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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Family Life

Debbie and Dude

Dude and Doris chill out

Everyone pigs out in the green room

Monday, May 30, 2005

Scary Stuff

Dude and Bob, our houseguests depart. It’s been a real treat having them stay. We had a memorable Saturday night eating a nice meal and discussing conspiracy culture whilst listening to old Donovan albums.

Dude is inclined to believe that Princess Diana was bumped off on the orders of the Royal family. It was her first thought when the news broke about the car accident in Paris all those years ago. Alys joins in the fun believing the moon landings never happened and it was all faked in a studio somewhere.

As someone who believes the official explanations that a) Diana was the victim of a traffic accident and that Neil, Buzz and the rest of those guys took that one small step, I find it fascinating that they regard this as an establishment smoke-screen designed to hide the truth from us poor dupes.

What are the limits of conspiracy we wondered? How far and how much is one prepared to believe before credibility is stretched to snapping point? Dude is happy to believe that Diana’s death was ordered by the Royals because the princess knew “too much” and was going to spill the beans.

Dude accepted that she didn’t know what that “too much” might consist of only that it was so devastating to the status quo that Diana had to be silenced at all costs. Where’s the evidence for all this stuff though I asked. And then we were off down alleyways of rumours, innuendo, supposition, hearsay and paranoia.

However, Dude snorted with contempt when I asked her if she subscribed to David Icke’s views that the Royal family are shape-shifting liazards from another world who eat babies in bizarre clandestine rituals with the likes of George Bush (Snr & Jr.), Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton.

“That’s just paranoid tosh” she laughed. Of course she's right. The ex-footballer who once claimed he was Jesus is clearly one step short of a staircase but that doesn't stop me from repeating William Burroughs’ dry observation that a paranoid is someone in possession of all the facts.

Writers such as Thomas Pynchon, James Ellroy and Don DeLillo are past-masters at charting the hidden meanings locked within the everyday; decoding the semiotics of deception and sleight of hand, the movements of vested Corporate interests and lone nuts. Once people get a taste for this stuff it becomes unquenchable. How else do we account for the phenomenal world-wide success of the execrable Da Vanci Code by Dan Brown? As a society we seem increasingly happy to set aside healthy scepticism in favour of spooks and shadow-play.

And sometimes it’s easy to see why; Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone?

It’s a beautiful day in Whitley Bay; blue skies, bright sunshine and the enticing waft of Dave and Julie’s Barbie revving up in their front garden. After a morning sent going nowhere in front of a keyboard, my frustration and boredom levels are reaching critical point. Then Julie rings and invites Debbie and myself over for a natter. I’m off over there like a greyhound out of trap.

Julie with her weapon of mass distraction. . .

We sit in their front garden. The view at the end of the street shows blue waters and white boats of various shapes and sizes, seagulls circle and planes drone serenely overhead. Dolly, Dave and Julies dawg, barks at the birds as they infringe what the dawg obviously regards as its airspace.
Inevitably, this being England and situated near to the sea, it rains but only very lightly.

The real problem is the bracing breeze coming up from seafront. What had been playful whilst the sun was out was now becoming boisterous and a bit rougher than you’d like it. Julie whips indoors and returns appropriately togged up.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Still Posting (After All These Years)

Yesterday I started transferring entries from the old DGM and Krimson News diaries into a brand new Blog called Postcards From The Yellow Room. I completely under-estimated how long it takes to simply copy individual entries from one format to another. I assumed a couple of hours would see the thing completed. At the end of the morning I’d got as far as January 2000 and had to give up as the fingers on my right hand were sore from all that cutting and pasting.

I’ve been blogging since 1999. Six years on, I never thought I’d still be posting. Nor did I think that anyone would want to read the stuff once it slipped off the screen and away into cyberspace and beyond. However, I’m often asked if a review or an account of some aspect from the diary is available in archive format. Not being web-savvy such a facility has been out of my grasp. Up until now that is.

Reading through some of this stuff made me wince. Some of it made me laugh and some of it brought back treasures I’d forgotten I'd lost. Occasionally there’s an insightful comment or a neat turn of phrase. It’s also about coping with depression; the black dog is a perpetual visitor and the diary has been a way of keeping him at bay.

If that sounds a bit too heavy, well don’t worry. Mostly it’s about being a dad, an aspiring writer and a flawed human being trying to figure out what’s going on. In amongst the hair-washing and breakfast menu’s there’s an account of writing and researching In The Court of King Crimson as well as numerous music and film reviews and commentary on political and cultural life spanning six years.

There are gaps in the diary. Sometimes it's been the fault of the server and sometimes it's been down to good old human error. I meant to backup – I just never got around to it.

For the most part I’ve resisted editing the entries although I reserve the right to do so, on the grounds of taste, decency or embarrassment.

The Sunday Times ran a piece called In Prog They Trust.
Looks like Van der Graaf have made prog respectable again. I see Radiohead are included in the list. I've never really heard the prog connection myself.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Something Ticking This Way Comes

This morning I was looking at various blog providers as a means of getting the Sod Smote archives up on line. Being a techie dunce I found the various interfaces fairly easy to use although the one that worked best for me was Having said that it wasn’t immediately clear to me how far back one can archive. More digging required I suspect. If anyone uses this system and knows the answer to the question then please get in touch.

Tonight Dude and Bob arrive to join us for the Bank Holiday weekend. The main reason for Dude’s visit is to see Doris, who is recovering from her recent eye operation but is very low in herself. Having been dogged by chronic bronchitis in the last few months, Doris is struggling to cope with the reality of being infirm and all the fears encompassed within that realisation. I don’t think any of us are prepared for this outcome. We imagine ourselves prevailing, believing that something is bound to turn up, that whatever happens we will somehow be alright.

In my head I am permanently in my twenties; thin as a spelk, super fit and with lots of hair. Whereas in reality I’m fatter than the biggest piece of chocolate cake you ever did see and have more hair sprouting from the end of my chin than resides at the top of my head. Whereas once I could run for the bus without a second thought nowadays I often need a hand to get my trousers on.

The clock of inevitable corruption ticks away inside us. Some hear the alarm and get the wake up call whilst others snooze and dream through it all.

Listening to. . .
Another Day On Earth by Brian Eno

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Harmoniums Again

An email from Ian McDonald reminds me that the wonderful Dr.Robert by The Beatles features the Abbey Road harmonium, whilst Tan Mitsugo offers this eclectic gem for our considerations. “I'd like to recommend Hermeto Pascoal's "Tiruliruli" and "Vai Mais, Garotinho" from his album called "Lagoa da Canoa Municipio de Arapiraca" (1984). On these tracks, he took snippets from a football announcer's excited shouts, and made them into a "song" by transcibing and harmonizing their pitches. And the usage of harmonium is quite effective on them. (One technical benefit: both tracks are less than a minute. So, they could be a good filler for the compilation!). Many thanks Tan – that stuff sounds very intriguing.

Tenuous it may be but the mention of football brings me to this evening’s news broadcasts. I gather from the coverage that Liverpool have a won a competition cup. The scenes of joy and jubilation from Liverpool as crowds flocked to the streets to sing “You Never Wore Cologne” were heart-warming indeed but did it need to occupy the first ten minutes of the programme? And did we really need the numerous check-backs to breathlessly tell us fact-filled morsels such as “The crowd are really standing on their feet”?

Tom’s contriteness over his recent transgression has coalesced into a crusty huff if this morning was anything to go by. My mother who called round today asked if such a ban on Tom’s internet access was entirely fair and appropriate. After she’d gone I gave it some further thought. My sense of it is that when you put a foot wrong by mistake then some generosity is needed. If it is a wilful act of deception then something sterner is required to let the offender know how wide of the mark they are and that every action brings with it consequences and repercussions.

Untitled lithograph by Gillian Ayers

On BBC2’s erratic arts strand, The Culture Show, they featured an appraisal of Gillian Ayers. In Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery one of her vast canvasses hung in the main entrance for several years. Describing her work as abstract doesn’t quite cover it really.

Her worlds of vivid, jarring colours have such a wildness about them it can be vaguely disorientating trying to follow their twists and turns. When I visited the gallery it would often take me twenty minutes or so to get past her painting.

I love the celebration and liveliness that she puts into every brush stroke, daub, fingerprint, smudge and smear.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Teenage Daydream...Middle-Aged Angst

Teenagers live in an altogether different world in which time runs as a reliably as a Dali clock. Teenagers are fickle, they are devoted; they are fragile, they are invulnerable, they may well be able to explain the complex politics of the Balkans that led to World War One, yet are incapable of understanding that wearing a coat when it is raining is often a good way of keeping dry.

When Tom’s chums turned up at the door asking to see him I was immediately concerned. “He went out telling me he was going around to your house Taylor-Jay” I told one of them. So if he wasn’t with them, then where the hell was he? Calm down, I told myself. Tom isn’t dumb. He’s a clever lad who can probably look after himself. However, as I whisked the pancake mix I’d made earlier in the day, the worms of doubt burrowed their way through my confidence. Half an hour later there was still no Tom. I finished cooking the pancakes and assembled the troops, who eagerly sat down to tuck in. I was of course feeling sick with apprehension, an addled state made worse by the reappearance of the Tom Chums asking if he’d returned.

I went out looking for him up the back lanes, over to the tennis courts, the shelter overlooking the bowling green and finally to the promenade with its view down the rocks, the lower promenade and the sea. The evening was bright and agreeably warm, the air percolating with a light breeze. Traffic was light, the main rush hour having long gone. Hardly any dog-walkers, joggers and other similarly undesirable types were in evidence. I don’t know if this sense of quiet was calming or unnerving. Part of me felt Tom would be fine whilst another imagined the horrors that might be engulfing him; it’s children who fall foul of road traffic accidents it’s teenagers are most likely to be victims of crime than other section of society.

Eventually, two small figures emerged from the rocks around the headland by Promontory Terrace. It was then I realised just how badly I probably need to have my eyes tested. One looked like Tom but might not have been. Stifling the urge to shout and wave like a madman, I watched the couple make their slow, dawdling way along. Once it became obvious that one of the figures was indeed Tom I felt the relief wash over me and the stain of uncertainty instantly vanish. He’d been AWOL for about an hour and a half. Ninety minutes where I didn’t have a clue where he was or who he was with.

Calming myself down, I walked back home and waited for Tom to arrive. The conversation we had was straight and to the point. This wasn’t the first occasion Tom has failed to tell me where he was going or return within an agreed time. The person he was with was a girl called Sam. They bumped into each other and decided to take a look at the sea. Needless to say I’ve grounded him for not letting me know about the change of plan. So no computer gaming or MSN for seven whole days.

On reflection this event may not have been all bad. Tonight up in the yellow room he’s sat reading a book – part two of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was too worried to eat the food I’d made for people AND went out walking around looking for Tom thus exercise and fasting which can’t be a bad thing can it? Talk about turning a disadvantage around or putting a positive spin on things!

Listening To . . .
Poncho and Lefty by Townes Van Zandt
Fire And Water by Free
Ringo by Ringo

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Otis Court Out

My attention has returned to the rights of oppressed minorities and those who dare to stick up for them as I read reports of the trail of the Ledbury Eight- the stout defenders of the British way of life.

It’s a cruel and terrible thing watching a brutal and uncaring regime imposing its autocratic will upon a people left so anaemic and weakened by the pernicious democratic deficit.

After bravely standing up to fight against prejudice, the state has rounded them up for a show trail that would put Stalin to shame. The fighters for freedom and expression include a horse breeder from Gloucester, a professional polo player and close friend of Princes William and Harry, an ex-professional huntsman, now bloodstock manager with the Brightwells auction house, a director general of the Equestrian Trade Association (known as ETA!), another professional polo player who plays with the Prince of Wales on the Highgrove Team.

And just in case anyone might be thinking there’s a certain degree of class bias going on, the authorities have also rounded up a chef who is reputed to have once worked at Buckingham Palace, someone who likes dogs so much that he looks after 80 of them, and the son of a rock singer and society heiress. It would be difficult to think of a more representative cross-section of society than this bunch.

Anyhoo, these brave souls who vowed to unseat the government before the general election are on trail you will recall for their storming of the houses of parliament last year. These heroes of the browbeaten and subjugated everywhere are facing the harshest penalties that this cruel and vindictive regime can mete out; fines and community orders in the Home Counties gulag. Gosh. The sacrifice they are making on our behalf is truly astounding.

The case continues (as does the crawling of my skin).

Still in search of Harmonium heaven??? Why Tim Friese-Green’s superb Heligoland album of the same name should sort you out. Dick Heath writes to tell me that he’s started a thread over at progressive rock forum. Several people have contributed coming up with inspired choices such as Deep Purple’s Blind, Procul Harum’s Nothing I didn’t know and of course the deeply wonderfully Gryphon. All of which goes to prove that people do like a list.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Now That's What I Call Harmonium; Update 3

Remco Helbers, the ex-Stick now modern-day sitar master reminds me that Talk Talk utilised a harmonium and of course the wonderful Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – a name that also cropped up in a post from Dick Heath.

Hanspeter writes: “ah, the harmonium! always a good wheeze when the heart longs for that groovy gothic horror waltz. Let me direct your attention to The (not very beloved by you, I know) Incredible String Band. They used the harmonium quite often - I especially like it on the Heron-numbers "World's They Rise And Fall", "Talking of The End" and "Red Hair" on "Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air".

Whilst Jonathan Dann observes that “Such a collection wouldn't be complete without a track from Anthony Phillips' back catalogue - "Harmonium In The Dust" which is on his first Private Parts & Pieces album. In Anthony's own words from the album's sleeve notes, it features "my dear old lumbering harmonium set upon by fiercesome stratocaster".
Astute fans of Peter Sellers' classic album "Songs For Swinging Sellers" will undoubtedly spot the source of the title for this track.”

Bob Gorry is moved to tell me that “Henry Threadgill featured harmonium/accordion player Tony Cedras with his group Make a Move on the disc Where's your Cup from the mid 90's. They did a bunch of live dates too that were fabulous. Mr. Cedras has also worked with Paul Simon, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Ziggy Marley and others, although not always on harmonium.”

Chris Wilson (mad, bad but a lot of fun to know) urges me not to leave out “The Post War Dream from Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut! And Hare Krishna Mantra and Govinda from the Radha Krishna Temple album! And Peace Will Come by Melanie!”

Then in a dark vein he goes on to say “there is a church on the way to Chollerford, St Oswald's, with harmonium - there is rarely anyone else there and so you can pump the pedals and play the thing! Would be great to drive up there one weekend with a few cans, eh? See what I mean? Mad, bad but fun to know.

Aymeric Leroy, all-round Canterbury good-egg and sleevenote god suggests "What about Univers Zero ? They used harmonium a lot around the time of "Heresie" (1979) and "Ceux Du Dehors" (1981). Especially the all-time chamber prog classic "Dense" which I urge you to listen to if you haven't heard it yet..."

After admitting that she’s had a good giggle at the thought of such a compilation, Judy Dyble writes “Don't forget my first single with Fairport Convention 'If I had A Ribbon Bow' full of harmonium, that one. I played it, one of the others had to work the bellows, my legs were too short to reach them...... Hmm maybe best left forgotten in fact. (I still like it though..)” And so do I.

Finally (for now) we move to one of Debbie’s favourite bands, The Catherine Wheel and their Wishville album – particularly the track, Idle Life. A cracking little album that found its way into our lives a while back.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Look Out

After staying with us overnight, Debbie's mum left for her flat yesterday. I couldn't believe how good her eye looked. Slightly bloodshot and a minor bit of swelling. She was in a chipper mood, helped no doubt, by the rather fine weather we're having at the moment.

Debbie and I took a walk down to the end of our street this morning to take in a view that was more Mediterranean than North Sea. Gorgeous sunlight, bright blue skies, sparks of light dazzling us on the tide. On the horizon, fishing boats from Cullercoats check their pots; trim white sails of yachts slicing the wind. Across the rim of our view, a packed ferry prowls its way eastwards towards Amsterdam or Bergen or Gothenburg.

Over to the north, the lighthouse looks resplendent, visitors crossing the causeway to take advantage of the numerous rock pools that are left behind at low tide. Beyond it, the wind farms at Blyth, Newbiggin, and even further to Lynemouth, some twenty miles up the coast. It looks wonderful.

Below us, the bay is dotted with walkers and the promenade has joggers, riders and families wandering about. The only downside is the constant accompaniment of traffic noise as inevitably perhaps given the beautiful weather.

Less than an hour later the rain was coming down like stair-rods. The moral of the story; seize the moment because you never know how long it’s going to last.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Getting It Off His Chess

Henry Purcell’s Sound The Trumpets blows away the cobwebs and no mistake. Making music that lifts the spirits as high as this piece does is surely no easy task.

Today Doris (Debbie’s mother) went into hospital to undergo an operation on her eye. Debbie had been given the day off and was with her mum through the operation. It had been agreed that Doris would recuperate here overnight or as long as she needed to. Understandably anxious about the operation, Doris was clearly relieved when it was over. I’d cooked a spag carbonara with onion buns and a luxuriant bread and butter pudding for afters. We’d expected Doris to peck at it given that she has the appetite of an anorexic sparrow yet she confounded us by walloping through the serving. She gamely kept chatting but it was clear that she needed to get off to bed.

I know the feeling.

After a terrible nights sleep I was cream-crackered myself but had to keep going in order to spend some time with the kids. A game of chess with Tom was aborted when he had a hissy fit of epic proportions because Joe spotted a move that left him vulnerable.

Tom knew I hadn’t spotted it but when Joe blabbed the date of the revolution (as we say round these parts) Tom was apoplectic. I pretended I hadn’t a) heard and b) noticed but it was too late and the game came to an end. Joe eagerly offered to play which only deepened the depths of Tom’s funk. It didn’t help that Joe beat me hands down. Tom accused me of letting Joe win. I wish.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Now That's What I Call Haronium; Update 2

Wow – glad to see this thread a struck a chord (groan) although I may have to do some back-pedalling (more groaning) as several sharp-eyed observers have emailed to point out that Day Tripper doesn’t have any harmonium. Surely I meant We Can Work It Out? Dead right.

There’s been a couple of suggestions for additions. Thony C nominates the deeply wonderful Ivor Cutler. Those familiar with the Life In A Scotch Sitting Room series will appreciate the maudlin wanderings that rise and fall underneath the dour tones of this Grade 1 listed eccentric. I count myself as being very lucky to have seen Cutler and Phyllis April King several times in the seventies when they were regular performers at Newcastle’s Morden Tower – a premier venue for international poetry set in a circular tower located in the middle of Newcastle’s ancient city walls.

Someone else who came to read (though a little before my time) was Allen Ginsberg on a pilgrimage to meet the utterly fab Basil Bunting. Later in his career of course, Ginsberg took to performing his sutra poems whilst accompanying himself on something that sounds like a harmonium. And in a moment of inspired artistic free association I find myself wondering if there isn’t a harmonium to be found on George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord?

How about that amazing version of Like A Hurricane on Neil Young’s Unplugged? A note from Martyn suggests that a compilation that excluded Nico wouldn’t be worthy of the name. He’s right. The End, her seventies collaboration with Eno, Cale and Manzanera is surely one of the best. Delving deeper into the shelves of memory I extracted Ensemble Piece featuring the work of John Adams, Gavin Bryars and the extraordinarily beautiful MacCrimmon Will Never Return by Christopher Hobbs. Shuffling the pack slightly sideways, there is of course the track that must surely open the compilation, Music For A Found Harmonium by the Penguin CafĂ© Orchestra.

Anymore for anymore?

Sam, Alys and Debbie are off to see the new Star Wars movie leaving me facing a hot soak and Paul Auster’s Leviathan.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Don't Worry

Tom and Joe have discovered Gary Larson. Their mirth muscles have been vigorously exercised ever since pulling down a Far Side compilation from the shelves by accident. This event has won me a small victory in the ongoing battle with Tom about him not reading. He’s bright enough – he can spell better than me; he reads aloud without any hesitation and he’s generally alert and engaged with the world around him, but he will not read anything other than games magazines. I know I shouldn’t judge or compare Tom against myself at his age BUT. . .well you can probably guess the rest. I suppose the fact that he even reads games magazines should be enough and that I just need to stop worrying.

Of course, that’s what parents do. They worry. My mother used to worry about me not eating enough when I was younger. Now she worries about me eating too much. She used to worry about my mental health when I was earning vast sums of money. She worries about my mental state now I don’t.

Debbie’s mother carries worrying to the next level. She worries about clouds that might produce rain and thus soak her daughter between buildings. She worries about the defective guttering that might lead to damp in Dude’s (Debbie’s sister) house thus affecting the sale price should Dude ever decide to put her place on the market.

I guess we all do it; distracting ourselves from the stuff in life that really matters. Sometimes, the prospect of facing those issues is just too frightening and we’ll transfer our fear, ensuring we use our anxiety quota for the day but putting in the service of something less daunting. I worry, therefore I am.

An area which is exercising genuine concern is Debbie’s mother and her health at the moment. Aside from her chronic bronchial condition, later this week she is facing a minor operation on her eye. Doris was comforted by the thought that this would be done under a general anaesthetic. It was exactly this part of the process that was worrying us. Now Doris has discovered they will be doing the procedure using only a local anaesthetic and is deeply anxious. We, on the other hand, feel for her anxiety but are happy that she won’t be going under.

And speaking of distractions from the real deal. . .

I’ve begun the task of sifting through five years of on-line diarising. I’m uncertain as to simply upload everything in the order in which it first appeared or theme it; music/ film / politics / hair-washing / paint drying

The working title for the project is Postcards From The Yellow Room. If there’s any budding web designers who might care to collaborate on how such a page might look then drop me a line at the usual address and let’s see what we can come up with.

Something else to worry about now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tweaks, Clarification & Legal Beavering

A fair portion of yesterday saw me shuffling between emails to and from Mark Blake, the editor of the forthcoming Q/Mojo special edition on the glory years of prog rock. There’s nothing guaranteed to lift ones spirit and self-esteem that a compliment and validation from someone you don’t know. By close of business a decent overview of Crimson between 1969 and 1974 had been finalised, pitched at someone who might be familiar with Crimson generally but doesn’t know the detail of what was going on in those early years.

Today there’s been some more tweaking and clarifications requested and rendered in double-quick time. Elsewhere, legal matters have required some attention; I would not want to get on the wrong side of the author of this massive missive.

Crimson from a much later period took up some of my time today; listening to the original source audience tapes of KC just four days after Moles, Manchester polytechnic. The sound quality is to my ears way better than the Club edition from Bath. Also found on my recent travels, an original source recording from Dora Cohen Hall at Oxford Polytechnic, highly notable as they are still working up material for Beat.

I’m also taking nominations for a compilation I’ve been asked to produce that has the working title Now That’s What I Call Harmonium 1.
Tracks selected so far include;
The Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914) by The Zombies
Gog by Peter Hammill
Islands by King Crimson
Day Tripper by The Beatles

Well, as you can tell from the initial choice and bound to be a best seller. It can only be a question of time before we have Now That’s What I Call Bassoon (an Egg and Henry Cow fest in the offing clearly) and Now That’s What I Call Serpentine. Further suggestions to the usual address.

Monday, May 16, 2005

No Greater Rebuke

All it needs is a few hours of relatively restrained sunshine and the British go running to their backyards, patios, lawns and any other open spaces that happen to be available in order to incinerate their food atop a barbeque. Round these parts, the very mention of the word is enough to produce a joyous reaction from people normally indifferent to how their food is cooked. Were I to have said to my kids “Hey, I’m going to turn the hob on and do us some grub” I can’t imagine any response other than to ask what time it would be ready.

Yet the whoop and holler that went up on Friday when I suggested we do a barbeque on Sunday (to coincide with my mother coming over)was overwhelming. From that moment on there was a palpable air of anticipation, like Christmas was coming, producing that shiver of excitement as Tom and Joe counted the hours away. But where anticipation is piled up on the plate, disappointment is inevitably also going to be on the menu.

On Sunday morning the cloud cover was dense and heavy but at least no rain. Taking the air though, it felt too cold to be sitting outside and so as Debra came to start skewering meat, onions and peppers, I knew a decision had to be made and made quickly.

Rather than seek to build consensus which might have been the prudent but time-consuming thing to do, I opted to take the well-worn route so beloved of power-crazed despots and announce that the event was summarily cancelled. It was sensible. It demonstrated how seriously I took my duty of care. It was the right thing to do.

And of course it was the wrong thing to do. With power comes a world of pained remonstration.

Imperiously waving away such entreaties, I pointed to the pallid dome of sky pregnant with moisture, its waters sure to break at any second. I was immutable, impervious to whatever might be said. My word was absolutely final.

An hour later, as we sat in the back yard, the rain performing paradiddles on the sun umbrella and splashing the plates on the table, having a wonderful but wet barbeque I understood that there’s no greater rebuke than a child’s disappointment.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Forgotten Olives...A Jarring Tale

A daft day really – wandering into the town centre and completely forgetting what I’d gone in for. It was a jar of olives. So, off I went again, a man in search of his olives. After that it was back to the desk and more tapping. Adding and subtracting words and phrases, working on the basis of cutting “stuff” out. Then realising that I’d cut so much back that it was little better than a ransom note. So then it’s back to revising.

Both Kimber and Jakko suggested that I ask a couple of Crims for fresh interviews for the article and so today I spoke both to Mel Collins at his place in Germany and later in the day, David Cross in a more phone-bill friendly London. Their contributions were exceptionally helpful and will definitely lift the piece. There’s also fresh material from Bill B as well although I don’t think there’s enough room to include it all.

And then it was cooking food for the troops. Tonight I made an olive oil and garlic based dough rolled out like a pizza then filled with diced tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, onions and chicken / tuna / anchovy (delete as applicable). The contents are then contained by folding the edge into a big lip which when cooked forms a delightful crust. Needless to say I forgot the bloody olives which still reside in their jar!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Picking My Brains

Having lots of fun picking my ten favourite Crim tracks for the “best of” sidebar in the Crimson article for Mojo. When Kimber and I were chatting about this very topic one night it took only a matter of minutes to list the tracks. Now of course, as I write them up and refine them, its not quite so clear cut. For example, The Power To Believe. . .Level Five. Simple. Hang though, what about Facts of Life? Right – yes. Blimey that guitar solo in the middle. How could I have forgotten that? Right then, Facts of Life it is. Wait a second though, what about Dangerous Curves – a track with one foot in the past and the other in the future if ever there was. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.

Timbale overload; you CAN have too much Santana.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Parry & Thrust

This just in from Richard Parry. . .

…Can’t wait for the next club edition as I never heard Islands played live. Will it be a complete gig? I ask because one of the frustrating things about some of the other club releases is the way they get cut off. I can’t figure out why DGM do that? Is it so that they can sell us the complete gig at a later stage?

Excerpted from my reply. . .

I know it sounds depressingly mundane and that a DGM conspiracy to defraud fans of their dosh is much more interesting, but the reason some of the Club releases stop abruptly is because that’s where the tape runs out. It’s as simple and as dull as that I’m afraid.

Listening to a Monkees / Mike Nesmith compilation.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A New Kid On The Block

Amber Jakszyk bends you to her will. . .

Still getting over the Van der Graaf gig from the other day; extremely powerful stuff that creeps up on me every now and then. Could they have been that good? Well, yes – they absolutely were. Of course, I’m desperately figuring out how I can catch them in the next couple of months.

One of the advantages of staying over at Jakko’s place is that not only do I get to hear some work in progress in his studio but I also get to spend a bit of time with his lovely kids Django and the new addition to the clan of Jakszyk, Amber.

Thus it was on Saturday morning. Django belted around in his jim-jams whilst Amber imperiously watched the world around her, taking it all in and delighting us with a fab selection of smiles designed to woo hearts and convince those dribbling adults around to do her bidding come what may.

Meanwhile, back to earth with a bump cushioned only by listening to a compilation of Jakko’s material, Fragments by Antoine William Caron and For Those Who Chant by Luis Gasca – an album from the seventies featuring a stellar cast that includes George Cables, Lenny White, Stanley Clarke and a bunch of chaps from Santana – including the titular plankspanker himself.

Oddly enough, I started to play a disc from The Box VdGG compilation and had to whisk it off the player! Still a bit too raw perhaps?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Review: Cream - 3rd May / Van der Graaf Generator - 6th May

Why Do Pensioners Have All The Best Tunes?

In a week that saw the pundits and politico’s babble excitedly about whether the country might turn red, blue, yellow or green it was the Grey party that was always going to get my vote.

In the time that both Cream and Van der Graaf Generator have been away, legions of children (and perhaps even grandchildren) have been spawned by the spotty-faced teenagers who once shook their long locks to the likes of White Room and, a few years on, In The Black Room.

Though occupying opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum both bands have a distinctive sound that identifies them within a matter of seconds and despite that fact that what was once white or Black is now a paler shade of grey, they both packed the kind of punch that contenders a fraction of their age can only dream about.

With over 150 years plus years between them, Clapton, Bruce and Baker walked casually out on stage to receive the adulation of a Royal Albert Hall so packed to the rafters with Americans that one could be forgiven for thinking that this was a Democratic convention. Whilst Clapton looked like he might pass for a relaxed White House candidate in off-duty family mode, the same could not be said of Jack Bruce, whose illness and recent liver transplant had clearly taken it toll. Having always had something of a gnarled visage, Ginger Baker presented a bewildered gape throughout the night, looking not unlike an Alzheimer sufferer presented with a cutlery drawer and asked to find a spoon.

As the trio basked in the glow of approval, row upon row was lit bright not by people holding lighters and matches aloft but with the glare of tiny display screens from mobile phones. Next to me, a chap all the way from Boston was busily texting someone back home with the news that Cream had opened the set with I’m So Glad.

And so it was for the next two hours, intercontinental networks buzzing as text and open lines conveyed the comings and goings of the gig to envious loved ones.

At a time when everything around a concert is slickly packaged, it was refreshing to see some good old fashioned eye-contact and hear a couple of raggy endings to some of the numbers, producing many smiles and grins from the players. This benign expression of schadenfreude was matched by an unambiguous joy at the successes and triumphs that were equally evident in each other’s playing. Clapton played a blinder during NSU and demonstrated something of his old fluid potency during the tumultuous comedown of We’re Going Wrong. Bruce proved that despite his health problems and a need to sit down during a few sections of the set, the glorious rasping voice remained as wonderfully course as you’d want and his bass playing was never less than spectacular.

Even Baker’s dogged thumping achieved what was required although lacked the spark that rightly saw him feted back in his heyday. Though his end veered more towards competency than celebration, it was good to hear a ludicrously quaint Pressed Rat And Warthog. Not quite able to keep a straight face during his recitation, Ginger reminded us at the end of the piece that our heroes had actually re-opened their shop and of course were now selling t-shirts. Given the twenty-deep crush at the merchandise stall prior to the gig, one assumes they'll never need to bother with 'atonal apples and amplified heat' ever again.

The perfunctory Politician and anodyne Spoonful sometimes gave the impression that the task was to get through the big numbers in the time allocated rather than see where the muse might lead. Perhaps only Sweet Wine bucked the trend, taking a meandering journey in search of a sparky solo. But such concerns are of no consequence to the majority of those present. If Eric Clapton was indeed God all those years ago then this was not so much a concert as a congregation in communion.

And whilst Cream’s influential shadow may be longer and deeper across the popular culture landscape, when it comes to originality Van der Graaf are no slouches either. As at the Albert Hall, when Hammill, Jackson, Banton and Evans took to the stage atmosphere at the Royal Festival Hall was charged with an enormous amount of goodwill. And like Cream, none of them are getting any younger; factor in a major health scare (Hammill’s heart attack a year or so ago) and there’s more than enough reason to get it together before it’s all too late.

In this pessimistic light, a VdGG reunion might just be seen as an exercise in giving the back catalogue a stir through were it not for the appearance of their new double album, Present, which is as good (in a couple of cases) better than anything from the past.

Looking as thin as packet of Rizla papers, the singer whispered his way through the delicate menace of Undercover Man’s opening bars but soon unleashed the roar of terror that not only makes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up but shaves them off for good measure.

That brutal sharpness stretches right across the band, be it the seismic heaving of Guy Evans’ restless drumming, Hugh Banton oozing keyboards or David Jackson’s stratospheric sax. The sense of hazard that seems such a part of the VdGG encounter was palpable throughout a set that delved deep into the past but came up sounding remarkably contemporary. New tracks such as Every Bloody Emperor and Nutter Alert sounded every bit the equal of old warhorses such as Lemmings, Darkness and even, Killer. Throughout the night their turbulent music boiled with a caustic, controlled rage which either turns people off or makes them a fan for life. With VdGG, there doesn’t seem to be anything in between. When music is as committed as this, it’s impossible to be partial about it.

At the Albert Hall, the crowd often applauded at the end of a Clapton solo such is the appreciative nature of the blues-based devotee. At the Royal Festival Hall, a different order of deference was evident. Large sections of the crowd would whoop, stomp and generally go ga-ga at the sound of Hugh Banton’s malevolent bass-end keyboards (think Killer). This wasn’t so much for the content (although that was uniformly fine) given that VdGG don’t really do solo’s as such. Rather it was for the very sound itself.

A truly partisan crowd applauded Jackson every time he put those two saxes simultaneously to his mouth – regardless of what came out, and as with Cream, it seems likely that the band could have recited lines from the telephone book and the reaction would have been just as ecstatic. As it was, whatever Jackson played had a cracked, ethereal majesty about it. In between numbers, he would sometimes stand with his arms raised, holding a flute and sax in each hand, soprano and alto strapped across his chest like a bandolier making him look like a soldier of fortune; his body resembling a triumphant X marking the spot, as if to say “this is where the treasure is”.

With Banton and Evans understandably anchored behind their respective instruments, it was Hammill who strode manically about the stage, spitting out lines, flapping and swaying about as though being lashed by an unseen force, giving vent to the fearsome powers that this music has conjured for well over thirty years.

Again like Cream, there was an understanding that no matter how formidable their individual talents might be, only when they lock together do they combine to create something that is somehow bigger than themselves. Throughout the gig, they smiled at each other, engaged in playful competition, emerging breathless from one of their more labyrinthine, interlocking MC Escher-style riff-fests, riding on the crest of risk-induced surge of adrenalin.

Here, even the weaker material from World Record sounded effective. As the final encore of Wondering slowly wound down to a single heart-beat note played by Banton and Jackson, one was left thinking that there was plenty of life in the band. And by the end of a concert that had witnessed four middle-aged men whip up a fury that would have been the envy of many a younger group, there was a marvellous sense of resolution, a feeling that the long years of listening had been vindicated, had always made sense; that one’s faith in something so transient and ephemeral as mere music had in the end not been misplaced.

As a sea of smiling faces spilled out the hall, I asked David Symes, my gig-buddy for the evening for his verdict. Though familiar with their material this was the first time he’d witnessed them in action. Looking dazed and amazed he managed to offer me these words: “Relentless. . .and. . magnificent.”

Later. . .

Jakko had secured invites to the post-gig for his chum Chris and myself courtesy of David Jackson who played on Jakko’s album, Silesia way back when. Filled with a couple of hundred friends, families, industry types and any number of associates, deperados and liggers (me included) there was a tremendous atmosphere in the place as the band members slowly did the rounds, chatting to just about everyone who wanted to talk.

L - R: Peter Hammill, David Jackson, Hugh Banton, Guy Evans

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sounds From Another Time And Place

In the Garden of England. . .

An interesting day with the Kimbrini. We played some music. Kimber on electric guitar and me on an electric bass – an instrument I love but have not tuched for many years. It was the kind of jamming that doesn’t necessarily ever go anywhere but with a bit of echo on and a drum using plenty of ride cymbal would sound very similar to Amon Duul or someone of that ilk.

And then he got out a hurdy-gurdy. A freekin’ hurdy-gurdy! What a wonderful sound that was. Somewhat out of my depth I nevertheless enjoyed the strange exotic tones that emanated from all that lovely wood and metal; the sound from another time and place altogether.

After that it was back to geetars and a fairly rock-driven thwaking about ensued; great fun and immensely therapeutic for me at least. Tonight Kimber and I are heading into London to see some other blokes thwaking about on stage at the Albert Hall. The last time I was at this venue was to see the Double Trio. Tonight it’s occupied by a reunited Cream.

Cream and Van der Graaf Generator in one week. The past isn’t only catching up with us. It’s in danger of overtaking us completely!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Seven hundred and seventy six words...

In the Garden of England. . .

Seven hundred and seventy six words. It doesn’t really seem like a lot when you count them up, not for an entire days work. Yet there it is. Seven hundred and seventy six words. I started writing a little after 7.00 a.m. and stopped somewhere around five thirty in the late afternoon to join Kimber on the lawn for a cold beer and a bit of a chinwag.

We watched the sun setting, watched the cats grooving about doing cat-like things, watched the air teeming with insect life. I felt like I’d gone ten rounds with Henry Cooper. After a meal with the Kimber clan and a bit of television, I was exhausted and headed off to bed to read through the seven hundred and seventy six words – frightened in case they made no sense and would have to be scrapped. Provisional judgement is that they’ll do.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Nightmare Visions

In the Garden of England. . .

After a night of strange and troubled dreams, I felt too rough and tired to head off out with the Kimber couple to a carboot sale. Instead I stretched and read and did some writing.

Perhaps the dreams came from watching the 1970s version of The Amityville Horror, a film so bad that it’s. . .just bad. James Brolin as the male lead looked as though he’d been possessed by the spirit of a plank of wood, whilst Rod Steiger’s troubled priest routine was truly troubling in a way I suspect that was not originally intended.

Whilst a movie like The Exorcist has the capacity to scare the living jobbies out of me even today, the Quinn Martin school of cheap and cheerful production values ensured that all such psychological darkness had been excised. I kept expecting the ghosts of daytime TV to manifest at any second. “Arrgh look – Karl Malden! No, wait! There’s Jack Klugman!!!”

Whilst this might have been a contender for the cause of my nightmares, its far more likely that it was The Apprentice on BBC2. Eastend businessman, Sir Alan Sugar, has taken over from Donald Trump in this UK version of an American reality TV show.

Over several weeks there’s been a gory spectacle of middle-management wannabe’s stepping on each others shoulders and selling their grannies into slavery as they compete for a place at big Al’s boardroom table. During a series of gruelling interviews, the remaining four candidates huffed, puffed and so obviously bluffed their way through a bunch of hardball questions from Sugar’s headhunters

As someone who used to have a professional interest in how large organisations and management structures operate, the show has exercised a lurid fascination for me. It’s a bit like standing near the edge of a big drop. You know it’s dangerous to look down or get to close but somehow the magnetic lure draws you in. Yet Alan Sugar, who must know a thing or two about people and their potential, sees something in the pair that has gone through to the final which remains invisible to plebs like me.

Where he sees raw talent, ruthless, animal cunning and overwhelming ambition that can be moulded and shaped, I just see a pair of cowboy spivs on the make. If blagging were an Olympic sport then these characters would be gold medallists. And if they represent the current state of the UK’s managerial future then no wonder I was having nightmares.

Elsewhere. . .

Out in the leafy glades of rolling Kent countryside, the general election is but a distant noise. A brief encounter with Radio 4 today tells me that the Tories are still pandering to the racist vote. As political slogans go, “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” is open-ended enough to let all those lovelorn ex-Tory voters tempted by the virtues of UK Independence Party or the British National Party to come back to their traditional home. It appears that Labour will win this election and though I have grave reservations about Blair and co., when one sees the alternative, I have to conclude that such an outcome is actually preferable to Michael Howard’s vision for this country.

Listening to. . .Abraxis and Caravanserai by Santana.


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