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Friday, June 30, 2006

Lows And Highs

It’s been a difficult couple of days for Doreen. The visit to the hospital yesterday confirmed that her blood platelet count has continued to drop which isn’t good news at all. She had a blood transfusion which they say should give her something of a boost in a day or so. When she got back home Doreen was tired she needed to lie down.

This morning I’d taken Tom and Joe over to see her. Although she was chronically tired, she gave it her best shot, smiling and making jokes with the kids.

Tom, Errin, Doreen, Joe and Isaac

Doreen amused by Joe's off-screen clowning around

Joe (on-screen and clowning) and Lesley

Her tiredness is exacerbated by the number of official visitors we’ve had to deal with. Yesterday it was sorting out stuff with her bank, this morning it was the solicitor, then the district nurse, followed by the woman from the equipment loan service that has provided the wheelchair.

In between all of these folks, Bernard (my brother in-law) and I headed down to the council offices to sort out a disabled parking permit for when Doreen is being ferried about in cars and we need to park in places where we shouldn’t.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to be able to take her up to Warkworth – a place that has a special significance in our lives. However as the chemo begins to tell upon her it seems uncertain that we’ll make it. I hope we can. It'll be the first time that my sister, my mother and myself have been back there together in at least 40 odd years. We three had some happy times there.

Back at the Yellow Room…

Ten minutes into my telephone interview with Julie Tippetts tonight I could hear a great commotion in the background. “There’s been a crash or something outside” reported Julie. I lorry had overturned on the road near their house. Fortunately nobody was injured.

An hour later not long after we resumed, there was a police raid on a house in our street – a suspected drug dealer apparently. About 20 officers in all the heavy-duty gear piled into the house a few doors up.

It seemed our conversation was bookended by great upheavals just outside our respective doors. “Blimey,” she joked “we’re generating some energy tonight”

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Help Wanted

I want to add an indexing system into the blogger template.

Specifically, I want to add an A-Z side bar to my existing template in order to be able to archive album reviews in an alphabetical system. I find the search bar at the top of the page and the Technocrati link I added not all that reliable in helping site visitors find the review they're looking for.

Ideally, what I'd like to see would be a simple A-Z graphic that when a certain letter is clicked a drop-down list (or something similar) of all the reviews of artists indexed under that letter would appear.

You would then be able to click on the name of the artist and it would take you through to that particular entry or multiple entries.

Are you someone who can whip up a bit of program to make this possible? If so drop me an email and we can talk terms.

Living Life Backwards The Best Of Pete Brown

Do I make you horny baby?

Living Life Backwards
The Best of Pete Brown

January 30th 2006

With more than a passing resemblance to the lascivious lecturer Howard Kirk from Malcom Bradbury’s History Man (as played on TV by Anthony Sher), Pete Brown is the very epitome of 60s hip-cat shot through with a dangerous streak that could either make him great company or a complete pain in the arse.

In the grand scheme of rock’s history Brown is destined to forever be the bridesmaid rather than the bride. Best remembered as Cream’s lyricist, this collection sheds welcome light on Brown’s role as an unexpectedly credible underground rock singer with side orders of prog, jazz and hallucinogenic words to go.

Clunkers such as the R&B footstomper, “Dark Lady” from A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark (made with The Battered Ornaments), which stretch Brown’s vocals to the absolute edge of their capacity are thankfully few.

The bulk of this collection is rightly taken up with the two more convincing albums he made with Piblokto! – Things May Come And Things May Go But The Art School Dance Goes On Forever and Thousands On A Raft (both 1970).

Though Piblokto! lacked any kind of chart success in the UK (damned instead by the faint praise of being big in France), Harvest showed an almost touching loyalty in releasing a clutch of non-album singles, all collected here including the languid ballad “Broken Magic” and its progtastic six minute Hammond-heavy A-side, "Can’t Get Off This Planet" where Brown tries out a touch of the Roger Chapman strangulated warbling.

The title track from Things May Come…details the line-up of usual suspects at the eponymous Art School Dance with a lyrical bravado equalled only by its shifting musical styles that takes in Jim Mullen’s heavy blasting guitars, noodling organ and pernickety eastern-influenced baroque interludes from the sax; a case of everything but the mind-expanding, multi-coloured kitchen sink.

The tasteful bass playing of Roger Bunn is featured on "High Flying Electric Bird" should be the central feature of this bluesy reverie. However, its integrity is fatally undermined by an ill-advised swanny whistle solo. Even understanding the “anything goes” ethos of the era, it’s hard to know what on earth they were thinking of when they committed it to tape.

“My Last Band” is Pete’s toned-down “My Way” and details his version of events with The Battered Ornaments, who sacked him on the eve of their slot at The Stone’s 1969 Hyde Park freebie. As the copious sleeve notes by Mark Powell and Pete himself admits, he could be a bit of a handful on and off stage.

The gorgeous “Station Song Platform Two”(awash with autumnal period-piece Mellotron) and the surprisingly powerful “Thousands On A Raft” (both from the album of the same name show that given more emphasis on the music and less on partying, he could have been a contender.

Ultimately, Living Life Backwards shows Brown’s left-field hairy polytechnic-rock with its larger than usual literary bent, was made as the handsomely packaged sleeve astutely suggests, “to be played loud” rather than focus on the small stuff. And sometimes that’s no bad thing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Putting A Brave Face On Things

Back to the Yellow Room for the nightshift. The way things are working out at the moment is that I’m at Doreen’s during the day attending to various bits and pieces, keeping her company and then heading off to Whitley Bay in the evening and playing catch-up on other fronts.

Tonight I’m listening to a reference copy of Julie Driscoll’s 1969 and there’s a bunch of master-tapes that Bill Reiflin sent to me of the recently Slow Music concerts. We’re trying to figure out which ones to make available as downloads over at DGMLive. I’m resisting the temptation to say all of them.

Earlier today. . .

Doreen’s intercom system was fitted which means she doesn’t have to make it downstairs to open her front door. Also her Carecall was installed today. She gets a pendant which when pressed activated alerts a central call centre who in turn call in on her. All good stuff.

The doses for her chemotherapy arrived and I helped her get through all the tablets. She has to take eight in total. Hard work at the best of times. The thing about the chemo tablets is that you’re not supposed to handle them as they can burn the skin! So it’s out of the bottle and straight down the hatch.

We talked a lot today about all the various bits and pieces that are outstanding.

She's also been pleased with all the messages of support - I mentioned the many messages I'd had via private email and on the blog. Then there's the floral tributes. These arrived yesterday from Australia. Not literally of course but you know what I mean.

In a situation where there aren't really an positive outcomes, we've taken comfort from the fact that Doreen has time to get her affairs in order and accept things with dignity although there's no denying that what's happening is daunting and scary. Despite this, she's putting a brave face on it all.

Waiting Around

When someone is dying you have to do a lot of waiting around. You have to wait in the waiting room, you have to wait for the doctor. You have to wait for the results, you have to wait around for drugs that aren’t in stock. All this waiting takes up the one thing you simply don’t have enough of - time.

Yesterday, at the hospital, after being ushered into a room the consultant told us that Doreen has acute myeloid leukaemia and that in her case it was particularly aggressive.

There was no pussyfooting around (for which we were grateful) and the following options were laid out for her.

a) If she opts not to undergo any kind of chemotherapy she will almost certainly succumb to infection and or bleeding and die within a matter of days such is the scale of the problem.

b) If she takes the chemo and her body responds and can cope with it, this might buy her some extra time. He couldn’t put a figure on it but the very best case scenario might be a few weeks.

c) If she takes the chemo and doesn’t take to it then it might actually make things worse and could end up killing her.

Prior to our visit Doreen had indicated that she wasn’t keen on the chemo route imagining that she would be laid up in hospital for days. However after being told that this chemo was in pill form and could be taken at home, she decided to take the pills.

I waited in the pharmacy whilst Lesley and Doreen were taken home by family friend, Bill. Part of the chemo course wasn’t in stock, requiring them to ring around the hospitals in the region. I waited a couple of hours whilst some pills were taxied down from Wansbeck. Even then they didn’t have the full course which means I’ll have to chase up the rest today. More waiting around.

The rest of the afternoon was spent talking with the District nurse who’d called in, and then with Lesley and Doreen going over the funeral arrangements after I’d collected information packs from a couple of funeral directors. Not as doomy and gloomy as you might imagine – helped by Doreen’s stoic refusal to lapse into maudlin self-pity.

Last night when I got in I brought Tom and Joe up to speed. Not at all easy. Tom struggled with the thought of never seeing granny again when she dies. The best I can do in this situation is tell him to focus on all the good things, the happy memories he has of her.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Destroying Silence Ronan Chris Murphy

Music every which way but bad

Destroying Silence: An Introduction To Veneto West Records

Veneto West Records
out now

Sampler albums designed to display the wares of a particular label or studio can make for difficult listening. Should the compiler opt for a diverse selection it can all sound rather bitty or thematically disjointed. Then again too much of the same and it looks like a one-trick pony.

Destroying Silence pulls off a coup in that although the music hails from several different artists there's enough of a common thread moving through each, that it makes for a satisfying listen.

Having grown up in the 80s Seattle music scene and inspired by the DIY-ethic promoted by the punk movement, Ronan Chris Murphy went on to work as a producer and engineer with bands and musicians as diverse as Steve Morse, King Crimson and Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. More recently he has established his own label, Veneto West Records and Destroying Silence is its first showreel.

Anthony Curtis opens the album with a two tracks – the explosive “Gallabalba” and a darker meditation, “Ruins”. The first is full of howling guitars barking and scraping over a time signature that shifts around the bar like a boxer round the ring. Some fantastic left hooks are served up by Tony Levin on Stick and the delightfully unpredictable drumming of Lewis Pragasam.

Levin returns on tracks by another guitarist Willie Oteri. He’s joined by fellow Crim Pat Mastelotto who provides the percussive commentary. The Oteri tracks are strong forays into a spacey, fluid rock enabling the players to stretch and flex.

Based around an insistent pulse reminiscent of “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads, “Ephraim Walks In”, Oteri’s fiery playing is tempered by some darting muted trumpet courtesy of Emphraim Owens and the atmospheric vintage chimes of Fender Rhodes piano courtesy of ex-Zappa man, Mike Kenneally.

Mastelotto returns for a selection from Jay Terrien’s powerful album, All The Dolls In The Same Place, whilst Hypnoise offer a welcome vocal outing with the Floyd-like epic “The Ocean.”

The predominant rock-orientated feel is offset by some interesting ambient-style delving from Lives Of The Saints – Murphy himself and Bill Forth (best known for his work with Ten Seconds). The duo offer up the most haunting track from the album, "The Most Beautiful Lie You Ever Told", - a smouldering soundscape that slowly caresses the edge of feedback, suggestive in places of Rafael Toral’s work in a similar field. A whole album rather than the three short tracks here would be welcome.

Murphy states that “the goal of the label is to foster high brow music with a punk rock spirit, presented with high production values.” Well, he manages that and a lot more besides.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Funeral Music

Saturday was spent over at my mother’s with my sister, Lesley who’d made it up from Milton Keynes. It wasn’t the weepfest I thought it might be given the circumstances of our gathering.

In a curious way it was strengthening; a sense of attempting to recover from the blast of the shock and getting a handle on things.

We discussed funeral arrangements, such as flowers, announcements in the local paper, what music she wants played going in the crematorium (the hymn "All Things Bright And Beautiful") and going out ("Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon & Garfunkel).

This latter choice rankled with me a bit as its my least favourite track by the duo. “What about having some King Crimson instead? "Thrak" is a really nice gentle track” I offered helpfully but to no avail.

This then prompted a discussion about what music we would all have played at our respective funerals. Someone recently told me that "Ascending" by Brian Eno is very popular at funerals and weddings and as birthing music.

Sounds like Brian has it covered from the cradle to grave.

Tomorrow we're at the hospital for the results of Friday's tests. This will tell us what kind of leukemia it is and what the treatment options (if any) might be available to Doreen.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Down By The Jetty Dr.Feelgood

Back to basics

Down By The Jetty

2 CD Collectors Edition

26th June 2006

In the 12 months between the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans (December 1973) and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (December 1974), there was a sense in some quarters that rock music had become terribly distended, distorted and stretched out of shape and increasingly imperious and remote from ordinary fans.

At a time when months could be spent on dubbing ever more complex bass parts, or preciously tweaking a bit of echo in the mix of an erstwhile magnum opus, Dr.Feelgood’s debut, Down By The Jetty, was released in a deliberately dumbed-down in-yer-face mono. It was a political statement as much as an artistic decision, eloquently conveying the simple élan of their back to basics message. Arguably the opening shot of the coming punk war, the Feelgood’s slashed their way out of the pubs and clubs of Essex and beyond with a gutsy no-nonsense R&B

Literally inspired by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”, guitarist and principal visionary Wilko Johnson’s hyper-animated stage antics were a marvel to behold. The glassy-eyed stare and steroid-chicken strut held audiences transfixed.

With tightly drilled backing from John B.Sparks on bass and drums by The Big Figure, Lee Brilleaux’s wide boy menace gave his vocals a surly authority that you wouldn’t want to mess with.

Having found that the usual tracking and overdub regime was draining the vitality of their sound, Wilko persuaded producer Vic Maile to record them live in the studio. Maile’s experience as engineer on The Who Live At Leeds ably captures the primal edge of the Feelgood’s getting into their stride.

“She Does It Right” and the syncopated body punches of “Roxette” hit hard then and still do today. Taut and lean, almost every track fizzes with an explosive nervous, energy that would carry the band from cultish obscurity to a No.1 act (the stunning live album Stupidity) in less than two years.

Though rooted in another age, it’s easy to understand why the punk crowds took to the Feelgoods and their almost minimalist approach to the form. The urgency of the album is undermined only once by a dreary stroll through “That Ain’t The Way To Behave.” Wilko’s slightly effete vocal on an otherwise consummate reading of “Boom Boom” confirms the wisdom of letting Brilleaux’s rumbling clout front things up.

The expanded set includes outtakes from the original sessions at Rockfield studios, a complete stereo version of the record, and a set of live recordings of the band wowing the crowds at Dingwalls circa ‘74. As welcome as these may be, the punch of original album is the one that’ll have you reeling.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Big Words Inside My Head

I could tell the moment I saw her walk through the door last night that something was badly wrong. My mother, Doreen, had been to the hospital to receive the results from some blood tests. Recently she had been given the all-clear following a biopsy of a small growth; nothing malignant, nothing pre-cancerous. Good news all round.

Yet in the last few weeks she’s been suffering from shortness of breath, some non-specific body pain and extreme tiredness. Doreen has always been an incredibly active person, always on the move and with a social life that would make Tara Palmer-Tompkinson envious.

My sister and I were talking on the blower just the other night about this recent development. Perhaps it was a thyroid condition we pondered. So it was back to the doctor and then hospital for more tests.

After we’d cleared up the plates for Tom’s birthday meal she shut the door to the green room and told us that the tests confirmed she had leukaemia. Her consultant told her it was fairly advanced. She might have a few months left to live.

There will be more tests this week to determine the type, timescale and options for chemotherapy which may or may not buy her more time.

There were no tears – there’ll be plenty of time for those – and our subsequent chat veered from the grave to the garrulous. We rallied, posed for photographs and celebrated Tom’s birthday. Yet almost as soon as we stood on the ground of such welcome normality it would begin to give way to the quicksand of doubt, uncertainty and fear.

The greatest shock for all of us really is the speed with which this has happened and the physical effect it has had upon her.

Last night I walked her up the street to the car waiting to take her home. Three weeks ago I was struggling to keep up with my mother’s pace. Last night we moved like a couple of snail's, pausing twice along the way for her to get her breath and gather enough strength to make it up there.

Later I talked to my sister, Lesley. “At the moment it just feels like big words inside my head” she told me. The shock has separated us from our ability to connect and take in what those big, dread words really mean.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fifteen Years Later

Today was the longest day and also Tom’s birthday. My first born son is 15 years old.

We have a tradition here that you can eat anything you want when it’s your birthday.

I asked Tom what it was he wanted on the big day itself. Without any hesitation he replied “sage and onion stuffing with gravy and profiteroles for sweet!” So that was what he got. Yueck!

A satisfied customer

Tom with his granny Smith


Jake In A Box & Live Performance Jake Thackray

A Worthy Last Will & Testament

Jake Thackray
Jake In A Box (4 CD)
Live Performance (2CD)

April 17th 2006

Inspired by French chansonnier Georges Brassens, and once described by the playwright Alan Plater as “Leeds’ answer to Jacques Brel”, Jake Thackray came to the nation’s attention in the 1960s via his numerous appearances on television shows such as The Frost Report, and That’s Life.

Armed with a nylon string guitar and a sardonic, baleful gaze that made Buster Keaton look like the Laughing Cavalier, this teacher turned performer had a deep plummy voice that combined a blunt Yorkshire accent with the clipped staccato enunciation Noel Coward himself would have envied.

On TV he was usually required to serve up new songs lampooning various points in the news with the speed of a short order chef. However, outside of the TV studios Thackray had amassed a huge arsenal of wittily incisive tunes celebrating and denigrating the fads, fancies and social mores of life in a pre-swinging, sexually repressed Britain.

The period charm ribaldry of “The Lodger”, “The Nurse”, “Isabel Makes Love Upon National Monuments” or his infamous ditty about a sex-crazed poultry pervert, “Bantam Cock”, gave Thackray’s work a risqué frisson in its heyday – think Donald McGill postcards or Carry On movies. Though it may ruffle a few politically-correct feathers still, it’s pretty tame stuff by the full-frontal standards of today.

Thackray’s disdain for the UK class system gives him some of his sharpest material. “Family Tree”, “Caroline Diggeby-Pratte” and the gloriously barbed, “Pass Milord The Rooster Juice” all hit their intended and well-deserved marks with great aplomb.

However his bread and butter was delving into the absurdities and eccentricities lurking beneath everyday life. “The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle” reveals these middle-aged bastions of the community to be Satan-worshipping witches, whilst “Sister Josephine” is a nun with a few nasty habits. All manner of oddballs, saints and sinners are chronicled in the fast-moving word-play of his spicily intelligent lyrics.

Unrequited love was a rich vein Jake mined to great and often moving effect. “Salvation Army Girl” also underlines the Gallic influence in his work, ably demonstrating how comfortable he was with sophisticated chords and intricate meter.

Whilst Jake In A Box has the advantage of gathering his studio albums (including the alternative and unreleased items) into one place, some of the arrangements adorning the material make it a touch too square for its own good and it's studio-bound atmosphere sounds rather dry.

The best way to hear Thackray and his songs is in his natural element - in front of an audience.

The marvellous Live Performance, (with 14 extra previously unreleased tracks) documents a sell-out show at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1970, where every gasp, gulp and glottal stop in the course of his extraordinary vocal delivery is lovingly captured for posterity, making this double CD set an essential purchase.

In the 1990s Jake walked away from the music business and when he died in 2002, bankrupt at the age of 64, a truly original figure in the British musical landscape was lost to all but a few fervent fans. Home-grown talent like Jake is often neglected but these two sets provide ample testament to the depth of his originality and might help bring a few more to the fold – and that’s got to be a couple of reasons to be cheerful at the very least.

Jake on the web:

Jake Thackray Website
The Unofficial Jake Thackray Homepage

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It Feels Good To Be Alive

A beautiful morning here in Whitley Bay circa 8.00 a.m.

Tom and Joseph head off to school walking backwards whilst facing the camera. They keep it up without incident until the top of the street.

Although they're past their best after the wind and rain last night, our mutant poppies still look rather good.

A little after 9.00 a.m. Julie Tippetts returned my call. I’m starting work on some sleevenotes for the reissue of her album, 1969. We don’t do the interview about the album this morning but make arrangements for next week.

A little after 10.00 a.m. Jakko rings up. He wants to record another podcast for his website so we make arrangements to have a chinwag tomorrow morning.

We both agree that Steve Coogan’s new show, Saxondale was very good last night. If it's all as well written and played as this first episode then it's going to be a bit of a classic.

Coogan is simply brilliant in his portrayal as a man who doesn’t quite have the past he hoped for and isn’t sure how the future is going to work out either. Very, very funny with the bonus of having “House of the King” by Focus as the theme music.

In this in-tray this morning, a link to a DIY Jackson Pollock site which I enjoyed courtesy of Remco Helbers.

My lunch hour was spent with the music turned off whilst I caught up with this rather good online comic or graphic novel (as I suppose we must call them these days) called Shooting War.
And then there's this about 'citizen journalists' on the BBC.

On the agenda this afternoon; getting a couple of things for Tom's birthday tomorrow, washing, and giving a statement to the police about a nasty incident I witnessed last week.

I've added a couple of Venice Diary updates.

Venice Diary IV

Venice Diary V

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Modern Dance Pere Ubu

Always dancing to a different drum

The Modern Dance
Pere Ubu
DualDisc with David Thomas interview plus regular and 5.1 surround sound mix

July 24th 2006

Conceived in the certainty that commercial and critical indifference would be the inevitable outcome of their enterprise, Cleveland’s Pere Ubu knew they had nothing to lose when they recorded the four singles that led up to The Modern Dance in 1977.

This consequence-free environment spawned an exhilarating confidence that thought nothing of whisking atonal electronica and garage-band naiveté against the thrumming industry of the local steel mills and body-shops from which they drew rhythmic inspiration.

When released in January 1978, The Modern Dance entered a UK still shivering beneath punk’s nuclear winter. With plenty of prickly deadbeat attitude to spare, they appeared to have a lot in common with punk’s nihilist creed. Yet as Thomas makes abundantly clear in the video interview on this DualDisc, Pere Ubu regarded the movement that embraced them as something of a Luddite force.

Looking worryingly like the rotund 1970s television detective, Frank Cannon, and speaking with an autistic intensity that shuns all but the most fleeting eye-contact with his interviewer, Thomas argues punk’s anti-intellectual reductionism was the very opposite of what they were about.

The noise-laden semiology carefully encoded into the text and test-tones to form the backbone of this record demanded to be taken seriously. Unashamedly arty, The Modern Dance threaded several cross-cultural fragments into a collage that was simultaneously precious and precocious.

In Rip It Up And Start Again, Simon Reynolds memorably describes David Thomas’ vocal bleat as sounding “like Beefheart if his balls had never dropped.” Listening to the frantic rant of “Life Stinks” or the astringent musicality of “Chinese Radiation” and “Real World”, you’d be hard pressed to disagree.

The other defining characteristic of the album comes from Allen Ravenstine’s non-keyboard synthesiser; not so much a free spirit roaming at will as a pissed-off, sore-throated banshee constantly banging into things around him. “Non-Alignment Pact’s” abrasive whine, and much of the title track appear more indebted to the entanglements of music concrète, the psychedelic japery of The United States of America and Eno’s sonic subversion of early Roxy.

“Street Waves”, with guitarist Tom Herman wringing a short history of the pop guitar out of two notes, surges heroically and oddly full of hope for a band that is constantly associated with post-industrial bleakness. Elsewhere the Tourettes-tinged tension and release of “Laughing” remains commendable for its readiness to depart from the script.

Even now, The Modern Dance seems truly progressive in its desire to integrate abstraction, traditional pop songs and, as on “Sentimental Journey”, detonating crockery into the musical melee, something this new 5.1 mix emphasises in spades.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blodwyn Pig Ahead Rings Out

Pig-headed guitarist in jazz-blues-rock fusion triumph!

Blodwyn Pig
Ahead Rings Out

June 5th 2006

Blodwyn Pig was guitarist Mick Abraham’s response to Ian Anderson’s more pop-friendly inclinations for Jethro Tull, the group they’d both help to found at the start of the blues-based music boom of the mid-60s.

Leaving Anderson in charge of the soul and future direction of the group, Abraham’s put together a credible if short-lived outfit producing two very good albums that struck a chord with record buyers of the day.

Blodwyn Pig were a rare example of an off-shoot band whose commercial appeal came close to rivalling that of its parent group; Tull’s Stand Up topped the charts in July ’69, Ahead Rings Out made it to no.9 the following month.

It was always going to be Abrahams’ beast and unsurprisingly it stuck to the formula expressed on Tull’s debut, This Was. However the secret ingredient that gave them an edge was wind player and multi-instrumentalist, Jack Lancaster. A more assured and robust soloist than Anderson at that point, Lancaster’s playing moved between King Curtis or Coltrane as occasion demanded. The throwaway opener “It’s Only Love” is lifted by his sparkling, punchy horn arrangement, whilst “The Modern Alchemist” enables Lancaster to jazz it up large.

Featuring exemplary backing from Andy Pyle on bass and drummer Ron Berg, the album sits firmly in the long-coated underground brigade camp that stretched the blues, if not quite to snapping point, then at least into some interesting shapes and occasionally humorous squeezes. “The Change Song”, with its mockney ‘boy done good’ monologue shows the irony of white boys getting rich by singing the blues wasn’t lost on Abrahams.

“Leave It With Me” or “Sing Me A Song I Know” are pure Tull – close your eyes and it could easily be the cock-legged Anderson belting through those changes. Such similarities may help account for Blodwyn Pig’s commercial appeal which was consolidated on tours in both Europe and America ensuring their excellent sequel, Getting To This, charted at No.8 when released in 1970.

Unlike its previous outing on the BGO label, this new collection gathers non-album singles on CD for the first time, including the Tull-heavy “Same Old Story”. Though such additions are welcomed the original running order has been tampered with. "Backwash", the short and sweet pastoral set-up / sucker punch for the aggressive blasting of “Ain’t Ya Comin’ Home Babe?”, is relegated to an almost-ran slot as the end of the album, replaced by a chronologically out of place “See My Way” from their follow-up album.

Fated to occupy a minor footnote in the Jethro Tull story this reissue reminds us just how forceful and effective Blodwyn Pig were at their particular brand of jazz-tinged blues that never forgot to rock. Bracing stuff.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Back Home

Arriving into Charing Cross fresh from the Kenty Kimber, I make my way on the underground up to King Cross. I got out at Euston to find that the station was being evacuated. I don’t know if this was an exercise or a real incident but I did as I was told and made the rest of the short journey to Kings Cross on foot.

The rush hour in Newcastle is remarkably empty. The reason being England are playing a match against footballing titans Trinidad and Tobago. One expects they’ll just about scrape through although I’m not so sure about England.

Back in the yellow room and I’m delighted to find all six of the forthcoming Captain Beefheart reissues await my attention.

I think I’m the only human being on the planet who actually likes the notorious albums he did for Virgin – Unconditionally Guaranteed and the wonderful, yes I’ll say that again, the wonderful Bluejeans and Moonbeams.

The news carries nothing about the emergency at Euston although there's another story about a man being chased through the tube albeit a different line and time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Country Life

The view from Kimbrini Towers this morning

A stroll with a view


More wildlife

Indoors as well (but you've got to be quick to catch them)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Robert Fripp Saint Paul's Cathedral

There are some spaces whose interiors are so awesome (in the original meaning of the word) that they play an emotional alchemy upon those who enter. St. Paul’s cathedral is one of them.

You need care not one jot about the beliefs or sentiments that led to its founding and construction. However, upon entering this space your thoughts will quickly follow your eyes up through this near-perfect collaboration of light, stone, space and sound, and you will be moved.

Had Robert Fripp stood beneath the ornate dome playing the spoons and whistling the “Lambeth Walk”, then it is just possible that such base material would have been made gold given the magnificence of the setting.

Soundscapes have their own transformative quality regardless of their setting. Many people who’ve heard Fripp playing this music in venues as diverse as lowly bar-rooms to lofty post-war halls aiming at high culture will comment upon the feelings of reverie, of contemplation which this music stirs up. Becoming lost within the music, losing track of time, or experiencing profound emotions are common experiences.

A few minutes after Holy Communion had been given, a different kind of communion got underway. In Saint Paul’s the spiritual dimensions to Fripp’s music were amplified to the max as long low notes unfurled then stretched up into the dome above. Whereas the Soundscapes at Exeter had a provisional aspect to them, there was no such hesitancy apparent today. This soundscape was soulful, epically melodic and undeniably strong.

As Fripp added tiny clusters of plucked notes into the slow-moving layers of strings, one had the unmistakable impression of birds in flight, circling up into the whispering gallery high above; an appropriate notion as Fripp’s soloing took flight. Somewhere below it all the constant shuffling of visitors washes up against the music like the ebb and flow of a tide; music and building completely in harmony with each other.

When you can play in circumstances and surroundings such as these, it’s not hard to understand Fripp’s oft-stated antipathy toward life in a rock band – even if it’s an exceptional one such as King Crimson. After something like this everything else pales by comparison. Why have cotton when you can have silk?

* * * *

A boiling hot day when I started out from Newcastle

After getting into Kings Cross I got a lift over to St.Paul's with Jakko - as you can see he was clearly excited at the prospect.

The big surprise of the day was seeing my sister Lesley (that's her in the middle) and her two daughters, Verity and Errin. They'd come up from Milton Keynes and had decided to take some time out at Saint Paul's. It was wonderful seeing them.

After saying hello to some folks including DGMLive's John Peacock and his wife, our gang headed downstairs to the crypt for tea and cake. En route, we were joined by World Leader Symes (on the left), vibe guide to the stars Jack Kimberouac, and Jakko - or the good, bad and the ugly as I like to call them (though not always in that order).

Over a cuppa Verity and Errin say nice things about the performance they'd just heard. Although they're familiar with Fripp's music via their mother's interests this was their first taste of soundscapes. Verity and I exchange insults about each other's digital camera.

And then it was the get-out. World Leader Symes and Kimberman lend a hand whilst I keep an eye on the remaining equipment. You can't be too careful - even in a place like this.

And then it was a get-out to Kent and some much-needed catch up time with Kimber and co.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Keep On Crinting Man

San Francisco On Swansea

Keep On Crinting
The Liberty / UA Years Anthology

released June 26 2006

Welsh band Man exemplify the hairy-arsed jamrock ethic that emerged in the comedown of one psychedelic summer too many and the nascent underground rock scene.

Taking inspiration from the American west coast way of doing things, Man filled their live sets with extended instrumental workouts that began life as a blues-derived boogie, and quickly overreached itself with the aid of reverb, herbal assists and a devil-may-care lack of inhibition when it came to “letting it all hang out”.

Whole empires might rise and fall during the reign of protracted guitar solos emanating from Deke Leonard’s vertigo-inducing telecaster. Over minimally arranged foundations of thumping bass and backbeat, this 2 CD career retrospective shows Man deep in their comfort zone, a place where no pedal is left unwah-wahed, and the order of the day reads “wig out!”

The most notorious or depending on how your hair hangs, glorious of this ilk is "Spunk Rock", a instrumental track whose component motifs and sections could be all played out in a couple of minutes flat but was generally stretched to breaking point in concert. The version here lifted from 1972s Greasy Trucker’s Party, clocks in at over 21 minutes. As affable as it all is, in truth it’s very little go a long, long way; probably fine at the time but now sounding more than a bit threadbare.

"Bananas" and "Keep On Crinting" from ‘72’s Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day is something more substantial. Here their prog-rock leanings, delicate arrangements and contrasting dynamics are showcased with keyboardist Phil Ryan, who broadens the scope of things following the departure of Leonard to his Iceberg offshoot.

Hard work on the Uni circuit around the UK paid off when Back Into The Future gave them their best ever position in the album charts, despite ongoing fluctuations in the band which saw Leonard and others periodically return. Perhaps with their west coast flirtations being finally consummated following the brief addition of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cippolina on 1975s Maximum Darkness, Man’s mission was over and the band imploded the following year.

With a band as prolific as this (9 albums are covered here along with a couple of singles and some previously unreleased material), no single compilation will ever quite capture the nuances and variations found in concert and in the studio, and die-hards will bemoan the lack of this or that from the canon.

However, for those who’ve heard the name or seen the album covers and stay awake at night wondering what kind of sound a bunch of welsh rockers partial to a bit of proggy dialect but with an American bent might make, Keep On Crinting is as good a place to start as any.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

World Cup Fever

As long-term readers will know, the football gene passed me by but not my second son, Joseph. Today I took him to a soccer party with a group of his school mates and could see how juiced up he was at the prospect he was of England’s first match of the tournament.

The venue was in a retail park called Royal Quays. It stands on a brownfield site and about 100 years ago I was part of a campaigning group that argued the land used for light industry (i.e. create jobs to sustain the local economy and nearby town of North Shields).

The scheme chosen was the off-the-shelf approach to regeneration; housing and retail. I remember asking the developer in a public meeting what kind of shopping would be on the site. “Festival shopping” he smirked “people buying things they don’t need.”

A few years on and we have a generic shopping centre full of outlets rather than stores. It’s a dull place, cloned from dozens just like it from around the country.

As you walk around the air is filled with piped music; Dido, Phil Collins and David Gray - a triumvirate of terror to be sure. And then there's some owls. Owls? Yep, owls and other birds of prey.

Whilst Joseph and chums blasted around the indoor pitch I took a wander around the place. I bought a copy of Roxy Music’s live album, Viva. The developer was right. I was buying something I didn’t want but I knew Debra would – she loves the album and in particular the rendition of Both Ends Burning.

After my brief descent into rampant consumerism I sat in the lounge of the soccerdome and watched the first half of England’s debut performance against Paraguay. I confess there were many exciting moments and thought they played very well indeed. England weren’t too bad either.

Our departure was timed to coincide with half-time and as our taxi whisked through streets and main roads utterly devoid of traffic, I recounted to the driver my memories of England winning the world cup in 1966. I didn’t watch the actual match but rather a silent 16mm colour film showing edited highlights of Bobby Moore et al have their moment of glory. Herded into the school assembly hall along with every other pupil, it was a very special occasion and it was better than working.

Joe and I watched the second half of the match and it seemed that whatever zest and facility England displayed in the first half was now entirely absent.

Given that I am a complete dunce when it comes to football tactics, it seems mad to have a system where you only have one player up front (a tall blokey called Crouch) up front and no-one else in the vicinity for him to pass the ball on to.

I thought the idea of this game was to score goals but I may have got that wrong. England were lucky to have held on to their lead and even luckier to have been given that same lead following an own goal byParaguay.

I’ve got a slight chest infection (coughing up green lumps, etc) and feeling a bit feverish (red hot but cold and clammy to the touch). More detail than you probably needed.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Colin Scot

Long Time Gone

Colin Scot
Eclectic Discs
out now

Colin Scot was one of the legions of troubadours pounding the provincial folk circuit back in the 60s when the demarcation lines between folk and rock were well drawn.

His tactic of covering Buddy Holly songs in his live set caused frowns from folkie purists but probably stood him in good stead when it came to supporting VdGG or King Crimson in the bigger venues. The graveyard support slot was always a tough spot, and Scot was better at it than many of his more famous contemporaries.

Though he’s largely forgotten now, Scot had the kind of juice that attracted various members of Genesis, Lindisfarne, Van der Graaf Generator, Yes, Rare Bird, and Robert Fripp from King Crimson to populate his first album recorded in 1971, now beautifully restored with bonus tracks by the team at Eclectic Discs for its debut on CD.

That he could count on such distinguished company was due in no small measure to producer John Anthony - the behind the desk for albums such as Nursery Cryme and Pawn Hearts.

Scot’s yearning and muscular voice (reminiscent at times of an early Elton John or Alan Hull) is gritty and full-blooded and is used to best effect on the elegiac, "Do The Dance Now, Davey" –featuring Robert Fripp, then embroiled in the collapse of the Lizard line-up of King Crimson, adding chiming harmonics and volume controlled shadings to an impressive opener.

The same team are reunited for what was the original album’s closing track, "Here We Are In Progress", with its coda of swirling of multi-tracked Fripp abruptly cauterised for dramatic effect.

In between these powerful bookends (both written by Martin Hall), is a show-reel of songs to demonstrate Scot’s potential over a variety of styles.

"Nite People", the strongest of Scot’s compositions here, is a beguiling melody punctuated by the rumbling thunder of Guy Evans’ tom-tom work that will be familiar to VdGG fans, and acerbic jabs of Fripp’s guitar.

"Lead Us" written by Neil Innes sees Scot going for The Band territory, and on which he’s joined by a swelling lighters-held-aloft chorus of backing singers that number Peters Hammill and Gabriel and Yes’ Jon Anderson amongst the ranks.

If there is a problem with the album it’s producer John Anthony’s desire to cover all the bases by including some commercial cross-over material, undermining the overall integrity.

"Baby In My Lady", with schmaltzy strings and insipid lyrics wouldn’t sound of place on The Many Shades of Val Doonican. Similarly "Hey! Sandy", (Harvey Andrews’ earnest but dopey tribute to the fallen of Kent State, - CSNY did it much better with "Ohio") Scot has Jon Anderson supporting him but this can’t stop fingers itching toward the skip button.

Ultimately, a lack of original writing coupled with drink dependency prevented Scot from fulfilling his potential, leading to an early death in 1999. Whilst other artists have been rehabilitated, recycled and revived Scot has been unfairly neglected. Colin Scot rights that particular wrong and certainly deserves a warm welcome after all this time out in the cold.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Now That's What I Call A Bookshop!

Back home and playing a lot of catch up. On the blower with Vicky from Eclectic, Jakko J (who is celebrating his birthday), Chris T, and the great Kimbrini to name but a few.

Whilst in Somerset, Trevor took me to visit this place...

There’s something about the smell of a bookshop that is utterly intoxicating; a fusty, dusty aroma mingled with memories of a damp Wednesday, the slow metronome tick of a big old clock, a cathedral-like coolness and quietude.

Surging underneath this deceptively calm surface is the adrenalin rush of discovery, that pulse-quickening moment when the quarry is sighted and the chase is joined.

And then there's this...

The problem with this kind of scale is that finding anything can be difficult and one is overawed. However the Bookbarn system of colour-coded sections and indexed shelves means it’s a doddle. The book location list that the staff provide you with upon entering enables you to be reunited with that long lost favourite within minutes.

The Yellow Room, Bookbarn style...

Inside the Yellow Room...

In about ten minutes I had earmarked about ten or twelve book to haul back to Newcastle but the budget wouldn’t stretch. So I had to make a choice. After an hour or so of wandering up and down aisles of plenty and surprise, I plumped for Coming Up For Air and A Clergyman’s Daughter both by George Orwell, two favourites from my teenager years.

As we were leaving, Trevor asked if I had noticed the room with albums and CDs. It was definitely time to leave. I think I want my ashes scattered here when I pop my clogs.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wells & Glastonbury

The view from Lever Towers this morning

After breakfast Trevor took me on a guided tour around his home turf, the lovely city of Wells. As you can see we had hit rush hour in the shopping centre.

We bumped into one of Trevor's neighbours, John.

He works here.

Wells Cathedral is an astonishingly impressive building and much beloved of film crews. This lot were filming the second series of the BBC drama, The Virgin Queen, about Elizabeth I.

Wells is often used as a film location and has just finished playing host to Simon Pegg's forthcoming movie Hot Fuzz. Meanwhile just across the street we looked into Vicar's Close, where time frequently stands still.

Then it was off in the Levermobile and into Glastonbury. At first glance it looks like another sleepy English town...

And then you get shops like this...

After resisting the urge to buy ceremonial swords, various capes, cowls, chainmail, healing crystals or having my aura cleansed (While You Wait no less) , I did buy a packet of sandalwood joss sticks as used and recommended by my tour guide for the day and generous host for a wonderful trip, Trevor Lever.

I first met Trevor when he was standing on the steps of the Shepherds Bush Empire 30th June, 1996 waiting for the doors to open for King Crimson. I’d been interviewing various fans in the line for a radio programme I was doing at the time about Crimso. Trevor became a regular sight at subsequent gigs and we’ve exchanged emails at various times over the years.

Today in a veggie restaurant we chewed over the highs and lows of parenthood, relationships and the need to remember to take breaths every once in a while. I don’t think I could have wanted for a better host during my visit. Trevor then took me to the airport and we made our farewells.

After checking in, I noted how I felt really charged up, renewed and invigourated - I scribbled lots of stuff into the notebook as I waited for my flight to be called. It was just pouring out. Maybe it was all those leylines that converge around Glastonbury Tor. Mind you the nearest I got to the fabled place was a car park at the back of the shops.


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