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!)
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.
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.
Although the revitalised Soft Machine consists of 3 instantly recognisable names from the 1970s’ band in Roy Babbington, John Marshall and John Etheridge, it’s Theo Travis I’ve ended up speaking to primarily at the end of recent gigs at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club and Manchester’s Band on the Wall. A performer of relative youth, he’s nonetheless racked up an impressive palmares that encompasses a decade in Gong, even longer in Soft Machine/Soft Machine Legacy as well as a long association with Robert Fripp. That’s not even to mention a long-established solo career stretching out to almost 30 years.
It seems like every surface I’ve scratched recently has revealed a Theo Travis imprint underneath. These range from a cameo role on the impressive Zopp debut CD; to a superb lost album with Mark Hewins called ‘Guerilla Music’, just re-released on bandcamp; to conversations with Leonardo Pavkovic and Richard Sinclair about gigs which eventually led to the reformation of Hatfield and the North in 2005; and most unexpectedly this week stumbling across his contributions on saxophone on the first House of Thandoy album above Mike Howlett’s marvellous funk bass. His renowned unassuming nature and modesty masks an impressive body of work, and he was an obvious initial point of contact when carrying out initial research for the Hugh Hopper biography.
Whilst familiar with Theo’s involvement with Soft Machine Legacy, a collaboration which dated back to Hugh’s involvement in the band in the Noughties (in fact the last time I ever saw Hugh was with Theo at Marsden Jazz festival in October 2006), in fact their paths had already crossed on several occasions in the preceding few years.
“The first time I met and did anything with Hugh, I think it was at the King of Hearts in Norwich (in 2002). It was a Burning Shed night of improvs andexperimental music and I did a set with Hugh. I think Christine, Hugh’s wife played trumpet on a couple of tunes, and then there was another Burning Shed night (in 2004), and again he was involved. Tim Bowness put them together. He’s a creative chap. The first one (predating Hugh’s involvement) was a kind of looping relay race. I don’t think that was with Hugh. That’s the first time I met Steve Lawson (the bass player with whom Theo collaborated and recorded a duo album ‘For The Love of Open Spaces’ together) – that would have been 2002, I think. That was various people playing solo sets. People would start and then hand over to someone else. Tim Bowness is always creative and has an interesting approach to music events, and so I played there. I remember that’s where I first met Markus Reuter too.”
Theo recalls that both of the concerts involving Hugh had also involved Roger Eno, brother of Brian, and based locally, as well as Reuter, Bernhard Wöstheinrich, and Peter Chilvers (the piano player, composer who developed the music Apps with Brian Eno such as ‘Bloom’). In between times, however, Hugh had also been involved in helping to contribute to a re-release of Travis’s award-winning 1994 album ‘View From The Edge’, which incorporated a bonus CD containing re-workings of all of the original tracks, in Hugh’s case an almost unrecognisable revamp of ‘The Purple Sky’. “For the re-release I thought it would be nice to have an extra CD of interesting additional tracks whether outtakes or remixes. So Dave Sturt (with whom Theo has collaborated extensively since 1996 on Cipher projects) did the one of ‘Psychogroove’ and then there was a live recording of ‘The Ghosts of Witley Court’. Hugh had expressed interest in doing remixes and I knew he was interested in creating a looping / psychedelic remix so I said, do you fancy it, and he said yeah!”.
When Elton Dean was ill in early 2006, Theo Travis was approached to step in initially for Soft Machine Legacy to deputise, but this quickly became a permanent arrangement after Elton’s untimely death. Given Theo’s collaborations with Hugh over the previous 3 years one might have assumed that that was the primary connection. But there had been liaisons with other members of the band going back much further: “John Marshall I met just before the ‘View From The Edge’ album. That was ’94 when I first met him, because I knew Jeff Clyne, who was on the same tracks with John. John Etheridge I’d done some jazz gigs around London, some sort of pub jazz things, middle of 94ish and then I’d done some gigs in his band. Then I’d asked him to guest on the ‘Secret Island’ album which was in ’96.”
I also pointed out the remarkable trio album with John Marshall and ex-Nucleus guitarist Mark Wood which would have been the first I had heard of Theo’s work. “Yeah, great album, great project – though I think we had more reviews than gigs or sales! It was a wonderful group. The backstory was that I fixed up a rehearsal to go through somenew music with a bass player who never turned up! So we had a bit of a play, the three of us, and I recorded it and I thought, wow, this is amazing! When it came to the album recording , the only brief was that the tracks were to be completely improvised, and to keep pieces quite short!
“I was a bit gobsmacked at how good it all sounded, and 33 Records agreed to put it out. I applied for an improvised touring scheme bursary and in ‘98 we did an 8-10 date tour largely round the improv scene, just the three of us.
“We were a free improvising group that did not only play atonally or on drones. We would often improvise as a group moving freely harmonically and melodically around as a cohesive unit. That requires intense listening and responding musically and following the harmony which is not that common in free improvised groups. It was special!”
“(But) it’s a hard scene if you want to make something out of it. And some improv people thought we were too musical! I remember we sent a demo recording to Elton Dean at the improv club at the Vortex and he said, ‘is this free improv, I don’t think this is free improv’. Well it certainly was and I told him so. There was just more melody and harmony than often appears on that scene.
Theo’s involvement with Hugh in Soft Machine Legacy would last for a couple of years, until Hugh fell ill, and result in the 2006/7 Soft Machine Legacy album ‘Steam’, including heavy Travis compositional involvement, including the wonderful closer ‘Anything to Anywhere’ which featured beautiful interweaving layers of soprano saxophone. “I remember something that Hugh particularly liked when I joined was the fact that I did looping on soprano and flute, and I don’t think it was a secret that Hugh wasn’t so keen on the jazz rocky end of things”. And when I put it to Theo that it must have been intimidating stepping into the shoes of such an iconic figure as Elton Dean, he had this to say: “it was always made clear to me, the way Soft Machine always worked, (at least that’s what John Marshall and John Etheridge always said) is that when someone joins the band that’s where the music starts, it’s not a question of recreating…
“No-one ever asked me to play alto, no-one ever asked me to play more like Elton … it just wasn’t the way they looked at things. Elton did many great things but it wasn’t a case of you need to do it like Elton”. Later of course (Theo reckons from 2012) he was able to add keyboards which have provided the band with even more subtlety and variation.
I asked Theo about the airing of Hugh’s compositions within the band – it’s gone on record that the band try and reinterpret a Mike Ratledge composition with each incarnation of the band, be that a line up change or new album – latest evidence being a joyous rendition of the first half of ‘Out-bloody-rageous’ on ‘Hidden Details’, complete with Theo’s recreation of the introductory Mike Ratledge loopscape on keyboards. But Hugh’s compositions have also featured: “we played those ever since I joined. Right from the beginning. We played ‘Kings and Queens’, ‘Facelift’, there were a few Hugh things. One interesting thing about a year ago, we played the Conservative club in Lewes in Sussex and Brian Hopper lives near there and he came along and he played on the gig. He brought along Hugh’s original charts. Which was lovely, a lovely touch to play with Brian, he was very involved in the early stuff and was Hugh’s brother and had the chart which Hugh had used. He did tenor and I did flute. We’ve always liked playing Hugh’s tunes…”
I’ve commented before that I’ve found the resistance amongst followers to the band’s more recent use of the name Soft Machine perplexing, particularly given the strength of the music. “There was this whole strange identity crisis about being called Soft Machine Legacy which I don’t think Elton was that bothered about. It was Hugh who didn’t want it to be called Soft Machine. But I just found it weird, because it does sound like a tribute band name. It’s got more members of Soft Machine, especially when Elton and Hugh were in it, than most so called authentic bands with the original name. I mean it had Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and John Etheridge. Of course it was Soft Machine!
“So what is Soft Machine Legacy? Is it not Soft Machine? I mean it’s not a tribute band. No-one’s got any sort of emotional attachment to Soft Machine Legacy, so what is it? For me it definitely meant (that) when we dropped the name it was certainly clearer on the gigs, and when we did the album ‘Hidden Details’, the first album that was under the name Soft Machine, that meant something more important to me. I coined the phrase ‘the first Soft Machine album for 37 years!’. As someone who’s into the whole rock history thing I think it means something.”
‘Hidden Details’, that first Soft Machine album for 37 years is a superb, multi-faceted album well worthy of the band name, and has been followed by a live release ‘Live at the Baked Potato’, which, as Theo eloquently puts it, “It’s a good version of what we do on a good night. It’s had a really positive response. I’m delighted. The CD, the vinyl, people like the recording. Yesterday I (even) saw several posts on Facebook and people were raving about the cover, which was nice too! Originally it was going to be a vinyl-only release, last October or November for the British tour for something to tie us over to the studio album which hopefully we were going to record this spring or summer. The vinyl was delayed until March and then we said that with everything going on we’re not touring this spring and it will probably be next year before the new studio album is released, so we’ll do a proper release (of ‘Baked Potato’) through John Etheridge’s label and Moonjune and Japan and we may as well do the full thing. We weren’t anticipating it, but it’s received a fantastic response.
“I received the multitrack recordings of the Baked Potato gig from Leonardo (of Moonjune Records) last summer and I was pleasantly surprised how good it was, – there’s a great vibe in the room. Everybody played really well. There was very little editing of any.of the performance ”
So what are the plans moving forward for Soft Machine? “We were supposed to be in South America in May and June and then that was off. We had some other gigs. We’ve got the British tour in the autumn but I think that’s going to be postponed. I’ve been busy writing new tunes for the next studio album which we’ll do whenever we can so I’ve been writing and demoing things for that. When we can, we’ll record, when we can, we’ll go on tour. Everything seems to be on hold for the moment so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Theo’s initial involvement with Soft Machine Legacy in fact dates back to a time when he was still involved with Gong, a collaboration which lasted over a decade through the Noughties.
“It was amazing. It was lots of things to be honest. It was my kind of taking a step out of the British jazz world into a more kind of progressive rocky kind of Canterbury world. Because as a teenager I was into, not Gong, but I was very much into Traffic and Pink Floyd and King Crimson and that kind of progressive world. I’d toured in 1997 with Jansen, Barbieri and Kahn with Steve Wilson, but Gong was the first proper crazy rock band touring I did. We sure had some fun. The States trip of 2000 was nuts!
“Daevid Allen was wild and he was many things but he was definitely the real thing. He would infuriate people but at the same time he could be childlike. He was never malicious and it was hard to hold grudges against him even when he was out of order because he had a childlike glint in his eye even as an old man. He was very creative and he was a very good artistic catalyst. He wasn’t an ego man and was lovely.
I’ve talked to Theo before about his huge contributions to the album ‘Zero To Infinity’, for me probably the best Gong album aside from the Trilogy albums and ‘Camembert Electrique’, and Theo told me, “he’d been a catalyst – he’d want to encourage people to do things, he’d want them to write. It wasn’t like he would say ‘oh, (only) my thing goes..’ He was a very communally creative spirit which was very nice and quite unusual for even, for want of a better word, hippieish band worlds. Daevid wasn’t like that at all. In fact he was the opposite – he was much more comfortable as an anarchist underground/grass roots person than someone in a commercially successful band. That’s exactly what happened in the Seventies, as I understand it, and that’s exactly what happened to the Zero to Infinity band.
Although he loved his time in Gong, Theo did admit that ‘Soft Machine is a much better musical home for me and what I do”. And in terms of the future, “I’m actually writing and recording a solo duduk album! So a mixture of originals, some with electronica, some with strings, and then a couple of traditional pieces and two or three covers including Gong’s ‘Magdalene’, but my interpretation. It’s quite different from the original version. I was obviously there at the original session (playing sax) , so I’m just taking it from a different musical angle. I’ve got a home recording setup here so it’s very much something I can work on whilst I’m at home.
Before then, as mentioned previously on these pages, in the absence of the prospect of imminent gigs, and hot on the heels of streamed performances by current Gong members Kavus Torabi and Ian East, Theo is gearing up for a solo extravaganza for his own, which he was just off to work out the logistics for after our conversation. On July 30 at 8.15pm he will be performing live: “I’m doing a one-off gig stream, it’s basically going to be solo, flute loops and soprano.”
Thanks to Theo for such an illuminating conversation, more of which will be available to read in the forthcoming Hugh Hopper biography ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ to be published by Jazz in Britain.
As part of my research for the forthcoming Hugh Hopper biography it was a great privilege to speak again to Didier Malherbe. If it was Gong which introduced me to Didier’s charms initially back in the late Eighties, this was very soon matched by exposure to his brilliant debut solo album ‘Bloom’ and as his solo career has blossomed, at one point in parallel to his gigging with Gong in the Nineties, but later primarily through his outstanding Hadouk project, I have made it my mission to collect every album, every collaboration, every connection of his. A bit like that of the man whose connection I was talking to him about.
Although Didier and Hugh’s paths certainly crossed in the Seventies (“Soft Machine played as part of the Fete D’Humanite (Paris, 1971) – we were introduced after the concerts and we shook hands. They had piles of Marshall amps and were playing very loud”) and again during the autumn of 1974 when Gong’s ‘You’ tour was supported by Isotope, the first time they appeared together on record, as a result of the flurry of activity described in my interview with Harry Williamson, their paths didn’t directly cross “I came to Devon but not at the time Hugh was there, as far as I remember”. A number of projects which came out of the melting pot of Oxes Cross in 1981, one of which was the album ‘Melodic Destiny’, whose release has only ever happened on the GAS/Ottersongs tape label. “We recorded with Yan Emeric, his real name is Yan Vagh, I still see him from time to time. We had a duo together so when we were there, Harry had this idea of printing some cassettes of Melodic Destiny.” This gentle but intricate folky project was somewhat pared down from the funky jazz fusion of ‘Bloom’ and I wondered why it had never been released, since, after all, many albums of worse quality, both musically and sonically, have been plundered from the vaults over the years. “Well, I don’t know either! I think we didn’t stay very long together as a duet. That might be the reason. I don’t know if the format was commercial enough, the sound is OK.”
I asked if there had ever been any possibility to release the album on the coat tails of the brilliant ‘Bloom’ album.
“For Bloom, my first record I had the group, I gathered some people, Yan Vagh the guitar player (and Jano Padovani, Winston Berkeley, Mico Nissim) and then we went to a beautiful studio down south with Jacques Loussier and we did the record. Then the guy who was supposed to produce and pay for the studio went bankrupt. Karakos – you know the story, a long story. And so he got bankrupt, so I had to wait a year before I could find proper distribution. It was difficult to find distribution.
“I finally found Sonopresse which was (part of the) Pathe Marconi division but they didn’t do anything. They did the cover, they used a very famous photographer to do the sleeve and then they kind of imposed this photograph idea, I didn’t especially like it, I kind of like the other side, with the spring shoes, but not the one on the front….” When the album was issued on CD by Voiceprint in the early 2000s, it appeared with a new cover from Christine Malherbe.
“We were supposed to do another EP but they were bought out by an English company, so they didn’t have enough money, so they preferred me to do a single. So I did a funny single (‘Danskorla’), which is kind of a song which is interesting, but the B side is fantastic. ‘The Bong’ Is much better with great musicians, African musicians. Really very good. And I still like it, although the first side is fun.”
And so the first genuine collaboration with Hugh was firstly Pip Pyle’s Equipe Out, then with Short Wave, which originally started as Hugh Hopper’s ‘Special Friends’ project. More of that in the biography, but we also had chance to talk about a range of other things.
I asked Didier about whether he had been experimenting with the doudouk as far back as Short Wave. “No, I was playing the tenor saxophone. And flute, which were the instruments I was playing with Gong. And soprano. (Earlier) I played Yamaha wind synthesizer. I played this instrument thoroughly for maybe 3 years and then I was really fed up with electronics and I came across the Zeff, which is just a harmonic flute, very simple, and as a matter of fact the Zeff, I worked a lot with it, it was very successful, I played it on TV, day to day music and also for Vangelis, it was very acoustic so it turned me on to the acoustic thing more.
“I played that with Shapeshifter. And I played it in Japan with Brigitte Fontaine. We went to a tour in Japan. Although it was a Japanese instrument the way I was playing it they were quite impressed! Then I got fed up with with electronics and cables so I came across the doudouk! And I carried on with it.
“I changed a lot you know. I stopped playing lots of saxophones. I stopped playing with drummers. I was always very much into playing acoustic things – I had a big turning.
“That’s also why I didn’t stay very long in jazz rock outfits. With bass and drums, it doesn’t fit the doudouk much. So I had a big turning at that time. That’s why I didn’t really persist with Short Wave, which is a shame because they were really nice musicians. “
I mentioned that probably my favourite document of Didier performing live is an extraordinary video with a master of the doudouk, Djivan Gasparian alongside Patrice Meyer “we went to Russia. That’s my composition (‘Serpent D’Etoiles’), it’s on Fluvius. It’s a nice one.” So was this during the early stages of learning the doudouk? “yes, I wouldn’t have played the doudouk on TV!. And he played along and improvised a bit, which was amazing.” I put it to Didier that he seemed to have a habit of going back to the source of an instrument’s origins to learn it, and compared his love affair with the doudouk to that of the khaen, the extraordinary instrument from Laos.
“Yes, we went 4 times to Laos. I’ve played the khaen for a long time because when we moved in with Gong in the last house that Virgin had rented for us near Chessington Zoo, I remember there was an old khaen on the wall, abandoned, and I became interested in the khaen. And then the poor khaen, it fell into pieces!” But Didier discovered the instrument again later “I was invited by the Laos French cultural centre, so of course I went there and I met some very good khaen players and I played some nice instruments although it’s difficult to get them tuned in. But anyway I went with Hadouk the second time and I went with my wife the third time, so 3 times.
“I am interested in playing very aged instruments with a long tradition – I bring what I have in me to mix up with the technique of doudouk or khaen, which aren’t very easy. With doudouk there are not so many notes, it is always fingers. It is difficult to master to have a good sound, it takes a lot of breath and it is not very noisy. The khaen is even more difficult because it (has a) keyboard – it is all very illogical. But I play a lot of khaen at the moment. I have some really nice pieces, I’m not sure what to do with, maybe a record.
Which brings us to the present. Most of you reading this will know that Didier suffered an accident around 18 months ago which has limited his ability to play “Something made me faint and my jaw was broken in two places. It’s a handicap – all this time I couldn’t play flute, I had to play straight flute. Fortunately there are lots of instruments I can play like the Ukranian recorder or the Chinese hulusi. But I can’t play saxophone. I’ve managed to play some flute since one week. So I play lots of flute. We try to keep our personal motivations but there are no gigs! No gigs until next year.
Before Covid, Didier had played a little in the last year or so: he appeared at the Hugh Hopper tribute gig in Paris back in May 2019, and also popped up at the festival in October at Gasny, “I do a solo act where I recite some poetry and then I play instruments – I was invited to a place where MASHU were playing”. This completes another neat Hugh link as MASHU (Mark Hewins, Shyamal Maitra, Hugh Hopper – Jack Monck performed at the Gasny gig) were another band Didier guested with back in the Nineties. Let’s hope that Didier’s health continues to improve and that circumstances allow him to continue to perform in the near future. Merci Didier!
I was musing in the early days of lockdown about the prospect of not seeing live music for a while and working out who I’d miss seeing most. Based on attendance on gigs alone in the last few years, that would have to be Soft Machine, the four piece of John Marshall, Roy Babbington, John Etheridge and Theo Travis, who, since reclaiming the band’s name in its entirety a few years back have undertaken seemingly endless gigging as well as recording a very fine album ‘Hidden Details’.
‘Live at the Baked Potato’ which captures a 2019 US performance, and is available both as an LP and CD, to these ears is a superbly captured document of considerable sonic precision. In fact, at times, it’s only the free-fettered whoops from a charged up audience that remind you that this is a one-off take. But it is fairly indicative what you’re likely to get at a Soft Machine gig these days, blending a number of excellent tracks from ‘Hidden Details’ (and it by no means exhausts that particular album’s fine offerings) with some of the re-interpretations of Soft Machine classics which the band (initially under its Legacy moniker) have honed over the last couple of decades in various incarnations.
I suspect that the live order which we are becoming familiar has been somewhat turned on its head for this release. The album starts with Theo Travis’s startlingly accurate recreation of Mike Ratledge’s keyboard loops for ‘Out-bloody-rageous’ followed by the main theme with guitar and sax romping through the Dobson/Dean dual lines with some gusto before Travis’s free-flowing solo eventually winds things back down. John Marshall’s nightly drum solo is truncated to the ‘Sideburn’ aired here, before moving on to ‘Hazard Profile’, usually saved for an encore. I’m not sure anything for me will now top John Etheridge’s jaw-dropping outpouring last time around at Band on the Wall, but this is still pretty mesmerising stuff, underpinned by Roy Babbigntons growling fuzz bass, and then by Travis’s keyboards underneath Etheridge’s majestic split-tone solo.
Things are immediately brought back down to earth with a lesser-recognised classic. Whilst the tradition of the Legacy band was always to incorporate an interpretation of a Mike Ratledge classic into each new phase of the band (and there’s plenty of evidence of that in this performance), it’s nice to see that Hugh Hopper’s beautiful ‘Kings and Queens’ is still a band staple. Those of you familiar with the ‘Romantic Warriors III’ extras DVD will probably, like myself have had Theo Travis’s haunting flute ringing around their ears as it loops continuously on the main menu. As then, this rendition is beautiful, with the building of layer upon layer of flute a personal highlight of the entire album. ‘Tale of Taliesin’, the iconic track from ‘Softs’ is notable for the way in which breaks out from the beautiful melody to arguably the freeest blow of the album with Etheridge’s somewhat manic solo, backed initially only by Marshall’s rocky backbeat – it provides an unusually stark moment.
It’s then back to the more tranquil waters, with the outstanding duo of ‘new’ ballads: “Heart off Guard” starts off with a quote from the closing bars from ‘Taliesin’ and is a lovely mellow guitar and soprano sax excursion, an interpretation unique to this performance; before leading on to the beautiful lament of ‘Broken Hill’. ‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’, re-interpreted on ‘Hidden Details’ later continues the more gentle vein.
‘Fourteen Hour Dream’ is for me a most un-Soft Machine like track, but none the worse for that, a pleasant dreamy flute-led akin to that of Patrick Forgas band, with a brief keyboard intervention that reminds me of Quiet Sun’s ‘Sol Caliente’.
What really works for this album, aside from the fact that performances are crystal clear, is that there are no dud choices in the repertoire, it’s an excellent representation of the band’s outstanding blending of old and new, with even ‘Life On Bridges’ not deviating into too fractious a freeblow away from its memorable theme. The album is topped off in style with ‘Hidden Details’, this band’s tour de force, the angular, abrasive title track from the first new Soft Machine album in almost 40 years, which has become this band’s calling card. I’ve found that posts on this Soft Machine don’t always seem to get the attention that they merit, or give the band the recognition that their blend of superbly performed old and new material deserves. Personally, I think it’s high time that people woke up to them.
This is the second book based on progressive rock (the first was the Strawberry Bricks reference guide from Charles Snider) that we’ve reviewed in the space of a few months, and is such a colossus that I was reminded of the Forth Bridge painting analogy. Determined to snatch at least half an hour a day to dip into it, nevertheless by the time I’d got to the final page, it felt like it was high time to start reading from the beginning again.
With no less than 586 pages (even before we get to indeces and bibliographies), separate chapters on over 30 bands and a number of entertaining ‘divertimento’, this is an extraordinary project documenting an often maligned and misinterpreted genre of music.
With separate chapters on Egg, Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North/National Health, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt and Caravan this book should be considered a major Canterbury-related work in its own right. That’s even before you start to delve into the later section on Gong and Steve Hillage, chapters on both Mike Oldfield and Camel, and an examination of Henry Cow. But there are lots of crossovers elsewhere too: the chapter for example on Roxy/Eno/Quiet Sun/801 is peppered with quotes not only from Bill MacCormick but also Geoffrey Richardson whose time at Winchester Art school followed that of Brian Eno. There’s also a few pages devoted to Centipede, who wouldn’t immediately be on the tips of your lips as progressive rock, but as apparently Keith Tippett argued, were “the most progressive group of the era” and that feels particularly insightful at the moment. You’ll also, obviously, find major writings on the ‘big six’ (ELP, Tull, Floyd, Yes, Genesis and Crimson) – with the latter’s Hyde Park performance in 69 the book’s real starting point; alongside other familiar suspects: Gentle Giant, Moody Blues, Renaissance, Barclay James Harvest and Curved Air.
The strengths of this book are many: Mike Barnes’ easy conversational style makes this a very readable book. His knowledge base is solid, underpinned by many years as a music journalist, but the real coup is the considerable amount of primary source material with a selection of original, personal and often illuminating interviews with many of his subject matter.
One post in the Canterbury scene Facebook group implied rather churlishly that this book added nothing new to the Canterbury lexicon. That was not only unkind, it’s also patently untrue. If you’re an ‘expert’ in any of the particular bands you won’t necessarily be surprised at anything that pops up in Barnes’ succinct summaries of artists’ timelines, but the direct quotes may well provide new insights – as the recollections which have been elicited and used are often delivered in the same relaxed, personal informality as the narrative. What I found personally was that it was nice to step away a little from the context of this blog and be somewhat consumed by chapters of the book for other real heroes of mine (such as Yes, Van der Graaf Generator, Arthur Brown) who I have less of an extensive knowledge base for. It also got me actively searching out new avenues such as the impact of Graham Bond on the whole scene, or the flutatious noodlings of Quintessence.
It’s hard to approach progressive rock without immediately being consumed by a prevailing image of pomp and overblown virtuosity and but another of the assets of this book is that it does much to put it into its proper context: an extension of the psychedelia which had been reined back in after 67, the merging of disparate musical styles, the flirtations with orchestration, and the parallels as well as the contrasts to what ultimately swamped it: punk.
Barnes breaks up the book with a series of diversions: mini-essays on facets of the genre which don’t relate to any particular bands, and therefore give more of a wider cultural context: fashion, drugs, sex, festivals, politics, and journalism – relying on personal anecdotes of himself and others, with varying degrees of successful integration into the narrative. Away from this, an interview with Sonja Kristina is incorporated directly and reads very well. There’s a really excellent section on the emergence of punk and its crossovers with prog – a prevailing theme throughout the book is the thoughts of contemporary journalists, including Nick Kent, who as someone who stepped over the threshold into the punk genre both as a musician and reviewer, often provides a telling counter-insight. There’s also an interesting identification of 1974 as the genre’s ‘tipping point’ (Snider conversely identified 1981 as the point of no return), although the subsequent analysis of Yes’ ‘Relayer’ and VdGG’s ‘Godbluff’ perhaps give the lie to that.
Favourite anecdote of the book has to be a teenage Jakko’s tale of being picked up by Henry Cow as he was hitchhiking from one of their gigs, and driven back to his parents for a cup of tea; whilst Steve Hillage and Bill MacCormick’s tales are equally as entertaining. And there’s probably at least another page of things I need to tell you about. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start painting again…
I’d been looking forward to seeing Magic Bus again at this year’s Kozfest. Their last appearance in 2017 there introduced me to their very Caravanesque vibe and the subsequent album ‘Phillip The Egg’ was something of a latterday classic of its genre. Since then flautist and vocalist Viv Goodwin-Darke has jumped ship and joined fellow Devonian psychedelic flag-bearers Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, leaving the band as a five piece.
‘The Earth Years’ is the band’s fourth album and compositionally seems to rein things in a little, with its eight songs all clocking in at between 3 and 7 minutes. Centre stage is very much vocalist/guitarist Paul Evans’ dipped out tunes – think Gong’s ‘And You Tried So Hard’ as a starting point. There’s still some of the precise, stop start time changes within pieces, witness the opener ‘Easy Om’, but much less of the lengthier compositions from previous albums which showed off the stellar keyboard riffs of Jay Darlington and the occasional biting interventions of lead guitar.
Most of the time ‘The Earth Years’ is a pleasant ramble through late Sixties flowery songwriting, with understated Hammond and other organ sounds alongside Evans’ Pye Hastings-like strumming. If overall the impact of this album doesn’t quite match its predecessor, it will still leave you with its songs ringing around your head indelibly. The drumming in particular is subtle, precise and a real highpoint throughout.
Occasionally a section makes you sit up – the contrast between the watery vocalising and the sharp strummed riffs on ‘The Road to La Mezquita’, for example. ‘Barleycorn’, once it steps up a gear, has some lovely vocal lines and sharp rhythms punctuating the sitar and organ backdrop with just a hint that the Bus might be returning to the more obtuse Van der Graaf gallumphing that works so well – there’s even a hint of the Om Riff thrown in to boot.
Probably best of the lot comes from some lovely dreamy interplay between organ, guitars, and drums on ‘Squirrel’ over an undulating bass line – this type of extended instrumental workout, with its very Caravan-like conclusion leaves rather a nice taste in the mouth towards the end of the album. And as we adjust to the prospect of a season with little outdoors frivolity, the final track of this album, ‘We Are One’ at least points onwards towards a summer of happy vibes between your ears….
The Earth Years is released on 19th June. Order it in a variety of formats at:
I’ve told this story before but in the early days of Facelift, probably late 1989 or early 1990 I was in regular correspondence with Hugh Hopper who did his utmost to try and support the fanzine in its infancy. This started initially with a pseudo-grumpy postcard asking why he hadn’t had a copy (the fanzine after all bore the name of one of his more celebrated compositions). One of the earliest letters I received from him included a typed list of around 30 odd addresses of ‘people I should contact’, a fairly heady mix of musicians (Richard Sinclair, Elton Dean, Phil Miller, Robert Wyatt, Pip Pyle); people whose names I knew the context of (Steve Lake, champion of Hugh’s work in the 70s in Melody Maker and Manfred Bress, editor of Canterbury Nachrichten, Facelift’s German sister); and a few names that I didn’t. One of the latter was Dave Radford, with the only clue being in the address: Canterbury Indoor Market etc etc.
I am ashamed to say that I didn’t follow a lot of these leads up, but eventually ended up in contact with most of them anyway. With Dave Radford it eventually, I think was because he stocked a few Facelift in his long-standing record shop. I certainly corresponded with him about his band Gizmo and plugged their 1992 album ‘They’re Peeling Onions In the Cellar’. Unknown to me at the time Hugh also ended up recording with Dave, gigging with him, and even helping out in his shop! All of this, plus the fact that Dave, as a teenager, had been part of a collective putting on gigs in Canterbury including many names familiar and beloved to readers of this blog, meant that speaking to Dave, a good friend of Hugh, was an absolute delight at the start of my research for the Hugh Hopper biography.
We started off by talking about a series of gigs Dave and associates put on in 1971 and ‘72 in a variety of venues in Canterbury “It was just a fluke thing”, Dave tells me modestly. “There were 6 of us started it up and called it Haxmady because we were talking in a shop and it was around Christmas. Somebody muddled up the words, Xmas etc and all the words that were there, and (we) got Haxmady out of it. It was my wife Chris, Geoff Brewster, Rose Cook and Dave Brettingham, and (the late) Phil Martin who was a local guy who later became a roving hurdy gurdy man!”
Dave is currently posting pictures on Facebook on a daily basis of posters of the Haxmady concerts, which included appearances from Egg, Delivery, Kevin Ayers, Matching Mole and Soft Machine as well as many others from early Seventies alternative music culture, usually with backing from local Canterbury bands.
Most gigs were at St Thomas’ Hall on Burgate, a working Catholic church hall “in the end, the caretaker was just fed up with finding bucket fulls of roaches! Which was fair enough, I suppose!” but even in full swing it was not without its limitations “there was a hell of a staircase to the back of the stage which was awful, which all the gear had to come up”. Attendances varied but rarely exceeded 250.
Some of the impetus for the series of gigs appeared to have come from The Great Medicine Ball, a local festival the previous year. “It went from America over to Europe all being filmed by Warner Brothers and ended up at Bishopbourne. It was a free festival and was very hippy but I don’t think the film ever came out. We went there, there were 200 people and it was Rod Stewart and the Faces, I think Daddy Longlegs, Pink Floyd, I think Mott The Hoople played, and there were other people. I think Richard Chamberlain was definitely there, sitting right in front of us! And it was brilliant! All free but hardly anyone went.“
Stoneground had also appeared at the Medicine Ball and were another later Haxmady promotion, this time up at the University. “We did a couple up at the uni, because I knew the social secretary there, John, from Beckenham”. One memorable near miss was David Bowie “Phil got a job in an agency and got a lot of private numbers, including McCartney and Bowie. And he phoned Bowie to have him at St Thomas’. At first he was a bit offish, and then once he had sorted himself out and realised that Phil was harmless he couldn’t get him off the phone! And we got him for £200 but he needed a grand piano! And we couldn’t get a grand piano up those stairs. So I approached John at the university and he was well into it, because he came from London anyway and he knew all about how well he was doing. And he put it to the Students’ Union and none of them wanted him to play there. Because he was a ‘has been!’ It coincided with Ziggy Stardust! It’s madness! But there was no way we could have done it at St Thomas’. So we just gave up on it!”
Other venues were the Marlowe Theatre and also the Westgate Hall. “We also did Stackridge, they did a Christmas type pantomime thing that sold out right throughout the country and we did it at Herne Bay with a very small audience but it was sold out everywhere else”. Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come on the other hand played three times, “It was fantastic, and (he was) one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s just lovely. Kingdom Come – we took them on at St Thomas’ Hall twice and once at Drill Hall, which was falling down, and the police tried stopping it because of the volume” (rather than as a fire hazard, as I suggested to Dave). “I don’t know if you know the Kingdom Come stuff. You know the bit “This is the gig to end all gigs, this is the night of the pigs!” – they put that in just as the police came in, which was brilliant! And I tell you who were playing with them as support – the Supersister band. They were very good.
Gigs even decamped briefly further afield. “We tried doing a few in Edinburgh Cathedral. The first one we did was John Martyn and Al Stewart. John Martyn – what a guy – so nice. He came up from Hastings on a train with an AC30, his guitar and Al Stewart flew in from Amsterdam, went to his hotel and got a taxi! So different, the two of them. I remember that gig, John Martyn being fantastic. And then we put another one on, we put Third Ear Band on, but it fell through, one of them was ill, I believe, and we put Quicksand on instead which was a bit Floydy, and I did a folky support with it, which was a bit nervewracking. I mean the first time we went to Edinburgh, we went in Dave Brettingham’s car, the second time we caught the bus up or vice versa.
“We didn’t even have a PA, we just went into the nearest music shop to see if they had one. Mad! The other reason (was that) it was like a try out – I got near enough to putting on Quintessence in Canterbury cathedral. Alan Wicks was the cathedral organist and music person at the time and I used to meet up with him. It was all fine and they were getting quite into it. Quintessence did one smaller cathedral somewhere and the writeups in the Melody Maker or whatever said about the smell of incense in the air and overnight they just didn’t want to know! “
Eventually the operation ground to a halt because of funds “it sort of fell apart because it’s very hard to get an audience. Soft Machine did quite well, that was when I first met Hugh. I’ve got the figures written down somewhere – you wouldn’t believe how few people went! I think everyone lost in the end. Dave Brettingham, he worked in a factory and I think he ended up paying quite a few of them because he was the only one earning reasonable money.”
Having been a teenager in Canterbury Dave was lucky enough to have caught Caravan in their very early days “I literally saw the first Caravan gigs, there was one at Westgate Hall for the art college and I would have been really young, and it must have been one of the first gigs they did. It was with Coloured Raisins, who were a soul band, which shows you how long ago it was, because there were a lot of soul bands around at the end of the Sixties. I also, I don’t know if that was the same gig but I had a giant poster which I gave to some friends who went to America, there were only 4 or 5 of them in the whole of Canterbury. designed by Kitch who I believe was Dave Arbus’s brother from East of Eden. It was a like a big black and white like Audrey Beardsley type of poster. I gave it away – idiot! “
Dave was also, even back then, a musician, later most associated with Gizmo, a band who recorded 5 albums between the late Seventies and 2015. But its genesis was much earlier “We were around even then. Things spark off other things. Martin Judd, the bass player (of Gizmo) was in Porcelain Frogg but I had a band with Dave Smith the drummer, Martin Judd, and Nigel Blow – which was Warlock. Now ‘Warlock’ (the track) was on ’If I Could Do It All Over Again’. And ‘Nigel Blows a Tune’ is on ‘In The Land And Grey and Pink’, and Nigel was the keyboard player with us! Someone (recently posted) on the Canterbury scene Facebook group about Nigel Blow, Dave Sinclair’s cousin who wrote the riff on that tune, and I was thinking about this tape that I’ve got of us doing that riff on and on it goes, which would be me, Martin Judd, Nigel Blow and Dave Smith on drums!”. On the 1992 album ‘They’re Peeling Onions in the Cellar’, the album started with a funky, guitar-heavy version of Caravan’s ‘Policeman’. “Richard (Sinclair) liked that a lot. He said he’d come up on stage and do it with me, but it never happened.”
Dave’s relationship with Hugh Hopper continued at the end of the Seventies when Hugh gave up music for a few years and amongst other things became a taxi driver in Canterbury. He became a frequent visitor to Dave’s record shop in the Indoor Market, as did other Canterbury luminaries. “Richard (Sinclair) used to come in a heck of a lot – he would be in every day! Do you know he’s a really good carpenter? I know a couple of people who he fitted kitchens for. The shop was a few doors away from Richard Coughlan’s pub, which was the Cricketers. Pye I knew very well, in fact going back completely years because I used to live up the hill near the university, and Pye used to live up there. And I knew Geoff of course”.
Dave told me a bit more about the shop – he ran it for three decades from 1982 until he was given three weeks notice to up sticks. “With the record store I used to sell things as cheap as possible, and fast… For thirty years. The stuff I had through my hands you wouldn’t believe!
It wasn’t middle of the road – it was all rock or punk. I mean I like The Cure and stuff like that. I like Nick Drake, John Martyn, Beatles. If you hear something new which is very unlikely. I just like what I like.” Dave told me about a number of artefacts he’d kept including original reel to reels of Hugh’s ‘1984’, a 7” promo of ‘Place of My Own”, a copy of the original recordings for the Richard Sinclair/Hugh Hopper project which ended up being released in the Nineties as ‘Somewhere in France’ and a scrapbook containing all of the posters and photos of both the Haxmady gigs and a later set of gigs in the Nineties when he put on Gong and Tim Blake.
But back to Hugh:
“I remember him telling me about Whitney Houston doing ‘Memories’. And he was really upset she didn’t put it on the album because it would have seen him all right moneywise! And do you know within a few weeks I got hold of the French version of the 12” single which I gave him. But isn’t that weird, I wouldn’t have even known…”
Hugh also gigged with the band briefly. There will be more in the book about Hugh’s later involvement with Gizmo (he appeared on a Van Der Graaf Generator tribute CD called Eyewitness performing Gizmo’s cover of ‘House with No Door’ which also later appeared as a bonus track on the CD release of the ‘Gizmo’ album and still available at http://www.gizmo.uk.com/buy-online.html, Our conversation didn’t talk about Gizmo as much but interested readers should check out the extensive Gimzo archive at http://www.gizmo.uk.com/history.html, which includes a biography and full details of how to get copies of the 4 available albums.
Instead Dave left us a nice story about Hugh helping out in his shop in the Noughties:
“Somebody on the Canterbury scene Facebook group said that he went into the shop to buy a Hugh Hopper CD and Hugh was behind the counter! And he said, “I was so embarrassed I couldn’t buy it!”. I wonder if he bought something else instead or just walked out. But another thing I remember very well. He’d been to Europe and then he went to Japan afterwards and I thought he was back from Japan. Two boys and a man came into the shop, I think the wife might have been outside and they were huge Soft Machine and Floyd freaks, the father and son in particular. I think the other boy was a friend and he was on holiday from Belgium with them. And I used to have quite a lot of Canterbury CDs and they were pulling out the Hugh stuff and they were saying, ‘oh we saw him in Belgium blah blah blah’. And they said, ‘we’d like to buy these’. And I thought, I wonder if he’s back from Japan? And he was actually half way between Tankerton and Chartham, where the studio was. And I said, ‘There’s a few people here, is there any chance of signing a few CDs they’re buying?’ And, he said, ‘yes I’ll come via Canterbury’, and he parked his bike outside and he came in and got the father and the son and the son’s friend, and they were almost speechless. He signed their stuff and had a chat with him and went over to the studio. The son came back in the evening, he must have spent the day in Canterbury, and he said, ‘thank you for that, that has absolutely made my father’s holiday’. And they went on to try and find Syd Barrett, or his haunts.”
This is the latest in a line of spectacularly good albums to seemingly appear from nowhere and sit completely at ease on this blog. Earlier this year it was the somewhat more earnest, Egg-influenced Zopp, last year the startling Brazilian prog prodigies Stratus Luna, prior to that the dreamy psychedelic landscapes of Magic Bus.
Magick Brother Mystic Sister, of course, owe their name to a Gong album, that somewhat folky debut adventure before the band so magnificently morphed into punky discordancy with ‘Camembert Electrique’. And in fact the band’s two main members Eva Muntada (keyboards/vocals) and Xavi Sandoval (bass/guitar) recall an inspirational meeting with Daevid Allen in 2000 on the first of their two trips to Canterbury Festival where they saw Gong, Caravan and Arthur Brown (the second time they saw Kevin Ayers). Daevid told us, “you come from Barcelona to listen to this music, you are crazy but we love crazy people, we are all crazy” It was a pilgrimage of sorts, as Eva puts it “a great opportunity to see these great masters and learn a little”.
They kept in touch with Daevid and a few years later were responsible for unearthing the extraordinary Gong video shot in 1973 at the Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery, up in the mountains above their native Barcelona. The story of this might well be the feature of a future Facelift feature, as Eva has given me access to the emails between her and Daevid which led to the release of this on DVD. It’s a lovely story.
Yet the band they bear most resemblance to is probably Caravan circa ‘If I Could Do It All Over Again’, courtesy of a deliciously dated Sixties vibe, flute solos to die for and bossanova-flecked rhythms. The band is completed by another couple who joined in 2013, Maya Fernandez and Marc Tena (drums). Eva told me “Maya (came to us) with flutes on Xavi’s original project of putting music to the Tarot (Fungus Mungus) and she brought her partner Marc, an old friend music producer and jazz lover. We loved doing versions of Soft Machine, Skin Alley and Jethro Tull in concert, and really enjoyed making improvisations with them. Playing in a group opened up new possibilities and this album is part of the result.”
The first two tracks on the album were also the two pieces pre-released, which alerted me initially to quite how evocatively good this band is. The music (and video) for ‘Utopia’ sets the band’s stall out: a track which has in its foundations a bassline evocative of Soft Machine’s ‘Slightly All The Time’ floats away dreamily, picks up tempo before finally winding down once more with glissando guitar.
‘Waveforms’ is much more funky, going through the entire gamut of sixties clichés: spooked out organ, congas, wildly cavorting flute, wah-wah, sensual female vocals, woodwind a la Ayers’ ‘Joy of a Toy’ – this is a kind of anachronistic bliss….
After two such glorious tracks, the worry was that this release might have been frontloaded to contain the album’s highlights. Even if that’s the case the music continues to deliver. ‘Arroyo del Buho’ is simply fabulous: grandiose, with a classical piano intro moving on to eastern inflections, owl hoots, then virtuoso flute playing which is soaring, fluttering and magnificent. ‘Echoes from the Clouds’ could well be the album’s zenith – from a serene Canterburyesque chiming keyboard motif a buckling fuzz bass emerges muddily before disappearing behind another of those jaunty rhythms, with lovely harmonized vocals. Again the flute is to the fore, with a very Dave Sinclairesque trait restating the main theme before meandering off into carefully manicured solos.
‘Movement 2’ features mellotron and outraged flute squawks before settling on an Electric Orange-type groove with congas to boot. Elsewhere other familiar sounds from the late Sixties predominate: the Wurlitzer sounds at the start of ‘Love Scene’ eventually stretch out into a delicious Arthur Brown-like bluesy ramble, whilst ‘The First Light’ chooses Floydish serenading and wobbled vocals. Elsewhere the music drives on, with cheesed out swirls of Hammond organ, plunked bass lines and a lovely languid feel throughout. The penultimate track ‘Instructions for Judgement Visions’ sees the band really start to extend and give a flavour of what an extended live jam might sound like.
Whilst this is clearly an extremely tight band (Eva told me that “normally we play bass, drums, keyboards and flute (together) and add the guitars at the recording”) the stars are undoubtedly the two female members: with Muntada’s versatile and beautifully weighted range of keyboards, and a succession of glorious flute performances from Maya Fernandez which are probably the most inspiring I’ve heard this side of Jimmy Hastings. “We recorded it at home. We live near the Park Güell in Barcelona where we have a cabin with a recording homestudio. From our study we can see the amusement park and the Tibidabo mountain (The magic mountain of Barcelona). It’s a very inspiring sight.
“Although we work on playing the songs live, for the moment we are a studio group. In Barcelona you must pay to play which complicates things a lot. So far we have been a totally underground group. We live in our own world and we believe that the time has come to share it, after all, art is about this. We make music for the utopian lifestyle that we would like to live.
“After Covid 19 we would like to play live, as soon as the gates are open! “
All hail to that!
Magick Brother Mystic Sister is out on June 12 on John Colby Sect Records in Spain, and Sound Effects Records everywhere else
Harry Williamson is actually the first person I’ve interviewed twice. When I first met him, almost thirty years ago, in a tiny changing room above the Duchess of York pub in Leeds, I was primarily there to talk to his then partner, Gilli Smyth, at the end of a 4 day stint following their band Mother Gong around the North West. Interviewing a band on tour is probably not the most ideal way of going about factfinding – you either catch them prior to a gig, when nerves are aplenty and musicians are beholden to soundchecks and waiting for their food to arrive; or else in this case, it’s post-gig, with adrenaline pumping and clearly the last time would want to answer questions on the minutae of something that might have happened 20 years before!.
And so take two is very much a different experience. Over a video link to Melbourne, Australia, Harry Williamson is relaxed, charming and open-minded about our chat to delve into his memories of working with Hugh Hopper, a lesser-known but rather interesting chapter from Hugh’s life from as far back as 1981 when he popped by for a few days to Devon and ended up contributing to no less than 4 albums! Some of the finer details of Harry’s experiences of working with Hugh will appear in the forthcoming Hugh Hopper biography ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’, but we covered other ground too, which is what you’ll mainly find below. A useful starting point is reading the extensive liner notes in the 64 page album which accompanies the Mother Gong ‘Robot Woman’ boxset, which paints a picture of an idyllic setup in Ox’s Cross, Devon where Harry and Gilli accommodated many musicians whilst self-sustaining and producing copious amounts of music, some released officially, some on the GAS tape network, and some seemingly lost forever.
Harry takes up the story about the home studio and the community which revolved around it. “There’s a black and white photograph (in the box set) where it says Home for Owls and Home for Musicians – it was an A shaped building, an A frame studio. I don’t have any photographs of it from inside, unfortunately, but it had beautiful acoustics because it was all wood at angles, and books.
“We were super creative – we were doing 5 albums or so at the same time. Didier and Yan (Emeric) had come over to do Glastonbury in 1981 (with Mother Gong), essentially and part of the deal was ‘if we come over, can we do an album?’
“’Yes we can do an album. How long have we got?’
“‘Three weeks, oh that should be plenty!’ Forgetting of course that they had to learn the main album (‘Robot Woman 1’) and perform it in front of 70000 people! And then another album – Guy’s album (‘The Long Hello Volume 4’).
“‘Can we do some of that at the same time?’ ‘Sure, why not? And actually, how many albums are we doing?’
“I wouldn’t do that now – it’s too many. But, carpe diem, I was seizing the moment, because here everyone was, they were into it, it was fun and why wouldn’t you? But now I would be a bit more circumspect and have more discussions.”
The Guy in question was of course Guy Evans, drummer with Van der Graaf Generator, although by that time VdGG had disbanded, seemingly for good. The Long Hello project was a set of 4 albums based around the music of the constituent members of Van der Graaf Generator (excluding Peter Hammill) and had run since the band’s fallow period in the early Seventies. “Guy lived with us in Devon for a few years and he was on everything. We were just a musical community really. The saxophone player, David Jackson, he had this triple octave box and when he played a low saxophone you could hear the individual beats, a really huge sound. I liked him, they were a funny lot, really nice.”
The album that Didier and Yan Emeric had suggested, did come about, although it was never released other than as a GAS tape. This was ‘Melodic Destiny’ the lost Didier album. “One of the tracks we did on Melodic Destiny was ‘Bloomdido’, (Charlie Parker’s standard) which is quite ironic really. It’s a very funny track, it’s a scat track, it’s very well done actually, which makes it disappointing really (that the album never came out).
“I had no idea that (Melodic Destiny) had sunk without a trace and was one of those missing albums, and was missing at sea. I just gave them the masters and said goodbye to it. I just kept a seven and a half inch copy. I loved that album. I was very fond of it. I thought it was very cheeky, there were so many jazz references in an ‘out there’ way, but simple. Not overdone but well played. I was disappointed that the record company at the time thought it was a ‘good demo’. Yes, sure, but I think it was more than a demo. But that was their choice but our loss.
“There was one amazing thing I did with Shyamal and Didier which was where Shyamal does a 64 beat rhythm cycle – a long sentence of accents as you can imagine. It’s kind of like trying to recite an entire 8 verse poem as a rhythm exercise and trying to repeat that. So he did this amazing bit of tabla playing and Didier had a piece of music to go with it, and they said do you want to play along, and by the way can you engineer please? So I was doing all that and I was playing pads, but not much actually because I was quite blown away by what they were doing. We were very naughty and we started about 1 or 2am and right at the end of it at 4:30am Shyamal had just finished his final overdub and I was playing back the tracks, and he went out to get a cup of tea. Didier had gone to bed, and I was tidying up and doing a rough mix or something, and I heard this singing. And I was very sure there was no one else around. I looked down through the double glass into the drum room, and couldn’t see anyone. But there was singing going on so I found a couple of tracks and recorded it and finished. What had happened was that a blackbird had woken up and heard this high frequency sound in the headphones and come into the booth and started singing back to the harmonics it was hearing in the music. And it was beautiful, it was amazing and so unlikely, I mean when does that happen? And I managed to record it! So I’ve got a blackbird finishing off the recording!”
The highlight of ‘Melodic Destiny’, was the track ‘Evidance’, which has recently resurfaced on the Robot Woman box set. “That strange track, Evidance, is also typically Bloom – ‘Heavy Dance’, like dancing in the mud. It’s also a reference to when we went to Norway to play at the midnight sun festival at Trondheim, with Jean Philippe Rykiel, Didier and Gilli and myself and the drummer from Henry Cow – Chris Cutler, and this was an unusual band, with Dayne playing bass. There was a hiliarious ‘petite histoire’ for this particular gig which, on second thoughts, I have decided not to include in this piece to protect the ‘innocent’. Chris Cutler has no memories of said incident although in a recent email he did concede ‘I remember I scratched my cornea and had to (be) an outpatient…’
I put it to Harry that the immense period of activity had its parallels to his work at the end of the Eighties, around the same time that Daevid Allen returned to the UK, resurrected the Gong project and was involved in other parallel solo projects which also involved Harry.
“You have me cornered sir! What was the common element of those two projects? Could it be me? You’re right about the Foel sessions – as you said we had Gong Maison, Wild Child, Australia Aquaria all at the same time and the tour – there were two tours actually, the Gong Maison tour and the Mother Gong tour. I suppose the thing was that we were there and we were only there for a short time and we had the opportunity to do these things.”
One highlight of the whole batch of recordings was the seminal Mother Gong album ‘Wild Child’. “So, Gilli had come back after her mother had died – she died when Gilli arrived in the UK from Australia, so Gilli went straight to the funeral. When she came to the studio she was obviously visibly moved and very emotionally overwrought, and she put that energy, sadness, anger, compassion and insight, all these mixtures of intense female energy into those tracks. And it was great she had somewhere to put it, it could be very destructive to try and keep that inside you if you don’t express it. I think that’s one of the reasons that album is quite a powerful album – it says a lot of truth in all sorts of ways, and it is her story of who she is, the Wild Child. But that’s an aside for another day….”
And so finally a sneak preview of what we talked about in relation to Hugh Hopper. That brief stay in Devon yielded contributions not just to ‘Robot Woman 1’ and ‘Melodic Destiny’ but also Harry’s ‘Battle of the Birds’ album with Anthony Phillips and a Mother Gong GAS tape ‘WFM’ (or ‘Words Fail Me’) with instrument inventor Dave Sawyer.
“Hugh’s manifestation of his intentions was powerful. When he played a note, he always seemed to me to be doing so with a lot of meaning. I think I probably felt a bit overawed by him actually! Even though he wasn’t necessarily doing that much. He certainly wasn’t taking control or being a prima donna or playing everywhere. He was very easy to work with and understood tuning very precisely. There were little conversations about how we were going to do this. And he was saying, shall I follow the voices because they are slightly out (of tune) and I was aware of that so we were able to make decisions on the spot that were very sophisticated, so, great ear…. So I had Didier who was the soloist and I had Gilli who was soloing in her own orb and in her own world of sound which is amazing, and you have to be careful with that voice so you don’t swamp it or else you lose the subtlety.
“And then I had Guy – great drummer and very creative percussionist, Dayne, great bass player, very melodic and very funky – they were a great rhythm section together and I was thinking how can I afford to have someone like Hugh, because he was like, too big! – there’s not enough space for him! He was a force of nature – such a presence and great sense of humour too. He didn’t have to prove anything, because when you’re younger you want to try and prove stuff. I think what happens is that when you get older you play fewer notes and hopefully they mean more!”
All of which I think is a lovely personal and musical commendation to start my exploration of Hugh’s interactions with others. Many many thanks to Harry for being such a willing interviewee and passing on so many lovely stories.
Apparently the term Strawberry Bricks, which gives its name to this 572 page publication, is derived from a quote from Yes vocalist Jon Anderson when asked to describe symphonic rock. Had this not been specified in the introduction I might have guessed that the term referred to the combination of a colourful cover and the fact that this project is of such physical substance it could well be large enough to repel any lingering prog deniers. This is indeed a major project.
The central format of the book is to take each year from 1967 to 1981 and examine seminal LPs from each in a page or so’s depth each time, starting with the Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’ and cleverly ending with Asia’s eponymous album as the sole entry for the latter year, presumably because that project’s barren combination of four key prog players (Wetton, Howe, Palmer, Downes) appeared to herald the point of no return for the genre.
What really works with this book is Snider’s consistently succinct style. Few words are wasted. In a few short paragraphs per entry he manages to provide historical context of the musicians involved, describe tracks, and critically evaluate the music before summarising later projects (if subsequent albums are not to be discussed). There’s a wry familiarity with all the subject matter covered which emphasises what is clearly a deep love for the music covered. The focus is primarily but not exclusively British, with European and in particular German bands getting a good look in. Albums are selected largely on merit or impact and although the key bands (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELP, Jethro Tull – ‘The Big Six’ as Sniding calls them) are comprehensively covered in terms of output, they far from dominate – the commercial success of a particular band or album does not translate to excessive column inches over another.
Suffice it to say that Canterbury bands are particularly well represented, which will come as no surprise to those of who will recognise the author’s name from various Canterbury Facebook groups. Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong, Hatfield and the North and National Health get a comprehensive going over, but you’ll also find Egg, Khan, Steve Hillage, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Didier Malherbe, Delivery and further afield to links with Henry Cow, Clearlight, Nucleus, Mike Oldfield, Isotope, Quiet Sun….. Few stones are left unturned and in that regards must be one of the first instances in printed form of a critical Canterbury discography of sorts.
The book is topped and tailed with some interesting additional features: a partly sociological analysis of the music which led to the launch of the progressive genre; a justification of the timeline used; an examination of the reasons for its demise, which interestingly enough absolves punk from blame in a somewhat enlightened outlook; and beyond that into examinations of successive new waves of prog. There are even a smattering of lists which are a nice diversion and will further give you an indication of the author’s own preferences. Whilst this impressive tome is ultimately a reference book, with comprehensive evaluations of 510 albums, no less, it’s also a portal into further exploration: whether revisiting those albums within its ranks that you had forgotten about, following new links within from familiar names, or opening up a whole new set of albums to explore. Or simply just to pat yourself on the back that you’d got it so right in the first place…
Making Love and Music in the Sixties and Seventies – a memoir
Firstly this is not a new book, it’s been something I’ve been meaning to purchase, read and review for quite some time. A research project I’m working on (big news soon!) hurried that purchase up a bit – it arrived on Saturday, I read it yesterday and it so inspired me that your review is here today! ‘Him Through Me’ was published in 2014 and was in preparation for a considerable time longer, apparently with several false starts. Pam Windo was the wife of saxophonist Gary Windo for 15 years from the late Sixties, was herself a musician (she appeared on various posthumous Gary Windo releases that were recorded in the Seventies, as well as being the leader of her own band at the turn of the Eighties) and is a novelist and poet. This book serves in part as a biography of both herself and Gary Windo, and after the heavyweight dissection of detail evident in the last two biographies of Henry Cow and Allan Holdsworth that we’ve reviewed on the Facelift blog, this is refreshingly narrative-based, a warts and all story of a love affair that navigated its way through musical and cultural events that most readers of this blog will be familiar with from both a narrow musical and much wider context.
I remember publishing a tiny tribute to Gary Windo in Facelift issue 9 after he died tragically early at the age of 50 in 1992 – at that point he was mainly familiar to me through three titanic and utterly unique solos performed at the extremes of the ‘Canterbury’ spectrum, Hugh Hopper’s funky ‘Minipax 1’, a moment of relative accessibility (Windo’s astonishing atonal solo excepted) from ‘1984’; his talkative, percussive interjections on ‘Alifib’ from Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’ and his joyous elongated outro to New York Gong’s ‘Jungle Windo(w)’. I’d also heard his contributions more in the background with Carla Bley’s band from 1977, and Centipede, and but it was during research for the Robert Wyatt biography ‘Wrong Movements’ that author Mike King unearthed considerably more artefacts from the Windo lexicon which ended up comprising the retrospective ‘His Master’s Bones’, and educating me and others as to his wider legacy.
Not that that particular timeline is at all the point of this biography. Instead it portrays the colourful and compelling story of how Pam and Gary Windo started their lives in parallel a few streets apart in Brighton, had school and family connections at an early age, sowed their oats in different ways at the end of the Fifties, he with a conviction for heroin offences in America, she with a bohemian episode in Tunisia. Both had been married, her now a single mother with two young children, when Gary arrived back on the scene, having honed his saxophone skills in prison, playing there alongside former bandmates of Charlies Parker and Mingus, and now looking to break into the British jazz scene. The portrait within the book is of a larger than life man, off-the-wall, energetic, positive, hard-working and loveable, and no punches are held in the honesty in portraying quite how tough their lives were at the start of the Seventies, having escaped the love and support of their respective parents to live in London, bringing up two small children, whilst barely having a pot to piss in. There are stories of their lodgers (the first was Robert Wyatt, in the process of extracting himself from the Soft Machine, another was Nick Evans); Gary’s gradual acceptance on to the London jazz scene (although pecuniary reward was a long time in coming); Pam’s own travails as a pianist learning her trade (self taught with Gary’s encouragement); and accounts of being ripped off during various overseas episodes during stints as house bands for more mainstream artists which had gone awry. Familiar names appear everywhere: Hugh Hopper, who became a friend of the Windos, that ongoing connection to Robert Wyatt; Nick Mason’s support; Marc Charig, Elton Dean, musicians like Richard Brunton and Frank Roberts who would appear on ‘Hoppertunity Box’; and later the likes of Daevid Allen and Fred Frith, alongside many more famous mainstream names.
The writing style is disarming: honest, human and totally drawing the reader into the realities of Seventies bohemia: the hippy ideologies, which eventually for Pam was augmented by feminism; the revolving door which saw musicians come and go into the Windo house open enough to accommodate all-comers; and eventually the descent (if that’s the right word) into the lifestyle alluded to in the titillating subtitle of the book, the irony being that for all Windo’s earlier exposure to hard drugs, their parallel dabbling in dope, hallucinogenics and free love was something which appeared to only manifest itself in the mid Seventies when they were both in their early thirties. Then on to the saxophonist’s open embracement of the punk era, followed by their emigration to the States. The conclusion to the book, where Pam finds her own musical voice and exposure with her punk band Pam Windo and the Shades, whilst simultaneously watching her marriage disintegrate and Gary’s demons resurface, is often harrowing but portrayed without judgement or recrimination.
This is not particularly a book for the nitpicking Canterbury purist, it is instead a compelling read which I raced through in less than 24 hours – its real framework is the ultimately tragic story of two interlinked individuals set against wider larger cultural references such as the moon landings, the deaths of the three J’s (Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix), the exit from Vietnam, the Silver Jubilee and the punk phenomenon, whilst quotes are pulled from various wider literary contexts to embellish the points made. Ultimately this is a riveting, refreshingly personal read, with so much to commend it. And an essential addition to your bookshelf.
When I met Kavus Torabi at the Deaf Institute in Manchester just before Christmas, it was the fifth time I’d seen him perform in a matter of months, firstly with Gong, then with Steve Hillage, then with both, and latterly twice with The Utopia Strong, his experimental trio with Steve Davis and Mike York. He was buzzing after an amazingly productive year, and when I suggested that he must be knackered, he quickly rejoindered with ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to be this busy’, marvelling at the breakneck speed of it all.
2020 was set to be (and may still be) just as productive. More gigs at the start in Ireland; a limited edition release of some new and particularly wigged out performances by The Utopia Strong; the release of this, his first complete solo album; further Steve Hillage Band and Gong tours (this time separate); and the promise of progress on a new Gong album, the third since Daevid Allen passed on the mantle entirely to Kavus and co before his death.
The new world order has already cancelled an exciting trip to South America, and Steve Hillage Band gigs in the early summer have followed suit. In the midst of it all, however, that promised solo album has materialised right on cue, in fact, somewhat ahead of schedule. It was preceded by a quite wonderful solo concert on Facebook Live which, I suspect will remain one of my pervading memories of the no-gig lockdown. From Kavus’ front room, with daughter Sima in tow on violin, this was a wonderfully intimate hour or so with guitar, voice and harmonium, and despite enjoying Kavus’ previous EP Solar Divination (reviewed here), this was the moment I truly ‘got’ him as a solo performer.
‘Hip to the Jag’ sets out Kavus’ stall fully as a solo artist: a diverse yet cohesive mix of gentle songs, invocations and genuinely inspiring moments, but always with a hint of something otherworldly, not entirely comfortable, just around the corner. The only previous time I’ve heard the harmonium played live was with Daevid Allen’s erstwhile partner Wandana Bruce (and prior to that on record in a somewhat different context with Ivor Cutler) , but on ‘Hip To The Jag’ it is used with intent, from its backing of the droned-out, chugging guitar of the opener ‘Chart The Way’, to the discordant ‘Radio To Their World’, (reprised from the EP), which bends the harmonium in all sorts of inappropriate directions.
Amongst the other early tracks ‘A Body of Work’ is a lovely piece akin to Soft Machine’s out-of-kilter ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’. Acoustic guitar and vocals follow each other in a delightful, obtuse melody to create the album’s first peak point. ‘The Peacock Throne’ in contrast is almost atonal, a sweep of sound akin to an orchestra of harmoniums tuning up, the flickering reverb sounds slowly engulfing the listener.
The centrepiece of the album consists of two beautiful pieces, both of which were aired during the broadcast. First up the simply stunning ‘You Broke My Fall’ – based around a simple two chord harmonium backdrop, which adds guitar, glissando, before opening out into a triumphant, uplifting progression of the main theme. ‘Cemetery of Light’ is similarly evocative but again so simple in its basic accompaniment, three rising and falling guitar chords. Even though Kavus turns in probably his only guitar solo of the album to conclude the piece, a brief, subtle turn, this relatively gentle fayre is the paradox of Kavus Torabi as a musician – the fiendishly complex Gong compositions (‘The Unspeakable Stands Revealed’ for example) , the guitar heroics of ‘Rejoice!’ and the wild man persona of live Gong performances are temporarily put aside for this most spiritual of projects. Even where there are hints of the song writing talents which helped produce ‘The Elemental’ or ‘Through Restless Seas’, they are subsumed into a gentler manifestation, the otherworldly ‘My Cold Rebirth’ being a case in point. ‘Where The Eyeless Walk’ recalls a little the folky hypnotism of Glastonbury bard Tim Hawthorn, before it is into the concluder ‘Slow Movements’, eerie and meditative and the longest piece aired, which closes out the album in something of a reverie.
I’ve heard some social media comments that ‘Hip To The Jag’, could be Kavus’ ‘Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life’ moment, echoing a project where Daevid Allen’s showmanship was fully stripped away to reveal a more contemplative alter ego. That’s something of a high bar to aim for, but what’s for sure, the combination of this fine album and its associated performance on that Facebook feed have got me looking out for a solo Kavus set somewhere – whenever that may be…
This Jazz in Britain release with its rather expansive title has rather snuck below the radar in amongst the Allan Holdsworth biography ‘Devil Take the Hindmost’ and the release of the associated album ‘Warleigh Manor’. But you’d do well not to ignore this brief live performance, currently available as a free download.
This was rescued, as was ‘Warleigh Manor’ from the Ron Mathewson archive, and whilst it shares with it key personnel including Holdsworth, Ray Warleigh and Mathewson, this particular set of pieces could scarcely be more different. Beautifully constructed and evocative, this is reflective, melodic, somewhat transportative music. Other contributors are Geoff Castle on keyboards, with Dick Crouch credited as composer and Alain Presencer on the aforementioned singing bowls. Paz were always one of those names at the back of my subconscious – I knew they had musicians who crossed over into spheres I was familiar with: Dave Sheen (Soft Heap), Castle (Nucleus), Phil Lee (Gilgamesh), Henry Thomas (John Etheridge Band) but I had never heard any of their material. Not that this live performance is in any way representative of the music of a band that existed as a London collective for around a decade or more, purveying music more akin to Latin jazz funk fusion than anything heard here.
Prefaced by the sound of a singing bowl which gives the outfit its extended name, and a piano motif which recalls a little the backdrop to the Soft Machine’s ‘Tales of Taliesin’ the opener ‘Dream Sequence’ is a rather beautiful piece, notable for some very understated Holdsworth etchings but also yet more fabulous flute recalling Jimmy Hastings’ wonderful solo on National Health’s ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. ‘And They Speak For Themselves’ is the only remotely ‘free’ piece here – with bass grumblings and keyboards recalling some of the electronics on the Hopper/Dean/Tippett/Gallivan albums.
‘Kandeen Love Song’ is interesting as representing a bridge between the old and new for Allan Holdsworth – its swooning guitarscapes conjures up many of the sounds one would associate from his 80s solo albums onwards, countered by Castle’s gentle keyboard explorations. Shades of some of the pastiches later produced by Holdsworth’s protégé Jakko Jakszyk here.
Final track is another mellow ballad, dominated by acoustic piano and more wonderful performances from the flute of Warleigh, a glorious pastoral sound underpinned by warm bass. It is presumably the breaks in the transmission of this track, as well as the shortness of performance (only 25 minutes in total) which means that this artefact hasn’t been turned into an official, paid for release. Which presumably also means that unless more complete copies are found elsewhere, this will remain an unheralded, delightful little curio.
Devil Take The Hindmost – The Otherworldy Music of Allan Holdsworth – Ed Chang – Jazz in Britain – 412 pages
It’s perhaps surprising that until now there hasn’t been an Allan Holdsworth biography: for many guitarists (and fans of guitarists) he simply is ‘it’, a phenomenally gifted and idiosyncratic player whose abilities, temperament and ideas took the guitar to places never before seen. Ed Chang’s comprehensive account of his work is a 400 page+ epic which follows an unusual format, but leaves few stones unturned in its seeking out of Allan’s (and others’) thoughts on his journey from working men’s clubs to adulation and critical acceptance. Around the time of his death he was voted the best guitarist of all time by the readers of ‘Guitar Player’ with 10 times as many votes as any other player(!), but seemingly any success never extended to material wealth or an exalted sense of self-worth.
The book is the second printed release on the roster from Jazz in Britain, whose stated role is as “A not-for-profit organisation, whose aim is to collect, curate, preserve, celebrate and promote the legacy of British jazz musicians”. The irony is that Allan in latter years gained the acceptance his talents deserved principally over in the States, coinciding with his movement towards more solo material. His CV was an extraordinary one prior to that, as almost unwittingly he passed through any number of bands with direct or loose connections to the Canterbury Scene: Nucleus, Tempest (latterly with Ollie Halsall), Sunship, Soft Machine, Gong, Bruford and UK.
Chang’s approach is an unusual one: each chapter concentrates on an album or a band stint (particularly in the Seventies, Allan’s sojourns with projects were generally brief), sets the context, and thereafter the narrative is largely quote-based. The analysis is saved for notes on each release which accompanies that chapter as Chang painstakingly describes, minute by minute, each musician’s roles, piece by piece. This format reflects the book’s web-based origins at http://threadoflunacy.blogspot.com/ – where particular periods in Allan’s musical history were assembled post by post in an ongoing blog. These analyses can also include additional quotes from musicians involved providing further commentary, increasingly so as the book progresses (the section on Allan’s late Eighties solo album ‘Secrets’ for example, extends to 8 pages!), presumably because there are many more contemporary interviews available from the late Eighties onwards. Personally I tended to skip these blow by blow accounts with the promise to myself that these might form an invaluable reference tool in the future when re-visiting the relevant albums. Which indeed they did when reviewing the accompanying CD release ‘Warleigh Manor’.
What comes across despite the heavy reliance on external quotes is that Chang really does know his onions: the introduction alone where the subject’s style was broken down into harmony, melody, rhythm and articulation is expressed in succinct understandable explanations for us musical Luddites, as close an explanation as possible as to why Holdsworth’s style was unique and strikes a chord with us, even down to an illuminating description (supported by quotes throughout the book) of Allan’s embracement of ‘wrong’ notes and chords, and his overarching approach to shifting time signatures which allowed him always to maintain his place within a piece. Chang’s writing style at the start of each chapter is fluid but not overly verbose, and therefore always accessible.
What is particularly interesting for me (and presumably for readers of the blog too) are those chapters on those Seventies collaborations – and whilst a ’94 Faceliftinterview proves to be a major primary source for that period, there are other insights into Igginbottom, Nucleus, Sunship and Soft Machine in particular which I’d not seen before. The book also brings into focus various connections with other, mainly British jazz musicians which continuously reoccur, not just Gordon Beck from the Sixties through to the Nineties, but also Ray Warleigh, Jack Bruce, John Marshall, Alan Pasqua, Gary Husband and many more.
For the Canterbury completist, it’s slightly disappointing that the odd relevant collaboration is only briefly referenced (e.g. the Gongzilla project is only alluded to in the discography, a shame as it was a reunion of old collaborationists with some particularly seismic solos, plus a clear reference to the book’s subject in ‘Allan Qui?’; Soft Machine’s ‘Land of Cockayne’ receives similar treatment); but frankly the scope of the book is so far reaching that this is nit-picking. And such is the all-embracing nature of the chronology that reading through the book had me reaching for a pen to note down new curios to explore: such as the ‘Sherwood Forest’ demos with Jack Bruce in the late Seventies, or a version of ‘The Abingdon Chasp’ with Ray Warleigh, Bill Bruford, Francis Moze and Jeff Young from around the same period.
I’m guessing that as a personal fan I would have welcomed more in-text information about Allan’s progressions between bands (this is saved until a later appendix) and some more personal insight into a man who on a single meeting I found to be engaging but a severe perfectionist – ‘allergic to compliments’, as Dweezil Zappa put it. The fact that the initial biographical notes on the circumstances of his upbringing stopped me in my tracks brought it home to me that I was yearning at times for more information about Allan the man. There are hints everywhere that when he was not happy with projects he tended to lay waste around him – and there are numerous inferences to personal hardship which we can deduce from the fact that he frequently appeared to be without record deals, equipment, or even money to get home at various points in his career. Plus, dare I say it, a love for the finer things in life evidenced by numerous song titles referencing ales and spirits (as well as mention within one section of him going on stage after ‘at least 10 pints’, his playing seemingly unaffected). Another quote mentions a ‘6 year hole’ which we can guess the timeframe of but not the context. In that respect the book is a function of its format, where chapters clearly concentrate on specific events rather than the overall flow of events.
The latter part of the book is a series of appendices which are illuminating in their own right: a summary of the ‘gear’ Allan used throughout his career, an analysis of his ‘musical style’ which again, in describing the initial appearance of a ‘swooping, floating tremolo bar style’ on ‘Gazeuse!’ finally helped me understand the trademark sound I’d loved all these years; and a detailed chronology of musical events in Allan’s life from the early Sixties onwards which does much to address that overall progression. There’s also a fascinating compendium of the regular sessions Allan did with others for the BBC (featuring amongst others John Marshall, Ron Mathewson, Tony Coe, Ray Warleigh, Gordon Beck, John Stevens, Jeff Clyne, Pat Smythe and Geoff Castle) – there were 13 in total between 1972 and 1981, which best contextualise Allan’s freejazz alter ego alluded to on the recently released ‘Warleigh Manor’ CD. Plus of course a comprehensive discography and the publication of two extensive interviews from 1991 and 2000 respectively.
As with all the best biographies, the reader emerges with something of a better understanding of the history of a musician, and a yearning to revisit the music which drew one to the biography in the first place; plus a desire to seek out some of the missing pieces in one’s own collection. And a satisfaction that this is a job well done, deserving of the considerable talents of its subject….
Holdsworth, Warleigh, Matthewson, Spring: Warleigh Manor – The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol 1 (Jazz in Britain)
This previously unreleased session from four established British jazzers was unearthed as a byproduct of research for the Ed Chang’s Allan Holdsworth biography ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ by Jazz in Britain, and represents part of a series of projects which encapsulates a lesser known aspect of Holdsworth’s history which Facelift first explored in issue 2 as far back as 1989. There was a period right at the end of the Seventies, largely before his movement towards solo bands and compositions, and intertwined with his bread and butter work as a blindingly brilliant solo guitarist, when there existed a parallel universe in which Holdsworth was involved in freeblows with key improvisers from the British jazz scene including John Stevens and Ron Mathewson. It is the opening up of the latter’s extensive archives for Jazz in Britain which has produced this particular slice of history. Memories are so vague that the session cannot even be accurately dated, although the best guess is 1979 or 1980.
In fact the genesis of this particular recordings could be traced back much further – when I interviewed Allan Holdsworth back in 1994, he talked of a particular period in his life when, in the middle of a three year stint in the very early Seventies as a jobbing musician for the Glen South Band, he attended a jazz workshop and met Ray Warleigh, who offered him a room in his house down in London should he ever decide to relocate – which he subsequently did, opening up a whole host of opportunities which led on to Nucleus and then beyond… Appendices in the forthcoming biography also allude to BBC sessions with double bass player Mathewson and drummer Bryan Spring going back as far as 1972 and 1974 respectively.
Whilst ‘Warleigh Manor’ is very much in the manner of those late Seventies John Stevens freeform blasts, it’s softened considerably by the joyous nature of Ray Warleigh’s performance, initially through his warm, florid, flute (Soft Machinists will be familiar with his appearances on ‘Bundles’ and later ‘Land of Cockayne’) but also through tenor sax which alternately squawks and croons. On the opening track (‘Warleigh Manor Part One’) the initial bursts are pretty much one player soloing at a time, flute, semi-acoustic guitar and bass, before eventually this hardens into tenor sax and hitempo guitar flurries. We do eventually get the expectedly difficult high intensity listening, somewhere between the full on blast of Stevens’ ‘Touching On/Retouch’ projects and the sometimes mellower collaborations with Gordon Beck but it is Warleigh bringing the piece back to some semblance of melody which rescues the listener time and again.
Interestingly enough, Holdsworth spends most of ‘Warleigh Manor Part 2’, another track in excess of 17 minutes, on violin – the only time I can instantly recall him playing that is for very simple motifs on ‘Flight Part 4’ on Gordon Beck’s magnificent ‘Sunbird’. Here he plays more adventurously in a 3-way somewhat manic workout with flute and double bass (Mathewson’s bowed sections here are probably the highlights of his contributions on this album; drummer Spring is generally well down in the mix), before the piece eventually settles back into more considered tones with guitar with even some reflective passages. But there are no easy gains here.
Track 3 is a series of ‘Outtakes’ featuring some truly superb flute soloing over walking bass and relatively conventional guitar patterns. As the title suggests, this ‘piece’ is broken up by studio discussions, which, depending on your viewpoint either gives either context or possibly frustration to what could well have been the highlight of this album. But any doubt that it is Warleigh who is the clear star of the show is dispelled with more memorable flute passages throughout the bonus track ‘Do It In Two’, where, with the most established swing rhythm of the album, Holdsworth also briefly starts what probably constitutes his only conventional solo of the album, away from what appears to be a standard diet of improvisational counterflurries, before he appears to have second thoughts, allowing flute to come to the fore again.
If the glory here is Warleigh’s (a real revelation for me) then this is still a fascinating further opportunity to see the lesser spotted Holdsworth in his late Seventies freejazz alter ego. And it whets the appetite nicely for further discoveries both within and beyond the forthcoming biography.
In these uncertain times, I’m seeing lots of posts from musicians we all know and love who are having gigs cancelled left right and centre with no immediate prospect of any income from live performances.
Thought it might be a good time to post a list of links to musicians we can all support through their bandcamp pages – Bandcamp are waiving commission fees tomorrow, which presumably means that more money from sales goes to the artists.
The list is, I’m sure far from exhaustive at this stage (and not all links are Bandcamp ones) , but please feel free to contact me with additional links I can potentially add…
(And I appreciate that many others apart from musicians are being affected economically at the moment)
I’ve rarely seen excitement from various Canterbury uberfans to rival that which has accompanied the airing of a single sampler track from this debut album, and having been in the lucky position to have had access to the entire release for a month or so now, I can confirm that Zopp is a significant event in the pantheon of new ‘Canterbury’ music even if it emanates from a relatively youthful individual from the East Midlands!
‘Zopp’ is almost a lost album in the Egg canon, albeit imbued with a fresh energy without some of that band’s austere and self-consciously classical reference points. Ryan Stevenson comprises the vast majority of Zopp (the only other ‘constant’ member is drummer Andrea Moneta). Whilst Stevenson acknowledges Mont Campbell as a reference point in conversation, and even more obviously so Dave Stewart in sound, there is a lightness of touch more in common with the expanded instrumentation of Hatfield and the North, the comparisons helped by the fact that Stevenson doubles (or triples) on guitar and bass respectively.
The opener ‘Swedish Love’, with its high plaintive wordless voice (from Caroline Joy Clarke), in unison with keyboards, could not be more of an obvious reference point to Amanda Parsons circa ‘Tenemos Roads’, but it is not long before ‘Before The Light’ sets the project’s stall out fully. Used as a taster introduction to the album (you can listen to it here – tasty indeed) – the blaring, weaving introduction eventually settles to a myriad of time signatures and keyboard sounds, instantly recognizable from the Canterbury idiom, before being topped off by cyclical Oldfieldesque guitar.
Possibly best of all is ‘V’ –, punctuated almost throughout by mesmeric pulsing keyboards. This also contains many of the classic Canterbury elements. Bass sounds wander around underneath keyboards which alternately ripple or fanfare stridently Dave Stewart style, in search of that perfect countermelody. This is also the track that Theo Travis is credited on for flute, although you could be forgiven for missing this in amongst the orgy of Hammond and Mellotron, whilst fellow Tangent member Andy Tillison, who guests throughout the album, is also credited here for piano. This is a piece which, ‘Newport Hospital’ style, returns time and again to base for its imposing central theme before noodling off for another fine solo.
Also right up there is the final track, the fanfarish, brilliant ‘The Noble Shirker’ where the main theme reprises continually, with keyboard soloing around it in more considered fashion – more Dave Sinclair than Stewart in its clinical quest for each perfect note. As this track develops, it’s clear that this is something of a statement, a triumphal squaring of the circle, an exultant conclusion that recalls Khan’s ‘Hollow Stone’, with the soloing sax of Mike Benson added to boot.
And for a while, those latter three tracks were all I listened to on this album, impossible as it was to wrench myself away from the repeat button. But there are hidden depths and slow burners elsewhere: ‘Sanger’, almost an outtake from National Health’s ‘Missing Pieces’ (or even Gilgamesh), with its dual guitar/keyboard dual lines recalling Alan Gowen and Phil Lee as much as Stewart/Miller, time signatures changing at drop of a hat – themes which are gentle but disquieting rather than soothing until drums help to ramp up the momentum. ‘Eternal Return’ chugs along with a series of heavy organ riffs competing for space with a National Health-like guitar line, and the lovely piano-based ‘Sellanra’ is a brief moment of reflection amidst the shifting sands of its surroundings. And I’m still discovering new elements on practically every repeated listen.
Zopp is a quite superb project and album, instantly recognisable in all its challenging glory for lovers of the Canterbury genre – how lucky we are to have such a fresh and innovative interpretation of familiar styles 50 years on.
A short and well overdue post regarding the label Discus Music, Sheffield’s innovative and well-regarded music label which is at the forefront of new releases varying from leftfield rock to jazz and songform, and which also features many musicians fondly regarded by fans of the Canterbury scene.
The label is a champion of releases from Keith Tippett, who in the wake of a very serious illness recently, has a forthcoming album with partner Julie Tippetts which relies on your support via crowdfunding for its release in 2020. Elsewhere in the catalogue is the excellent MPH album ‘Taxonomies’ reviewed here last autumn and featuring Hatfield and the North’s Alex Maguire and the ubiquitous Mark Hewins alongside Martin Pyne. Label owner Martin Archer’s Anthropology Band, an ambitious electro-jazz collective, is powered along by Gong bassist Dave Sturt, whilst The Eclectic Maybe Project’s ‘Reflection in a Moebius Ring Mirror‘ is a progressive/experimental album from Guy Segers which includes recent Facelift reviewees Carla Diratz and Dave Newhouse and Michel Deville, alongside fellow Univers Zero emigre Andy Kirk.
Gong/Magick Brothers violinist Graham Clark appears on East of Eden’s Ron Caines’ album with Archer ‘Les Oiseaux de Matisse‘ whilst ex In Cahooter Sarah Gail Brand and long-standing Elton Dean collaborator Mark Sanders appear on Orchestra Entropy’s ‘Rituals’ and I dare say if you work your way through the 80 or so strong back catalogue you will find many further links. Well worth signing up for email updates perusing the full catalogue at http://www.discus-music.co.uk or even better sample some of the various wares at http://www.discusmusic.bandcamp.com. A full press release of current/future releases follows:
DEAR LISTENERS – Thanks for taking a few minutes to read about these recent CD/DL releases from Discus Music. We hope you’ll find some sounds to enjoy within our ever expanding catalogue! Please visit http://www.discus-music.co.uk to buy or http://www.discusmusic.bandcamp.com to have a browse through the sound files. Click on each sleeve image below to visit the Discus website. All prices include post and packing worldwide. And don’t forget there’s a 30% reduction on everything you spend over £25 on the site (discount not available on Bandcamp purchases) – MARTIN ARCHER
MARTIN ARCHER – ANTHROPOLOGY BAND – DISCUS 90CD. Taking the electric music of Miles Davis as its starting point, Anthropology Band is about finding the atmosphere through a deep rhythm, a searing blues run, a delicate melody, or a cascading solo statement. Band leader Martin Archer has kept the music as simple as possible – often driven by the bassline – and the structures loose, to enable this who’s who of UK creative musicians to let the music breathe in a different way each time it is played. There are multiple chordal instruments in the centre of the sound, allowing each soloist to sit on a kaleidoscopic wave of intercrossing figures which push the music forward.
“Five stars. Again a creative project by Martin Archer….. And so we can have two versions in one fell swoop: a great idea, ambitious and winning. The style is towards electric Miles, progressive rock, and, on some tracks, improvised modern jazz. Wide and open structures, imbued with a beautiful blues feeling, which allow those who find the inspiration to assert their expressiveness. However, it is always Miles’ imprint that dominates, not least because of the pervasive presence of Charlotte Keefe’s trumpet ….. Archer’s stable does not disappoint, nor does it disappoint those who, with skilful creativity, organiSe and guide it.” – A. G. Bertinetto, KATHODIK
“Though Martin Archer’s Anthropology Band readily acknowledges its debt to electric era Miles as its starting point, it quickly hurtles off into its own distinctive space. Chris Sharkey’s vivid, blazing guitar adds a fevered counterpoint to Archer’s sinuous brass themes which frame much of this 2 CD set. Gong bassist Dave Sturt adds notable definition.” – Sid Smith, PROG
On this double CD the music is presented in two versions, firstly by the live band: Martin Archer – saxophones, electronics, composer / Charlotte Keeffe – trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger / Chris Sharkey – guitar, electronics / Pat Thomas, keyboards, electronics / Corey Mwamba – vibraphone / Dave Sturt – bass guitar / Peter Fairclough – drums. And on the second CD an 11 piece brass and woodwind section, arranged by Martin and Charlotte, is added. We wrote these parts with the idea in mind “what would Gil Evans have written for Bitches Brew?”
WALT SHAW – BURNT WITH A BRILLIANT LIGHT – DISCUS 91DL. (Download only) “At the opening of my solo visual art exhibition at Déda, Derby, January 11th 2020, I did a solo percussion performance. I used drums, cymbals, gongs, bowls, home-made instruments and objects. The performance consisted of 10 short sound ‘sketches’, each one dedicated to a different artist that has meant a lot to me in my artistic development. I am always looking for processes that in some way fuse my love of sound and the visual art medium. So hopefully each percussion ‘sketch’ appropriately invokes the spirit of each artist with my personal sound interpretation.” – Walt Shaw
“We’re not sure whether he was a painter or a percussionist first, only that he has been doing this for quite a long time and is incredibly talented. Shaw also makes many of his own instruments (often from scrap) and has a special affinity for gongs. Earlier this year, his two worlds collided in an enjoyable way: a solo percussion set performed at the opening of his art exhibition at Deda. Each short “sketch” is dedicated to an artist who has influenced Shaw…..But whether the cover draws the attention to the music, the music to the art, or the titles to the work of others, all components work in connection ~ like an assemblage or a collage. The circle is complete.” – Richard Allen, A CLOSER LISTEN
ARTICLE XI – LIVE IN NEWCASTLE – DISCUS 89CD. Article XI came together in 2014 when Anton was commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival to create a new set of music for large ensemble. This record continues the group’s explorations into large ensemble collective composition, with two new pieces alongside re-imaginings of two pieces from their debut 2018 album. “Live in Newcastle” was recorded at the Bridge Hotel during a concert for Jazz North East, long-standing supporters of improvised music, and a night which bandleader Anton Hunter has had a long relationship with over the years.
Sam Andreae – alto saxophone / Oliver Dover – alto saxophone / Simon Prince – tenor saxophone & flute / Cath Roberts – baritone saxophone / Graham South – trumpet / Nick Walters – trumpet / Kieran McLeod – trombone / Tullis Rennie – trombone / Seth Bennett – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums / Anton Hunter – guitar
“Shields is their major statement: two long, no-edits performances recorded in a converted Methodist church in Leeds. The saxophone, guitar and drums trio…..sound like anything but – the huge, echoing rumbles of “North” resemble slowed down whale song or tectonic chatter; they just come from sax or guitar, but flanged and gated and utterly, fascinatingly denatured. There is a deep understanding between the players, bacause both movements…..move with an almist narrative logic, as if a journey has already been made.” – Brian Morton, THE WIRE
RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS – DREAM FEATHERS – DISCUS 88CD.
“Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more.” – Adrian Pallant, AP Reviews
“I could do a track by track description, much better to hear this wonderful recording for yourself. These are all Ron Caines tunes, yet the ensemble is everything. In places the Gus Garside/Johnny Hunter bass/drums team hang on it like Carter and Williams from the Miles Davis Quartet, such is their stealth. Laura Cole’s piano (acoustic & electric) structures the fix. Anton Hunter’s guitar, pithy, not over played. Archer’s multiple “hornweb” on African Violets, a gift. He and Hervé Perez provide all kinds of enhancing, yet nothing diverts from the Caines tenet. By the time the ensemble reach the final track, Almazon/1934, they are essential. That hanging piano rings out a melody like bells from a high tower. Ron Caines, tenor purchasing another plangent melody squeezed by electrophopia. In the transfer from Almazon to 1934 the guitar is pushed through a gizmo, grinding the notes to audio dust accompanied by a field recording of bird song. And the horn, a lone deity left to flood the senses. Magnificent.” – Steve Day, stevedaywordsandmusic
In this continuing series of releases with Ron – the mastermind behind East Of Eden, one of the most creative and adventurous groups to come out of the 1960s collision between jazz, rock and psychedelia – we seem to have arrived at an interesting place where an ostensibly straight jazz group playing beautifully realised melodic material is somehow unexpectedly pulled sideways into a strange alternative electroacoustic universe. We like this little clearing in the forest which we’ve found for Ron’s music – and in many ways it mirrors the pioneering work of his early music with East Of Eden, all be it with technology which was not available to those musicians in those days. Come hear this master melodist at work. Album artworks by Susan Caines.
Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones
Martin Archer – bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole – acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez – field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter – guitar and electronics
Gus Garside – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums
MPH – TAXONOMIES – DISCUS 87CD. Alex Maguire – piano, Hammond organ / Martin Pyne – vibraphone, drums, percussion, electronics / Mark Hewins – guitars, electronics.
“The titles of the works are inspired by various flora and fauna, sich as ‘False Jasmine’, ‘Meadowsweet’, ‘Purple Loosestrife’, and ‘Sally Lightfoot’. The names are to suggest “timeless narrative, characters, landscapes and mindscapes.” This they do, in full bloom. The catholic palette of settings from lazy daydreaming to rippling directions, and exotic chance, provides the audience with a series of short films for the ears and imagination. ‘Taxonomies’ is very curious, distinguished and inventive.” – Lee Henderson, BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE
MPH is a trio featuring three of the most creative musical minds on the improv scene today. Their music draws from a huge range of genres to create bewitching and astonishingly original sound pictures, shot through with vitality, tenderness and humour. Taxonomies is the trio’s debut album, taking inspiration from a quirky perspective on the natural world.
COREY MWAMBA – NTH – DISCUS 86CD. Corey Mwamba – vibraphone, glockenspiel, beak flute / Laura Cole – piano / Andy Champion – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums, small percussion
“NTH is a rhythmically minded beast. The beautifully rhythmic drumming of Johnny Hunter allows Corey’s searching vibes and the playful piano of Laura Cole full rein in chasing and tagging one another. To me the vibes always sound as though they are the precursor to something mysterious and unknown; a sense of expectation is always present in that soulful ring and it is never more so than here.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ
“The idea for putting together this group, at the time I did, represents a slow movement. This is a group of people that I had wanted to put together for a while; some of the music was written almost fifteen years ago. But then, as it began, we accelerated; we played live four times, the final time coinciding with my last time. Andy, Johnny, and Laura have given so much in performing and dealing with the material. What these musicians and friends have done, to me, reflects a core tradition in jazz — to deal and commit to the material and make new things, present new ways of listening and expressing: to move beyond the limits of the marks on the page, towards feeling.” – COREY MWAMBA
ORCHESTRA ENTROPY – RITUALS – DISCUS 85CD. The classic language of European free improvisation carefully sculpted into a series of movements for large ensemble by composer / improviser Matt London.
“The Discus catalogue is now large and incredibly varied. This is one of its finest moments.” – Brian Morton, JAZZ JOURNAL
“On Rituals, composer and saxophonist Matt London expands his new music group Ensemble Entropy into a ten piece improvising orchestra. The musicians are free to interpret London’s language score as they see fit, the intention being to sculpt the improvisations so that the music develops and transforms along an ancient element journey. As powerful as the full ensemble can be, London maximises its impact by breaking it down into smaller groupings via two trio sub-pieces. “skelf” (Scots for splinter) is a scrabble of electric guitar, double bass and drums, while “antiphon” is an elegant interlude for strings. Tom Ward’s inquisitive clarinet and Sarah Gail Brand’s puckering trombone bring the orchestra back in over Mark Sanders’ woodpecker percussion, leading to a stately closing theme reminiscent of Eyvind Kang.” – Stewart Smith, THE WIRE
“RITUALS is an extended work for ten improvisers presented on two hand drawn panels. This language score consists of various open notations, graphics plus two trio sub-pieces titled skelf (electric guitar, double bass and drums) and antiphon (violin, viola and double bass) for the performers to decipher. The intention is to sculpt the improvisations so that the music develops and transforms along an ancient elemental journey, with the composer not as a totalitarian figure of authority, instead giving the performers the guidance, the licence to explore and discover who they are within it.” – Matt London
Matt London – tenor saxophone, director / Georgia Cooke – alto flute / Tom Ward – bass clarinet / Seb Silas – baritone saxophone / Sarah Gail Brand – trombone / Rebecca Raimondi – violin / Benedict Taylor – viola / Seth Bennett – double bass / Moss Freed – electric guitar / Mark Sanders – drums
ECLECTIC MAYBE BAND – REFLECTION IN A MOEBIUS RING MIRROR – DISCUS 83CD. A second volume of the Guy Segers (ex Univers Zero) project where the basic live band session is enhanced by an extensive post production involving contributions from a wide range of improvising musicians. Located musically between edgy jazzrock, electronics and improvisation, the release has been a surprise best seller, and this time round the tracks are built around a large and ever shifting cast of players:
Carla Diratz (Vocals) Cathryn Robson (Vocals) Roland Binet (Flute, Piccolo) Martin Archer (Sax Sopranino & Alto) Joe Higham (Sax Soprano & Tenor, Electronics) Dave Newhouse (Sax Alto & Tenor, Bass Clarinet) Jean-Pierre Soarez (Trumpet) Ariane Plumerel (Violin) Sigrid Vandenbogaerden (Cello) Michel Delville (Guitar) Eric Lemaître (Guitar) Ángel Ontalva (Guitar) Andy Kirk (Guitar, Keyboards) Catherine Smet (Piano, Keyboards) Guy Segers (Bass, Programming Virtual Instruments) Franck Balestracci (Keyboards, Drums) Dirk Wachtelaer (Drums)
“Overall, Reflection In A Moebius Ring Mirror is a release of unparalleled scope, almost astounding in its reach, but with its beauty and sense of questing allowing the listener opportunities to immerse themselves. The players are all superb, and Guy’s way around the studio means that his constructed tracks are seamless yet exploratory. It is well worth taking a dip into these welcoming waters — but watch out for the currents.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ
INCLUSION PRINCIPLE – ARKIV – DISCUS 82DL. Nu-Jazz / electronics / improv group Inclusion Principle has been performing live since 2006. Commencing 2019, we have started to create an archive of our concerts under the ever evolving catalogue number Discus 82DL. The first three concerts, featuring the group in its early duo format of Hervé Perez and Martin Archer (saxophones and laptops) are available now.
KEITH TIPPETT – THE UNLONELY RAINDANCER – DISCUS 81CD. We’re massively proud to be bringing to you this re-release from 1980 – Keith’s first ever solo piano release, which predates his Mujician series from the following decade. These exciting and vibrant performances, recorded live on a tour of the Netherlands in 1979, have been carefully remastered from the source tapes. In Keith’s view, this music forms the template for his future solo work up to the present day. Out of print for many years, and unknown to most, this vital document will be a must for all fans of UK creative music.
“The re-blossoming of a long dormant rose. Or oak, as Tippett twice visits the folk melody of Tortworth Oak, though he soon transcends the tune with his massive chording, ocean-wide sense of dynamics and wrists of iron that allow him to repeat hot forged figures and trills with an unremitting, unswerving attack. With different pianos at different venues, there is a variation in tonality and ambience, but that adds to the overall richness of the sound quality, the narrative of the tour, as well of each cut. And that is Tippett’s gift to the listener, that even in the most expressionistic passages, there’s an organic storytelling arc to each piece, even within the epic Steel Yourself. This is improvised but not avant-garde music that disappears up its own arch. It’s music with a heart of soul that can barely contain itself. But it does, just.” – Andy Robson, JAZZWISE – EDITOR’S CHOICE
MARTIN ARCHER – ANOTHER FANTASTIC INDIVIDUAL – DISCUS 80CD. Solo music for woodwind, percussion and minimal electronics. “This is the first time I’ve made an album on which I’m the only performer. I’ve been playing AACM style saxophone for more than 40 years now, and this collection – a mixture of solo and small ensembles, sometimes with percussion or minimal electronics – presents everything I’ve learned about the instrument as a player and composer in that time.” – Martin Archer
“One of the pleasures of Martin Archer’s recordings is anticipating what he has in store for the listener…Very carefully overdubbed…The improvising is excellent and some of the tunes are masterful…Outstanding!” – CADENCE
FROSTLAKE – ICE & BONE – DISCUS 79CD. Ice & Bone – long awaited second CD by multi-instrumentalist frostlake (Jan Todd) who has been busy writing and recording for the improvising band Orchestra of The Upper Atmosphere. Ice & Bone is now finally released and the distinctive sound palette of her debut CD ‘White Moon, Black Moon’ continues – acoustic and electronic sounds washed with layered vocals and the creative bass of Terry Todd. They have played out live as a duo and here are studio recordings of their live set. The mix of acoustics strings/wind instruments with ethereal synthesizers and percussion takes you to another world- from the gentle terror of ‘60’s B movie ‘The Lake’ to the classic folk horror of ‘When Trees Sing/Find Me’. Ice & Bone unwraps the darker layers of the mind in dreams and the unexplained. Driving bass and drums grind it back to reality in ‘Just A Game’ and ‘The Last Time’ so this album is caught between the worldly and the unworldly – British psychedelia at it’s best. Field recordings add a sense of time and place in the eerie, natural world that frostlake creates and shares it’s stranger secrets.
‘Ice & Bone’ is a gorgeous, dreamy and rich with haunted folk, of lost ghosts, calling from another world, whispering sweet things in your ear. – Lee Henderson – BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE
BECK HUNTERS – HAS IT BEEN FOUND? – DISCUS 78CD. Mick Beck – tenor sax, bassoon, and whistles / Anton Hunter – guitar / Johnny Hunter – drums. A new set of improvisations from this formidable team of master musicians.
Terrifying thunders, trembling solos, vibrant and powerful climaxes, light, expressive, passionate or luminous melodies, turbulent rolls, breaking sessions, driving sequences of repetitive notes – all these elements and moods are gently combined together. The music has impressive sound – it has driving and expressive mood. – AVANT SCENA
DAS RAD – DAS RAD – DISCUS 75CD. Nick Robinson – electric and acoustic guitars, loops, electronics
Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinets, flutes, recorders, melodica, keyboards, electronics, synth bass
Steve Dinsdale – electric drums, acoustic percussion, synth.
Stunning prog-friendly improv-rock from Sheffield stock. If you don’t know the name of multi-instrumentalist and Discus Musics’ owner Martin Archer, then you’ve not been paying attention to some of the most interesting developments in British jazz, psych and rock during the last 25 years. His latest cross-genre experiment finds him in the company of guitarist Nick Robinson and Radio Massacre International’s keyboardist / drummer Steve Dinsdale. An extremely accessible, at times almost poppy collection of instrumental tracks, it’s a skilful integration of jazzy muscularity, noodling electronica and invigorating surges of air-punching rock. Mostly they appear as concisely constructed bursts with a punk-like brevity that brings urgency and impact to scrunching guitar riffs and luminous shafts of Mellotron strings. However, their two epic-length explorations Porto Steps and London Steps combine mesmeric mid-tempo beats and throbbing bass to frame scudding sax drifts, twinkling daubs of guitar and billowing atmospherics to form a blissful and immersive environment. Elsewhere two sumptuous acoustic guitar pieces add bucolic interludes to an album already overflowing with expressive tunes and startlinf quality. – Sid Smith, PROG
MAJA BUGGE – NO EXIT – DISCUS74CD. Maja Bugge – cello
The Norwegian cellist Maja Bugge’s second solo album “No Exit” was recorded inside Standedge canal tunnel by Hervé Perez. The music on this album is mainly improvised and responds to the 3 ¼ mile long tunnels unique acoustic and sounds. She is also using the history of the site as an inspiration echoing the rhythmical patterns of feet moving the boats through tunnels in the 19th century and the sound of stones being carved out of the ground 200 years ago. This results in a haunting, meditative and expressive improvisation. It is a homage to a unique site and its sound. The “lone” cello responds to the unpredictability of the space and together they make something.
Recorded by sound engineer Hervé Perez in the tunnel, 200 years old and over 3 miles long, of Standedge, West Yorkshire, the disk has the solo performance of the Norwegian cellist, residing in Lancaster, Maja Bugge. Her instrument interacts with the unusual environment, meditative atmosphere-generating sound improvised melodic lines and melancholy. The Standedge Tunnel, five tracks Lullaby for Legging, Passage, Boat and No Exit recall the experience of the tunnel through which the monologue of the arc of the musician seems to seek a dialogue, an interaction, a possibility of communication. The dramatic character of the music is appreciated especially knowing the particular situation of the context of his performance. – A G Bertinetto, KATHODIK
RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS – LES OISEAUX DE MATISSE – DISCUS 72CD. Ron Caines -alto and soprano saxophones / Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinets, software instruments / Laura Cole – grand piano, electric piano / Gus Garside – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums / Hervé Perez – live sound processing, shakuhachi / Graham Clark – violin, electric guitar.
Ron Caines was the mastermind behind East of Eden, whose groundbreaking first two albums Mercator Projected and Snafu, mixing psychedelic rock, jazz, bluebeat, poetry, electronics and studio experimentation, were massively influential on teenage me at a stage when I was starting to explore the limits and possibilities of music. It is a massive honour to be able to record with Ron all these years later. This CD is a collision of pure jazz skill happening in real time and studio collage. We hope, even though the music is quite different, that it contains a spark and continuation of the “arts lab” ethos of Ron’s early work with E of E.
This is outstanding! Loose and supple playing. Hints of Mingus at his freest, mixed with Eastern influences and even traditional jazz. Really strong compositional ‘springboards’. Record of the week!! – MATT PARKER, BRITISH PROGRESSIVE JAZZ
LAURA COLE – ENOUGH – DISCUS 71CD. Laura Cole – piano
“A mood of calm introspection sits over this collection of pieces for solo piano. Yet, within that, Cole succeeds in exploring divergent avenues of expression. the first disc contains her arrangements of compositions by various associates from the UK jazz scene: Jason Yarde’s “Unisome (Unisin, Unison, Unisone, Unisum)!” is a fugue-like puzzle tackled with insouciant Monkish precision; Kim Macari’s “Default Settings” mingles harp-like sweeps of the piano strings with intensely intimate vocal mutterings: while Corey Mwamba’s “forgotten letters; Bereft; Tears: bright grey” is a solemn 15 minute suite of scattered stipples and enigmatic phrases. On the second disc, Cole presents her own compositions and improvisations, revealing a quietly emphatic sense of space: “The Crossing…” employs long pauses and isolated sonar-like notes, while “Extinguish” bathes in the warm glow of the sustain pedal” – DANIEL SPICER, THE WIRE
“A very personal statement from an engaged musician! “– VITAL WEEKLY
ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE – THETA FOUR – DISCUS 70CD.
A snarling mix of prog / zeuhl / Alice Coltrane / Terry Riley
“When it comes to Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere’s Theta Four, describing it as ‘epic’ feels like selling it short. The large ensemble harnesses a hybrid patchwork of electro-acoustic textures that brings to mind the spacey explorations of Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Can et al. Choirs, choppy strings, throbbing beats, dreamy vocals and snarling bass rise and soar into bold themes creating a diverse and thrilling listen. If you’re unfamiliar with their previous three albums, then start here.” – SID SMITH, PROG
“Spare me for a few minutes to tell you about an amazing album that came out last month. This album is θ4 (Theta Four), by the incredible Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere. This experimental album takes you many places, from the atmospheric, almost ambient and contemplative, nebulous threnodies to the upbeat, vigorous, and eclectic parts more reminiscent of some of the more creative progressive rock of the 70s. This album is fabulous and deserves your attention for every minute of its runtime”. – Dave Tremblay, HEAVYBLOGISHEAVY
Cary Grace has become something of a fixture at Kozfest, that annual celebration of psychedelic music which doffs its cap more than a little to the legacy of Daevid Allen and company. On my first visit there she appeared in a band including erstwhile Gong/Here and Now guitarist Steffe Sharpstrings (the performance was captured as ‘The Uffculme Variations’), then in 2018 we saw her with Yamma, a pop up band featuring Mike Howlett, Graham Clark and Basil Brooks of Zorch. She clearly has a knack for getting on board seminal figures in the scene. However, I think Yamma, the first time I’d seen her perform, might have given me the wrong impression of her work, as this ambient, experimental music with only the occasional smattering of vocals, is almost entirely removed from her latest project ‘Lady of Turquoise’, an ambitious double album which is largely song-based.
Cary Grace is an avowed champion of modular synths (and a few squirming Blakeesque motifs are evident of this on the instrumental opener ‘Khepera at the Dawn’), yet ‘Lady of Turquoise’ is more than anything a celebration of hypnotic, droned out guitar from a variety of proponents, including Grace herself. The first notable evidence of this is the excellent ‘Into Dust’, a hypnotic, feedback-heavy trudge with guitar from John Garden and treated vocals. ‘Afterglow’ is doomier still, with restrained guitar distortion in the background as Grace drawls through a spoken word accompaniment, her American accent softened by a decade or so’s residence in the West Country but no less impactful for that – often dipping into edgy, disquieting menace.
The ballad ‘Film Noir’ features an aching introduction courtesy of the sax of Ian East. Often within the chaos of live Gong it’s easy to forget quite what a sweet soprano sound he makes, this is equally matched by the beautifully delivered vocals, perhaps Cary’s strongest performance on the album. This is one of three tracks Steffe Sharpstrings adds guitar to, apparently the original recordings of his contributions dating back to sessions for her album ‘Tygerland’ back in 2015, although he makes his own mark most tellingly through the blisteringly bubbling soloing on the rocky ‘Castle of Dreams’.
Graham Clark also adds an electric violin to the country-ish ‘Costume Jewellery’, alongside the plucked strings of Andy Bole on bouzouki and laouto – this track is notable for some quite Daevid Allenesque guitar obtusions from John Garden in what turns out to be an eleven minute extended cool down, which I suspect might be most representative of the band’s live performances.
Best of all are ‘Letterbox’, elevating from some initial campfire strum’n’croon into glorious raucous wahwah from Garden, and ‘Sacrifice’, another track going into double figure length, a memorably simple slow bluesy guitar riff performed by the author herself, and embellished by frequent soloing breakouts (from Steve Everitt), some lovely Hammond noodling beneath and increasing swathes of texture from all directions – a fantastic barrage of interconnected sounds all told. Whilst there are moments throughout the album of quiet reflection, and Grace’s fine, clear voice means she is adept enough at this (witness the harmonized vocals on ‘Without A Trace’) , the music defaults time and time again to those drawn out bluesy, guitar-heavy drones, powered along by a core band of Andy Budge (bass) and David Payne (drums), It is these core three, who along with Victoria Reyes (keys) and Everitt, will be performing with Cary Grace at the Avalon weekender at Easter and beyond. And as she ascends the Kozfest bill with every passing year, who can predict who else might join her on stage this year?
Ahead of the publication of the Allan Holdsworth biography ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ by Ed Chang, the very good people at Jazz in Britain have allowed Facelift an exclusive stream of the entire contents of a rarity unearthed during research for the book, to be released on April 15th 2020, the same day as the biography.
Warleigh Manor: The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 1 features Allan Holdsworth, Ray Warleigh (ex Soft Machine), Ron Mathewson and Bryan Spring in a free blow from (probably) 1979.
Many thanks to Matt Parker from Jazz in Britain for allowing us to share this with you.