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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ear Today

Currently feeling rough as hell with an ear infection. The antibiotic I got this morning haven’t had time to kick in yet and so I continue to hold my head to the left, wincing every time a loud car goes past the end of the street and hearing the sluggish churning of liquid deep inside the recesses of my skull.

The waiting room reading matter at our local surgery isn’t anything like as good as the dentists. There we have the BBC music magazine, The Lady, and other august organs. At the docs it was Chat, Marie Claire and others of that downbeat ilk; super celeb snaps; you can have my figure in 8 weeks; my husband left me for a tv; how sexy is Michael Howard?; Octopus in love-wrangle drama.

I opted to put my own literary entertainment in the hands of Ian Rankin once again and whilst I wait for my name to flash up on the laser display board I immerse myself in the world of Rebus and bad lads of Edinburgh. The only trouble is I can’t really concentrate too well and end up re-reading the same line over and over. Then I realise the value of the tatty mags teetering next to the sticky stickle bricks and lego. By poking our noses deep into the dog-eared stories we manage to avoid any kind of eye contact with our disease-ridden neighbours.

That said, the glossy walls of gossip offer no defence or respite from a hard-of-hearing gent and his lady wife who are loudly rehearsing their long list of ailments prior to their consultation. Furtive glances are exchanged between patients as we hear things that we’d rather not. I can honestly say that this was the only time in my life when I wanted Terry Wogan’s radio show turned up to maximum bonhomie.

Later in the day I get a call from Jakko who tells me that Mel Collins will be putting down some sax on JJ’s new piece The Bruised Romantic Glee Club. He'd given me an early mix sans sax when I was down the smoke to see VdGG and I thought it sounded splendid back then. Other discussions include the ponderous and difficult prospects when it comes to being asked to pay to play.

Also a useful email from Tim Bowness regarding desert island Crim and the world’s apparent love affair with The White Stripes (more of which later when my ear has stopped giving me gyp). Also in the post not one but two David Cross related items; a review from Nottingham’s premier arts and events guide, EG of the excellent Closer Than Skin album and an interview with Cross conducted by prog-radio idol, Dick Heath.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Goodbye Keith


I attended Keith Morris’ beautiful service of remembrance held in Newcastle’s Assembly rooms today. Standing room only, there must have been over thousand people there to pay tribute to this most gentle and quietly inspirational man.

His widow Elllen gave a deeply moving account of their life together along with tributes from long-time collaborator David Bradford and old band mate and comrade, Peter Thomson. There was also the chance to hear some of Keith’s compositions, most notably for me This Song and The Dollar’s Sway from Red Music’s self-titled album from 1988.

The Cluny in Byker (the home of Schmazz) held a celeberation of Keith's life later in the afternoon. I saw several people from the recent and distant past and although this aspect was enjoyable my heart wasn’t really in it. The highlight was a slide show showing pictures of Keith through the years; scenes from family life, scenes from his professional life; happy, bemused, perplexed, inquisitive, witty, tired, amusing, thoughtful, concerned, contented. That smile, that laugh.

I couldn't shake the sadness I felt which a couple of pints of beer only deepened and so jumped at the chance to get home with a lift from Stan Gamester – Stan and I were in jazz-rock group Ipso Facto with Keith back in 1977/78. I felt worn out and drained. After getting home I sat down at my desk and broke my heart.

Goodbye Keith – we’ll all miss you terribly.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sobriety Wearing Off

A jolly night at Jed and Lesley’s house belies the fact that our friends and neighbours are moving to Spain in the next few weeks.

Having seen each other wandering about the place we graduated from polite but slightly uncertain nods in each others direction when visiting the local corner shop, to full-blown discussions about what was hot in the world of movies – often with our groceries weighing heavily in our hands as we did so.

Over the last few years we’ve got to know Jed and Lesley through social events like the one last night. The kids come and go, hovering between the Barbie and the telly, whilst the adults sit and get progressively sillier as sobriety wears off and the evening wears on.


Elsewhere, that rum cove Jeremy Clarkson, had me chortling this morning with his column in the Sunday Times about
autograph hunters.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Memory, Loss and The White Stripes.

Lunch in the yard reflecting on...



Last night Debbie was in bed and on her way to going to sleep when we took a call (from a third party chum currently on holiday in Tenerife) saying that a mutual friend needed some support.

So like the star she is, Debbie got up, got dressed and left the house sometime after 10.00 p.m. to see an old friend whose long-term relationship has recently ended and ended badly. I tried to stay awake and wait for her return by watching the highlights from Glastonbury which I’m told is a fantastic pop festival.

When it comes to “modern” music, I generally leave all the beat combo stuff to the likes of Sean Hewitt and Rupert Loydell. Though they’ve never met (as far as I know) they are about the only people I know who manage to move easily (some might say suavely) between the old and new worlds. Me? I just can't cut the mustard any more.

Based on the ten minutes I saw before my eyelids fell shut and the dribble started rolling down my chin, The White Stripes were doing the post-rock, post-modern, post-iconic, post-ironic, post-colonic, post-deaf-as-a-post blues. They seemed to me to be as deep and meaningful as The Bananna Splits and as culturally significant as Tiny Tim on an off day. Or maybe that should be the other way round. And hey! Dig those crazy new threads, man.

In the post this morning I received the work-in-progress copy of Ricardo Odriozola’s impressive guide to Pawn Hearts. Like Andrew Keeling’s forays into the inner life and structure of Crimson’s music, it’s fascinating to see revealed the invisible architecture that holds VdGG’s music together. Several times I found myself checking out the relevant section on the CD and learned something new in the process. Even though I’m a complete dunce when it comes to notation, Ricardo’s guide helped me explore and extend my understanding of an album which I’ve been living with since the winter of 1971.

Perhaps Ricardo should turn his critical eye to The White Stripes next time around - insert line about new dog, old tricks.

Also in the post was a review copy of Diesel Park West’s Shakespeare Alabama (special edition). Somewhere in the dim past I recalled the jangling raised-fist thump of their single All The Myths On Sunday. I assumed it was a big hit given that I remembered it so well. A quick check up though reveals that it reached the giddy heights of 66 in the UK charts back in February 1989. Given that I have never possessed a record by Diesel Park West in my life until this very day, I wondered how on earth I knew the damn song so well? It’s funny what the subconscious takes in.


Friday, June 24, 2005

A Vinyl Solution

Part of yesterday was spent gathering and sending contributions to the online tribute to Keith Morris. During the course of this I spoke to people I’d not seen for years. It made me realise how easy I tend to lose touch with people. It’s too easy just to slip away.

In the post this morning: a vinyl copy of Pawn Hearts with fabbo cover. I must extend a big thank you to Mr. Rob Hurst of sunny Ashford for responding so heroically (and quickly) to my request. At the same time, the new batch of VdGG remasters along with the new expanded Fools Mate with demos performed by VdGG themselves, arrived. And very good they look and sound too.

Still Life has a live version of one of my favourite PH tracks, Gog. Even the poor boot quality on this bonus track cannot diminish the monstrous power that this group have at their disposal. It still gives me the shivers when I hear Hammill roaring that way.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The King Crimson Songbook Vol. 1 by The Crimson Jazz Trio

Joe is off school with a very nasty sore throat. We’d noticed he’d been off colour and not quite himself for a couple of days and was complaining that his neck felt “bloated.” Borrowing a torch from Debbie’s bag (don’t ask), I gazed down Tom’s throat just to get a sense of what a healthy throat should look like. Apart from being big enough to drive a bus down it, his pink throat with epiglottis and robust tonsils moved spookily like the jaws of the big alien from Predator when it takes its helmet off after going a few rounds with Arnie. Other than that, it was healthy as could be.

Joe’s throat was something else altogether; as narrow and mean as a rejection slip, it was also a disturbing shade of green. The doc has given him anti-biotic to help fight the infection and after spending the day off school his spirits are lifted and restored. Hopefully his bad throat won’t be far behind.

And speaking of spirits being lifted, Ian Wallace was on the blower last night telling me he was sending me tracks from the Crimson Jazz Trio.

Sure enough, half an hour later I was listening to a pre-mastered version of the album. Debbie was sitting at her desk in the yellow room and after a couple of tracks had been playing said “This is really good.” Now given that Debbie a) hates jazz and b) isn’t exactly a Crim fan, I took this as a mighty compliment. I was impressed myself.

You wouldn’t think a piano, bass and drums outfit would do King Crimson’s material justice. It shouldn’t work but it really does and spectacularly well. Jazz has always been capable of transforming material from one genre to another. Part of the success depends on the choice of material that’s being reinvented and in this, The Crimson Jazz Trio has chosen well. The mistake to make when approaching this record is to think of it as a mere covers album. It’s nothing of the sort.

Ian Wallace, pianist Jody Nardone and bassist Tim Landers do something subtly different. They’ve produced an album of material that has authority and its own personality equal and in some respects independent to its origins. Rather than meekly attempting to rework some tunes in a different idiom, the Crimson Trio push the material somewhere else entirely. There’s a transformative, liberating alchemy at work here that makes this album so engaging. One is never quite sure which direction a particular piece is going to go next. Given the empathy for the jazz tradition that resided in Crimson (especially in the early part of their career) it perhaps should be no surprise that the project is as successful as it is; how else does one explain that these rock-based tracks sound like they’ve found their spiritual home?

Be warned though. Those who like their jazz caustic, angular and abrasive will be disappointed. That’s not to say the music here is without sparks. Far from it. However, the trio have chosen to emphasise and explore the richly melodic themes that have always flowed through King Crimson’s music. This is due in part to Nardone’s expansive approach and a wry piquancy that reminded me of early Chick Corea before he entered the pitch-bend purgatory of Return To Forever’s more grandiose workouts. On I Talk To The Wind, Nardone’s romantic flourishes are not unlike that other Miles Davis alumni, Keith Jarrett.

Three Of A Perfect Pair is beautifully realised as an introspective reverie with a gorgeous solo from bassist Tim Landers that stylistically wouldn’t be out of place on an ECM release. Here, Jody Nardone has chops to spare, cranking up both pace and tensions no end, piling chords up on top of each other as the track sways alarmingly in the middle section. Throughout the album, Wallace’s playing has a heat-seeking intensity whether is it be the tiny details of his brush work on Schizoid Man or the explosive stoking that adds to the poignant fire of Starless. Red too moves from being a snarling beast to become something diaphanous and soaring though still capable of delivering a bite or two.

Those raunchy Ladies of the Road have become rather more refined and sophisticated society babes with the passing of the years but still capable of providing a hot date when needs be. Matte Kudesai’s plaintive melody is given a refreshing new context that is both wonderfully light in its touch and deeply moving. Here Nardone and Wallace give a rhapsodic Landers the space to turn in one of the albums stand-out performances; his eloquent playing is joy throughout. And if their playful rendition of Cat Food, (with its guest vocal from Haagi the dog) doesn’t make you smile, then you must have had your mirth muscle removed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In Praise Of Dreams

Up early again (circa 4.00 a.m.)watching the sunrise and listening to Markus Reuter's album, The Longest In Terms Of Being. Truly sublime.

From then on it became a gorgeous sunny day in which my mother called in to have a belated birthday tea with Tom and the gang. For his special meal he’d requested that I do my yellow pepper risotto. So I did. In the aftermath of present giving, Tom has more in his pocket than I have in my bank account. I’ve resisted the urge to ask him for a loan. When kids are young buying and wrapping their birthday presents is great fun. As they get older and just want the dosh it’s not so enjoyable for the frustrated adult.

Finished reading Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin.
Debbie has been a fan of the Rebus novels for as long as I can remember. In recent times I’ve read a couple and they become very persuasive. The latest one is good; simple, unfussy prose and very tight plotting. I love the way Rankin’s scenes flow seamlessly into each other. I recalled seeing Rebus on television a while ago with John Hannah.

In my minds eye, I always saw the gruff detective as Ken Stott. Lo and behold, I find that Stott has indeed been cast and has been filming already. Old news to all Rebus fans but news to me.

Debbie and I saw went to see Ian Rankin talk about writing at the Lit & Phil last year. He seemed like a really nice guy – very down to earth.
The Rebus novels are all set in Edinburgh and whenever I read them I’m always reminded that not long after Debbie and I had first met we spent a couple of days there. It wasn’t planned; we’d just jumped on the train without arranging anything, got off and went into Caledonian Hotel which is right next to railway station. It has to be the swankiest hotel I’ve ever been in. Despite a bed the size of a football pitch and bath as long as a barge, the place could barely accommodate our love and lust for each other.

Emerging bleary-eyed, we took afternoon tea downstairs and discovered it cost over a tenner which is fairly steep for two cups of earl grey no matter how much in love you might be. Knowing that we couldn’t afford to eat in the restaurant, we pinched the cutlery, went to a local supermarket to get some provisions and created our very own picnic in that wonderful room. Bliss.

We’d like to go back to Edinburgh and maybe do the Rebus walk and visit the Oxford bar where the detective drinks.

Today I agreed to write an essay about the cover artwork of Pawn Hearts and interview Paul Whitehead, whose distinctive style has graced albums such as Nursery Cryme and a whole bunch of others. Much to my chagrin, my vinyl copy of the album went west a long time ago. Do any readers of this diary have a copy of the cover that they could scan for me? Two separate hi-res jpegs – front and back – please. The CD cover just isn’t clear enough to my failing eyes.

Talked to Chris Taberham this morning. He wont be attending Keith Morris’ funeral on Monday as he’s on retreat up in Northumberland. However, he did have this to say.

I’d know Keith since meeting him in 1975 at the old Wallsend Arts Centre in Charlotte Street where Keith was running a course of experimental music sessions. On one occasion we were sat in the main theatre doing vocal exercises that Keith had brought along. The session was interrupted by a woman who’d come in off the street after hearing the eerie, otherworldly sounds we were producing that day. She was convinced we were a bunch of devil worshippers and was about to go and get the police. It took Keith ages to persuade her that we weren’t doing anything wrong. For a while it looked like we might get carted off but Keith’s quiet but insistent diplomacy won out in the end and she left us in peace.

Keith was a great admirer of the sound of Jan Garbarek’s sax – I recall chatting to him when we saw Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble play at Durham Cathedral a couple of years ago. In the last few days I was playing Garbarek’s album, In Praise of Dreams and wondering what Keith might have thought about it. In those sessions back in Wallsend, Keith would sometimes have us cutting up found text from newspapers or books and we’d do on the spot improvisations with them. With this in mind I’ve composed the following poem taken from the titles of the Jan Garbarek album by way of a small tribute to Keith and his life.

In praise of dreams
one goes there alone
scenes from afar
a tale begun
if you go far enough, enough without visible signs
a knot of place and time
one goes there alone
in praise of dreams

Chris Taberham


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Longest Day

My day started at around 4.00 a.m. It seems appropriate enough given that this is the longest day of the year.







It also happens to be Tom's birthday. He's 14 and can think of nothing worse than having his pic taken for his boring old dad's blog. Tough.











You don't often see teenagers smiling these days. So just in case you missed it, here it is again. Laughing even!

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Sweet View

The down side of getting up too early in the morning is that by the evening I’m feeling completely cream-crackered. On the up side though, you get views like this.

Ian Wallace rang with news of his new album of Crimson covers and an album of proggy-type songs he’s been working on. This conversation coincided with emails from David Cross and Robert Fripp. Now wouldn’t that trio make some interesting sounds I thought to myself afterwards.

During the course of the conversation, I managed to tell Ian about the vanilla risotto with peaches poached in orange and cinnamon I’d made earlier. Fabbo to the max!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Here Comes The Flood

A warm muggy afternoon was replaced by a howling beast of a storm. At one point we couldn’t see across to the other side of the street because of driving rain and hailstones. Sam burst into the red room where we were watching the repeat of Doctor Who to tell us that the back yard was flooding.

OK so it wasn’t exactly a raging torrent and certainly nothing to match the mayhem that was being visited up Yorkshire, but Debbie and Alys had to start bailing out as the water lapped its way into the kitchen and the shed.

For those who like to keep a note of how people respond in a crisis. . .
Sam raised the alarm, Debbie took decisive action, Alys ably assisted, Sam took the pics and kept his feet dry and I send the all-important vibes of goodwill from the comfort of the sofa in the red room which I like to think played a vital role in helping to turn the situation around. Debbie isn't convinced.


Front












and back













A Bad fur day for Ginger Bob




Saturday, June 18, 2005

Downfall

Debbie and I had some time out to ourselves today. Well almost to ourselves. We met up with my mother in Newcastle and popped up to the Hatton Gallery to catch the end of term exhibition for the university’s fine arts course. Perhaps I’m getting jaded but it was a fairly indifferent show, with a lot of emphasis on process rather than outcome. Or to put it another way, it was by and large, crap.

However, a series of landscapes on paper rev Debbie and I up and we hatch plans to spend a portion of the summer holidays engaging in large-scale daubing and general messing about.

After that we parted company with mother and headed to the cinema to catch Oliver Hirschbiegel's chronicle of Hitler’s final days, Downfall. It doesn’t sound quite right to say we enjoyed it but we were both gripped for the two and a half hours it ran. With a lot of movies our emotional involvement often depends on empathising with some of the characters. With Downfall there really isn’t anyone that you would want to get that close to.

Rather our engagement comes from knowing the awful enormity of the crimes perpetrated by this clique of murderers, demagogues, fellow travellers and apologists. The grim desperation and fetid atmosphere of the bunker mentality was brilliantly realised by Bruno Ganz as the dictator. As the repercussions of their crimes come to haunt them and run them to ground, Hitler and his retinue increasingly take refuge in fantasy, polite conversation, drink and homely little Von Trapp-style concerts by Goebbels’ children. Though the movie occasionally goes above ground to show the effects of war on the civilian population, it’s deep down in that heart of true darkness where the film’s grave power lies. The poisoning of the Goebbels children at the hands of their own mother because she does not want them to grow up in a world without National Socialism is proof just how far some people are prepared to go for the sake of an ideal. Theirs was not so much the “triumph of the will”but rather the morally mediocre and the intellectual lightweight. Chilling stuff.

And there the night might have ended but for a spontaneous invitation from Dave and Julie as we wandered home to join them with John and Jude in their for a drink. We sat in Dave and Julie’s garden and yakked away. Julie said she’d seen the TV news coverage of Joe’s funeral. It’s good to chat with people even if, as in John’s case, they mysteriously start speaking in tongues. The spirit(s), it seemed, had well and truly caught up with him as I left them to it sometime before midnight.

A good night that was somehow the perfect antidote to the brooding movie we’d seen earlier. I love watching the day slowly seep away and the night take hold. It’s a very powerful and magical transition for me.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Goodbye Joe

It was Joe’s funeral today and a very sad occasion. Sometimes these events can have a celebratory quality to them. This one didn’t. The hardest thing about funerals is seeing children grieving. Whilst there I bumped into someone I used to work with in my local government days. “I didn’t know you knew Joe” he said. I wasn’t a close friend, I replied, not like some of the people here today. Joe was someone we used to regularly employ when we organised socials, agit-prop street work and the like. I suppose in that sense, I was really more of an acquaintance. Yet whatever ones status or proximity to Joe, I regard having known him as both a pleasure and a privilege.

He’ll be missed

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fractious?

It’s been raining all bloody day. Not the torrential downpour kind but that pernicious sizzle of continual drizzle that appears not to penetrate the ground but coats the soul in a forlorn glaze. I can’t seem to find my concentration today. No focus. Everything seems bitty and unproductive; dead ends and cold trails.

I’m waiting around when I should be grabbing the future by the lapels and dragging it a bit closer.

A phone call from Sean Hewitt cheers me up no end. Our conversation covers the new David Cross album (which he gives a thumbs up to), the new Brian Eno album (ditto) and, ahem, the current series of Doctor Who. Sean has been impressed by the show to date and I have to say that although I was initially cool about it, I think I’ll miss the thing once it finishes this Saturday night.

Emails from Hugh O’ Donnell also bring a little cheer to the yellow room, as does an exchange with some chums in EMI.

I listened to Beethoven’s 9th with the amp set to window rattle partly to blow the cobwebs away and partly to obscure the whinning rant of a couple of bratty kids who live in the house. There names, I am glad to say, are not Tom and Joe. Tom and Joe have their own short-comings but happily their repertoire does not as yet include “the world owes me a living” and a complete inability to listen when someone is telling them something that is beneficial to their lives.

Fractious? You bet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dangerous Laughter

I’ve been enjoying the Radio 2 documentary on Crosby, Stills and Nash. I have a total soft spot for their music and listening to their story is the aural equivalent of snuggling up in a big comfy duvet. Music as comfort? You bet! Just reaching out for an album in their section on the shelf lifts the spirit.

Elsewhere on the radio dial Radio 4 have come up with a tribute to Geordie humour. Hosted by a well known Geordie comedian (i.e. I have never heard of him) it deals with Bobby Thompson otherwise known as the Little Waster. As a kid growing up this stand up comic was a legend round the north and I confess I found some of his routine funnier now than at the time. I used to feel very uncomfortable with a lot of the Geordie stereotypes that were the stock in trade of comics like Thompson. I still do. Mind you, I feel even more uneasy with the likes of Chubby Brown (real name Royston Vasey). Not that I’m a prude or anything but I do find the relentlessly boorish sexism and misogyny that underpins much of his humour wears me out.

Today I had lunch with Ms. Elspeth Corey. She makes her living as a consultant in the security industry – the posh name for private detective agencies. Her name was mentioned to me when I was down in Kent but it’s taken this long for us to hook up; a very instructive hour and one that might well prove useful in the coming weeks.

Brian called around yesterday on his way to the gym. He always brings me cuttings from various newspapers that he thinks might be helpful / interesting. There were clippings on Brian Eno and Gilbert & George. And he always brings me stories from the underbelly of the regions legally dubious denizens. Today’s tale made me laugh so hard I nearly had an asthma attack.

I heard from my cousin Brian who lives in Manitoba. He’s very kindly sorted out (ie paid for) my mother’s impending return visit to his fair country. If travel does indeed broaden the mind then Doreen’s grey matter may well be stretched to breaking point. In the next few weeks she’ll be heading down to Basingstoke, Milton Keynes, Guernsey and finally Winnipeg. It makes me worn out just typing that itinerary but thankfully my mother is made of harder stuff than me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Struggling

I found myself re-reading the press reports of Keith and Joe’s death the other day as though reading the words again and again would reveal some meaning as to what happened or how it came to be. It doesn’t of course. The event is one of those horrific random collisions; wrong place, wrong time. There’s no meaning or reason for it.

There are no conspiracy theories to shine a light and glean meaning from something that is so dark and unfathomable. It just is what it is. Plain and simple. And there’s something terrifying about that. And that’s part of what’s been dogging me over the weekend; the absence of meaning to what happened, the unthinking chaos of loss unleashed in a savage arbitrary moment. The thought that lives with so much potential can be snuffed out so carelessly, so thoughtlessly.

That fleeting violence can so comprehensively remove individuals from the lives of those around them is with us everyday. We see it in the news; we hear it on the radio. But none of that makes it any better or easier to deal with. And if someone like me, who is realistically far outside from the immediate circle of friends and confidants is struggling to come to terms with this loss, then what must it be like for the families of Keith and Joe?

Monday, June 13, 2005

This Much I Know

Excerpted from a recent email to Robert Fripp. . .

“Having read through every single review of the G3 gig this much I now
know . . .

a) you are an old man

b) my sister could play better than you

c) you're not worthy to be on the same stage as . . .

d) you're rude

e) you ruined my night

f) you ruined my G3 poster with your stupid face!

g) you deserve to be bitch slapped

h) playing one note for five minutes isn't how to play guitar

i) you should be running around stage and rocking on like Joe and Steve

j) what gives with the whale sounds dude?

k) I thought you were the guitar tech

l) you should be sitting out front so people can see you

m) Joe and Steve should get someone who can actually play guitar next
time

n) you might have been good once but that was years ago

o) you should do more King Crimson numbers

p) you don't do yourself any favours stuck in the corner of the stage

q) if you're too shy to be on stage then you should quit

r) you're a disgrace

s) a guitar shouldn't be made to sound like a keyboard!

t) your set at 40 minutes is soooo boring and toooo long

u) your set at 30 minutes is sooo boring and toooo long

v) your set at 20 minutes is sooo boring and toooo long

w) I missed your set but from what I've read that was probably a lucky break

x) hey you actually shred in the jam!

y) I can't hear you in the jam cos the mix is too low!

z) you are the old dude who looks like Harold Bishop but can really shred it up

Friday, June 10, 2005

Keith Morris

Yesterday, I took a phone call from a friend late in the afternoon. He told me Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield had been killed in a hit and run accident the day before. I had known Keith since 1975 when he ran Experimental Music Workshops in the old Wallsend Arts Centre. We horsed around making a Stockhausen noise here and there but also learnt a lot about how to listen to music from Keith. Confronted by a bunch of long-haired working class Geordie lads Keith showed no signs of being phased in the slightest and treated us with a respect and interest that we weren’t really used to.

He had such a light touch during those sessions and he got the best out of people by putting them into challenging situations without ever being precious or pushy about it. I had us some badges made at the end of our initial twelve week course with him. “Keith Morris is God” they said. We all wore them and his face was bright red as we cracked up with laughter. He taught me to play jazz bass. He introduced me to the music of Messian. In all sorts of ways Keith opened my eyes and ears to other musics and lifestyles.

I used to live in a shared house with Keith in Jesmond’s Cavendish Place. Sometimes we’d chat in the kitchen as he fried a piece of liver. Keith was as thin as a stick and the liver always looked like it might do him some good. Although a vegetarian by inclination and general practice, this was his one concession to meat-eating because of its high vitamin content. He didn’t eat the thing as much as endure it.

I loved Keith’s bass playing and learned a lot watching him playing in groups like Pylon (with Juan Surfboard on guitar and voice and Archie Brown on sax and brown phlegm) and the nascent big band, Cheap At The Price or The Cheaps as they were known.

I felt honoured and more than a little out of my league when Keith agreed to join a jazz rock fusion group I’d put together called Ipso Facto. Here Keith played sax (for the first time in public perhaps?) but also helped me improve on the arthritic stumbling that passed for my bass playing at that time. Come to think of it, he taught me how to play swing. And Keith could always swing like the clappers when he wanted to.

A little later in late 1978 or early 1979, I joined The Hotpoints a great dance group that included such luminaries as John Cooper (better known as John Middleton of Emmerdale fame) and future Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Peter Thomson. Playing some fab songs written mostly by Tessa Green, it was Keith who taught me the bass lines by rote as we played a series of packed gigs on the north east circuit until our farewell sometime in 1980.

I was part of the Tyneside Community Music Project thanks to Keith, spending a few weeks of a hot summer teaching oiky kids in Tyne Dock how to be punk rockers. In other settings Keith would lead junk orchestra workshops, helping incredulous classes create a mountain of clattering music; you could see and hear the creative lights sparking up behind dulled eyes. Keith could do that with people.

During that time our musical association continued with a variety of uneven although for me at least entertaining settings; The More or Less Quartet and Sextet and a trio with Gev Pringle called Shaking Hands. Playing a brash brand of avant-jazz noise terror we’d lull people into a false sense of security by playing a jaunty bossa nova version of Fly Me to the Moon. As far as I remember, this was Keith’s idea. We would then cheerfully reduce the pleasant tune to shards of angular noise - that was also Keith's idea. One one occasion this was done in front of a bunch of Japanese tourists who happened to be visiting the Edinburgh venue we'd been booked into. Somewhere in Japan, there might well exist a photograph of Keith blowing to his heart's content. He also had a wonderful ear for a tune and in the More Or Less Sextet he brought with him some beautiful haunting compositions; one of his best was a piece called Turk adapted from a traditional Armenian melody.

Whether it was with pop, rock, jazz or freeform, making a jazz noise here or there, Keith’s company was always enriching, interesting and above all, fun.

After putting the phone down I spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze. “Devastated” I told a friend. In times of crisis we reach for cliché because our sensibility has been so derailed by the shock of bad news. Words we don’t need to think about creep out on automatic pilot. When Debbie got in I told her the news. She’d heard about it even though she’d never met Keith and didn’t know Joe. “How?” I asked her. And there it was on the front page of the Evening Chronicle - TWO KILLED IN HIT AND RUN ran the headline and an old pic of a younger Keith playing his baritone sax.

More calls. More cliché. More grief. You try to make sense of it. Your mind fills in the gaps. Keith and Joe standing on the pavement on Westgate Hill. There used to be a rehearsal room around there. Maybe they were chatting about the gig he was going to play the next night – a gig to celebrate the life of their friend Julia Darling who died recently of cancer.

They might have been talking about the weather or perhaps Keith was telling Joe something about his sons. Or maybe a story about how his partner, Ellen and something she was working on. Perhaps he was telling Joe about his time as composer in residence in Bergen. The pair of them chatting; Keith, small and thin. Joe, tall and wide.

Someway back up the hill, a white BMW is being driven by a 17 year old lad. For reasons we don’t yet know the car, which is travelling at speed, mounts the pavement and ploughs into them. They are both sent flying into the air. 30 yards says one person. 40 says another. Someone heard the thump. The car leaves the pavement, rejoining the road and continues its journey.

By the time Keith and Joe hit the ground one of them is dead. The other will die later that night, the same night that the crowd gathering at the Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend for the Julia Darling celebration is told that the event has been cancelled.

The kid in the BMW is arrested. Today he appears in court to be charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and other driving offences, police said.

Until recently Keith used to organise a series of jazz-based concerts called Schmazz. I saw Keith and Julie Tippett at a Schmazz concert back in 2000. Newcastle’s only publicly owned concert grand piano was hired in for the occasion. Getting it in and tuned up for Tippett was a nightmare and cost more than the Tippetts’ fee put together and he probably lost money on the gig but said to me that Keith and Julie’s music was the real deal and thus well worth it.

Whether it was under the Schmazz banner or his old alias A(I)M productions or even the self-deprecating Kent Moped as he sometimes called himself, Keith was committed to bringing good music to the region and had been doing so since the early seventies having moved up North from his native Cardiff.

More recently, he’d taken a bit of a back seat with Schmazz in order to concentrate on his writing, working with ensembles like Grand Union and people like John Harle and Andy Sheppard. Keith used to introduce the acts at gigs. He always said the right thing and made the audience laugh. His advice was “be generous and keep it short.”

Somewhere in Newcastle today a seventeen year old kid will be waking up saying he’s sorry. And this morning in Elswick, Ellen and her sons, will be waking up; she now without a partner and her children without a loving dad. And for the rest of us, well, we just have to get on with it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Soaking Up The Sun

The things we take for granted. I took a walk out this morning; a simple thing, something so everyday and utterly unremarkable. The garden is in bloom. Iris, foxgloves, marigolds and a beautiful single poppy had opened its resplendent but fragile leaves and was soaking up the sun.

At the end of our street the view was magnificent. Numerous ships slowly moved in the blue-white haze. There were the tiny day boats and the big ferries out on the water.

Walking along to the seafront to the library, I return a bunch of books that the kids had borrowed and were now due. Whilst there I took a look at the Classic Rock magazine. They’d done a poll of the Top 50 drummers. Bill Bruford came in at No.16. Elsewhere in the magazine there was a very favourable review of Centrozoon’s excellent album, Never Trust The Way You Are. I was so thrilled to see this album mentioned so positively by the monthlies. Well done Markus, Bernhard and Tim!

From there it was up into the town centre of Whitley Bay to pick up some bits and pieces. People going places, doing things, going about their business. I buy some stamps and post a couple of letters including belated birthday greetings to a niece. I buy some vegetables and a pound of Cumberland sausage.

Then back home to write, cook and talk to my family and notch up another day on earth. Appropriately enough, this afternoon, my old chum Chris T is calling over to listen to the new Eno album.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Sharp Intake Of Breath

I suppose if your central heating boiler is going to go on the blink then let it be during what passes for a heatwave round these parts. After running a bath the other, the boiler just gave up. The little lights and clock on the front were both a sad blank. Irkesome though it is not having hot water on demand we get by using an electric shower and boiling water on the stove to wash the dishes although we bow to the inevitable and I start looking for someone to fix the beast.

Increasingly I find going through the Yellow Pages a bit like Russian roulette. Variable service and excessive hourly charges sap the wallet and ones faith in human nature. When Mr. Grumply turned up this morning I felt I was destined to the victim of what is known in the trade as “a sharp in take of breath.” As they breath in, so they drag the life out of your bank balance.

The sharp intake is the tradesman’s way of breaking it gently to the customer that whatever plans one might have made for the education of one’s children in the future can now be forgotten as the transformer on the flange sprocket has gone and it’ll take ten weeks to get another one from the supplier who happens to be based in Belgium. And it’ll cost you big time.

His first act was to ask me the time and get me to sign his sheet thus activating his £45 call out fee. His second act was to open up the boiler front. His third act was to guffaw at the quality of the work the previous engineer had done, taking great delight in pointing out to me how slack the board was and that various pins designed to keep the item in situ had just been left to rattle around the circuitry.

I told him that I thought the firm we’d used last time were cowboys – hence the phone call to him and not them - and this was indeed the proof. He looked at me like I had the word “sucker” tattooed to my forehead, shook his head and carried on poking about the wires.

I returned to the yellow room to try and carry on with some work but really couldn’t concentrate as I wondered what he might find and more importantly if he would run over the first hour and thus trigger another £45. From along the corridor I could hear him grunting and chuckling from time to time as though he were reading a particularly funny book. In my anxious, paranoid state I imagined he was doing just that. The moment I left the room, maybe he just sat down with his bait and book and let the time tick away? In this febrile state I wasn’t able to concentrate on the task in hand and thus spent the next few minutes pacing up and down, looking out of the window and waiting for that sharp intake of breath.

Sure enough, after half an hour he called me in and gave me the bad news. “the transformer on the flange sprocket has gone and it’ll take ten weeks to get another one from the supplier who happens to be based in Belgium. And it’ll cost you big time.” The ice cold ripples of Déjà Vu snaked through me as I almost slumped into a heap before his very eyes.

But then he totally surprised me by adding “If I was you I would use us. We’re too expensive by the hour. Try this firm instead. It’s a bigger fee but they don’t charge you by the hour.” He then wrote a number down on a piece of paper then started to pack his kit away. I signed the time sheet expecting to pay the full hourly rate of £45.00 but then he surprised me one more time by charging me half price (plus vat) as he hadn’t been able to actually fix anything!

As he left, the mixture of elation I felt at not having been charged the full going rate was tempered by the fact that the boiler was still on the blink and that I was going to have to go through the Yellow Roulette routine again. Phone calls made and arrangements made, Debbie and I stared into the bleak pot of our joint finances and settled in for a thoroughly miserable night as we contemplated selling the children into slavery in order to pay the next heating engineer’s call out charge and the £300 we’d been quoted for a new PCB board.

The next morning I was looking for Ginger Bob to give him his worm tablet. I’m not sure he needed it but I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. I wandered past the boiler and noticed the little amber light on the front of the boiler was glowing; more than that the clock was reading correctly! Clearly there was juice getting into the thing where prior to Mr. Grumply’s arrival there had been none.

Still not quite believing my eyes I ran the hot tap and sure enough it came through nice and warm in a matter of seconds. Laughing insanely I rang Debbie who was by now on her way to work to tell her the extraordinary news. “Cancel Yourass Isours & Co., quick!” she blurted.

I did. Double-quick.

So, Mr. Grumply, wherever you may be – a big thank you from all at No.23.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

It's Carots Jim, But Not As We Know Them

The big news round these parts is that I’ve managed to eat carrots without throwing up. All my life I’ve hated this particular vegetable. Just the smell has been enough to reduce me to a retching convulsion in the past.

There’s a joke in our house when serving up food at the table for me to be offered the said veg and for me to politely decline, muttering something about getting them later. Well not this time.

For some inexplicable reason, I was able to eat them up and not mind them at all. Perhaps it was because they’d been cooked with orange and garlic and their carrotty essence was subsumed beneath the additional flavours? I don’t care. I feel healthy all of a sudden.

Debbie and Ginger Bob Hard At Work

Monday, June 06, 2005

In Prog They Trust

Exchanged emails with David Cross today following a related exchange last week. His new album continues to be on heavy rotation here in the yellow room. David had asked for some assistance regarding the drafting of a press release. In this country (and I suspect in others) it’s virtually impossible to get the mainstream press to take any interest in albums that might fall into a niche category such as prog.

When they do it’s usually to raise a cheap laugh at the expense of glittering cape-wearing stereotypes the world over. The recent Sunday Times article, In Prog They Trust , ostensibly celebrating the return of Van der Graaf Generator wasn’t too bad although it couldn’t quite resist the lure of a list claiming “a respectable prog-rock classic is at least 10 minutes long.”

Three of the tracks mentioned (In The Court of The Crimson King, Script for a Jester’s Tear and Paranoid Android) actually dipped under the ten minute rule. I suppose it was trying to make the point that in amongst the usual litany of crimes against music, Prog’s lengthy track times are most commonly cited, grating against accepted rockthink that if it can’t be said in three minutes (or was it two and a half?) minutes then it isn’t worth saying. Hooray from brevity and all that but can you imagine this principle being applied to any other genre?

Friday, June 03, 2005

A Colourful Day

I have to say I’ve been impressed by the stoic dignity with which Tom has endured his recent grounding. He hasn’t hissed about or thrown strops or even been sarcastic about it. In fact he’s been the very model of understanding about the whole situation. There were a couple of moments when, in the face of such reasonableness, I was tempted to let him back onto the computers etc., ahead of the week’s banning but didn’t. Not because I’m mean-spirited but because consistency in these matters seems to be vital: say what you mean and mean what you say. The by-product of this process was that we actually spent far more time together when out of sheer boredom Tom came and chatted, helped out in the kitchen and other chores around the house. I like to think we both came out of it with something more than when we’d started.

Red









My mother came over today for lunch. I’d slung together a bunch of red gunk consisting of tomatoes, chorizo, canelli beans, chilli and served with slow roasted pork. Realising it would all take a while I threw together a starter to keep us going – some stale ciabatta toasted up, olives, rocket and olive oil and garlic dressing. It took about three minutes to prepare and was wonderful! I don’t usually drink any kind of alcohol during the day as it makes me extraordinarily sleepy but in the gorgeous summer sunshine we sat around the table in the back yard and talked the day away. It felt good connecting up. Despite her various aches and diabetes, my mother is good health and at 78 is as bright as a button and sharp as a pin. She’s heading off to Canada next month to stay with our relatives out in Winnipeg and is looking forward to it no end.

Green









It being a bright and breezy kind of day, I manage to prize the new Brian Eno album out of the portable player and let the air fill with the harmony work of Crosby Stills & Nash. I’m insanely jealous that Dude and Bob are going to see them in Birmingham soon. I know they’re deeply unfashionable but when those voices blend together I’m transported somewhere else. For a brief second or two a back yard in Whitley Bay becomes Laurel Canyon. Good food and wine, great company, wonderful weather and fab music – somebody up there likes me!

Blue



Thursday, June 02, 2005

Happy Birthday Debra

Today was Debra’s birthday. Manners prevent me from blabbing how old she is but suffice to say she’s just peachy as far as I’m concerned. With my children on a sleepover at granny’s house and her children old enough to take care of themselves, Debbie and I set out for the day to Sunderland. Originally the plan had been to rove westwards along the Roman wall but the intermittent nature of the weather suggests that we’d be better off going to a place we were able to get indoors fairly quickly.

Sunderland is only a few miles away south of Newcastle but there’s a huge divide as far as popular culture is concerned. People from Newcastle are called Geordies. People from Sunderland are called Macams. Why I don’t know. That’s the way it’s been for generations. There’s an intense rivalry between football teams that can occasionally spill over into violence even today. Twenty five years ago to proudly mention you were a Sunderland supporter in Newcastle city centre was enough to get yer fookin’ ‘ead kicked in and vice versa.

Not caring a fig for such tribal rivalries Debbie and I breezed through to Sunderland’s Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art to see the group show “The Condition of England.” It was a fuzzy and somewhat unfocussed collection of paintings, installations, video and photography by different artists that took up a lot of room to say very little.

The one exception to this was the contribution from the Caravan Gallery the name adopted by Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale. There work comprised of a hundred or so small mounted prints documenting the commercial and social life of the inner city. Unrelentingly grim in outlook it nevertheless prompted a wry grin or two from the punters who spent about five minutes per person examining their space. This contrasted sharply with the few seconds it took to wander through the other artists on show.

The bleak deserted shopping centres and other neglected spaces that are the subject matter were often augmented by once ambitious or exotic names, advertising slogans or graffiti. Thus the Paradise Shopping Centre was anything but. Irony has been the new black of conceptual art for some time but the Caravan Gallery pulled it off to great effect. One got the impression that they actually cared about the condition of England as opposed to the other work which on offer which seemed lazy and detached by comparison.

After that Debbie and I headed over to the winter gardens and spent a while under the glass dome which is mostly covered in seagull shit. As one gazed up through the impressive collection of trees and ferns, there was a birds eye view of avian sphincters.

After a spot of lunch we wandered up to the museum to take a look at the glass collection and an exhibition by Abram Games, a graphic designer whose work was used during WW2 for propaganda aimed at the troops doing the fighting and the folks back on the home front. We both loved his work which seemed remarkably contemporary. Perhaps it’s just that everything else is so retro. Either way we were pleased to have a gentle day out sans offspring and time to ourselves.

In the evening we saw Millions directed by Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting Fame). Compared to Todd Solondz’ dark and disturbing movie Palindromes that we’d seen the night before, this was a laugh a minute.

I guess if one was looking for a definition of quality time then today would be it. It was a special space where Debbie and I found the couple who were madly in love with each other again. So often the various duties, roles and responsibilities that we are obliged to deal with have the effect of distracting us from what is really important. Today it was wonderful to strip all that away and find the joy in something as a simple as holding hands.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Another Day On Earth Brian Eno

The bliss is back!


For all the art-games, strategising and punditry on anything from the Turner prize to voting Lib Deb, Brian Eno’s latest album, Another Day On Earth, provides a timely reminder that the real secret to his peculiar success has always been his unerring sense of melody. Strip away the theories, concepts, futurology and Renaissance-man tags and what you’re left with is someone who knows how to nail a first-rate song down and can do it with the pin-point accuracy of seasoned sharp-shooter.

Maybe it was all that doo-wop when he was a kid or maybe it comes from having rubbed satin and tat with Bryan Ferry when he was still writing decent tunes. Perhaps its hanging out with the Bowie’s and Bono’s of this world or almost any shining star in the cultural firmament of the last thirty years you might care to mention. Wherever he gets it from doesn’t matter; having created a genre or two in his time, renovated numerous careers of the great and good as well as inspiring countless legions of artists around the globe, Brian Eno has nothing to prove.

Bright, joyful and at times exceptionally moving, much of the album basks in the mellifluous glow of Eno’s multi-tracked voice. The shuffling upbeat grooves of Under (previously heard on the abandoned My Squelchy Life) and the ludicrously uplifting Just Another Day show Eno as a relaxed crooner out to enjoy himself.

Perhaps the album’s crowning glory is the blissful And Then So Clear. It contains everything one might hope to encounter in Eno’s music; lofty sonics, astute use of space, rich cadences and a drop-dead gorgeous resolution. Not for the first time in his career Eno somehow grasps the ineffable resulting in a track that is devastatingly effective and stirringly poignant. When it ends you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Originally intended as the album’s ending where it would have provided an opulent closing statement in the manner of Spider And I, it’s been re-sequenced and truncated acting now as a glacial comparison to the slow-burning heat of the album’s opener, This.

Like the painter who captures the complexity of experience with a few brush strokes, so Eno is capable of invoking feelings and moods with a disarming and seductive simplicity that belies the detail and complexity of his processes. Going Unconscious and the tentative Long Way Down waft in and out of focus, interludes that gently usher us along to the plush Caught Between, a quirky ballad surrounded by a rattling, spinning environment and a droll solo that sounds like Robert Fripp crossed with Rolf Harris on Stylophone. He’s having fun and enjoying himself and it shines though in abundance.

A somewhat darker edge creeps in with the nervous urgency of Passing Over. Following a pensive vocal, the brooding middle section contains a swarming backdrop of grinding, distorted guitars and an ominous tumbling echo-drenched piano solo. In an already tightly plotted drama, the real twist comes when Eno’s vocals return. Augmented to a ring-modulated baritone rasp, he chillingly announces that the past is gone and can never be recollected. It’s a genuinely unsettling moment. Bonebomb, (David Bowie’s favourite cut apparently) also shares a jarring throbbing quality; lines recited by a female voice are scattered like seeds from which ideas and provocative correspondences burst and bloom.

How Many Worlds is an object lesson in Eno’s other trademark skill - making a little go a long way. Here a looped Spanish guitar provides the brisk foundation for a song that asks questions about life with the naïve precision of an inquisitive child. Here, the luscious instrumental passage, partially reminiscent of Ascending from the Apollo album, captures Eno at his most yearning. The surging romanticism as the string section swells and falls away is without doubt one of the most breath-taking and accomplished moments in his recorded output.

Another Day On Earth represents the best of Eno’s sound worlds, an eloquent, articulate collection combining in a triumphant record of memorable songs. It’s an old friend returning, a big friendly hug of an album; it’s music to put a smile on your face.

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