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The Relatives & Phil Miller – Virtually

relatives front cover

Somewhat belatedly, this review relates to an album from 2013 by a band called the Relatives. This release is of particular note because it is the last recorded output of Phil Miller who joined the band in 2010, did a series of gigs with them, and was invited to collaborate on a series of recordings which saw the light of day in 2013 as Virtually (presumably so monikered because Miller’s contributions were recorded up in London).

In fact there are other Canterbury connections here and one particularly notable surprise. You might already be familiar with the latter if you’ve heard ‘On My Mind’ through its Youtube airing, which has been linked through various Facebook groups. It features Richard Sinclair on vocals – but more on this later. Probably more notable overall is the involvement of Jack Monck, bassist with Delivery, and collaborator over the years with the likes of Geoff Leigh and Fred Frith and briefly, with Syd Barrett’s last live outfit, the ill-fated Stars. Monck shares songwriting credits with saxophonist, flautist and piano player Marc Hadley, who many of you will remember as the man penning the authoritative review of Aymeric Leroy’s ‘L’ecole de Canterbury’ on this blog a couple of months back, and also Willemjan Droog, the keyboard player who provides the original link with Phil Miller from the late Eighties. Damian Rodd completes the line-up on drums, although there are numerous other guest appearances throughout the project.

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Marc Hadley

For me this is very much an album of two halves. Whilst uniformly excellent in terms of its playing standards and production throughout, much of the first part of the record stays on relatively safe ground, with a series of original jazzy or rhythm and blues tunes, the best of which is undoubtedly  the catchy  opener ‘Going Down’, where Monck takes the lead vocal as he does on 4 of the 8 tunes. Also notable is the sole track by Droog, the self-explanatory ‘Stately Waltz’ and ‘When’, which, with its multiple horn lines, at times evokes how an In Cahoots band may have sounded like with vocals!

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Jack Monck

But there’s a perceptible shift in mood and tempo as the band launch into track 5,  ‘Spaghetti’, a superb instrumental written by Marc Hadley. Here he shifts to flute and is central to a piece which meanders through its intricate melodies before stretching out memorably into harder passages underpinning the solos. There are elements of Short Wave here (it also reminded me of National Health’s DS Al Coda recording). Whilst Phil Miller is credited on guitar throughout the album, much of his work up until this point has been to add textures or chords to the general ambience. Here he steps up a gear to contribute several solos, starting initially in tranquillity before reverting in hotly anticipated style to his trademark tortured eloquence twice over.

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Willemjan Droog

Even better is ‘New Dawn’, a funked up Monck track where the author’s voice is dampened down to deliver a fine vocal line. This grooves like no other piece on ‘Virtually’, with some memorable punctuation from Hadley’s sax and Mike Brown’s trombone and highly effective snapped-off drumming from Rodd. There are some nice guitar and keyboard licks here too. The evocative lyrical imagery (‘New Dawn’ has a somewhat Orwellian feel) adds to the drive and slight disquiet of the music. This one is worth the album’s cover price alone.

In contrasting style is the final piece of the release, the aforementioned ‘On My Mind’, essentially a vehicle written for Richard Sinclair by Marc Hadley, but containing much more besides. This ballad could almost be seen as a follow-up to Pip Pyle’s wonderful ‘Seven Sisters’, another custom-built song which also suited Sinclair’s very  deliberately-delivered crooning. Unusually, Sinclair’s voice is backed here in part by vocal counter melodies in its later sections, and the voice of Angeline Morrison  is a real bonus. Add to that the lovely piano accompaniment AND the most eloquent tenor sax by Hadley and this constitutes a treat which rounds off the album in slightly unexpected style.

So, plenty to savour here. This album is probably catholic enough in approach to not suit everyone’s tastes all of the time but has more than enough fine moments and appearances by key personnel to make it an essential part of your Canterbury collection.

 

Virtually’ is available direct from Jack Monck at jack.monck@hotmail.com at a cost of £10. You can also buy from www.relativesrecords.com or Burning Shed.

 

Peter Hammill – Stoller Hall, Manchester – 25 April 2018

Peter Hammill is very definitely not a ‘Canterbury Scene’ artist, so you might wonder what a review about him is doing here. Well, please indulge me: he was one of my musical great loves around the time I started a Canterbury scene fanzine – and the Hammill/VdGG fanzine ‘Pilgrims’ was a major influence on me doing so. If you scratch hard enough you might find some links via Guy Evans’ involvement in Mother Gong, Jakko’s appearance on a Long Hello album, Hammill producing a Random Hold album (featuring Bill MacCormick). But that’s not really the point – for me, a Hammill appearance cannot pass by without some sort of comment…

It’s been a long time since I saw a Peter Hammill solo gig. A couple of triumphant Van der Graaf Generator concerts a decade or so ago, around the time that band still had their classic 4 piece line-up, was as close as it got, contrasting with a time in the Nineties when Peter Hammill tours seemed to come around every couple of years. The ageing process, serious illness and I suspect a related slowing in the creative juices, means that Peter Hammill performances are relatively few and far between these days. I almost didn’t go to the gig at the Stoller Hall, a new custom-built concert venue at the Chetham school of music, near Victoria Station in the heart of Manchester, mainly for fear of being disappointed. Hammill gigs are notoriously error-strewn, a bit of a rollercoaster and it’s always slightly amused me that many of his concerts take place at places of musical excellence (such as the Royal Northern College of Music or the Royal Festival Hall). This artist, for all of his many virtues, might struggle to get a gig with too many bands on the basis of his instrumental prowess alone, such is his often approximate mastery of piano and guitar.

Hammill’s physical appearance was something of a shock – a testament to passing years, mainly – dressed in flowing shirt and trousers, both Egyptian cotton white, he cut a ghostly, pallid figure on stage, contrasting with the jet black of grand piano and guitar, with his almost skeletal frame barely impacting on the expanse of the stage and the vastness of the auditorium above. But the voice remained remarkably strong, perhaps not quite with the range of yore, but not lacking in volume or its fabled intensity.

He rattled through a setlist of 17 songs, almost without pausing for breath – there’s less of the slightly kooky banter these days between tracks, even whilst stopping to tune his guitar, and the audience respectively kept its counsel – solo gigs in the past were always punctuated by smartass interjections from the crowd, the fanbase being, like the artist himself, a fairly eclectic, intense lot.

I’d been emailed on the day by an old schoolfriend who attended the Glasgow gig a few days previously – he mentioned 6 highlight tunes (and one which was not). Incredibly, not a single one of these was performed in Manchester, testament to a vast repertoire to draw on, and an ability to recreate them. And there is some ‘re-creation’ going on here – whilst the lyrics remain secure, aided by assorted sheets of paper alongside piano and guitar, Hammill takes liberties with his piano accompaniments, often trying out a fill here or there, deciding whether it works, and then reining things back in if they start to stray off course. On the guitar, it almost appears at times as if he’s revisited old tunes, can’t quite work out the chords he used, and then uses an approximation. At times this is jarring, elsewhere it adds to a sense of innovation. For all that, he felt more fluent on the piano than I remember, and a saving grace was the wonderful sound quality throughout.

Starting with the VdGG classic ‘My Room’, ideal for solo performance, any doubts that Hammill still ‘has it’ were quickly dispelled. The trademark raising of the shoulders as he reaches for the high notes, the alternately sweet and growled delivery, the falling away of the voice at the end of each line – these are all things to cherish. The choice of songs for me was quite inspired – a brilliant ‘Primo On the Parapet’ (a highlight from later albums); two tracks from ‘Over’, for me the apogee of his solo output, with “(On Tuesdays She Used To Do) Yoga” an evocative highlight; two fantastic renditions from the adventurous early 70s albums “Slender Threads” and “Mousetrap”; plus stuff from ‘my’ era as a listener, “Too Many of My Yesterdays” and “A Way Out”, always a mixed blessing with its stark main musical theme sometimes undermined by lyrical cliché. Whilst listening to one of the 2 K Group era tracks, ‘Happy Hour’, again subverted by those slightly out of kilter chords, I was reminded of quite how off the wall even his solo material is – complex, ever-changing themes showing the genius of the man. This was one of many tunes which lyrically referred to performances, either theatrical, circus or musical – the common theme of the night for me.

There were also three tracks (I think) from the latest album ‘From the Trees’, which sounded strong, pared down in terms of vocal range to suit the limits of Hammill’s voice and well worth further exploration. At times whilst straining at the upper end of the musical scale I wanted him to succumb to delivering notes through his wonderful, tender falsetto voice or alternatively really let rip with a scream, but he saved the latter for the final notes of Train Time to bring the concert to a chilling end, standing ovation and all.

 

A tribute to Mick West 1/4/1968-30/3/2018

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It speaks volumes of the man and his impact on music in Hebden Bridge that I heard Mick West (aka Michael Linden West) far before I ever saw him or got to know him. In the summer of 1999, having just moved to the Nutclough, I started to hear the most marvellous live music performed from an adjacent house’s cellar. Lengthy, spiky Balkan instrumentals, played at breakneck speed by a cast of many with audibly consummate musicianship – I never got to hear them play in the flesh, nor get their name, but it didn’t surprise me to find out later that they were one of the many outfits Mick was playing with. Mick must have been involved in scores of bands over the years but most of the onesI got to hear him with seemed to have slightly bonkers names: Beastfish, Abrasive Pheasantsthe Electric Brains – all suggesting punk sensibilities to go with his effortless command of a range of instruments and styles.

I got to know Mick at the weekly Open Mic Nights at the Stubbings in the mid-2000s , a glowering, moody presence (or at least that’s how he liked to portray himself), who combined an off-the-wall choice of songs with superb delivery and a wicked sense of humour. I discovered that in amongst his encyclopaedic musical interests we both had a compulsive obsession for all things to do with the Canterbury music scene, Gong and Van der Graaf Generator. So much so, that although we never exchanged many words at the time, on more than one occasion I’d be completely disarmed by a track he plucked out of nowhere to perform, which would have meant little to anyone present except me. On one occasion it was Daevid Allen’s ‘I Am A Freud’ (original here), a satire on psychiatry, transposed from its original fairground organ to Mick’s acoustic guitar and containing the memorable line ‘It’s rather naughty to be forty and still not sold’; the other Peter Hammill’s ‘Time For A Change’, (original here) where Mick’s falsetto acted out the role of a headmaster asking a little boy what he wanted to be when he ‘grew up’. I can still remember the shivers going down my spine.

 

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Beastfish, 2017 – Mick West is far right

Mick performed at mine and Georgina’s engagement do in 2006 – making light of a haphazardly arranged musical evening to croon away over a dodgy PA with his usual blend of soulful singing and crazed tunes, with his trademark cover of ‘Poisoning the Pigeons in the Park’ taking centrestage. Returning to the tapes of these earlier this week, I realised he’d also performed equally inappropriate material including the theme tune to Prisoner Cell Block H, plus another Tom Lehrer tune extolling the perils of marriage! They brought the house down… He later performed a duet (on violin) with old friend and collaborator Paul Weatherhead. In what seems now doubly poignant, another performer that night was Josh Phillips, a good friend of Mick (they recorded music together as the Tropes), who tragically died, also way too young, a couple of weeks later.

Lots of things make me smile when I think about Mick – Saz’s ‘glam’ party on the Nutclough in 2005 when half of the Hebden menfolk turned up in drag – I have an indelible memory of Mick fast asleep in a chair in the early hours, his ‘skirt’ ridden up around his knees. Or when he recounted the tale of confiding to a fellow Hebdenite about being worried that he displayed many of traits of Asperger’s syndrome, only to be approached the next week by a friend concerned that he’d been given an Asbo, the Hebden rumourmill having gone into overdrive. His self-appointed ‘office’ at Marcos cafe where he’d enjoy a morning (or afternoon) coffee. Or at the height of the Happy Slapping fad – when tagged by a few strangers in Hebden, Mick, being blissfully unaware of the meme, had taken it at face value and slapped back even harder!

photo 2017 by Pam West

mick west beastfish hpinkMick was an understated musical genius – there will be many musical projects I simply didn’t hear about from his many years as a performer – I saw him mostly as keyboard player with the Electric Brains, performing in a variety of guises with the Ukrainians  (for whom he is credited with playing mandolin, guitar, piano, trumpet, duda, oud, cello and euphonium!) and heard more recently that he’d worked with Damo Suzuki from Can, and allegedly turned down a job as bassist with New Model Army. When I did finally did get to see him again it was with the wonderful Beastfish at Kozfest down in Devon, reviewed here. In fact he was due to play with them again over Easter in Glastonbury. He was so versatile and creative.

I didn’t get to know Mick as much as I’d have liked to – other people I know had that real privilege. There were always plans to swap more tapes, books, and go to gigs together that due to my own disorganisation didn’t materialise. But we’d chatted recently and were equally excited about him playing at Kozfest again this year. He had a clever, sardonic wit that showed not just in conversation or when performing but also in his postings on a variety of forums and social media outlets under a series of pseudonyms – showing a wry, generous, self-deprecating humour that was very much the antithesis of today’s keyboard warrior. As has been said elsewhere, you’d struggle to find anyone with a bad word to say about him. Mick, you will be missed in so many ways…

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Mick in Abrasive Pheasant mode

posted by Phil Howitt, April 2018

‘L’École de Canterbury’ by Aymeric Leroy – a review by Marc Hadley

Note from Phil Howitt: One of the reasons that the Facelift blog has gone a bit quiet since Christmas is that I’ve been in the privileged position of helping to fine-tune the translation of Aymeric Leroy’s definitive Canterbury scene history ‘L’école de Canterbury’. This magnificent 700-page plus book has been out in French since 2016 – there are advanced plans now to publish an English language version in the not too distant future.

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In the meantime, I’ve had some really nice correspondence with Marc Hadley, who offers his own lengthy thoughts on the French version of the book below. Marc will be familiar to many blog readers as one of the last musicians to work with Phil Miller (with the Relatives) but is also an esteemed ethnomusicologist!

Marc would welcome feedback (via the blog) on his review, the book and the themes discussed in both.

All images reproduced here are taken from ‘L’école de Canterbury’ with kind permission

‘L’école de Canterbury’ is currently available to buy here

 

 


L’École de Canterbury -Aymeric Leroy  -Review by Marc Hadley

 

Clarification: the review text is the French edition, but the author plans to publish an English version soon. I might anticipate that the English edition emerges with revisions and tweaks.

This eagerly-awaited book- the first all-embracing account of what some people call “The Canterbury Scene”- is highly ambitious in its scope. Most works of this type focus on a single band or artist, and document or comment on their career trajectory and legacy. “L’École de Canterbury” presents the history of an entire subset of English 1960’s/70’s “Art Music” and follows a “musical tree” from its roots (Daevid Allen, Robert Wyatt, The Wilde Flowers) and original trunk (the prototype Soft Machine manifested by Allen, Wyatt, Ayers and Ratledge) to its evolving system of stems, branches and interweaving twigs and leaves. It’s a weighty volume and represents the culmination of years of research; a secure work of history founded on authentic and cite-able sources; and can credibly claim to be a work of Musicology into the bargain.

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Robert Wyatt

Aymeric Leroy’s oeuvre is subtly provocative from the title and the jacket artwork onward. He has chosen to define the entity known as “The Canterbury Scene” by using the word “School”, as in a ‘school of thought’, a creative cluster such as The Bloomsbury Group and The Pre-Raphaelites. Historically, it has been quite normal within Musicology to highlight certain traditions or sub-traditions in places or times where key individuals formed a creative hub whose influence then spread and evolved via its disciples. However, Leroy is possibly the first author to assert such a status for the music and musicians who have until now been informally categorised as “The Canterbury Scene.” Some of those involved in it have denied there actually was a “scene” at all. Other music ‘consumers’ and critics have commented that the ‘Canterbury’ label is arbitrary and lazy (coined by the Music press) as the geographical connection of the principal actors to the Cathedral City is marginal, and the notion of a clear stylistic musical kinship between bands like Caravan, Gong and Soft Machine is impossible to sustain.

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The controversy is sustained by the book’s jacket artwork: a panel of four album covers. Leroy is running a set of flags up the pole atop his castle keep. He asserts a catalogue of works that constitute the artistic cannon of Canterbury (a subject over which debate still rages on Canterburian internet chat forums.) Furthermore, the selection implies that Soft Machine’s “Volume Two”, Caravan’s “if I could do it all over again”, Hatfield & The North’s “Rotter’s Club” and Robert Wyatt’s “Rock Bottom” are the School’s finest achievements.

 

I happen to largely agree with Leroy’s aesthetic choices; and I agree that all the material (personal biographies, interviews, commentaries, critiques, studio and radio broadcasts, song lyrics) and the legacy of songs and pieces that withstand the test of time generally supports his thesis that there exists this distinct musical School at work in the UK’s “counterculture” between 1960-82. Furthermore, some individuals and time periods within the development of The School were particularly significant. We learn that places like Cambridge, France, The Netherlands, Hertfordshire and London made their formative contributions to the flowering of the movement just as potently as Canterbury: but the cathedral city has become a “brand” that we’re stuck with.

 

Leroy clearly appreciates and explicitly articulates the social construction of the Canterbury School in justifying a corporate identity for these musicians and musical auteurs. Particularly interesting is the light shone on apparently disparate stories; crucially, we see that the connections between bands like Gong, Matching Mole, Delivery and Hatfield & The North were not exclusively musical, but arose via friendships- the musicians we are reading about so often preferred to play with or recruit people they knew. Thanks to the insights provided by “L’Ecole de Canterbury”, I begin to understand why as a teenager I was instinctively following Gong, The Hatfields, Caravan, Kevin Ayers, The Soft Machine… and why these acts were often sharing the billing at the gigs I attended.

 

Trying to draw concrete links between the different musical works purely via assertion of musical similarities (which would have to be backed up by complex analysis and score extracts) would be a much less successful enterprise; yes, there are a number of common musical traits that one might try to list and demonstrate, but beyond citing “use of distortion on organ and bass guitar”…” complex time signatures”…”use of the voice as an instrument” and so on, the arguments can become too tenuous: many of these  simply can’t be inferred across the whole diverse Canterbury stage, and while some are demonstrably present there, they are also present within Prog Rock and early British ‘Fusion jazz’. A future discussion theme must surely be, “which of the commonly-cited musical traits are indisputably unique to “Canterbury”?

 

This oeuvre will be the primary source for historical record and critical evaluations of the music in the decades to come. Perhaps its main achievement is to have provided a reliable set of musical biographies of the bands and artists set within a well-researched chronology. Those who love this music must offer Mr Leroy a vote of thanks- he has been the first to accomplish what would have been a daunting task for any musical author or musicologist.

 

It is of course somewhat frustrating that the Canterbury story has had to wait so long to be told, and rather revealing that the author (who has in the past been the main archivist of the genre via his ‘Calyx’ website) is not English- perhaps the quirkiness, humour, inventiveness, originality, and self-deprecating nature of the music are things that are more appreciated by cultural outsiders. It’s true that Canterbury music was sustained commercially by international interest- if it had depended on domestic record sales and gig fees alone, the Canterbury Scholars would have starved to death.

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Caravan

A propos of the commercial aspect of “The School”, it is highly relevant from a historical viewpoint that we learn more about the interplay between Art and Enterprise, as economic and commercial factors undeniably impact upon the music as constructed not only by the authors and players but also by the entrepreneurs involved in its production and marketing. Leroy does for the first time provide us with an overview of these relationships- for example, the relationship between Richard Branson’s Virgin Records and artists such as Gong, Robert Wyatt and Hatfield and the North. In my own research I have noted that it is quite difficult to retrieve sales data for the records made by the artists and bands;  it would be most interesting to see an appendix included within future editions showing the sales volumes for particular releases, illustrating what numbers of albums were sold during the seminal development period (1966- 1980?) and how the listenership subsequently expanded (or not) following the advent of the CD format. Anecdotal: during a telephone conversation I had with Richard Sinclair in 2013, he told me that “The Land of Grey & Pink” had since its release nearly 40 years ago sold 3 million copies- but yet he personally had never gained significant financial benefit.

 

In this edition Leroy addresses a readership who are versed in the jargon of the (French) Rock and Jazz ‘scene.’ But of course, we should probably assume for the future that regardless of in which language the majority of readers engage with this book, it will tend to attract the kind of people who know what a ‘Jam’ or a ‘quarter inch jack’ is. In general, his account is valuably enhanced by inclusion of reviews published as the works were being performed and recordings commercially released. There is a recurring pattern; mostly, the Melody Maker’s Steve Lake is quoted as a supportive voice, and Ian Macdonald of the NME frequently sounds a dismissive note [this is a pity- I have come across some well-written and authoritative reviews of ‘Canterbury’ recordings by Jazz critics.] Alongside these are more often than not a digest of the main French rock critics too.

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Kevin Ayers and the Whole World

A degree of ‘Franco-centricity’ lives in the centrepiece of Leroy’s chronicle- the portion of the 1974 chapter covering Robert Wyatt’s “Rock Bottom”. A certain intensity and engagement with the subject in the writing here that tells us that for him, Wyatt is the most significant player in the whole saga, and that Rock Bottom is “one of the most profoundly original works of its time.” So, he goes to some trouble to translate English phrases such “to hit rock bottom”, “the last straw” or “the straw that broke the camel’s back” into their French equivalents.

 

Thanks to this commentary, I’m struck by the textual aspect of the album, whose lyrics draw upon the uniquely English weirdness articulated by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Words are used randomly, chosen as much for their sound as anything else- but the ‘nonsense’ of words or phrases somehow conveys new or alternative meanings through odd juxtapositions. Wyatt is drawing on his experience of vocal improvisation and walking a path first trodden by American “Beat Poets” (one thinks of Ginsberg, or Kerouac’s evocations of improvisatory Jazz poetry,) but also on the European Art experimentations of Dada and Surrealism. The words respond to or feed the unsettlingly odd musical atmospheres of the album. The Canterburian musicians who accompany Wyatt are well-versed in sympathetic improvisation, thus their contributions all reinforce the vision and the musical achievement.

 

The synergy between words and music heard in ‘Rock Bottom’ is quite exceptional within the “Canterbury Cannon. Leroy rightly highlights the contributions of Alfreda Benge; this is right, but commentators could take this further. There is a predominance of male voices and, dare I say it, a very “male” form of music-making in this genre, but Alfie brings something into the album mix here which makes it stand out: her background as a visual artist has a potency, but more simply, she brings an intuitive femininity into the music. Another rare example of this introduction of “otherness” into the soundscape is Dave Stewart’s use of the Northettes in his arrangements for both Hatfield and the North albums. And as a request posed to future scholars of this field, might I ask for more female voices to be added to the pool of recollections that are used to colour in the personal and social context for the music and those who were involved in it?

 

However, as someone of dual heritage struggling with erudite vocabulary and sentence constructions on almost every page as I read through the work, I found myself addressing an issue that has long puzzled me: how did the idiosyncrasies of English culture and language as manifested by “Canterbury” even cross The Channel?

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Matching Mole

Take the case of Leroy’s detailed commentary on Hatfield & the North’s second album… the whole idea of “The Rotter’s Club” is peculiarly rooted in certain British educational cultures (‘Public School’, or ‘Grammar School’ as beautifully evoked by Jonathan Coe’s novel of the same name) and there can be no exact French equivalent. It takes a rather neat exposition by Pip Pyle (in a few sentences drawn from an interview) to explain the concept in French (or indeed, a form that any non- ‘Anglo’ could understand.) However, when we reach Leroy’s description of the introduction to Dave Stewart’s “Lumps” (again, the relationship between ‘lumps’ and ‘mumps’ necessitates a skilful linguistic autopsy) we find a familiar simile deployed: “The first few seconds… are the musical equivalent of an elephant in a china shop”(un magazin de porcelaine). I got his meaning immediately- here is one of many colloquialisms that English and French share across the apparent geographical and historical divides: the minor difference being that china shop destructions in Britain are usually committed by bulls.

 

And if I may continue to play the French riff (which will probably be in 11/8 time using a Lydian augmented scale) I would highlight another overlooked aspect of the Canterburian heritage that is authoritatively covered in this book: the French role in the development of what is usually considered quintessentially English music. We learn of the early Soft Machine expeditions to the Cote D’Azur and other touring and broadcast opportunities within France- the quartet got their first taste of fame over the Channel, at a point when they were struggling to get a paid gig in a pub in their homeland. UK immigration officials changed History by refusing to let the (Australian) Allen back into Dover, unwittingly instigating future outbreaks of Gong-ism throughout the Universities of The British Isles, and the induction of a number of significant French musicians (Malherbe, Moerlen, Bauer etc) into the Orchestre Invisible De Thibet. Many of us feasted on Camembert Electrique, and in the 21st century we discovered a wealth of French TV recordings of Hatfield and The North, Caravan and Matching Mole that still survive- without them and You-Tube, there would be scant video record of these landmark artists.

Another theme that would form an interesting future discussion topic could be that that “Canterbury” was the only English Rock/crossover music genre in which home-grown musicians mingled with European players (although clearly in other genres there was and is a clear mingling of Brits with Americans.) At the same time, I find myself writing about this sub-genre of British ‘popular music’ at a time when issues of the UK’s connection or disconnection with

 

Europe- and, behind that, issues of identities and autonomy with the UK’s constituent nationalities- have become a very live and bitterly-contested arena. In this context, there are voices who assert markers of “Englishness” or “otherness” without themselves having a clear or coherent notion of what “English” means either historically or culturally. I might therefore urge my fellow-citizens to take more of an interest in The Canterbury Scene than they have previously, for here may lie an art-form that is, alongside some of its “Prog-Rock” cousins, unusually and very particularly ‘English.’ Or is it?

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Steve Hillage

I think there is certainly a problem that the English themselves need to address in the course of time: why hasn’t this chronicle been attempted by any native journalist, scholar or musician? Might it be because, for various reasons, there would have been no money in it… a perception that such a work wouldn’t attract a wide enough readership? And if not, why not? The Island race have missed a trick here…in any study of an “Arts & Humanities” topic, there are assets that an ‘outsider’ perspective brings to the table, but there are also insights that are best supplied by ‘insiders.’ Sure, Leroy has tried hard to address this by providing a wealth of interview material with the main actors, but I think when a writer is offering critical assessments, an insider perspective really helps.

 

From an insider musical and cultural perspective, there are some aspects of this creative school that could have been covered in more depth. Leroy does bring a lot of detail about the British Jazz scene of the 1960’s and 70’s into the narrative– inevitable, given that so many of the musicians involved in “The Canterbury Scene” were recruited from the ranks of Britain’s brightest and best jazz players.

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We should also remember that at least two British Jazz musicians– John McLaughlin and Dave Holland-  played a central role in the US Jazz fusion movement, and influenced a particular set of emerging UK guitarists and electric bassists. Allen, Wyatt, Elton Dean and others were immensely inspired by the “free” periods of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. Phil Miller’s inspiration for “Underdubs” was the intricate and complex melodic invention of Charlie Parker themes like ‘Donna Lee.

 

There was a strong and demonstrable influence on these players (and on the musical ‘authors’ such as Allen, Wyatt, Ratledge, Richard Sinclair, Phil Miller, Pip Pyle) from American Jazz. Some names are mentioned- obviously Miles Davis, for example. But I know that Pyle was greatly inspired by Tony Williams…that Miles albums like “In a silent way” and “Bitches’ Brew”, and others by Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock can be heard reflected in moods, grooves and textures in passages from “Third”, “Matching Mole”, “Hatfield and the North.” To be fair, in one of the later chapters journalist Steve Lake is quoted pointing out the crucial influence of Tony Williams’ “Lifetime” and other seminal US jazz figures- but here, Leroy is relying on prominent Music critics, not his own knowledge of Jazz.

 

At the same time, there was an equally important strand of ‘Canterbury’ drawing on “Classical” sources and Art Music of the 20th century. The influence of Stravinsky looms large if we listen, but also read first-hand accounts of Wyatt and Pyle’s youthful listening (in my conversations with Phil Miller, he cited his deep interest in Bartok and Bach), but there are only a few references to Stravinsky et al in Leroy’s commentary. This can be forgiven if we consider that much has already been written on the general subject of UK “Prog Rock” and its use of classical models of deep structure, arrangements and instrumentation- for example, “Rocking The Classics” by Edward Macan details such appropriations by Genesis and Yes, but also cites Egg and Dave Stewart.

 

Richard Sinclair was a cathedral chorister, and Mike Ratledge was an organ scholar- but the subliminal influences of world-renowned British choral and organ music traditions are not discussed, even though many commentators have felt a certain ecclesiastical flavour in “Canterburian” music (however, those distinctly Baroque inflexions also occur throughout UK Prog Rock.) Via the music of Egg, Mont Campbell (who was himself studying formal composition and was the grandson of British composer Martin Shaw) was something of a mentor to Dave Stewart, whose writing and arrangements brought a wealth of complex ideas into the early 1970’s sound stage and of course into the Canterbury canon via Hatfield & the North and National Health. It is worth noting that Martin Shaw had an involvement in the restoration of Purcell’s repertoire to public performance in the early 20th century and its renewed popularity- and was also a professional church organist.

My own instinct as a musicologist is to compare certain miniature choral interludes within Hatfield & The North’s pieces with the lyricism of Vaughan-Williams’ “On Wenlock Edge”- suffused as that work is by a Ravel-inspired modal harmonic texture that we now characterise also as “Jazzy.”

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If I have any other complaints these might include a few sins of omission in placing some of the music and lyrical material within a broader cultural context of the UK that I remember growing up in (that being the period during which most of the work was released.)  This placing of a musical trajectory within contemporary social and political contexts is accomplished particularly well in “Out-Bloody-Rageous”, Graham Bennet’s 2005 biography of The Soft Machine. I would have liked more commentary on the correspondences to the acid surrealism of Terry Gilliam and various references via lyrics and song titles to Monty Python sketches…not to mention the kaleidoscope of other icons or objects of scorn referenced within the Joycean stream of consciousness that is Pip Pyle’s  “Fitter Stoke has a bath.”

 

There is a lack of discussion of the nurturing role of the major British poet and novelist Robert Graves,  whose home in Deya, Majorca, played an important role in these Canterbury Tales- early on, when the young Robert Ellidge stayed there (Wyatt’s parents were personal friends)…and where Daevid Allen also formed a part of that unconventional Balearic “salon”…in that Mediterranean setting, we can well surmise that Allen and Graves would have shared enthusiastic dialogue on the subject of pagan mythologies, Gods and specially Goddesses. Deya was where Allen retreated when “Gong went wrong”, and spawned his beautiful but melancholy solo album,”Good Morning.” And finally, after the Hatfield & the North split in 1975, Richard Sinclair went to Daevid’s place in Deya to hide and recuperate.

 

The events and developments described are covered across a time period of almost 20 years. The assembly of all the material must have posed a formidable task. Leroy chooses to organise it in a chronological way; this is perfectly logical and provides the reader with a narrative to follow. This is such a wide-ranging and ambitious project in both concept and execution that any further complaint seems churlish- HOWEVER!- the book as a work of reference is somewhat “clunky”. There isn’t a thematic overview or a way of easily browsing the content via “categorical” headings- rather, the chapters simply cover the events of the years onward from 1960. There is no easy way to view what each chapter deals with, other than refer to the indexes at the end of the book (Bands, Musicians and Albums are indexed, by name.)

 

This musical commentary and collective biography is the beginning of a process of evaluation of Canterbury Music. There are a lot of themes still to be examined, in formats that have a much more open architecture and adopt more lateral terms of reference than the work presented here by Mr Leroy. That said, we cannot take him to task for omissions: the book as published runs to over 700 pages with appendices. Had Aymeric cast his net any wider, we would be dealing with a huge two-volume tome.  Unquestionably, thanks to his dogged research, meticulous archiving and sheer hard work and persistence (knowing full well that writing a book on a subject like this cannot possibly generate an appropriate financial reward for the amount of time involved) the foundations of future appreciation and scholarship are now in place. Bravo, Aymeric- formidable!

 

Soften the Glare (featuring Bon Lozaga) – ‘Making Faces’

One of the real perks of running Facelift Magazine back in the Nineties was having carte blanche to follow the paths of various bands and their musicians and often ending up somewhere entirely unexpected. Judging by social media posts in today’s fangroups, a decent percentage of Canterbury purists might well have been appalled by this divergence as the fanzine consequently gave column inches to the free jazz noodlings of the likes of Keith Tippett’s Mujician or the ambient/techno wigouts of the Orb. Really for me it was mainly taking the opportunity to appropriate some very fine music into the magazine whilst sharing the joy of following those links.

 

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Somewhere along this route, I was privileged enough to get on the mailing list of LoLo records, a label set up by Bon Lozaga and Jim Loretangeli over in the States. As any Gong student will know, after Daevid Allen left the mother ship in 1975, the leadership, personnel and ultimately direction of the Gong band metamorphosed through various instrumental phases via Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe’s stewardship, before ending up as a ‘Strasbourgeois’ orgy of tuned percussion led by Pierre Moerlen, the last one standing from the ‘Trilogy’ line-ups. The Pierre Moerlen strand continued until around 1981, adding his name as a prefix to the Gong name and under this monicker he continued to release sporadic albums over the next couple of decades until his untimely death in 2004.

Pierre Moerlen’s accomplices during this period varied, but certain key personnel kept popping up: principally bassist Hansford Rowe, but also brother Benoit (also on tuned percussion) and Mireille Bauer.  Allan Holdsworth too added his signature soloing, not least on ‘Expresso’ from ‘Gazeuse’ and ‘Soli’ from ‘Expresso II’. With Mike Oldfield and the Stones’ Mick Taylor also cropping up on PMG albums, one could perhaps be excused in not seeing beyond the guitar of these stellar turns. So it was probably not until a brief flurry of albums on the LoLo label between 1993 and 1996 that I began to fully appreciate the work of Lozaga, who in terms of Gong appeared as early as ‘Expresso II’ but also appears as an integral part of ‘Live’, ‘Time is the Key’ and ‘Leave It Open’, primarily on rhythm guitar.

If you’ve come across any of the LoLo records, they’re most likely to be the ones which came out under the name Gongzilla, in particular ‘Suffer’ and ‘Thrive’. Both were percussive-heavy, heroically guitar-riffed and very fine indeed, reuniting the likes of Lozaga, Rowe, Holdsworth, and Benoit Moerlen. For me, however, I probably spent even more time listening to the two ‘solo’ Bon albums ‘Full Circle – Coming Home’ and ‘To the Bone’ – two highly polished guitar trio albums (with Rowe and drummer Vic Stevens)  showing subtlety and expression alongside the expected driving rhythms. Both served to show what a very fine composer and soloist Lozaga is. I remember noting at the time in Facelift 16 that often Lozaga “takes Allan Holdsworth’s style, slows it down and manufactures it into something (even) more eloquent” – bold words indeed in retrospect! He also had an equal hand in the much more reflective ‘Project Lo’ (with label co-founder Jim Loretangeli) – an album which also never strayed too far from the CD player in around 1994.

bon lozaga                     Bon Lozaga

And so a gap for me (in so many ways) through the Noughties, until, picking up on some old threads, or more likely revisiting those 2 Bon albums, I came across and sourced a third (or possibly fourth) solo album ‘Traces of Chaos’ in early 2017 (it had been released in 2016). This album possibly even trumped the other two, from the superb Hendrix-inspired pastiche “Gypsy King” (featuring credible Hendrixesque sounds, sampled spoken word recordings and a most unexpected flute solo outro), to the Mahavishnu cover ‘Can’t Stand the Funk’, to many sublime originals, most notably ‘Say What You Mean’, with its utterly beautiful melody closing the album out in a stately manner. However, nestled in amongst what is essentially an album which is easy on the ears (in a positive way) are a couple of almost incongruously brutal numbers called ‘Controlled Chaos’ and ‘Schoulars Bend’. Both of these took some of the thunderous drive of Gongzilla and metalled it out even more, in a high-powered trio format incorporating bassist Ryan Martinie and drummer Mitch Hull.

Which brings us to Soften the Glare. ‘Controlled Chaos’ in particular turns out to have been a spoiler for ‘Making Faces’, the debut album by the band, On the face of it Soften the Glare could be seen as being predominantly a vehicle for the rather talented Martinie – it’s him doing the press interviews, stripping down to a pair of shorts for most of a burgeoning video archive, and generally strutting his stuff in both sonically and visually. Whilst it’s true that Lozaga definitely solos for the band less than for albums under his own name, that shouldn’t belittle his impact.  The band’s calling card is the rolling out of his consistently filthy riffs, delivered nonetheless in a pristine manner which should not be a surprise to anyone who heard the superbly production values of the Gongzilla albums.

stg trio pic.jpgTrue, it’s Martinie’s hammerblow bass which provides the intros and driving forces to 2 of the showpieces of the album ‘Mission Possible’ and ‘What Chandra Sees’, but elsewhere there are some quite ridiculously complex compositions – ‘Turn Around’ or ‘March of the Cephalopods’, in particular. The latter is videoed here and is mighty impressive, grin-inducing in its sheer bloody-mindedness and might win you over straight away, but if not, head for ‘Segue’. ‘Segue’ appears to be a cover of sorts of ‘Into The Sun’, from Bon’s first solo album ‘Full Circle – Coming Home’ but if you are expecting the beautiful central guitar melody, one of that album’s highlights, prepare to see it obliterated by an equally memorable but quite unseemly riff. This shows the band’s other side – gorgeous lush sounds, subtle moments, just waiting to be ripped apart by those killer guitar chords. Bon even pulls out one of his meticulously crafted solos here.

I’m still working through this album and appreciating its many virtues – the funked down and discordant rhythms of ‘Happy Weird’; ‘or Conscious  Sense of the Present’, with tuned percussion effects – this should probably have been given the name of the next track ‘All Mixed Up’ as it jumps through a variety of different grooves, including some quite cheese-curling Casiotone melodies. But on the whole this album is a tremendous, powerpacked romp which I’m happy to say was my first purchase of 2018. I hope the rest of the year is as much fun…

You are Here – an accelerating history of Canterbury… by Matthew Watkins

I got hold of this remarkable book at the Canterbury sound event back in October (as well as meeting its author, Matt Watkins). Having finally had chance to sit down and read through ‘You Are Here’ I should say that it’s every bit as mind-blowing and informative as I had hoped.

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The premise of the book is both unique and bizarre but at the same time guaranteed to draw in any regular readers of this blog. Matt Watkins is, as readers should already know, a champion of Canterbury scene music, as evidenced through monthly podcasts Canterbury sans Frontieres and Canterbury Soundwaves. I also got the impression at the Canterbury Sound event, when he (reluctantly) delivered his talk at the end of the day regarding the development of an interactive ‘Canterbury scene’ Google Map, that he could well be the glue which binds together a modern-day Canterbury music scene within the city. But even that doesn’t really tell the whole story – he is at the same time both a doctor in mathematics and simultaneously immersed in counter-culture throughout the city (and I expect, beyond). He somehow manages to blend the two  – for example whilst searching on Youtube late one night for a Lapis Lazuli live performance of their wonderful opus ‘Alien’ online a month or so ago, I happened across a most unexpected 30 minute presentation of Matt delivering a talk, in a club, about, ermm…. aliens – this started from the point of view of examining historical media perceptions of aliens right and continued at some pace through to alternative perceptions of reality, Terence McKenna et al (at which point I beat a retreat to bed, my mind fried).

Anyway, I digress. ‘You are Here’ is essentially a study of Canterbury from the year dot to a specified date and time in August 2014. True to his mathematical roots, Matt constructs a perfect spiral timeline (the book’s byline is  ‘an accelerating history’), with segments devoted to each time frame varying from two-page spreads down to graphic-novel-type panels, several per page. Initially this means that the timeframes are large (the first being 14 billion to 11 billion BC), but then incrementally shrink (e.g. 1109 to 1292 in medieval times, 1867 – 1897 in the 19th century), to segments of hours, then minutes, then seconds as the book reaches its rather frenzied conclusion.

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What this means for the reader is that what starts out as essentially a superb historical document from the Roman era forward, setting out the premise for Canterbury being a totally critical centrepoint for religious and political machinations within England, inevitably becomes something else, as time ‘speeds up’ . From a purely ‘sceneist’ point of view, the segment of time devoted to seminal Canterbury musical activity, let’s say between 1960 and 1972, is condensed to a mere 3 pages. The accelerating nature of the timeframes means that roughly half of the book is devoted to Canterbury in the new millennium, which by extension means that it’s an autobiographical account of life in the city. Matt’s own personal interests and perspectives become relevant here. There’s a fair amount of commentary, or at least noting, of counter-culture,  streetlife, local politics, corporate machinations, and their impact on the local environment, alongside the prevailing themes of history and religion, and in that regard the latter half of the book put me in mind of CJ Stone’s excellent ‘Fierce Dancing’ book, another example of where an account of (counter) culture was to some extent overtaken by the process itself. For those of you who are students of ‘modern’ Canterbury music, the likes of Syd Arthur, Lapis Lazuli and other of the many innovative musicians that are carrying the torch forward in such an inspired fashion, the extended sections afforded to the era from 2010 onwards allows for many references and a myriad of information regarding their activities – all good news…

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And so, what until, let’s say the 1990s, is largely a fascinating historical document, is overtaken by an exploration of the minutiae of one community’s day to day life, and then to being a progression to one person’s conscious thoughts, before ending up as an extremely scientific description of how the sound of a church bell is transmitted across milliseconds of time.

Baffled? Well, all I can say is the piece is a remarkably cogent project that manages to tick many diverse boxes: meticulously researched ancient to mediaeval history, an account of social development through the 19th and 20th centuries, cultural changes in the 21st and latterly a chronicle of one person’s inner thoughts as the reader is hurtled in a rather panicked fashion towards an uncertain conclusion. There’s even a Daevid Allen-like vision at the book’s denouement, which although somewhat incongruous in amongst the general scientific dissection of the closing chapters, adds a further unexpected twist.

Utterly unique, this book is also embellished throughout by beautiful line drawings of many of the key historical events described in the book, some the recreations of artists’ impressions and photographs, as well as, I think some completely original material. Some of these (the musically related ones of the likes of Steve Hillage, Kevin Ayers, Caravan and the Wilde Flowers) you might have seen reproduced already as part of the sparse publicity surrounding the book launch (it’s not officially out until February). The illustrations are largely from Carol J Watkins, who also happens to be Matt’s mother. There are also a series of appendices giving a key date timeline, maps charting the changing topography of the city, and a list of important musical events and releases.

 

Details of how to get the book (pre-release copies) are at http://youareherebook.com/ – dive in before the official launch date in February!

Soft Machine – Band on the Wall, Manchester – 23 November 2017

Even though this band has been touring for a number of years as ‘Soft Machine Legacy’ there’s an undeniable frisson in going along to see a band called simply Soft Machine for the first time in your life, having pored over their various incarnations from a distance only, for much of the last 30 years.

 

softsSoft Machine, who dropped the ‘Legacy’ part of their name a couple of years back, these days consist of 3 Seventies veterans (John Etheridge, Roy Babbington and John Marshall) as well as Theo Travis, Legacy member for a decade but also Gong’s post-Didier saxophonist in the Nineties. Understandably the setlist takes as its starting point the mid-Seventies jazz crossover material, most particularly the ‘Softs’ album, but liberally samples music from the Soft Machine discography from  ‘Third’ onwards, as well as showcasing strong newer material from the Legacy albums.

The band played two extensive sets, the first interrupted by a brief (and thankfully not serious) medical emergency in amongst the crowd , and worked their way through ‘Bundles’ (the track), and a lovely ‘Song of Aeolus’ from ‘Softs’, interspersed with tracks from more recent Legacy material from ‘Steam’, the superb ‘Voyage Beyond Seven’ from the ‘Burden of Proof’ album, and a very fine set-closer from ‘Live Adventures’.

John Etheridge looked surprisingly youthful, grinning toothfully through an unruly mop of hair, and constantly engaging in languid banter with the crowd and other band members. John Marshall, hidden behind his compact drum kit was mesmerisingly tight, a master technician. Roy Babbington grooved away in acres of space over on the right hand side of the stage, and Theo Travis, alternating between tenor and soprano saxes, flute and keyboards, provided much of the texture for the band one way or another. He has an almost chameleon-like quality to meld into whatever genre he’s doing – stepping into pseudo-Ratledge keyboard meanderings in places, taking up keyboard lines on his flute on others, or brassing out on tenor sax. It’s hard to equate this sometimes with his existence as a mainstay in the somewhat more frivolous Gong all those years ago – he’s just a consummate performer all-round.

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Theo Travis – photo Simon Kerry

The main focal point, however, was undoubtedly Etheridge, his fluidity undiminished through the years, and whilst ‘Aeolus’, to these ears’ might have benefitted from him sustaining his notes a little more on this anthemic guitar track, some of his unfettered soloing elsewhere was truly mindboggling. He even threw in an observation about Karl Jenkins’ tunes requiring him to replace upper parts of his fretboard on a couple of the pieces performed tonight.

If the first half of the set perhaps saw the band continuing to assert its new identity, the second half unashamedly played to its legacy. Starting with another ‘Softs’ album anthem ‘The Tale of Taliesin’ and continuing later with ‘Out of Season’, the band also tackled Bundles’ ‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’, with Travis operating solely on keyboards, before screaming into the highlight of the night – ‘Gesolreut’. Introduced through an outraged and dissonant guitar line, this was a highly funked up version punctuated by saxophone squawks. It brought the house down.

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John Marshall – photo Simon Kerry

I never thought I’d get to see ‘Outbloodyrageous’ from the iconic ‘Third’ album performed live. It’s surely part of the Crown Jewels of the Canterbury scene, and if nothing for me would quite match the rendition on ‘Third’ or the recently unveiled video here,  this version was mighty fine, the Dobson/Dean duo line tackled dextrously on soprano sax and guitar. The only problem that this version, introduced via sampled keyboard loops from Theo Travis, ended far too soon! Would love to hear a full rendition…

The finale was a medley of material from various sources (including ‘Seven’), featuring solos from John Marshall and Roy Babbington and ridiculously prodigious call and response lines from guitar and sax to end the gig on a high. Except that a half-hearted attempt to leave the stage prior to an encore proved fruitless, and soon the band were kicking into ‘Hazard Profile’. The instantly recognisable main theme (let us not forget based around the riff from the Nucleus track ‘Song For The Bearded Lady’ featuring John Marshall and in later incarnations Roy Babbington) morphed into the guitar solo section – with a twist. Allan Holdsworth’s original guitar lines were swiftly forgotten as thunderous, dirty bass lines from Babbington underpinned a most unEtheridge atonal guitar solo – as Theo Travis struggled to rein the piece back in with keyboards. A marvellous conclusion to a fine gig.

One last thought: there’s been a lot of heated debate on music forums about whether this band should go out under the name Soft Machine – for me it’s all a bit too precious. Soft Machine’s music has always been a broad church, taking a route no doubt unintended at its inception, but no less worthy for that. For the many of us unlucky enough not to see the genesis of the band (or indeed any live incarnation until now) our views don’t have to be coloured by chronology: my own personal listening was started by the albums of ‘Third’ ‘5’, ‘Seven’, ‘Bundles’ and ‘Softs’, and I love pretty much all of them, even though the latter 3 are streets apart from Volumes 1, 2  or ‘Jet Propelled Photographs’. Who am I or anyone else to tell 3 Soft Machine stalwarts from the early Seventies that they shouldn’t perform as a band called Soft Machine playing Soft Machine tracks that they in many cases wrote or performed as Soft Machine members 40 years ago! And if the use of the name adds a few extra bums on seats (tonight was sold out), supports the musicians we love, and incentivises them to carry on, then why should any of us be complaining?

 

 

 

 

Caravan – Bury Met Arts Centre – 18 November 2017

Despite it being only 20 or so miles down the road, it’s been a good couple of decades since I’ve been to the Met Arts Centre at Bury, or come to that, Bury itself. The last time was to see and interview Didier Malherbe on his second visit to the town with guitarist Pierre Bensusan. At least that’s my excuse in failing to find the venue easily, despite the fact that in the early 90s I delivered there every other week, and saw numerous gigs there too. It took a while to realise that the various bouncers, taxi drivers and other unsuspects who we’d asked for guidance were very kindly all directing us towards the ‘Metro’ – the tram system that takes everyone OUT of Bury. The penny finally dropped  when we made our final wrong turn and descended an escalator towards the tram platform itself.

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Caravan: Geoffrey Richardson, Mark Walker, Pye Hastings, Jim Leverton, Jan Schelhaas

Meanwhile over the other side of the bus terminus Caravan were starting a set which would last almost 2 hours. I’d also not seen them for over 20 years, lost a little track of what they’re up to, but was intrigued to find that they were not only embarking on an 8-date tour of England, but had comfortably sold out the gig in Met, a beautiful old municipal building split into elevated seating and a large standing area in front of it.

This band features sole original member Pye Hastings; multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson, (who pointed out that he had been with the band a mere 46 years, on and off); keyboard player Jan Schelhaas, stalwart of late Seventies line-ups; Jim Leverton, ever present on bass since the mid-Nineties; and Mark Walker, filling the drummer’s seat since the death of Richard Coughlan.

As we were catching our breath, the band raced through a few old standards including ‘Land of Grey and Pink’ and ‘Golf Girl’ but for me really found their feet when starting to stretch out instrumentally – their version of ‘Love in Your Eye’ from ‘Waterloo Lily’ was quite inspired, the first time I’ve heard it live, and segued into the groove from ‘For Richard’, the first to really get the crowd moving.  The Caravan crowd is an interesting one: whilst I expect to see more earnest jazzheads at the Soft Machine on Thursday, and Gong attract a patent collection of tripped out bohos (myself included), Caravan audiences occupy a safer middle ground: middle aged couples, old rockers sporting a range of band T-shirts encompassing everything from the Stranglers to AC/DC, and small groups just out for a good night out (and providing an annoyingly noisy backdrop over the quieter numbers).

And so this set the tone for the night: a real mix of old and new tunes, ballads and extended grooves. I’d never seen Geoffrey Richardson perform before with the band – my Caravan education, like many, started with listening to the classic first three albums on LP, but for me also continued with then seeing that same quartet of Sinclair/Sinclair/Hastings/Coughlan reform in the early 90s for live gigs. So forgive me for not previously having a first-hand appreciation how Geoffrey became the focal point for the band both sonically and visually in the mid-Seventies. Tonight he was impossible to take one’s eyes off: effortlessly switching from viola, to lead guitar, to flute, to penny whistle, to mandolin – always beautiful understated interjections before moving on fluidly to the next passage. Even that doesn’t tell the whole story – amongst the most memorable moments for me were his viola picking on, I think, ‘Nightmare’, a solo on the spoons, or providing extra percussion elsewhere on a cowbell!

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I’d been so mesmerised by the prowess shown by Geoffrey that I was almost oblivious to the talents of bass and keyboards, but increasingly as the night wore on their talents came to the fore: Schelhaas moving beyond the expected recreation of Dave Sinclair’s sublime solo lines on the ‘classics’ to a real honky-tonk vibe, whilst Leverton, solid as a rock, produced a lovely rounded bass tone to provide the ballast on the extended numbers in particular. Drummer Mark Walker provided a vibrant presence behind the sticks with added backing vocals – here was a man clearly enjoying himself!

I reckon on reflection that the band performed a total of 5 tracks from the new album ‘Paradise Filter’ – best for me was the surprising menace of ‘Dead Man Walking’, whilst ‘Farewell My Old Friend’, written in memory of Richard Coughlan, felt personally poignant in a week when I found out about the sudden death of a friend. Other tracks returned to the band’s apparently perennial financial bad-luck (‘Fingers in the Till’) and, perhaps more flippantly, medical tribulations (‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor’). But probably the best was saved to (almost) last with a superb and unexpected version of the aforementioned ‘Nightmare’ plus the rousing finale ‘9ft Underground’ – as good as ever.

It was mentioned that Caravan are a mere 6 months away from collectively celebrating their 50th birthday – it all started at the Beehive in Canterbury, the location of which was pointed out to me in my trip down there last month. Plans are afoot for a celebration – watch this space (or more accurately https://officialcaravan.co.uk/) – but in the meantime try to catch one of their remaining gigs this tour.

 

(Thanks to Geoffrey Richardson for enabling me to get to this gig after a bout of personal incompetence!)

God Song – a Phil Miller tribute by Henk Weltevreden – as read at Phil’s funeral (27 October 2017)

(Musician, author and good friend of Phil Miller, Henk Weltevreden read out this lovely touching tribute at Phil’s funeral on 27th of October 2017. It’s reproduced here with the kind permission of Henk, and Phil’s widow Herm)

God Song – After Life

phil miller funeralHere’s a fairytale, for you Phil, a little creative act from my side, as a Thank you So Much, for all you gave me, in my life, your sounds, and for a warm, a very warm friendship. Here are some words. For you only.

We met when I was 16, that’s 50 years ago. You’re my number 1 longterm friend, for ever. We played Gary Burton music, one of your favourites at that time. Some years later I gave a Hatfield record to Gary Burton personally, in Boston. He smiled. Quite often life shows a cycle. Sometimes life is linear because I’m convinced that the biggest luck for you is Herm.

Some years later, we shared a room, staying at Daevid Allen’s home in Sens, during an early Hatfield tour of France. Over hours of conversation, you analysed the creation of your songs Calyx and Underdub, how it came about. We agreed, for a big part, it is by coincidence.

Tomorrow, at the end of the afternoon, you will be walking in a heavenly atmosphere, strolling on a beautiful road, flowers, perfume, left and right a country side full of weed, free bags of it, all over the place. You’re holding your guitar, it’s a country without carnet papers, no work for Benj here, no passport needed, no wifi, no income tax. But, you’re a bit nervous, because you have to hold and show a stamped certificate proving it was you Philip Paul Brisco Miller who wrote God Song.

 What on Earth are you doing, God?

Is this some sort of joke you’re playing?

Is it ‘cos we didn’t pray?

Are you just hot air, breathing over us and over all?

Is it fun watching us all?

Where’s your son? We want him again!

Dear Phil, I know you wonder, you doubt, will He, the Big Man be furious?

And then, all of a sudden, you see a bar. Right there, along that road.

There’s Pip, waving at you, cheerful, holding a triple times five Belgium beer. Also Hugh is there, mister Hopper, and Elton, Lindsay Cooper, brother Steve, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Alan Gowen, and of course Lol.

Pip is yelling ‘hurray! Phil! Here! Where is Benji?’

‘Oh well,’ Phil says, ‘he is still too busy, maybe next year, or another ten-twenty years from now. Who knows. God knows. Chance mate. It’s all chance.’

Pip is smiling, having a great time, free drinks.

Pip’s thinking God Song:

‘And next time, you send your boy down there
Give him a wife and a sexy daughter

Someone we can understand.’

Hugh Hopper points at the counter. ‘There Phil, that’s where they check your documents. This here, it’s only a waystation. And, more important, if you want to get on, along the road, you have to choose only the single happiest memory of your life, all other memories will be gone, forgotten. And then you vanish to whatever unknown state of existence…’

Phil is doubting, he likes this bar here.

Elton looks a bit angry. Too much memories.

‘I don’t wanna enter that door,’ he mumurs, ‘stupid  Brexit. It’s also boring here, bloody Heaven,  I want a Hexit, out of here.’

Phil is hiding his certificate about God Song, slighty nervous. All of a sudden he regrets he has no carnet papers. Where is Benj?!

Pip takes a gulp, smiles and points at his selfmade poster behind the bar. It says:

God is dead, but just to be sure, I hate him.

Dear Phil

It does matter anyway

We’ll meet again some other day

The time has come to leave you

There’ll will be a way to reach you.

 

Henk Weltevreden (27th of October 2017)

Canterbury Sound: Place, Music and Myth, Christ Church University, Canterbury, 28 October 2017

It’s taken nearly a week to post something up about this amazing event, but then it’s taken nearly a week to surface from quite a whirlwind few days down south.

After around 25 years of correspondence, I finally got to meet Aymeric Leroy, author of the Calyx website, Big Bang progressive fanzines, moderator of the What’s Rattlin’ Newsgroup, and more recently author of the ‘L’Ecole de Canterbury’ biography. We met at Phil Miller’s funeral in Plaistow on Friday, chatted at the wake, where he kindly introduced me to many of my heroes, and shared a car down to Canterbury later that evening where he was kind enough not to comment too harshly on my lack of nous about directions! Aymeric’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Canterbury music (and beyond…) is not just confined to carefully filed reams of information – it is matched by instant recall of dates, places and anecdotes which sometimes make me feel like a half-arsed amateur!

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Lapis Lazuli – photo: Asya Draganova

We’d been brought together as fellow speakers at the Canterbury Sound event, an event hosted by Christ Church University in the city, and curated by leading university academics Dr Asya Draganova and Professor Shane Blackman. The whole-day event consisted of a series of talks, including ones from Aymeric about Calyx and his book, my own about the genesis and development of Facelift, and other more academic perspectives from speakers jetting in from places as far flung as the US and Australia. My favourite slots were the insights provided by musicians Geoff Richardson (who came to settle in Canterbury in 1972) and Brian Hopper (who was already there!) and guitarist Jack Hues (a current practitioner). Talks and general discussion (all speakers also contributed to an ongoing ‘panel’ fielding questions from the floor) centred about what exactly the Canterbury scene/sound was, whether it had occurred as a result of local and cultural factors, and how it matched other geographically-based scenes. I’m not sure that the panel really came to any firm conclusions, but maybe that wasn’t the point. Personally, I liked most Geoff’s perspective that he was a ‘moth drawn to the flame’ of Canterbury, a phenomenon that I have observed so many times both in terms of musicians relocating geographically, but perhaps even more so metaphorically its many fans.

canterbury soundAny doubt that the flame is being kept alive was dispersed by the utterly memorable music which punctuated the day, initially with Jack Hues and the quartet, augmented for the most part by lengthy spoken word sections. The music was alternately sparse, atmospheric and driven, backed by the rhythm section of the very fine Led Bib. I would love to hear more of this. Koloto, a local composer followed in the afternoon with a set of electronic soundscapes, before the conference venue was cleared for the evening’s main performances.

With their unfathomable name, freakish promo photo and the eloquence of drummer Adam Brodigan who provided an insight into the local music scene in one of the later talks, a sense of anticipation built up for local band Lapis Lazuli, who for me were the revelation of the entire day. Extended but extremely tightly-knit compositions (‘Reich’ and ‘School’) from their superb ‘Wrong Meeting’ album, bought on the spot, revealed a power-driven quartet consisting of two guitars, bass and drums, producing intricate, funky compositions. The great thing about bands that you’re often instantly sold on is that you can’t accurately compare them to anyone else, because, they’re … um… unique. That’s how I felt about Syd Arthur when I first heard their folk-infused early stuff – but Lapis Lazuli are spikier, grungier and rarely staying in one spot long enough for the audience to settle in their groove, before they move on to the next meticulously scored passage. During Adam’s earlier words, he described the evolution of gig venues and clubs in recent years from smoke-filled dens of iniquity to a much cleaner environment where psychedelic stimulation had to come from the music alone, and how Lapis Lazuli aimed to take you there. Such was the mind-bending nature of the music that they certainly got (me) there tonight.

Headliners and equally anticipated were Soup Songs, the jazzy outfit performing the songs of (and thoroughly approved of by) Robert Wyatt. I’d never seen this much-vaunted band before and quite aside from the sheer privilege of hearing for the first time, live performances of iconic tracks such as ‘Sea Song’, (possibly my all-time favourite track, complete with the heart-rending coda played out by Annie Whitehead’s trombone), and ‘O Caroline’, here was a band that genuinely grooved. Backed by an all-star rhythm section of Tim Harries and Liam Genockey, names familiar to most Canterburyfiles in different contexts, and an all-female frontline of Whitehead, Sarah Jane Morris and singer/guitarist Jennifer Maidman, this was a classy, gutsy performance. Whilst the main soloists were Steve Lodder on keyboards and Mark Lockhart (sax); Geoff Richardson was invited on stage for several memorable viola interventions, whilst Brian Hopper stole the night with an extended sax solo on ‘Soup Song’ itself. A fitting way to end a memorable day from one of the founders of it all…

matt watkins

Postscript: The event provided an opportunity to display some of my old newspaper clipping archives which Aymeric had brought back from France, alongside no less than 7 different Canterbury family trees. Last thoughts regard the publication of ‘You Are Here’ by Matt Watkins, author of the Canterbury sans Frontieres soundblog. A full review to follow when this whirlwind week stops and I can start to dive properly into his unique and beautifully illustrated book. Matt gave a short talk starting to plot the geographically significant points of Canterbury mythdom through an interactive Google Map – this was the part of the day that perhaps unwittingly drew the most audience participation, and was presented with a wryness which added to the delivery. More on the book soon…

The funeral of Phil Miller, 27 October 2017

Posting publicly about a funeral feels  slightly odd, but it seems remiss not  to mark the passing of Phil Miller, a giant of the Canterbury scene, with as many respectful words  as this forum will allow.

phil miller funeral

Whilst hardly claiming to know Phil well personally, I was lucky enough to meet him enough times to feel that I could at least pay my respects, and so my travel plans to get down to Canterbury for the Sound event the day after were hastily re-arranged on hearing that Phil’s funeral would be held in Plaistow last Friday.

The crematorium service was a simple one, presented by a neighbour (and apologies for not catching the name) with both a sensitivity for Phil’s qualities both personally and as a musician. Whilst the service was topped and tailed with extracts from Phil and Fred Baker’s beautifully gentle album ‘Double Up’, the centrepiece of the ceremony was a series of speeches, including an opening from Aymeric Leroy, providing something of a tribute to Phil’s musical pedigree. A series of more personal thoughts and reminiscences followed from many of Phil’s friends and collaborators such as Hatfieldist Alex McGuire, Caravan guitarist Doug Boyle, bassist Jack Monck (who accompanied Phil at the start and end of his musical career with Delivery and the Relatives); and musical soulmate Fred Baker. Mark Hewins gave a very moving off the cuff speech, whilst musician and author Henk Weltewreden read his own bitter-sweet and very funny piece based around the lyrics to Phil’s ‘God Song’. The prevailing themes of the speeches were Phil’s loving gift of music; the meticulous nature of his playing and composing, his striving for the perfectly fine-tuned arrangement in both him and others; his fierce loyalty; and  his enduring love with Herm.

The wake was a beautifully informal affair at St Barnabas Hall in Dalston, with fine food downstairs and a succession of musicians playing the best of Phil’s music upstairs, such as ‘Underdub’, ‘God Song’, ‘Above and Below’ and ‘It Didn’t Matter Anyway’. I lost some of the detail of the particular denominations who played whilst chatting to various guests including the likes of Bill MacCormick, Yumi Hara, Geoff Leigh and Rick Biddulph, but there were combinations of In Cahoots musicians including Jim Dvorak and Pete Lemer; a fabulous reprise of a Miller/Baker duo number with Fred taking Phil Miller’s guitar line whilst Jack Monck played bass; Phil’s most recent collaborator Marc Hadley on  sax; Theo Travis on flute; Mark Hewins on guitar and many many more. I felt very privileged to have been there – the mood was sombre but Phil’s spirit prevailed….

Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO – Hebden Bridge Trades Club 20 October 2017

Acid Mothers Temple are nearing the end of their annual autumnal attack on broad-minded European gigging venues and once again played the Trades in Hebden Bridge, host over the years to numerous Gong-related musicians, if not yet Gong themselves.

acid mothersThe ‘Mothers’ are a Japanese collective with around 20 years history behind them, and Daevid Allen collaborated extensively with their guitarist and leader Kawabata Makoto in the Noughties (including the album ‘Acid Motherhood’ which went out under the Gong name in 2003.) Their style is an all-pervasive assault on the senses with an unbelievably loud and dense sound, smoke machines and a visual presence which is unparalleled – for starters you’re unlikely to see quite as much hair on one stage!

Whilst in particular guitarist Makoto and high-octane drummer Satoshima Nani  flail around like whirling dervishes, frontman Higashi Hiroshi, an extraordinarily striking figure with long white hair and beard, maintains a zen-like presence up front as he peddles sonic effects including a state of the art theremin .

The band are renowned for their wigged out appropriations of iconic musical anthems both psychedelic and beyond, and I remember when I saw them for the first time in 2015 spending the first 20 minutes of the gig with my jaw dropping to the floor as they performed a track which I assume was ‘Son of a Bitches Brew’. I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it, but it was clear enough I’d never heard anything quite like it before.

Tonight as they launched into their first track, I was delighted to realise that it was Black Sabbath’s ‘The Wizard’, here treated with cacophonous layer upon layer of sound as a backdrop, and punctuated with gusto by Hiroshi on harmonica.

Gong’s ‘Flying Teacup’ riff followed, an extended workout around a single bass-line, and later we had the Om Riff sandwiched in between renderings of long-time Acid Mothers’ centrepiece ‘Pink Lady Lemonade’.

I couldn’t tell you the couple of tracks beyond this, but to be honest, that helped, as without a recognisable theme to hook into, I succumbed to the frenzied trance most of the rest of the audience had been wound up into. The sound is messy, high-energy and all-encompassing – all musicians, particularly lead guitar, the brilliant bass of ‘S/T aka Wolf’ and drums rattling along at breakneck speed, but even this, (with additional layers provided by second guitarist Mitsuko Tabata and effects) is further backed up by sheets of sound from backing tapes. It’s an astonishing spectacle. I think the crowd were too stunned to holler for an encore, most repairing to outside for a recupatory fag as the band quietly packed up, shifted a few T-shirts, and were waved off at the door as they made tracks for their next gig north of the border.

Phil Miller

The very sad news emerged yesterday that guitarist Phil Miller had died after a long illness. I wanted to pay tribute here to Phil’s unique talents – both as a guitarist and a songwriter.

issue 15 cover copy

His CV almost reads like a wishlist of  seminal Canterbury bands: first Delivery (with, amongst others Roy Babbington, Pip Pyle and Lol Coxhill), then Matching Mole, followed by Hatfield and the North and National Health. He later spent 30 years fronting his own band In Cahoots, itself a stomping ground for many of the scene’s key players: Elton Dean, Pip Pyle, Richard Sinclair, Hugh Hopper amongst them. He also briefly co-led Short Wave with Pyle, Hopper and Didier Malherbe and had a unique duo with equally dextrous long term collaborator Fred Baker. He was an understated giant within the scene and whilst his trademark calling card was those tortured electric solos, he was a fine rhythm guitarist and a brilliant songwriter – two of the scene’s anthemic pieces, Matching Mole’s God Song and Hatfields’ Calyx were his.

I saw Phil perform on many occasions, and looking back at a feature which was published in the nascent Facelift website where I asked regular contributors  to identify their top 5 gigs, Phil Miller appeared in the nearly everyone’s lists in various guises (and three times in mine! ) in the Hatfields, National Health or most notably In Cahoots. My own favourite gigs included the ones below:

  • In Cahoots at the Band on the Wall – my first live exposure to ‘Canterbury scene’ musicians – I remember being astonished that his first solo album (‘Cutting Both Ways’) managed to garner so many of my heroes, but then to see them live with a line-up that also included so many of my heroes, hitherto just names on record sleeves or recognisable musical styles through my speakers completely blew my mind. The idea of seeing Phil Miller, Pip Pyle, Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean all on the same stage was almost incomprehensible as a Canterbury novice – I was sold for life.
  • In Cahoots again, this time as part of one of very many memorable Sonic Relief showcases at the Brixton Fridge. Sonic Relief tapped into a brief moment in time when progressive music, particularly at the psychedelic end, started to become an acceptable musical format again at the start of the 90s – billings included Gong, Caravan, Ozric Tentacles, The Orb and Tim Blake. In Cahoots were the support act for Caravan on one fine evening – was this their biggest ever audience? So heartwarming to see their music watched and appreciated by a large, lively crowd.
  • The Miller/Baker duo, not just for a gig we put on in Manchester (more below) in 1993, but as part of an extraordinary double header with Mark Hewins and Hugh Hopper at the Vortex in Islington.
  • And finally, with Short Wave, a Canterbury supergroup if ever there was one and whose album we reviewed here Having witnessed a superb gig down in Chester, we saw them in their element at Gong 25, where for us anorakked Canterbury aficionados, they represented an unofficial highlight.

Phil managed to combine an understated personality with a quite towering stage presence – I won’t be the only one who associates his meticulously constructed guitar lines with his pained expressions as he eked out another gut-twisting solo from a seemingly bottomless well. I must have met Phil on half a dozen occasions, but it’s probably testament to our mutual shyness and reserve that I couldn’t ever remember what we talked about… Nick Loebner got much further than I with an excellent interview for Facelift here

In the autumn of 1993 a few Manchester friends (Martin Wakeling, editor of the Kevin Ayers fanzine ‘Why Are We Sleeping’, regular Facelift scribe Nick Loebner and my long-term gigging partner ‘Long’ Dave Wragg) and I concocted a plan to bring Phil and In Cahoots bass player Fred Baker to Manchester for a duo gig – this on the back of their superb album Double Up which saw them perform Miller classics such ‘Calyx’ and ‘Underdub’ alongside many fabulous new compositions for double guitar or guitar/bass. We managed to procure a venue for nothing, got lots of free publicity in the arts/entertainment magazine Up Town I then worked for, got a preview in a rival magazine City life, listings in the Guardian and sold tickets in the legendary and supportive Manchester jazz/roots record shop Decoy. Phil and Fred had kindly agreed to bring their own PA.

miller & bakerWe then sat back and waited for the tickets to sell. It was a long wait. The venue, although on the circuit for rock music, was a bit off the beaten track, set back in the gloom from Piccadilly station. Charlie, who owned the Star and Garter, had given us the venue for nothing, no doubt intending to make his money back on drinks. His generosity didn’t extend to heating, because in his eyes the hordes of people we’d promised him would warm up the large room we were using with body heat.

I reckon we packed in about 50 punters. It was a magical night – I caught one chap crying in the toilets because he’d finally got to hear ‘Calyx’ live. Phil and Fred played beautifully with their almost telepathic understanding. A testament to Phil in that he offered to take a cut on his and Fred’s tiny appearance fee because of the low turn out.  We of course refused – it was a privilege to have him performing for a few select aficionados, but indicative of the everyday travails of innovatory British jazz musicians.

I can’t remember the last time I saw him – I don’t live in Manchester any more and have fewer opportunities to go to London, and I suspect gigs were getting thinner and thinner on the ground. ‘Conspiracy Theories’, admittedly a few years back, was right up there with the best of his output and showed him still in his element as a unique songwriter and guitar voice.

Phil was a colossus within the scene – he’ll be sorely missed.

Canterbury Sound Festival – Sat October 28th

Really excited to have been invited to take part in a day dedicated to the Canterbury ‘Sound’ at Augustine House, Canterbury – it’s a day and evening event of discussions dedicated to the music we’re all fans of, and featuring music from Canterbury both past and present.

Canterbury Sound image

Full ticket price details here: and full content details below:

As Aymeric Leroy, (who has run the Calyx website, What’s Rattlin forum group, and has also recently published a book ‘L’Ecole de Canterbury’), is bringing my old Canterbury archive (which extends to half a car boot load) back over the UK, I hope to be displaying some tasty snippets at the event, as well as selling some fanzines. Hope to see you there!

DAYTIME PROGRAMME
10:30-10:50 Welcome; health and safety notices; event concept and programme for the day to be presented by Asya Draganova
10:50 – 11:20 Coffee break and introducing the Archive, Music, and Book Stalls
11:20 – 12:50 Panel 1: “Canterbury Sound” myths and realities

Talks from: Professor Andy Bennett, Geoffrey Richardson, Brian Hopper, Jack Hues, Professor Murray Smith a discussion panel

12:50 – 13:00 Comfort break

13:00 – 13:45 Performance: Jack Hues and the Quartet

13:45 – 14:30 Lunch

14:30 – 16:00 Panel 2: Archives and futures of the online and offline “Canterbury Sound”

Talks from Aymeric Leroy, Phil Howitt, Asya Draganova and Shane Blackman, Matt Watkins, and Alan Payne + discussion panel

16:00 – 16:10 Comfort break

16:10 – 16:50 Performance by Koloto

16:50 – 17:00 Comfort break

17:00 – 18:00 Fan forum: mapping the spaces and places of the “Canterbury Sound” with the participation of audiences

EVENING PROGRAMME

19:00 – 22:00: Lapis Lazuli and SoupSongs performances: a musical dialogue within the “Canterbury Sound”

Magic Bus – Phillip The Egg

A chap who came to our door the other day asked me where I got my green sackcloth Nepalese  shirt from, and I explained that my wardrobe was largely topped up at festivals where I shamelessly bulk-bought band-related T-shirts and hippy clothing in the same way that others might visit TKMaxx in search of bargains. I compared it to the way that at same said festivals I always come away with some new music to follow based on some unexpected treat in a tent somewhere. Like the t-shirts  it keeps me going through a winter or several until I irreparably damage them.

Over the years this has seen me get into bands as diverse as Asian Dub Foundation (a Brighton 3-dayer, if I remember, where our tent got nicked and I got food poisoning from a Vietnamese noodle bar);  Subgiant (wondrous South Coast electronic dub), the Egg (classic festival grooves), and possibly best of all LaXula (Spanish gypsy music with a hint of burlesque). Last year at Kozfest it was Andy Bole. This year it could well be Magic Bus. And I’m beginning to wonder how they escaped my clutches for so long.

 

The marvellous video posted here shows the Magic Bus band in their full glory. Subtract the nattily turned out lead guitarist and the band could have been directly parachuted from the late 60s into the studio, and the music follows suit. In amongst the swathes of screaming guitar or the pounding reggae beats which pervade Kozfest, Magic Bus at Judge Trev’s stage were an altogether much more gentle affair. The Caravan comparisons are almost a given: strummed rhythm guitar and flowery vocals, an intense longhair hunched and rocking over a screaming keyboard which appears to be the main soloing instrument, and soaring flute lines recalling Jimmy Hastings. But there’s more at work here: on ‘Phillip the Egg’ alone, the band work their way through numerous sub-sections, shifts in tempo and mood to provide a really tightly scored composition stretched over many minutes. There’s even a spot of Van der Graaf ‘galumphing’ to increase the heart rate. Great stuff, can’t tell you much more at present on the basis of a short (frequently revisited) video and a late night gig at Kozfest. I can tell you though that the rest of their latest album sounds bloody marvellous too, but I’ve already outstayed my welcome streaming it on bandcamp so I’ll waste no more time and buy myself a copy forthwith…

Kozfest 2017

Friday 28 July – Sunday 30 July, Bobby’s Farm, Uffculme, Devon

kozfest timings

For the unitiated, Kozfest is a unique festival set in the rolling hills of the Devon countryside. In the big picture of festivaldom, it’s a tiny speck, limited to 500 punters but blessed by up to 300 performers, many of whom have direct or indirect links to musicians covered by Facelift magazine over the years, particularly at the psychedelic end of the scene.  Unlike last year’s sun-drenched bake-out, this was a muddy affair, not quite Glastonbury but enough to dampen the campers’ spirits a little, if not deterring musically from another feast.

The festival is almost like a private party, except that firstly you can invite yourself (if you get hold of tickets in time) and secondly that you might not know anyone – (at least at first). It’s unique because at any set time you can look to either side of you realise that you’re surrounded by people you’ve spoken to around your tent or at the various stalls, or musicians you’ve been watching. There’s no distinguishing between punters and performers in terms of egos at least, it’s all one happy colourful family. The place is festooned with memorably coiffeured, dressed or chisel-featured characters – it’s almost inevitable that the bloke in the cape and goggles in front of you in the pizza queue is going to pop up on a stage at some point – it’s just a question of when. Kozmic Ken, who gives the name to the festival, bumbles around the festival amiably, presenting the bands on the main stage and dispensing good vibes to all.spiral navigators

Spiral Navigators – photo Annie Roberts

With Here and Now, System 7 (Steve Hillage/Miquette Giraudy) and Soft Machine headlining the 3 nights respectively, it seems strange to report that I only saw Here and Now, but I was visiting the festival, as one does, very much in punter rather than band bucketlist mode. Plus with two young children in tow, energies were flagging when the final band came on each evening at 10.30pm. More about those three headlining bands later.

For all the undoubted kudos for Kozfest of attracting the headliners, which ensures a steady build up of anticipation throughout the day, much of the vibe of the festival is exploring a few musical connections, delving into something entirely new, or witnessing a spontaneous happening. The musical onslaught is relentless – it’s possible but probably not advisable to see every band on the main billings through drifting sheeplike from one stage to another. The festival layout is inspired: within its tiny acreage, the entire event is spread over only two fields – a flat one at the bottom for motorhomes, cars and a few tents, and a sloping one above leading to a flat platform at the top in which is contained the entire gamut of facilities: 4 or 5 food stalls, the Tat for Tibet quartermasters stores, Gong’s GAS merchandise tent, and various other small arts/crafts/clothes concerns. At either end of the platform is a marquee – the Daevid Allen stage a larger, more functional, white-sided marquees with official merchandise at the back; and the Judge Trev stage – smaller, more atmospheric with its red interior setting a more atmospheric feel for the bands within. DSC04922The scheduling is pure genius – bands play their 1 hour sets in one tent whilst the following band in the other tent do their soundcheck. There’s a 10 minute overlap where two bands will be playing simultaneously, which also means that most bands start off with a very small audience only for half the festival to drift in to populate the tent after 10 minutes or so. Browse the photos on the Kozfest Facebook pages and you could be forgiven for thinking that the festival is populated by a load of untogether stoner types – and in terms of us punters that might have a ring of truth, but in terms of organisation this is as tightly scheduled as anything I’ve seen – bands arrived and left the stage on the dot, and not just to meet the midnight curfew. At the Judge Trev stage the meticulous nature of the timings was particularly evident with soundchecks punctuated with shouts of “5 minutes”, “2 minutes” barked out in the preamble to a band coming on. One band (Magic Bus) were hauled off stage for starting 4 minutes too early! It’s possible to spend 12 hours meandering between each stage without a break and have constant music piped into your ears – and we certainly dipped into this mode of operation at times, but at the same time with two small children to entertain we also managed to engineer a weird parallel universe:  a sort of soundcheck crawl where we arrived in an empty marquee as bands finished to allow the kids to run free in the open spaces as the rain beat down outside. I now know lots about how sound engineers set up their rig, as well as being the proud patentor of a new children’s game where the participants attempt to throw soggy rolled up socks into a pair of open wellington boots.

If Kozfest 2016, was for me at least, savouring not just the new Gong incarnation, but finding Gong emigrees such as Steffe, Mike Howlett and Graham Clark popping up in a variety of new contexts, then 2017 was very much about the wider Ozric Tentacles family.

Whilst I managed to miss the Oroonies and Zub Zub, (both with Ozrics connections), I’d identified that the band I really wanted to see at Kozfest was the Ullulators, a band led by original Ozrics guitarist Gavin Griffiths. Familiar with their early cassette tape (Share a Clam), the superb official release Flaming Khaos LP and having streamed their recent comeback album, their highly polished blend of reggae beats, electronica and Ozricsesque guitar work was an undoubted highlight of the festival – slick, spacey and utterly compelling. Added spice was given by the fact that we’d already spotted Ed Wynne, the Ozrics main man and guitarist around site – anticipation grew as he moved towards  side stage and was then seen twiddling with an amp ready to come on. Outstanding versions of ‘Gunk Rock’ and ‘Special Brew’ preceded him appearing on stage for the last two numbers: with Gavin and Ed on guitars Tig on drums, Joie Hinton on synths and I think Paul Hankin on congas, this was pretty close to an original Ozrics line up. The icing on the cake was the announcement at the end of the set that Ed and associated musicians would be appearing on the final morning at midday for ‘an hour long jam’. Given that we’d also seen ‘Jumping’ John the flute player also on site, could this be a bona fide Ozrics reunion?

ullulators

Ullulators with guest Ed Wynne – photo – Annie Roberts

Anyway, in the meantime other matters: lots to report on the Here and Now axis. The band have just altered their lineup twice over with a new guitarist (Andy ) and drummer replacing Slim and Woody who were nevertheless on site with Beastfish (more later). First time since the late 80s/early 90s that I’ve seen the band without guitarist Steffe, and I’d probably not appreciated before quite how the (for now dormant) axis between him and Keith Missile works in terms of songs. That early 90s lineup was quite ska-based in sound, and worthy as it was, I do seem to regularly remember hanging on in there for the rollout of ‘Floating Anarchy’ or ‘Opium For the People’. Tonight’s session was a mixture of those old 80s/90s tunes on the one hand, and more spaced out stuff on the other. No prizes for guessing which I preferred, and it was admittedly excellent – Keith is such an outstanding purveyor of bass grooves. This lineup has two keyboards, with Mark Robson joined by the other Andy, both also sing. The sound suffered a bit live, which meant that the clear talents of the lead guitarist were somewhat unheard – a shame.

DSC04926

Beastfish

The Here and Now set was the finale of a Friday which also saw two of its members also perform in the Music of the Andys (!), joined on stage by Mark Robson’s didgeridoo. Much more memorable for me was the aforementioned Beastfish. I’d heard about this lot because fellow Hebdenite and multi-instrumentalist Mick West plays keyboards with them, and they also feature recent Here and Now members Slim Verhoef (guitar) and Woody (drums). A few Youtube videos had revealed some polished  instrumental work and off-the-wall vocals, but that doesn’t tell the half of it – Beastfish are a quite extraordinary outfit  – tight and extremely intricate compositions forming the backdrop to a quite mesmerising spoken word performance. A quick chat with the frontman afterwards revealed that the tracks are individual poems performed with considerable charisma and stage presence.  Shades of the punk poets of the 80s or the Fall here (although their music was never so finely honed), others suggested Robert Calvert or the Stranglers – it was that good.

Graham Clark (Gong Maison violinist and Magick Brother) was on site but we managed to miss him performing – Andy Bole too, one of our highlights from last year – his excellent Rainbow Crow (looped bouzouki layers) album must be heard – he was performing an improvised backdrop to Nosferatu in the Wally Hope stage (actually a tipi no bigger than our own tent! – ‘bands’ popped up there all weekend). The Glissando Guitar Orchestra, a collection of 8 or 10 purveyors of the art, performed a series of Daevid Allen’s mediational drones – quite a spectacle, but also missed by us this time. What we did see and enjoyed were Red Sun, an Italian power trio of guitar/bass/drums pounding out riffs with a hint of Violeta de Outono (Fabio Golfetti’s Brazilian band), the slightly warped (post-rock) sounds of the Sendelica Drone orchestra; a shit hot young guitarist with the Cream-like Deltanauts. The Deviant Amps, another trio somewhat more  unconstructed than Red Sun, and led by festival co-organiser Paul Woodwright (bass player Subs appears on the Sentient live album) were as usual, tremendous value – check out some fine videos here; Magic Bus headlined on the Judge Trev stage on one night and were a gently complex treat – proggy vibes with more than a hint of Caravan. Shom were, as last year, excellent. Lots more lost somewhere in the festival mix and so many bands missed who I heard were excellent.

Glissando Guitar Orchestra/Sendelica Drone Band- photos – Annie Roberts

Now, returning to the two other big headliners, heard from a distance back at the tent. System 7, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy’s dancebeat act pumped out the rhythms at the back end of Saturday night. I’ve seen this duo numerous times over the years, less so recently, but you know what you’re going to be getting. Saw them memorably at the Trades Club in Hebden a few years back for one of the their Sunday ‘chillout’ sessions, where Steve ran through a number of trademark Gong/solo sounds/riffs from the 70s, explaining their origins, before then breaking into Mirror System, the ‘ambient’ alterego of System 7. Even on a Sunday lunchtime that inevitably morphed into a techno wigout, and from our fireside pitch in the lower field at Kozfest this was very much the order of the evening. Good fun inside the tent, one assumes.

system 7

System 7 (Steve Hillage/Miquette Giraudy) – photo – Annie Roberts

The Soft Machine have recently finally dropped their ‘Legacy’ monicker, but essentially are the same settled lineup of ex Softs members (John Marshall, Roy Babbington, John Etheridge) plus ex Gong sax player Theo Travis. It’s actually quite weird seeing the name Soft Machine on a gig line-up and I did wonder when the last time a band under that name played a festival – mid 70s? When I found out that Soft Machine were headlining Kozfest, I did wonder how they’d go down – their sound is almost incongruous in the mix of grungy, spacey rock which pervades 90% of Kozfest’s lineup, consisting as it does of a jazz-rock pastiche of tracks from the 70s. Again from our firepit I could hear ‘Facelift’, stuff from ‘Softs’, probably material from ‘Six’ and ‘Seven’ that I’m less familiar with, and a brief medley involving the riff from ‘Hazard Profile’ as an endpoint. Good reception, clearly audible exceptional musicianship from 4 master craftsman and although I was a bit gutted not to see them, asking around the site, few people had them as their festival highlights, due to the nature of the music, I reckon.

DSC04933

Ed Wynne

Finally, back to that Ed Wynne appearance – midday on Sunday saw the larger Daevid Allen tent packed out for an impromptu gig. Joie Hinton was this year’s Mike Howlett, popping up on stage for his umpteenth performance on keyboards, Ed’s son Silas was also on keyboards, and the band alternated between 2 bassists both of whom we’d seen in other bands, the more dubby sounds coming from the Ullulators’ rhythm man, the more funky grooves from quite an extraordinary young man called Tom (I think). Unlike last year’s improvised sets by PsiGong (Mike Howlett) and Sentient (Steffe), highly adventurous but occasionally patchy fusion, the music here by Ed and co was supremely polished – the archetypal space jam – for a scratch outfit there was barely a bum note or wasted chord. Christened ‘Ozfest’ by Kozmic Ken, this was wonderful stuff which hopefully has been captured by somebody, and maybe a portend of Ozrics and Kozfests to come…

Syd Arthur on tour! – 3 June 2017, Deaf Institute, Manchester

Third time seeing Syd Arthur in Manchester for me last night, but after a blinding gig at the Band on the Wall a few years back, followed by a less memorable low key gig at the Night and Day a few months later, it’s clear that things have changed. Back then, they were trying out new tunes to be heard next on the “Sound Mirror” album, now they are promoting ‘Apricity’, 8 months or so after its release.

liam magill
Liam Magill

A few obvious differences first – Josh Magill is now the drummer, replacing Fred Rother, apparently now out of music completely due to tinnitus, and last heard of carving out a living cultivating mushrooms. A shame, as Fred brought a texture and sensitivity to the sound fully in line with those early folk and jazz-flecked albums. Josh joins his brothers Joel and Liam in the band, alongside the multi-talented Raven Bush.

The second obvious difference is that Raven appears to have downed his violin completely, alternating between a heavily treated electric mandolin and a bank of keyboards. At times, marvellously wild-haired as he is and cranking up various effects on his soundboard, he generates a convincing mad scientist vibe. The story appears to be that he was struggling for a decent sound with his violin in some of the stadium gigs Syd Arthur did in the States, particularly whilst supporting Yes. Us lesser mortals who scratch, scrape or blow our way unconvincingly for years on end on one instrument can barely comprehend a virtuoso abandoning an instrument he was so proficient in, but Raven softens the blow a little by being a highly convincing pianist.

The third difference, no doubt influenced by the first two, is a new ‘sound’. It’s more straight ahead, more overtly poppy, more electronic and one would hope, for the band’s sake at least, capable of widening their audience. That said, the Deaf Institute was far from sold out, even though this was a double header with stablemates Morgan Delt.

The band’s strengths are not just an ever expanding repertoire of short sweet tunes with a twist, but their incredible tightness as a unit, honed without doubt by repeated tours in the States, and strengthened by those familial links. Liam Magill, stick-insect-thin and stooped over his microphone is very much the focal point, despite the obvious talents of the rest of the band  – as a presence he puts me most in mind of Richard Sinclair. This is less for the pitch of his voice (he can switch into a falsetto at the drop of a hat) but just as a naturally gifted, understated musician who should have the world at his feet. This was a truncated set, clocking in at around an hour and mainly featuring tracks from ‘Apricity’ and whilst this album is very much their most straight-ahead album in terms of composition, there’s still an overall hint of deviance, almost menace in their live set, particularly some of the token olden numbers – witness the noodling, tempting intro to ‘Hometown Blues’, or the sonic assault of the wigged out ‘Singularity’ as it breaks out from the anthemic ‘Chariots’ – a very fine set-ender. Good to hear also that tracks like ‘Seraphim’ and the single ‘SunRays’ have a bit more impact live than on the album. Highlights for me apart from the above was the classic new pop tune ‘No Peace’ and the encore ‘Apricity’. I’m still hoping that at some point Syd Arthur will return, or at least give more reference points to, their folky roots, but their songwriting talents are so apparent they could still plough whatever furrow they wish and still have me wanting more. Roll on the new material the band mentioned during a brief chat afterwards, and here’s hoping for a few last minute festival bookings over the summer…

Allan Holdsworth

issue 12 cover 2Really sad news about the passing of Allan Holdsworth a couple of weeks back. Latterly an emigre in the US, he nevertheless retained an accent of sorts of the type heard around these parts in West Yorkshire. I saw him several times in the 90s, always as the bandleader he became from the 1980s onwards.

Perhaps his undoubted genius was fuelled by his perfectionism – to many he was a guitar god but when I interviewed him in 1994 he was often fiercely self-critical, not just in terms of how he played live (when we spoke he was grumpily complaining about his gig the night before – other tutored ears reckoned he’d played a belter) but also some of his recorded output (he dismissed the extraordinary Igginbottom’s Wrench album as a ‘horrendous experience’, disowned his first solo album ‘Velvet Darkness’ as a ‘terrible disaster’, and dismissed John Stevens’ ‘Re-Touch’ albums as ‘outtakes’ and therefore worthless.!)

Allan Holdsworth always seemed to cut a fairly enigmatic figure within the Canterbury scene, probably because he may not even have recognised the term, never mind felt he was a part of it. And that was probably what intrigued me enough to publish no less than 3 articles about him in Facelift Magazine, the other 2 of which survive on the web in the Other Facelift stuff menu further up this page.

What really intrigued me about him I suppose was him yo-yoing around any number of seminal 70s projects adding blistering solos here and there to diverse projects before moving on, apparently blind to the trainspotterish links between the bands readers of this forum might pore over. Latterly,  the ‘Blues For Tony’ album with Alan Pasqua, Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Haslip appeared to show him relishing the freedom once more of not being a sole bandleader whilst still pumping out those wonderfully crafted solos.

So, in deference to that, I’ll give you my Allan Holdsworth Desert Island Disc 70s solo compilation:

Gordon Beck – The Gathering (from Sunbird)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcmH3ZSw3DE

Gong – Expresso  (from Gazeuse!) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuMEhD4P8PY

Uk – In the Dead of Night – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMu7XUc9OcI

Bruford – Beelzebub (from Feels Good to Me) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRl-IIPezn4

Bruford – Back to the Beginning – (from Feels Good to Me)-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJQrlHUGZlo

Gong – Sleepy (from Expresso II) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07UUCXZwpnw

Soft Machine – Hazard Profile (from Bundles)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zSZBAcQ-5M

Nucleus – Hector’s House – (from Belladonna) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jG20EvOyFg

Allan Holdsworth RIP.

Kozfest 2017!

Just an excuse really to post – tickets are on sale for Kozfest for this July. Procuring a handful of returned tickets at the last moment last year proved to be an inspired gamble and indirectly inspired this blog…

kozfest lineup.jpg

Some words I posted up on the What’s Rattlin’ forum after the event last year which sum up my thoughts pretty well:

“Those of you who look at the Planet Gong website might have seen this festival popping up numerous times on their gig listings not just over the years, but multiple times for each festival, due to the number of related bands who play.

 I’d been intrigued for years, but as we’ve run a campsite up here in Hebden Bridge for the last few years, doing summer festivals has been a bit difficult. Then this spring I had a serious illness so we missed out on getting tickets. Luckily a couple of returns turned up on Facebook (this ain’t Glastonbury – you make an enquiry to ‘admin’ on the website, and the festival’s organiser, who also turns out to be the lead singer of one of the acts, the Deviant Amps, points you in the right direction) and so we took ourselves and the kids down to Devon on Thursday to see what it was all about.

 Kozfest is an intimate ‘psychedelic dream’ festival (the Koz is short for Kozmic, as in the host Kozmic Ken) and is a 3 day, 2-stage festival for only 500 punters on a small working farm in the rolling West Country. Between 30-40 bands play, all pretty much spin offs, offshoots or influenced by Gong and to a lesser degree Hawkwind. There’s lots of cross-pollination between bands. Headliners on the 3 nights were Gong, Hawklords and Astralasia, but the line-up overall was like Gong 25 or Uncon revisited (or presumably a Hawkfest).

 The music side of things is really well organised – the two music tents are separated by 100 yards or so, whilst one tent soundchecks/sets-up, the other is in full swing, so you spend your days ambling between a permafest of pounding bass and skysaw guitar with little down time (unless you want it).

 Bands included Sentient (Steffe Sharpstrings, Mike Howlett, Joie from Ozric Tentacles), PsiGong (Mike Howlett’s funky improv outfit), Magick Brothers (Mark Robson/Graham Clark), the Inspiral Trio (three of the current members of Gong), the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Invisible Opera Company of Tibet – previous lineups have included Steve Hillage (both System 7 and his own guitar band) and Here and Now. But it was so much more than this – I saw so many bands that I want to investigate further (Shom, Deviant Amps, Sendelica) and there are as many musicians milling around as punters, and you’d find yourselves dancing in a tent next to the bass player from a previous band, or memorably being served at the ‘tat’ store by Steffe.

 My 5dsc03185-year old took it upon herself to point out every ‘Camembert Electrique’ T-shirt she saw, and she had her work cut out – there was a tug on my sleeve every few minutes. Apart from one incident in a tent on the last night, this was a safe, gentle, non-ravey event with a freefest vibe – full of Gong afficionados.

 Highlights (for me) were finally meeting Fabio Golfetti (Violeta de Outono, IOCOT and now Gong) after 20 years of correspondence; Andy Bole’s extraordinary bouzouki set where he looped around stringed rhythms, backed by partner Sally on exquisite electric violin and Mark Robson on Didg; the Glissando Guitar Orchestra – 8 guitarists sawing away in a meditative series of drones, envelopping everyone in the most reflective moment of the festival; Mandragora; IOCOT – a welcome more feminine interpretation of the Gong vibe including stuff from ‘Camembert’ and ‘2032’- then the more ‘known’ stuff – PsiGong with freely improvised Howlett-fuelled funkery; a remarkable performance from Steffe with Sentient – he was ever visible around the festival as a humble, unassuming punter, amazingly transformed into a man possessed on stage – I’ve seen him many times with his head thrown back as a freewheeling Hillage-style soloist, but never in such open-throated vocalist mode as tonight as he reprised the old H&N ’77 number ‘Near and How’. Sentient, like PsiGong are a band who appear to dip in and out of improvised numbers – some of it works, some doesn’t, but when it hits the spot, it’s oh-so-sweet…”

As for this year, not only have tickets just gone on sale here but the line-up, which has been building up over the past few week, has been finalised too – today, the three headliners were confirmed as Here and Now, System 7 and Soft Machine (the legacy band who in the last year have been gigging under the original band name – I think current line-up is John Etheridge, John Marshall, Roy Babbington and Theo Travis). The Softs’ gig will be particularly interesting as the music is probably somewhat out of kilter with the free-festie vibe of your typical Kozfest band roster. Other bands of note for this blog are the Magick Brothers (Mark Robson and Graham Clark), Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Andy Bole, various Ozrics/Here and Now spin offs plus some fantastic bands we saw last year (Shom, Sendelica, Deviant Amps etc.)

Tickets apparently go fast, nice and cheap as these things go (£85 for an adult ticket), decent food, beautiful countryside. Best to  get on to this ASAP and hope to see you there!

10 things I learnt from the Gong tour – thoughts from Manchester and Allendale, November 2016

1. Steve Davis is an unexpectedly diverse DJ

Or maybe it’s not so unexpected so when you start to scratch the surface. He was taking as much adulation up in his podium above the stage prior to Gong’s set in Manchester as when the main act themselves played. For those of us who grew up in the Eighties when he was at his height of fame as a snooker player it was hard to shake off a sense of surreality grooving along to his tunes in a grimy Manchester venue, which included a particularly fine and obscure track from Magma offshoot Weidorje, reviewed years ago back in Facelift. But if you check out the various videos he’s done to help promote ‘Rejoice’ he clearly knows his stuff and combines knowledge with a matey risqué bonhomie : “Tim Blake’s strapping one on”, anyone?

2. The guitar solo on the track ‘Rejoice!’ is not just the work of Kavus Torabi.

When I reviewed the new Gong album in this blog, the highlight of the entire album for me was the guttural, heart-wrenching solo eked out early on in the 10 minute title track. I had this down as Gong’s new lead singer alone crafting out a theme, pausing, then going again. In fact, live the equally fine second part is played live by Fabio Golfetti, and an interview here (with Steve Davis) reveals that this part is played on the album by Steve Hillage, which becomes blindingly obvious on second hearing.

3. The new Gong signature sound is four part vocal harmonies!

Or at least whilst Kavus Torabi sings all the lead lines, backing vocals can come from any angle, often simultaneously. Even Ian East occasionally hangs down his sax to join in.

4. The sound at a Gong gig varies enormously from venue to venue.

I remember practically writing off the Steve Hillage lineup in the Noughties after seeing them both in London and at Manchester Academy, only to be totally blown away days later in Edinburgh – same line-up, same tunes, I suspect equally good performances but worlds apart in terms of what you could hear. This time around, a muddy Manchester sound at the Gorilla where Kavus Torabi’s guitar was practically inaudible, was replaced by glorious clarity, warts and all, at Allendale, a provincial village hall so far into Cumbria it’s actually in Northumbria. This despite the fact that presumably there was a much smaller budget for a decent sound system.

5. Gong sets are long long long….!

The band came on at 9pm at both venues, disappeared off briefly around 10.30pm then reappeared for a 2 set encore. They played practically all of Camembert Electrique, 6 songs from the new album, and one each from ‘Angel’s Egg’ and ‘You’. Not just that, but versions of ‘Master Builder’, ‘Selene’ and the new classic ‘The Unspeakable…’ clock in individually as probably their longest ever versions.

6. Kavus Torabi is a strikingly charismatic frontman.

It’s a big ask replacing Daevid Allen as a visual presence, but it’s difficult to take your eyes off him, even when others are doing their thing.

7. It might be time to drop ‘I’ve Been Stoned Before’

I’ve always thought this was a bit of a one-joke song, even when performed by Daevid. Whilst it’s great to hear great swathes of ‘Camembert Electrique’ and no complaints in particular about hearing ‘Selene’ and ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ ad nauseam, surely ‘Dynamite’ would suit this band much more?

8. Fabio Golfetti is a very humble bloke

I’ve been writing to him since the early days of Facelift in the 90s, ended up providing the sleevenotes for the CD release of ‘Glissando Spirit’ from the Brazilian version of the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, and finally got to meet him during the summer. He’s a fantastic glissando guitar player, an admirable foil for the more zany antics of Kavus Torabi and along with Dave Sturt is currently the glue which binds…

9. Cheb Nettles might be the most innovative singer of the lot

Not only an extraordinary drummer, but the wild falsetto scat singing at the end of ‘Insert Your Prophecy’ in unison with the other instrument lines could well be the vocal highlight of the album.

10. Maybe Ian East and Fabio Golfetti would like to jazz out a little.

The current set is dominated by thrashy guitar numbers (understandably given the guitar-heavy lineup) but there was a palpable sense of release on ‘The Unspeakable Stands’ and ‘Eat That Phone Book’ for the sax in particular when given the chance to noodle…