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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Three Bills In One Day

The first Bill I dealt with today was the one presented to me by the dentist. £70 thank-you very much. A day spent in agony as the dentist (who appears to be about 12 years old) puts his knee on my chest and right royally pokes about.

This is good for me I tell myself as I hand over the cash. It reminds me of the consequences of not taking care of business. It tells me that I should be more on the ball when things start to go wrong instead of stoically enduring it as though this were a noble thing to be doing.

The second Bill was the Bruford variety. Bill is busy running his label and doing press for the release of his Bruford dvd. I was happy to help with a couple of press addresses along the way. I'm looking forward to this one. I recall the show at the time. "Hells Bells" is one of my all-time favourite dance-about-like-a-madman track. Joyous, uplifting and a ton of wit to boot.

The third Bill of the day was Bill Rieflin who rang in from Seattle to talk about talk about Slow Music. Instad, he gets ten minutes of my bad jaw, down-in-the-mouth routine. Probably the politest man on the planet, Bill listens courteously and makes all the right “ouch” noises.

I’ve been listening to all of the Slow Music gigs and making notes as to which sets might be likely for release. The Seattle show at the Showbox on May 6th this year sounds vague and noodly, as if finding the music was a struggle.

To my delight Bill agrees citing it as one of the most difficult concerts of the tour. Why was I delighted? Because sometimes when it comes to something as subjective as listening and evaluating music, you’re in the land of maybe and what if.

When one of the musicians involved in the process agrees with your judgement it’s a reassuring validation, a reminder that my ears are on right. The first show at Portland and the El Rey stand out as something rather special.

Bill had rung to catch up with things whilst I was away in Shaldon. Debra’s daughter Alys had taken the call, telling Bill that she’d been left behind whilst everyone else was away enjoying themselves on holiday. Bill had empathised, describing me as “a rotter.”

Needless to say Alys was thrilled to tell her chums that she’d chinwagging with the drummer from REM – who happen to be one of her favourite groups no less.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dreams Of Loss & Forgetting

I’m in a big house that is simultaneously known yet alien to me. When I look in the rooms it’s like seeing someone from a distance that you think you recognise. Yet as they draw closer you suddenly realise they’re not the person you thought they were.

Music is playing, stately, melodic yet with a dark portentous element; like Porcupine Tree but with gravitas. I’m anxious and as I go from room to room the panic wells up within me. My son Tom is missing. Soon I’m literally gasping from air as I realise I’m running out of rooms to look in and the chance therefore to find him. There’s no happy ending. I don’t find him.

When I wake up I feel wounded by loss. It hangs over me like a toxic pall throughout the day.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pip Pyle 1950 - 2006

Jakko rang today to tell me that Pip Pyle died during the weekend.

Down to earth and lacking the pomposity or self-regard that afflicts some musicians who’ve been in the game as long as he had, Pyle was a superb musician and composer of note.

“Shaving Is Boring” from Hatfield’s debut (on which Pyle’s drumming is criminally under-mixed) and his wonderful paean to the joys of life on and off the road, “Fitter Stoke Has a Bath” from The Rotters’ Club are pieces that define the “Canterbury Sound.”

Pip had a wicked sense of humour, lampooning the obsessive side of fandom which insisted on talking about the “good old days” and asking the perennial question about Canterbury’s very own Scarlet Pimpernel, Mike Ratledge on the marvellously piquant “What’s Rattlin’” (from Richard Sinclair’s RSVP).

At home with complex, orchestrated material or free playing, Pyle hilariously combined both with his pastiche drum solo for voice, "Phlakaton" (it goes “Phlak phlakka phlakka phlakaton Cash. Ker-chaffa kerchaffa oum ka ka oum-er ka kaf dof flibbet flibbet raka taka raka taka BISH!”)

In the years following the Hatfield’s and National Health, Pyle worked in a variety of small groups operating in and around mainland Europe, which took Pyle’s music with its difficult time signatures and unexpectedly stout melodies to its collective bosom.

One outfit with a little more UK appeal than most was In Cahoots, an ensemble led by Phil Miller that teamed Pyle with Elton Dean and bassist Fred Baker. I last saw Pip performing with In Cahoots in 2001 and though the gig overall was a somewhat mixed affair, Pip’s playing was bright and crisp as ever.

I last met him when we met for an interview in September 2005 where I gathered his thoughts on prog rock, and his memories of when punk swept in. He was typically sanguine about the rise of punk, empathising with the energy and vitality of the new scene which he felt shared something of the anarchic humour that was evident in much of his music.

At the time of our interview the Hatfield reunion was taking off. Pip was looking forward to it, sensing that only now where the band getting the kind of respect and recognition that was their due, not to mention some sales!

Pip’s music was often multifaceted and downright difficult but it came from a man who was warm, funny and generous. He’ll be greatly missed by his family, friends and the many fans who’ve loved his playing over the years.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Shaldon III

Across to Dartmoor...

Hey Tor!

and down into Widdicombe...

Back to Shaldon in time for stroll along the beach...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Shaldon II

Neil and I headed out to Totnes today to hoover up lots of books in the three second-hand bookshops that exist in this small town.

The main street...

Market day in Totnes...

After gathering lots of book-booty and fudge to take back to the kids, Neil and I had a liquid lunch. I don't normally drink during the day but, hey this a holiday!

Meanwhile Halina and Debra are flying the flag back in Shaldon...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shaldon I

A sunny day or two with chums Neil and Halina in Shaldon, Devon.

Looking up the beach...
In the middle of the beach...




Looking down the beach...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

1969 by Julie Driscoll

This Woman's On Fire

Julie Driscoll

Eclectic Discs
August 29th

During the ‘60s Julie Driscoll spent years on the road firstly with Steampacket (featuring Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart) and then with Brian Auger’s Trinity, scoring one massive hit with a haunting rendition of Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.”

The resulting weight of media intrusion and physical exhaustion forced Driscoll to quit the road and evaluate her life. 1969 was the year she stepped off the pop star treadmill and the title of her first solo album detailing twelve months of profound personal change.

Blessed with an amazingly supple singing voice Driscoll was always capable of belting it out in a soaring technique that drew on Nina Simone’s fire and ice for inspiration. “A New Awakening”, “Break Out”, and “Walk Down”, display a phenomenal force that was all her own and which she controlled with a sassy precision.

Newly remastered from the original tapes by the team at Eclectic Discs, the album was produced by legendary Svengali Giorgio Gomelsky (assisted by a young Eddie Offord at the desk) and boasts a stellar line-up that includes elements of Keith Tippett’s band, Nucleus and Blossom Toes.

Driscoll’s alienation with the pop scene is explored in some depth during “Leaving It All Behind.” Karl Jenkins’ (Nucleus and later Soft Machine), twisting oboe provides a brightly manic counterpoint to the dark, brooding lyrics “I have changed somehow/ things are different now in me/Now I think it’s time to wake up or I know I’m going to break-up again.”

Sizzling throughout with an exhilarating sense of freedom and discovery, as befits an album whose central theme is about taking control of her life, it features a series of remarkably strong vocal performances throughout.

On the aptly titled “Break Out”, Driscoll sings with her characteristic passion, hitting a glass-threatening note around the three minute mark as though she can barely contain the music that’s flowing from her.

In some senses such tracks wouldn’t sound too much out of place in Driscoll’s immediate musical past. However, the other half of the album is graced with exquisite ballads and more introverted material where Driscoll’s astute use of harmony is a joy to hear.

On The Choice and Lullaby, her voice is embellished only by Bob Downes’ graceful flute and chiming guitar from Brian Godding respectively and her own fragile acoustic guitar. We can hear an astonishing sensitivity and intimacy with melody that would barely be possible within the broad brushstrokes of Auger’s Trinity.

The raw confessional of “I Nearly Forgot – But I Went Back” is a peerless tour de force veers from intimacy to a scorching intensity whose nearest equivalent would appear to be Jeff Buckley at his most vocally gymnastic! It’s impossible to think of another female vocalist capable of this kind of concentrated singing and writing then or now.

When Gomelsky’s Marmalade label floundered, 1969 was left on the shelf until 1971 where it was belatedly released on Polydor.

By then Julie had already embarked on a musical journey with husband Keith Tippett to explore the outer edges of jazz and free improvisation on challenging and occasionally beautiful albums such as Septober Energy and Blueprint.

Caught somewhere on the breeze between folk, jazz and rock,1969 was Julie Driscoll setting sail toward those exotic and esoteric worlds and its reissue reminds us what a truly unique talent she was.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

It's A Small World

We Brits just love to talk about the weather and I’ve just noticed that the weather here in Whitley Bay is changing. You may think I clocked this by looking out of the window.

Well, I did but I was prompted to do so by an extension on my browser called Forecastfox which tells me all about the weather conditions and temperature and what they’re getting up to outside.

My son Tom, who is fifteen, added this popular extension one day when I wasn’t looking, and now I grin like a big kid every time the little icon on the menu bar changes to reflect what’s going on outside in the real world with its real weather.

It’s pretty accurate, scarily accurate in fact. It tells me that there’s a light fog and so there is. It’s kind of creepy – I mean how does it know?

When it comes to understanding the mechanics of it all, I’m afraid that no matter how slowly it’s explained to me, my eyes and ears glaze over as logic and comprehension get kicked into the long grass of my fuzzy, aching brain.

I’m someone who still can’t grasp how a band making music in a studio is then transferred onto a lump of vinyl, which then plays back the music when you drop a gramophone needle into its grooves. And don’t get me started on CDs, digital encoding and all the 1s and 0s that go with it.

Similarly when I was first shown Google Earth I could hardly believe what I was seeing. We typed our address and postcode in and watched incredulously as the on-screen globe lurched in vertiginous orbit and we plummeted through the clouds to peer at our street and house as snapped by a passing satellite.

Judging by the climbing frame in our next door neighbour’s garden we reckon it was taken about five years ago on a sunny day.

There now follows a burst of the "if they're letting us see this kind of stuff then Lord knows what they're getting up to" paranoia.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Angel-A by Luc Besson

The Pair Who Fell To Earth...

When it comes to French movies I am a complete sucker. The merest glimpse of neon-lit rain on Parisian cobbles, the brusque cadences of the language (which I don’t speak a word of by the way), or the false-memory nostalgia of yearning accordion music, rumbles through my soul like the night train to Nice.

Yet despite an almost genetic predisposition to all things Gallic by the end of director Luc Besson’s latest movie, I was left wanting to hurl myself from the nearest bridge - exactly the situation in which the two central characters find themselves in when we first meet them.

After defaulting on payments to the mob and with a contract on his head, Andre (the grizzled-looking Jamel Debbouze) decides to throw himself into the Seine. To his surprise further along the ledge there’s a statuesque blonde (Rie Rasmussen), long of leg, high of heel, and this being a French movie, the skimpiest of black cocktail dresses, who also wants to end it all. Unable to accept that someone so beautiful doesn’t have a reason to live, Andre jumps in and saves her.

After which Andre discovers that the woman, Angela, happens to be an angel. Not just a metaphorical angel but the real deal with wings who happens to be on her luck, feeling jaded about the sordid business of saving souls.

The sharp contrast between their attitudes and appearances (light/dark, male/female, short/tall, good/bad, happy/sad, human/supernatural being!) coupled with Angela’s less than angelic behaviour and Andre’s unexpected morality should provide us with a screwball romcom set against the noir-ish world of a subterranean Paris.

Instead we get a too-predictable retread of It’s A Wonderful Life or Wings Of Desire but plucked of their respective humour, warmth and pathos and oozing cheap sentimentality. This aspect has been a recurring difficulty in Besson’s work, tarnishing his otherwise classic, Leon. Thankfully, the saccharine was effectively staunched by Jean Reno’s sour yet vulnerable aura in the title role.

Here however, the absence of comparable talent is telling. Debbouze may be fine in small parts (he makes a fleeting but effective appearance in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie as the greengrocer’s son who gets revenge on his tyrant father), but like Rasmussen lacks the range of skills or old-fashioned “presence” required to carry it off.

Charisma is more than being able to pull off the ramshackle loser look or pouting sexily as your mascara runs.

The blame lays not so much with the hapless cast punching above their weight as with the lead-lined script which clouts us with clunkers such as “You may not have a past but at least let me give you a future.”

Even accepting that Besson’s dialogue may have lost something in translation when it comes to the subtitles, there seems little excuse for such poor writing from a director as experienced as this. This would-be parable about how heaven is in the most unexpected of places if we open our eyes and ourselves probably looked great in storyboard but falls to earth with a resounding thump.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Pain In The Mouth

Over the last few days I’ve been like a bear with a sore head. Following a doctor’s advice and a visit to the dentist that has left me almost one hundred smackeroonies lighter, I was diagnosed as suffering from an infection in my lower jaw.

I’d put it down to toothache but apparently not.

X-rays also reveal my receding gums are receding quicker than coastal cliff erosion. So I’ve been on painkillers galore and enough antibiotic to sink a battleship, not to mention a particular painful treatment for the gums. All of which has sunk me without a trace.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Let's Hear It for Senator George Allen

When Republican senator George Allen singled out the only non-white person at a rally and called them a “macaca” he says he didn’t realise that the word referred to a type of monkey or that it was a racist jibe.

His defence was that he simply “made up the word” without knowing what it meant. Yeah, right. At least he came up with something slightly more original than "I was only joking."

Perhaps Allen is at the forefront of a new breed of politicians who admit to not having a clue what they’re talking about?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

And You May Ask Yourself...

What can I do today that is constructive, that engages with the world around me in a positive way, that is necessary? My mother’s passing has made me think hard about how much time we all have left to us and the kinds of things we choose to do with that time. Life really is too short to spend time on the negative, the smart-arse, and the redundant.

Julie Tippetts rang this morning asking about the recent interview we did for the forthcoming reissue of her album, 1969. It’s scheduled for release at the end of this month and I’ll be adding a review/article about the album in the next week or so.

Also on the blower was my sister reminding me that I hadn’t sent off the cheques to the NSPCC. When my mother was diagnosed with leukaemia she was insistent that she didn’t want people to “waste money on flowers” at her funeral. Instead she preferred those attending her service should donate money to a good cause. She chose the NSPCC as the beneficiary and today I sent them cheques to the value of £220.

The great Elmore Leonard was on Radio 4’s Bookclub talking about his book Rum Punch which many will know as Jackie Brown – my favourite Tarrantino movie. Leonard has a great voice and I reckon he could read a shopping list aloud and make it sound sassy and noir-ish

In the post - a bunch of forthcoming John Mayall reissues and Terry Callier’s Timepeace.

On the player today - King Crimson at the Roxy, 23rd November 1981 and Alabamahalle, 29th September 1982.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Power Of Nightmares

Whilst the media is full of the Terror Alert / Airport Mayhem / Muslim Fanatic headlines with the corresponding numbers of pages of speculation in lieu of hard fact, we sometimes miss what is really going on regarding the state we’re in.

In 2005 the BBC screened three one hour programmes by journalist Adam Curtis called The Power Of Nightmares. They were tucked away in some obscure late night slot when I first saw them but made a powerful case that the Bush / Blair war on terror was essentially a myth created to enable politicians in the West to exert more control on its populace.

In episode one Curtis carefully traces the roots of Islamic extremism and how it dovetailed with the rise of the neo-conservatives in the USA.

Interviewing key people in CIA, right-wing think tanks and academics, Curtis argues that the war on terror is a classic con designed to divert people from asking important questions about civil liberties and the motivations that lie behind the policies our governments are pursuing.

The Power Of Nightmares

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ron Mueck, Robert Ryman And An Edinburgh Day Out

I’ve been to Edinburgh more times than I’ve had hot dinners over the years but it’s always good to wander around. We were here today to a) have a trip out as a family, b) take in a bit of art and c) enjoy ourselves. And it’s the only city I know of that has a monument to Thunderbird 3 on its main street...

As well as a splendid castle.

First up was the Ron Mueck exhibition at Royal Scottish Academy building.

It had received a drubbing in The Guardian for being vacuous and entirely without merit. Yet rarely have I been to an exhibition in which so members of the public smile so much.

These sculptures are painstakingly created from clay and then moulded out of fibreglass and silicon, whose surface is painted to provide a hyper-real rendition of the human form. Sometimes they are rendered in giant form as with the woman in her bed.

Other times they are small and it is who peer down at the little people below us.

I watch people approaching the sculptures with openness disarmed perhaps by the apparent familiarity of the subject, yet surprised by the detail and precision of the work that Mueck’s put into them. A great show and my only criticism is that there wasn't more of the sculptures on show.

Outside we crossed over to Hanover Street for a photocall...

and the No.27 bus up to the Botanical Gardens and the revenge of the giant rhubarb...

We had a splendid time wandering about these formal gardens, taking in a bit of free Shakespeare and watching the bees go about their business.

After wandering around various hothouses we walk past some wonderful trees and find ourselves in the grounds of Inverleith House to see the Robert Ryman show.

Ryman has been painting white canvasses since lord knows when and I have to say that I love his work. Everyone else in our party absolutely hated it with a vengeance. “White paint on white canvass!” they all said indignantly. “Anyone could do that.”

I try to get Tom to take a look at the work close to, to take account of the brush strokes, the small details and indeed, the light in the space around us. He isn’t buying it and very quickly I’m having a party of one, enjoying these superb pieces.

This might well be the very best gallery I've been in when it comes to light and supporting the work on the walls.

From here we walk over to the Palm House, a grand Victorian construction designed to marshal light in a different way to Ryman's work...

Inside there is much to see...

But not everything is quite what it seems...

We drifted back into town and find ourselves outside The Oxford Bar. Anyone who reads Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels (as Debra and Dude do) will have a frisson of excitement at coming across this hallowed place.

There used to be bars like this one all over Newcastle but they’ve all been “improved” and “refurbished” as part of Newcastle’s makeover.

A superb day away in a superb city.


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