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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wooden Shjips Wooden Shjips

An entrancing wave…
Wooden Shjips

Wooden Shjips
Holy Mountain
8th October 2007

With their backbeat-driven riffing, insolent Morrison-like vocals and smoky keyboard buzz, a cursory listen might conclude this to be merely a psych-infatuated pop pastiche.

Though the whiff of the 60s hangs heavy over this quartet from San Francisco, over the course of 30 or so minutes, their debut album creates a beguiling Op Art pattern underpinned by an insidious garage band rumble that quickly mesmerises and convinces you to hang around.

What they sing about doesn’t matter. Words swoosh back and forth in waves of echo, rendered unintelligible, bobbing around as much for their shape as any potential meaning. Think Damo-era Can and you won’t go far wrong.

With a technique that owes as much to sculpture as it does playing guitar, Erik “Ripley” Johnson layers long stellar notes with an almost autistic enthralment, relishing each fold and crease of the shrieking assemblage emanating from his amp.

It’s easy to trace the precedents and the paths that have previously been trodden in the heavily populated drone-rock world that Wooden Shjips inhabit. Yet this intentionally primitive posse have fashioned a surprisingly superb record that should have them standing out from the crowd.

"We Ask You To Ride"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

No Pussyfooting

Robert Fripp’s online diary today talks about remastering two albums he did in the 70s with Brian Eno - No Pussyfooting and Evening Star.

The first time I heard music from this duo was in the cheap seats of Newcastle’s Odeon Cinema on Friday 8th December 1972, waiting for the new version of King Crimson to take to the stage.

There’d been something about their collaboration in the papers earlier in the year so we all figured out that this was what was playing over the PA. Then Crimso (Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford and Muir) came out to play…but that’s another story.

There was a brief reprise of this strange, celestial music when Crimson came back to Newcastle on Wednesday 21st March 1973, this time minus Jamie Muir. We also heard it being played at the end of the gig as well as we filed out to the stage door to get our autographs.

Thereafter it haunted our memories, drifting about, getting progressively fainter and almost vanishing until November ’73 when No Pussyfooting was released.

It’s important to note that to a young lad with very limited income, the fact that it appeared on the budge HELP label was a godsend. Its relative cheapness meant that most of the people in our circle of friends could afford to go and buy their own copy rather than the usual practice of borrowing new records off each other.

This music had a phenomenal impact on me at the time. It was both beautiful and provocative. At one level nothing much was happening and yet it was also profoundly atmospheric and epic in its scope.

Somewhere in the press we’d read either Fripp or Eno saying that this was "an album you can play at any speed" and we took him at his word setting our record players to 16rpm.

Played like this, “The Heavenly Music Corporation,” became a sonic molasses oozing out of the speakers, incredibly heavy;not so much a sound as much as a stain hanging in the air.

For a lot of folks this was unlistenable but for Chris T, my future brother-in-law, Bernard, and myself, sat on the floor bathed in the eerie glow of a red light bulb and the smoke of a joss stick performing a strangely synchronous ballet to this slowest of already slow music, this was the soundtrack to an unforgettable autumn.

Other excitements in Whitley Bay today included the opening of a new charity shop, in this case, The Salvation Army. All of which can only mean one thing: a fiver's worth of books.

And by way of amazing synchronicity, there's this from the John Peel book:

"(Peel) realised that no-one at the station actually listened to the show...This first became apparent to him when no-one complained about the various cock-ups he made. Later in his career John would become notorious for these spontaneous errors; there was one infamous occasion in 1973 when he played tracks from Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's No Pussyfooting backwards, though only Eno called to point out this mistake."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Something In The Air

I was out and about this morning though not as early as usual and not on my usual route. The sky (or rather the light) was incredible but sadly none of these pictures do it justice.

Looking to the west it's all blue and full of promise...

But looking back towards the east, it's a different matter entirely.

After booking Debbie an appointment to see her doctor for later today, I took a walk down the Esplanade to see how the weather was shaping up out over the sea.

Looking out toward the west...

and now to the east...

Something strange and unsettling was rattling around the air this morning. It was oppressive and tangible - haunted weather indeed.

The bleak wash of light over the horizon reminded me of this painting by Ornulf Opdahl.

A series of emails about an old vinyl album currently being remastered has my anorak-heart flapping with glee, and then if that wasn't enough I read that The Longest Night by John Stevens and Evan Parker is being reissued by Ogun.

This news has me rushing downstairs to the Red Room to grab Volume One and Two of this classic bit of improvised music...

Fortunately, I ask Joseph to capture my surprise and joy on camera before I put The Longest Night Volume One on our old turntable. I say "before" hearing the music because after about 35 seconds into the album, Joe legs it sharpish from the room shouting back "God, dad! This is terrible. It's even worse than those old Pink Floyd albums you keep playing!" The youth of today eh?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Arena Of The Unwell

Debbie has been ill for a few days and has been off work with a chest infection. I saw it settling in last week and warned her that she needed to see the doctor about it pronto.

Debbie doesn't like going to the doctor (who does?) and opted to soldier on for a few days until her body said stop in no uncertain terms.

Two days in bed followed as result. The drugs are kicking in and she's now on the mend but still off work. Today we took a walk along the seafront...

It was lovely and sunny but very cold. I had a taste of earth and autumn on my tongue today. We walked up into Whitley Bay under the escort of leaves rushing off the trees.

We stopped in a cafe in Park View that Debbie sometimes visits with her mother but was my time. We talked about Christmas, the kids and various futures.

Back home, there's a few interesting emails, one job that hasn't come off (which means the yacht in Malibu might have to be postponed) and a good chinwag with Declan on the blower cheered me up no end.

Monday, September 24, 2007

McDonald & Giles

Songs Of Innocence...

McDonald & Giles

Having bailed out of King Crimson during their inaugural American tour in December, 1969, Ian McDonald and Michael Giles spent the first spring and summer of the new decade holed up in Island’s studios recording their eponymous debut. At the time it was the most expensive album made for the label as a result of the duo’s meticulous attention to detail in the overdubbing stages of its production.

Intentionally intended as something of an antidote to the turbulent jazzy dissonance that Robert Fripp seemed inclined to follow on In The Wake of Poseidon and Lizard, McDonald & Giles was an altogether more pastoral manifesto, looking back to lighter, brighter times for its main source of inspiration.

Given both men were veterans of the Summer of Love, it’s no surprise that they wear their hearts on their sleeves: quite literally - their girlfriends of the time feature prominently on the gatefold cover. The fact that a lot of the material featured dates back to those pre-Crim days adds to the air of cheery contentment that pervades the record.

There’s no missing the warmth and heart in the tunes here, as well as an optimism that occasionally borders on period naiveté. Tomorrow’s People, written by Giles in 1967, hopes the following generation will make a better job of running the world, whilst Peter Sinfield’s words for the side-long Birdman suite (whose music in part also dates back to 1968) has the titular character comes back to earth with only the gentlest of bumps.

The celebratory upbeat opener, “Suite In C”, utilises straighter sounding soft rock idioms than anything ever attempted by Crimson. The summery flutes, soft-shoe shuffle saxes and soaring string arrangements are in clear contrast to the ruminative, portentous work they’d been playing the previous year. That particular life on the road is obliquely documented in the poignant McCartney-influenced ballad, “Is She Waiting?”

KC completists should note that “Flight Of The Ibis” was the original melody to “Cadence And Cascade.” Had the duo not quit Crimson, it's likely that “Birdman” would have occupied side two of Poseidon (several of the themes had been tried out on stage and in rehearsals with Fripp and company).

With Island's bean-counters pulling the plug on the mixing sessions, McDonald and Giles were thoroughly disillusioned with the record by the time it was released. The pair walked away and the album sank without a trace behind them. Though a commercial failure and garnering mixed reviews in the press of the day, its proximity to the Crimson canon ensured it received a classy reissue in 2002, supervised by the two old colleagues.

Though lacking the kind of musical traction that gave Crimson its tensile strength, this record is nevertheless a gem that demonstrates just how multi-facetted the original line-up was. Whilst containing top-notch performances and notable contributions, more than anything the album is tribute and showcase to McDonald’s skills as a perceptive arranger and consummate melodicist.

Testing For Buzz XI: Mars Attacks

Key words and phrases associated with this item include:
Topps trading cards, the stuff of nightmares, spellbound, horrific, bloodlust, graphic sci-fi gore in a packet, 1966, confiscated at school, banned at home, furtive pleasures, amazing art, Wally Wood, one missing card, flying saucer craze, "the start of my collecting bug"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Sport

As you can see, Joe is not a happy camper today.

He was playing in Sunderland today as part of the Rockcliff Rugby club but 15 minutes into the game went over in the scrum, screamed out in agony, couldn't get back up and had to be stretchered off.

An ambulance was called, paramedics administered a shot of morphine and he was duly carted off the the local hospital in Sunderland.

The good news was the X-ray revealed Joe's ankle wasn't broken but that it was very badly sprained. That was still a worry because it was this very ankle that Joe had broken whilst in France on the school trip. However, the doctor pronounced that the old break hadn't been adversely affected or compromised by this new injury.

It does mean that Joe would be watching all games from the subs bench for the next four weeks.

And that's why he's not a happy camper.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Manfred Mann Down The Road Apiece

Something for the weekend

Down The Road Apiece
Manfred Mann

Galvanising the nation’s youth every Friday night when their rousing 5-4-3-2-1, provided the theme music for TV’s Ready Steady Go, Manfred Mann were an unstoppable hit machine during the early 60s.

Lacking The Animals’ blue-collar malice, the Manfred’s plied polite R&B your granny would’ve had no difficulty tapping her toes to. Probably more efficient than actually exciting, they’d acquired an admirable jazzy streak (as well as a pre-Cream Jack Bruce) prior to singer Paul Jones’ departure for an ill-fated solo career.

With all the period hits, previously unreleased tracks and out-takes, this thorough 4 CD set does exactly what it says on the tin although is let down somewhat by Tom McGuinness' frustratingly vague sleevenotes which provide little if any insight on the band and these recordings.

Whilst the content might well appeal to completist fans, overall it confirms Manfred Mann's bit-part status in the bigger pop picture.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Nominations For God VII

Stanley Kubrick

Scott Walker And Who Shall Go To The Ball?

Let's Dance
And Who Shall Go To The Ball? And What Shall Go To The Ball?
Scott Walker

Listeners familiar with his erratic output of last couple of decades will know that when Scott Walker breaks those famously-long bouts of public inactivity the results can be perplexing, challenging and downright confrontational.

Commissioned by London’s South Bank Centre in 2006 to produce a score for a contemporary dance piece, Walker has turned in a series of oblique and angular strokes of the musical brush which coalesce into four edgy movements.

Whilst sharing the uneven contours that shaped The Drift as well as some personnel including Mark Warman, co-producer Pete Walsh and Alasdair Molloy – seen in the recently released SW documentary 30th Century Man being instructed to slap and punch a side of pork for percussive effect during the making that album - the biggest difference is the absence of Walker’s haunted croon.

The resulting chamber music has the strings, woodwind, and brass of the London Sinfonietta deploy terse motifs and abrupt flicks of rhythm slashing at the air, trading places with ambiguity, silence and solitude. Cinematic echoes abound. The taut grunt of the bowed basses evoke flashes of John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and Elizabeth Lutyens, whilst the dissonant churning of “4th Movement” has shrill galloping Louis Andriessen-like repetitions on the brass, colliding one on top of each other before being electronically accelerated into oblivion.

No stranger to the emotive cues and triggers required for movie soundtracks (in 1999 he provided the music to Leos Carax’ Pola X), this score provides ample opportunity for dancers to make their mark. Of course as listeners we’re only getting one half of the equation but as much as anything, this is the music of mirrors and shadows, of peering into the darkness in order to see what might be staring back.

A master of his entrances and exits, Walker gathers all the loose ends thrown up in to the air during the previous 20 or so minutes, distilling them into a sustained D chord, and thus providing the album with a powerful sense of mournful resolution.

No doubt it’ll be labelled “pretentious” by members of the critical orthodoxy that, by and large, prefers musicians and artists to remain firmly inside the box into which they’ve been interred. Walker has never been one to conform to anyone’s expectations and having been in the game this long, he’s not about to start now.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Elvis Costello My Aim Is True

Elvis has entered the building...

My Aim Is True Deluxe Edition
Elvis Costello

For an era obsessed with authenticity, Elvis Costello was about as fabricated as they came. A made-up name, a lot of lo-fi hype (remember all the Stiff slogans and his arrest outside the CBS London convention?) and those Clark Kent glasses. He always looked like a bit of a ringer in the rock’s industry's perpetual race to find the real deal.

Just 23 years old when this glorious debut album was first released in 1977, it may have been touted as part of the new wave but the vintage Rolling Stones vamping of “Miracle Man” or the splendid countrified kiss-curls of John McFee’s guitar on “Alison” suggests that rather than being part of the year zero movement, Costello was always something of a great pretender: ”New wave” was always a flag of convenience for a songwriter who’d been steadily refining his craft for the previous seven years.

Though Nick Lowe’s sparse production fitted with the back-to-basics ethos that was in the iar at the time, it was more pragmatic than politic as the budget simply wouldn’t stretch to anything more lavish.

When it comes to these kinds of reissues, record labels are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Reissued in 2001 with a hefty plethora of bonus material, it could be argued that this 30 year anniversary tie-in is nothing more than a cynical attempt to milk more moolah from the long-suffering fan.

Set against this however is that of the 48 tracks in this set, (including demos, sound checks and a full gig) 29 of them are previously unreleased or new to CD. Other than the limited-release Live At The El Mocambo, this splenetic outing by Elvis and the newly formed Attractions at the Nashville Rooms in 1977 (just a couple of months after forming) marks the first official release of a complete Costello concert.

Though the sound may be rough and ready and the performances by the band a touch shaky, but the trailblazing quality of the writing transcends it all.

The sullen glower “Blame It On Cain” and a terrific “Lipstick Vogue” (later found on This Year’s Model) are real highpoints, along with an impromptu and wistful solo rendition of “Hoover Factory”, added when bassist Bruce Thomas snaps a string. It’s proof of Elvis’ crowd control that he can quell any restless punters with a song about longing, life and art-deco architecture!

His aim is still true after all these years. Brilliant stuff.

Street Life LXXXV

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

TV Remote IV

Meet On The Ledge
The surprise hit chat show in which guests are taken up a mountain range to talk about their life and be confronted by their own mortality. The guest dangling at the end of presenter David Coverdale's rope this week is fashion guru, Dame Vivienne Westwood. Gripping.

The Confidence Of Youth & The Consequence Of Age

Last night I went round to Bernard and Lesley's house so see Errin before she goes off to university. Both Errin and her brother, Isaac, are frighteningly confident when it comes to expressing themselves.

They showed me a movie each of them had made during the summer. Both of them were so image-literate and edited with a great sense of timing. Bernard and I, who had artistic aspirations when we were their age, could only dream about the kind of facilities that Errin and Isaac have at the fingertips!

This morning I went out for a brisk walk into the town centre and waited for the shops to open.

It's a good time to get some thinking done: pondering over deadlines, identifying problems, working out solutions and most important of all, figuring out what the family is going to eat this evening.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yes Live At Montreux 2003

Good vibrations

Live At Montreux 2003

Eagle Records

Amounting to a superbly executed greatest hits package, this audio-only companion to the recently issued dvd of the same gig shows Yes coasting rather than getting close to the cutting edge of yore.

Their carefully crafted musical mixture of one third absurd to two thirds reckless ambition, still creates some hair-raising moments as the thunderous reception to "Heart of the Sunrise" or the awesomely majestic "Awaken" ably demonstrate. Later material (Magnification) pales in comparison to the vintage stuff which makes up the bulk of this crowd-pleasing set.

Resting somewhat on their laurels now, the individuals behind the music can still dazzle without recourse to their dull and tired solo slots (OK guys – we know you can play already!). Squire's serpentine rumblings growl and prowl to great effect, whilst Steve Howe’s intricate licks retain their incisive flair.

What is truly intriguing about this release however, is the strength and purity of Jon Anderson's vocal delivery. How does he maintain the clarity of that nut-clenching register after over 30 years of banging on about sharp distances, total masses and high vibrations?


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