival. Plus memorably, a suite later conceived for the Tour de France’s visit to Hebden Bridge in 2014, when Dave’s piano composition was performed on a grand piano towed on a trailer up Cragg Vale, the longest continuous ascent in England, pulled by 18 bikes welded together – I was involved in testing the prototype for that particular eccentricity.


So, a phone call followed, Dave, who shared some mutual musical interests and was conversant with Gong sorted out all the logistics and I helped with the publicity. http://www.hebdenbridge.co.uk/news/2011/148.html The Hadouk Trio arrived in Hebden Bridge to play to a sell out crowd and it was one of the most memorable evening’s music I can recall. I was particularly entranced with the sheer multi-faceted genius of Loy Ehrlich as he switched from strings to keyboards, or even played them simultaneously. If I’d been hoping for the band’s full arsenal of instruments however (the first Hadouk album alone lists nineteen) then I would have been sadly disappointed: not only did Steve Shehan not travel with the band (in fact he may have already have left the band by this point) – and hence no hang – (his replacement was a rather excellent tabla player) – but Didier limited himself to saxophones, flute, dudouk and his unlikely tour de force on amplified spinning tops. The fact that the band was travelling relatively light was quite reasonable given the brevity of their UK tour  – it would have taken quite some van to accommodate their entire 3 man orchestra .

Over the subsequent years, I’d taken it upon myself as something of a quest to collect as many of Didier’s recent projects as possible. Included would be the double album with Eric Lohrer, two further albums with the new Hadouk Quartet and further solo or duo projects, This is where the trail gets slightly confusing: some of these solo works are hosted and published by the Cezame Music Agency https://en.cezame-fle.com/index.php?dlcsv=1 , a compendium of library music from French musicians with a streaming service which allows you to listen to any of said tracks (alongside many thousands of other tracks by French musicians including the likes of Sophia Domancich). Tracks are categorised not by musicians involved but by composer and include fulsome descriptions – this is a service aimed at film producers and documentary makers looking for accompanying soundscapes. A recent search on their website revealed no less than 127 tracks credited to Didier as a composer or co-composer and even that omits the recent duo album with another ex Gong musician Shyamal Maitra. Whilst the duo album with Loy Ehrlich ‘Windprints’ clearly is less heavyweight than Didier’s band projects, (Hadouk-lite perhaps) and the brevity of the tracks reflects this, some albums of more incidental music such as ‘Desert Lands’ do not appear in the catalogue, whilst another Malherbe/Ehrlich duo project CARNETS D’ASIE ET DA’AILLEURS, which I’d avoided for a while because I thought it was likely to be less substantial reveals itself to be a quite magnificent, intricate album.

At Kozfest in 2018 we were camped opposite a couple who appeared to be gravitating towards many of the same Gong-related  gigs as us. Eventually we got talking: the fella, bronzed and habitually stripped down to the waist  introduced himself as ‘Banana Steve’, and as one might expect was an aficionado of both Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen. We discovered a mutual connection to Martin Wakeling, author of the much-loved Kevin Ayers fanzine ‘Why Are We Sleeping’, but also a interest in Didier Malherbe obscurities. Whilst I’d had some joy in tracking down the majority of items listed on Didier’s discography here: one album in particular remained elusive for both of us: a duo album with Khampha Inthisane ‘Down the Mekong’

Which takes us to one of the missing instruments I’d been hoping to witness Didier playing in Hebden Bridge– the  khen (or khaen),. Alongside the hang, the khen is responsible for the most unusual sounding music on the later Hadouk Trio albums. On the sonic scale somewhere between a mouth organ, a church organ and a harmonium, it enjoys similarities to the hang in that it can be used to produce chords as well as single notes, no doubt intriguing Didier in terms of the possibilities this opened up.  It also has something of an archaic sound to it, which reflects the instrument’s rich cultural history – it is a traditional instrument from Laos. The khen is a multi-pipe wind instrument made from 14 separate hollow bamboo cones, arranged vertically and with the bizarre visual impact of splitting the player’s face by partially obscuring it, as demonstrated so well on this video  from around 3.20 onwards

Fans of the Hadouk trio will instantly recognize the sound from Parasol Blanc http://www.didiermalherbe.com/wparas3.mp3, where the khen and hajouj  form a beautiful backdrop for a rare solo guest performance from Jon Hassell on trumpet.

A teasing snippet on Didier’s website http://www.didiermalherbe.com/saxdak.mp3 is all that is available to sample from ‘Down The Mekong’ – released in 2011, there are no Youtube samples, no copies available through Planet Gong, contact with the website suggested there were no longer any copies left and tracking down the record label 7Orients only revealed a website which had not been updated for several years and was certainly not returning emails. More extensive google searches revealed a single copy held in an academic French library, presumably available to listen to for someone with the right credentials, but unlikely to be me. But on ebay, amazon, discogs and other more specialized outlets – nothing. I did however, locate a rather interesting interview with Didier in the Laotian Ventiane Times entirely devoted to the khen http://www.laja.la/sub-page/TOURISM/Cultural_TouristSites/khaen%20final2018.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3SZcc5Ms59k3FpcbveqeEp80EfDErAC5Jt40onQSV8cUvQWkUff6hAhO8

Finally, another push towards Didier’s website curator and friend of Facelift Luc Pilmeyer elicited direct contact with Didier and an email exchange followed – he was in Provence, then in Luxembourg, but would dig out a copy on his return. And then… miraculously, in a jiffy bag, complete with his good wishes on the cover, the CD arrived.

As I write, I’m still into the first few listens of Down the Mekong – it sounds lovely. In true  Didier style, whilst he claims to practice the khen daily, in a typically humble act he has left all khen playing to Khampa Inthisane, whilst he accompanies, often providing the melody line, principally on saxes and doudouk. This deferential approach mirrors that of my favourite of all Didier videos

when in the earliest stages of his own obsession with the doudouk, he recorded a superb version of his track ‘Serpent d’Etoiles’ on Russian television alongside Patrice Meyer, this time performing on soprano saxophone, whilst watching beady-eyed as an acknowledged master of the doudouk, Djivan Gasparyan produces a weaving, evocative solo.

Postscript: whilst waiting at the start of September for ‘Down the Mekong’ to arrive, my brother-in-law John came to stay for a couple of nights at our new place in Todmorden. John, a linguist and academic, is a seasoned South Asian traveler and has spent time living in Japan and Malaysia as well as travelling further afield. Whilst relating the story you’ve just read above, it emerged that John had visited Laos, and after I had somewhat cack-handedly attempted to describe the khen, John revealed that he’d attended a concert whilst travelling and had returned back home to Edinburgh the proud owner of an instrument which sounded very much like what I was describing. A couple of days after his visit this photo arrived, proof indeed that we were indeed talking about the same instrument. In a twist that I’m sure Didier would have appreciated, it landed the same day as ‘Down the Mekong’ arrived. Would you khen it…


Here and Now, Featherteeth, Tom Ashurst/Mark Robson, The Golden Lion, Todmorden, 5 July 2019

tom ashurst here and now poster

Happy days! In the course of a heady 6 weeks or so I’ve seen Gong, the Ozric Tentacles’ Ed Wynne Band, the Steve Hillage Band, Soft Machine, Caravan, a host of ‘new’ Canterbury bands including Lapis Lazuli and members of Syd Arthur, and now this. If the trip to Canterbury took out a couple of days in travelling, the reward was a gig literally at the end of our street as Here and Now arrived in Todmorden.

The Golden Lion is a venue fast approaching legendary status in its locality. The Boxing Day floods of 2015 came in the middle of, but did not deter, the establishment of this remarkable pub as the musical hub of its community. Ramshackled, chaotic and utterly vibrant, the Golden Lion appears to constantly do several things at the same time: multiple musical events, excellent Thai food, a craft ale shop and a well stocked bar. We’d wandered down the road a few weeks previously, ostensibly to see an excellent local outfit called Jumble Hole Clough perform in the tiny gig room upstairs, but never got past the ground floor bar as a remarkable open mic night, hosted by various members of the utterly bonkers Bacup collective Mrs Cakehead drew us instead into a surreal, anachronistic and fairly approximate blend of 60s flower power and 70s punk attitude.

Tonight’s gig was a threefold event: Here and Now headlining, local act Featherteeth as the main support, and the excellent Tom Ashurst/Mark Robson duo third on the bill. I’d been looking forward to the latter as much as anything, courtesy of the superb live CD recorded by the two reviewed here earlier this year. Traffic problems for Here and Now put back start times for each of the acts, which meant that at the time the gig was due to start the support acts were still soundchecking. Even the Tom Ashurst soundcheck was startling – this precocious talent purveys flurries of bluesy acoustic guitar, often sampled in loops to build multiple layers of sound, then solos effortlessly over the top.

tom ashurst

Tonight’s setlist bore little relation to the CD – the only common song I spotted was a cover of Softs’ ‘Tales of Taliesin’, and even this was shorn of its main guitar solo theme. The venue, upstairs, shrouded in a red glow as thick curtains blocked out the last of the evenings’ sunlight is a somewhat intimate affair – with a capacity of no more than, say, 80 – the numbers assembled slowly built during the set, unfortunately not always by people who seemed willing to listen to the intricacies of the music, here thoroughly embellished by the work of Mark Robson on keyboards, all subtle accompaniments and soundscapes. As Mark explained, he and Tom live at opposite ends of the country, with scant time to practice together, which makes their telepathy all the more impressive. Given the general cacophony amongst the audience I half expected Tom, who possesses a fine line in fruity language, to tell the offenders precisely how to shut up. But actually a rather cleverer tactic prevailed, namely to engage the audience in somewhat more rowdy song-based numbers – I’m not that familiar with the Hawkwind back catalogue, but am guessing that ‘Night of the Hawks’ is part of Tom’s repertoire with the Hawklords, for who he plays bass. A shame not to hear Tom’s superb version of ‘Fohat’, but that’s hopefully for a future, more elongated set.



Featherteeth are a band whose name I’ve seen knocking around locally, and even recognised their violinist as a someone who busks around Tod. This was a hugely enjoyable straight-aheadish four piece based around guitar/vox, bass, fiddle and drums, mixing a few anthemic tunes with some more earthy numbers propelled along by some all-encompassing drums and some excellent fiddle work. Highlights for me were the jiggy ‘Animal Tracks’ the evocative ‘Indian Giver’ and some extended numbers with a ska backbeat. Good rousing stuff to really get the feet moving. To get a taste of what this band are all about, check out this video recorded recently at Todmorden’s BinBagPig studios https://youtu.be/i-rJTVUYBpg

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Mark Robson, Andy Burrows (Here and Now) photo: Phil West

Here and Now are these days a four piece: Keith Bailey on bass, Mark Robson on keys, Andy Burrows on guitar and Gem on drums. This gig was a one off (in a brief chat with Keith he told me that the original plan was to do 3 concerts), but there will be another gig later this month in Southampton prior to the band’s headlining spot at Kozfest. Publicity had been sparse for this gig, but necessarily so as with such a small capacity venue, it had quickly sold out. Word had still spread remarkably quickly to the extent that there were many people who’d travelled a distance. In a heaving amorphous mass, the audience almost blended with the band: Gong T-shirts and dreadlocks abounded and hazyish memories recall a fairly extensive set with a desire to stretch things out which I don’t quite recall from my last time seeing them at Kozfest 2017. Some very familiar tunes which roused a crowd clearly consisting of the converted included ‘What You See Is What You Are’, (the iconic opener from ‘Give and Take’), a very fine rolling version of ‘Surgeon’s Knife’ from ‘All Over The Show’, samplings from the ‘Fantasy Shift’/’Theatre’ era and the inevitable outtings from ‘Floating Anarchy’, including bits of the ’No More Sages’ suite.

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Keith Bailey, Here and Now photo: Phil West

There were at least two songs I didn’t recognise, and whilst I’d assumed these were from the Eighties repertoire I was less familiar with, the fact that Keith introduced the second one as ‘another new one’ suggests that there is strong new material the band is performing, it was utterly in keeping with the expansionist vibe of the evening. I’d mentioned to a friend who hadn’t seen the band before that they would witness one of the finest bass players in the business, and that was certainly confirmed, but I was also totally impressed by Mark Robson on keyboards. I remember when he first joined the band perhaps 20 years ago being slightly perplexed at how such an apparently gentle soul (responsible at the time for releasing the stripped down ‘In Search of a Simple Life’ and fabled for his didgeridoo, penny whistle and soothing vocals) would fit into a rousing punky band. Tonight, well up in the mix, it made sense. A shame that Andy Burrows was less fortunate in terms of sonic exposure – I had to worm my way to the front of the heaving crowd to get a real flavour of what he was doing – he is a fabulous guitar player but his sterling work wasn’t always audible.

Strangely enough, the band’s rousing send off (and I can’t remember whether this was ‘Opium for the People’ or ‘Glad You’re Here’, both of which really got the crowd moving) was greeted with tumultuous acclaim but not calls for an encore – perhaps people were either overwhelmed, or just desperate for some air. Or in our case, just about capable of dragging ourselves back up the hill, exhausted.


Caravan, Soft Machine, Jack Hues, Lapis Lazuli & Nelson Parade: a weekend of Canterbury music (and more) at the Gulbenkian Arts Centre, Canterbury, 21-22 June 2019


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Caravan at the Gulbenkian: photo Jason Pay

If you’ve been invited to speak in a city whose music you’ve been writing about for 30 years, it’s probably best not to start with an opening gambit of “this is only the second time I’ve been to Canterbury”, but that was how I started my talk at the Canterbury Sound event held at Christchurch University in 2017.

I could sense the room visibly bristle even as I said it. The nature of that second trip to Canterbury (arriving late on Friday night with the whole of the next day spent indoors) meant that I left on the Sunday morning still not much the wiser as to the charms of the city. I vowed to rectify this at some point in the future, for, after all, it’s a bit contradictory making a couple of ‘pilgrimages’ to Deia in Mallorca on the basis of a Canterbury connection if you’ve barely experienced Canterbury itself.

The perfect excuse came with the Gulbenkian Arts Centre’s 50th birthday celebrations and an ambitious program of events which peaked with Saturday evening’s Soft Machine/Caravan double header (and much more..) but also included: a ‘New Canterbury Sound’ event on the Friday evening; a multimedia event the previous Monday based around ‘You Are Here’, the innovative history of the city from Matthew Watkins, who has done more than most to bridge the gap between old and new Canterbury sounds and is a champion of both; and an album airing of Caravan’s ‘For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night’ on a lazy Sunday afternoon, featuring the thoughts of participants Pye Hastings, Geoffrey Richardson and producer David Hitchcock. Sadly our trip would only be able to incorporate the middle two events, but with no less than 10 musical acts to peruse within them, this would be rich pickings indeed.

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On the longest day of the year (and possibly the hottest) a drive down from West Yorkshire and an unintended hour-long walk from our campsite through town and up the hill towards the Gulbenkian (I’d foolishly not realised that this arts complex is part of an extensive out of town university campus) meant that we arrived a little hot and bothered but in time to catch the last couple of tracks from the mellow groovings of Jouis. We were greeted by a beaming Joel Magill, from the Dawn Chorus Recording Company. Curator of tonight’s impressive 6-band billing, he is known best to us as the bass player with Syd Arthur, and as a new dad presumably currently surviving life purely through bonhomie and the fumes of adrenaline. Either way he seemed as unphased as it is possible to be as the MC of an event as ambitious as this. The evening, which had been running since about 7 o’clock, alternated bands between the Gulbenkian café, an intimate ground floor setting, with its music filtering out through the open doors on to campus;  and the more stark artsy surroundings of the Theatre with its black stage, tiered seating and dimmed lights.

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Nelson Parade

The first band we saw in its entirety was Nelson Parade. I knew there was a Syd Arthur connection here, but hadn’t quite unpicked the link. Syd Arthur’s music more recently has trimmed itself down from its folky roots to something more poppy and electronic, simplifying the rhythms and favouring a more direct approach. This is mirrored to some extent too by drummer Josh Magill’s new project Joshua, and even some website material I’ve heard from violinist/mandolin player Raven Bush. Nelson Parade appear to be ploughing a broadly similar furrow (they label themselves psych pop), but there were a few surprises en route. Firstly, they are fronted by a fourth Magill brother, Callum, mop-haired and bespectacled. I am only familiar with his superb work with The Boot Lagoon, who featured his cacophonous distorted keyboard work providing the textures to seriously groovy music – one Facelift contributor reckoned they was closer to the Canterbury scene sound of Caravan than anything that Syd Arthur purveyed. Nelson Parade on the other hand are a four piece featuring Callum on vocals behind a keyboard (and occasionally guitar), with brothers Josh and Joel on drums and bass respectively, with further guitar stage right. This was a performance of unexpected showmanship.

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Josh and Callum Magill, Nelson Parade

Like Syd Arthur’s front man Liam Magill, Callum has a voice which dips in and out of falsetto, and a certain nervous energy underpinning his body language, but this was much more sharply characterised material than Syd Arthur’s often gentle tunes. I was expecting to sit watching this performance in a certain amount of quiet approval at cleverly crafted pop without ever fully being convinced, but it was almost as if a band with credentials such as this couldn’t help themselves in reaching out into more exploratory territories, firstly through a bossa novaish piece ‘Go Home Nelson’ recalling Caravan’s themes and sounds, then through a final piece (possibly ‘Kevin crashed and then woke up’?)where 3 members of the band ended up front of stage, widdling effects boxes in a mesmeric, psychedelic finale. Apologies for the lack of further details here – this was a band completely new to me and I intend to check out further material at https://nelsonparade.bandcamp.com/releases


Lapis Lazuli

And so back to the café and the hotly anticipated Lapis Lazuli. I was musing on the long drive down that on average each journey I’ve made to see this remarkable band has involved a 500 mile round trip. It must say something about the band that this seems quite a relatively reasonable undertaking to make given the effort which goes into creating their own astonishingly complex compositions.  And for all the initial euphoria of seeing them in Canterbury in 2017 and the Kozfest performance in 2018 where they provided a memorable antidote to the dronish fayre which dominates there, this gig was undoubtedly even more extraordinary.


Adam Brodigan & Neil Sullivan, Lapis Lazuli

Helped by razor sharp drum sounds and a conducive setting where the crowd (complete with several small children running free) and band seemed to merge into a single entranced mob, the band performed three tracks from their most recent album ‘Brain’, all breathtaking in their audacious composition and execution. As one punter remarked, this is a heavier Lapis Lazuli, eschewing any remnants of acousticity into a noisy guitar-driven pulverisation of the senses. New guitarist Martin took the place of Dan Lander and musically made it a seamless transition, but centre stage was the lead work of Neil Sullivan, all flailing hair and strides which matched the purple curtain backdrop;  the dextrous precision of drummer Adam Brodigan; and the irrepressible presence of Luke Mennis, who not only lives and breathes every note he plays, but is similarly consumed by that of those around him.

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Luke Mennis, Lapis Lazuli

The set started with the fiendishly complex and euphorically delivered ‘Low Key’ and of course was concluded by the new Lapis anthem ‘Hired Soul’, but for me the highlight, unexpectedly, was the stop-start confusion of ‘The Slug’, which extended out into an impossibly catchy groove – for the first time I made the link between this and hypnosis of ‘We Did It Again’ as the crowd were expertly wound up into a frenzy. I could quite happily have jumped back into my car and driven home at this point, so peerless was this performance, although other drivers might not have thanked me for that…

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Evil Usses on stage

How to wind down? Certainly not with the evening’s headliners the Evil Usses who finished things off in the theatre. Given the stilted Italian announcements coming from the behind the saxophone/keyboard player’s microphone and the exotic hairstyle of the guitarist, who possesses enough extravagant plumes to block up several plumbing systems, one got the impression this band, clearly not from Canterbury, had been flown in for the occasion. In fact they’d made a hop across the country from Bristol – we’d spied their green van, containing some likely looking types on our trip down the M2.


Evil Usses

The Evil Usses were unfathomably brilliant, fuelled by hypnotic, rhythmic bass lines, driving drumming and some sonically stark overlays, be it sax soloing, keyboard effects or abrasive guitar lines. Like Nelson Parade, Evil Usses slowly wound up the audience with ever more weird grooves up to the point where there was a modest stage invasion of around 20 or so hairies of various genders and ages (including most of Lapis Lazuli) gyrating together across the front of the rather large stage front which had previously been stalked by the wonderfully coiffured guitarist.

I left feeling that our first night at the Gulbenkian was one of the best evenings of music I could ever recall. But this was merely the aperitif.

Saturday was a chance to finally look around Canterbury. It’s a strange mix of components: the cathedral an imposing presence from practically every vantage point outside of the city walls, but often obscured from within. The character of some of the older streets and buildings is somewhat subsumed between the inevitable chain stores which abound – even the pedestrian area which has thankfully materialised in the centre of the city could have been transplanted from any other town, with a shortage of places to sit out and absorb the atmosphere on a sunny summer’s day. And yes, we fitted in a trip to the Cathedral, with its colossal dimensions, where a full orchestra practiced for a future performance in the nave, the singers’ voices echoing muddily around the vast indoor cavities.


gratuitous Cathedral shot

Strangely enough I’d been expecting Canterbury in general to be much more oppressively busy – it was still possible to catch a few reflective moments in the Cathedral’s herb garden, or some of the smaller chapels, until we were beset by a group of fellow visitors led by a member of the local clergy plummily reciting an anecdote about the Queen. Refuelling with a fine veggie meal, we started to slowly edge in the direction of the Gulbenkian, conscious that it would be a good idea to arrive somewhat more promptly tonight.

On the way the local Oxfam had a few CDs for sale, and within its limited non-classical catalogue I spotted no less than 6 albums worth buying for a couple of quid each: Steve Hillage’s ‘L’, two Caveman Shoestore albums from their period before Hugh Hopper joined them, The Polite Force album ‘Canterbury Knights’ (something of a gem) and two albums by the Orb from their later era. If I’d probably already got a couple of these artefacts at home, it seemed rude not to snap them up, the shop was about to close so I wouldn’t be denying anyone the chance. Except that another punter going through the same thought process arrived a minutes later and whilst we exchanged a few  words identifying our affiliation with the ‘scene’,  I felt a few pangs of guilt.


And so to the evening’s proceedings. We’d been told by a couple of people en route that the ‘Canterbury Sound’ event would start at 6 prompt with Jack Hues, and as I wanted to see the whole evening, we grabbed a bus and arrived at the Gulbenkian with just enough time to snatch a quick word with Aymeric Leroy and spot various performers in the milling crowd, John Marshall and Pye Hastings amongst them, navigating their way around the complex. The concert hall was a much grander setting than even the previous night’s theatre, and our seats were somewhere up in the gods surveying the night’s performances – great for a visual overview, less so for a closeup experience. In the foyer there was merchandise from both Soft Machine and Caravan, the latter sporting some natty new T-shirts and flyers advertising a forthcoming 30 CD box set!


Jack Hues was a fellow speaker at that Canterbury sound event in 2017, a musician with latterday connections to the city through his role as a music tutor at Christchurch University, although his own musical pedigree stretches back to the Eighties with Wang Chung. At that 2017 event his own guitar work was backed with his jazz band The Quartet, plus various evocative spoken word passages. However, since then, a vinyl release of a cover of Beck’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But My Own’, backed not only by the Quartet but also by members of Syd Arthur had appeared, resurrecting a connection dating back to 2010 when the larger ensemble had performed Soft Machine’s classic composition ‘Facelift’. Tonight’s line-up was shorn of Liam Magill but contained brothers Josh and Joel, as well as saxophonist Chris Williams, plus the three other members of the Quartet. The band perform impressionistic music, flitting in and out of soundscapes, intertwining recurring themes and occasionally moving off into free jazz territory. The opener was indeed ‘Nobody’s Fault’ but was followed by a new self-composed piece ‘Non Locality in a Sea of Electrons’ which in many ways was the most impressive part of the set, with guitar, keyboard and sax following a singular theme before some muscular drum’n’squawk rhythms a la Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, and a sustained guitar conclusion.

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Jack Hues' The Quartet featuring Syd Arthur: Photo Jason Pay

The third track was a homage to Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis with a cover of ‘Myrrhman’, with a church-organ like ethereality, but as hoped, the climax was the band’s cover of ‘Facelift’. Joel Magill had alluded to the performance of this the previous day when I’d asked him directly whether or not it would be performed – he would only go as far as smilingly admitting ‘It would be rude not to…’ The rendition of any Canterbury classic, albeit one which lends itself to a certain amount of free interpretation, implies a certain level of self-confidence, but there is no doubt that the Quartet carried it off, largely as a combination of an initial section which bore practically no relation to Mike Ratledge’s original brutalities (I was reminded of The Orb’s reinterpretation of a Gong song where they took a couple of notes only and went off on a seemingly tangential journey); and a rather fine middle section where the main riff, with two sets of drums, and both electric and and acoustic basses chuntered on in fine style. I’m sure Hugh would have approved of both this and the Patrice Meyer-like guitar solo, Jack Hues’ finest moment of the night, which followed.

At some point during ‘Facelift’ I spotted John Etheridge wander into the auditorium for a peek, presumably drawn in by a familiar riff and intrigued by its interpretation – this is also a track which the current Soft Machine have in their repertoire. Or possibly he had just been made aware of the change in the running order, which meant that Caravan, rather than the Softs, would perform next.


Caravan (photo: William Hayter)

This was the same Caravan line-up I’d seen in Bury in 2017, performing a slightly pared down set to meet the demands of a packed evening’s schedule, but with a set list reflecting, as in Bury, both the old and the new. Missing was that gig’s highlight ‘Love In Your Eye’ but added was ‘Nightmare’, a piece I’ve never given much time to it in its original form, but here beautifully conceived and executed with some stunning viola work. If only it had been followed by the ‘Last Unicorn’… The classics ‘Golf Girl’ and ‘I Wish I Were Stoned’ were both aired, the former made memorable by percussion from spoons and washboard, and the extended opus tonight was ‘Nine Feet Underground’, more of which later. A healthy smattering of more recent material appeared in the middle of the set, sounding a little stronger on second hearing for me, with again, ‘Dead Man Walking’ by some distance the classiest tune in this regard.

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Geoffrey Richardson, Pye Hastings, Jim Leverton: Photo Jason Pay

One of the advantages of our crow’s nest seats was that we had a full panorama of the band, and were able to see what a fine drummer Mark Walker is, with clear sensitivity to all the dynamics of the show. Perhaps unfairly he will probably always be seen as having unfathomably large boots to fill in the form of the much-loved Richard Coughlan, something that hopefully recedes over time as it has with the roles of Jim Leverton and Jan Schelhaas, given their longevity in the band. Again, our vantage point revealed quite how effortless the latter’s keyboard work is – yes, he can roll out those Dave Sinclair solos, but as it’s fairly pointless in trying to compete with, in my opinion, the genre’s finest soloist, he’s done something much cleverer, i.e. infused the music with something much more his own. Rather than those melodic, soar-across-the-hills solos of Dave Sinclair, Schelhaas is a boogier, a honky-tonk groover and I loved his work tonight.

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Caravan from left - Jan Schelhaas, Geoffrey Richardson, Pye Hastings, 
Jim Leverton, Mark Walker: Photo Jason Pay

One of the bonuses of having such versatility around is that when the ship goes off course, there are plenty of skilled hands on deck to bring things back in line. Such was the case with Pye Hastings’ ongoing struggle with his guitar sound, particularly during ‘Nine Feet Underground’. Quite what caused this remains a mystery, but his own anguish at an irresolvable problem was made light of as the gaps in the sound were filled by keyboards and who knows what array of instrumentation by Geoffrey Richardson – it was expertly enough done for us to perhaps never know whether the inspired picked out solo on the viola was scheduled or not. Any doubts that Caravan were the main draw for much of the crowd, despite their set starting at 7.30(!) was dispelled by the heartfelt standing ovation they received at the end of the set.

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Soft Machine (photo William Hayter)

Presumably Soft Machine’s elevation to second last slot was due to their involvement in the final piece too. Either way their own performance too built on recent setlists, with their airing of much of ‘Hidden Details’ very much on merit – this is such a strong record of largely original new music that it should be no other way.

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Theo Travis & John Etheridge: Photo Jason Pay

Kicking off their set with the album’s title track, it struck me what a strong opening statement John Etheridge was making: in the world of keyboard sophistication often associated with the Canterbury scene, here was a virtuoso ripping through abrasive guitar styles, deliberately leaving notes hanging, Hendrix style, in the air. Things calmed down a bit with another beautiful rendition of ‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’ with its echoed loops courtesy of Theo Travis and then the double header of subtle Etheridge tunes ‘Heart Off Guard’ and ‘Broken Hill’ provided poignancy.  ‘Life On Bridges’, whilst lacking perhaps some of the album’s pinpoint accuracy in its triplicate main theme nevertheless made sense of its free jazz section in a way I’d not encountered before. If ‘Golf Girl’ had been Caravan’s anthem tonight, then the Soft Machine’s was the relatively faithful performance of ‘Out-bloody-rageous’, originally recorded around the same time, and reminding us just quite how far the two bands had diverged even by the start of the Seventies when the latter band still had some of its founding members.

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Roy Babbington: Photo Jason Pay

Again our high viewing position made for an excellent perspective of each musician’s playing, and our view of John Marshall’s navigation around his kit was a privilege, and not just on his startling solo in the medley which combines ‘The Relegation of Pluto’, ‘Tarabos’ and ‘Hazard Profile’. The latter track, driven along via monstrously low-slung bass sounds from Roy Babbington saw the guitar high notes missing from Etheridge’s solo on ‘Hidden Details’ appear triumphantly to conclude the set.

And so to the finale, ‘Zoom’. For me this might  best be described as a ‘curio’ rather than the crescendo of the evening it was billed as. Probably more in keeping with its performance art-based surrounds than the musical genre of the two bands which preceded it, this was a 30 minute piece mixing projected visuals, spoken word (penned by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage) and music based around pre-recorded compositions, partly electronic,  from John Harle. The link to the evening’s other events was the appearance in a 6 strong band of the entire Soft Machine.


Zoom (from left: Mike Lovatt, Roy Babbington, 
Nicole Tibbels, John Harle, John Marshall, 
John Etheridge, Graham Bickley, 
Theo Travis, Steve Lodder)

Harle’s program notes made much mention of his own influences from prog rock through to the avant garde but personally I struggled to find obvious references to either in terms of sophistication – the music was neither striking enough, nor weird enough to leave an indelible memory. The role of the Soft Machinists too appeared to be minimal – one brief, effortlessly flurried solo from John Etheridge and a couple of unfurlings of Roy Babbington’s double bass being the main events of note with undoubtedly more musical impact coming from the keyboards of Steve Lodder. The spoken words I felt divided the audience: some were heartily guffawing at the witticisms within them whilst others who looked somewhat bewildered by proceedings. It would take a second viewing of this performance or access to the written material contained within to unwrap it all – or maybe just a different audience. In some ways this was rather a strange end to the evening, with many of the crowd having already left, and the exhilaration of the response to the earlier acts having somewhat dissipated.  Kudos however to Harle for not only putting into practice a mixed arts performance not seen in connection to the Soft Machine for …. well…. 50 years, and for curating a bill which paired Soft Machine and Caravan together for the first time in well over 40. All adding to the sense which had built through the weekend that Canterbury music in all its forms is very much alive and kicking.





Steve Hillage Band, Manchester Ritz Friday 7 June



I have to confess to a somewhat lopsided relationship with the music of Steve Hillage over the years. Introduced to his work through my love of Gong, I backtracked to his early days, was wowed by the brazen psychedelia of Arzachel, the melodic complexity of Khan and even his role as a sideman with Kevin Ayers. Then I purchased practically everything he did with both System 7 and the Orb as he made the progression from production work to embracing the more innovative end of the dance scene in the Nineties. The missing link? Steve’s solo work from the late Seventies, an era which brought him unparalleled adulation until the music press turned against him with the onset of punk.

Perhaps as a result of this, Steve Hillage has appeared to have favoured occasional flirtings with Gong over a resurrection of his solo era, and has even more overtly devoted his energies into the ongoing System 7 project over the last thirty years. The main exception was a brief moment a decade or so ago when he was back full time in the Gong fold for the ‘2032’ album. The Steve Hillage band performed a brief support slot incorporating him and Miquette Giraudy alongside then Gong members Mike Howlett and Chris Taylor.


The Steve Hillage band in 2019 is somewhat different. A 7 piece featuring himself and Miquette alongside all current members of Gong is a much grander project: assembled to generate a much more expansive sound and perform a much bigger repertoire. Three guitars, Steve’s voice backed by at times by the entire Gong frontline (and possibly Cheb Nettles too), keyboards and saxophone. Whilst by no means familiar with the entire Hillage back catalogue (and not able a couple of years ago to make that financial leap to get hold of the ‘Searching For the Spark’ mammoth box set) I did recognise practically everything performed.

Any doubts that Steve Hillage might not have still ‘got it’ in terms of guitar wizardry were quickly dispelled – his is a sound relying on wonderful fluidity, and that shone through all night. Solo after solo was reeled off joyously, familiar theme after familiar theme purveyed by a band having the time of their lives. Standout moments for me was the Police-like ‘The Fire Inside’ from ‘Open’ with the sound stripped right down, the uncharacteristic balladeering of ‘Palm Trees (Love Guitar)’ and the sharply rising anticipation of ‘Ether Ships’ (both from Green) but all topped by a distance by the ‘Dervish Riff’ from ‘Fish Rising’, a killer theme aired by Gong themselves on their last tour. I’m less enamoured of the covers which punctuated Steve’s halcyon days as a solo star,  but even that should be taken with a positive spin: I simply enjoy his own material much more than his interpretation of that of the Beatles, the Stones and Donovan. There was a world premiere (apart from the previous night’s airing) of ‘Sea Nature’ (tonight called, I think ‘Submarine’). I also enjoyed Miquette’s punky singalong of the first encore ‘Light In the Sky’ but by this time I think most of us were waiting for ‘The Glorious Om Riff’, which emerged right on cue. If the original tunes aired were dominated by material from ‘Fish Rising’ and ‘Green’, then that suited me just fine: the latter is the most ‘You’-like of all his solo albums, whilst ‘Fish Rising’ has many Canterbury connections and compositions which reflect that.


It was the first time in years I’d been to a large venue, having been spoiled by the intimacy of lower key venues which have housed the gigs of Gong, Soft Machine, Caravan and others, and this certainly set the tone for an intense, all-encompassing experience. It was also my first visit in a couple of decades to the Ritz, a grandiose old venue on Whitworth Street, fabled for its bouncy floor. Whilst the atmosphere was electric (and the light show utterly stunning), the venue was far too tightly packed for anything other than a little light shifting around – this was, I would guess, a 2000 fan sell out preaching very much to the converted.

As for the band: they looked to be totally elevated by the experience: I’ve rarely seen Kavus Torabi grin so much, tempering his showmanship ever so slightly but still managing to sneak in a couple of astonishing solos of his own. It struck me that Dave Sturt could barely have been more in his element, given a wide stage to stroll around and the chance to funk it up a little; Fabio Golfetti was as ever the peerless glissando player stage left, providing much of the texture. Cheb Nettles, as befits his increasingly elusive reputation, appeared to be either hidden below his drums or strategically positioned out of the lights, but his sonic presence prevailed. Ian East meanwhile was probably even more prominent as a soloist than he currently is with Gong, particularly on tenor, and he even briefly wielded a flute for the ‘Om Riff’, which, as it turned out, was the ‘Master Builder’ version aired on Gong’s tour. If overall the voices were a bit muddied by the mix, the sheer joy of Miquette and Steve acting out their double act centre stage provided the enduring image of the night.


A word for the support act: there were different accompanying bands on each night of this 3 day tour (Cambridge, Manchester, London) and with this being Manchester it could only be local boys Graham Clark and Graham Massey, resurrecting a partnership which preceded both Clark’s involvement with Gong Maison and Masseys’s music with 808 State. One has to say that this was somewhat more diverse than the main event and not as immediately accessible (no complaints from me there), backed as I’d anticipated by electronica but not enough to obscure some genuine innovation: dipping into free jazz and folk in terms of the instrumentation which provided the overlay, not just from Clark’s peerless violin work (no guitar tonight) but also from Massey’s own excursions on guitar, and in particular soprano saxophone – this was surprisingly searching stuff of which I’d like to hear more.


Just before this short tour took place, a November tour was announced which will extend the Steve Hillage band experience, and this time not only will he be backed by the Gong band, but Gong themselves will perform a support slot in their own right. 2 good reasons to catch one of the dates listed here:

tour poster





Stratus Luna (MoonJune)


I published a few posts a year or so ago centred around the rather self indulgent social media meme of selecting your favourite 5 or 10 somethings, in this case 20 albums which changed my life. A good friend commented that he reckoned every single one of them would be ‘prog’, the inference a good-humoured one that plays on the common parlance that ‘prog’ is something of a four-letter word.

Stratus Luna are a Brazilian band that celebrate all that is good about the genre, rather than a collection of clichés that defile the term. A four piece aged between 17 and 21, this is a compilation of instrumentals of on the one part considerable virtuosity, and on the other hand complex but accessible instrumental compositions. In case you’re wondering about why a review of their eponymous debut album should appear here, then it’s the fact that 3 cousins who have apparently already been playing together since 2007(!)are joined by Gabriel Golfetti on bass who some of you might remember as the son of Gong guitarist Fabio Golfetti, and whose duo electronic album ‘Lux Aeterna’ was reviewed here. Fabio is also credited as mastering the album. No reflection on the excellent work of Gabriel and an extremely tight drummer in Giovanni Lenti , but it is brothers Gustavo and Ricardo Santhiago  who provide the most stellar performances here on keyboard  and guitar respectively – a genuinely astonishing double act.

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If the ‘Lux Aeterna’ connection and some initial keyboard reverbs on ‘Nimue’ suggest this might be purely spacey fayre, the illusion is quickly broken by church organ sounds, clean guitar and sweeping keyboard pastiches. Shades of the Enid, maybe? No, this is much less self-important and with considerably more substance.  Memorable moments are everywhere: the funk bass keyboard section of ‘Nimue’, the gorgeous, haunting two string guitar theme which opens and concludes ‘Onirica’ and the gloriously precocious Ozricsesque flurries which precedes its finale, or the talking wah wah of ‘O Centro do Labirinto’. The closer ‘Efemera’ appears to be set up as the stand out track, with some memorably prodigious guitar soloing which recalls Mike Oldfield soaraway moments high on the fretboard, but it is possibly trumped by ‘Zarabatana’, a 9 minute piece where  sitar and hand drums unexpectedly emerge out of a rocky romp (the Hindustani influences referred to on the band’s website?), with a a hint of ‘Matte Kudesai’ thrown in for good measure before the piece rocks on with another intricately picked out guitar solo.

Meanwhile the slow walkin’ talk bass of ‘Pandoras Voadoras’ is the theme which you will find impossible not to be humming constantly at inopportune moments.  Whilst Gustavo is equally proficient on acoustic and electric piano and those lovely clear organ sounds the killer moments are when he switches to Hammond, where the interplay with guitar reminds me often of that the very underrated Seventies band Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come.

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Another relevant reference point might also, (as with recent albums from Fabio Golfetti’s own excellent band Violeta de Outono), be Khan. The material I review on this blog is without exception ‘progressive’ music, but generally is  characterised by moments of sonic dissonance, or of time signatures which change obliquely at will. Stratus Luna does neither of these things. There are no dud notes, no throwaway filler passages, just a glorious journey of melodic instrumentation which even at the end of May will, I suspect, end up being my favourite album  of 2019. On the evidence of Stratus Luna, if ‘prog’ is indeed a four letter word, then I may need to purchase a swear box!