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Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Rites Of Spring Cleaning

Debbie got back yesterday from her trip to Wales. Though it rained continually she declared the family to be in good fettle. You might think that after a hard week of drinking tea, eating cake and chinwagging that she’d be exhausted.

Not a bit of it.

Like a greyhound out of a trap she began the big spring cleaning ritual. In this house that means sneezing and coughing through a haze of dust and discovering you had albums by Sinead O’ Connor and Future Loop Foundation.

The reason for this activity is not unrelated to the fact that we have guests arriving in a couple of weeks and currently there’s nowhere to put them in anything that might pass as comfortable. So we start on what is notionally referred to as the guest room but is in fact a bike shed/furniture store/ old coat rack/second-hand book shop/staging post to the charity shop. Delving into the cupboard Debbie hauls out several boxes belonging to me that have not been opened since before I moved into this house – ten years ago.

While Debbie does all the hard work I rummage through the contents with the intention of throwing stuff away. I discover one box contains folders that date back to the early 80s, each one packed with poetry. I gingerly pick through this stuff as though it might contaminate me hardly daring to read any of it. The bits that I dare to scan cause me to feel faint at their hopeless naivety and well, their hopelessness. More delving produces a rejection slip or two. What I’m amazed at is my nerve in sending any of this out to real publishers.

As magnetically insidious as pornography I can’t help but peak a bit more and discover story outlines, early chapter drafts, notes and commentary. I don’t know what’s worse; the actual writing or my notes about my writing.

And yet.

Did they go in the bin? Did I hurl it all away, casting aside pieces that speak (however inelegantly) of people and places, time and space now gone?

Of course not.

Although this stuff has been ignored, unseen and unloved in a box for about 15 years I can’t bring myself to get shot of it all.

In a piece of reverse archaeology Debbie hands me another box that contains cassette tapes from 1982 of me mucking about on a VCS3 at Spectro Arts Workshop. Labelled The Index of Enquiry And Information (it’s the early 89s remember!) this toe-tapping electronica consists of a long low drone that slurs every once in a while into another before fading irrevocably into a sizzling swirl of tape hiss. Another consists of me saying the phrase “I Remembered Remembering” in a sibilant whisper on tape-loop.

As intrigued as I was, after 15 minutes of patient listening (aka waiting for something to happen) I pressed eject. Alongside this were a bunch of articles I'd written for music fanzines in the 80s as well as some documentation of the "I Remembered Remembering" show which looked a lot better than the soundtrack.

More up to date and possibly of more interest to the readers of these pages who share an enthusiasm for King Crimson, I discover my notebooks for the ProjeKct 4 tour of the USA where I did the merch table.

Skipping through them I discovered that these were the original notes which appeared in a highly edited format firstly as a special edition of Elephant Talk and subsequently as the liner notes to West Coast Live by P4.

I might put the unexpurgated version on here along with a whole bunch of blurry pics I took at the time.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Stream of Conscience-ness

Over on the right - a member of the oppressed minority. . .

The Otis Ferry household may be down in the dumps at the news that the Countryside Alliance has lost another round in their fallacious attempt to have the ban on foxhunting overturned but here in the yellow room the result is greeted with a cheer!

I’ve never quite understood the argument that the ban on hunting with dogs will destroy a way of life. They tell us that thousands of people will lose their jobs. The noble hounds will have to be destroyed. Now I don’t know about you but to me that sounds a bit like “Give us what we want or the pooch here gets it!”

Haven’t these people heard of drag hunting? Here’s how it works. All the people who look after the hounds still get to care for the dawgs who still get to follow the scent who in turn are followed by the people who like riding, who are themselves being followed by all the hunt supporters from the villages, towns and cities and at the end of it everyone gets to have a good chinwag about how Harry nearly went for a burton at Crawley’s Dyke or some such.

The ONLY thing that’s missing from this marvelous day out in the country is the bit where the fox gets killed after being run to the point of exhaustion and ripped apart by the dogs.

Could it be that this really is the bit they like the best?

And In what must count as something of a double-whammy for the High Court I was also pleased to see that the disgraceful attempt to ban peace campaigner Brian Haw’s four year protest outside the houses of parliament has been rejected. Haw has been haranguing the politicians at Westminster for four years with an amplified stream of conscience-ness about the decision to go to war with Iraq.

Apparently some MP’s had complained that the daily anti-war rant across from their offices was something of a distraction. They had hoped the half mile exclusion zone around parliament (effective from August 1) will stop the likes of the anti-hunting bill campaigners (to name but one group) getting too close and thus disrupt their daily business. If the new legislation might sweep Mr. Haw out of earshot and perhaps out of mind, all well and good.

Not a bit of it thankfully.

Haw’s protest continues to remind them that in a democracy you have to take the rough with the smoothies like Otis Ferry.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Wind Of Change

I was on the blower to Debbie last night telling her about the tornado in Birmingham. She thought I was winding her up with tales of ripped up trees, ripped off roofs and injured parties in the heart of Brummy surburbia. Debbie speculates on whether or not one of her chums, Beige Peter, might be responsible. We’ve long suspected him on doing unnatural things although we never figured that weather control was one of them.

Though far less dramatic, she tells me that the rain in Wales has been unrelenting. My abiding memory of being in the caravan at Trecco Bay is a sense that one’s confinement might be ended only by an impending Joseph K-style moment of dubious outcome. “Wish you were here” we write on the postcards stifling the urge to add “instead of me.”

Meanwhile at home, Tom and Joe are utilising the beginnings of the school holidays by cleaning up their room. This is done in good humour particularly on Tom’s part who not only found fifty pence but knows that this is the last time he’ll be doing this particular task in this particular room.

Over the next few weeks he’ll be moving into the attic and his own space – a move which Tom understands will be hastened by helping me work on the rooms today; hence the “here let me help” routine. To be fair I wouldn’t have been able to do half of it without his help as there was an awful lot of bending to be done.

Richard Maughan writes to alert me to the fact that The Guardian has an article by John Harris that looks at the apparent revival of prog rock as evidenced by the recent Q special edition.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Affirmative Action

Lots of emails today flying back and forth and up and down; some positive, some less so but for what ever reason, the glass is half-full at the moment and that’ll do me fine.

Included in the e-traffic comes word from Robert regarding the forthcoming Soundscapes album culled from the non-tour. The working title is, Affirmation Soundscapes In America 2005, although this is likely to change.

And in another not entirely unrelated exchange, news from Alex “Stormy” Mundy that he’s preparing the full unedited last night of ProjeKct One at the Jazz CafĂ© for download over at the new DGM website.

To which I said . . .

Once I download it I'll put it on the player upstairs in the yellow room here but go to the downstairs toilet in order to replicate my first hearing of this music all those years ago (the merch stall at the gig was located in the basement next to the toilets at the Jazz Cafe - he said by way of explanation) How's that for authenticity!

To which he said

To be in step with your memory of that night I will master this show in the bathroom next to where the studio is to allow for a natural reverb/echo. Maybe this could be the merch/W.C. remix Audio experience.

To which the guitarist said

sid - i can smell the music!

Here's a gratuitous Merch stall pic from days of yore. And yes, that is a green anorak I'm wearing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

There Is Such A Thing As A Free Gift

The early shift at Victoria Avenue does have its compensations. . .the end of my street at a little after 5.00 a.m.


I’m still getting used to the blogspot experience but have stumbled across some great blogs.

I read this and nearly broke a rib laughing. Very amusing and no, I’m not going to tell you which one I am.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Moving Story

I spent the very early part of this morning writing and then hand delivering postcards – real postcards through my neighbour’s doors. Utilising a variety of cards randomly grabbed from the drawer of Debbie’s desk, I hastily scrawled “Crisis At No.23”

The crisis boiled down to this. It’s Tuesday which is the day the bin men arrive to cart away the vegetable peelings, used cat litter, unopened letters from the bank and all the other detritus of my life.

Debbie, Alys and Sam are in Wales. Sam’s car is in the back lane. The back lane doesn’t readily accommodate two vehicles at a time. The car needs to be moved.

One of the postcards in question designed by Mathew Jackman, Fine Art Degree show, 2003


Although I learnt to drive nearly 13 years ago I never passed my test. I was then and remain one of life’s confirmed pedestrians. Sitting behind the wheel of the car when it was in motion wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. Not scared you understand but just “not quite right.”

The impetus for me to drive was for me to get my then wife to the hospital under our own steam for her give birth to our second son, Joseph.

During the pregnancy I dutifully practiced my three point turns and other routines two or three times a week. With the test date only a few days away Joe decided it was time for him to be out and about and a few days after he’d arrived in this world, I took the test and failed and rightly so in my opinion. I never got back in the car again.

Sam’s car needed moving and though I knew I could start it and drive it in a straight line, any other manoeuvre would be problematic. All of our neighbours drive and I reckoned that were it possible they would move the car for me. It was still early, too early to be phoning people hence the postcards. Thomas from a few doors up was the first to respond telling me that he would call in later that morning.

A few minutes after he’d gone, Julie from across the street rang in to say that she’d just come in off night duty and would be over in a thrice. I had barely put the phone down when Jude from next door wandered in (also off night duty) offering to move the car there and then. All together now. . .”Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours. . .”

Elsewhere. . .

My mother has arrived safe and sound in Pine Falls, Manitoba where she will be the guest of Cousin Brian and his wife Iris for the next few days .

Debbie and the gang are enjoying themselves in Wales despite the lashings of rain. In a squalid attempt to appear cool and up to date I tried to text Debbie to keep her abreast of the impending House Pest extravaganza that August is lining up to be. After an hour or so of trying to turn off the predictive text I gave up.

Listening To. . .

In the post today a bunch of remakes, remodels and remasters. . .

The Pearl by Harold Budd & Brian Eno

Songs From The Observatory by Isildurs Bane

Message From The Country by The Move

Harvest Showdown by Various Artists

Alice In Ultraland by the Amorphous Androgynous

8 Armed Monkey by KTU

Monday, July 25, 2005

Deep Purple Live In Concert 72/73

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. . .

Watching Deep Purple Live In Concert 72/73, I floated off on a great undulating wave of nostalgia. No great surprise there you might think. Long-term readers of these pages know I own acres of real estate in that rose-tinted country.


For a brief spell, Deep Purple occupied pole position as I embarked on my quest to find the adolescent Holy Grail aka “my favourite band.” The criterion for this accolade was straight forward enough. They had to be “heavy.” In 1971, heavy meant serious (i.e not in the charts). And loud. Better yet, seriously loud.

Uriah Heep, Free, ELP, Wishbone Ash, Mott The Hoople, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Mountain, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and more besides were all in the running. Even the little league-types such as UFO, the ubiquitous Stray and others of their second-division ilk were under starter’s orders; there was always something of a smug cache found supporting the underdog, extolling the virtues of a band that nobody had ever heard of.

So given that most of them were heavy and loud what was the thing that gave one the edge over another? A hero of course; There had to be at least one musician of Olympian stature who could be worshipped for his jaw-dropping dexterity, razzle-dazzle showmanship, big hair and stacked footwear.

Mick Box, Robert Fripp, Leslie West, Ian Hunter, Keith Emerson, Ian Anderson all stood out in this way. Some bands even did a credible two-hander in the hero stakes; Page and Plant, Osborne and Iommi, Rodgers and Kossoff, all delivered well on that front.

But the one band that trumped them all was Deep Purple. Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan were absurdly talented rock behemoths and no mistake. Whereas many of the bands on the list were admired for the blunt efficiency with which they banged out their music, Purple came with the extra clout and subtlety of a claw hammer. Sure they could make a loud noise but it pulled off some tricksy manoeuvres thanks to the tension between Lord’s classicism and Blackmore’s rockist resolve. Gillan sat astride both camps, capable of aria-like cries from the pit of his soul or letting the good times roll with the best of them.

Not only was Lord was a fluent player but a superb arranger, a master at cranking up the engine at exactly the right moment. Gillan was the equal of any high-scream histrionics that Blackmore might wring from the neck of his Strat. The dour-faced guitarist was blessed with an athletic if at times unpredictable style. Though a fully paid up member of the straight-ahead power-riffing rock-god club, Blackmore tossed in a liberal amount of atonal, hair-curling whammy-bar abuse taking his solos into the weird and occasionally wonderful.

Bedded with the formidable rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover, Purple in full flow was a piledriver of a band. Yet they also corralled their clout by boxing clever with some smart material such as the classic Child In Time. Appealing to the head and heart, its portentous lyric sombre arrangements and yearning vocal, sounded though it might be about something meaningful about the times we were living in– something that wasn’t necessarily high on the agenda of many of the groups back then.

If like me, you attended a Deep Purple gig but can’t recall actually seeing them because you were too busy manically waving your barnet back and forth, freaking out in the dandruff exchange (roughly) in time with the music, then this DVD is going to be a sight for sore eyes or even a stiff neck or slipped disc.

Gathering the only surviving footage of Purple’s classic Mark II line-up, we see a pre-Machine Head bash on Denmark TV (March 1972) and their appearance in New York on ABC’s In Concert programme in 1973.

Though just over a year separates the two shows on offer here, the contrast between couldn’t be starker. 1972s black and white footage filmed in Copenhagen shows a relatively fresh-faced line group, lean and fit, exchanging nervous smiles and jokes as they plug in, tune up and turn on. They almost look surprised to be there on tele. For a second or two you expect Ian Gillan to wave hello to his folks back in Hounslow.

Energetic and solid throughout Purple honour the custom and practice of the hard rock bands of the day; Lord rocks the Hammond back and forth, Blackmore hurls the strat aloft and Gillan gives the congas some grief so as not to look like a plank when he’s not singing.

Beset by some truly duff camera work that nearly always manages to be on the wrong person at exactly the wrong moment, it nevertheless gives a full account of Purple’s proficiency with a rock riff or two as they blast off with the then unreleased Highway Star and blaze through to a rousing finale with Black Night.

Next to this we see the 25 minutes of colour footage that remains from their appearance on ABC’s In Concert. The most obvious point to make is the dramatic improvement in the production filmed at New York’s Hofstra University. Aside from the director’s penchant to grab a few gratuitous bouncing breasts shots, it’s an altogether slicker affair. Though a full concert was filmed it was shorn down to fit into the allotted slot with the remaining footage junked.

With only three numbers left to view, we can see close up and in colour that the accelerated lifestyle of a rock band at the top has not been kind to the players; once youthful complexions have been consumed by a strict and committed adherence to the Jim Morrison Rough Guide to life on the road. Paicey has a paunch, Lord looks like an old lag and a raddled Gillan has that bleary faraway look acquired by a steady diet of booze, birds, backstage riders.

Given that by the time of this gig the band were falling apart there’s a show-must-go-on (and on) atmosphere. The playful competition that saw Blackmore and Gillan trading licks on Strange Kind of Woman on Denmark TV is replaced in New York by a grumpy professionalism that honours the letter of the contract but has little of its original spirit.

Though the Denmark gig has previously seen the light of day as a Japanese video (Machine Head Live) and Scandinavian Nights, in Europe in 1990 the American TV footage is released here for the first time with what will be the jewel in the crown for most Purple fans - the appearance of Smoke On The Water. Amazingly, for a track that has become both classic and cliché beloved of tyro-metal gods the world over and derided as elementary rock fodder in roughly equal measure, this is the only known Mk II footage of what is arguably their most celebrated signature track. Be warned though, the track has been mangled by the In Concert editors, removing the bulk of the soloing that would have normally been present.

Despite this though, the sheer rarity value and superb condition of the footage, along with an informed and entertaining commentary option for both gigs, on-screen biogs, four pages of sleeve notes and a bonus track featuring Mark III at the California Jam in 1974, should be more than enough to sway both hardcore fans and terminal nostalgics, lost in the memory-haze of hair, ringing ears and sweat-soaked loons.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Silence Is Golden (Or At Least It Might Be If I Didn't Stop Mouthing Off.)

Debbie, Sam and Alys headed off this morning at around 5.00 a.m. to Newcastle airport. From there they flew down to Bristol and from there they would be getting a train to Cardiff and Bridgend to rendezvous with Bill, Debbie’s father. In times gone by I would have normally made the journey but cash being not so much tight as in a death-grip, the boys and I have had to forgo the pleasures and fun that is Trecco Bay.

Just five or six hours before leaving on a jet plane Debbie and I had been having a fine time next door at John and Jude’s house where John was having a fancy dress birthday party. Being a pair of Kevin Smith fans, we went dressed up as Jay and Silent Bob although neither of us had twigged this near-perfect fit until Sam suggested it.

Being as Jay is a foul-mouthed slacker who only ever thinks about the pleasures of the flesh it was never going to be too much of a stretch for Debbie to get into character.

Me as Silent Bob however was another matter. Although I fit the “ton of fun” profile, one thing I am not however, is silent.

Reticent, uncommunicative, taciturn perhaps; all of these things and a lot more but rarely am I silent. Verbose Bob might be better or Long-winded Bob. Possibly even When-Oh-Lord –When- Will-You-Shut-The-Fuck-Up Bob. Given this state of affairs I thought it would be wonderful to go to the party and spend the entire night keeping my fat trap shut.

Dear Reader, I managed a little less than three minutes before opening my mouth and gunning it large for the rest of the night.

What is it about us that we constantly avoid silence in public places and even closer to home. I’ve always got the radio on and if not that, then a CD playing. Or a movie. One of my favourites, Fargo, has a great scene in which the fast-talking hood, Carl (played by Steve Buscemi) berates his car-buddy and closet psycho-killer Grimsrud for being so quiet on their long car journey.


CAR

Carl is driving. Grimsrud stares out front.

After a beat:

CARL
... Look at that. Twin Cities.
IDS Building, the big glass one.
Tallest skyscraper in the Midwest.
After the Sears, uh, Chicago...
You never been to Minneapolis?

GRIMSRUD
No.

CARL
... Would it kill you to say
something?

GRIMSRUD
I did.

CARL
"No." First thing you've said
in the last four hours. That's
a, that's a fountain of conversation,
man. That's a geyser. I mean, whoa,
daddy, stand back, man. Shit, I'm
sittin' here driving, man, doin'
all the driving, whole fuckin' way
from Brainerd, drivin', tryin' to,
you know, tryin' to chat, keep
our spirits up, fight the boredom
of the road, and you can't say one
fucking thing just in the way of
conversation.

Grimsurd smokes, gazing out the window.

CARL
... Well, fuck it, I don't have
to talk either, man. See how
you like it...

He drives.

CARL
... Total silence...



In the early 80s I worked in a community action project that operated out of one room. On my first day I discovered that I would be sharing an office with the man who would be my boss. I was completely thrown when all my attempts at small talk were ignored. Sensing I was left feeling uncomfortable in this new situation he explained to me that he wasn’t being rude but merely wanted to get on with the task in hand without distractions such as chit-chat. Once I knew the ground rules it was fine and I became relaxed about it.

For the record the man who didn’t do the polite tete a tete was at an inspirational public speaker on politics and social policy. He would emerge from his cavern of silence, produce a salvo of hard-hitting words capable of moving people to tears or action; his words having been incubated and nurtured in the silence of his room.

Of course it’s impossible to undertake any consideration of what it means to be silent without recourse to the C-word. Yep, Cage. John Cage. David Revill’s highly readable account of that old chancer’s life, The Roaring Silence, tells of Cage’s visit to an anechoic chamber. Instead of the expected stillness and absence of sound, Cage was assailed by the whining and rumbling of his nervous and circulatory systems going full tilt. “Try as we may to make a silence, we cannot. No silence exists that is not pregnant with sound.” Let’s remember that Cage’s famous 4’.33” was itself an aural response to Robert Rauschenberg’s all-black and all-white canvasses, themselves a meditation on stillness, searching for a different kind of silence.

I was reading through a passage from a wonderful book called A Voice At The Borders of Silence – the autobiography of another American artist, William Segal. A gift from a reader of the diary, Segal had this to offer on the matter of what being silent might encompass.

The Search For Silence

When I was a young man and for the first time heard the sentence “A woman waits for me”, I was struck by the inner silence which these words evoked. The essence of this silence continues to haunt me.

In these moments we come to feel each other’s poetic existence. We feel part of something latent that calls, without effort on our part, towards a rally point where we come together in a wordless, relatively pure state. Not a word need be spoken. But there appears a link of understanding. It is as if the many minds and voices had melted into one – a universal convergence into a beneficial, soundless tone, uniting without intellection.

Sometimes this sound becomes hard to bear. We become nervous, even ashamed, to be quiet more than a moment. Still when it departs it leaves us bathed of the pettiness of ordinary life. Rare though these moments may be, they leave an impression on both the individual and the group. How blessed we are when we receive them.

Our capacity to remain open is very much in question, because we are trained to accept the mechanical flow of attention all the time. Mind is kept busy, forever caught in swirling thoughts. Mind, however, is subject to training. It can be occupied in such a way that it becomes controlled. When one thinks with intention, one is not subject to the shifts and incessant breakages in thought. There is less distraction and the consequent veering away of the attention. With A quiet mind and body, a stability and groundedness appear.

The breath can be a great support. Awareness of the breath gives a foretaste of stillness.

In the listening, the silence itself becomes a material that is available for transformation. W are on the way to being more unified.

One can gain a sense of this harmony and stability by observing some of the silent figures of the Buddhas. They convey a stillness that is not easily disturbed, unlike the grass, which quivers with each gust of wind.

This gravity comes from a harmony of mind, body, and feelings. For most of us, there is an imbalance between the different parts. One part is too overbearing, another part is not functioning as it should be. Each shift in thought disturbs the pattern of inner silence. We are ruffled and carried away by each wind. But when there is a balance among mind, body, and feelings, there appears a solidity and a concentration which does not permit of the frittering away of energy.

In a sense, we are called to live between two worlds, in a region which might be referred to as the Middle Ground – between the objective and subjective worlds. There is, in the silence of the subjective inner world, the possibility of being in touch in touch with “I am.” It is possible to encompass all the richness of impressions that are offered by nature and at the time remain in contact with one’s subjective “I.” The complete man has access to a world of subtle and nourishing impressions. He goes on with his everyday occupations, but remains in contact with the inner world.

Maintaining this two-fold contact is difficult. The incessant appeal of the objective world constantly calls us away. We are continually seduced, mechanically reacting to sounds, both inner and outer. But always present, beyond the subtle breakages – the heart pumping, the breath, blood circulation, thoughts and tensions – there is the “other.”

And after all that, maybe I should just shut up for a while.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Do You Feel Lucky?

News of the London bombings failed to reach Debbie and I yesterday given that we were ensconced in the big yellow room clean-up operation. The first we heard about it was when Sam came home from work and mentioned that the internet and mobile systems had briefly crashed after the news broke.

Not that it makes such occurrences easier to deal with but it reminds me of the 1970s when the IRA mainland bombing campaign was in full swing. One was never sure where it might happen next provoking a climate of suspicion, placing immense pressure on the government of the day to bring in hastily drawn (and thus potentially bad) legislation and police to come up with arrests and put anyone with an Irish accent in the frame.

Debbie tells me that last week a colleague of hers, whose partner is Muslim, has been reluctant to go out and about given the current atmosphere of fear and blame surrounding Muslims. When Brian called around today he told me his son witnessed the staff of a local kebab shop abused, accused of being bombers and told to go back home.

When atrocities were committed on both sides of the sectarian (especially when it reached the mainland) the Irish community irrespective of their perceived allegiances were all lumped together, seen as part of some turbulent disaffected mass that needed to be handled with extreme caution at all times.

The media’s fixation with constantly describing the people carrying out these attacks as Muslims is kind of missing the point. Whilst their politics might well be informed by a warped version of their religion, Allah isn’t what this is about. Rather it’s about violence, intimidation, manipulation, power, greed; all those basic low-life human things - same as it ever was.

There’s not a city that’s been built can ever be 100% safe from terrorists; someone will always get through in the end. As the IRA said in respect of the Brighton bombing when they almost succeeded in assassinating a large portion the UK cabinet in 1984 "Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once - you will have to be lucky always."

Yesterday, London got lucky. For now.

Elsewhere. . .

In the post today – a package from bassist Jay Terrien containing his new power duo album with Pat Mastlotto. Not heard it yet but I’ll be giving it a spin over the weekend.

Tom and Joe are full of the joys of being off school now for the summer holidays. Next week we’ll have the house to ourselves as Debbie and her gang are off to Wales for the Raikes eisteddfod. Although it can be quite nice having the run of the house without recourse to others, it can also feel a bit unbalanced when Deb and co., aren’t around.

Tonight, Debbie and I are heading off to John and Jude's (next door neighbours). It's the first such gathering without the presence of Jed and Lesley who recently left the UK to set up home in Spain. The last I heard about the adventurous duo and their family, their van had broken broken down somewhere in France. The party tonight is fancy dress. Debbie and I are going as Jay & Silent Bob. Given that Jay is often heard uttering the phrase "My tubby husband" there's no prize for guessing who I'm going as.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Meet On The Ledge

It’s been all-go this morning. The second day of installing the windows meant that I had to vacate the yellow room and decamp to the green room downstairs.

I'd been about to listen to a whole bunch of review CDs that had arrived in the post this morning
– Egg, Khan, Touch, etc. - when the phone rang; a chum making arrangements for a potential trip to Liverpool to take in the Summer Of Love exhibition at the Tate.

Then it was my bank.
Good news; they've resumed diplomatic relations and are considering my application for favoured nation status. And speaking of bills of a different kind, the next call I took came from Bill Bruford, checking-in on literary matters and generally catch-up on the gossip. Several authors got mentioned in the course of our chat but it became clear that Bill had not heard of any of them. My recommendation to Bill was to stop playing the drums and stay in a bit more with a good book.

By the time I got round to making a pot of tea, Brian and Tom - the two guys putting the new windows in were almost dead from dehydration. The icing on this wonderful confection of a delightful day was the formal completion of the new windows in the yellow room a little after one o’ clock this afternoon. Normally wary of tradesmen, I have to say these two were the mutt's nuts. Hard-working, polite and a nice manner all round.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning. Starting with the dado rail (a bit like a dada rail only not as wonky) we worked our way downwards; every square inch of surface was coated in a course gritty film of sand. Yes, sand. When Brian and Tom were breaking out the boxes and frames, great dunes of the stuff fell out. I knew we lived near a beach but had no idea it was this close. Apparently most old houses on the coast are prone to hoovering the windblown stuff up faster than nose-candy at a Columbian cartel’s test range - or so Tom the window-man tells me.

It took Debbie and I from about 1.30 p.m. until 6.30 p.m. without any kind of break to get the yellow room back to normal. As ever, we were helped by playing lots of David Bowie albums - clinically proven to aid the cleaning and washing of all household surfaces including books, book cases, CDs, CD racks, furniture (fabric and wood) and any amount of domestic detritus.

Also in the post today this postcard from Neil and Halina - our chums from Birmingham. They’re coming up to stay with us for a couple of during the holidays and we’re all excited. As anyone who knows Debbie and me will tell you, this card is a spookily accurate caricature of the two of us.


Definitely a case of art imitating life. . .

On the back it’s titled:

The Enquiring Mind. 10. Intellectual Stature

If anyone knows anything about who the artist / producer Stamp might be or if they have others in the series then please let me know via the usual channels.




Definitely a case of life imitating art. . .

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Cat Of Course Said Nothing

On the blower last night a call from Tim Bowness regarding a burning question in connection to Burning Shed. It’s been a while since Tim and I talked. The last time proper was when Centrozoon were playing in the region back in February 2002. Tim was billeted with me in Whitley Bay and after the gig we talked through the night until the sun came up. Last nights call wasn’t quite on such epic proportions but very welcome nevertheless. Tim’s last album My Hotel Year received heavy rotation in the yellow room on its release in 2004.

As you can see, turmoil and unwelcome movement of all kinds beset the yellow room today. As you can also see, Ginger Bob couldn’t give a fig where his chair gets shoved as long as he can still climb aboard. The reason for all this upheaval of industrial quantities of cat-hair and dust is the impending removal of the two front windows.

In danger of falling out at any moment we thought it prudent to get them replaced with something that will a) keep the wind and rain out in the summer (these ones don’t) and be let more air in during the summer (ditto). Thanks to a generous loan from Debbie’s dad we’ve got the blokey’s from a local firm to give us brand-spanking new ones. Aesthetically, I dislike UPVC windows. From an economic point of view though it’s a no-brainer.

Debbie got in late last night from her leaving party with colleagues from school. She’s still a bit teary this morning. There were some very touching things said about her abilities and attributes as a teacher and a human being. I was speaking to Tom about his excellent school report. Sure enough, the subjects for which he receives the most praise are the ones where he likes and respects the teacher. Tom is pleased with the report as well and as I read sections of it aloud h had that slightly pained smirk that said “Gosh this is a bit embarrassing but please don’t stop.” The worst comment he got was that in Religious studies his overall performance was graded as satisfactory. “That’s OK isn’t it dad?” he asks

“Satisfactory is the schools way of politely saying that you can draw your name in the sand with a big stick” I reply.

He laughs and laughs a bit more when I tell him that one of my teachers famously commented “With a little bit more effort Smith’s work could be almost unsatisfactory.” Needless to say that Tom’s report at the age of 14 is better than anything I ever achieved at school.

Listening To. . .
B-Sides & Rarities by Terrorvision
Live at Wabo Cabo '96 by Alice Cooper

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sea Views & Ambient Blues . . .

It's four in the morning and once more the dawning. . .

Unable to sleep any longer, I quietly out of bed and padded into the yellow room to discover it wasn’t quite 4.00 a.m. Knowing that if I went back to bed I would only toss and turn and risk waking Debbie up far earlier than she needs to be, I opted to sit and read and then go downstairs to watch the sun come up.

The BBC is carrying a story about how a sea view can help relieve stress although it seems the vista at the end of our street had little impact on a tearful Debra as she made her way to work this morning. It’s her last day in her present job. After five years of commuting around two and a half hours every working day, she’ll be making her final ride from her school over in the Teams estate in Gateshead

Her new job, which she starts in September, is comparatively a stone’s throw away with a bus from the top of our street to the doorway of the centre in North Shields. Still that’s little comfort to her right now. This morning and for the rest of the day, she’ll be honking into the hankie, upset to be leaving friends and colleagues, and all the kids she’s played a part in helping along in their early years.

Elsewhere. . .

Should you ever have a shark land up in your back garden and bored with the Barbie, want to do something else with it, then tune into the Food Programme to find out. Be warned, the link to this culinary curiosity is only valid for a week.

Cause And Effect. . .
The Butterfly Effect by Tim Gerwing

From the first minimal flap of his wings as he broke from the creative chrysalis of Roxy Music, the effects of Brian Eno’s sonic exercising has discretely disturbed and mixed the collective consciousness of the listening and playing public at large. One way or another, when it comes to ambient music all creators, great and small, experience Eno’s unique butterfly effect.

Canadian multi-instrumentalist, Tim Gerwing openly ackowledges this. Sadly though, the collective weight of Hassell, Syvian, Fripp and Eno bears down rather heavily on his second solo album, threatening at times to squash it flat. Gerwing is best when he takes flight with his own ideas and occasionally startling compositions.

The resonant percussive Cumulonimbus satisfies, as does the discordant vocals of Working With You - a welcome shake from the prevailing ambient torpor. The laborious title Nothing Useless In The Sidereal Immensity suggests a blast of T.Dream pomposity but actually conceals an oud solo of real beauty and warmth whilst the most convincing track is the atypical Stream of Consciousness; a jagged bump and grind-grunge suggesting that Gerwing might profitably explore the harder-edges of his music to fully stretch his obvious and emerging talents.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Game, Set & Scatch

Phew it’s been a scorcher these last two days yet somehow Tom and I mowed the lawn. For my part, I was puggled but Tom and Joe were hot to trot. After an inspired dig about in the shed we found a set of scatch and the three of us played that for a couple of hours.

I wasn’t too clever at it because of my back so got the job of umpire. The game was played for points using the same method as scoring in tennis and got intensely competitive whilst remaining friendly.

I was pleased because on Friday night I had to talk to Tom about his increasingly dismissive attitude toward his younger brother. The temperature has been rising on the emotional front as well as the weather of late. Of course all kids are prone to falling out with each other and in the ordinary course of things these things are self-repairing, tending to disappear as soon as it flares up. Recently though things have changed. Normally the life and soul of the party, he’s become a touch introverted and insular to the point where I’ve begun to notice how often I’m saying “are you alright?” It seems that Tom’s unrelenting ire is having a corrosive effect on Joe’s general sense of well-being and confidence.

Reassuring Joe that was OK to feel down about this kind of thing opened up the flood gates and for an hour or so, with some tears along the way, Joe outlined the massive sense of rejection. There’s a gap opening up between them that he’s at a loss to explain; where once things felt sure-footed, Joe now teeters on a tightrope slung between the chasm that is being eleven and fourteen.

Later that night I talked to Tom who was initially defensive and in deny-everything-at-all-cost mode. I don’t raise my voice, I smile, I nod a lot and listen. It’s hard because I feel my anger bubbling underneath at some of the things Tom’s coming out with. However, I keep a hold of it and patiently begin to counter some of what’s being said. To his credit, he starts to hear what I’m saying, what I’ve been observing over the last few weeks; that he’s been speaking to his brother like he’s a piece of dirt.

I realise I’ve been guilty of complacency, thinking it to be the normal cut and thrust that all siblings experience. True it is. But it’s also something else, a growing self-centredness. It’s habit-forming and Tom is in danger of acquiring the taste. Three things happen when you grow up thinking you can talk to people like they’re shit. First, you lose friends, then you attract the wrong kind of friends. The third thing that will happen is that sooner or later somebody will break your nose.

Tom and I had been talking for well over an hour. He was calm, articulate and once he’d dropped his clenched and tightly-held defences, accepted the general gist of my observations and concerns. Perhaps at one time it would have been a case of me parking my tank on his lawn, laying down the law with a mixture of carrot and stick. This felt different, more of an exchange of experiences and ideas.

By this point in our talk, we were standing out front when we heard a burst of prolonged angry shouting coming over the rooftops from the back lane. Rushing through to the back, I recognised the voice of a troubled teenager who lives a few doors up, bellowing threats to kill his older brother. This was beyond bravado and conveyed enough intent to propel me directly to the phone and the police.

To cut a long story short, one brother took a kitchen knife to the other, narrowly avoiding slicing his neck. As the police and ambulance came and went, as the excitement ebbed away and things settled down, Tom and I were left pondering on how bad relationships can go, the turbulent events of the night illustrating such extremes.

Though its only been a couple of days since we talked, which means there’s time for it to all go pear-shaped, Tom has been acting a tad more courteous towards his brother and Joe has noticed the difference. Consequently, the tit-for-tat mauling has abated for now, replaced by good-humoured knockabout. No doubt the scatch match of life will continue to have it's ups and downs but compared to how bad it can be, I count my blessings.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Listing A Little Bit. . .

In the new Q special on Prog Rock there’s a list of what their panel of white-coated boffins regard as essential in the world of musical adventures. So how many of these albums do you own?

Less than ten means you're in a relationship and have friends who don't have pizza stains on their beards. In fact none of your friends have beards. You have friends! Well you get the idea.

  1. Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd
  2. Foxtrot by Genesis
  3. Close To The Edge by Yes
  4. In The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson
  5. Brain Salad Surgery by ELP
  6. A Farewell To Kings by Rush
  7. Aqualung by Jethro Tull
  8. Space Ritual by Hawkwind
  9. Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield
  10. Ok Computer by Radiohead
  11. Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
  12. The Yes Album by Yes
  13. Hot Rats by Frank Zappa
  14. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis
  15. The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other by VdGG
  16. Octupus by Gentle Giant
  17. Misplaced Childhood by Marillion
  18. Frances The Mute by The Mars Volta
  19. In The Land of Grey And Pink by Caravan
  20. Third by Soft Machine
  21. Lateralus by Tool
  22. Larks’ Tongues In Aspic by King Crimson
  23. Moonmadness by Camel
  24. Moving Waves by Focus
  25. A night At The Opera by Queen
  26. Pampered Menial by Pavlov’s Dog
  27. Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros
  28. L by Steve Hillage
  29. Five Bridges by The Nice
  30. Music In A Dolls House by family
  31. Roxy Music by Roxy Music
  32. Moontan by Golden Earring
  33. All Together Now by Argent
  34. Hatfield And The North by Hatfield And The North
  35. Flying Tapot by Gong
  36. Dance of The Lemmings by Amon Duul II
  37. In Search Of The Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
  38. Phaedra by Tangerine Dream
  39. Once Again by Barclay James Harvest
  40. 666 by Aphrodite’s Child

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Welcome To The Machine

The article on Soft Machine in the Q Prog rock special whetted my appetite for the forthcoming book by Graham Bennett, Out-Bloody-Rageous. Out later this year, I'm really looking forward to reading this one as Soft Machine have been cruelly underwritten in accounts of the jazz or rock worlds. Out-Bloody-Rageous also happens to be the name of a new Softs compilation reviewed on Amazon by none other than Dick Heath who writes in part

"I've just taken my first full listen of 'Out-Bloody-Rageous', so recently received from Amazon.UK, taking great pleasure in hearing some favourite tunes. This is the official double CD compilation of Soft Machine music taken from the albums 'Soft Machine' to 'Seven', i.e. the ABC/Probe Records to the CBS/Columbia Records period - although I have to ask why has it taken so long? But thank goodness it is here. (Now, one can only hope Harvest Records will issue a complimentary third album to give a full coverage of the band's career).

As a freak for nearly all and particularly their first 3 or 4 albums, I'm delighted at the choice of tracks taken here. Following the path taken by the now rare 'Triple Echo' 3 LP set (issued by Harvest Records some 25 years ago), CD 1 starts with a couple of their early single records, and then quickly gets to my favourites from their first self-titled album and 'Volume 2'. And great news, these have been 24 bit remastered (as I begged in print elsewhere for quite some time). A favourite of Gary Lucas and myself 'Hope For Happiness/Joy Of A Toy' is no longer a muddy mix; at last clarity and instrument separation - I can only hope that the whole of both albums will be available in remastered forms very soon! A couple of tracks from 'Third' finishes CD 1 - so providing a break from the Wyatt-influenced Machine and the subsequent post-Wyatt Machine.

CD 2 shows Machine in jazz rock jazz fusion mode and with a number of tracks each taken taken from 'Fourth' through to 'Seven'. These reflect the high quality of young British (and New Zealand) jazz musicians playing some splendid electric jazz, who passed through the ranks - and as several did with Nucleus. It also should remind every jazz historian, that neglecting Soft Machine for any future jazz history will be a major omission from the story of British jazz's evolution in the 70's - Note: earlier this year, BBC 4's series Jazz Britannia, was not guilty of such an omission!

'Out-Bloody-Rageous' is great compilation, and in some way better than the 2 double CDs 'BBC 1967-1971' & 'BBC 1971-1974' (Hux Records) for giving a "history". Anybody wanting to discover what Machine was about and how they changed during their formative period, and this set should be instantly recommended as the perfect recording to start. ." Read Dick's full review here

I’ve always thought the Jenkins-era Softs got a bum rap from many of the various commentators. True, the music would become a touch too anodyne and symmetrical in its delivery, losing some of the crooked ambience emanating from its psychedelic origins and that was down to Jenkins' influence. However to point to this period and dismiss it as merely the point where the jazz-rock rot set in would be a mistake.

Though the live and studio double album, Six (Softs’ Ummagumma?) brings Jenkins’ trademark cyclical ‘patterns’ music to the fore it nevertheless has a dream-like vibe that will reward the open-minded listener; notably Chloe And The Pirates and The Soft Weed Factor. This feel was consolidated in what I regard as the real jewel in the crown of this particular period, Seven.

First released in the autumn of 1973, it bursts into life with Nettle Bed, a prickly, pointed riff-erama workout on the bass-end of the Fender Rhodes piano, topped with a quirky graze of a synth solo from the by-then sole surviving founder Softy, Mike Ratledge. Quicker than you can jab a pin in the patchboard of your suitcase syhthi, the beautiful ballad Carol Ann slowly unfurls; a gorgeous slo-mo twirl of sine-waves and six string bass guitar (with tremolo arm!) courtesy of Roy Babbington. Having guested on Fourth and Fifth, ex-Delivery and Nucleus stalwart Babbington had taken over from the departing Hugh Hopper. His bubbling bass leaps out on Day’s Eye, perhaps the most controversial track on the album. Credited to Ratledge, it bares a remarkable resemblance to Arjen’s Bag, a track from the 1969 John McLaughlin album, Extrapolation. The similarities between the two tracks are striking even to the point of both having the principle melody delivered via baritone sax played in McLaughlin’s case by John Surman.

Whether an unconscious lift or not, there’s no denying the fiercely original trademark sound that erupts from Mike Ratledge’s organ, making its first dramatic appearance on the album. That frenzied, demented wasp-in-a-bottle fuzzed-up Lowery was a bristling signature with a sting in its tail. Though Caravan and Egg would both commandeer the device it was never as sharp or spiny as when Soft Machine deployed it.

After the stern push and shove of Bone Fire and Tarabos (with a storming soprano sax solo the ominous percussion solo by John Marshall, DIS with reversed tapes and Chinese cymbals brings the original Side One to a terse and abrupt close. What follows is best viewed as a side-long two-hander. From the ruminative, coddled doze of Snodland’s chimes and echo-perplexed piano, there emerges a stately parade through the Karl Jenkins songbook. The dusky tones of his baritone and soprano meld surprisingly well with the highly-wrought organ lines held crisply in place by Babbington and embellished by Marshall’s nimble kit work throughout.

Jenkins would be the first to admit that he was always a reluctant soloist and on the sprightly Block, he’s content to let Ratledge steal the show with a striking, typically caustic outing; the numbers of motifs and themes he explores here is astonishing and surely one of his best performances anywhere on record. Coming to a dead stop and barely pausing for breath, Down The Road opens pensively with a fluttering, evocative touch of recorder that brings memories of the oblique Bone that closed their fifth album.

A lugubrious climax is reached when Babbington dusts off the string bass to supply a splendid bowed solo across the lurching and choppy rhythms before receding into the cosseted glow of The German Lesson and it’s equally amorphous echoing partner, The French Lesson. Here, layers of Fender Rhodes are looped and piled one atop the other, producing a rich and glistening ending that has a vestigial connection to Third’s Riley-infused glory days but is satisfying enough in its own right.

Don’t believe the received wisdom that says this period is a little more than bleak fusion-fest of technique over content, devoid of any emotional impact. Though the flamboyant passions that originally ignited Soft Machine were by now burning low, the dying embers that Seven perhaps represented, showed them more than capable of radiating the warm rosy glow of excitement and raising the temperature.

In 1975, Bundles, documented Alan Holdsworth’s brief tenure in the ranks. With its medley of themes and interlocking tunes (amongst Jenkins’ best) the studio album was fatally wounded by a curiously flat production that failed to capture the substantial firepower generated in concert. With Ratledge gone, Jenkins spent the inheritance bringing in high-end achievers such as John Etheridge, Ray Warleigh, violinist Rick Saunders and (briefly) uber-bassist Percy Jones before finally grinding to a halt in 1981.

Standing proud and tall between the transitional wobble of Six and the frankly forgettable final trip that was The Land of Cockayne, Seven has a satisfying thematic cohesion and elegance that remains richly persuasive and that still has a bounce in its step 35 years after being recorded.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Get In The Q

In the post yesterday was a complimentary copy of the forthcoming Q/Mojo Progrock special and very ‘andsome it looks too. There’s a ton of stuff on all the bands you’d expect; Genesis, Yes, Hawkwind, Jethro Tull, Radiohead, Marillion, Soft Machine, The Mars Volta, ELP, Rush, an extended feature on Pink Floyd and my own piece on King Crimson which trades under the snappy banner of Red Alert. There’s also an appreciation of the Harvest label, an overview of Modern Prog, rarities, Roger Dean and an interesting survey on the roots of prog by Charles Shaar Murray.

In what it calls 40 Cosmic Rock Albums – “an essential guide to the mind-blowing musical adventures – from the ‘60s to the present day” – there are some interesting and potentially controversial inclusions. No particular arguments with corralling of the Cantebury bands such as Hatfield or Gong or the Germans (though no Can oddly enough) but I was surprised to see Roxy Music’s debut album sitting between Golden Earrings’ Moontan and the delightful Music In A Doll’s House from Family.

Although it was fairly common at the time to slip Roxy on the record player just after a marathon Wishbone Ash outing or a blast of Crimso’s Earthbound for that matter, Roxy were never considered as part of what we understood as the prog rock back then.

As Mark Paytress makes clear in his appreciation of the album, they were definitely from somewhere else, a fact skilfully underlined by the distinctive visual identity of the cover artwork although quite where this might be was open to question. Perhaps it was located in the ambiguous territory inhabited by David Bowie or Lou Reed, a place of dubious sexuality, between pop and rock; not Glitter nor Glam but its own being simultaneously remote and inviting. All of these things perhaps but definitely not Prog.

The feature also includes Queen’s A Night At The Opera (between the truly execrable Pampered Menial by Pavlov’s Dog and the truly progtastic Moving Waves by Focus) and once again this is a band I would struggle to include as being Prog – progressive in the dictionary sense I grant you but not in the pomp-driven dweebie organ noodling sense of the term.

Elsewhere in the section, John Bungey's sprightly account of LTIA (with bonus commentary from Bill Bruford) occupies No.22 whilst ITCOTCK majestically strides in at no.4 with some impish asides from Peter Sinfield. No prizes for guessing who came in at No.1

Out of the 40 albums listed in the chart I own 28 of them. Quite what that means I’m unsure. Committed? Not quite committed enough? Should be committed?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Review: Totem by Tuner

Hot Tuner Produces Some Uneasy Listening. . .

Anyone who has seen Pat Mastelotto’s playing within King Crimson will know that describing him as a drummer spectacularly fails to convey the full extent of his contribution to that band and its development. In ProjeKcts 4 and 3 his restless, inquisitive playing lent the group an electronically acerbic edge that constantly nudged his fellow players into sometimes remarkable sonic territories. Although the studio album, The ConstruKction of Light, failed to deliver on this promise, it wasn’t for the want of Mastelotto’s trying.

A distinguishing feature of his work has been the relentless pursuit of the more jagged, off-beat modes of electronica; whether with Mastica, BPM+M (with engineer Bill Munyon) or TU (with ex-Crim Trey Gunn), Pat has covered a lot of diverse ground and continues to do so in this venture with Centrozoon’s Markus Reuter. No slouch himself when it comes to pushing the envelope, the German touch guitarist has been carefully making a name for himself as a talented and thoughtful soloist blessed with a gorgeous melodic approach. On albums with veteran electronica pioneer, Ian Boddy and in both instrumental and vocal incarnations of Centrozoon, his formidable technique remains accessible and unpretentious. In Tuner he's largely set aside his more melodic approach in favour of something more textural and perhaps more in keeping with the aural assualt which characterises much of this record.

The opening track Flinch has been trailed on the internet for some time, bravely ducking and diving along a Jazz Funk racetrack of sharp cuts, glitches and a brace of down and dirty vibes guaranteed to have you toes tapping – though not necessarily in unison with each other.

Mouth Piece delivers some oh-so-low body blows of subsonic bass that see the duo flirting with mass market appeal out on the drum n’ bass dance floor. Suggestive of Rupert Parkes’ Photek incarnation (one of Mastelotto’s favourite artists in the genre), a utilitarian Euro-dance melody skates across the surface to catchy effect. And just in case anyone is worried about the boys selling out or getting too commercial, fans of Centrozoon in its more atonal / experimental setting (see Blast, Cult of Bibbiboo) will find an old friend in the title track,Totem; not so much head-banging as banging-a-nail-in-your-head dissonance.

With Tuner things rarely stay in one place for very long though when they do the result is usually something both mysterious and beautiful as in the multi-movement epic, The Morning Tide Washes Away. Featuring the processed vocals of Sirenee and little else aside from a few Floyd-esque touches on the organ, it is utterly captivating, as it offers an island of calm reminiscent of J Peter Schwalm’s work with Brian Eno on their dreamy Drawn From Life collaboration.

Up Down Forward and Return has Markus giving it some clipped Kraftwerk vocal whilst Pat plays half-time against the prevailing rhythm in a manner not unlike Bill Bruford’s style on BLUE’s Cerulean Sea. With a dramatic descending pattern, it’s full of false endings and surprising twists of timing and dynamics that would be sure to keep the Crimheads happy but draw complaints from those who like their dancing a little more conventional.

When they first got together they described this venture as “music beyond the musicians' mastery of their instruments, it's a test of faith.” They ask the listener to make a similar jump on the track, Test of Faith, a somewhat precarious outing with Markus as the filtered voice of doubt; a kind of morose Sparky and His Magic Piano caught between bursts of baritone guitar and drop-dead bursts of funksome grooves that eventually make way for a spooky cycle of arpeggios.

Often with this album, one feels wrong-footed. The music bounces along in an alarming manner that’s about as predictable as a rugby ball. Both Reuter and Mastelotto have in common a playful joy at the heart of their playing. Sure it’s serious stuff but that doesn’t mean you can’t be having fun at the same time.

There’s an anarchic sense of play that appears to guide this record, sometimes pulling it in different directions, racing here, veering there, to produce some decidedly uneasy listening that is nevertheless richly varied but as tight as the proverbial drum.

Tuner Live details

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Dreamy Day

Cutting the grass with Tom. At one point we sit on the lawn, enjoying the view and the chat. The blues of sea and sky merge and blend.

Out there the boats become mirages shimmering in and out of view.

We move the black bags packed with juicy green lawn cuttings – the smell of memory and anticipation.

Wrapped in the heat-haze of a summer day as a heavy blanket, we go indoors and cool off.


My ear infection seems to be on the mend aided and abetted no doubt by the arrival yesterday of Tuner’s new album, Totem.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Blockbusted

It should have worked. As a kid I loved the book and didn’t mind the trashy film and TV versions of the story. Despite extreme customer resistance to 99% of his Hollywood output (with the notable exception of Born on the 4th July), I didn’t even mind that Tom Cruise was playing the lead role in Speilberg’s adaptation of War of the Worlds. Although aware of the director’s saccharine tendencies, Spielberg’s a great storyteller with a sensitive touch that offsets his blockbuster leanings.

So, given all of above, why this particularly movie failed to connect with me on almost any level was at first, something a mystery to me. I’d read enough reviews and heard enough first-hand testimony to know that the world wasn’t going to be saved by a punch on the jaw, back-room boffins or even the president of the USA leading the charge against the alien hordes.

On paper the notion of following Cruise’s plausible portrayal of Ray, a lapsed dad, blue-collar everyman kind of guy, should have made this movie a gripping journey of self-discovery. Certainly, the set-up worked exceptionally well. There’s nothing like an external threat to make people pull together. Seeing his world literally torn apart brings out Ray’s instinct for survival at any cost. Whereas Ray understandably prefers flight, his estranged son opts for fight. By addressing this micro-conflict whilst all around them is going up on smoke is a brave and welcome decision on the part of the director. Yet more uncertainty and doubt is heaped upon Ray as he is forced to make a choice between letting his son go off to his certain doom and have a go at invaders or rescue his daughter from being inadvertently abducted by some well-meaning members of the fleeing public.

So far so tense.

Yet the effort of steering this movie away from it being a mere SFX fest for the geek-boys is sadly squandered in the final reel. Like the Cruise character, it seems as though Spielberg has had his own choice of Solomon to make. In bravely sticking to the dramatically inert device that sees off the heat-ray toting aliens, the director (or perhaps the studio) has decided that there’s only so much doom and gloom a cinematic audience can take. So instead of the decidedly downbeat but grown-up and more honest conclusion, we get a reassuring family reunion shoehorned into the movie that robs it of the integrity and emotionally impact it might otherwise have had.

By making these invaders come up from inside the earth rather than from outside, Spielberg seemed to be saying that the real monsters we have to face up to is the dysfunctional family of mankind. Certainly some of the most chilling moments in the movie rest not with the menacing strangeness that the tripods represent but with the all too familiar wild-eyed, stop-at-nothing maniacs that Ray encounters along the way.

In such pessimistic times, where the real war of the worlds is located somewhere between the grey space of opposing ideologies and opportunistic nihilism, we don’t need a bland, reassuring pat on the head, telling us that things will be alright. Were this the product of some hack action-movie director you might just shrug your shoulders. But when someone as capable as Spielberg pulls the punches somehow it hits you harder.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

From Hell. . .

The day has been dominated by the news of the blasts in London. I spent most of the time gawping in front of the television as the news was replaced by speculation.

Every once in a while a new announcement from the politicians or the emergency services would refresh the cycle. I tried to get on with work but have found myself drifting back to the television or the radio.

There are some striking images being carried on the BBC including this one.

I cannot imagine what the families who've had their loved killed and maimed must be going through.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Are You Listening Carefully?

The Doc reckons my ear infection is fine now. The cause of the noise and strange filtering of sound is the residual liquid that the infection had produced. It’ll settle down most likely in a few more days. Until then it’s a case of getting on with it. Being a pathetic man of course I want to make the most of it by laying about and having my brow mopped every once in a while.

The mood and atmosphere in the house appears tense and fractious though the reason for this is not clear. Tom and Joe push and shove each other about both literally and metaphorically, whilst Alys and her mother snarl and bite at anything that moves – including them selves.

Sam whines about the world of work (in a call centre for a well known ISP); how people who ring up help lines (aka the customer) are basically so stupid that they should be put down. This is his first “proper” job and one the evidence of recent rants, one that he clearly has no intention of being in for any length of time.

Of course, now he’s joined the world of work and is earning money, he reckons that the money he pays as board and lodgings absolves him of any responsibilities around household chores. Debbie has politely but firmly told him that it doesn’t quite work like that. He isn’t convinced and thinks it a great injustice. Even with my hearing as reduced as it currently is, the sound of doors slamming and dark under-breath mutterings can be clearly heard all about.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The End Of An Ear

Although I’ve finished the antibiotics today, there’s a steel band playing in the left-hand side of my head accompanied by a bunch of earnest-looking young men wearing smart suits and roll-neck sweaters playing prepared pianos. Guitars become mandolins, mandolins become intense sizzle-cymbals brushed with the fervour of the solid gone. Svelte-voiced singers now warble through an old loudhailer; previously silky smooth now abraded and distorted. Cat meows, normally expressive, are now thin bleats; the GMT pips mere squeaks of their former selves. The pain in the ear has subsided but the white noise fuzz layered over everything remains disconcerting.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Mocking The Afflicted

Yesterday I talked to Sean Hewitt who had been to see the Live 8 gig in London the day before. His perspective on the event was very interesting. As I dipped in and out of the coverage I noticed how stationary the crowd looked and sounded when the older acts were on – particularly noticeable during The Who’s set. Not so, according to Sean who tells me that as far as he could see, the punters in his neck of the park were getting off on it big time.

However, as I said in my previous entry if the concert has made a fraction of the punters who saw the thing have a greater understanding about the issues, then it seems like a good thing. The litmus test for me was to ask Debbie’s daughter, Alys, the next day if she could name any of the G8 countries whereabouts they were meeting and why. She could. A week ago I doubt that she would have been able to do so. The same with Tom and he’s 14. I find some hope in this small, admittedly non-scientific and statistically unviable poll. The point of the concert for me is to what degree young people might feel more disposed to engage in a debate and process concerning these issues. As to some wider thoughts about the music, I have to say I agreed 100% with Andrew Keeling’s assessment in his diary for the 3rd July.

Aside from the gawp-factor of seeing Roger Waters on the same stage as Dave Gilmour and being struck by how absurdly contemporary Paul McCartney’s rendition of Helter Skelter and Drive My Car sounded, there next to nothing in the programme that was of much interest to me. Having said that, I thought it was fascinating that Pete Doherty was on the stage at all because as far as I could tell based on his rendition of Children of the Revolution with Elton John, the blokey at the bus stop at the top of my street with the Poundstretchers bag would have done a much better job.

It seems that the allure of this character isn't to do with his questionable talents but rather his candidture as a rock n' roll casualty. It's as though having missed out on the comparitively quiet self-destruction of someone like Syd Barrett, sections of the pop and cultural media are determined to be on hand when the hapless singer gets kicked into touch or just kicks the bucket. Yeah, watching a young person sliding deeper into a cess-pit of addiction and disorder! That's really rock n' roll, really far out!

Later that day we called around to see Thomas and Leonie – neighbours from a couple of doors up. They had called together a gathering to say goodbye to Les and Ged, who keen readers may recall have sold up and are moving to Spain. We said goodbye to Lesley and Ged last week as well. I’m told we are saying an additional and we suspect, final goodbye to them on Tuesday This really is becoming the Long Goodbye – not that any of us mind really. I’m trying to persuade them to keep a blog of their fabulous adventure. I reckon they could easily blag a book deal or probably a TV series out of it.

Although the pain in my ear has recded somewhat I’m left with an irritating ringing in my left ear. It’s making listening to music quite interesting; piano music sounds as though it’s being playing on the prepared variety – a metallic dissonance at the outer edge of the notes. I’ll be going back to the doctor’s if this doesn’t clear in a couple of days. Although it makes ELP sound as though they are being submerged into a vat of bubbling liquid, I’m afraid such advantages are more than outweighed when it comes to just about any part of my album collection. The other trouble is I can barely hear what people are saying to me in a crowded room such as at Thomas and Leonie's house yesterday.

Say What? Dave and Debbie mocking the fat bloke on the sofa. . .

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