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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Energy Efficient

On the blower with Declan regarding some up and coming projects.

There are some days when it's all a bit of a hard slog. And then there are other days when the energy flows.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Calls Missed And Calls Caught And Calls Dropped

The phone went late last night. Margie and then Robert. I heard neither being fast asleep. Debbie managed to get to the second call but being half asleep herself didn't think to wake me after telling Robert that I was flat out. This morning when I got up (circa 6.00 a.m.) she told me about the call from Robert. When I logged on I discovered an error on the DGMLive website in relation to a news item concerning Ian. I played Margie's message also alerting me to the problem and made the correction.

Mid-day: a good chin-wag with Bill Bruford regarding forthcoming projects. Bill is appearing at The Sage in Gateshead soon with Michiel Borstlap.

Later in the day I spend a bit of time talking to a couple of local press contacts. "He's the bloke from Yes" says one. "Jazz? Hmmm, not sure. Does he still play "Owner of a Lonely Heart? "

The other contact says "He's the bloke from King Crimson. He plays jazz does he? Great. Always thought someone should jazz up some Crimson tunes."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Uncomfortably Numb

Jakko phoned this morning. It's been ages since we managed to grab some time to speak. We discuss Ian and our respective feelings of loss. If we're feeling this bad I cannot imagine how Margie must be feeling.

Inevitably our conversation turns to the reaction to Ian's death in the online world in marked contrast to the witless manner news his illness was reported a few months ago. It'll be a long time before I forget the dumb headline "Wally Potter and the throat of fire" used on one website. I try not to hold grudges but on this I'll make an exception.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ian Wallace

Ian Wallace died yesterday following his long battle with cancer. I can’t really write anything about it right now.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Making An Exhibition Of Ourselves

Milton Keynes...

Bernard has an exhibition and before we left MK on our way back to Stansted, we took a detour to check it out. Excellent stuff and great to see him working in public again.

Bernard and his parents...

Errin looking on Errin...

A cast of thousands...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Down By The Riverside

Milton Keynes...

Debbie headed back off to Brum and N & H and we headed back into London. First port of call was a walk along the river with Tom, Joe and Lesley. Whilst there we recreated (as best we could) a photo of the boys and I circa 2001.

After several shots of us in roughly the same position (at my behest rather than Lesley who was being forced to take the shot), the boys rebelled...

Then Lesley gets in on the act. Now we'll have to come back in five years and recreate this one as well!

After that we headed off to the V&A so Tom could take a peep at the Japanese room they have there, which was about as close as he was ever going to get to a katana or indeed a netsuke.

Joe was bored rigid, eager to get to a comic shop I’d told him about in Notting Hill Gate. Joe and I whiled away a good hour browsing and buying (he lots of comics and me Simon Frith’s Music For Pleasure) whilst Lesley and Tom chewed the fat in a nearby café. A wonderful day made more wonderful with the acquisition of The West Wing Season 5.

Another lovely meal and a night spent playing a movie quiz game. Great fun.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Space Invaders & The Mung Bean Paste Incident

Milton Keynes...

We headed off to London today firstly to take in the Game On exhibition at the Science Museum and then for a sortie into Chinatown. The exhibition covered the history of the video arcade game and came with a couple of hundred consoles for knowledge-thirsty gamers to experience the glories of crummy graphics and superannuated gameplay. Tom and Joe declared it to be marvellous.

I had my own moment of nostalgia as I spied the Space Invaders machine. A friend and I used to bash away at one of the damn things in a Newcastle taxi office at around 2.00 a.m. after recording sessions. It was often 5.00 a.m. before we’d get home not because of a dearth of taxis but because we couldn’t tear ourselves off the thing.

After the Science Museum we headed to Chinatown primarily for Tom who wanted to buy something called a katana. I had no idea what it was until he explained it was a Japanese sword. I asked him if he thought we might have problems bringing back a ceremonial sword on the plane? No immediate answer was forthcoming and I glossed over the fact that Chinatown wasn’t Japantown. He did however find one of those black cotton jackets that you see the likes of Bruce Lee wearing and declared himself well pleased.

We also had some street fun with some esoteric sweets that we thought might be like Turkish Delight but turned out to be mung bean paste covered in icing sugar. Hmmm. Nice. Well not quite as can be seen from these not-so-happy faces.

After that it was off to Forbidden Planet which was Joe’s choice of destination. Despite the fact that Declan had delivered industrial quantities of comic books for Joseph the previous night, the lad was keen to improve on his expanding collection. So we spent a couple of hours in the place scoping all the sci-fi and super-hero merch.

As I was slumped in a chair which must be provided for the likes of me (ie knackered) Iain Murray from Newnote sauntered past. I didn’t recognise him at first because he’s shaved his moustache off but after doing that thing of “Do I know you?” caution was hurled bodily to the wind and we said “hello” in that diffident, awkwardly British way.

We first met at the Epitaph playback way back when, and spent a useful twenty minutes catching up on the ins and outs of music distribution in the independent sector. We hatch vague plans to meet up later in the year when Iain and his partner come up North.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Missed Meeting & A Meal In Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes...

The boys and I are off to my sister's house down in Milton Keynes for a couple of days r n' r. It's the first time Tom and Joe have flown and as you might expect they're pretty pumped up about it.

There was thick cloud cover the whole journey but the boys enjoyed the flight enormously. We were picked up at Stansted by Bernard, my brother-in-law and whisked to MK. The idea was we'd meet up with Declan who was kindly dropping off some bits and pieces for us including some vintage Fripp and Eno. However, the M25 had other plans for us and by the time we arrived Declan had gone home.

The upside was that Debbie was there having joined us from Birmingham where she'd been spending the weekend with Neil and Halina. A great meal and jolly good company always makes for a memorable evening.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ghost In Stormy Nights

Showing Its Age

In Stormy Nights

Drag City

Aping the musical zeitgeist of the 60s has always been good for business as Paul Weller, Stereolab, Oasis and Belle and Sebastian, to name but a few, will confirm.

Whilst such accessible fields continue to be drilled and mined, the more obscure seams of that decade have also long been ripe for such exploitation. Japanese band Ghost, have been engaged in this ongoing cultural exhumation as part of the Tokyo underground scene for around 20 years. Led by multi-instrumentalist and stylistic chameleon, Masaki Batoh, (who also happens to be an acupuncturist by day) their affection for the period and its influences is obvious.

2004’s Hypnotic Underworld submerged Syd Barrett’s post-Floyd "Dominoes" into their freaky mix, and this, their ninth album continues to absorb the historical vibes emanating out of "Grantchester Meadows". Much like Ummagumma, they merge bucolic charm with dotty serialism.

Despite such incongruities (or perhaps because of them) it’s a palatable combination, although one’s never clear whether Batoh and the boys are laughing into the sleeves of their psychedelic shirts or not. One example perhaps is the 28-minute “Hemicyclic Anthelion”; several different live improvisations threaded into a monster collage.

It might well be startling or transgressive had one never heard Can’s Tago Mago, or anything by The Third Ear Band but sounds merely contrived in comparison. Rather more convincing are the ornate ballads (both sung in English) “Motherly Bluster” and the beautiful “Grisaille”, iced with the Arctic howl of Michio Kurihara’s sublime guitar, sounding like nobody but themselves.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Keith Tippett Live At Ruvo

Alive And Most Definitely Kicking

Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Canto Generál
Out Now

What is it in the British psyche that prevents us acknowledging the achievements of musicians until it’s too late?

Look at all the column inches in the mainstream press extolling the virtues of Soft Machine and free-jazz stalwart, Elton Dean after he passed away. Could Dean get that kind of attention when he was alive and kicking? Not bloody likely.

In recent years he had to play almost exclusively in Europe to make ends meet such was the indifference of promoters and the jazz establishment in the UK.

So too, Bristol-born Keith Tippett who has never really enjoyed the kind of popular exposure his music deserves at least on his home turf. It's verging on the criminal that a pianist as absurdly talented remains largely ignored at home yet so cherished abroad.

Recorded at an Italian festival in front of a 1,500 strong crowd in 2004, this is a rousing celebration not only of Keith Tippett’s freewheeling virtuosity but his ability to compose and arrange a cracking good tune.

In what amounts to a brisk survey of some of the best writing to emerge from the British jazz scene in the 70s and beyond, we hear the classic big themes from Tippett tour-de- force titles such Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening, Septober Energy and Frames, as well as too-brief pitstop around his work with the late Harry Miller, represented here by two tunes from Miller’s still-stunning 1978 In Conference album.

All are given a robust and vigorous voice by Julie Tippetts and members of the Italian ensemble, Canto Generál whose capacious sound is warm, invigorating and drilled with a military precision.

Ensuring the pace is never less than exhilarating is long-time Tippett collaborator drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, propelling tunes by his former Blue Notes colleagues, Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Feza with a ferocious zeal.

Nicola Pisani’s baritone on Feza’s “You Ain’t Gonna Know Know Me, Cos You Think You Know Me.” and Vito Mitoli's energetic blowing on Pukwana’s “Mra” draw deserved gasps of admiration. Something of Elton Dean’s acerbic style is also evoked by Roberto Ottaviano’s plaintive soprano sax solo during “Septober Energy.”

Recalling the Dedication Orchestra's joyous bash this is a full-blooded fiesta brimming with grand tunes and cutting-edge performances. Riotous feelgood fun with bags of energy, it makes no sense at all that music of such verve and calibre falls upon so many deaf ears back in Blighty. Make sure yours aren’t in that unfortunate crowd.

You can get this album here

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tim, The Trenchcoat & Sting

Whitley Bay is looking very nice today. The air is crisp, a light breeze is coming in off the sea and the sky is very blue.

Looking up our street whilst being warmed by a winter sun.

A perfect time to escape the confines of the Yellow Room and get onto the Whitley Road and into the town centre

At the shops I bought a card and a little something for Debra and then bumped into an old chum and ex-colleague Tim Archer. I first met Tim when he was an actor musician in a children’s theatre company for whom I was an occasional roadie. I was always impressed that whenever we picked Tim up in the van on our way to a gig, he was carrying a mug of coffee and a fag welded to his bottom lip. Somehow in the rickety Ford transit he quaffed the coffee without ever seeming to remove the cigarette. The other impressive thing about Tim was his trenchcoat.

Dear Reader, I was always green with envy for the trenchcoat – a good thing since the object of my desire was a military-shade of olive green. It was one of those coats that had innumerable pockets (many concealed) and had a lining that gave it the weight of one of those lead gowns they use in the X-ray department.

I vowed I would have a trenchcoat to match but despite my very best efforts of NATO surplus stock, I never did find a coat that came close to Tim’s either in the improbable numbers of pockets or the oddly comforting weight.

Tim of that period is accurately described in Sting’s autobiography, Broken Music:

It’s a Friday evening; I’ve driven back from the Lake District having completed my teaching practice like everyone else in our year, and there will be a small celebration at our friend Tim Archer’s flat. Tim is one of the stars of Megan’s drama course. He has a streak of charismatic madness, which may or may not be a studied pose, is balding prematurely in an interesting, intellectual sort of way, and displays a permanent manic energy, like a demented marionette, but I suspect it is Tim who is pulling the strings. He is wearing a homemade badge with the name M. PROUST stencilled on the front. Megan and I are both very fond of him, and his pretensions are invariably self-deprecating, if not always amusing.

After this time we worked together on and off in various rock bands, political factions, and the provisional wing of local government. We also have problems with our backs in common. Because of this shared history when we meet our conversation nearly always touches upon mortality and music.

So we stood in Marks & Spencers talking about our backs, our children, the problems with The Beatles’ Love album and briefly flashed some hardware at each other.

After getting the shopping and our impending decrepitude out of the way, we walk back through Whitley Bay and talk about the state of music.

I tell him that I spent the morning listening to a Japanese band called Ghost whose new album, In Stormy Nights, would sound astonishingly original if you hadn’t already heard Can’s Tago Mago, Freak Out by Zappa and the Mothers and anything by The Third Ear Band.

This then prompts us into the old chestnut that twenty years after the birth of rock n’ roll just about everything truly original had already been said, and that after a certain point everything is just repetition. I date this as being around 1975 or thereabouts. Tim is a fundamentalist hardliner on the question: it all came to an end after the White Album.

“You should write a poem about original music coming to an end based on that one by Larkin, you know the one that goes ‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963 (which was rather late for me) -- Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP,’ only the last line should be The Beatles White LP” says Tim. I tell him he should write it. He shrugs. “Somebody on the internet is bound to have done it already.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

David Toop Sound Body

He Sings The Body Eclectic…
Sound Body
David Toop

If the planet was a gigantic museum of noises, David Toop would probably be the principal curator of its 'esoteric' section. Having debuted on Eno’s Obscure label in the 70s, he’s continued exploring the secret life of sounds and their capricious mating habits with an Attenborough-like tenacity in both print and on record for over 30 years.

As interested in the gaps as what fills them, the fluctuating sinewaves, simmering white noise, feathery bursts of flute and even torn paper are scrupulously edited into something more akin to sound-design than soundtrack. Whilst this sonic minimalism makes previous works (particularly the amorphous Spirit World ) appear positively mainstream by comparison, it’s surprisingly figurative and not without lyrical charm.

Portuguese guitar-worrier, Rafael Toral, American conceptualist Miya Mosaka on Koto and Welsh avant-harpist, Rhodri Davies are amongst the younger generation of ambient apprentices on hand to help Toop sing the body eclectic.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Paul Burwell

I was listening to David Toop's forthcoming album Sound Body and whilst scrabbling around the net I've discovered that Toop collaborator, drummer and artist, Paul Burwell has recently died. How odd that I was only reminded of Paul the other day when visiting the Hatton Gallery. The sharp eyed will notice the coincidental proximity of our names of the wall of fame/shame in the current exhibition.

I first saw Paul at the Basement where he was engaged in a typical energetic performance and then later promoted a concert of his when I was part of the Tyneside New Music Group. Paul was staying at our place after the gig and I had assumed he would want an early night following a strenuous gig.

He wanted nothing of the kind.

He wanted to party until dawn which is exactly what he did, dragging us along as not entirely unwilling accomplices. Great fun and a great line in stories about the improvised music scene in the UK.

The next time I saw Burwell was at the Hayward Gallery and the star-studded opening of the Sonic Boom exhibition. We said hello though understandably he didn't know me from Adam.

Toop writes about Burwell on his MySpace site and The Independent ran a full obituary written by Brian Catling though doesn't mention the cause of death.

Sad news indeed.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This Will Not Happen Without Us

Debbie and I have a lovely day despite the rain.

From the Hatton Gallery we head for the newly refurbished splendour of what used to be called the University Theatre and the Gulbenkian Studio Theatre.
They've knocked them into one and called it Northern Stage. In it's old incarnations I recall seeing the likes of Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Soft Machine, National Health , Eberhard Weber and many more . Perhaps in memory to this great musical past Debra indulges in a catch-it-quick Jethro Tull tribute.

That's quite a view of the student's union building where I also recall seeing the likes of Viv Stanshall, National Health, Gong, The Selecter, The Passions, Simple Minds, and many other bands of the late 70s.

an even better view of the building...

Then it's down to the Grainger Market to grab some grub

and home on a packed Metro

to cook up a gourmet feast in our luxury kitchen extension that was meant to take three to four weeks to finish but has taken...well, that's another story altogether.

This Will Not Happen Without You

Despite the rain today Debbie and I headed out to Newcastle and the Hatton Gallery. Whilst The Baltic will grab the press and the headlines the Hatton gallery is tucked away at the back of Newcastle University and is one of my favourite spaces.

The show we’re here to see This Will Not Happen Without You and celebrates the work of The Basement Group, Projects UK and Locus +. In the early seventies The Basement was a venue for cutting edge performance, video art, and all manner of general weirdness.

As the title cunningly implies it was situated in the lower reaches of Spectro Arts Workshop where I was employed for a few years in the recording studio. No boarded-up derelict building in Newcastle was complete without being flyposted by a series of iconic posters advertising strange things done by people that most folks have never heard of. Yet to a small brigade of like-minded souls these posters were an oasis in what seemed very often like a cultural desert.

Basement shows ran twice weekly during term time as most of the audience were made up of those attending the fine art course ran by Roger Wilson at Newcastle Polytechnic (now University of Northumbria) and Newcastle University.

The wonderful thing about the Basement was that one week you'd have some luminary from the arts scene and the next, a local student or artist that was completely unknown. The point is that both would get the same fee regardless of their reputation or lack of it.

You might see a clunker or you might have your world turned upside down and it was that element of chance is what made Basement events essential viewing. Shows which still resonate for me and changed my perceptions about the world I live in include ones by Ian Bourn, Stuart Brisley, Nan Hoover, Alastair McLennan and Charlie Hooker.

As a regular (and fleetingly a member) of the Basement, I took part in a couple of Hooker performances. One of them was part of a week-long series of performances at the Tate Gallery in 1981 (as tangentially documented in the sleeve notes to King Crimson’s Live In Philadelphia KCCC release) and one in a multi-story carpark in Gateshead.

This venue was featured in the gangster movie Get Carter but for our purposes it combined a music score for four percussionists following a score laid out on the ground and four minicabs whose lights and movement were directed by Charlie via a CB radio. The show was wacky enough to make national news and get featured on the BBC’s teatime magazine show, Nationwide in the slot traditionally reserved for the skateboarding duck.

Here's a picture of the performers with Charlie directing us...

from left to right: Richard Grayson, Jon Bewley, unknown person, yours truly

I did a few performances myself at the Basement both solo and with Chris Wainwright, with whom I went on to perform several arty / percussion / photography events and installations – notably at the old Liverpool Academy of Arts, attended by my favourite poet of the day, Adrian Henri.

Wandering around looking at the exhibits and documentation felt a little odd.

As an exhibition I’m not sure how well it works on a stranger, on someone who hasn’t spent the hours sitting inside that venue watching a procession of serious arty-types do their thing. However since I was one of those people, I spent an hour or so wandering around the place grinning like a fool. The weirdest part was seeing part of my past documented in somebody else’s history of a time and a place.


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