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Friday, March 31, 2006

Captain Adventure by the Stan Tracey Quartet

First time out on CD for classic British jazz quartet - if you buy one jazz album this year make sure it's this one!

During his time as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s Club in the 60s, Stan Tracey elevated thinking on his feet to an art form. No matter what the great and (sometimes not so) good at the front of the stage threw his way, he took it in his stride. Sonny Rollins, when being interviewed by the UK press remarked “Does anybody here know how good he really is?”

Whilst some undoubtedly did, like most in UK jazz, Tracey operated at the margins of the mainstream. Indebted to Ellington’s lyricism and the oblique bop pondering of Thelonious Monk, he found his own voice (not to mention more than a little cross-over popularity) with the release of his jazz suites Under Milk Wood (1965) and Alice In Jazzland a year later. They cemented the cornerstone of his reputation as a composer and made the critics take home-grown talent a bit more seriously.

Originally released as a single album (two tracks per side) under his own Steam label in 1975, this 2 CD reissue comes with a whopping extra seven unreleased pieces totalling over an hour’s worth of music per CD. To say that you get a lot of bang for your buck is an understatement.

By the time they rolled up at London’s 100 Club, Tracey, then just shy of 50, had assembled a truly world-class quartet of dazzling power that didn’t so much throw caution to the wind as fire it headlong from a cannon.

Throughout the album, bassist Dave Green, drummer Bryan Spring and sax player Art Themen, along with Tracey, mount one daring harmonic and rhythmic raid after another, goaded along by the audience’s unbridled, noisy enthusiasm.

Like all of the truly great outfits in jazz it’s the almost unnerving telepathic group-think that enables them to turn on a dime at break-neck speed which causes the thrills and spills. Themen’s soprano skims like a stone across the ever rolling surface of See Meenah demonstrating just how tight this unit is as they grasp a melodic fragment, develop and extend in a flash.

Just when you think it must be done and dusted, on the title track they find an opportunity to touch on a classic Love Supreme vibe in the dying seconds. It’s a bit like watching one of those enormous shoals of fish executing impossible hairpin turns whilst maintaining impeccable formation. Jaw-dropping stuff.

They’ll Call Us blasts along, reinventing the cool pulse of Milestones into something altogether more savage yet holding onto its classy √©lan. As Tracey stabs and punches into the driving rhythm, Themen etches and scrapes the melody, apparently hollowing it from the very air around him.

It’s a perfect example of that unspoken facility where players simply know what’s needed and where things should go next. Green's bass solo in the barnstorming Lues:Encore Blues is a devastating show-stealer and he constantly nudges and pushes Bryan Spring's blistering work behind the drums. With support like this, there's no telling where they might end up. Mostly it means pushing the material just about as far as it can go before it smears and blurs into atonal territory.

Essentially rooted in a straight ahead sensibility it never takes long for the group to sail to the very edges. Tease n’ Freeze starts conventionally enough – a decorative 12-bar – but quickly shakes this skin aside to reveal something more risky and ferocious whilst maintaining an unwavering foot-tapping time.

Constant Pud slows the pace down a beguiling modal waltz-time and if it’s ballads you’re after then look no further than Doin’ It For Art – a wonderfully sensuous vehicle for Themen’s more sensitive side. Quite how this beautiful song is not regarded as a modern standard is beyond me. According to the sleeve notes, Themen only recalls only ever playing this tune once, confirming that the Tracey songbook contains an embarrassment of riches waiting to be exploited

Whether he’s splintering notes into white-hot sparks as a soloist or detonating explosive chords, each packed filled with dozens of possible directions, Tracey dominates throughout. Though he would later record several free improvisation albums with the likes of Keith Tippett and Evan Parker, it’s in confines of his beloved rhythm and changes where he finds true freedom of expression.

Viscerally alive and kicking, Captain Adventure represents a seamless performance where it’s impossible to discern the join between what’s composed and improvised. It’s doubtful that players as in-tune with each as these would be interested in the distinction anyway. It’s not about where things begin or end. It’s about the journey, the adventure itself. And what an adventure this is.

You can get this album directly from Tentoten Records.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Dull Grey Day

A dull grey day. And the weather’s not overgood either. I always learn things when articles and ideas get rejected. I am mostly positive about such things but sometimes, as it is today, it can be rather dispiriting.

Still, in the grand scheme of things there are lots of good things going on.

Jakko sent me a mix of Forgivness with some new bass parts overdubbed by John Giblin. He tells me Danny Thompson is also doing some acoustic bass for his version of Islands,

I spent part of the afternoon listening to the unreleased Fripp & Eno tracks which will soon to be made available on DGMLive.

Also managed to get bargain-priced train tickets to London in June. This will be to see Fripp play at St.Paul’s cathedral.

Talked with my sister on the blower who tells me of her adventures in the legal system. I urge her to blog her tales as they are both highly entertaining and informative as are these blogs

Diary of a Criminal Solictor

Swings and Roundabouts

The Policeman's Blog

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Apprentice: 'Allo John Got A New Motor?

I do like Wednesdays. Why? Because it has my two favourite television programmes – Prime Ministers Questions and The Apprentice.

In the commons today it was all the deputy leaders standing and even a deputy speaker. John Prescott is always entertaining as he drives his tank over the language, crushing the meaning from almost every sentence uttered. He was up against William Hague, who whilst being a disaster for the Tory party and knows a thing or to about being fired, is now a ray of sunshine in danger of outshining his leader, David Cameron at the dispatch box at least.

Though Hague poked fun at trying to understand what on earth Prescott was talking about, the deputy pm reminded him that although he often got his grammar it was the he (Hague – keep up at the back!) who often made errors in his judgement, pointedly reminding us all that Hague had once described Sir Jeffery Archer (ex-deputy chair of the Tory party and convicted perjurer) as a man of integrity.

From such lofty heights of political debate it then descended into Prescott-led brawl about who won the election - na-na-ne-na! Good old class politics even if it’s the classroom rather than the class war that we’re watching.

It’s not such a leap to go from the classroom to unseemly behaviour in the boardroom and the unruly rabble that quieten down when Sir Alan Sugar enters the room. The two teams snitch on their mates, tells tales and when they can get away with it, do it a little bullying on the side.

This week the teams had to flog as many second hand cars as they could at the countries largest car sales supermarket. This they did but more by accident than design and certainly nothing to with their respective team leaders.

As in the previous week, Sharon McAllister was completely useless in all departments, pulling rank on the hapless Tuan to tell him that although he might be closing a deal she wanted it put down to her. Thankfully he didn’t.

Even more toe-curling was when she pulled all her team members from the lot to have a strategy meeting. The strategy it seemed was that they should, er, sell cars. Great leadership and vision there Michelle.

If she is meant to be an example of the entrepreneurial class on which the growth of our economy may well depend, then we might as well drink up and go and live in the shanty towns right now.

It wasn’t much better on the other side of the playground. Ansell Henry, who has a knack of remaining fairly invisible when it comes around to the blame game, lost his authority to the fearsome Ruth Badger. In previous episodes Ruth has made Kathy Bates’ character in Misery look rational and well-adjusted. Here, she had found her natural forte and sold like there was no tomorrow. You had to admire her steely determination as she closed one deal after another.

Amazingly, it was Sharon’s team who took the most money on the day and they won themselves a trip down the Thames aboard a private cruiser with all the Black Tie trimmings they could consume.

It was a pyrrhic victory and instead of enjoying the spoils they were spoiling for a fight. Within a few minutes of a self-congratulatory toast the recriminations started with everyone fell out big time who might have said something about somebody. All bitching and backbiting was just like a school outing while the teacher’s attention is somewhere else.

In the boardroom, Ansell had hauled the non-descript Samuel Judah and swivel-eyed Jo Cameron to share the pain. It was her fourth time in front of Sir Alan and we all knew it was time for her to go. Not only had she not sold any cars but she actively scared customers away. The irony was that her CV stated she had trained the managerial staff at the ill-fated MG Rover company. "No wonder they went bloody skint" Sugar wryly observed. In the end the Brummie firebrand went out with a whimper begging old fuzzface for a second chance. Cruel but fair.

At this stage it’s difficult to predict who’ll make it through to the final two but as we speak, I’m plumping for Ruth and Paul Tulip.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Faust IV by Faust

Make a Floyd-noise here...

Faust are probably best known for their 1973 album, The Faust Tapes, a sampler album on Richard Branson’s still new Virgin label.

Unusually for an album a snippets, abrupt mood swings and unadulterated freak-outery, it sold somewhere between 50 and 60,000 copies before being deleted. That meant just about everyone I knew had a copy of this album with its impressive Bridget Riley Op-Art cover.

The reason for Faust’s unexpected popularity in the UK was more to do with the fact that it was a full length album selling for the price of a single (about 50p if I remember rightly) than any major embrace of the music -nobody I knew bought a copy of Faust IV when it came out. However I do believe that The Faust Tapes opened up a lot of ears, arguably paving the way for Tangerine Dream’s success the following year.

Faust was always a weird lash-up of incongruous experimentation bordering on triumphant success and noble failure, as this welcome 1973 reissue demonstrates.

Emphasising feel over instrumental virtuosity, there are times when it threatens to fall apart. Yet this very fragility is also a central part of their enduring charm. "The Sad Skinhead" flirts with ska whilst the happy-clappy square dance of "Giggy Smile" offers a folk-tinged minimalism to their blend of shaky dilettante rock.

They stand on firmer ground during the epic groove-driven, "Krautrock", spawning not only a generic description but seeding the future sounds of The Jesus And Mary Chain and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

A bonus CD of radio sessions (John Peel naturally), previously unreleased alternate takes and explorations provide a portrait of a sprawling, chaotic but well-respected musical institution.

Here, a languid take of “Jennifer” and the extended version of Just A Second shows the extent of 60s Pink Floyd influence in continental Europe - simple modal songs stretch out beneath repetitive swells of overdriven echo. Rather like Floyd themselves, the “cosmic” effects divert attention from the fact that at their core, these really are very straight forward rock n’ roll songs.

Whilst lacking the genuinely transcendental spark that propelled much of Can’s work, this expanded edition of Faust IV nevertheless provides several useful points of entry into a body of work that excites and surprises to this day.

Monday, March 27, 2006

How's About That Then?

It’s been one hell of a day which really began this morning in Newcastle airport at Easyjet’s check in desk circa 5.30 a.m.

A couple of hours later and I’m making my way across to west London and a meeting that takes place a mere stone’s throw away from White City station.

Two hours after that and I emerge from the cosseted darkness a screening room and back into the light. Back at White City and in something of a daze, I telephone several equally dazed colleagues and report back on the meeting.

I talk with Jakko but there isn’t the time between his schedule and mine for us to actually meet up.

I move back across town to Liverpool Street station and the Stanstead Express. Once there I discover that my flight back to Newcastle is delayed for well over two hours but this hardly dents the feelings of elation caused by the meeting earlier in the day.

If I’m being vague it’s because I’m subject to an agreed embargo but I’m assured all will be revealed in the next week or so.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Inside Man by Spike Lee

Deep down inside something is wrong...

For some reason inexplicable reason I never saw Spike Lee’s last movie, She Hate Me, though after taking a look at the plot line (“Fired from his job for exposing corrupt business practices, a former biotech executive turns to impregnating wealthy lesbians for profit”), maybe it wasn’t so inexplicable after all.

With TV spots and high profile casting you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know that Inside Man is his most mainstream movie to date. Given that’s he been given a bigger bankroll, appropriately enough he’s chosen a bank job as his latest vehicle.

Good heist movies get our moral compass in something of a spin. We always want the bad guys to get away with it. Even better, if the heist in question is taking down someone or something inherently more corrupt or suspect than the villains themselves. In such circumstances it falls to one character to end up doing the detective work on not one but two crimes.

Between Christopher Plummer’s wily bank owner, a mysterious political power-broker (Jodie Foster) and the leader of the bank job gang (played by a somewhat underused Clive Owen), Denzel Washington, as the cop at the top of the shop, begins to realise that this is no ordinary robbery.

The classic siege scenario is necessarily about waiting around a lot. Lee manages to keep the pressure piled on by using a flash-forward device which although reviving the narrative as it inevitably sags given the rather static stand-off between the street and the bank vault, it also gives the game away somewhat.

As Washington finds out, the shadow world of con artists and their marks have their equivalents in the upper echelons of commerce and politics. Surprisingly for a polemicist such as Lee, this is observed in remarkably neutral terms, a kind of cinematic shrug of the shoulders.

However, it looked good, with dependable enough performances from its principles, though nothing really ever caught fire. In comparison to his provocative meditation on cause and effect, 25th Hour, (with an incendiary Edward Norton) it seemed, well, rather mainstream.

Finally, can anybody tell me why Willem Dafoe is wasted yet again with another bit-part role? What’s he done that nobody in Hollywood will offer him a decent lead role anymore?

The real drama for me was going on the cinema all around us. We normally go to the Tyneside Cinema but today decided to head off the Odeon. Settling down we instantly regretted the impulsive decision to wander off our beaten track.

A group of people to my left used their mobile phones throughout the trailers which did not bode well for the main event. Sure enough as the movie got underway, their chattering increased, lots of laughs and the inevitable fun with pop-corn.

Now you can handle this in a number of ways.

Ignore them.

Politely ask them to stop (but they wont).

Get a member of staff who will fail to quell the noise and almost certainly have to be brought back which means you get to miss big chunks of the movie.

Go in full-steam, targeting the biggest of them and threaten extreme and explicit violence if he and his mates do not SHUT THE FUCK UP RIGHT NOW.

It’s not big and it’s not clever but it does work.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Literary Lists

The Book Magazine asks who the greatest living British writer is and of course, they’re running an online poll. Looking at the list of people I realise how little fiction I’ve read in the past ten years. Out of the 56 writers listed I've only read 27.

What - no Iain Sinclair?

My favourite of his is the mad cavalcade that is Lights Out For The Territory.

Sticking with literary matters of a different kind…

I came across this Robert Crumb piece whilst delving into the downright weird. I’ve never been a great Sci-Fi fan but confess to reading tons of Frank Herbert novels when I was a teenager. Ditto Robert Heinlein for a while. I never did manage to finish a Philp K Dick novel though.

This afternoon I intend to lose my status as a Skype virgin.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Hand In The Bush Is Worth...Oh Never Mind

The hand is much better now and no pain in the soft flap of skin between the thumb and forefinger which had taken most of the damage.

The enforced lay-off made me revisit a screenplay I’d half-written. Half-written because half way through I realised it was actually a novel and walked away from it.

Rereading it, there are numerous bits where the wince-factor leapt off the scale, causing me to blush. Putting that aside though, I liked the characters and found myself wanting to know more about them and their lives.

It occurred to me that I could blog it as a weekly serial – there’s nothing like the discipline of impending publication to ensure a creative decision is made.

Last night was The Apprentice - a firm favourite of Tom and mine. We cheered Sir Alan to the rafters when he got rid of the odious bullshitter Mani.

I came across this site for the forthcoming My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (see my review). Remixers and home studio knob-twiddlers are going to love this when it goes live.

Talked to the Great Kimbrini tonight and hatched plans to meet up in June when Robert Fripp plays St. Pauls Cathedral.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lost And Found And Lost Again

More movement in the hand today although it still hurts like hell. Debbie is looking a touch sceptical when I tell her I may need to sit on the sofa with a box of chocs and the new Paul Auster book for the day.

Outside the weather is sunny but cold – it seems as though Spring might have actually sprung.

Jakko rang this morning on his way up to Birmingham. He’s doing a corporate job and will be up in Brum for a couple of days. He’s been working to some tight deadlines and as a result hasn’t been able to get the finishing touches done to his album.

He sent me a copy of the Schizoid Band album, Pictures Of A City. It was funny finally hearing it on CD. I’d got used to hearing various MP3s and different mixes over the last few months that it was like listening to a new album. I think they’ve done themselves proud with this one – and the packaging (by the mighty Phil Smee) is fantastic.

Jakko also tells me that Boz Burrell has been ill recently but is now on the mend. We send our good vibes his way. I talked to Boz when I was writing the KC book and he seemed like a nice bloke, very affable indeed.

Tim Bowness rang later in the afternoon. I do enjoy a natter with Tim and natter we did for a good hour. The last time Tim stayed here we nattered until four in the morning. We’re boring old farts, we conclude, who find most of the new music presented to us by the major labels as dull homogenised froth.

Tim points to the development of MySpace as a means of finding out about new music. With things being only a mouse click away he's noticed a change in the demographics of fans listening to the likes of no-man. Lots of younger people finding out about bands and genre which the popular media tells them they’re not supposed to like. He tells me about a singer / songwriter he met through MySpace called Kevin Hewick - I like what I hear.

I'm slightly sceptical about some aspects of MySpace - people passing themselves off as particular artists. My own entry to it a month or so ago (in order to complain about some copyright infringement) has netted a new avenue for porn spam - so it can't be all bad I suppose.

Tim asks me about my Burning Shed debut. This is material I recorded back in the mid-seventies when I worked in a recording studio. In the downtime I would set up equipment and noodle away on gear that had been left over from sessions. The last time Tim was here he had requested the Smith Tapes, having been told about them by Markus Reuter who had transferred them from their lowly cassette status to CDR.

It took me about two years to send Tim a copy for Burning Shed partly because I lost the tapes and partly because I wasn’t entirely convinced that the world would be interested in my juvenilia. After getting a green light from Tim and Pete at Burning Shed, they ended up misfiling the CDR I’d sent them.

Every few months Tim reminds to send another CDR for mastering purposes. Today was one such occasion. After Tim rang I delved around some boxes where I thought they might be residing and bugger me if the blighter hasn’t disappeared again. Talk about getting a sign!

Ahh - the rampant ego of youth. One of my notebooks from the period lovingly adorned with picture of a thin bloke with hair that I think I used to know.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Red Handed

My right hand is still sore although thankfully without any blisters – the ice cubes did their work. I can manipulate the mouse a little which allows me to tend to some administrative matters here and there. Still typing with one finger.

In the post today a ton of albums to be listening to so its not all bad.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Burning Issues

I burned my hand yesterday when taking a large dish of spinach and ricotta cannelloni out of the oven. Having checked the middle with a skewer to see if it was cooked (it wasn’t), I then picked up the earthenware dish with my bare hands to return it to the heat.


Actually that doesn’t do it justice.


No, not even close.

I almost fainted with the pain to my right hand but somehow managed to get the dish back onto the bench and not drop it.

From there it was a quick dash to the sink and I spent the next ten minutes running cold water on it. Somehow my left hand was barely singed.

The rest of the day’s programmes were cancelled as I sat nursing my right hand with an ice pack, biting pain killers and drinking my way through a couple of miniatures of whiskey.

Today I can only type for small periods and even then only with one finger.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

It's About That Time

Politics, like the telling of joke, can be ruined by poor timing. Yet in all politics the more power you acquire, the more removed you become from party members - the grunts on the ground where the meat of the body politic meets the metal of the street.

In those circumstances, timing is everything. It informs the instinct for survival, the capacity to think on your toes, the ability to listen and be available to debate a point of view.

In the plush corridors of power such stand-up routines become just another tedious task to be managed by your staff. Cocooned from the grit and grist, your sense of political timing becomes only as good as the weakest person in your entourage of advisors and speech-writers.

Leaders who hold office for any length of time always become detached from their power-base not because they are inherently corrupt, but because the dynamics of exercising control demands that their attention is nearly always focussed elsewhere.

Blair’s government was elected in part, on the anti-sleaze ticket but now looks as bloated and as out of touch as John Major’s cabinet did back in 1997.

Having legislated for transparency regarding donations to political parties, they are revealed as having subverted their own rules by turning donors into lenders – and throwing in some peerages into the process.

Political heat inevitably runs down, cools off; party political entropy sets in. This is in the nature of things and is as immutable as the second law of thermodynamics, which roughly translated means that if it can go wrong it will go wrong.

Wheels come off, people stop believing what you have to say, and what once looked new and clean now looks threadbare and shifty.

Rightly or wrongly, in politics, how things look is how things are.

It’s still unclear at the time of writing who did or didn’t know about all of this in the upper echelons of the party, but the fingers seem to be pointing at No.10, and the silence this week from Gordon Brown, a shrewd player of the long game who hasn’t lost his sense of timing, is almost deafening.

As we clock up another milestone (or should that be millstone) in Iraq, both abroad and at home, Blair is a political joke who is now out of time.

It’s time for him to go, and go now.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Wanderer Returns

In order of appearance: Jude, Julie and Lesley

We were round at John and Jude’s house tonight to meet up with Lesley who is over from Spain at the moment.

Long-term readers may recall that Lesley and her husband, Ged and their children upped sticks and moved to a derelict property in Northern Spain.

Being handy practical types, they’ve been renovating their building and later this year Dave and Julie (yet more neighbour chums) are heading out there as an advance scout party. Hopefully, Debbie and I will get out there in the not too distant future.

As ever, Jude and John had cooked up a feast fit for kings, and the eating of it seemed to go on forever. It was great seeing Lesley and hearing tales of how hapless Brits can mangle the local language to great comic effect. Lesley is a natural storyteller and is always good company.

It’s a sign of maturity that kids want to stay at the table and converse with adults. We were joined for the night by Jude’s daughter Mel (16 going on 25) who kept up with the chat and made several more-than-worthy interventions.

It’s also a sign of worrying post-maturity that certain adults (like me) get so tired at around the 10.00 p.m. mark that they have to leave and go to bed.

Mel, clearly thrilled to be making her Yellow Room debut...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Not Such A Slow News Day

Talked to Trevor Lever on the blower yesterday. He’s going to be at Robert Fripp’s soundscape gig at Exeter Cathedral on June 6th. Since I’m going to be heading down there myself, we hatched plans to meet up and have a chinwag, and probably shout out “Epitaph” and “Easy Money” at the guitarist as he plays.

Talked to Sean Hewitt today on the blower. He’d been to see The Mighty Boosh on stage and was mightily impressed. Unfortunately Sean confused me with somebody who would be interested in The Mighty Boosh. Debbie is a fan, Sam is a fan, Alys is a fan (so much so that they are out to see The Boosh at Newcastle’s City Hall this very evening) and even Tom and Joe are sometimes found sniggering at the dvd of series 1 & 2 that seem to be forever playing on the computer on the landing upstairs. But not me…

Talked to Bill Rieflin via email today. Bill is the best drummer King Crimson never had who plays with REM (yes, that REM). I first met Bill in Seattle getting on for (gulp) eight years ago. You’ve got to be careful when asking Bill a question.

For example:

Sid: Can you give me a quote about that?

Bill: Yes.

(cue footage of tumbleweed rolling across a forlorn deserted forgotten town or the sound of cicada)

And of course, no reply. I should have asked Will you give me a quote in the next couple of days please and don't make it too fucking obtuse!

Not quite having learned that the quality of the question determines the quality of the answer, and feeling like that character in the Peanuts cartoon who always has the football whisked away as he kicks it, I was talking to him about his latest project, Slow Music.

Sid: What do you like about working with the people in Slow Music?

Bill: They all have teeth and limbs. That's always a plus.

That's as good as it gets with Bill.

At lunchtime I took a break from the keyboard and watched the Prime Minister’s press conference. Blimey, Blair looked under some serious pressure over the question about the party receiving loans for election purposes and then the lenders getting nomination for peerages. And so he should.

The old adage that oppositions don’t win elections but rather it’s governments who lose them looks increasingly like coming true.

Listening To:

The Calling by The Clark Tracey Quintet
The Return of Captain Adventure by The Stan Tracey Quartet
Fripp & Eno

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Syed - Full Metal Jackass

"'re *@*%"?##+! fired..."

Tom is currently working on his history assignment about the Vietnam war. We watched Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

Not one of my favourite SK movies, it did at least demonstrate to Tom that the war was not exclusively a jungle conflict as he had mistakenly thought.

I still find my jaw dropping at R Lee Ermey’s bravura performance as the new recruits Drill Instructor. No expletive is left untouched by this amazing character.

Needless to say when I was talking to Tom about the issues in the movie (what motivates people to kill, etc,.) all he wanted to talk about was Sgt. Hartman’s swearfest jamboree.

We watched The Apprentice tonight. Thankfully Sir Alan fired the right person, the wide-eyed and it must be said, largely gormless, Alexa Tilley, this week although it seemed that Syed Ahmed was going to get it in the neck. And he should have. If there'd been any justice in the world, then the two of them would have got the chop.

Distrust anyone who tells you they are an expert or have years of experience and know what they’re doing.

Syed, having made elementary blunders when ordering the food for the team’s pizza stall, when called to account merely blustered in the boardroom, “I’m a winner!” about as convincingly as an old racehorse off to the knackers yard.

An exasperated Sir Alan spluttered “No you’re not – you bloody lost!”

Tom and I tried to imagine what R Lee Ermey might have said had been in charge of the show!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


one of the paving slabs on the road to hell...

I’d been asked to write a couple of press releases for some people and promptly sat down to do the business in a kind of automatic way. It was an honourable piece of work but not what I would call inspired. I read an interesting article at the weekend in The Observer about the nature of inspiration.

This passage leapt out from the text:

If a true poet, as poet Randall Jarrell once said, is someone who is struck by lightning several times, then the only thing a poet can do is make sure he keeps going out. The whole notion of inspiration, in this sense, shows us both the limits and necessities of our working practices. You can work at your poetry but you can't work at your inspiration. Self-discipline exposes what the self can't be disciplined to do.

My problem isn’t inspiration. I get lots of good ideas every day. My problem is applying myself to them, to be able to grab just one of those moments and be able to do something with it. Any kind of creative work for a living means cohabiting with all the failure and half-baked gone-wrongs that litter my desk, or as Philip Roth puts it “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”


I’ve discovered that Theo Travis’ album Slow Life is the perfect accompaniment to watching snow falling. More fell in the night and as the boys went off to school this morning, a westerly wind was throwing more their way. Slow Life has Theo using looping technology with flutes of various sizes, textures and timbres. Warm and sensuous, the music provided a contrast the snowflakes which appeared to be especially choreographed for the occasion; twisting slowly, curling this way, mingling with the crowd and falling away again. Quite spellbinding – much like the album itself.

I’ve also been listening to KC in Arlington, Texas, 1973 after writing up the show notes for DGMLive and asked Bill Bruford about his use of a drum machine on the improvisation from that gig - think Tight Scrummy (from TGD box set) only this one is positively smoking.

Though the drum machine provides something of a rhythmic straitjacket the joy is found in hearing the band wriggle free from its constraints. A case of finding inspiration from a kind of adversity I suppose.

Possibly twitching at the memory of it all, Bill replied “Bloody hell--the drum machine. It never had a name--other than the drumbox--and no identifiable manufacturer. Of UK origin certainly, but I probably picked it up at a car boot sale. It would play you "waltz", "swing", "quickstep", and "latin", all of which were awful. But if you jammed certain of these buttons down at the same time, you could get an approximation of something useable. Which is what I did. Whatever the technology did, it was never enough, and the musician always began to explore the things it didn’t do. Much more interesting. That applied to mellotrons, guitar synths, and spectacularly Simmons electronic drums, which were never designed to sound like Waiting Man. And which is why I got through drum-techs at the rate of about one a week.”

Bill recently released Earthworks Underground Orchestra album is dynamite listening. I’d asked him about a couple of the players on that release who’d particularly caught my attention, trumpet player Alex Sipiagin and baritone saxist, Chris Karlick. "Alex Sipiagin was trained in the Russian military in the 70s, the baritone player Chris Karlik in the American military at the same time. In other times they could have been shooting at each other--only in NYC do they sit shoulder to shoulder on stage in front of me playing that shared musical language. Fabulous."

He’s not wrong.

Monday, March 13, 2006

'Ello, 'Ello, 'Ello - It's Good To Talk

Sir Ian Blair has admitted to secretly taping his telephone conversations with people during the course of his work – notably the attorney general whilst discussing (somewhat ironically) telephone tapping.

If you’re going to tape a conversation then you have the basic decency and common courtesy to tell the person that’s what you’re going to do. Sir Ian’s excuse was that he didn’t have a note-taker handy and he expected the conversation to be complex.

Whatever his reasons, the fact that he didn’t tell the person on the end of line that he was taping their conversation is a serious breach of trust.

Last year I had a telephone conversation with someone lasting nearly an hour. It was a robust but mostly amicable exchange of views about showing consideration towards others and asking permission to use copyrighted material.

A couple of hours later I received an email telling me that the conversation had been recorded as he was planning a podcast. I was totally shocked. At no point in our conversation did he say anything about a) taping the call, b) ask me if it was OK or c) did I want to be in his very first podcast.

I rang him back to complain and also sent an email expressing at I saw was an abuse of trust. Although he apologised for his behaviour the experience was unsettling and made me wonder about the ethics of a person who thought it was perfectly fine to act in such a way.

The point here is not to censure someone for being dumb. The point is you don’t “accidentally” tape a call because you’re dumb. You do it because you have a reason. Given that Sir Ian Blair is anything but dumb you have to question his motives alongside his integrity and credibility.

Blair’s reputation has taken a knock for the Met’s handling of information after the London bombings and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, his comments regarding the murders at Soham and rumours of near mutiny in the ranks over his leadership. Although he’s issued an apology and said he wont do it again, deep down how comfortable would you feel giving him a quick call?

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Road To Harry's Bar by Gordon Haskell

A cautionary tale...

The last book of rock musician reminiscence I read was Keith Emerson’s Pictures Of An Exhibitionist, a work so unremittingly dreadful it made me think book burning wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Such tomes from stars of a certain age usually have much in common. For example, there’s the obligatory “tart with a heart” tale set in some ratty bier keller with the frau sharing her last bit of bratwurst with the hungry musician on his uppers.

There are also frequently bizarre leaps of logic and jaw-dropping acts of self-justification - Emerson memorably rationalised that by sleeping with groupies on tour he would be able to remain faithful to his wife when at home.

Of course, no book would be complete without its “the day I met Jimi Hendrix” story, who appears to have spent almost as much time shaking hands as he did playing the guitar.

When at one point, Haskell quotes Al Pacino’s memorable line of defiance in the face of authority from Dog Day Afternoon (“Kiss me…I liked to be kissed when I’m being fucked”) he’s addressing the other theme that so often runs underneath just about every book about professional music making – being screwed by the industry and its managers.

By Gordon’s own reckoning he’s been screwed over more than most. Reading through his account of swinging 60s London life with Les Fleur De Lys (at which time he did indeed meet and share a house with Hendrix), the disastrous stint with King Crimson and his frequent attempts to launch his own solo career, the book becomes a travelogue of missed opportunities and bad judgement at which you can’t help but shout out “Don’t do it Gordon!”

Haskell readily admits that his own stubbornness and refusal to play the game has sometimes cost him dearly. Sadly, even when he plays the game it costs him as well. When Haskell signs to Atlantic Records in 1970 and they throw a party for him at the Dorchester, you just know that he’s going to wake up with a bad taste in his mouth. Sure enough, a £700 bill for the party is docked from his royalties.

Similarly, his unexpected hit, How Wonderful You Are, which netted him a huge advance and financial security, turns out not to have been quite the fairy tale ending we all hoped it would be. Despite all his years of experience, a wily manager has trousered the dosh, leaving Haskell in the lurch once again.

Yet, this is not merely a book of bile and anger by someone with a chip on their shoulder. There’s a warmth, and in the circumstances, an almost alarming naivet√© about Haskell’s worldview which remains charming which prevents his tale from becoming a rant.

Haskell is never short of sharp one-liners about his experiences. In the day-job world, he hadhad twenty-one jobs in just three months as a teenager in Dorset. On being fired on the first day of his job as a labourer he is told “You’ll never lay bricks in Bournemouth again” and following his inability to flog choc ices to beachcombers, “In the world of ice cream, I was a disappointment.”

Though Gordon has now reconciled his differences with Robert Fripp, his assessment of the band is characteristically blunt. “King Crimson was like a tower block. It made a fortune for the architect but it was hell for those who had to live in it.”

His brief period in the group left a shadow from which it took him over 30 years for him to emerge. He candidly recalls the hatred he felt towards Fripp following his departure from Crimson and frequently comments that he felt as though his life had been one long competition with his old school mate.

When How Wonderful You Are, was kept off the No.1 slot by Robbie Williams, Haskell ruefully observes that William’s manager used to be King Crimson and Fripp’s manager.

“I shook my head in amazement at how Robert and I were still playing that game 40 years on. What had I said? ‘I loved the game too much to care about winning,’ and here I was coming second to his ghost.” Haskell took consolation from the fact that “At least now the first question I would be asked wasn’t going to be, ‘didn’t you used to be with King Crimson?’”

The other ghost at the banquet in Haskell’s narrative is the search for his father, Harry. His widowed mother was ostracised for having had a child out of wedlock to an American serviceman, and it’s from here that Haskell developed his sense of being a perennial outsider, at a distance from the rest.

The multiple ironies of his life are recounted with a stoic humour which endears rather than alienates. That he occasionally indulges in a spot of vitriol and rancour (usually reserved for Tories and punk rock) can be understood given the sense of dissatisfaction with his lot in life.

However, his real ire is reserved for the record label bosses or Suits R us as he calls them at one point. Haskell discovered that his long-held hope for success and recognition had been once again been undermined and tainted, as he saw it, by compromise and deceit.

“I had been sincere when I wrote the song and sang it. Now it was nothing to do with music. I had to do something to relieve the boredom and when asked later on TV and radio what I had bought with all my new-found wealth, I always said a gorilla suit. Nobody asked me why.”

Once again, the artist was the monkey to the record company as organ-grinder.

Haskell acknowledges that in the end he has come to accept that he is responsible for things going wrong in his life. Blaming other people does little to address the underlying issues, and stops you from moving forward. It’s been a tough road he’s followed but hopefully the journey on The Road To Harry’s Bar has ultimately been worth it for Gordon.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

Tom and I are aghast at tonight’s episode of The Apprentice. So far, Sir Alan seems to be on the button when it comes to giving people the push. However, tonight he’s clearly lost his marbles by not sacking Jo Cameron.

Anyone who begins their project management meeting with a series of threats and hints of retribution as she did clearly has no clue as to how to get the best out of people. She’s not so much hands on as hands around the throat, as she throttles the confidence, spirit and mutual respect from her team. No surprise at all that they lost.

As project manager, Jo should have carried the can for what was a truly amateurish performance but instead, Karen Bremner, the woman who had consistently supported her throughout the tasks got the bullet. Jo will get through to the final because of her “emotional” approach makes for confrontational viewing, although my money is on Seyd Ahmed to win it in the end.

Stitched up by Jo and fired on a whim by Sugar, if Karen Bremner wants it, I would imagine she could have a very successful career in television. Slightly glamorous and clearly intelligent, she does unfortunately remind me of the loopy news presenter, Sally Smedley, from C4’s much missed, Drop The Dead Donkey series.

Staying with TV, I watched Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on television last night – a guilty pleasure. Each week he goes into a failing restaurant and dishes out a regime of brutal advice interspersed with a string of expletives to people who can’t cook or understand the basics of running a business. Some of them think they are living their dream but in reality are sleepwalking to disaster. Gordon is the wake-up call.

Most of what he tells them is common sense – simple menu with food prepared and cooked on the premises using local suppliers and trading on local strengths. Yet each week we come across cooks who don’t taste their own food and have no idea what its like or car-crash combinations of flavours that should be kept well apart instead of being allowed to spawn on the dish before the hapless customer.

Sometimes you can’t help but feel sorry for the schmucks that’ve sunk their life savings into the venture. And sometimes they deserve everything they get.

Terry Jones’ comments in The Guardian made me laugh today. I didn’t see Blair’s interview with Parkinson at the weekend but from what I’ve read, I don’t think he said that he was guided by God over Iraq as people are saying on the radio today. I suppose if you are a believer then the notion that in the end God will judge you for your actions, makes some kind of sense.

Not that any of that dilutes the fact that his terrible misadventure in Iraq with Bush failed to bring any kind of stability to the region and almost certainly made things worse. Just wait until Bush and Blair come before the United Nations asking for action against Iran with a dossier of facts about their weapons of mass destruction. "Oh yeah? Sorry mate, we've heard that one before."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ivor Cutler

I was sorry to hear about the death of Ivor Cutler today.

I suppose the first time I saw him would have been when the BBC screened The Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour and he played the dour Buster Bloodvessel.

Not that I really knew who he was back then of course.

That came a few years later in the early seventies when I started attending poetry readings at Newcastle’s Morden Tower. Such performances were always well attended due to his popularity via John Peel’s radio show.

I don’t think the Life In A Scotch Sitting Room had started then but once they did, you had to get to the Tower fairly early to be sure of getting a place on the floor.

As with the Bonzo’s and Python, the ability of to quote Culter (at length) in the pub or at a party was a badge of honour, aided with the release of a quirky series of album on the Virgin label. The best of these to me was Jammy Smears.

A regular visitor to Newcastle and Modern Tower, Cutler, and his partner Phyllis April King, read their strange little verses and stories to ranks of admiring counter-culture Geordies. Compared to all the long hair and denim, they looked like a retired pair of bank clerks - very prim and proper. Every so often, Cutler would pump the pedals of a harmonium and let his rich baritone singing voice warm the air as his fingers drawled through an off-beat blues.

Close up, you could see and hear how frail both Cutler and King looked, his speaking voice as dry and thin as parchment, often little more than a faraway drone in the rapt silence of their reading.

Yet this slight figure would also have the entire venue convulsed with laughter whilst also instilling a sense of wonder that would seep from his words and infiltrate our lives. You just had to tune your ears and eyes to be a little off-centre and off-message.

I think that’s what I liked about him the most – his ability to make you see things in a different way; everything had a story if you’d the imagination to see it; the world was series of calamitous tales more often than not with a droll twist waiting to be explored, waiting to be told.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Floating World Live by Soft Machine

An indispensable record of a band at the top of their game...

Don’t let any post-Wyatt naysayers tell you that this is soulless fusion – nothing could be further from the truth.

The arrival of guitarist Alan Holdsworth propelled the venerable UK jazz-rock institution, Soft Machine into its most rockist phase since the band’s earliest days as a beat group of questionable competency but undeniable spirit.

The opening sequence of Floating World / Bundles/ Bag Snake, is an exhilarating 15 minute rollercoaster in which Holdsworth’s ferocious, gutsy playing is well served by some of Karl Jenkins’ most durable composition. Mike Ratledge’s swan-song as a credible writer for the band, The Man Who Waved At Trains, also features a wistful mood swing courtesy of an attentive solo from Holdsworth this time on violin, to remind us that it isn’t all “sheets of sound” fireworks.

Having tightened their belts with a free-jazz austerity, minimalist overtures and proto-ambient nocturnes through albums such as Fifth, Six and Seven, this Bremen Radio broadcast from January 1975 shows the band letting their considerable, collective hair down to great effect.

Although they had recorded Bundles in July 1974, it was still unreleased at the time of this performance. Anyone who saw the band live at this point will recall how fiery the band could be on stage and how muted the studio album appeared compared to scorching sets like this.

Though Holdsworth’s freewheeling soling dominates, this a blistering set in which everyone steps into the spotlight. Yes, that means a solo bass spot (Ealing Comedy), a synth solo (North Point – in which Ratledge makes like a Roxy-era Eno impersonating Keith Emerson) and of course, a ten minute drum solo (JSM).

Of interest to fans of this later period, there are early versions of tracks such as Song Of Aeolus and the bare structural bones of Ban-Ban Caliban (later to refined and developed on their next studio album, Softs) trading here as Riff III.

The improvised, Endgame, is reminiscent of It’s About That Time from In A Silent Way albeit at a hugely accelerated pace and lacking the subtlety of Miles and Tony Williams. Ironic then that this specific line-up would only last another two months; on the eve of a tour Holdsworth jumped ship to join Williams in Lifetime.

Given the bewildering plethora of good, bad and frankly indifferent Soft Machine live albums that are available, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. A cracking set by a band at the top of their game, presented with an informative package (courtesy of the oracular Aymeric Leroy), makes this release an indispensable counterweight to Bundles.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Book 'Em Danno!

Debbie and I made some decisions about her impending birthday. It’s a special one but gentlemanly discretion forbids me to mention her actual age. However if you’re looking for a clue…think of a well-known TV cop show set in Hawaii, starred Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, and take the first word of the show’s full title away and you should get the idea.

We’re going to hook up with Debbie’s old school fried Alison and her husband (Debbie’s cousin), Gordon (aka Gordallmighty) and head off to Italy for a few days. It’ll be a double celebration because Alison also shares an affinity for the previously mentioned cop show as well.

Yesterday we got a free learn to speak Italian in six weeks freebies from one of the newspapers and today we plan to do a bit of practicing. Kimber and I went to Italy in June 2003 and managed to get by perfectly well without learning one jot of the language. Actually, that’s not true. We mastered “two beers please” in short order.

Ice Cold In Milan

Kimber in Genoa

At least two gentlemen, if not of Verona, then in Verona

Working with Joseph today ahead of his visit to a local newspaper tomorrow. His class will be mocking up their own front page and Joseph has chosen to write a story about how hundreds of people have been killed and maimed in an earthquake stricken Whitley Bay.

Later today, Debbie and I are off to the cinema to see Sympathy For Lady Vengence, about which we’ve heard many good things – not least of all from Sean Hewitt to whom I was speaking on the blower yesterday.

News just in… Blogger have confirmed I’m not a spamblog - Hurrah!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

That's Snow Business

Spoke to Jakko this morning recording the last bit of his podcast about the new album. He’s also started blogging himself which I’m pleased to see.

It’s been snowing today…

and the younger ones love it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Something In The Attic

These old Victorian houses are given to hiding secrets. Dave and Julie from across the street sent me this pic of something rather grizzly found in their attic the other day.

It’s a leg of roast pork and quite why the previous owners of the house felt compelled to hide it in the attic is beyond them. And me.

And speaking of dodgy meat, blogger has deemed my blog here to be a spam blog! I don't know whether to be offended or pleased!


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