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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mahogony Frog DO 5

Going against the grain…
DO 5
Mahogany Frog
Moonjune Records
Coming across like Gentle Giant on steroids at times, Canadian quartet, Mahagony Frog seem determined to use every single vintage instrument weapon in their analogue-synth arsenal.

Akin to taking a high-speed tour through the high and low points of 70s prog, the effect can be both exhilarating one minute and overdone the next. There are occasional surprises such as at the climax of their eleven minute opus "T-Tigers & Toasters," which lurches into startling Jesu-like feedback-driven drones. Such impact is immediately set aside by the Spaghetti Western-style intro to "Last Stand At Fisher Farm" which follows. Such conflicting judgements seem the result of a collective polyglot mind gone mad.

Frenetic throughout, there are some genuinely interesting ideas such as the stately brass figures on "Loveset," quietly simmering beneath and between the overbearing bombast that embodies much of what Mahogany Frog are attempting.

Sometimes though, the clever thing is what you leave out as opposed to how much you pack in.

Bargain Hunt

A trip out today with Bernard and Lesley up to Thomas Miller's auction rooms. The firm used to be based up in Newcastle's Gallowgate and many moons ago (ie sometime in the 1980s) I used to pop in and occasionally buy an item or two. In recent times they've moved out of Newcastle and headed east to Byker and now occupy the old Ringtons Tea Factory.

It's good to see this piece of 1920s modernism in use. If you check the Ringtons website and scroll along the time line to 1926 you can see the building in its heyday. It would have been an intensely cutting-edge construction in Byker at the time (along with the nearby Odeon) given that the bulk of Byker was made from Tyneside flats that had gone in the 19th Century. A dodgy battery on the camera meant I only got these two snaps as we approached the entrance but inside there are lots of period features which, if you like that kind of thing, are rather nice.

In the UK there are so many daytime TV programmes based around things going to auction right now I imagine auctioneers are having something of a boom. Certainly judging by the amount of punters perusing anything from CDs to sideboards that would seem to be the case. There were a couple of lots I was interested in but not being able to attend the actual auction next week had to make do with leaving a written bid with a member of the staff.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


First time on CD for Brass Rock might-have-beens

Refugees from a failing UK R&B scene, the six-piece Satisfaction hooked up with producer David Hitchcock to try their hand at the progressive movement in1971. Failing to make any impact they duly went their separate ways. However, the vaguely jazzy undertow makes this album worth revisiting.

Though the writing is sometimes awkward there’s nevertheless some top-notch soloing to enjoy. This unevenness is epitomised by "Just Lay Back and Enjoy It." What begins as a funky but clunky mix-up between the Doobies and Chicago gives way to an introspective flute-orientated interlude which seems at odds with the innuendo-laden lyric. Patience pays dividends as Mike Cotton’s following flugelhorn punches through the charts.

Best of all is the spooky and edgy, "Sharing", recently featured on the Decca retrospective, Strange Pleasures. It’s a great example of where they get the feel just right rather than picking up some of the more ill-fitting threads of the period. Rounded off with some non-descript bonus singles you can hear why Satisfaction were consigned to oblivion. Yet for all its many limitations they're a classy act whose bell-like brass cadences and incisive arrangements deliver the goods more times than not.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DFA 4th

No pale imitation…
Moonjune Records

If you heard this album without being told who it was, even the most cursory knowledge of the Canterbury scene would lead you to conclude that you were being treated to some long-lost or previously unheard project by National Health or Gilgamesh.

So close to the feel and instrumentation of that genre as to be virtually indistinguishable from the originals, DFA’s drummer and principal composer, Alberto de Grandis clearly revels in the complex and time-shifting writing usually associated with Dave Stewart, Alan Gowen et al.

Lacking the self-deprecating charm that was a hallmark of those earlier Canterbury bands, the slightly po-faced prog-fusion aspect tends to dominate but happily without overpowering the more delicate and nuanced material.

The enticingly ornate “La Ballata De S’isposa ‘E Mannorri” is augmented by a trio of singers (their very own Northettes!) and a small string section, adding a passionate counterpoint to a track that incorporates traditional folk-like motifs and classical cadences.

Providing you can get past the sense of stylistic déjà vu that permeates the album, there are many surprisingly rewarding moments of great power and no small beauty.


Chris T called over today. Back in the 70s we used to sit around in his front room or my bedroom listening to the latest spins of the day. All of this was done in the sepulchral glow of the red lightbulb laced with the smoke of joss sticks. I think everyone we knew had a red lightbulb - it was our token throwback to psychedelic times and a way of letting one's alternative / counter-culture allegiances, ahem, shine forth.

We'd been talking about this stuff on the blower recently and when Chris said he still had the original light bulb in a draw I told him to bring it over for a photocall. It still works as well even after all this time. Though I was tempted to insert it into my desk lamp and grab a shot of its pokey glow I was worried I would turn it on and phttt! So here's the red lightbulb of our shared adolensce bubblewrapped for posterity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dusk Energies

On my way to the airport to meet a returning Debra...

At this time,
at this place
distance means nothing
in the high speed chase
of one love to another

Random Penguin 35

The cover shows a drawing of Vasko Popa by Mario Mascarelli, Belgrade

Monday, August 25, 2008

Testing For Buzz LXVIII 1968 And All That XIX

Martin Sharp's explosive rendition of Jimi Hendrix epitomised the vibrancy that was in the air at the time. I first came across this as an A3 poster with one of my sister's magazines that was in the house.

Sadly, I can't recall which one - possibly FAB 208? - but the dynamics contained in this work knocked me sideways. Actually it still does. I look at this and I want to hear some Hendrix.

Although I knew who Hendrix was (once again entirely thanks to my sister's superb musical tastes) the image represented something larger than a single person. It was a scene, a movement, a point of connection or stirring of kinship to something that was outside and alien but utterly exotic and attractive.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fleet Foxes

It’s Déjà Vu Again…
Fleet Foxes
Bella Union

The much-lauded arrival of Fleet Foxes and their brand of upbeat, swooning harmony-driven songs suggest mass musical appetites are more than ready for a return to the laid-back Laurel Canyon idylls of 40 years ago. Led by Robin Pecknold, and hailing from Seattle, their debut album has attracted favourable comparisons to old-timers such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash and perhaps inevitably Brian Wilson.

There are some irresistible moments on this record. Listening to the implacable pop backbeat of “Quiet Houses,” brimming with Byrds-like guitar trills, it’s impossible not to join in with the joyous chorus with a mile-wide grin like some newbie Evangelical. And it’s not just trademark American harmonies which suffuse the record. “Sun It Rises” quickly erupts into a folk-rock stomp that would not be out of place on an early Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention album.

The problem is that although the harmonies might well be soaring, sun-kissed and glorious (and they really are), for the most part the songs that make up the majority of the album don’t quite match up to the aural set-dressing, lacking the hair-raising intensity of their lovingly-referenced seminal musical forebears.

Still, anything that gives a new generation of punters permission explore those back-catalogue canyons can’t be all bad.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nirvana Local Anaesthetic

In search of a concept...
Local Anaesthetic

Nirvana’s Story of Simon Simopath (1967) is widely regarded as the first concept album in pop and rock proper, that is a fully developed and thematically inter-linked song cycle. Thus pedant pop-pickers, Sgt Pepper’s doesn’t count! Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos were ahead of the trend, beating the growing competition by several months. However by 1971 Campbell-Lyons was alone and though Local Anaesthetic is credited to Nirvana, it’s really a solo album in a band’s clothing.

So what’s it all about? Campbell-Lyons’ prosaic liner notes give little away but the deranged cry at the start of the 16 minute "Modus Operandi" suggests a mind teetering on the brink. Along with the 19 minute long Home, the album leaps from rock, boogie, baroque pop, folk, jazz, sub-"Hey Jude" style extemporisation, atonal caterwauling, ersatz ethnic rhythms like a demented grasshopper.

Essentially a sequence of disparate snippets whose unifying factor is their presentation as side-long pieces, this is a sprawling, hammy and often messy, tour though a maverick pop mind.

Hailing from a time when album covers were often just as evocative as their contents, the startling eerie gatefold designed by Keef is one of the best, and once again top marks go to Repertoire for their effective reproduction.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Home And Away

Last night Debbie woke up and found me in the corner of the room feeling at the wall. She thought I was sleep walking but I'd woken up needing to get to the toilet and had thought I was still in my hotel room in New York and was looking for the door to the bathroom. Thank God that in my befuddled state I hadn't got out of bed, opened the cupboard door and let nature take its course!

The happiness at being at my being back home today was overshadowed today as it was Debbie's turn to leave town. She left to go down to Devon to meet up with our dear friends, Neil and Halina. Having been away from home for so long I didn't feel able to accompany her on this occasion. My sister Lesley swung by to whisk us all to Newcastle airport where I gave Debbie a big hug and said goodbye once again.

Today I listened again to King Crimson at Chicago's Park West on prior to making it available on DGMLive. Phenomenal stuff. I cranked up the sub-woofer on the surround sound to get that thump in the chest feel during the cymbal chokes of "Level Five." Hard to think that it's not quite two weeks since the band were playing this music in front of a jam-packed crowd.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It doesn't matter that my life flashed before me as the taxi driver on the way to JFK fell asleep at the wheel. It doesn't matter that I had to wait for nearly three hours at check-in and had to agitate my way to the front of the queue in order to get me and my luggage on the flight. It doesn't matter that the flight to the UK was turblent as hell or that Flybe charged me £45 for my "heavy" bag to accompany me from Gatwick to Newcastle. It doesn't matter that the taxi driver from Newcastle airport was a foul racist. It doesn't matter that I'm jet-lagged to buggery and my body doesn't know what the hell just happened back there. It doesn't matter because I'm home and here with Debra, the love of my life, and in the bosom of my family.

Random Penguin 34

Cover illustration by Kathy Wyatt

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New York Day Two: Big Apple Juiced

I opt to miss the get-in at the Nokia in order to catch up on the build-up of work and to talk with Debbie and the children on the blower. Consequently, my spirits are considerably lifted as I leave the hotel for the short walk to the venue. The sheer whump of New York that threatens to knock me off my feet. When walking along Broadway and into Times Square I begin to truly appreciate the achievement of Adrian Belew's lyrics to "Neurotica."

Of course it’s not the KC first song to have dealt with the Big Apple. Peter Sinfield wrote the words to “Pictures Of A City” about New York back in 1969 whilst on the band’s first visit to America. Whilst it offers a stark series of brutally effective jump cuts, “Neurotica” has a more finessed film maker’s eye to it, capturing the whirligig human zoo in all of its full surging fury and flight.

At the venue I find Bill, Biff and Ian hard at work.

There were gremlins in the sound system today with Ian, Biff and Bill, problem-solving and stripping out cables and connections until the punters started coming in.

I nestle down in the cramped but serviceable production office just behind the stage and rev things up on the laptop for an hour or so before heading back to the hotel to meet Robert. I don’t whether he’s early or I’m late but just as I arrive at the entrance the Fripp legs are “snapping like whip cords” as he might say.

As we walk he tells me that the very hotel we are in was the one that KC first stayed in on their first visit in 1969. Back then it was called Lowes (not sure about the spelling of that) and Robert chuckles about it not being quite up to the standards of today. He also tells me about the area’s notorious past as a nexus for narcotics and prostitution. Ah, happy days.

Back at the theatre the sound check is a fraught affair with monitoring problems and Tony’s rig plagued by intermittent spikes of unwanted hum. Yet in concert despite such obvious difficulties the music appeared more decisive than the first night in Philadelphia where it seemed assailed and blown off course by the technical shortcomings.

What makes for a good Crimson set? Is it an absence of cock-ups and clams or even their appearance? Is it volume? Is it the crowd? Is it whether or not you’ve had a particularly nice time with your friends or family prior to the gig? There are so many variables when it comes to assessing a performance. The nearest thing I can put it down to is presence; an ineffable, subjective, ephemeral state where things lock, mesh and join together, and in doing so create something larger and more far—reaching than the band itself. The first night in Chicago had that element in spades for me but not tonight.

A bonus for me tonight is meeting up with Chris Jones. Although we've chatted via email for a couple of years now this was the first time we'd actually met in person. Chris had flown across from London especially for the gig. He'd bought a ticket but I organised an aftershow pass for him where we managed to natter for a short while. Having arrived earlier that afternoon he was holding up far better under the jet-lag than I managed to.

I'm so juiced up I don't think I'm ever going to get to sleep.

Three In A Row VI: Frank Zappa

Waka Jawaka

Grand Wazoo
Over-Nite Sensation

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New York Day One: Arrive In Neurotica

Bags at the ready...

Lobby Call 2.00. There's packing to be done...

...and Ian Bond can fit just about anything into the boot...

including drummers...
We set off and eventually pick up the New Jersey turnpike. Even just saying "New Jersey turnpike" is to give voice to a mythological America that has been instilled in song in me since I was a kid. It's impossible not to mix-up the functional rather dull strip of motorway with some romantic odyssey. The same applies to that famous skyline.
Coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel we hit our desired spot on 8th Avenue. After a major panic in which I thought I'd lost my Amex card (but hadn't of course) whilst checking in, I decamp to my home for the next few days...

Meanwhile, outside...

Bill, Biff, Ian and myself go for a wander and end up in Times Square...

Later that evening...


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