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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Don't Ask

The boys have been helping move some of the stuff from the yellow room back to its rightful place elsewhere in the house.

Somewhere along the way they find our Jay And Silent Bob wigs...

And later that evening...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chaos In Theory And Very Much In Practice

he yellow room is under seige from the forces of chaos. This time it's not my fault but the decanting of one room (our bedroom) into another (the yellow room).

Debra is always a marvel when it comes to things like this...

especially with her willing helper, Alys...

Over the course of a few hours the dynamic duo dismantle the bedroom and pile it up in here. Remarkably, I continue to work, letting Deb and Al do all the heavy lifting and ferrying of goods and items that have not seen the light of day for many a year.

Debbie is about to paint the bedroom ahead of the carpet fitter who is coming in next week. I love empty rooms and their altered acoustics - the sound of arrivals and departures...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

'Igginbottom 'Igginbottom's Wrench

Were it not for Alan Holdsworth’s deserved status as one of the most innovative guitarists to come out of the UK, it’s likely that this record would still be unnoticed, and as apparently as unloved as it was when first released in 1969.

There are occasional glimpses of the fleet-fingered legato style for which Holdsworth would become famous, but it lacks the fluidity he would find just a couple of years later in the likes of Tempest and Ian Carr’s Belladonna album.

Nevertheless, even in these early flourishes you can hear why some sat up and took notice. As Ronnie Scott observes in his liner endorsement at the time “although they love jazz music and Coltrane in particular I can’t detect allegiance to any particular jazz musician in their work.”

The mood is fairly laid back throughout, with the material possessing a slightly abstract, drifting quality which meant forsaking the more demonstrative rock dynamics that were flexing the musical muscles of their contemporaries in the emergent Underground scene.

Holdsworth handles most of the vocals with a lugubrious, late-night Mel Torme vibe. Despite the dated subject matter - the meaning of life, mysterious ladies, and interstellar travel loom large here - the results are graceful and not unappealing.

Aside from one ill-advised excursion into Moody Blues-style cringe-inducing poetry, and a rhythm section which occasionally struggles with the ambitious nature of the compositions, there are some harmonically intriguing and exciting passages to be encountered.

When second guitarist Steven Robinson and Holdsworth’s twin-lead work combines it makes for a spiky striking, distinctive sound on tracks such as The Witch and Sweet Dry Biscuits and the impressionistic, languid world of Golden Lakes.

Scott was right about the group not belonging to any single jazz camp, a judgement which certainly applies to the other end of the spectrum in which ‘Igginbottom exisited. Despite an appetite for bold experimentation that was beginning to be seen in 1969 , 'Igginbottom were just too jazzy for the rock scene, and, ironically probably not “authentic” enough for the jazz scene. Falling between these two worlds was enough to guarantee them a ticket to obscurity, albeit an undeserved one.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Espers III

Let's get lost...
Witchita Recordings

Since 2002, Philadelphia-based outfit Espers have maintained a discreet holding pattern whose languid orbit has taken them through the tail-end of late-60s inspired folk-rock and into an alternate universe wherein Basket of Light-era Pentangle collaborates with a Pink Floyd exploring the liminal bucolic reveries following on from A Saucerful of Secrets.

What could be a car-crash of half-baked stylistic aspirations is actually carried off with a steady, understated confidence which makes this admittedly contrived-sounding melange of influences and confluences remarkably convincing in its own right.

Add some subtle electronic experimentalism plus a pinch European classical music reserve for added gravitas, and you’ve got a distinctive, appealing, and often piquant blend.

At first glance III appears to be a slightly lighter excursion than II, its 2006 darker predecessor, yet these are still songs steeped in a faded melancholia, providing the record with an unmistakable air of bitter-sweet sadness.

Meg Baird’s feathery, fly-away vocals makes for an eerie though winsome companion to the Greg Weeks’ acid-flashback lead guitar lines which etch their mark into lilting, light-touch songs or oblique ballads brooding with implicit menace.

Helena Espval’s string playing, whether electronically processed or served up neat, produces Penguin Cafe-like textures whose organic nature heighten the sense of intimacy encountered throughout the record. The occasional appearance of a woozy Mellotron reinforces the sense that Espers are at their comfortable when combining ancient and modern musical dialects.

Don’t let the short-song flowery settings found on of some of the tracks fool you into thinking that Espers are just another backward-looking band with a penchant for baroque pop. They’re very much a group that takes an almost perverse delight in beckoning us to follow them only to find that as a result, we’ve gotten lost in the woods.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Refugees - The Famous Charisma Label

Of all of the cult classic record labels that have been anthologised over the years, The Famous Charisma Label (to give it its full moniker) was arguably the most eccentric of them all.

This may be down to the fact that its ragbag mix of signings were down to the whims and capricious taste of its founder, Tony Stratton-Smith.

Famously “larger than life” and fond of a punt on the horses, Stratton-Smith’s predilection for picking the winner on a wet Wednesday at Chepstow certainly led to him backing some no-hopers, long-shots and the occasional champions.

As with the turf so to with the label itself.

Like so many industry movers and shakers at the time, Stratton Smith adopted the dubious practice of being both manager to the artists and owner of the label they were signed to. Whilst dodgy in the extreme, it did at least ensure the label was motivated to push the acts on the books and stay with them over the long term.

Perversely such an approach engendered a fierce loyalty from the musicians despite seeing two separate chunks of their incoming going into Stratton-Smith’s coffers at any one time.

Rare Earth, Genesis, Audience, Van Der Graf Generator and Lindisfarne were standard bearers for the label, forever touring - sometimes in the most arduous and frustrating of circumstances - building both individual and corporate credibility.

At one level roster was fairly representative of the times but with the the likes of VDGG and Genesis in particular, the label as an enabler of some of the music ambitious and experimental music of the period.

Though neither sold especially well in this country at the beginning, Stratton-Smith recognised that the long haul was where the dividends would really pay-out. After all, one the best selling Charisma titles at the time was the posthumously released Five Bridges by The Nice. Even when the band was dead there was still a buck to be made.

Lesser known acts such as Bell & Arc, Jackson Heights, Capability Brown and String Driven Thing all get their turn in the sun and though many are now footnotes and afterthoughts, the material and its presentation is credible if a little dated.

Though not included here, other signings such as spoken word cross-overs by gravel-voiced cricketing commentator John Arnot and poet, John Betjeman, along with Clifford T Ward and the Monty Python team, reinforce the sense that of all the labels in the 70s heyday, Charisma was the most quintessentially English of them all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Way Out Of Here

Continuing to feel absolutely cream-crackered but I've perked up with the offer of a sleeve note job. It's a quick turn around but to be honest I quite like jobs like that. I've made contact with the artist to see if they are willing to say a few words about the album in question.

Not all artists are happy to do so. Often screwed by the original contract with the label, there's little incentive to talk about something which they're unlikely to see any return on. Of course that doesn't apply to every artist, and some are keen to put the record straight, and welcome an opportunity to see their back catalogue being given a sympathetic makeover.

For me the job is trying to tell something about the context of the times and the specific circumstances of the record's making. Looking forward to it despite the general struggle through the day at the moment. Shouldn't those anti-biotics be kicking in by now?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Going Under

The last couple of days I've been knocked out flat with what I thought was some kind of uber-man flu. The Doctor suspected it was more to do with a super-duper infection that began in the throat but spread it's vile poison further afield. I was actually very ill prior to going to London for the KC-thing but was just too busy to be able to be ill. Once the London trip was out of the way I think the body just gave in and I slipped under.

Big drugs now in hand I'm hoping to find the road to recovery.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Sides Of Peter Banks

Despite teaming up with the likes of Jan Akerman, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, John Wetton and his band mates from Flash, Banks manages to dial down the adrenelin a little and let a slightly more introspective aspect of his personality show in this 1973 outing.

This isn’t quite the polar opposites suggested by the album cover but has impressionistic tone poems such as Vision of the King and on The White Horse Vale, exploratory improvisations which take up his acoustic leanings and interest in technology.

Less focussed and directed than Flash, this instrumental album gets a touch too noodly for its own good at times. That said there are moments in the lengthy jams Stop That where Banks’ desire to go off the beaten path is not only commendable but spine-tingling as well!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Yes he can!
Esoteric Recordings

Having been bumped out of Yes after Time And A Word, Pete Banks’ response was to get back on the horse and form his own band Flash. It’s clear right from the opening seconds of the album that he’s taking care of some unfinished business.

Small Beginnings thunders into view, proud as a peacock unfurling its feathers in a dazzling display. Testosterone-heavy it may be but it also shows that Pete Banks was no slouch when it came to whipping up and down the fretboard; Flash by name and flash by nature.

The Jon Anderson sound-alike lead vocals of Colin Carter and the presence of guest keyboard player, Tony Kaye - who would himself be dismissed from Yes not long after this recording - only serves to emphasise the competitive, combative nature of this music.

The resemblance is even clearer on Children Of The Universe which contains some hyper-kinetic Beatles referencing in a typically free-wheeling guitar solo. The line from the verse of of Dreams Of Heaven - “Pay back everyone you know” - might also account for a game plan that suggests Banks was trying to out-Yes his former colleagues.

History hasn’t always been that kind in remembering Flash which is perhaps unsurprising given the apparently unstoppable ascent of Yes once they’d ditched Banks and Kaye. Although their 15 minutes of fame, was in the scheme of things just that, Flash did well enough in the USA and on the live circuit in the UK when the album was released in 1972.

Yet this is not some pale imitation but is for the most part tightly arranged, highly dynamic rock carried off with real panache and spiky exuberance.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Talking With Peter Sinfield

I spent a portion of yesterday interviewing Peter Sinfield on the blower yesterday. PJS was in good form and we talked about the recording of his 1973 album, Still, for which I'm pulling the sleeve notes together.

Very much a time and place album this one for me and Peter was terrifically candid about what he regarded as the record's shortcomings.

I know what he means but for me the direct link back to the past when I hear the record, and the remembrance of this being such a period of unparalleled discovery means I can forgive it all its various wobbles and blemishes.

I'm so pleased that this record is going to be restored back to its original order. The previous CD reissue, Stillusion, from the 90s was a tinny abomination that wrecked the feel and flow of the vinyl. My sister still has her pink cover vinyl copy and I believe that my pal Chris T, has the blue cover as well, which I gather from Peter was something of a rarity.

These recent interviews with Peter - I talked to him back in August for the Classic Rock magazine piece - will help towards the expanded edition of the KC book. Because of pressure of space the album was only mentioned in passing. That's one of the things I hope to put right next time around.


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