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Gong/Ozric Tentacles, Sheffield Academy

18 November 2022

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

Kavus Torabi

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

Fabio Golfetti

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

Dave Sturt

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

Ian East

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

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

‘Master Builder’ with Saskia Maxwell

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

Ozric Tentacles: Ed, Brandi and Silas Wynne

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joel and Josh Magill

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

Jack Hues singing ‘Sea Song’

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

Chris Williams

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

Sam Bailey/Liran Donin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia Domancich – Simon Goubert: TwoFold Head (PeeWee)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Twofold Head at https://peewee1.bandcamp.com/album/twofold-head

Sophia and Simon play at the Au Sud du Nord festival on 2 September – details at https://www.ausuddunord.fr/

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

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

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

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


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

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

Yes, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan White 1949-2022

Catch the remainder of the Yes tour below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Frizell

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

Simon James

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

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

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

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

Graeme Blevins, Tim Holmes, Chris Caldwell, Pete Whyman

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

Milkbone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://burningshed.com/tag/Milkbone

Soft Machine, Band on the Wall, 28 March 2022

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

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

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

Fred Thelonious Baker

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

John Etheridge

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

Many thanks to Joe Orban for the photographs used here

Gong at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

19 March 2022

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

Ian East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crooked Spire, Chesterfield

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

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

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

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

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

Recording Double Up 2 in Phil’s studio

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

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

Phil and Fred, Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil and Fred, Belgium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to Herm for the pictures used here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yumi Hara in conversation

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Hopper in his studio in Hastings

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

Sally Potter

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

Sophia Domancich/Simon Goubert

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

Karen Mantler/Pip Pyle. Photo: Joanna Refrain

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

Trevor Tomkins

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

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

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

John Roulat

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

Roy Babbington (photo: Jason Pay)

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

Shyamal Maitra

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

Geoff Leigh

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

Guy Evans/Yumi Hara

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

Jeff Sherman

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

Celia Wellcome/Rick Biddulph

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

Pete Ball

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

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

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

Pieter Bast

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

Chrystelle Blanc-Lanaute (second from left)

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

Frances Knight

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

Julian Whitfield

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

Lisa Lawson (Lisa Klossner)

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

Bob Stewart

John Clark

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

Frank Roberts

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

Elaine di Falco

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

Kozfest 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Bus

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

Nukli

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

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

Shankara Andy Bole

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

Zinc RSI

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

The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet

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

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

Gong

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

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

Kavus Torabi and Fabio Golfetti

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

Ella and Billie Bottle

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

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

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

Steve Davis/Kavus Torabi with The Utopia Strong

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

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

Hugh Hopper biography update – April 2021

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

self caricature used with kind permission of Mark Hewins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How you can help…

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

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

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

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

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

Contact me at philfacelift@yahoo.co.uk

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http://www.faceliftmagazine.co.uk

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Dave Wragg 1957-2021 – fellow Canterbury scene traveller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caravan: A Very Smelly, Grubby Little Oik

Gilgamesh: Arriving Twice

Kevin Ayers: Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes

Phil Miller/Fred Baker: Christine

Hatfield and the North: Share It

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

An Interview with Jakko M Jakszyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I said, ‘Oh Tim’ it’s Jakko’.

He said, ‘yes’.

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

He said, ‘yes’.

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

He said, ‘yes’.

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

He said, ‘yes’.

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

And he said ‘no’!

And that was my conversation with Tim Hodgkinson!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this space for reports on upcoming escapades.

Rick Chafen, April 1993

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

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

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

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

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

Dario D’Alessandro

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

Davide Di Giovanni

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

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

Physical copies are available here: