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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Marked Up

The last couple of days have been spent working on the DGM Live website, forthcoming KCCC materials and putting together the schedule of interviews for when I’m down in London next week.

It’s good seeing a variety of people connected to the prog-rock continuum but of course each interview has to be prepared for and research has to be undertaken.

Tom has finished his history assignment and has turned in good piece of work although it’s been hard work for both of us. Part me is with Tom in not wanting to be bothered with it all (very much my approach when at school). Yet tonight when he got in he was obviously pleased and full of himself.

The reason being, his last English assignment which had been expected to garner a C+, has produced an A-. The leap in the mark was due entirely to the amount of work Tom had put into the piece between outline and completion.

It took a Herculean effort to get Tom to do it but now having received praise from his teacher and got an improved mark, he can see that the effort was worth while. He’s 14 and the pressure on boys at that age to jack studying and to arse about in class is significant. And I should know.

Because of all the work with Tom, I'm missing Joe at the moment.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Gone But Not Forgotten

Waveform 3 by Rupert Loydell

The poet, painter and pedagogue, Rupert Loydell dropped me a note to say an exhibition of his paintings is going on display at the Oliver Holt Gallery, Sherborne School in Dorset.

I first came across Rupert’s paintings over at Tangents a few years ago and immediately took to them.

Reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s abstract work, the ghost of another painting can be discerned.

Here and there across the ploughed surface, we can make out the vestigial traces of intent and action that have scratched and scraped away; their absence as significant as what remains.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Several people, whose opinions I trust and respect, have been telling me how good the new Kate Bush album is. It almost feels like I’m letting these people down when I report back to them that the charms and blandishments of Aerial are lost on my ears. It’s like being a drunk in a roomful of people who stare in horror at my aberrant behaviour, when I tell that it’s “ok.”

It’s not that the album is bad or even particularly weak – even my cloth ears can pick up that what is being offered is both coherent and well-constructed. Yet for whatever reason, I simply fail to connect with any of it including the much lauded and applauded second disc. I don’t necessarily blame this on the artist.

I’m notorious for taking a long time to “get” albums that others have seized upon with impressive clarity and speed. King Crimson’s Discipline would be one example. A Passion Play by Jethro Tull would be another - 25 years in that particular case!

Are there any other folk out there who've intitially experienced customer-resistance to a particular artist or album only to later undergo a conversion on the road to the local record store in Damascus?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Self Examination

Tom finished revising for his science exams on Thursday. It wasn’t the most productive set of revision he’s had since starting the dreaded task a couple of weeks ago but he rose to the occasion. I admire his stoicism. It wasn’t a quality I had at his age.

His take on the actual exam itself was fairly positive; there wasn’t any question where he wasn’t able to put an answer next to it. “Whether it was the right answer remains to be seen!” Tom quipped.

In the meantime, German foreign policy circa 1937 continues to encroach on his free time. His resentment is palpable yet he was still able to give a very good account of Munich and the “Peace in our time” speech.

Listening To....Earth To Ether by Theo Travis

Thursday, November 24, 2005

8 Armed Monkey by KTU

8-Armed Monkey Packs A Punch

Just as comfortable tearing through the hits of Hendrix (as he did at Patti Smith’s Meltdown season this year) or reviving the runo-song of his native Finland, the wunderkind of avant-accordion, Kimmo Pohjonen, continues to challenge and explore.

On Kalmuk(released in 2002) he followed a symphonic muse, combining forces with the Tapiola Sinfonietta to produce an intense and dramatic epic.

More recently he has been nominated for the BBC Radio 3 Planet Awards (competing against heavyweights like the Kronos Quartet and the UK's Nittin Sawhney) and has recently been touring Europe with French drummer Eric Echampard.

Proving that you should expect the unexpected as far as Pohjonen is concerned, in 2004 Kimmo and his regular partner in Kluster, Samuli Kosminen on samplers, teamed up with King Crimson’s percussionist Pat Mastelotto and touch-guitarist, Trey Gunn, on a short but devastatingly effective tour.

“After only two rehearsals and a long sound check for show one, and then a 14 hour flight to Tokyo for the next 4 shows - we were all pretty fried” says Mastelotto. If the band were lagging there’s no sign of it on the album. The gusto of their powerhouse approach drives across a surging mixture of composed and improvised pieces that encompasses head-banging metal, chill-out bliss and just about everything else in between.

The volcanic intensity of Sumu and Optikus erupts to produce a fast-paced stream of musical-consciousness brimming with potent riffing, monstrous dance grooves, sizzling fx, throat singing, and bizarrely at one point, the ghostly voice of JG Bennett and Robert Fripp emanating from the direction of Mastelotto’s febrile samplers. “Not all my button pushing and drum hitting goes as I might like” admits Pat.

“Things like tagging a 'Robert' soundbite on a pad next to the 'garage door' sound I was actually aiming for! There is a Trey Gunn voice in there too. Some things just happen, and later they sort of become written into the tune, like finding I was in the bank of old JG Bennett samples when I meant to be in the bank with the birds and bubbles. Such is life. I make plan a, b c and d and then circumstance (God) lets something else happen.”

Absinthe, from Mastelotto and Gunn’s TU album, showcases Pohjonen’s rippling prowess and the equally passionate playing of the criminally underrated Trey Gunn. The final track, Keho, lends an eerie and somewhat brooding feeling to the set as a whole.

Mastelotto remembers Kimmo’s on-stage confusion in the course of this sparse track. “During the improv I trapped a bit of Kimmo playing accordion into my KAOS pad with a mic I keep onstage near me. Then as we faded away, I played it back and filtered it - all live in the moment. Kimmo's face was classic: he was kicking his pedals and looking around trying to find where it was coming from. Samuli plays lots of Kimmo samples but he records and edits them 'off stage" Anyway that's why I could filter, reverse and slow down the accordion ending. . .made me think of an outdoor euro/French café”

Whether enticing the listener with tasty abstraction or bludgeoning them under a polyrhythmic avalanche, KTU delivers a hard-hitting triumph with all the jaw-dropping clout that you’d expect from the likes of Gunn and Mastelotto. Don’t make the mistake of viewing this as some kind of side project where the guys from Europe are somehow the junior partners. KTU is nothing if not a band of equals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Work In Progress

Over the last couple of months I’ve been listening to tracks in the making from Jakko Jakszyk’s forthcoming album, The Bruised Romantic Glee Club. We’ve been talking about tracks on almost a daily basis lately and I’m alwasys vaguely disappointed if a new mix doesn’t arrive in the email that day. I get to hear tracks as they are being constructed and cogitated over. What Jakko gets is a supportive but critical opinion. If it’s a crap idea I tell him it’s crap idea. And why. So far it seems to work for both of us.

The upside of this process is you get to hear the subtleties and nuances which go into the production as it grows and develops. The downside is you get to like particular mixes and combinations and feel an inordinate amount of loss when the artist goes and changes it.

When Jakko was on the blower this morning he mentioned he’d rerecorded a guitar solo on Catley’s Ashes. For weeks now, I’ve been humming along and exercising my air guitar in the time-honoured fashion. Now, I’ll have to learn the part from scratch.

For those familiar with Catley’s Ashes as covered by the 21st Century Schizoid Band, there’s been some significant changes. It now begins with a delicate pastiche of Holst arranged for chamber quartet giving the track a very agreeable summery feel to it. It gets busy though, powered by the urgent drumming of Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison’s and Mark King’s elastic bass playing – undoubtedly the secret weapon of the track.

Whilst many will expect lots of thunder-thumbing King produces a understated performance that nevertheless manages to utilise the rhythm, interpretations of the main the theme and witty commentaries and echoes of the soloists. Earlier versions of the track sans King had been fine but the playing from Level 42’s head-honcho absolutely brings the track to life.

Mel Collins has added some suitably lively soloing but oddly it’s the multi-tracked horn section voiced by Mel that provides an unexpected deligh. Forceful and insistent, it's eerily reminiscent of Henry Cow’s Nirvana For Mice in terms of timbre and melodic twistiness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Champagne Moment!

The launch of the DGM Live web site has went off incredibly well. After months of hard work it’s good to see it all up on screen and good to see the reaction from the folks visiting the site. And there's been a staggering number of visitors!

Inevitably there are parts of the site which need tweaking and addressing but for the moment, I’d say Eric, Hugh, Toby and all the other members of the team have done rather well.

My in-tray has been rattling with numerous messages of support, goodwill, feedback and constructive criticism from wide and far. Long may it continue. As the Kenty Kimber might say, this is a champagne moment which I intend to savour.

I wonder what people will think of being able to hear the full versions of Asbury Park and Easy Money for the first time? For those who don’t know, these two tracks first appeared on the posthumously released KC album USA, back in 1975, and were edited – the former with a cut and the latter with a fade-out.

I know for some people hearing the full version has been something of a holy grail. All things considered, I think that the edit on Asbury Park was right but it’s nice to be able to have both versions at long last.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Going Live

Having spent a good portion of Sunday uploading photographs onto RF’s diary for the DGM Live I was naturally disappointed to discover that when I got up this morning the server had eaten them up.

Given that the site goes live today, I was in a hurry to get them back up and ready.

Tragically, I found myself locked out as we moved from the old server (which had been playing up) and the new one. So the site will go live minus a few pictures but with much else to recommend it. And there was me thinking I was ahead of the game!

On the site you'll find Robert Fripp's diary (plus archive) lots of photographs from the King Crimson archives, some fan reviews, some press clippings and several gigs from King Crimson and Robert Fripp available for download. . .

For lots of Crim fun feel free to drop in and take a look around at


More revision for Tom; more science and more history.

A pre-birthday meal with the boys, Debbie and my mother who will be 78 tomorrow.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Taking Up The Strain

World Leader Symes departed for London today and once more the house settles back into its default rhythm but not for long. The next batch of houseguests arrive later this week; Debbie’s dad, Bill and his wife, Kath.

A good conversation with my sister today on the blower. I’m greatly enjoying tales of her new job in the judicial system. I’ve taken to calling her Judge Dredd as she relates the daily ups and downs of an English magistrates court. She should be writing some of the stuff up on the net as it offers a fascinating slice of how the system really works.

Inevitably we always talk about our children.

Tom is currently feeling the stress and change of not quite being a kid anymore but not quite wanting to take up the burden of responsibility as he revises for his Science exam and undertakes research on the Hossbach memorandum for his history assignment. I’m proud of the way he’s taking his work seriously. Despite a late night where we played Risk, he was up early and at the desk by 9.00 a.m.

I know for a fact I wasn’t nearly as self-disciplined when I was his age.

Came across this great quote from Paul Auster’s new novel, The Brooklyn Follies.

'All men contain several men inside them and most of us bounce from one self to another without ever knowing who we are'

Friday, November 18, 2005

Shadows Of Their Former Selves

As World Leader Symes and I went about Whitely Bay on a constitutional, that took us past a largely deserted beach, I was interested to see a couple of new shops had opened. Another aspirant-trendy coffee bar - all gaggia and chrome - and a guitar shop.

For no other reason than we are obviously a pair of nerds, David and I crossed over the road to gaze at the shiny rows of telecasters, strats and the like. Inside the shop I vaguely recognised the chap sitting behind the counter doing paperwork.

Being bold, I pushed in and asked him if he was Tony Bowler. And he was.

Tony and I haven’t seen each other since 1979 or thereabouts. A fine guitarist, Tony and I used to bump into each other on the improvised music circuit of Newcastle in the late 70s. It being a small circuit I guess we used to bump into each fairly often. Tony recalled a gig we all did where there were only three people in the audience. They carry the scars still I’m sure.

In an amazing feat of memory, Tony was able to recall the name of the group I was in at the time – Twenty Fingers. This was not a name I remembered and indeed have probably spent the intervening years trying to forget. In a blurry acid-style flashback, visions of Steve C and I whacking bits of fruit off a variety of musical instruments surfaced from the murky regions of my brain.

After doing the catch-up thing, we indulged in that other practice that all long-lost people fall into, promising to stay in touch. I look forward to popping in to look at the rows of shiny guitars again, very soon.

Afterwards this stroll down memory lane, World Leader and I headed into Bay Books where he got lost in the rows of vinyl and I got lost in towering piles of old books. I emerged with the Marks and Spencer’s guide to Rock Music (with an introduction by Phil Collins) for £1.50. I haggled the price down from £3.00 as I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for a book just because it contained a colour snap of Bob, Greg and The Boys on Top Of The Pops. Then back at the ranch we found a colour pic of Six-era Soft Machine I’d not clapped eyes on and a groovy snap of Pentangle. Damn good Value for money I’d say.

Excerpted from the DGM news page. . .

Extra Soundscapes Date Added

Robert Fripp will be performing Soundscapes at a parish church near Ely, Cambs on Monday December 12th at 7-30pm. The occasion is to give thanks for and to celebrate the return to health of Stephen Tebboth after a road traffic accident in May. There will be no tickets, entry will be by invitation only, as this is essentially a private, non-commercial event. However all are welcome and, should you wish to attend, please either telephone 07757135991 or email for an invitation.

Crimson Jazz Trio Snapped Up

Greatly enjoyed the photographs of the Crimson Jazz Trio’s debut taken by Mark Colman aka Kram. You can see the fully gallery of snaps over at Planet Crimson.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Well I Woke Up This Morning. . .

It’s getting cold. My breath was clouding when I took this pictures this morning at some ungodly hour.

After getting off to a fractious breakfast with the boys (underlying tensions from Tom caused by impending examinations), the temperature rises and the light pours in. Literally and metaphorically.

Tom is feeling the strain a bit right now; that sudden dislocation from childhood into something else, another harsher world where grown-up things that were once distant, are now starting biting his ankles.

Whilst I went shopping, houseguest World Leader Symes tinkered about on the PC. Yesterday his ipod thingy collapsed and died on him. Today it resurrected itself. Hence a happier World Leader.

Whitley Bay was lovely in the winter sunlight and the cold nipping at my nose. I couldn’t help but pop into a couple of the charity shops and was amply rewarded by a good condition copy of The Portable Whitman. My copy of Leaves Of Grass fell apart many years ago. Though it resides on the book case, were you to open it you would be showered by a confetti of poems and pages.

Back home and phone calls from Jakko fresh in from a photo shoot for the new album and a call all the way from LA from Ian and Margie to tell me tales of the CJ3 gig. This was one of those gigs I would've loved to have been able to get to. Penston has a good account of the bash under the entries dated November 12th & 13th.

Lotsa email concerning North Stars, DGM, folk singers who pushed the boundaries. Also an email from Peter Jenner confirming availability for interview next month which means I’m now going to London. Hopefully I’ll be able to take in Porcupine Tree / RF whilst I’m there.

Listening to . . .well World Leader Symes is taking on the role of the DJ so I’m listening to whatever he damn well pleases. I guess that's what Wold Leaders are for!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fixing A Hole

Fixing a hole where the rain creeps in is not as straight forward as you might imagine. Over the last few years successions of roofers have come and gone to little or no effect.

The effort expended on contacting said tradesmen, waiting in, chasing them up when they don't come, etc, leads us to think it might be easier if we just nailed a large padded envelope stuffed full of used £50 notes to the gatepost with the message: Please Take One.

It would be a lot less hassle, we’d save money on the telephone bill and the end result would largely be the same.

Last night however was a first in this sorry saga.

I’d been expecting a roofer earlier in the day but to no avail. Around seven o’clock in the evening, as I was helping Tom revise for his Science exam, there came a knock at the door. The roofer had arrived to have a look at the job.

“I thought you were coming this afternoon?” I asked rather tersely

“Been busy mate” he replied with a forlorn tone that might have been mistaken from a distance as being vaguely apologetic.

We went up into the attic room and looked at some water damage i.e. crinkled wallpaper. He didn’t seem in any hurry to be getting home and stared at the wall for longer than felt comfortable or productive.

“I expect you’ll be wanting to have a look outside at the roof itself?” I asked despite being fully aware that at this time of night it was pitch black outside. For all I knew he might have had night-vision goggles or something.

“No point mate, it’s too dark for me to see anything.”

OK. More staring at the water damage ensued.

“Looks like there might be a leak” he added sagely.

Yes indeed. That’s why you’re here. To take a look at the roof. Not the ceiling.

“I’ll have to come back when it’s light.”

“When will that be?”

“Difficult to say really…”

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Aural Excitements

Excerpted from the DGM news page. . .

Excitments in the yellow room this morning. Alex “Stormy” Mundy has been sprinkling the fairy dust on a League of Gentlemen audience recording. The original source tape was recovered earlier this year, its owner suggesting that he thought it as good as the official bootleg.

To these ears it’s better than the official bootleg both from the performance point of view and sonically. Although it’s not the whole gig the twelve tunes are very strong and there are some remarkable solos from the guitarist. There’s a little bit of wobble toward the end of the 50 minute tape but well within the bounds of acceptability. Once Alex has finished doing the Stormy Mundy groove-thang, it’ll be heading for download city.

Other aural excitements today reside with a bunch of mp3s sequenced up to approximate a provisional running order (how’s that for hedging one’s bets) for Jakko’s solo album. Beautifully crafted songs, so far it features some fine contributions from Danny Thompson, Gavin Harrison, Mark King, Dave Stewart and Mel Collins – the latter’s sax break on Bruised Romantic Glee Club is amongst his best.

Today I’m addressing the career development of Ian David McGeachy (better known as John Martyn) from his period as perky Woodstock-sozzled troubadour through to murky echoperplexed noodler courtesy of Universal’s Island Remastered series. Which other notionally folk singers stretched and experimented with the form during the late 60s / early 70s? Answers / suggestions / nominations to the usual address or on the comments section please.

And finally two public announcements. . .
Phil T could you drop me an email please?
Chris Barron- get blogging you slacker!

Monday, November 14, 2005

All The Dolls In The Same Place by Jay Terrien

Jay and Not So Silent Pat. . .

If you look at Jay Terrien’s website you won’t have to look very far for some items of dubious and questionable taste – an unhealthy fondness for scatology matters and Manchester United which I suppose amounts to the same thing in some circles.

You’ll also find numerous samples of Terrien’s exquisite bass playing and the fact that he has a brand new album that he’s busy hustling. Solo bass players, whatever their own personal likes and dislikes, are inevitably faced with the “Jaco question.”

Since 1976 and the release of his first solo album, Pastorius raised the bar for every solo player since. It boils down to this; do you go head to head on chops (which you’re bound to lose) or avoid using the old trombone-dipped-in-syrup sound (just about impossible to do).

Classically trained Terrien (he was offered but declined a place at the Boston Conservatory to study viola,) clever ducks the question by concentrating attention on a collection of intricate, detail-orientated self-penned compositions shored up by the inclusion of drummer Pat Mastelotto throughout the album.

Being a fan of XTC and King Crimson, Jay took little or no persuading to work with Mastelotto when producer Ronan Chris Murphy dropped Pat’s name into the frame.

So although this may be a Jay Terrien solo album with the bass up front and in your face, it’s equally an album featuring a power duo with the ability to bulldoze or gently move the earth as the occasion demands.

The opening Double Entendre and Emo are heavily reminiscent of the Trey Gunn band – Emo in particular sharing the lilting baroque quality of Gunn’s Rune Song from his 2000 album, The Joy Of Molybdenum. And like Gunn’s work, the metric mayhem inflicted upon the tunes is counter-intuitive and of course, hugely entertaining.

On Judging By The Size Of Carnie growling undertones and shifting times subside to the permafrost sparkle of glistening harmonics and soaring solos from Terrien’s upper register work as Mastelotto rumbles and tunnels his way out from under the tune. Lyrical tracks such as Hereiam suggests that no matter how hard he may try to hide it beneath that whacky slacker “hey Dude!” image presented on his website, Jay is in fact a sensitive soul at heart.

Terrien uses anything from two-string to twelve-string basses through a variety of processors so it’s no surprise that he’s able to wring out a wide range of expressive timbre from such instruments. There are chops aplenty from both parties but perhaps more importantly there’s an overarching structure that ensures this is no rambling jam session.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Van der Graaf Generator: Gateshead 11/11

Having never expected to see Van der Graaf Generator on stage again, like many people at the Royal Festival Hall in May this year, I had to keep pinching myself as I watched this ludicrously successful reunion. That this was underpinned by an album of new material, far better than could have been reasonably expected was the icing on the cake.

I assumed that the RFH gig would be both a beginning and an end, a last huzzah, a rally to celebrate an astonishingly potent yet underrated force whose grasp on the music was remarkably undiminished. Having seen the band several times in their seventies heyday, I can say without reservation that this gig was the best of the bunch.

Given all of that, it was perhaps inevitable that their appearance at Gateshead’s Sage Music Centre, a swanky development overlooking the newly trendy River Tyne, was never quite going to live up to the earlier highpoint. The last time VdGG played my home turf was November 13, 1976, almost 28 years to the day. Having harboured the desire that I might see them once again, I never expected to be witnessing two gigs in the space of seven months!

For a venue that prides itself on its acoustical properties the sound was irritatingly muddy in places rendering Jackson and Hammill occasionally mute. Playing a slightly reduced set from their London show, they stormed through their material with Nutter Alert sounding deliciously angular. As welcome as the old favourites undoubtedly are, Every Bloody Emperor maintained the acerbic edge and left one wanting to hear some of the other tracks from Present get roughed up in concert.

Lacking the technical precision that seemed part of the shock and awe tactics of the London gig, the band sometimes teetered unnervingly into their cues and links, inadvertently adding an unwanted layer of risk to the sense of hazard that is a vital component of their music. Hammill pushed the declamatory side of his vocal delivery to the limits. As undoubtedly entertaining as it is, occasionally it’s to the detriment of the song; the ending of Still Life being a case in point.

Despite Hammill’s precocious talents it’s interesting that VdGG remains a real group. This point was brought powerfully home during the encore Darkness (11/11).

With Hammill wandering off on an arm-waving circuit of the stage, Jackson down beside his equipment getting a drink of water, Banton and Evans were left to dish up the malevolent soup of the instrumental section. The sheer scale of the dark, turbulent music erupting from the PA produced by just two people on stage was astonishing.

It signified that for all the understandable focus on Hammill as the principal songwriter, VdGG is far more than just a one-man band. Without Jackson, Banton and Evans present it clearly wouldn’t be the same. Whatever Hammill brings to the party (and it’s a lot), his colleagues also produce something of equal force and value.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Quiet Before The Storm

The weather is blowing up to be quite a storm. There’s a couple of bushes uprooted further up street and we have a roofer coming to take a look at what appears to be some storm damage from the other day.

It could be all down to global warming or perhaps the fact that World Leader Symes is about to arrive to stay with us for a week. Or perhaps it could be because Van der Graaf Generator are playing up here tonight.

Listening to a new a live album by 70s group, Audience that arrived in the post today. And speaking of the post…still no joy on the package. They tell me it’ll be Saturday.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Suicide Watch

I was out walking today and came across this floral tribute to a young girl who had jumped to her death recently.

A minute after taking the photographs, a middle-aged man stopped and asked me if I knew the person concerned. I was slightly defensive, suddenly feeling that my actions may have appeared ghoulish or disrespectful.

I admitted I didn’t know the girl but mentioned that I lived nearby, as though this somehow explained why I might be taking the photographs.

He wasn’t really listening to me and I realised then he was close to tears.

As we looked out to sea he explained that he lived over in the west end, the other side of Newcastle. I assumed he was connected to the family of the dead girl. He explained that he had nothing to do with the flowers tied to the railings but that he had recently found his brother-in-law dead; he’d taken his own life by fixing a hosepipe to the exhaust and poisoned himself.

It happened a few weeks ago. His family were understandably devastated. He came for walks along the coast to clear his head.

I listened until he stopped talking and then we both went our separate ways.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Royal Mail - A Right Royal F*!% - Up

The Red Card Of Dread. . .

There are times when the petty, small and inconsequential rear up to assume gargantuan monstrous proportions.

I had been listening to an album whilst attending to various chores; rounding up stray crockery, getting a wash on, getting the dough ready for rising etc. I knew that a package was coming for me and was keeping an expectant eye on the letterbox as I milled about the house. In the yellow room the new Syn album was thrumming about in an agreeable manner and I tarried for a few minutes.

Coming back downstairs I noticed the dread red “Sorry You Were Out” card on the mat. Hurtling to the door, I ran outside trying to see the postman but to no avail. The music wasn’t playing loud at all and yet somehow I hadn’t heard.

Alys, I knew, was sitting in the red room doing college work (aka watching Charmed on tele). The red room is located at the front of the house and immediately next to the front door. When someone knocks the sound reverberates and the walls of the room shudder. That is, you can't miss it.

I entered and asked if she had heard anyone at the door. “Yes”, she told me, “but I thought you would answer it.” It was then I noticed that she was sitting reading her freshly delivered mail.

Dumb-struck and so angry with her laziness that I thought I might have a fit, I withdrew upstairs to enter the purgatory that is trying to ring the local sorting office.

In the old days you would ring a number and someone would pick it up. Since the service has been improved there is now an national number to ring and an automated service which gives you a range of options.

For over an hour, I dial and pressing the button that takes me to either the engaged tone of my local sorting office or an answerphone service that tells me it is full and unable to take messages. I do this until the office closes.

I press the button that takes me to the complaint line. The person who eventually answers tells me that the staff are too busy or just not there.

I tell her that I understand that but that I wish to make a complaint about the quality of the service. “There’s nothing we can do though” she tells me. I tell her that I still wish to register a formal complaint in order to let them know that their present system is failing customers.

“But there’s nothing we can do about it” she said with the tone of someone explaining something exceptionally simple to a resoundingly thick dolt. And so we batted back and forth until eventually she agreed to take my complaint. She did offer to arrange redelivery but it wouldn’t happen until Saturday. I did think about complaining about that but decided that there was nothing they could do about it.

Even if I ring at 7.00 a.m. tomorrow morning, when the office opens, it will do me no good. Of course I can collect the item in person but must leave 48 hours. That means Friday.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Animals & Dreamers

Last night was spent at the Tyneside Cinema helping to celebrate 50 years of ITV. The evening featured three special packages that highlighted music programmes made in the Tyne Tees region.

There was some vintage flickering black and white footage of The Animals in the Tyne Tees studio in the very early sixties.

They looked gritty and edgy compared to a lot of the clean cut boys doing the rounds back then. The interesting thing was a cut away from behind the band to reveal the audience; hordes of young girls in their Sunday best frocks in the round; an eerie augury of Jools Holland’s Later show.

After other vintage footage of north-east associated rockers (Free, Dire Straits, Ferry Coverdale, etc) there was a short panel discussion that basically concluded that music programmes on television was finished as it was cheaper for regional companies to do a quiz show or something similar. Apart from one-off big scale events, the experts concluded nobody wants to watch music on the box in any great number anymore.

Anyone trying to pitch a regional programme now, would they argued, be laughed out of the producer’s office as the likelihood of the show attracting decent ratings is virtually nil.

The main reason I don’t watch Jools Hollands’ show is because it’s on too late for me and I’m too feckless to programme the video (code for “I don’t know how to programme the video.”). So if someone like me – who has quite a serious interest in music – isn’t watching Jools I wonder how many others are in the same boat? Thus the received wisdom about poor ratings becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Elsewhere. . .

In amongst some impressive and awesome pictures over on Barry’s blog, there’s this bit of news about the Crimson Jazz Trio.

Although our weather is nothing to compare to that experienced by Barry and other residents of that part of the world, Sam and I watched a twister forming out at sea today. It lasted about five minutes in all and Sam managed to cam a bit of it swirling about. Very freaky-deaky.

On the radio today and guaranteed to chase away those November blues a great little programme about Ivor Cutler called Glasgow Dreamer. I saw Ivor in performance many times during the early to mid-70s and recently watched an excellent documentary about his life and times on BBC 4. Ivor will be known to many folks for his appearance on Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, and of course his performance as Buster Bloodvessel in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Upside by Malmõ

Listen Without Prejudice. . .

If someone told me that I’d spend the weekend humming a bunch of tunes by someone who’d written chart-topping material for the likes of Kylie Minogue American Idol the runner-up in 2003, Clay Aiken, never mind S Club 7 and Victoria Beckham, I would have punched them up the throat. And yet that’s exactly what happened.

Chris Braide, the songwriter responsible for those and others mentioned above first teamed up with Merseyside songwriter, Dean Johnson, back in the 90s when the pair met at a songwriter’s workshop run by Squeeze-geezer, Chris Difford.

Allowing for the fact that Johnson was busy recording his own albums and touring with Squeeze, whilst Braide was otherwise engaged with the time-consuming business of writing shedloads of hits for boy bands, torch singers, post-modern icons, pausing briefly to plonk an Ivor Novello award on top of his piano in 2003, it was quite a while before the pair finally sat down in the studio.

As Malmõ - the name is a kind of Indie-sounding camouflage to wheedle under the prejudice radar of people like me – The Upside is a collection of strong and often intriguing songs that move, if not quite in mysterious ways, then in engaging and surprisingly rewarding ones nevertheless.

The subject matter is primarily the ups and downs of relationships although there are some interesting diversions. Made Your Life Hell pays homage to Brian Wilson; modulating piano and rich velvet backing harmonies are mustered, as the song documents the descent into self-loathing of a once-successful songwriter. Who one earth can they mean?

The title track is spangling, crisp up-tempo pop harmonies against a driving four-to-the-floor, and like their first single, the iridescent We Don’t Know The People We Love, it possesses hooks so sharp that once inside they’re neigh on impossible to retract.

The Steps Of My Heart, is the very opposite to all the shiny happy power-play that populates The Upside. Dark descending piano instil a gravitas that mixes mournful Badfinger with a twist of sombre Seeds Of Love-era Tears For Fears. Its magisterial coda is especially powerful, and again, it’s a dead cert that you’ll be hitting the repeat button more than once.

Although the jangling chorus of Beside Myself evokes the stilted thump of Talking Heads’ And She Was, it falls short of the mark whilst I Can’t Keep It To Myself, despite being a lovingly constructed and perfectly executed ballad takes the prize as being the least effective out of the eleven tracks.

A million miles from the teen-idol rictus of Braide’s usual clientele, Malmõ tend towards the pomp-pop of Coldplay but emerge without too much of the collateral blandness associated with such stadium-friendly sounds. By contrast, The Upside has a warm, intimate quality devoid of gimmick and studio tricks. Polished perhaps but never lacking passion.

Released 28th November on Visible Records

More details at Malmo World

Friday, November 04, 2005

Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal - an Island Anthology 1967 - 1972

Now That's What We Called Music. . .
Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal
Various Artists


Back in the early days of the 1970s, ‘progressive music’ wasn’t quite the pejorative term it has since become, the humble sampler album such as You Can All Join In, Nice Enough To Eat, El Pea and Bumpers performed a vital economic service to the fledgling underground community.

At a time when shelling out on all the new albums by the burgeoning long-haired hordes just wasn’t an option unless your dad won the pools, these compilations acted as indispensable phrasebooks as we all tried to pick up on the strange lingo being spouted.

For a meagre investment of about 15 bob (that’s about 75p in today’s dosh please) you could grab a platter that would enable you to bluff your way through a conversation about Quintessence, Heavy Jelly or Spooky Tooth without the inconvenience and possible distress of actually hearing the complete albums in full.

Reissue expert, Mark Powell, has gathered all of these discs to come up with an über-compilation that makes a perfect companion to his earlier three CD collection, Legend Of A Mind that anthologised the Decca vaults.

With the Fairports, John Martyn, and the revelatory ropey Dr. Strangely Strange (who bequeath us the album’s apt title) heading up the folk-rooted frolics, we also have Free, Tull, ELP, Traffic and King Crimson doing increasingly strange things to variations on a twelve-bar blues. Teetering uncertainly between both camps came a bunch of hopefuls and no-hopers that include Amazing Blondel Wynder K Frog, Art, Clouds, Blodywn Pig, Vinegar Joe, Heads Hand & Feet.

Although much binds all these acts together (not least their place on the legendary Island roster of artists), one is struck by the differences that separate them. That is, they aren’t all producing a homogenised, off-the-peg sound. If one takes a listen to the contemporary counterparts of these old compilation album (NOW…347), can the same be said?

The beauty of having the good, bad and the ugly all stood next to each other is that one can see how distinctive and experimental the period was. Of course, some of it creaks like hell and produces moments of unintended incredulity, but most of the music appearing on this exemplary set with revealing extensive notes from Powell, more than holds its own. Light up a joss stick, stick a red light-bulb on in your bedroom and feast upon some truly fine hors d’oeuvres from the period.

Davis versus Cameron - TV's Unlikely Lads

Three Daves A Crowd - l to r David Cameron, David Dimbleby, David Davis

For reasons that seem frankly inexplicable, last night the BBC decided to televise a debate between the two candidates for the job of leader of the Conservative Party on Question Time. Quite why the powers that be thought it would be a good idea to spend the license-payers money and do the work of Conservative central office in disseminating the views of these contenders to its members is something of a mystery to me.

OK, so it’s not up there in the Mystery Top Ten like whatever happened to Lord Lucan, Shergar or even whatever happened to the Likely Lads, but it does make me wonder why this pair of unlikely lads merits the full glare of prime time television in what are, after all, the internal machinations of a political party.

It can’t be denied that the debate provided some richly comedic moments albeit unintentionally; Davis risibly promising to revoke the treaty of Maastricht (signed, lest we forget by a Tory government no less) and, he would have us believe, five other equally impossible things before breakfast.

Cameron continued the clever strategy of not telling us what he would do until he has to do it (i.e. when the next general election is called). But, he smoothly enunciated once again, that despite this apparent vagueness, he does know what this country needs.

Obviously the BBC are keen to test out the presidential-style format in anticipation of Blair’s successor agreeing to go head to head on live TV with his rival for the job at Number Ten. In those circumstances, the viewing public would at least be able then to go and vote for the candidate who either wore the least offensive tie, was the more credible liar or even, god forbid, the one who articulated the policies we believed in.

But last night’s David show was something which the majority of us have little interest in and certainly no possibility of determining the goods paraded before us, much like the Shopping Channel.

It’s all very well the BBC pandering to minority tastes and interests but this special edition of Question Time was taking things a bit too far. What next I wonder? Will the BBC televise the next hotly contested AGM of the Tewkesbury Weevil And Termite Society?

Elsewhere. . .

The drug-dependant and quite probably mentally ill Pete Doherty (aka troubled genius) is featured in today’s edition of The Guardian. Maintaining the flow of undeserved and mostly unsubstantiated comparisons that accompany Doherty in print - hello Wilde, Blake, Morrisey and Marr – Simon Hattenstone tells us that the new Babyshambles album seems fixated with death. Surprise, surprise.

As I pointed out in my review of the forthcoming PD biography “The boy who once spent time as a grave-digger has been steadily digging his own grave with the collusion of the music industry and their apologists in the media.” Whilst I wouldn’t quite level that charge against Hattenstone’s piece particularly, it nevertheless reeks of a voyeuristic schadenfreude that feels distasteful. At least he doesn’t call Doherty a genius, troubled or otherwise.

You can read my full review by going to the Bog Book Club

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Going, Going, Gone - David Blunkett Resigns

When a cabinet minister under pressure says they are not going to resign and the PM of the day provides testimony to said minister’s abilities and integrity, it’s a certainty that the political Grim Reaper can’t be far behind.

Sure enough, David Blunkett has thrown in the towel. His departure is a real loss given his abilities and deserved reputation as a more than capable minister.

The feeding frenzy that accompanies such occasions can strip flesh from the body politic at an astonishing rate. Internal support from ministerial and political colleagues can help fend off some of the worst attacks and excesses of trial by Daily Mail and their cohorts.

However, Blunkett has been very much a man alone of late. People who might well have been expected to rally behind him were nowhere to be seen.

Why might this be? Not because of a minor error of judgement in respect of his business interests and the ministerial code of conduct that’s for sure. Bad-mouthing colleagues in Stephen Pollard’s recent biography might have been an example Blunkett’s famously robust style but it was also ill-judged.

Despite his many years of experience of politics on the frontlines of local and national government, he made a fundamental and some might say, silly error; be careful who you climb on top of as you go up the greasy pole as you never know who you’ll meet on the way back down.

Elsewhere. . .
There's a very poignant entry in Norman Lamont's blog. This Norman Lamont is most emphatically not to be confused with the Tory ex-chancellor of the same name, he of the mysterious black eye alluded to in Julian Clary's famously risqué remark on prime time television. Rather it's the blog of the altogether more decent Edinburgh based comic which is well worthy of your attention.

I'm not sure how worthy The Robert Swipe Show is but this made me laugh out loud this morning whilst having my cornflakes this morning.

Listening To. . .

Syndestructable by The Syn

Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal by Various Artists

The Upside by Malmõ


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