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Sunday, November 19, 2000

An Uncanny Attraction

Debbie took me into Newcastle yesterday for the first time in weeks. At the end of a couple of hours shopping for a birthday present for my mother I was totally knackered. We got the bus back to Whitley Bay and I felt like I'd just gone ten rounds with Lennox Lewis.

Once in the house, the indefatigable Debbie whipped around doing housework but not before handing me a cd of Charles Ives. What a girl ! So much of last night was spent listening to Ives worrying the orchestra and then watching Jane Horrocks go through an impressive array of torchy diva's in the well observed movie Little Voice.

Today there's a biting chill in the air today despite the autumnal sunshine. Blue skies which gradual fade up to yellow / white make a for perfect picture at the end of our street.

Household tension around the kids and the chores spill out into argument and the declaration of marshal law. Tanks are duly parked on lawns and the mutinous population quelled and rent asunder.

Listening to Larks Tongues In Aspic Part Four from the Heavy ConstruKction album at some considerable volume today. Devastating music which sounds like it's finally found itself. The studio version which was dramatic enough doesn't even get close to the enormity of this track. There's a depth and space on the HC version which is simply absent from the studio album.

The rush I get from hearing this kind of Crimson isn't exactly pleasant. There's an almost hideous strength within the music which exerts an uncanny attraction and holds you spellbound with a mixture of awe and alarm but also exhilaration. Like looking over a deep drop and getting a rush of vertigo - nausea and excitement all in one go. Does anyone else get this ?

Tonight Debbie and I worked out our plans over the Christmas holiday period and we've decided to have some kind of party around New Year's Eve. Everyone's invited so get it in your diary NOW ! (oh and bring a bottle)

Friday, November 17, 2000

I Am Not That Sid Smith

Feeling tons better now that my synapses are at last firing again. Blues skies and calm seas join in the celebrations.

BBC Radio Three's excellent music in China series has been playing a wonderful version of Terry Riley's In C but performed on traditional Chinese instruments. It almost sounds like the piece has found its spiritual home.

Many years ago I was part of a workshop group and we gamely attempted Riley's In C. It was truly terrible to hear our version but great fun to play. I tackled the bass end marimba part with mucho gusto but sadly without much regard or clue to the vital pulse around which the piece revolves.

And if you think that was bad you should have heard our attempt at the utterly baffling but great to look at score of Stockhausen's Plus Minus.

Speaking of the baffling, I ran a search for something on http://www.allmusic.com/ the other day and then in a moment of playful egotism I ran a search on my own name. I was gobsmacked when the result came back with the legend;

Sid Smith worked with Greg Allman (photography - 1997) / Walter Hawking (bass 1998) / Brain Police (drums 2000) Ian Boddy (bass 1981)

Well only one of those is true for me at least. Amazingly enough it then goes on to provide a link to Ian's 1981 album Elements Of Chance, providing personnel and track details.

Blimey - you never know what's out there do you ? speaking of which. . .

Does anyone know the whereabouts of a video or TV broadcast of the League Of Gentlemen in Leeds 1980 (possibly at the Futurama festival) ? The makers of the forthcoming Prog-rock documentary to be screened next year on Channel Four are trying to track down a copy. Answers on a postcard or to the usual address . .

Thursday, November 16, 2000

Review: Heavy ConstruKction

Here's a review of Heavy ConstruKction which won't be appearing in the UK based Record Collector magazine.

King Crimson
Heavy ConstruKction
DGM0013
CD1 (70.34)
CD2 (46.07)
CD3 (67.44)

Given the prog excesses of yesteryear you might be forgiven for a swift rolling of the eyes when you read that King Crimson have just released a live triple CD set. But before you start worrying about bombast, arcane lyrical imagery and more Roger Dean than the naked eye can bear, the good news is that the only concept on offer here is value for money and some genuinely startling music.

Although their first and best known album released in 1969 almost single-handedly ushered in the dawn of prog era, King Crimson (and it's convenor guitarist Robert Fripp) always ploughed a darker, more dangerous groove than the stylised cod-baroque curlicues of their contemporaries.

And whereas some have opted for cash-cow re-unions and greatest hits package tours of late, Crimson have maintained an unflinching regard for the often puzzling and downright problematic in matters of music.

The first two CD's chronicle Crimson's most recent European tour with most of the material largely consisting of a punchy, visceral (and consequently more thrilling) rendering of their last studio album, The Construkction Of Light.

In addition to this metal-edged aural souvenir, the second CD also contains video footage of the band in action whilst the third CD is given over to an electrifying assemblage of live improvisations which proudly shows Crimson's continuing love affair with the unexpected.

Forget all the received wisdom about Crimson being cold and difficult - above everything else this Crimson really rocks, letting rip with a stunning array of string-driven pyrotechnics from long-standing Crim-vet Adrian Belew. He's ably abetted by relative newcomers, touch guitarist Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastelotto, who whips up a bewildering salvo of digital percussives and samples which lend the band a leaner, dn'b / dance tinged flavour to the available palette of sounds.

Robert Fripp continues to be one of the UK's best kept secret guitar legends and his capacity to eviscerate a melody and generally savage the living daylights out of an musical opportunity remains as sharp as ever and well to the fore on this release.

Of course it's this kind of cussedness which has taken the band in more recent years increasingly to the outer edges of critical approval and mass commercial appeal. But for those who are prepared to put some effort into their listening, this is a rewarding and at times exhilarating snapshot of a band which continues to embrace evolution and chart those areas where the dinosaurs fear to tread.

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

What A Count!

After this morning’s character-building spine-twisting session, I do the collapso (a supine version of the fandango). As my heart pounds and the sweat cascades from my ample flesh, I reflect how much good this is all doing me. The extended period of back-lock has also coincided with a period where the creative wind has been well and truly knocked out of my sails. So as I increase the exercise and movement regime, so too my brain starts to turn over once again.

Sitting at the PC (i.e. to write) is difficult and requires plenty of breaks – stretching and laying down on the floor – but my head is beginning to clear. This might also be something to do with the reducing amount of pain killers which up until recently have been vital for getting me through the day.

After the rigours of the morning, I listen to a short programme documenting the history of slang and the work of one Eric Partridge who in 1937 published a dictionary of slang in the English language. He then spent a further 40 years constantly revising the tome, taking in the ever changing verbal landscape. I was heartened to hear recognition of Viz Comics’ immensely entertaining Profanosaurus. This is a vast and mind-boglingly expansive collection of sexual innuendo the vast majority of which are totally unsuitable for re-publication on this diary.

Puerile, pathetic and unfailingly hilarious, the Profanosaurus was acknowledged this morning as keeping alive Partridge’s worthy tradition of documenting the fashions and foibles of different generations and how they allude and otherwise deploy their euphemism’s (oo-er missus).

There are two people I know who keep a copy of this slim volume. Separated by over 300 miles both John Kimber and Chris Wilson keep their respective copies in their respective water closets which seems somehow appropriate.

I notice the US presidential election race has now ground to a crawl and the outcome appears to be in the lap of the lawyers. The UK media now moves from yappy excitement to smug, holier than thou pronouncements along the lines of “it couldn’t happen here”. There also a growing view that Gore should do the right thing and concede gracefully while he can.

This kind of knife-edge political drama does have its historical precedents never mind more than its fair share of hysterical presidents elected under a cloud.

Consider this extract from Seymour Hersh’s 1997 political best-seller The Dark Side Of Camelot which chronicles the dank under-belly of the Kennedy mythos;

The 1960 presidential election was a cliff-hanger in which John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by a final plurality of 118,000 out of more than 68 million votes. Since then, journalists and historians have raised questions about Kennedy’s victory – by fewer than 9,400 votes – in Illinois, one of the last states to report and the one that gave Kennedy his dramatic early morning triumph.

The Illinois election was quickly mired in charges of vote fraud, with Republicans accusing Democrats, led by Mayor Richard Daley, of rigging the returns in Chicago. It was widely known that the mayor, since taking office in 1955, had been controlling returns in state and local elections in Chicago, and that in 1960 he had pressured his precinct captains to produce votes for Kennedy. The allegations of vote fraud did not faze Daley, the archetype of the big-city political boss. He stoically dismissed the charges, telling reporters“This is a Republican conspiracy to deny the presidency to the man who was elected by the people”

There are those who are saying that Gore should stand down before he is fatally tarred with the reprehensible charge that he is simply a bad loser who isn’t playing the game.

Some commentators contrast his pugnacious and recalcitrant stance with that of the civic gallantry displayed by Richard M. Nixon, who gracefully conceded to Kennedy, leaving his (expletive deleted) dignity and political reputation in place for the 1968 run. However, lets not forget that the Republicans in 1960 smelt a rat and went on to file charges of vote fraud against the Democrats in eleven states and sent high-powered trouble-shooting missions to seven of the eleven – New Jersey, Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, South Carolina and Pennsylvania - to try and substantiate their allegations of vote rigging.

All of this pondering on the presidency has drawn a comment on the DGM guestbook from John Smallwood.

Dear Sid,
There are many reasons I enjoy reading your diary. American anti-conservative diatribe is not one of them. Yes, Ian Wallace's only Conservative friend is rising to the bait.

Hi there John. No bait intended but thanks for engaging.

My wife is English, and she happens to be at our house in England at the moment. Each day we compare BBC commentary with the latest from American sources. We agree that even Radio 4 has its own spin on things.

Very true John. The BBC’s capacity for spin is not confined to recent political events. The radio was vital in broadcasting Government propaganda and deliberate mis-reporting of events during the General strike in 1926. This was done for reasons of “national interest” i.e. the political expediency of the day. John continues

In spite of the fact that I spend as much time in the UK as almost any American, I am ill-equipped to comment on British politics. I am just as ill-equipped to comment on the status of current American election, because things are changing from minute to minute.

I accept your point about a rapidly situation making it difficult to pass definitive commentary. I also acknowledge that I have no specialist knowledge of the complex American political system.

Yet from where I slump, I see federal state officials (they work for Jeb Bush don’t they ?) attempting to stymie the manual recount via procedural mechanisms and the Republican legal teams contending that such manual counting isn’t reliable.

Yet these understandable manoeuvrings conveniently overlook the two different machine-counted totals which the allegedly reliable machine system has produced so far.

And though they both give Bush the lead I think when you’ve got as many as 19,000 spoilt papers then it starts to get awful creaky.

But one thing I'm sure of, and that is although I voted for George W. Bush, I'd be just as proud to support Al Gore if he won the election. And I'm sure that most Americans feel the same way.

Remember the comment by a member of Monty Python, which was, roughly, "the thing about American politics is that the Republicans are just like the British Conservative Party, and the Democrats are just like the British Conservative Party".

How true, how true. New Labour are pretty much like the Conservative Party as well but don’t get me started on that one. Don’t think from my commentary so far that I’m a fan of Gore. Nothing could be further from the truth. In some respects the real story of this election is Ralph Nader.

However, I maintain that if it has wings like a duck, webbed feet like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck , then it is very likely to be a duck. Whichever way it goes this election, like the one in 1960, is most certainly ducked up.

Monday, November 13, 2000

A Lycra-clad Elephant Stuck In Quicksand

Spoke to Ian Wallace on the phone today. He’s at his dad’s house in London and has quite a busy schedule lined up over the next couple of weeks. We had hoped to meet up for a bit of a natter but my knacked back has put paid to that.

Additionally, the journey time to London from Newcastle is currently taking six hours which I just wouldn’t be able to handle at all.

He’s got some clippings and bits of IW / KC memorabilia which might be good for the book. So we’ve agreed to get in touch with each other next week and see if we can sort out some kind of hand over. It’d be good to meet up in person after talking for hours and exchanging e-mails and the like.

My youngest son Joseph is clearly under the weather but insisting on going to school. He’s fighting some kind of bug – his glands are up and his face is a red as a beetroot with a slight temperature. We’ll see how he gets on today.

Doing back exercises today on the floor and looking like a lycra-clad elephant stuck in quicksand. On all fours, gently moving up and down with my not inconsiderable buttocks aimed at the stars above. I don’t know how good it is for my back but it’s a sure shot way of getting rid of that early morning unwanted wind.

This version of step aerobics for fat bastards is not designed with dignity in mind and after ten to fifteen minutes of this each morning I’m knackered. By the time I peel myself out of the lycra catsuit I’m totally banjaxed.

Saturday, November 11, 2000

A Funeral For Friend's Father

More rain again today after lots overnight. Today I got a taxi along to Whitley Bay Crematorium overlooking the sea front and St.Mary’s light-house. Stan Cowgill (the father of my best man, Steve) was being cremated today after a short illness.

Although I’d only met Stan a couple of times, he was a nice bloke and full of fun and as we all filed out of the place The Ying Tong Song by the Goons was playing. A nice touch which seemed to say more about Stan than all the polite words the vicar-blokey managed.

Steve and the family obviously very upset but pleased by the numerous friends and well-wishers who had braved the dreadful weather. There was a reception afterwards in one of the small hotels and it was there that I chatted to Steve. At times like this the conversation is kept light and there’s an awkwardness about whether one should talk about the dearly departed.

As Steve and his brother Peter mentioned their good fortune that the whole family had been able to get together at their parents recent golden wedding anniversary. The moment clearly held a deep resonance for them.

It prompted me to think how disparate my own family has become over the years, not so much through feuding but more indifference, indolence and drift.

Looking at the news of the American Presidential election I was surprised to see that Bush wasn’t quite home and dry yet. As I type, Florida is on a re-count with Gore now having withdrawn his earlier concession call to Bush. Looks like it’s going to be tighter than the 1960 election which saw a young Kennedy into the Whitehouse – mind you that was after old Joe had bought a few votes.

Listening to. . .

Stanley Clarke album with Tony Williams
The new DiN album by Surface 10 (go to the DiN link at the top of the page)
Swoon by Prefab Sprout
MonkJack by Jack Bruce
Speaking of Jack Bruce does anybody out there have a copy of Harmony Row ? If so please get in touch.

Friday, November 10, 2000

Florida Counts

Scene III Minuet of the Sons of Job and Their Wives (Andante con motto).
“There came a great wind and smote the four corners of the house and it fell upon the young men and they are dead”. Enter Job’s (seven) sons and their wives in front of the curtain. They hold golden wine cups in their left hands. The black curtain draws back and shows an interior. Enter Satan. The dance stops suddenly. The dancers fall dead.

Now that’s what I call a sleeve note.

The above extract was lifted from Ates Orga’s liner to the Naxos edition of Vaughan Williams’ Job – A Masque for Dancing (£4.99 at your local HMV store. And if you think that’s dramatic you should hear the music. I kid you not when I say that my blood ran cold at the point where Satan is revealed as party-pooper in chief and the music sounds like a terrible landslide consuming everything in its path, with the orchestra blaring out a truly dread-inspiring cascade. The mark of a true artist.

On an entirely different level but still as equally valid are the feelings invoked by my recent recollections of Harmony Row by Jack Bruce. It was around 1971 or 72 when I first heard that particular album.

As with so many other groups at that time, it was my sister, Lesley, who introduced me to Jack Bruce and specifically Harmony Row. With it’s impressive double gatefold sleeve (a bugger for getting the album out of) the whole package felt both weighty and substantial.

But that was nothing compared to the experience of becoming entranced by the music. The quality of Bruce’s voice was quite extraordinary to my ears. There was a certain gruffness and slightly chipped aspect to it, yet it still managed to soar into the heavens or plumb the depths of the soul as the lyric or song demanded.

We hear so many pieces of music throughout our lives yet only relatively a few connect with us in such a dramatic way. That subtle and utterly mysterious interaction between form, content and performance and it’s effect upon us in a particular time, place and set of circumstances, can make for some of the most unique and moving experiences of our lives.

I don’t count myself as ascribing to any particular religious feelings but I know I’ve come close to experiencing something similar when all those factors come into play. This goes beyond the tingle factor as important as that can be. It’s completely something else.

Blimey - I’d better lay off these pain killers for a while. . .

Speaking of which, my back is now letting me get up and about. This enforced lay-off has been quite a dark time and yet I’ve found new things within me to think about. In a recent e-mail, Robert suggested that the important thing is what lead up to the bad back. Now there’s a thought.

The parallel between the Kennedy / Nixon showdown and the stand-off in Florida continues to abound in the UK media. The BBC news carried reports that there was now widespread concern that huge groups of votes (as many as 19,000) were spoiled papers.

Huge groups of what may be huge voters (for all I know) were confused by the mis-printed ballot papers themselves and one report mentioned that although you thought you voted for Gore you ended up punching right-wing religious fundamental cutie-pie, Pat Buchannan. Now I’m all for punching Pat Buchannan 19,000 times but not in that kind of way. I’d want my money back if I came home with that one by mistake.

Of course all of this claim and counter claim becomes important when the dulcet tones of Radio Four tells me that Bush’s lead over Gore is currently a couple of hundred. Whichever way you look at it, the whole thing has cast a doubt on the efficacy of the Florida's voting machinery.

Hell, if I was the governor of the state of Florida I’d demand a complete re-run simply to make sure that everything was well above board and perhaps more importantly seen to be above board.

Hell, if I was governor of Florida that’d make George W my brother ! Even worse - that’d make George ma Pa !!!

It's rare that I'd ever pass up the chance of being in close proximity to one Bush never mind two but one this occasion I’ll definately pass. Better to stick with being the Governor of the State of the Badbacklands thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Bush "Resignates" With The People

More rain and more flooding today. At one point today I couldn’t see across the other side of the street due to the appalling rain. We’re very lucky of course compared to some people and for this at least we should be thankful. It’s been interesting hearing some of the politicians blaming the government for the chaos on the railway, in our schools and now our weather.

The myopic lack of forward planning and thinking hasn’t just happened overnight. It’s taken years for things to get into such a sorry state as this. But to hear some of these people, its as though all of these ills have occurred because of having Tony Blair in office. Though no great fan of Blair, I hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost. Having William Hague (leader of the Tory Party) utter the usual vacuous tosh is bad enough but what makes it worse is when Michael Portillo (shadow Chancellor) starts saying that the Tories will not only cut direct taxes but increase public spending – and a monkey will fly out of my butt !

It looks like America will elect George W Bush as the next president. Although pundits say it’s too close to call. I have a feeling in my infected water that Bush will get in – more’s the pity. Radio Three’s critical review Night Wave had a funny (but some what snobby) take on Bush’s grasp of the language. Not necessarily the English language but something very close to it.

Bill Buford (who used to edit Granta) highlighted many moments of foot in mouth and amongst my favourite was Bush complaining about the fact that too many imports are now coming from overseas. Also, that his policy on tax cuts “resignated” with the Great American public. And with that thought resignating in my mind, I’m off to bed, Late Junction and the bliss of oblivion in that order.

The last three records played on Late Junction have been A baroque orchestra playing an arrangement of Zappa’s Uncle Meat, followed by some Bach played by Keith Jarrett finished off with The Battle Of Evermore by Led Zep and Sandy Denny. Now that’s what I call eclectic.

Monday, November 06, 2000

A Nod From The Past

It seems like its been raining for ages and there’s more than a whiff of panic in the media coverage of the numerous floods across the UK. Each news report seems to be exclusively populated by sodden reporters who’ve drawn the short straw and have been dispatched to shout into the microphone whilst standing somewhere very wet indeed.

With many rivers rising to record levels there’s no doubting the dramatic nature of the news particularly when people are having to leave there homes. Even one or two bits of Newcastle have been affected as little streams swell up and burst through their meagre banks. The rain has been unrelenting and when I limped up to the top of the street to drop my urine sample off at the Doctor’s surgery I was absolutely drenched through.

Over the week-end I heard from Alan Clarke – not the recently deceased Tory maverick and diarist but an old chum of mine from the late 70’s. Back then Alan was a performance poet of outstanding calibre and his presence at anti-Thatcher demo’s and benefits was mandatory and hugely enjoyable.

At that time he was known on the agit-pop circuit as Nod and he produced a couple of cassettes and even a single which I believe I played on. After a lengthy sojourn he’s back writing and has posted some of his work up on the MP3 site.

In touch also with PJ Crook regarding her impending exhibition at the Ad Hoc Gallery in January next year.

E-mail from Ian Boddy who tells me that The Wire magazine are likely to run a sampler of music from the DiN label as their cover give-away CD. I’ve e-mailed Ian some suggestions as to what might make a good running order for the compilation. Ian tells that the DiN sales are going extremely well at the moment and the tie-in with wire can only help. It’s quite an achievement to think that the label will have released ten albums in its first two years.

Sunday, November 05, 2000

The View From Where I Slump

After all the rain the last two mornings have been quite beautiful with clear blue skies. The little white day boats cut through the calm seas on their way to and from the tiny port of North Shields. The days of large fishing fleets are long gone and these days the catch is a dwindling amount of shellfish.

In the UK the farming lobby is very powerful (the Conservative Party has more than a few land-owners and farmers amongst its number)and as a result there has always been a generous amount of public subsidy from Government and European sources. The lobby does not exist for the fishing community and accordingly same cushion has not been available on anything like the same scale. The result is over-fishing, reduced catches and the disappearance of yet another traditional industry.

At the doctor’s on Friday who seems pleased with the ongoing but slow recovery of the old back. Slow but sure seems to be the message. I can now sit up and I’m very mobile which is something of a novelty as I’ve spent the last four weeks doing a very credible impersonation of Quasimodo.

What has been really difficult to get my head around is the degree to which the wind has been taken out of my sails. I feel as flat as a pancake and have little in the way of mental or creative energy. I’m off-schedule with the book and way behind with the day job. From where I slump at the moment, they both look like very big hills, not so much to climb and conquer but just to get back to where I was before the back went.

Visitors from work have been frequent and though such arrivals are well-meant they only add to the sense of stress and anxiety that a lengthy lay-off work provokes.

Once again, many thanks for the get well soon messages and other e-mails which have arrived. I’ve not really been up to doing much in the way of e-correspondence so your patience is appreciated.

Been listening to lots of composers such as Britten, Bliss, Ives and the like. All big meaty orchestral stuff and great stirring themes. The BBC’s Radio Three has been a godsend these last few weeks. Three cheers for public broadcasting. The breadth of choice is staggering and there’s the joy of discovering new pieces of music on an almost hourly basis. And it’s all free !

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