Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Duke Spirit
You Are Here
Pop music never fails to amaze me. Its ability to reinvent and regurgitate itself,whilst simultaneously administering a form of critical anaesthesia that makes you to feel as though you’re hearing something for the first ever, is astonishing. How else do I explain the effect of The Duke Spirit’s new album upon me?
Objectively I know this is a collection of pop songs whose sentiments and sounds I’ve heard a million times before, yet within a second or two of bumping into “Send Me A Little Love Token”, it’s a case of love at first sight.
Of course, my racing pulse could be the result of too much caffeine but in truth it’s caused by the exhilaration of being caught off-guard, swept off my feet by the combination of throbbing bass, pounding drums, careering guitars and a sneering vocal that burns with the passions of conflicting emotions. Part of me is thinking how could I get taken in by this, and the other part is thinking how could I not?
If 2005’s Cuts Across The Land showed a young but ambitious group caught standing in the shadows of their musical heroes, Neptune sees them emerging out of the shade with a mature set that’s as powerful as it is energetic. The rush I experienced in those first few bars is also caused by being in the company of a band not only on their way, but on their way under their own steam. Sure the signposts of Sonic Youth, Pixies, et al can be glimpsed as the music hurtles along, but it’s blindingly obvious they’ve been digging deep to transcend those influences, to find their true voice, indeed, their true spirit.
This coming of age is due to hard graft, spending much of last year working the circuit in the
The chrome-retro pop of “The Step and The Walk” packs a pout for sure but has substance as well with singer Liela Moss providing a curiously beguiling vocal that avoids being crassly vampish but is nevertheless seductively intriguing.
Inevitably Moss will soak up much of the press attention that they undoubtedly deserve. However, it’d be mistake to underestimate or overlook the twin-guitar bite provided by Luke Ford and Dan Higgins on tracks such as “Into The Fold”: it may be under two and a half minutes but they know when to keep their powder dry and when to let it blast. Ditto the bluesy-glamed-up slice and dice on “This Ship Was Built To Last”.
We’ve all heard a lot of blink-and-you-miss-it Indie power-pop before but The Duke Spirit deliver a brass-laced sucker punch that’ll have you holding your jaw, wondering what hit you long after the records finished. Phew!
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Whether in his heyday with Stan Tracey or his jazz-rock stint in Nucleus, Bryan Spring always managed the paradoxical task of holding everything together whilst somehow contriving to throw it all up in the air. Based on this 2005 release it’s good to hear he’s lost none of that magical ability.
Crank up the volume on this beautifully recorded album and you can just about fool yourself that you’re in the room with Spring and long-standing partners, pianist Mark Edwards and bassist Andrew Cleyndert.
Skipping between the rolling bop of Joe Henderson’s Waltz For Zweetie, a waltz-infused Round Midnight, the film noir blues of Coltrane’s Equinox, or a driving rendition of Bill Evans’ The Opener, there’s a constant three-way interplay sizzling just below the surface of these standards, almost like a director’s commentary offering new insights on old themes.
A shame there’s not more original compositions as the two offered easily hold their own next to the great and good. Edwards’ stately Hymn, offers Cleyndert a sumptuous harmonic ground upon which his rich bass solo shines as one of the album’s stand-out moments. Cleydert repays the favour on a haunting take of McCoy Tyner's Wise One, as he provides a fixed point against which Spring and Edwards’ liminal textures shimmer like a heat haze in the distance.
Monday, January 28, 2008
These words spoken by Robert Kennedy in 1968 seem to have a special resonance at the moment.
"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product. For the gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of the carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for our people who break them. The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods, and the death of
And if the gross national product includes all of this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of public officials.... The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about
Sunday, January 27, 2008
A bit of a change of scenery for today’s rugby match. I got a lift from Rockcliff to Gosforth’s ground up by the airport with Michael’s dad. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve got to know each other but only by our son’s name and our relationship to them. So, I’m Joe’s dad, and there’s Dan’s dad and so on. So today we shook hands and Michael’s dad became Paul and I became Sid. Oh and Dan’s dad turns out to be Martin.
The game we watched turned out to something of a reality check for Rockcliff who’ve been on something of a winning streak these last few weeks. Gosforth were sleeker, fitter and handled the ball with deadly precision. Their first score came within minutes of the start and it didn’t really let up. Everytime Rockcliff tried to get a rhythm going they were either closed down or outrun, some of our team looked dazed by the speed of the opposition as they flew past them.
Now you might think Rockcliff would have thrown the towel in. Far from it. They came on for the second half and really started to work. Although they couldn’t win (we’d stopped keeping score they were so far behind), they began to slow Gosforth down, and forced them to make several mistakes which Rockcliff gamely tried to take advantage of.
Just as it looked as though it was going to be complete whitewash, they were really went up a notch and after a series of bruising, punishing encounters, Joe managed to crash over Gosforth’s line and score Rockcliff’s one and only try. Joe’s dad was very pleased with that result.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Elsewhere, I’m trying to up my reading offline. I spend far too much time in front of a computer screen. Were my camera working I would take a shot of the books that occupy the footrest in front of the sofa. Instead, this will have to do...
Tonight Debra and I are going out to the cinema to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days over at the Tyneside Cinema. We were there a couple of weeks ago to see Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth and it looks like we're making good our commitment to the movies at least once a month. I can't say I was overly impressed with the Coppola - it took a long time to tell you very little and was a too self-consciously ponderous. However, it's nice getting out and engaging with culture when you can.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been asked by three separate writers about the pros and cons of trying to get their books placed with a mainstream publisher. My take on it so far is that when it comes to the re-written and expanded KC biography, I think I’d rather go with the self-publishing options such as www.lulu.com.
One correspondent worried that this is really akin to vanity publishing and that such a book wouldn’t be regarded as being “serious” unless it authority was conferred upon it by carrying the imprint of a “name” publisher. Whilst there’s undoubtedly some truth in both those views, the internet has changed the landscape considerably. As in the music scene, not only are the means of production altered but the means of distribution have changed beyond all recognition.
Whilst its true that not everyone is comfortable with buying direct from the internet, or that your book will not be available to the impulse purchasing passer-by who’s ducked into the bookstore to get out of the rain, print on demand services at least offer the author an opportunity to get a better return for their time when it comes to royalties.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Close but no cigar…
Trio Of Doom
John McLaughlin/Jaco Pastorius/ Tony Williams
If it seems too good to be true that’s because it usually is. In theory putting these three giants of their respective fields together looks great on paper. In reality the outcome is really a glorified jam that is more about playing to the crowd rather than playing with each other.
With only 25 minutes allocated to them on an already crowded bill at a three day festival in
McLaughlin’s initial reaction about making the live tracks available at the time was “over my dead body!” Reconvening in
Had more time been available to these fine musicians to allow them to explore and develop suitable compositions and a way of working that goes beyond the blindingly obvious (see the John McLaughlin Trio ten years later) then who knows what might have been possible? Collectors only.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
What's interesting about this for me is the extent to which the poet was seen at that time to be socially and politically relevant to the youth culture of the day, that their was an expectation that the writer would be on the barricades.
40 years on, where have all the poets gone?
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Help! I’ve become a sad touchline Dad.
My symptoms include screaming encouragement to players who cannot possibly hear a word I’m saying, bellowing out unnecessary tactical advice and the kind of air-punching, eye-rolling and yes, occasional leaps into the air that suggest some kind of seizure is in the offing.
These dread manifestations are at their most obvious whenever I attend Joseph’s rugby matches for Rockcliff. Happily there are other sufferers lending their symptoms, sorry I mean support, to the team. However this can makes things worse as we can end up egging each other on, pushing our exhortations and other exclamations to even greater depths of uninhibited displays of vicarious wish fulfilment and subconscious projection.
Even worse than all of the above, is the tendency to start telling people about the game without the slightest provocation. It was a tough match with Ashington really applying the pressure, yet Rockcliff pulled ahead and eventually won the day with a combination of experience and excellent team play. It’s marvellous to see them communicating as they enter rucks, line-outs and scrums. Not only do they have a sense of purpose but they know how to get the results. The fact that they are able to do so with loudly animated fools like me on the edges of the game is a testament to their concentration and training.
Afterwards I learned that Rockcliff are in a cup game next week. When this was mentioned to me, I could feel myself going all wide-eyed. “That’s great!” I hissed zealously through clenched teeth in much the same way I imagine barbarian warlords must have received the news that the walls of ancient
Needless to say I haven’t a clue what the cup in question is. Equally needless to say, I’ll be there next week yelling and screaming as my illness dictates.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Today has been spent with Debra shopping for food, preparing and cooking for our guests tonight. Given that we’ve been passing each other like ships in the night, we savoured the time spent with each other today, chatting in the kitchen, drinking tea, singing along to music, putting the world to rights.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Blue Memphis Suite
Maison De Blues
When veteran blues singer and pianist Peter Chatman – better known as Memphis Slim - wound up in
What emerged was a tightly constructed and beautifully orchestrated18 minute long autobiography that occupied one side of the original album. It’s a seamless run-thorough of Memphis Slim’s early trials and tribulations as a blues musician and, as is often the way, the hard lessons of life and love. His vocals and generous playing dominate though incisive licks from some of the sessioneers previously mentioned make it a close run thing: Peter Green’s work is amongst his jaw-dropping best.
There’s also wry warmth and humour throughout. “I was getting paid weekly, very weakly” deadpans Slim, whilst elsewhere there’s a Hollywood style passage of time montage as the horn section quotes “Chicago, Chicago that toddling town” as Slim’s train rolls into town. “Wind Gonna Rise” which closes the suite, is a hair-raising coda as the singer hopes for redemption and an end to his sorry troubles.
The lot of the blues singer is explored in greater detail in the elegiac “Otis Spann And Earl Hooker” opines the fact that these giants of the genre will be unlikely to receive their due respect in either life or death. Chatman’s attentions were also occupied by the politics of the day. The police violence witnessed in
Reissued in 2006 with its new title and two fine bonus tracks, this is an expansive blast of blues that effortless transcends the pitfalls of a superstar jam session which the stellar cast may imply. Tight, focused and disciplined throughout, there’s not a stray or unnecessary note to be found thanks to Motown arranger Jerry Long’s charts and the guiding hand of producer Phiippe Rault. First rate!
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Slow Music Project
In between his on-stage stints as REM’s drummer, multi-instrumentalist Bill Rieflin has always found time for some engaging projects. These include his fine solo album of superior Sylvian-twisted songs, Birth of a Giant, the retro chamber pop miniaturism of Largo (with ex-Ministry / Revolting Cock, Chris Connelly), the jagged improv-rock of Repercussions Of Angelic Behaviour (the best King Crimson projeKct KC never did), as well as frequent stints with UK alt pop jangler, Robyn Hitchcock.
Never one to sit still for long, in 2005 his latest side project, Slow Music, made a one-off live appearance and recorded a short but sweet debut album of entirely improvised music.
Having enjoyed the remarkably egoless experience so much, REM’s Peter Buck, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, bassist Fred Chalenor, keyboard player Hector Zazou, drummer Matt Chamberlain reconvened under Rieflin’s directorship in 2006 to undertake a short tour of West Coast USA.
Working within the constraints of Slow Music’s guiding principles - the music would be entirely improvised, that it should take time to explore emergent ideas, and participants resist the urge to fill in the gaps – the result is surprisingly reminiscent of the pointillistic output of the UK improvised music scene of the 70s and 80s.
The mood throughout the two sets which form this album is cautious and reflective as the players listen intently. Governed by short interactions, sporadic dabs of notes and timbre are smeared, rubbed and occasionally dropped onto the overall picture.
It’s probably pointless to single out the activities of individuals but Fred Chalenor’s exquisite acoustic bass is a masterclass in good taste and Matt Chamberlain’s ruminations on the drums accentuates or underscore the action rather than feeling the need to push the moment along. The second set’s percussive explorations and occasional jolts offer a more forceful dynamic enabling Peter Buck to soar away on some old-school glissando guitar.
Though the overall mood created by this electro-acoustic hybrid may be sedate, you won't find it lacking in either intensity or drama. The combination of a group in search of their collective muse, ably supported by an extremely attentive audience, provides the listener with an embarrassment of riches.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I’m sure I can’t be the only person who greeted the prospect of Michael Portillo being taken to within an inch of death’s door, as part of BBC2’s How to Kill a Human Being with a malicious relish.
Of course those of us watching the results of the 1997 General Election in 1997 have already witnessed his political death when this arch Right wing Thatcherite was swept aside in Labour’s landslide victory, memorably documented in Brian Cathcart’s Were You Up For Portillo? To say that he was the most detested figure in British politics in the last 30 years - second only to his boss, Mrs. Thatcher - is no exaggeration.
Having subsequently abandoned party politics, Portillo’s rehabilitation has seen him become a right of centre commentator in print, radio, and in more recent times a string of appearances as a television presenter. Tonight he was earnestly questing for the most humane method of capital punishment.
Having voted for the death penalty in his early term of public office, he, ahem, swung the other way on the basis that too many people initially convicted had since been proven to be innocent.
Despite attempts to dress this up as a quasi-scientific enquiry, this was in effect rubbernecking TV. We were held in ghoulish fascination as the mechanics of execution was carefully explained to us by a succession of increasingly younger boffins. The scientist charged with the job of showing us the effects of death by electric chair (using an already dead pig) looked to be about 12 years old. Does his mother know what’s he up to of an evening?
At each turn Portillo looked and sounded suitably disgusted as the gruesome shortcomings of each method were exposed.
More worrying perhaps was the view expressed by the inventor of the lethal injection method who reckoned that if the inmate suffered a little in his or her final moments, so what? Similarly, after finding found that chemically-induced hypoxia was proven not only to be utterly painless but that it was accompanied by a euphoric rush, another pro-death expert angrily denounced this method, squawking “Punishment is meant to hurt!”
Ultimately, Michael's "journey" as they kept calling it, was not a serious investigation into the morals of capital punishment. As entertaining as it was seeing the man exposed to CS gas and its nauseous aftershocks, experiencing hypoxia and only being seconds away from death, it left too many questions unresolved or even unasked.
Rather, it was a splendid example of voodoo –doll, wish-fulfilment television. Imagine what the ratings might be if they were able to persuade Baroness Thatcher to explore the merits of euthanasia first hand?Now that’s what I call euphoria!
Thanks to the BBC iPlayer you can watch it all again for the next seven days
Monday, January 14, 2008
The Champions was a high gloss addition to my television viewing in 1968. Even at that age I found the opening titles way too corny but soldiered on because of the action therein. These secret agents were augmented with special powers given to them by a lost civilisation after their plane crashed in
Blessed with increased muscle strength, raised levels of perception, and a touch of telepathy, they bravely waded through the stiff scripts and unlikely scenarios with the admirable stoicism of people accepting a paycheck whilst praying it doesn’t kill their career. Whenever their powers manifested it was accompanied by a shimmering tape-loop effect which gave me almost as many shivers as watching Alexandra Bastedo.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
With such good team game it seems churlish perhaps to single out Joe but despite his feeling unwell (he produced two technicolor yawns at the start of the match!) he gained lots of valuable yards for the team.
Here he is leading the charge after a scrum and heading for North Shield's line.
Despite North Shields throwing more than half a dozen players on him, Joe managed to not only stay upright...
...but with the help of a few of his team mates pushing him on from behind, he managed to keep going forward.
Eventually, the sprawling mass of arms, legs and choice language wheeled off the field and into a clutch of alarmed spectators. However, at the end of it all, Joe still had a tight grip of the ball.
Rockcliff won the day with Joe scoring the last try of the match. Needless to say I was hoarse from all the "C'mon, Joe!" style shouting. A couple of his team mates have nick-named him "the snowplough" which Joe is rather taken with.
The downside of the match is that during the excitement of that particular ruck I managed to jam the on/off button of my camera into a permanent state of limbo. Thus the last pic above was the last snap of the day, and so far the little mechanism shows no signs of willingness to help me document the daily minutia of life here in the Yellow Room.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
As well as enjoying the music - and a good choice of material - we both liked the cover of the record which showed that the DSQ had a wry sense of humour about the Soft Machine.
Here's their cover...
and the photograph on which it was based...
and in 1974, two Soft Machine fans were practising their own versions of this walkabout...
Yes dear reader, we were so sad and besotted by the uber-hipness of the Softs, we actually spent time practising walking like members of this innovative jazz-rock combo. Clearly, I was going for a Hopper or a Dean but end up falling between two Softs. Chris however has stolen the limelight with a perfect recreation of the Wyatt stride.
The photograph of the Soft Machine en route was scanned directly from this book...
...which Chris bought back in 1970 or thereabouts. Without access to the internet, if you wanted to get hot under the collar about Soft Machine's bohemian-vibe coolness at the time you only had the album covers, occasional articles in the press and this book. One of the most exciting things about the book, aside from this portrait of Hugh Hopper...
...were the titles to pieces by the band that we'd never heard of. You've got to remember that back then there weren't the plethora of archive live albums there are today. So mystery surround some of the contents page. Chris and I still get a buzz from looking at all this itchy and scratchy music.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
What Goes Around Comes Around...
released 5th February
Listening to Kelley Stoltz’s fourth album is akin to perusing the racks of the
The aptly titled album suggests that pop is forever feeding itself in a never-ending, self-referential orgy, simultaneously breaking and reinventing the wheel many times over. Accepting that there’s nothing new under the sun nevertheless the question facing these 14 songs is whether they stand up in their own right or rely too heavily on the crutch of post-modern know-how in order to gain our support?
Mostly they do. Stoltz succeeds because of a lightness of touch that’s disarming and agreeably quirky. Despite the intentional rough edges and faux naiveté that have been carefully layered into the production in order to retain his coveted status as “bedroom auteur”, these songs have been pampered and primped to perfection. Whilst there’s more than a hint of train-spotter swottiness, Stoltz largely avoids being too smug at having so successfully packed the album chockfull of musical references and in-jokes.
The usual suspects gaze back at us as they stand against the wall of the folk-rock, psychedelic garage: Brian Wilson,(on the perky opener “Everything Begins”) the Velvets (“Birmingham Eccentric”).“Gardenia” evokes the saturated summers of Pink Floyd’s Relics, and fast-forwarding slightly, there’s the tiniest, sneakiest nod towards Here Come The Warm Jets at the end of “Tintinnabulation.”
If that smacks of being a touch too modern for a terminal nostalgist such as Stoltz, just remember that Eno’s debut is now well over 30 years old and that the 70s will soon be the new 60s.
Monday, January 07, 2008
I’ve written elsewhere on the blog about the impact that the footage of this execution had upon me as a kid in 1968. The blunt unblinking power of witnessing this scene during Tony Palmer’s BBC documentary, All My Loving, rattled me to the core. "Though I tried very hard at the time I don't think I ever made it back to the cocoon of my childhood world."
Sunday, January 06, 2008
What is required to move things forward?
Somebody offers something up and you either bat it away in order to continue in your haven of bunker mentality or accept the compromise and move forward.
A truce doesn’t always lead to peace but it can create the space and momentum to work on a solution, a pause from the negativity and in that moment the chance for recovery?
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Friday, January 04, 2008
The grim weather we've had over the last couple of days subsided long enough for me to exchange the comfort of the yellow room and head off to Bernardstrasse to say hi to Bernard, my collaborator on the graphic novel.
As you can see, the essential tools of the writer and artist were lined up.
We're working on the structure of the first part of the book. Brain-storming the master scenes and then adding the elements which need to be covered or referred to, we made good progress.
It was called The Scent Of Cinnamon but we've agreed to drop that as being too cumbersome. Sometimes you need a name to get things moving and once in motion it can be discarded. We'll be keeping an eye out for the name proper but in the meantime I'm still calling it by its working title.
Bernard then mapped out some rough ideas for the opening sequence which at the moment begins in a newsreel theatre. After a couple of hours we'd done what we needed to do.
Meanwhile back home, I was confronted with this masked crusader...