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Monday, October 31, 2005

Boom Boom!

At some point over the weekend I saw a late night repeat of BBC2’s The Culture Show and an interview with Karlheinz Stockhausen to coincide with his recent visit to the UK.

An earnest interviewer sat a tad too close to the composer, who in his customary white linen suit and looking not unlike Harpo Marx with a skinhead, appeared slightly uncomfortable.

Apparently Stockhausen had given permission for only 11 minutes for the interview.

The opening question, always a key moment in the elusive art of interviews, was perfectly pitched.

“Will you tell me what the most beautiful sound is that you’ve ever heard?”

Stockhausen’s dark eyes momentarily rolled like the symbols on a slot machine, spinning rapidly on their way to the jackpot.

“No” replied the composer.

This was not a “no, I am unable to tell you because to me all sound is beautiful” reply but rather a “not on your nelly, mate” riposte. Not the best of starts really but highly entertaining nevertheless.

A few years ago when I researching the Crimson book, I had set up and interview with Bill Smith, the celebrated album sleeve designer. As the Kenty Kimberman and I entered Bill’s offices we were regaled by the original artwork to several seminal covers. We sat down and admired the work around us as we exchanged pleasantries and sipped our tea. Realising that it was time to kick things off, I leaned forward, turned on the tape and we began.

Whenever Kimberman wants to make me blush, he always recounts my opening gambit. “So Bill, how come the cover to B’Boom was so crap?”

Halloween

Be afraid. . .

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Yolo by Tetsu Inoue






















Deceptively Simple. . .
Yolo
Tetsu Inoue

DiN

Based in New York and with over 40 albums to his credit, including collaborations with such left-field luminaries as Bill Laswell, Atom Heart, Peter Namlook and Jonah Sharp, Tetsu Inoue has established himself as a musician equally comfortable in the contrasting worlds of ambient, sound installation, and computer music.

Yolo, (named after a small town on the Oregon/Californian border) dissects synthesised sounds and field recordings into fragments which Inoue then sieves and explores in microscopic detail.

The focus moves with a speed that is at first disorientating. Traces of harmony and melody lazily drift into focus like smoke on the wind, gracing the underlying thrum with a forlorn emotive beauty.

There is no superfluous effect to be found on any of the tracks. Inoue prefers to cut to the chase, constructing a series of events that connect with each other though are not necessarily connected; a collection of fading super-8 memories moving jerkily in and out of the frame of the imagination

Derived from a constantly mutating patchwork of sounds, Yolo is bristling with detail. Inoue’s achievement is that he manages all of this with a graceful economy that is as spare but as telling as a haiku.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Stumped

For some reason blogger wont let me post photographs today which means I’m unable to share with you the bloody stump and flap of skin that my middle toe has become. Still, sparing you this sight may be a blessing in disguise.

Elsewhere. . .

Andrew Keeling’s fascinating analysis of Love Cannot Bear is well worth having a look at. It’s in the entry for Monday October 24th.

Sean Hewitt rang last night with news of The Syn and a report about the feature on King Crimson in the latest edition of the Record Collector. Peter Sinfield, Ian McDonald both speak in John Martin’s interesting article.

I’m grateful to Michael Peters for sending me this link to the Melloman. Something I’d not seen or heard of before. There’s some samples to listen to as well.

Over on the Bog Book Club there’s a review of a forthcoming book about Pete Doherty

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oh Ma Toe-Bone!

One of the dangers of padding about in the dark at around 4.30 in the morning in the pitch black is that you can be prone to bump into things. In my case I walked smack-bang into a newspaper delivery trolley that I’d rescued from the street after it had been thoughtlessly abandoned.

Smack went my foot, crunch went my toe and Youch! went the strings of my heart.

It wasn’t until after I’d made a cup of tea in the kitchen that I noticed in the gloom that someone had split what looked like tomato ketchup on the floor. Closer investigation revealed it was blood from my middle toe. After cleaning up the floor, I soaked the damaged toe in the disinfectant and hope that the nail survives. In the meantime it hurts like hell.

This week I’ve been listening to Margrave Of The Marshes by the late John Peel and his wife, Sheila Ravenscroft on Radio 4s Book of the Week slot. I’m not overly convinced by actor Michael Angelis’ reading which strikes me as halfway between impersonation and stagey thesp-speak. However, the tales are witty and poignant and sure to make us recall once again why we miss Peel so much.

Tonight I’m looking forward to the second episode of BBC 4’s superb comedy, The Thick Of It starring the wonderfully doleful Chris Langham as witless cabinet minister, Hugh Abbot and Peter Capaldi as his bète noir, the acidic, venomous policy enforcer, Malcolm Tucker.

Shot in documentary style the camera work staggers and reels around the room in much the same way as Abbot and his staff lurch from cock-up to crisis, whilst standing on each other as they clamber up the greasy poll.

The dialogue is based on cast improvisation but the credit lies with writer and dirctor Armando Iannucci who devised the whole thing. Iannucci has to be one of the most important satirical writers in the UK today; half an hour spent in the company of this programme will tell you far more about how policy is really formulated than any amount of official briefings from No.10.

They have episode one from last week currently running on BBC 4's The Thick Of It website for the programme as well as a bunch of clips from the previous series. If you ever wanted a glimpse as to what really goes on in the corridors of power then look upon this and marvel.

Making sure ministers of state have their lines is all part of the press secretary role. In this interview with health secretary Patricia Hewitt on the Today programme, you can hear her clinging doggedly to the edge of the party line as interview John Humphrys metaphorically stomps on her hands. The link is only good for a seven days. Her interview is at the 7.50 a.m. slot.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Postcards From New York

A phone call tonight from my friend Brian who is currently in New York with his son Patrick. Brian had never been to the states but was keen to go on this great adventure, father and son both going somewhere new and different. From the energy and excitement in his voice tonight, I would say he’s having a great time.


Despite the distance he sounded like he was phoning from the end of our street. I had the same experience when Robert phoned me from Seattle the other day. Voices clear as a bell. Sometimes I take a call from our next door neighbour and it sounds as though they’re ringing from the other side of the world. The marvels of the modern phone continued when I started getting a batch of emails; photographs from Brian’s mobile phone . . .




Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Daytripper

Both my sister and Debbie’s clan have expressed disappointment in the new Tim Burton movie. It’s unlikely that I’ll see it now at the cinema and will have to reserve judgement on it when it hits our local branch of Blockbusters.

I uploaded some more archives from the KCNN diary for 2004 and in doing so revisited a very dark period. Just reading some of the entries made me shudder with a dread remembrance of when the black dog last came to call. Reading my offline diary for the same period was even worse and I felt stained by the process afterwards.

The old saying “that which does not kill me makes me stronger” is one that I subscribe to. As a result of last year, I think I’ve learned to recognise the slippery slope before I come across it. Yes I may look over the brink from time to time but I don’t have to fall over.

That said there were tensions between Debbie and I today over a planned trip up to Hexham. Debbie is on holiday and not unreasonably wanted to go out somewhere for the day. However, I was wrapped up and a piece of work and was reluctant to leave it to one side. “But you had all day yesterday to work on the thing” said a narrowed-eyed and increasingly annoyed Debbie. I explained that when you’re on a roll with writing you have to go with it for fear of losing the moment.

The moment had of course vanished by this point and there was nothing to do but grab my coat and get with the programme. It rained relentlessly up in Hexham thus lending the daytrip a pinched, gripey kind of feel. Even the batteries on the camera ran out and if that’s not a metaphor then I don’t know what is.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Velvet Appeal

I recently emailed my niece, Verity, who is studying in Nottingham. In amongst the usual pleasantries, I asked her what was currently hip and happening in the world of music given that to my ears everything “new” sounds “retro.”

Here’s what she had to say.

“I can’t really offer you any revealing or insightful words of current 'pop' wisdom... It continually confounds me how uninterested i am in anything considered 'modern'. i don’t really connect with the produced right now, im sort of stuck in 1996...not an entirely desirable position.

In terms of retro...well, that’s pretty much everyone's bag right now - if its not velvet underground-esque nobody wants to know.”

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Watching, Reading, Listening

I was watching part of Exposed, the new dvd by Mike Oldfield this morning in the red room. Joe was passing by and stuck his head round the door asking who it was. I told him. He nodded, replying “I knew it wasn’t King Crimson – it sounded too jolly and they’re not breaking the guitars.”

I’m grateful to Stuart Eglin's blog for pointing me in the direction of Seth Godin’s site. Downloading his e-book and reading the first few pages I discover I have what is called in net guru parlance, a Cat Blog.

Today Debbie and I headed off into Newcastle to take a look at a new exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery called Revelation. Essentially it’s a collection of bits and pieces from the Arts Council’s collection timed to compliment Baltic’s British Art Show 6. Wandering around both shows, I am filled with a nostalgia for painting.

Thereafter we headed to the Tyneside Cinema to see Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers via the newsagents to pick up the Sunday papers. The tabloids and a couple of the broadsheets are full of dire warnings about the great bird flu epidemic that isn’t sweeping the nation.

Listening To. . .

Mercator Projected by East Of Eden

We Are Everything You See by Locomotive

Friday, October 21, 2005

Just Who Is A Genius These Days?

I ask the question because yesterday morning I received a review copy of a biography entitled “Pete Doherty: on the edge.” The strapline runs “the true story of a troubled genius.”

Now I confess I know next to little or nothing about Pete Doherty other than he was once in band called The Libertines and is now in another group called Babyshambles. Oh, and I saw him slaughter a T.Rex song in the company of Elton John at the Live 8 concert.

Next to that my knowledge of both The Libertines and Babyshambles is based entirely on a clutch of tracks that Alys (Debbie’s 18 year old daughter) plays on the stereo in the red room downstairs. My impression of this music is that it’s competent pop but fairly unremarkable.

Of course I realise this is subjective and there will be people who think Bach, far from being a musical genius, was nothing but a blokey who made a lot of noise and was rubbish at birth control.

I’m not of course making any comparison between the two (Bach and Doherty) but when I see the word genius bandied about – and I’m sure to be guilty of it myself – it makes me wonder exactly why Doherty is described as being a genius. The troubled bit I buy but not the "genius."

So, to try and get a handle on this vexed question who do Postcardies (er that's readers of this blog) regard as being a worthy of the title genius and why that might be.

Elsewhere. . .

On a roll. . .


I spent a portion of this morning making ciabatta (by hand – no breadmaker) in preparation for tonight’s feast which will consist of:

End Of Term Ciabatta Celebration.

Cut some chicken breasts (or field mushrooms if veggie) into thin diagonal strips, sauté in a little garlic butter with rubbed tarragon

Add thin strips of yellow and red peppers

Caramelise some onions (optional)

Add sun-dried tomatoes / olives

Cut the ciabatta in half and lightly toast

Place chicken and peppers and other ingredients along the length of the toasted ciabatta

Garnish with watercress, rocket salad with a glug of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of lemon zest and serve.

Which One Is Pink?

Sharp eyed observers may have noticed the photograph on the side of the Fridge in the shot above. Here's a close-up. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Writing On The Wall At Bells Court

During the 1970s, Bells Court in Newcastle was the home of Spectro Arts Workshop. This was a hotbed of artistic activity that encompassed music (from prog to punk to folk to avant garde), performance art, photography, literature, touring exhibitions, screenprinting, film, artists studios, rehearsal space for rock bands, a café bar and all sorts of comings and goings.

I was a regular at the place, eventually being employed there to programme live music and work in the recording studio for a couple of years.

It couldn’t last of course. Sometime in the 1980s Newcastle city council decided it needed to have another car park and so the old warehouse building was demolished and Spectro became a ghost of a memory destined to haunt the search engines of a future it would never see.

When looking for some background information on Bells Court on those very search engines, I’d picked up references to something called the flickrwall. At a time when the city now belatedly trumpets its affiliation and commitment to the Arts with a capital A, this alleyway entrance to Bells Court has sprung up as some kind of samizdat communiqué, Pynchonesque in its anonymity.

Having visited the alleyway a couple of times now, I like the way the messages change as more things are added and overwritten; a babble of chalked comments moderated by the elements, chance and a sense of playfulness.

When I was there today I strolled amongst the rows of parked cars where Spectro once stood. All that remains of the place are the walls of its basement foundations. I have no idea whether the people who chalk on those walls and those who document it have any sense of the history of Bells Court.

But walking back up to the flickrwall it occurs to me this activity echoes and obliquely honours the tradition of expression, the exchange of ideas which was such a part of Spectro’s brief life, and there’s something gratifyingly poetic about that for me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Touch by Touch






















They lit the blue touchpaper on Prog Rock and retired. . .

Recording just one LP in the summer of 1968 and folding after its release in their native America a year later, Touch was the brainchild of keyboard player Don Gallucci, previously with seminal garage band The Kingsmen. Inspired by Sgt.Pepper’s - with a little help from his LSD – he produced something about as far removed the frat-rock chug of Louie Louie as it’s possible to imagine.

The resulting album is nothing less than the missing link between psychedelia and prog-rock with a capital P; twiddly arrangements, expansive solos, obscure lyrics, and time signatures that would flummox a tap-dancing millipede.

The eleven minute epic, Seventy Five, sounds like Jon Anderson and co., going full tilt somewhere between Time And A Word and The Yes Album. Guitarist Joey Newman’s sustain-driven soloing throughout Touch spookily presages Steve Howe’s tone and combined with Gallucci’s fluent keyboards on Friendly Birds, evokes the pastoral shadows of Nursery Cryme-era Genesis. The point to bear in mind here though is that Touch was sounding like Yes or Genesis a good two years before either of those groups finalised what might be described as their signature sound.

"At Circe's Place" opened the 1969 Decca compilation Wowie Zowie! The World of Progressive Music, easily out-progging the competition of the day, including The Moody Blues, John Mayall, East of Eden and a scrap of Jonathan King-produced Genesis juvenilia, In The Beginning. By then Touch as a group were falling apart though, with mainman Galluci going into production (Iggy Pop’s Fun House) and film score work, some of which is included in this package.

Thus Touch represents something of a missed opportunity. A pity really, because having failed to seize the artistic initiative others were able to grab the thing and start to run. Consequently the group and their reputation have slipped through the crack championed only by old men with greying beards who bang on about how Touch were not only ‘far out’ but really ‘far ahead.’ Though reams have been written about Yes and Genesis et al, Touch only ever receive scant attention were they get mentioned at all.

If you thought prog was originally a British thing then think again.

Available from Eclectic Discs

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Edited Highlights

Today was an interesting day on many fronts with a number of telephone calls coming into the Yellow Room and me turning down the opportunity to take part in an internet broadcast.

Edited highlights include; Ian Boddy calling regarding meeting up in the not too distant future; World Leader Symes confirming details of his impending visit; Jakko on questions of diplomacy and neighbourhood issues; Darren Lock on why courtesy may not be a bad thing after all; Chris Taberham with timely information about Roy Harper.

And emails from Andrew Keeling about online problems; Robert Fripp about diaries and performance dates; Sean Hewitt about the boy who heard music; Rupert Loydell about keeping the cats at bay; Darren Lock about a lesson learnt on self-destructive behaviour.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Foiled

An amazing tip for cat owners: Ginger Bob is fond of sneaking into Joseph’s bedroom for a prolonged nap. The trouble is the residue of cat hair he leaves behind when he does so. The door to Joe’s room won’t shut properly and so it’s easy game for the cat with comfort uppermost in his feline brain.

Somewhere I read (and I can’t think where now) that cats don’t like tin foil. So I took a sheet of said stuff, placed it in the door at Ginger Bob’s usual point of entry and quicker than you can say Robert is your father’s brother, one stymied cat.

I didn’t quite believe it at first. Maybe The Bobster had merely tired of the room and was plonking his ginger bulk somewhere else. Closer inspection revealed that the silvery barricade had been clawed but had managed to repel the raider. Joe’s room has now been Bobless for a couple of days.

Elsewhere. . .

Since talking to the police the other day, our ongoing problem with the moped gang has receded. Is this the calm before the storm or has the problem been nipped in the bud? Obviously it’s too early to say but I’m convinced it’s better to stand up to this thing at an early stage than to let things fester and let a culture of intimidation spread.

Over on the Bog Book Blog there's The Inner Mounting Flame. . .



Saturday, October 15, 2005

David Cameron & The Yes No Interlude

In the last few days there’s been a frisson of controversy about Tory leadership hopeful David Cameron’s decision to stonewall questions about whether he did or didn’t take drugs whilst at university.

Whatever happened in a person’s private life before they decided to run for public office is of no relevance to their record here and now argues Cameron.

This fact alone reveals an alarming grasp of tactics. His contention that answering this question would be to give into “trail by media” may be correct in principle.

However, if you’re putting yourself forward for leader of the party and (he hopes) Prime Minister, then this kind of intrusion comes with the territory. By not coming out with it, Cameron now stands bewildered like the hapless contestant on the old TV game show Take Your Pick. Will he say yes or no and be gonged off?

Had copped to it first off and said “Yes I snorted a bit of coke (or whatever he’s suspected of imbibing) but that was all a long time ago” then the matter would have blown over quickly and people in many quarters would be applauding his candidness.

Far from being a disadvantage, his alleged drug use could be a badge of empathy, of someone who has strayed and knows something of life and its darker aspects, but has come back to play a full and active role in society.

God knows the Tories could use a leader who doesn’t come across as a bloodless robot.

As it is, Cameron strategists will be hoping that their man’s stand against tabloid prurience will pay off. It won’t. By being evasive, no matter how principled the motivation may be merely confirms the public perception that politicians are congenitally incapable of answering a straight forward question.

Elsewhere. . .

I’m currently listening to King Crimson at the Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, 1st July 1995. It’s big and it’s clever and it rocks like the clappers. Robert can be heard having lots of laughs between numbers, as indeed can the others in the band. Clearly the gig was a hot one.

If any readers of this diary were at that gig please don’t hesitate to email with your impressions, views and observations for potential inclusion in the sleeve notes that will accompany the release.

Also listening to the Schizoid Band playing Cadence & Cascade in New York; a pleasant piece of English pastoral in a faraway land.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Anti-Social Behaviour

A good portion of last evening was spent in the company of our local beat police officer. I was answering questions about an ongoing problem we’ve been having in the street with a bunch of kids in our back lane.

About five or six teenagers on scooters have taken to calling on one house in our street where their mate, lets call him Clark Drone on account of the noise his moped makes, lives.

In recent months their socialising has extended to having races up and down the back alleyway, beeping horns late at night, spitting and pissing in the back lane, not to mention the usual drinking and removal of windscreen wipers from neighbouring cars. Needless to say this loutish behaviour hasn’t gone unchallenged either to the responsible adult in the house (who shrugs her shoulders as if to say “What can you do?”) and Clark himself.

On his own, Clark is pleasant and agreeable enough but of course he adopts a different persona in front of his mates. When challenged about his behaviour he’ll retort “Can’t you take a joke” or “I didn’t mean it” and if he’s feeling particularly brave sans admirers, “It wasn’t me.” This is not to say he doesn’t also show some remorse as occasionally there will be an apology grudgingly issued. Yet there’s always a sense that he’s not sorry for his behaviour but that what he’s sorry about is being called to account for his actions. You get the feeling with Clark that inside he’s thinking “Hey if you don’t like walking up the back lane then fuck off and walk up the front street.”

It’s true that a segment bordering onto the back lane is his property or that of the householder but it’s also a public space and as such there should not be any “no go” areas.

My experience in dealing with community develop issues tells me that unless this loutish, boorish attitude is challenged it will grow worse and the “no go” areas spread. It tends not to correct itself out of some sense of internal realisation that telling people to fuck off is somehow unacceptable. So that’s why the police were here last night.

Elsewhere. . .

Like many people I spend more time than I should looking at music-based message boards. I can justify this in part as research because I’ll most likely be moderating the guestbook on the DGM website.

In August this year Robert and I exchanged some thoughts about guidelines and ground rules. This was my first pass at how I thought the guestbook might function.

The aim of the guestbook is to provide a meeting point between DGM and KC (and related) enthusiasts. I like to think of it as a public tea room where people can come in pull up a chair and tell us what's on their mind over a refreshing pot of Darjeeling or Earl Grey.

This isn't the place where you come to score points, settle vendetta and generally curse all and sundry for being clones, wimps, ass-kissers, berks, nerks, crints and brown-nosers because someone has the brass-neck temerity to disagree with you and your God-given views.

Now I realise that this runs counter to 90% of what's out there on the boards but there's nothing in the small print that says we can't lift our knuckles off the ground is there?

Healthy scepticism is encouraged but so is responsibility.

Remember the person you're talking to is real with real feelings and emotions. If you want to pick a fight with someone just because they think Cheerful Insanity is better than Discipline then…hmmm, bad example but you get the drift.

My rule of thumb is I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in person.

Ask yourself these three questions; "why am I making this post?" "In what way does my post add constructively to the debate here?" and "should I should wipe off the pizza stains of my facial hair, find my glasses and get a life instead of posting here all the time?"

The guestbook is an opportunity to engage in constructive debate, discussion and dissention amongst friends and fellow enthusiasts. Nothing is off limits save witless sexist and racist comments and your morbid desire to share your intimate moments with gum-boots, duck tape and an orange.

You don't have to agree with everything that's being said but don't be coming into our nice tea room thinking you can take a dump on the carpet - the staff don't like it and you won't be welcome anymore.

Everyone should get the benefit of the doubt at least once but after that kid, you'll be invited to go and share your rapier-like wit and repartee elsewhere. Remember, what brings us here is the music.

Within these scant guidelines nothing is off limits save emoticons. If you can't say something without relying on those little yellow boogers then you definitely need to turn off your computer and greet the real world that lurks outside your door.

Remember, what brings us here is the music.

To which Robert replied. . .

dear sid,

yours is a lot more fun, but mine is shorter! it also implies that online posting is now a more matured event than 7-8 years ago.

yo! r.

DGM Guestbook House Rules

Posters are invited to comment, and express considered opinions, on pertinent issues that hold value for them, subject to the House Rules:

1. Accepting responsibility & accountability for the posting;

2. Engaging in a spirit of goodwill.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Cry Wolf

Torrential rain last night made a quick visit to the local corner shop an intrepid journey against the elements. By the time I made it back home with the pint of milk I was dripping wet and had to change clothes. The rest of the night was spent working with Tom on a homework assignment.

The pattern with Tom is to get him to work through his indifference and insistence that the teacher has specifically asked him to turn in a paragraph of text only as “he will have too much to mark.” Whilst being appreciative of Tom’s desire to help with the hard-pressed social life of teachers (I live with one remember) I gently put it to him that he is talking bollocks. Convulsed with laughter he admitted that he was.

And then we were off.

He had to write a story. He wanted to write a ghost story. He bashed away at the keyboard. In a short space of time he was well on the way to 1000 words. It was good but likely to run into many pages - too many in the time allowed. I asked him the story ended. He didn’t know.

We say down with some index cards and plotted out the key scenes just a couple sentences on each one. Very quickly he found the ending and in less than half an hour had ten cards which took us through the story from start to finish.

It was a joy to see his face light up and he gathered up the cards, sat down at the computer and began to write the thing with a real sense of purpose and, dare I say it, enjoyment. When it came to bed time we sat for a while talking about the process and how it had made the writing so much easier for him. He also managed to spook himself with a potential twist in the story which we duly added to his set of index cards.

He asked where I got the idea of using the index cards as a means of writing the building blocks of the story. I pointed to the Syd Field and Robert McKee books and then to the dozen or so other titles that deal with the vexed question of how to write. He was astonished not only that people wrote books like that but that people actually read them.

This morning Tom was up well before me and tapping away at the keyboard. He was working through his cards writing each one up into dialogue and exposition. By 8.15 a.m. he pressed the print button on the PC and out rolled Cry Wolf by Tom Smith.

He had discarded just about everything he’d written the previous evening and it was all the better for that. Whereas Tom was a usually a believer in quantity - filling up the page with anything that came to hand so it looked like he’d done a lot of work – he had made the shift to thinking about the quality overnight. He left for school this morning, springing out the door feeling very, very pleased with himself and looking very confident.

Elsewhere. . .

I saw this on the Planet Crimson website one of the King Crimson related websites I regularly visit and laughed out loud. You'll have to click on it to be able to make out the words. It's by an artist called Mark Colman.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

50 Minutes Later by Phil Manzanera

The man in the shades has just played a blinder!

What can happen in 50 minutes? Technicolor UFO, Phil Manzanera’s barnstorming look-back to 1968 gives us a clue.

Telling the tale of a young man just over from South America and itching to get into the “tripped out scene, Burroughs, Soft Machine” it’s clear that 50 minutes in such psychedelic-tinted company was enough to change the course of his life forever.

And all these years later, here he is telling us about it in an absurdly contemporary style, maturely reflecting on his life but devoid of mawkish nostalgia.

Blessed with a thumping straight-ahead beat provided by Paul Thompson, catchy “oo-oo” backing vocals borrowed from The Stones, and a writhing guitar so strangulated as to be in danger of splintering the neck, this has to be one of the best songs Roxy Music never recorded.

50 Minutos Mas Tadre, co-written by Phil, Robert Wyatt and Eno during a 90 minute after-dinner jam sessionwhilst the trio were making Wyatt's Cuckooland, sweeps off the streets into a shadow-laden ballroom. With spoken Spanish, glistening arco bass and the bitter-sweet rumination of Wyatt’s cornet and vocals, it waltzes darkly between the Buenos Vista Social Club and David Lynch.

Maintaining the Latin tinge, Desparecido begins life as an implausible noir-ish pot-boiler but by the time the astonishingly crisp ascending major/ minor chords clash on the chorus, we’re propelled to a sumptuous pop finale topped improbably perhaps by some rippling accordion. The ending is as unexpected as it is uplifting.

Despite the familiarity of some of the territory there are one or two surprises that are well off the beaten track. Of course we should expect nothing less from someone as culturally and geographically well-travelled as Manzanera. The album is seeded with as many eclectic influences as the visa stamps in a dog-eared passport.

Paying close attention to the intricate craft of actually writing real songs with hooks and middle-eights, it’s peppered with smart and tart solos that have the knack of lifting otherwise ordinary material to greater things. The lilting One Step and Till The End Of The Line (Phil’s Comfortably Numb moment) benefit from and highlight this expressive and incredibly useful gift.

Whilst the amiable singalong of Swimming owes more than a casual skinnydip into Ray Davies’ back catalogue, Manzanera has lost none of the noise-terror credentials that made him a potent and distinctive force in Roxy’s early heyday. The creepy Bible Black begins with some Mellotron-style samples slowly edging into a picture dominated by Yaron Stavi’s stark double bass motif. An uneasy song about that never-ending night that waits for us all, it drips a pervasive disquiet quicker than you can say In Every Dream Home A Heartache.

Appropriately perhaps, it’s resurrected as a ten and a half minute bonus track. With added Enotonik treatment (mucho mucking about with loops, filters and kaos pad crash edits), sax from Andy MacKay and a whole bunch of noise, it’s not so much a guitar solo as a guitar scrambled and smeared across the sonic spectrum.

In the poker match of musical influence that may constitute the making of the new Roxy Music album, 50 Minutes Later has just dramatically raised the stakes. If a reformed Roxy Music can come up with something half as good as this then they’ll be well ahead of the game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Power Cut In Newcastle

There was a power cut earlier tonight which lasted about twenty minutes. The worst of it for me was missing Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM programme whilst cooking the evening meal. Once the power came back on I was able to find out that a faulty cable on the Metro system had caused the outage. Incredibly there are still homes around Newcastle affected by the blackout several hours later as this news story indicates.


Unable to face the ongoing transcriptions I’ve been filling in some of the archives from the Krimson News entries. For those that are interested August and September 2004 are now fully up to date with a start on October. For those that aren’t don’t click on the links over on the left hand side.

And speaking of links the eagle-eyed visitor will notice that links change from time to time. The newest addition to the blogroll is Martin’s Weblog.

I got an email from the above mentioned Martin Hoogeboom from the Netherlands asking for permission to use one of the photographs from Street Life XVI. Yes of course says I. And this is what Martin has done with it.


"LIGHT STUDY - A HOUSE"
(Watercolour, Pencil & Acryllic on paper)

Also in the post a nice story from Judy Dyble. . .

A short while ago, when I was working on the issue desk at my local library (I do relief/casual work there when I can) a young guy (15/16 year old) brought your KC biog to the counter to take out.

I said I hoped he'd enjoy reading it and showed him my photo in it. When his jaw had been picked up off the floor he said he played guitar in a band and that Robert was his guitar hero. And then he went all shy.......

Sweet eh?

Sweet indeed! Judy went on to comment that it was nice that RF/KC were still capable of influencing the younger generation.

A good conversation with Jakko about the work on the 21st Century Schizoid Band Live in America album. Mel is working with Jakko on the production. I ask Jakko about progress with his own solo album and he tells me it's nearing completion. Hurrah says I. Mel is also putting down some ideas for his own solo album though it's not certain when this will emerge.




Saturday, October 08, 2005

Street Life XVI

Half Awake, Half Asleep. . .



I hate days like this; half awake, half asleep.

Unable to concentrate or be present I find myself unable to engage. I end up cutting off conversations not by being rude as such, but by being vague, non-committal. Debbie gives me a wide berth being something of a veteran. A long bath soaks up time and absorbs my disaffected brooding.

This isn’t being depressed or anything like it but more as though my emotional gears have slipped into neutral. Quite why this happens is a mystery to me.






Friday, October 07, 2005

This, And Most Definitely, That

On the blower this morning; Jakko with news of the lack of progress in areas of his professional life as a musician. Jakko is one of those blokes who would definitely like to follow the Frank Zappa dictum of “shut up and play yer guitar.” However, try as he might in this apparently simple endeavour, the past keep rattling its chains and distracting him from the task in hand.

The task that he’d like to be applying his talents to is making music. Instead, unreasonable demands, letters to and from auditors and management agencies occupy his time; time that could spent on much more productive activities such as his solo album and that other labour of love, mixing the tracks that will be included on the Schizoid Band Live In America album.

Also on the blower; World Leader Symes has booked himself a week in Whitley Bay next month. I’d hoped we might be able to meet up when I was down in London but the schedule was such that I was unable to so any socialising whilst down there. So, if the mountain won’t come to World Leader then World Leader must come to the mountain.

Brian called around this morning with some reading material for me. In the time he’s hear we get into our perennial tussle as to the reactionary nature of punk versus the progressive movement.

And why is the three minute song by say The Buzzocks (who I like by the way) somehow more “authentic” in the eyes and ears of the rock press than Close To The Edge by Yes? And what’s “authentic” (in this context) anyway?

Answers to the usual address. . .

Listening to . . .

King Crimson at Manchester Polytechnic, 7th May 1981. A real scorcher of a set with infinitely better sound than the Moles release; the band have really started to gel. This is a first generation recording taken from the original audience recording that I had a hand in recovering for the official archive recently. More details to follow. I hang my head in shame when I think that I didn’t regard this line-up as KC when it first appeared. This is an astonishingly good performance.

I’ve been enjoying Kevin Smith’s video weblog of the making of Clerks 2. Facile toilet humour at its best.

Also spent a little while surfing through the new online collection of the British Council.

Sadly I’ll be missing this screening of Andy Warhol’s Empire. I know it sounds dull but I always found the notion of this particular movie rather magical.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Heroes Wanted

Joe has gone to school but isn’t necessarily all that well following his recent bout of sickness and diarrhoea. We think it must have been some non-cooking related bug that’s doing the rounds at the moment. He's been a real hero over the last couple of days; that stoic cheeriness should stand him in good stead in the coming years.

Speaking of Heroes, I’m grateful to Simon for alerting me to a Radio 2 spot called Classic Singles. As the title cunningly implies it deals with er, classic singles. First up is Heroes by David Bowie.

Whilst veteran Crim fans will yawn knowingly at the tale of how this track came to be put together it still gives me a buzz every time. Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, Tony Visconti and the Dame himself give us the lowdown on its recording. Well worth a listen. Be quick as the link is only good for a week.

Still on the displacement mode; is there anybody out there who is handy with html and familiar with the blogger interface? I need some advice and practical help. Email addy is over at the Krimson News page.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Gross Acts Of Displacement

I really like talking to people and doing the interviews but the pain in the neck (not to mention the wrists and across the back of the hands) is the transcription. Thus you will find me not at the desk but just about anywhere else in acts of gross displacement such as watching the Tory party conference on television.

My old pal Chris called around yesterday for a couple of hours to chew the fat and shoot the breeze. He’d brought round an album by the King’s Singers called Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday and Soft Machine's British Tour ’75; two very contrasting areas of music but still both engaging in their own way.

I like the fact that someone brings round their new purchases to sit down and listen to them in company. We used to do it all the time as teenagers. Nowadays it’s all compartmentalised in ipods and mp3 players. Or so they tell me.

Joseph is still unwell and off school again today. He’d came home yesterday complaining of feeling unwell. Sure enough he was running hot and made frequent attempts in the bathroom to expel whatever it was that was making him ill.

I felt slightly guilty about this because at the weekend Tom and I had made and cooked chicken Kiev (flattened chicken breast stuffed with garlic and parsley butter and coated in breadcrumbs) for the troops and you have to be so careful with poultry.

Yet nobody else had any side effects and when I mentally took myself through the cookery process I know Tom and I were scrupulous about hand washing and cleaning the boards.

Currently reading . . . this

Revolt Into Style George Melly











The Swinging Sixties & All That Jazz...

George Melly is probably best known in this country as an aging jazz singer with a penchant for loud suits that could double as a pair of gaudy curtains in full sail. Whether as the writer of Wally Fawkes’ satirical cartoon strip, Flook, art historian or author of the hilarious Owning Up autobiography, the lugubrious Melly has always brought an extra large personality to his work.

During the early 60s he began reviewing the trends in the emergent pop scene for the quality Sunday newspapers who wondered if their might be any cultural significance in this new fangled pop music. The domestic UK music scene was still a stodgy mixture of polite variety acts and clean-cut beat groups singing whatever Tin Pan Alley could palm off on the industry. As the aftershocks of Elvis Presley’s hip sway vibrated through an innately conservative post-war Britain, a shockingly fast transformation had been set in train.

No stranger to wiggling various parts of his anatomy on stage himself, Melly embraced the role of poacher turned gamekeeper, ideally placed to fire off dispatches from the fast-moving frontline of pop culture from those early buds to its resplendent bloom.

His descriptions of the London clubs in which the great and good were rubbing shoulders with the bad and the ugly reek of the stale cigarette smoke such is the first-hand, first-rate nature of his prose.

He’s grappling with all the inherent contradictions and tensions of the era and understands he’s attempting to document something fickle and essentially transient.

Whilst welcoming the pop arts and positing their impact on art and literature as well as music, he also recognises the difficulty of coming up with a precise definition of the movement; the zeitgeist is a slippery customer at the best of times.

Melly recognises though that the pop arts, at a particular juncture in the period, are in part the product of an increasingly educated and ambitious working class rather than from the usual arts hierarchy (i.e. the middle and upper classes). Effectively this means The Beatles.

Welcoming and approving of their transition from mop-top entertainers to cultural agent provocateurs, he sees past the electrifying novelty of Sgt. Peppers (which was new at the time of his writing) viewing it not so much as an indicator of the future of pop but rather a celebration of what had gone before, concluding “They display little enthusiasm for the way we live now”

If Melly is right, this surely explains their ability to traverse the generations in terms of popularity.

Dismissive of the psychedelic boom as something more to do with marketeers rather than “something in the air” as the propaganda put it, he applauds Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine for their attempts to cross the divide between the dance hall and the art gallery. The rise of the underground music scene predicated on the UK blues boom and the elasticity of American acid rock which in turn is rooted on authentic principles of musicianship and finesse is welcomed.

Even here though he detects the pervasive stain of fickleness and fashion “Here, as always, the old dilemma remains; to succeed you need a powerful individual image (gimmick is the less friendly word for it), and inevitably, with the passing of time, that image seems dated, ossified, out. In consequence the heroes come and go. Currently (August 1969) they include Jethro Tull, the Family and this month’s big deal, King Crimson; but in six months?”

Revolt Into Style: The Pop Arts In Britain, is an quick-witted eye-witness account of what was going on as it was happening without recourse to sentimentality or sensationalism. Throughout these pages, one senses that Melly had his sleeves rolled up and was getting stuck in. It’s this aspect that gives the book the frisson of authenticity that steers it clear from being a dry stand-offish academic survey that it could so easily have become.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Love Cannot Bear by Robert Fripp






Immune and inured to fads and flavours of the month, Robert Fripp is someone for whom the word tenacious might have been coined. It’s difficult to think of another musician from his generation that would be willing to place themselves before a hostile and indifferent crowd in the way that Fripp has done with Soundscapes. 

In steering a determined course between the demands of King Crimson, Guitar Craft and DGM, Fripp has remained doggedly true to a muse whose oblique ways has often led him into the teeth of a very loud and vocal opposition.

When touring as part of G3 with the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Fripp was more likely to be mistaken for a guitar tech than one of the guitar gods treading the boards. He’d also get a lot of feedback from crowds of baffled shred-fans ranging from the peeved “you ruined my night” through to the more incandescent “you deserve to be bitch slapped” mode of commentary.

 Even when supporting a King Crimson gig, Soundscapes are unlikely to fare much better as impatient fans volubly make after-show arrangements or ponder on whether Epitaph might yet be included in the set. 

So why on earth does Fripp keep at it?
 
Well, part of the answer must be that if he’s pursuing music as resplendently sublime as that presented on Love Cannot Bear then it’s going to be worth all kinds of grief to get as close to it as he can.
 
Though several tracks are taken from a series of dates in the USA in June 2005 (New York, Massachusetts, Huntington) there are also performances that date from 1995 (the solemn Midnight Blue taken from A Blessing Of Tears), 1997 (On My Mother’s Birthday and 2001. In light of this, Love Cannot Bear isn’t a live album as such but more of a documentary spanning Fripp’s many years of following a particular line of inquiry and wonder.

 The album offers a guided tour to those places of reflection where Soundscapes emerge; places of mourning, quietude, foreboding, lamentation. As Fripp explains in his sleeve notes Affirmations, statements & declarations of faith that the creation is benevolent (despite all evidence to the contrary) are, in these Soundscape settings, mainly diatonic. As such, they are often easier listening than the atonal, polytonal & chromatic music of other Soundscape areas.”  

Certainly there’s none of the bilious terrain explored during Radiophonics or the austere vista he reported back from as described in 1999. The immediacy of “making a lot of noise with one guitar” as Fripp disarmingly puts it is tempered on two occasions: The piquant Easter Sunday, (recorded in 1983), has added tang through the theme potently stated on dazzling runs on acoustic guitar,  subsequently echoed and extended by old-school Frippertronics sustained soloing. It seems to act as bridge between the old analogue world and the embracing of digital technology that gives voice to the Soundscape project.

Elsewhere, the title track has lyrics voiced by Fripp processed through a vocoder effect overdubbed in Nashville in 2002 onto a Soundscape recorded in the atrium of New York’s World Financial Centre in 2001. Finally, he brings it up to date by adding a sparse solo laid down in his native Dorset in 2005. 

Whilst the FX-laden vocals come off sounding somewhat coy, the heartfelt question that Soundscapes as whole seems to be addressing, “Can it be true that music can heal our world?” remains intact. 

The best is the final track, Requiem. Emerging from the dark caution of uncertainty into a spiralling bliss of conviction and joy. There’s a compositional depth here that shows Fripp grappling with something mysterious and ineffable. Enigma Variations might have also been an apt title had someone not got there first, and like the ninth variation from Elgar’s famous suite, this is music blessed with a stirring, intense emotional charge.
 
Throughout, there’s a sense of Soundscapes as part of a personal and long-standing interrogation of how one small man engages with big (but terminally unhip) ideas as vast and far-reaching as aspiration, redemption, forgiveness. The language may be glacially symphonic and slow moving but it is always moving.

 

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