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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Looking Tired

A long day that started sometime after 5.00 a.m. and hasn't ended yet. An e-chum writes "on the subject of old labour, I expect you're a happier man today than two days ago." Actually, I'm not. I gave up on Labour prior to the misadventure in Iraq. Brown may be talking about change but he can't avoid the fact that although it was Blair pushing that particular agenda, he kept schtum and sat on his hands, almost the exact opposite of doing his utmost. It's not just me who's looking and sounding tired and clapped out today.

Listening to...
Anne Briggs: A Time Has Come (remaster)
Jefferson Airplane: Sweeping Up The Spotlight Live At The Fillmore East 1969

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Robert Fripp At The End Of Time

Painting With Sound

At The End Of Time
Churchscapes – Live in England & Estonia, 2006
Robert Fripp

Recorded during a self-financed tour of churches and cathedrals in England and then Estonia, Robert Fripp continues to ask all the right questions about how a musician can connect with music itself. A labour of love, this is his most cohesive solo release since 1995’s A Blessing Of Tears, music that was born from the grieving following the loss of his mother.

Gleaned from a collection of improvisations and then carefully edited together, the result is an album that contains nothing in the way of guitar heroics, dazzling fretwork, or fancy grandstanding. Instead, working slowly and methodically, following the paths suggested from the music itself, Fripp constructs a glacial reverie that has more in common with the likes of Gorecki or Estonia’s premier composer, Arvo Part.

His sounds often bring to mind the meditative paintings of Mark Rothko, who once said about his work “The only thing I care about is the expression of man's basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny." Upon vast canvases composed from solemn strings, Fripp adds shining lines of aching harmony and small strokes of melody filled with the kind depth that can only comes from nearly 50 years of dedicated service to an instrument. The result is probably a career-best album. Essential Fripp.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Anne Briggs The Time Has Come

Her Own Way

The Time Has Come
Anne Briggs
Sony BMG

Having paid her dues in the folk clubs around 1960s UK, Nottingham’s Anne Briggs was destined for the big-time treatment from major label, CBS. Unexpectedly, Briggs walked away from the music industry and out of the public gaze.

Yet this reclusive figure had inspired luminaries such as Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Christy Moore, with her material being covered by leading figures on the scene such as Bert Jansch, Pentangle and others.

The reissue of The Time Has Come (originally released in 1971) provides ample evidence of why Briggs was and is so revered. Briggs frequently draws upon the well of loneliness as a starting point; charting her movements against a backdrop of departure, isolation, dwelling on things lost.

The stunning purity of her voice cuts to the heart of the matter with the precision of a scalpel. With a simple and uncluttered playing style (she accompanies herself on guitar and bouzouki) there’s a timeless quality to her work that is simply entrancing. This is one case where the hype doesn’t really do her body of work justice.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tough Times

Chris T called over yesterday afternoon. We chilled and chatted as is our wont and after having some food with us, he caught his bus back home. This morning when I got back from the shops, he'd left a message asking me to give him a bell.

It turns out that when he got in last night his mother was clearly unwell. Not wasting any time, Chris got the ambulance out and she was admitted to hospital with a suspected stroke. She's 80 and hasn't been in the best of health lately. Chris lost his father in 2004 so it's been a tough time on both of them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Tom

16 years old today and he's got his last exam. Double celebration tonight for sure.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Get Carter Car Park Gets Going?

I read that the multi-storey car park in Gateshead may well be not long for this world. Featured in Get Carter, the structure is probably one of the ugliest on Tyneside - and given the competition it has, that's really saying something. I spent a couple of cold days in the place back in the 80s when I was taking part in a performance art piece, Mainbeam by Charlie Hooker (as documented here). Even though I am an incurable nostalgic, and even though the last thing in the world we need is another supermarket, I'd have to agree about it being time to get rid of this ugly brute of a building.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Battles Mirrored

Where Have I Known You Before?
Warp Records

Having created quite a stir with their frenzied live act, the full length debut from Battles delivers their convulsive agitation to your living room. Interestingly their hyper-active music (so much a part of their attraction) draws upon the kinds of source material that generally has the critics spouting bile and reaching for their revolvers.

There are flurries of references and forelock-tugging which are impossible to avoid: 80s King Crimson, Frank Zappa’s cussed complexity and even the twin attack of Howe and Squire in Yes’s heyday. However the sheer lick at which everything is taken means such echoes are over before they can cause any real trouble.

In a way we’ve been here before – the prog that it’s OK to like - with The Mars Volta who did much the same thing a few years before, re-branding prog with a punk-like animation and virile sneer as they skittered in an ADD-like dash from one dynamic peak to the next.

Battles do that as well but probably throw in a bit more post-modern irony into their picking up on Glam-like bounce and helium-zapped vocals. These factors have to take their chances in a musical setting that makes Grand Central Station at rush hour appears as sedate as a ballet in slow motion. These boys can move about a bit and are not without some chops.

Mostly though, the inter-connecting maze of rhythms and contrapuntal slugging is what it’s all about. It may not be terribly original but it would be churlish to deny some of the exhilarating moments mapped out here. Certainly one to tap to your toe to in 21.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Kamelot Ghost Opera

More Than The Ghost Of A Chance...
Ghost Opera
SPV Records

Standing stylishly between power-metal aggro and prog-rock pomp, Kamelot serve up a haunch of strong driving melodies with more hooks in them than a butcher’s shop on carving day. With Thomas Youngblood’s widescreen guitar and Roy Khan’s powerful yearning vocals, there’s plenty to get your teeth into

Their epic overtures whip along at a fair old crack with a dazzling, symphonic bravado. Picking up where 2005’s The Black Halo left off, like the soundtrack to a gothic blockbuster it can sometimes get a touch OTT.

Nevertheless, the potent dynamics, atmospheric performances and solid, well-crafted writing combine to make a strong record, suggesting a career beyond their tribal genre might not be too far away if they want it. A regal best-yet for this cult US-outfit.

Friday, June 15, 2007

First Things First

This morning I had a phone call from my niece, Verity. She's just got the results from her finals and has bagged herself a first! Well done that woman.

Also in the e-post comes news of a new addition to the extended family: my cousin Brian tells me his son, Ian and wife, Jazmine, are now the proud parents of Liam.

With both items my first reaction was to think that I must tell my mother the good news. and then the same-instant knowing that I can't. There are some days when the ache of losing her stops me in my tracks.

I was tending to the backend of the DGMLive site this morning, making Radiophonics by Robert Fripp go live for downloading, his "Elegy for Mothers and Children" really hit home.

Lesley and Bernard arrive again tomorrow for yet more house hunting around Whitley Bay. No doubt we'll raise a glass to toast Verity's success.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Return Of Giant Prog List...

Classic Rock magazine have a prog rock special out this month. It covers the usual ground that we’ve come to expect from such overviews, but credit to them for including a good section of the progish strands of folk and jazz. Inevitably there’s the usual list of essential prog rock albums, and inevitably one is always left scratching one’s noggin at what’s in and what’s out.

1. Selling England By The Pound: Genesis
2. Wish You Were Here: Pink Floyd
3. In The Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson
4. Close To The Edge: Yes
5. Brain Salad Surgery: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
6. Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd
7. Thick As A Brick: Jethro Tull
8. Hemispheres: Rush
9. On The Threshold of a Dream: The Moody Blues
10. Leftoverture: Kansas
11. Pawn Hearts: Van der Graaf Generator
12. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway: Genesis
13. Misplaced Childhood: Marillion
14. The Grand Illusion: Styx
15. Up The Downstair: Porcupine Tree
16. The Snow Goose: Camel
17. Operation:Mindcrime: Queensrÿche
18. Citadel: Starcastle
19. In A Glass House: Gentle Giant
20. Phallus Die: Amon Düül II
21. In The Land Of Grey And Pink: Caravan
22. Fragile: Yes
23. Tago Mago: Can
24. Red: King Crimson
25. Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh: Magma
26: Ashes Are Burning: Renaissance
27. Scenes From A Memory: Dream Theater
28. Moving Waves: Focus
29. Music In A Doll’s House: Family
30. A Tab In The Ocean: Nektar

OK, so here’s my take on compiling a similar list although I’m focusing on albums made at the start of the progressive rock cycle rather than going for something that reflects later trends and developments. So there’s no Marillion, Pallas, Porcupine Tree, Mars Volta, etc., included here.

If you wanted to get a rounded picture of the great and good that make up the thing we call prog in all its gory glory then these albums for me are the core. Now I know there’s no Cressida, Procul Harum, United States of America, Quintessence, Ben, et al and were you to ask me on another day and they would probably be included. But not today.

Oh and I’ve been disciplined about this, allowing for only one album per group. This means some of my favourite albums are excluded – Five Bridges by The Nice is here because of the attempt at orchestral fusion although their eponymous album is the one that gets my toes tapping.

1. Close To The Edge: Yes
The ultimate album of the genre. Everything you ever wanted to know about prog can be found here.

2. Touch: Touch
Begun in 1968, the search for post-psychedelic prog starts here and it’s American.

3. In The Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson
In an astonishing debut, they came, they saw, and they raised the stakes for many of their contemporaries.

4. Thick As A Brick: Jethro Tull
A sprawling avalanche of interlinked folkish and complex rock themes, it began life as a joke but is amongst the most cohesive narratives in prog-dom

5. Ummagumma: Pink Floyd
Drifting from the sublime to the ridiculous, this excessive brow-furrowing studio / live double embodies a band looking for direction.

6. Nursery Cryme: Genesis
Something sinister in the English country garden and it’s not just the arrival of Steve Hackett.

7. Pawn Hearts: Van der Graaf Generator
Dotty and often impenetrable, this is where it all comes good: their best album to date.

8. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Clean, crisp and concise – and it’s not often you can say that about an entire ELP album.

9.Third: Soft Machine
An ambitious, angular, witty and perceptive blend of jazz, rock and Riley-esque curves: there was nothing else like it at the time.

10. The Power & The Glory: Gentle Giant
The word eclectic could well have been invented for this multi-instrumental outfit, whose concept album take arms against corruption and politics.

11. Five Bridges: The Nice
Pianist with chip on his shoulder seeks orchestra to expel some classical gas

12. Renaissance: Renaissance
Overlooked in the pantheon of prog but they bag classical and blues rock themes into something rather stylish

13. Per Un Amico: PFM
A snazzy Italian confection that picks up on the prevailing prog themes and add their own icing to the cake.

14. Grave New World: The Strawbs
Patchy in places, but the one where they convincingly combine their folky heritage with a progular bombast in a transition that’s undeniably powerful.

15. Egg: Egg
Boffin-rock noodling married to some of the most complex chartwork this side of Stravinsky: proof, were it needed, that 7 was indeed a jolly good time.

16. Lifemask: Roy Harper
Hits the parts other folk singers cannot reach in an epic 20 minute synthesis of acoustic sensibilities and progressive adventurism.

17. Inner Mounting Flame: Mahavishnu Orchestra
An inspirational Miles-influenced blend of jazzy intricacy, heavy rock tactics and some white-hot playing.

18. Septober Energy: Centipede
Fusing free-jazz and rock dynamics with a cast of thousands is no easy task but Keith Tippett (with a little help from his friends) pulls it off.

19. Gracious!: Gracious!
Apart from some hammy vocals, with mini-suites, grandiose themes and Mellotron aplenty, what’s not to like?

20. In The Land Of Grey And Pink: Caravan
Pastoral whimsy and so-so noodling from the Canterbury head-in-the-clouds contingent.

21. It’ll All Work Out In Boomland: T2
Underrated, and largely unloved on its release, the playing and arrangements are remarkably far-sighted rock with a bit of vision.

22. Ahead Rings Out: Blodwyn Pi
How Tull might have sounded if the boot had been on the other foot with another though cruder take on jazz and blues.

23. Snafu : East Of Eden
Following on from their daft and often dodgy east-meets-west debut, EoE show how bands were coming to terms with the freedom and the pitfalls of prog.

24. Valentyne Suite: Colosseum
Almost a case where the cover is more prog than its contents, another take on the blues / brass rock being steered into new waters.

25. Death Walks Behind You: Atomic Rooster
A doomy but roomy set incorporating rock, blues and jazz in equal measure: one of the great “what if?” albums.

26. Crime of the Century: Supertramp
The Coldplay of prog highlight how rather mainstream songs and half a concept could be padded and progged up without neither sight nor sound of a ‘tron.

27. In Search Of Space: Hawkwind
Speed freaks pilot a bleary course between blue collar riffage and post-psych potential.

28. Atem: Tangerine Dream
One for the space cadets this . Teutonic knob-twiddlers consolidate the soundscapes hinted at by likes of Floyd and others and go for the big screen.

29. Days Of Future Passed: The Moody Blues
A proto-prog Hippy-drippy, wet-behind-the-ears song cycle that nevertheless pointed the way for others – King Crimson included.

30 Tommy: The Who
Huge, inflated and far-reaching – and that’s just the royalty statements that issued from the one rock opera concept album that’s OK for the critics to say they like.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Value Added Service

Rick from Dynamic Services called in today with Tom’s computer. The thing had died after a long period of extreme abuse, and though he's normally able to effect on-site repairs, this one needed major surgery to bring it back to life. Normally, Debbie’s son, Sam is the tech support around here. However, his shift patterns simply simply haven't allowed him the necessary time.

Rick is good company and he’s a die-hard metal fan which means we always have a chat whilst he’s repairing the machine. Today’s conversation included thoughts on the recent Linkin Park album (far too commercial for Rick’s ears though Tom and I like it) and Iron Maiden.

I confess that even though I’m old enough to know better, I quite like The Number Of The Beast and No Prayer For The Dying. Rick being a purist scoffs at Johnny-come-lately's such as myself, preferring Maiden when Paul Di’Anno was warbling upfront. Of course this is no way to run a computer repair business and eventually Rick heads off to another job though not before recommending that I listen to Funeral For A Friend.

After this Tom disappears up to his room. He promises me he's revising but I can hear the sound of distant gunfire. Not a good sign.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Nick Lowe At My Age

Still Perfect After All These Years
At My Age
Nick Lowe

As befitting someone who started out in the 60s with Kippington Lodge, went West Coast with Brinsley Scwhwarz in the 70s, and traversed punk and the new wave with the power-pop of Jesus of Cool (and Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True), as well as aiding and abetting the beatification of Johnny Cash with signature tracks like “The Beast In Me”, Nick Lowe knows what makes a good song tick.

Dealing with labyrinthine ups and downs of romance, Lowe has always been an expert balladeer and his jazzy “The Other Side Of The Coin” perfectly conjures a lovelorn torch singer with some fine embellishments from veteran UK trombonist, Chris Barber. Not all his narrators are quite so cute however, as “I Trained Her To Love Me” explores the implicit misogyny underpinning so much of popular music.

His wry humour infuses the whole album with knowing echoes and references to other songs, effortlessly integrating them into a persuasive sound. There’s also a couple covers a - cracking slap-back bouncy rendition of Charlie Feathers’ “The Man In Love” - carried off with his trademark panache.

His encyclopaedic grasp of the medium has meant that his albums (especially 2001’s The Convincer) amount to a guided tour of popular music that encompasses its brightly-lit avenues as well some of the more obscure, shadow-laden alleyways. Guaranteed to bring a smile to lips and your toe a-tapping, with its accessible brace of soul, country, rockabilly and pop, At My Age is Lowe’s effusive celebration of the finer points of his craft. Masterful stuff.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Back home from my travels to see friends and family, and Debbie and I take a walk along the beach...

...where we find ourselves at the Rendezvous Cafe

Outside we bump into our neighbours....

Georgina, Dave, Julie, (Debbie clearly on the cadge) and Aaron.

We take a slow walk back to our street where we all bump into another neighbour, Thomas...

who is quickly followed by yet another neighbour, John!

A Victoria Avenue Rendezvous!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Errin

There’s only one thing worse than going to a cash machine and having your request declined, and that’s going to a cash machine and having your request declined when you know there’s plenty of moolah in the account! Rather frustratingly, that was the situation after Sean and I parted company with Verity and the gang after the show.

Scuppered and slightly cashless, I prevailed upon Sean to whisk me off to the fleshpots of Nottingham (code for a pizza and back to his gaff to prog it up large!). We viewed a preview copy of the forthcoming Yes DVD amongst other things until it was time to hit the sack. I was bivouacked in the front room, and though dog-tired, I couldn’t get to sleep before leafing through a few back copies of Mojo.

After a lovely evening in Nottingham, it was also a lovely morning.

After chewing the cud, Sean and I headed off into the town centre so I could get the train. Unlike the journey here, we made it to the station in plenty of time.

En route to Grantham (where I was to change for Newcastle), Errin rang to thank me for her birthday present. Here's the birthday girl herself last night...

She’s going off to Northhampton University soon to study art. Her brother, Isaac, is thinking of studying either drama or music in Newcastle. Bernard and Lesley have some talented kids!

Friday, June 08, 2007

All Her Own Work

Sometimes you simply get lost in what you’re doing. Despite knowing that I had a train to catch I took my eye off the clock and wandered off into review-land. Usually this is a place of pain for me. Writing about music never comes easy and whatever emerges is always the product of perspiration rather than inspiration. Today of all days was different: here I was enjoying myself listening to The Concert Sinatra and merrily tapping away.

Now, the music in question wasn’t the subject of my writing and nor was its choice random. The Concert Sinatra lasts 32 minutes. I knew that by the time Ol’ Blue Eyes finished off that barn-storming version of “Soliloquy,” it would be time to pack up the office and head out the door. Yet somewhere between the sombre strains of “I Have Dreamed” and the truly magical ”Lost In The Stars”, I entered into a trance-like bliss wherein the words not only came quick and easy, I was running to catch up with them.

Now you have to understand that this is such a rare occurrence for me that I was utterly well, as Frank himself might say, bewitched, bothered and bewildered. Thus this slightly onerous task was transformed into something I was doing reluctantly to a task I positively ran at with all the pluck of a fresh filly at the jumps.

The real leap when it came was my heart as I slowly became aware of the silence in the room. Shouldn’t Frank by winding up by now? I tried to assuage the rising tide of panic that we were simply between tracks and that any moment Sinatra’s lugubrious tones would anoint me with their balm.

No such fucking luck.

The clock now told me that I had slightly less than 45 minutes to make the ten miles from my desk to the train. As a lifelong pedestrian I’ve always had to rely upon public transport. Experience has taught me that the wise person leaves a pretty wide margin when getting from A to B. In this instance the trip would normally take around ten minutes to walk up to the Metro station and then another 30 minutes travelling through the 16 stops. Technically this gives me five minutes grace. What could possibly go wrong?

Needless to say I was hopelessly late. Stupidly I crossed the bridge to the platform. To my astonishment my train was still there. A drunken blokey on the opposite side of the station was giving it plenty of wah-wah noises to all and sundry. What gave this performance an extra frisson was his teetering foothold near the edge of the platform. It turns out the driver wouldn’t go until the station police removed him, and thus gave me my second chance. The minute I parked my behind in a chair the train pulled off.

And why Nottingham I hear you ask? Is it because it is the Seattle of the Midlands? Is because of Fopp’s hard-to-beat in-store choice?

Or is it because it looks a bit like Venice (if you really use your imagination)?

Nope. It’s because my niece, Verity is having her end of term, end of everything exhibition. She’s been studying theatre design for three years at Nottingham Trent University and it’s all over now bar the marking (which happens in a couple of weeks). I hadn’t told her I was going to turn up so she got a shock when she turned around to talk to a mate and copped me looming up behind.

The show is opened with a few words from ex-Nottingham Trent alumni, Jonathan Glazer (director of one of my favourite movies, Sexy Beast) and Paul Kaye (Dennis Pennis).

Then it was into the show and to take a look at what Verity (that's her in the middle of the photograph) had been up to for the last three years.

The supporting cast included my mate Sean (who lives in Nottingham) and brother in law (and proud dad), Bernard.

Sister Lesley and a sombre looking Sean...

Nephew Isaac and youngest niece, Errin giving it their best Blue Steel...

Proud uncle...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Cary Brothers Ride

The other thing Tom has been doing instead of revising is asking me what I think about Cary Brothers. "Who are they?" I asked. Rolling his eyes heavenwards, he pointed out that they were a he. He played me the track "Ride" a few times and by George, if it isn't getting under my skin big-time. Not the kind of thing I usually go for, but then again, if you can listen to Groundhogs and find yourself admiring aspects of it then anything is possible. I really like this - a perfect piece of pop that'll take your heart up into the stratosphere.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


As you can see, Tom is busy revising for that double chemistry paper.


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