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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cat Burglars

A lovely evening out with Debra's family last night. Her auntie Dilys is staying this week with her friend, Merrie. At their invitation, we popped out to Cullercoats for a bite to eat, bringing Debra's mum, Doris along to enjoy the fun.

Back home and a very quick slide into oblivion.

I was up much too early this morning - a combination of too many ideas in my head and feeling somewhat addled possibly as a result of eating too many mussels last night. Down in the kitchen I was horrified to see we'd been visited by burglars as we slept.

I rushed upstairs to consult with Debra who quickly admitted she hadn't closed the cupboard door properly.

Seizing the opportunity, the thieves struck like, well, thieves in the night.

They clearly knew what they were after, ignoring the priceless pan scourer and going instead straight for hard stuff.

The usual suspects were later rounded up but despite rigorous interrogations, said nothing. Mind you, I swear I heard Ginger Bob whisper to Baby Wilson - "Mmmm, the purrfect crime" as I started the cleaning up operation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hugh Hopper Numero D'Vol

Softly Does It...

Numero D’Vol Hugh Hopper/Simon Picard/Steve Franklin/Charles Hayward
Moonjune Records

Hugh Hopper knows enough about the worlds of improvisation and strict composition having been at the cutting edge of such things in the 60s and early 70s with Soft Machine and numerous jazz rock outfits since.

This latest group improv project, featuring a fantastically on-form Simon Picard on saxes, sounds a remarkably arranged and considered affair. Whether this is the product of judicious editing after the fact or the telepathic talents gathered around the venerable bassist matters not. The smouldering title track opening the album sets the bar about as high as it could go.

Grooves abound with some sterling though restrained work from ex-This Heat maestro, Charles Hayward, keeping things sprightly and his fellow band members on their toes. Picard’s deft playing is forever searching out nuances and inspired harmonic gambits around Hopper’s anchor and the textural adornments of Steve Franklin’s array of keyboards and synth-splashes.

Group improvisation can always something of a hit and miss affair. By keeping to a kind of modal middle-ground, the ensemble’s hit rate is pretty high, resulting in some strongly assertive and melodic interplay.

Hardcore improv-fans will want something more angular and adventurous but the record’s overall accessibility makes it a perfect primer for newcomers who’ve heard some Soft Machine and want to cautiously branch out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Good Vibrations

I took part in a spot of market research this morning for what used to be euphemistically known as a “marital aid.” Somewhat disappointingly, I wasn’t required to apply this soon-to-be-available product to any portion of a handy anatomy but merely to tick some boxes on a computer screen. On my way there I bumped into a sandwich-saddled Chris Wilson and a bicycling Steve Cowgill.

Later in the day I headed off to Newcastle. They’ve added some signage at Whitley Bay’s Metro station delving into the history of the place.

On closer inspection I notice our street gets a name check.

On even closer inspection I notice the panels were designed by none other than worldwide Willy.

After undertaking some research and ridiculously early (for me) Christmas present shopping I moved downtown to meet up with John Sargent. Before going to our usual meeting place (The Bridge Hotel) I called in to Newcastle’s St. Nicholas Cathedral to pause a while and send good vibes to a couple of people who need it.

Then some major chinwagging with Johnny.

Street Life XCII

Testing For Buzz XVI: The Trigan Empire

Key words and phrases associated with this item include:
Don Lawrence, Ranger Magazine For Boys, Look And Learn, opulent art, "a fantastic collision of the Roman Empire, WW2 surplus artillery and epic sci-fi civilisations," Trigo, Bragg and Klud, a classic strip every week. 1965.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Handyside Arcade’s Place In The Cultural Revolution

This footage from Pathe news works on so many levels. Corny, clichéd and cringe-making it may be but it does contain some counter-culture gold dust.

Centred around Intro – a short-lived cash-in magazine – it offers a quick guide to the 60s youth scene. Originally shown in cinemas around the country this might explain why it includes a trip to a trendy swinging hotspot in Manchester and some brief and incredibly rare footage of Newcastle’s Handyside Arcade - – a fabled place of my own youth which I’ve mentioned before on the blog and is of course, no longer standing.

The amount of times I get visitors to this site looking for material about the Handyside is phenomenal. (Here's a quick snapshot and some musing upon its disappearance) There is so little information, photographs or footage in existence during its heyday, hence my excitement at stumbling across this mini-feature.

And for the non-Newcastle seeking visitors, there’s plenty of treats. Artist Paul Whitehead getting psychedelic with a car, footage of The Speakeasy and The Scotch of St. James clubs in London, Yoko Ono (or a lookalike) digging advanced mathematics and even dear old Damon Albarn’s dad, Keith, doing daft things with inflatable arts and a happening. Yeah, Baby!

I’d never heard of Intro magazine so if anyone out there has any further information please let me know. And now, onto our main feature.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ummagumma Pink Floyd

Careful With That Razor Blade Rog...

Pink Floyd

On those odd occasions when asked to name my favourite Floyd album, this is the one I’ll unwaveringly point to. With one album of classic live cuts and another comprised of individual studio projects of varying degrees of indulgence, it’s a perfect example of why less is more and why more is nearly always too much.

That it has remained a favourite all these years can largely be laid at the door of one track – the definitive reading of Syd Barrett’s fey sci-fi drama, “Astronomy Domine.” Beneath the trippy original, there was a yearning to break free of the line tethering them to the too-tame pop music of the day. This version more than achieves that, floating off into an extended organ solo that seemingly represents the last gasp of Floyd’s psychedelic naiveté; a sensuous meandering dance eventually buried beneath the more direct and brutal guitars of the Underground scene as it geared up to go heavy with a capital H.

Whilst the messy Heath-Robinson rattling of the studio album remains an easy target, I nevertheless retain an irrational fondness for their nutty enthusiasms and spasms of rickety-rackety brilliance that occasionally erupt therein.

Rick Wright’s desire for what he called “real music” spurred this frenzy of tape-cutting music concrète japery and inflated avant-garde posturing. The trouble is it comes across as the exact opposite of self-expression. Guarded and defensive, they hid behind a series of patently artificial constructs. Each section is little more than the sound of four blokes flapping around rather than coming up with much in the way that actually flies. As Nick Mason ruefully observed in Inside Out, his personal history of the band, “the parts were not as great as the sum.”

Ironically, it’s the straightest of the tracks (“Grantchester Meadows” and the final portion of “The Narrow Way”) that work best and reveal more about their respective authors than any of the sonic masquerade swirling about them.

It’s probably a matter of some relief that they just about got this out of their system when they did, Atom Heart Mother notwithstanding. Had Ummagumma been released just a couple of years later, the solo outings would have burgeoned to a side apiece making it a triple album affair. With mega-star status still a little way off, they have to make do with half a side each and for this we give thanks.

Appropriately enough for an album whose cover is of the band endlessly receding into an infinitely recurring universe, Ummagumma captures the point when Pink Floyd broke free of its past and finally disappeared up its own arse.

Nevertheless what I hear on the glorious live album and even on its stilted studio partner is a notion of adventure, a commodity which would later be in short supply. For all its awkwardness and mannered modes, I’m glad they did it and I still prefer to reach for its uneven mish-mash rather than the cultural overload of Water’s Ça Ira or to listen to Dave Gilmour sleepwalking his way around On An Island.


A busy morning came to an end when I upped sticks and joined Bernard and Lesley for a trip into Jesmond and to Shiners - the very best place for door furniture and more besides.

I picked this little beauty up for our front door...

Joy unconfined upon our return to discover that Debra had been busy in the kitchen.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Tribute To Bill Graham Who Died On This Date In 1991

The story so far…

Our hero John S. Simon has been initiated into a Hell’s Angels chapter, indulged in a life of petty crime, drug taking, communal life, free love and roadying for The Grateful Dead. We join him in The Carousel ballroom where for the last six months he’s been painting a gigantic mural. Tragically for John, the Carousel had just changed hands and was under the direction of its new owner, Bill Graham, and was about to reopen as the Fillmore West.

Now read on...

Bill Graham took the place over just four days short of my mural’s completion. He told me he’d pay me well if I’d complete it, so I did. The money which might been gained was really of little importance, since my work had taken on the aspect of a spiritually orientated piece of art. However, I’d invested a hundred dollars into the paints and brushes and decided to ask for this very modest figure. I was sure Graham would give me a hundred bucks for a masterpiece that had taken six months to create.

When I came to collect a day after the mural’s completion, Graham stood in front of my painting with his eyes on the wall and a hand in his wallet pocket.

After studying it a few moments, he said, “What are you asking for it?”

“Well, to me it’s priceless. I find it hard to put a price on my art but over the months I’ve invested a hundred dollars into the paints I needed and I’d be satisfied with that. Just to break even,” I answered.

“A hundred dollars! To date how much have the Dead paid you for it?”

“They never did get out of the hole,” I said. “I haven’t been paid a cent so far.”

“What! You worked under the Dead six months without pay and now you have the gall to stand here ask me for a hundred dollars after working only four days?What do you take me for, some kind of fool?”

I was left speechless. Since I didn’t possess any written agreement stating that I’d be paid, Graham had me by the balls and we both knew it.

He finished by saying, “I’ll give you fifty dollars for it.”

I followed him back to his office while he wrote out a check. I bet he’s another Capricorn, I thought as I cashed it across the street. Now I understand why most artists were dressed in rags.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Centrozoon Lovefield

Field of dreams...


Has it really been seven years since Centrozoon’s Blast was first released? Not surprisingly, keyboard and synthetic percussionist Bernhard Wostheinrich and touch guitarist Markus Reuter have come a long way since then.

Morphing through the fringes of post-rock moodiness with No Man vocalist, Tim Bowness, (and their superb Never Trust The Way You Are) to the soaring climes of last year’s Bill Munyon-produced Angel Liquor, the core duo continue to cut a distinctive path through a field that is often overcrowded and lack-lustre.

Restlessness is very much in the dominant ethic here as they sift through the microtones, hybrid harmonies and splashes like a couple of old-timers prospecting for gold.

The real core of the album unfolds over the first three lengthy tracks, revealing constellation of sounds which appear to owe more to the free improv scene of the 70s in terms of its organisation than traditional electronic music production.

Rather than being a cerebral exercise in outré programming there’s real heart to what Centrozoon do: Reuter’s adoption of clean guitar lines adds a pin-sharp clarity to a genre that can so easily tend towards wooliness and cosmic ambiguity. Indeed the guitarist is currently enjoying something of a renaissance with exciting collaborations with the likes of King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto and chilled-vibes guru, Robert Rich.

Improvisation is always a risky business, and whilst not everything tackled here succeeds (the final two tracks have a provisional out-takes feel to them), by and large the listener is carried along on their inquisitive journey.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this album and their debut is the extent to which they’ve relaxed as players with nothing to prove and at ease with themselves, shedding a certain sophomore stiffness. In the midst of rising to the changes and challenges over the years, dedicating Lovefield to Mike Oldfield shows that the famous German sense of humour remains wackily intact.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Street Life XCI

Testing For Buzz XV:Basho

Key words and phrases associated with this item include:
"an opening up of my small provincial world," grace and beauty, Jack Kerouac of the 1600s, hospital reading, "introduced to me be a student teacher", absorbing, uplifting, "my first haiku," travelogue, poetry as time machine, appreciation of the importance of silence.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

This Sporting Life I

Despite England's defeat in yesterday's Rugby world cup final, and a recent injury, Joe's appetite for the game remains undiminished. Somewhere in this lot, my son scrummed, rucked and ran his heart out for his team. Like England before them, they lost but naturally he got the man of the match award from his proud touchline-bound dad.

Alan Yentob - No Thank You

"Are you talking to me?"

Remember those yellow bumper stickers and badges from the 70s and 80s that used to adorn rusty Citroen 2 CVs and the multi-coloured cardigans of anti-nuclear protesters? You know the ones I mean – “Nuclear Power? No Thank You!” I wish I could find an enterprising graphic designer who could mock-up a new generation that would read “Alan Yentob? – No Thank You”

Why so? It’s his infuriating habit of wandering into shot for no apparent reason. This practice goes beyond “noddies” - the usual post-production device of inserting the nodding head of the presenter just in case the viewing nation is gripped by amnesia and ensuing panic as we realise that we’ve forgotten who the hell is presenting the show.

No matter who the subject of his Imagine programme may be Yentob will be seen every couple of minutes. On the otherwise excellent show about Gilbert & George earlier this year we had to endure shots of the work in a gallery constantly “mediated” by his presence. It was as though their pictures were just too obscure for us poor saps to understand without Yentob’s reassuring presence soaking up their potentially harmful esoteric vibes emanating from their work. Ditto the show about Ron Mueck's work.

Nor am I the only one who is made uneasy by the gratuitous Yentob shot. David Byrne recently conveyed his unease at a close encounter and Patrick Wright's article from The Guardian many moons ago sums up the case against “presenter-led TV” far better than I can.

Today Yentob is being taken to task once again in the wake of last week’s revelations that he had inserted himself in Imagine’s recut of 30th Century Man, Stephen Kijak’s film about Scott Walker which the BBC co-funded.

Of course, the Murdoch-owned press have a vested interested in running anti-Beeb stories so perhaps we can take some of their indignation with a pinch of salt.

However anything that highlights those unnecessary and condescending appearances in arts programmes is one table-thumping witch hunt I can get behind. And after the Alan Yentob stickers and buttons, how about a pressing for “Jools Holland? No Thank You?” and his boogie-woogie stranglehold on adult orientated music shows on the BBC. Any takers?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Musical Guide To Pawn Hearts

Given my recent delving into the VdGG back catalogue, I’ve also been enjoying the newly published guide to VdGG’s masterpiece, Pawn Hearts. I met the author of this mind-boggling piece of musicology at the after-show party at VdGG’s reunion gig at the Royal Festival Hall in 2005. It was clear that Ricardo Odriozola was undertaking a huge task in exploring this labyrinthine piece of music.

A relative newcomer to the album (he first heard it in 1980) he’s certainly been making up for lost time with this exhaustive study that borders on obsession.

A good example of this is Ordriozola discovering that the return of the main theme of "Lemmings" happens within one second of that song’s golden section. This almost spooky occurrence wasn’t intentional as Hugh Banton admits to the author and only serves to deepen the sense of “out-thereness” which the album has in spades. I didn't know I needed to know any of this arcane stuff but I'm glad I now do, in a sad anorak kind of way.

As with Andrew Keeling’s excellent studies of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic and In The Wake of Poseidon, the fact that I have no technical knowledge of music didn’t present any obstacles to my enjoying his detailed annotations on just about every crochet hammered, plucked or blown during the record.

It’s a bit like being in the company of a slightly dotty expert enthusing about his chosen field of expertise. You don’t always understand everything they’re saying but you enjoy the general air of fervour surrounding them.

With a decent overview on the musical mores of the era, as well as contextual placing of the album within the band’s history, Ricardo shines a light onto the hidden architecture of this fabled record. An impressive achievement.

You can order the guide here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

That's What Friends Are For

I attended Marge Taberham’s funeral today. It was a Humanist ceremony (as was her husband’s funeral) and was a celebration of her life and times.

My abiding memory of her is laughter. She had a quick humour and even when in later years she struggled with various health issues she never moaned about her lot in life or the ills that had befallen her.

Afterwards we headed to the Buff’s club in Wallsend. This was where my father used to go of a weekend, taking my mother with him to the upstairs lounge on a Sunday evening.

The last time I was in this room I was with my mother after Eric’s funeral three years ago.

Back then my eyes were sore and watering from all the cigarette smoke that ignored the invisible boundaries of the “No Smoking” area. Today, we arrived and stayed put for several hours. After a while we were aware that there was something different about the place – the ban on smoking in public places. No sore eyes, no irritated throats, no after-stench clinging to one’s body and clothes. As a result we were happy to sit and talk.

The afternoon wore on. Bit by bit various members of the family and friends drifted off leaving Chris, Shep, Eric O and myself to chinwag as the afternoon turned to evening.

Various incarnations of this particular line-up have been chinwagging since the mid-70s. Older and (we like to think) wiser, much has changed in our respective lives over the years. Each one of us had lost either one or both of our parents. Some of us have been married, divorced, had children, embraced nieces and nephews, and tried to live (though sometimes not always as successfully as we would like) as reasonable, decent human beings.

Today Chris formally began a new phase of his life. Who better to be there with him as he takes those first steps?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Walk On The Dark Side

I have no idea why we started calling this part of Whitley Bay "the dark side" so many years ago, but that's what we call it. We often say things like "Oh, you'll need to go to the dark side to pick up (insert name of exotic household item)." So, today I needed to clear my head and walked past the main town centre, past St. Paul's (aka the dead centre of town - ho ho)...

and into the dark side proper...

These were taken around mid day. As you can see there's not an awful lot of shoppers beating down the doors of the numerous shopkeepers. Great if you're in a rush but I suspect it's probably bad news for the long term commercial prospects facing this little seaside town.

At the other end of town...

...empty of people but full of resonance for me


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