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Monday, January 31, 2011

Led Bib Bring Your Own

Bring Your Own
Led Bib
Cuneiform Records

Much like their 2009 album, the Mercury Prize nominated Sensible Shoes, the latest record from this London-based quintet shows their appetite for confrontational hit-and-run jazz-rock remains undiminished.

With music mostly composed by drummer Mark Holub, they don't so much play these tunes as go out with them for a wild bender of a weekend that is riotous,occasionally over the top but mostly, a ton of fun.

The alto saxes of Pete Grogan and Chris Williams provide powerful lines of attack, delivering swirling melody, acerbic harmony and free-ranging solos with unbelievable bite and gusto.

There are some moments of fascinating contrasts. Shapes And Sizes initially conjures up the incidental music from an imaginary low-budget spy thriller before morphing into a hurtling three-chord thumper that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Hawkwind gig.

Throughout, Liran Donin’s electric bass work frantically darts in and out of the between the stop-start furore, whilst keyboard player Toby McLaren generates an infectious ring-modulated dottiness, with added pointillist flurries that sting and etch.

Whilst undeniably fresh, Led Bib also evoke the turbulent fire-power of John Stevens' mid-1970s Vertigo-label outfit, Away, who delivered a similarly feisty blowing, also often underpinned by a cracking backbeat. There’s also the latent prints of old Nucleus albums from the same period to be found on tracks such Is That A Woodblock and the bass-driven ascending drama of Little x.

The biggest difference between that kind 70s jazz-rock and this 21st Century hybrid is a desire to be less convoluted, and more direct in its delivery. That’s not to imply any lack of sophistication or ambition here. The squalling fury that steers the anthemic Winter to its savage and satisfyingly cathartic conclusion is one of the most defiantly uplifting things you’ll hear this year.

Flash, brash and brimming with an irrepressible anarchic vigour, more than anything, Bring Your Own is a thing of unfettered joy.

This review first appeared here

Street Life CCXXVI

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Taxing Business

Every year I say “I must complete my tax return earlier”. Every year I leave it to the last possible moment. It’s a bad habit and, I suppose, my inability to do something about it speaks volumes about my organisational skills.

This year as I stared at the sequence of impenetrable questions displayed on the HMRC website, I wondered, as I always do, if I was simply getting shafted or (more likely) shafting myself by answering something incorrectly.

There are times when filing a tax return feels more akin to taking part in a game whose basic rules you get, but the subtleties of which, are utterly arcane, obscure and nearly impossible to fathom.

Still, having filed the return and managed to pay the amount due, I always regard the moment as something of a personal victory.

It’s my own little flag of triumph set atop the uphill task of being a freelancer, earning a living by writing about music and paying my way.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cover Story II

I was out and about in Whitley Bay the other day and came upon these two familiar faces staring out at me the from shelves of the newsagent...

The latest edition of Classic Rock Presents Prog has hit the streets, though I think the actual magazine cover is smarter than the outer slipcase. See what I mean?

I've contributed a few pages on the Crimson 5.1 40th Anniversary series, plus a feature on Danny Thompson's career, as well as album and DVD reviews and a live review of last year's IB Expo in Sweden.

Although the magazine gets a bit of stick from some of the online community because it doesn't offer the depth and breadth they feel the genre deserves, I have to almost pinch myself every time I see a publication dedicated to all things prog rock competing in the extremely competitive mainstream magazine market.

In that context, the fact that this publication emerges every six weeks is quite frankly astonishing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Favourite Martian I

Central Unit I See You

Central Unit
I See You
M&P Records

There’s a strong tradition in Italian prog circles for prodigious displays of technique, near-operatic arias from the vocalists and as much ramped-up bombast as can be mustered across the space of an album.

However, every now and then, it’s good to go with something a bit more introspective and, truth be told, a little easier on the ear. If that suggests that Bologna’s Central Unit, represents a bland choice in what is often an overly macho field then fear not.

Their sixth album is rich in atmospherics, effective combinations between synthetic and real instrumentation and strong, surging melodies. Typical of these is the stately tempo of Wooden Bread, blessed with has a sombre yet graceful feel underpinned by Enrico Giuliani’s thrumming bass and a splendidly freewheeling piano solo from the band’s principal composer, Riccardo Lolli. Elsewhere squalling saxes, clouds of mellotron and fizzing shape-shifting electronica create a convincing soundworld.

Alongside instrumental tracks that are as amiable as they are accessible, there’s the odd catchy tune whose vocals are frosted with an unobtrusive vocoder coating. Not unlike the proggy pop of Air circa Moon Safari, the agreeably soulful singing of Rossana Giorioso on Too Late raises the temperature.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bathtime With ELP

All this talk of the critical rehabilitation of ELP reminded me a couple of things. When my children were young, if they became disagreeable or fractious in any way, I would threaten to play Works Volume I. Oddly enough, they'd quickly fall into line.

As you can see it struck fear into their very hearts!

What a cruel, heartless parent I am!

Taken in 2003, we had great fun that morning setting these shots up. Another more benign ELP-related memory is that after they'd come out of the bath, when drying their hair, the opening section of Tarkus was always the music of choice. All that fast-paced wriggling-type music was perfect.

At the point at which KE's first synth break came, the towelling would abruptly stop, and the boys would mime the Tarkus call, then strike an imaginary gong before we ploughed on with the drying. Lots of fun.

Where Are They Now? I

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Hot on the heels of three sides of Tales From Topographic Oceans being played BBC Radio 6, there comes further proof that the times are a-changing: the reissued ELP back catalogue has received warm, non-snarky words of praise from a mainstream music magazine!

Along with TFTO, ELP are usually cited as the worst of the worst when it comes to prog; bloated self-indulgent solos, full of their own importance, and ideas above their station. Over the years received wisdom (aka as lazy journos) has seen ELP as the go-to guys when a whipping boy or tired stereotype is needed.

We'll ignore for now the fact that every criticism laid at the door of ELP applies in spades to say, Led Zeppelin. That's another post for another time.

Meanwhile, well done Uncut for getting onto the prog revival train, now gathering pace and just about to leave the station. For what it's worth I think the magazine's rating of those four studio albums has it just about right.

My take on ELP is this: their debut is hands down just great. Two thirds of Tarkus is a masterpiece, let down only by some scrappy ideas on the second side. I adored Trilogy when it first came out but it also marked the end of my love affair with the band. Brain Salad Surgery was overly fussy to my ears, and though I probably appreciate it now more than I ever did, I still feel relatively cool towards its contents.

What's your take on ELP?

Water Tower Wednesday XXXVIX

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fall For Beauty Lynn Miles

Lynn Miles
Fall For Beauty

True North Records

At first glance there’s something unassuming and, in some respects, unremarkable about the eighth studio album by this Canadian singer-songwriter. Like many albums from the country and western stable, these neatly manicured songs deal with the usual time-honoured themes and dreams familiar to both lovers and detractors of the genre.

Yet the real measure of this particular record’s worth can be measured by the speed at which any of the tunes from Fall For Beauty burrow deep into the subconscious.

With a voice that hovers somewhere between the earthiness of Nanci Griffith and the light-as-air flutter found in the vocals of Emmylou Harris at her most ardent, Miles can work wonders on songs which might be worthy but otherwise undistinguished. Only a few singers have that kind of Midas touch and she shows off that rare ability to great effect.

Up-tempo, catchy-as-hell numbers such as Something Beautiful and Fearless Heart radiate a winning, good-time feel, and its impossible not to warm to the swaying charms of Three Chords and the Truth. Here she takes the quote about the essence of country music made famous by revered writer Harlan Howard, and marries it to a smart and affectionate pastiche of Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper.

Perhaps the best moment on the album is also its most simplest and direct. On the starkly produced Love Doesn’t Hurt, she stares at the myriad of paradoxes and consuming energies created when two people fall in love, and considers the consequences of what happens when love turns into abuse.

Poignant without being in any way sentimental, it shows a writer in full command of her craft.

This review first appeared here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Empire of the Sentence

This morning I swapped this view...

For this one...
Both are impressive albeit in utterly different ways.

St. Pancras is a station built in the time of empire!

An amazing building from just about any angle you care to look at...

I recall for most of my visits to London in the last 30 years it stood derelict - a time documented on this excellent website (you have to scroll down quite a bit to get to the section on St. Pancras). I've yet to travel from this handsomely appointed location.

My port of call was the far more modest Kings Cross station, seen below on the right of its leviathan neighbour...

I'm 15 minutes early...

By pure chance, I happen to be on the quiet coach again. This time it's almost deserted and my nearest neighbour is a businessman busily tapping numbers into a calculator. I spend the journey time transcribing an interview undertaken before the trip down.

Engineering works further up the line means that it's nearly 4 and a half hours from London to Newcastle. For others on board this might cause stress or anger. For me this simply means I can get on with the work, and clear it before arriving home.

Reflecting on a productive meeting and a potentially exciting future project. There's a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Arriving Somewhere

A bright but chilly day as Dec and I leave Aylesbury for nearby Hemel Hempstead for a meeting with Steven and Tony. It was good seeing Tony again - the last occasion had been at the King Crimson 40th anniversary playback in 2009.

After a quick conflab it's decided to take a walk. Steven points the way to a nearby pub...

How about this for a rock n' roll lunch - Mineral water, coke, and fruit drinks. You can't say we don't know how to rave it up.

After a working lunch we strolled along the canal to Steven's house and continued the discussion...

A couple of hours later and we were done. One outcome that became undeniably clear was that if the four of us joined forces in a music-related public quiz we would be unbeatable!

All things considered, a useful and productive visit.

Dec, Tony and I then took a hop, skip and a jump to Berkhamsted...

Meanwhile inside Studio Jakko we were treated to a 5.1 mix of some of his recent work...

After an hour or so, we left Studio Jakko, with Tony heading off down south as Dec and I took another hop, skip and jump from Berkhamsted to Aylesbury under a beautiful sky...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quiet Fun

It's really been non-stop for the last few months. In the world of the freelancer this is good news. The downside is that a project I'd intended to complete during the "down time" over the seasonal period was put on hold whilst I took to my bed with flu.

In the meantime of course, other deadline-dependent work has arrived and leaves me feeling wrong-footed and somewhat stressed as I burn the midnight oil trying to catch up.

Today though I have to take a break from the desk and travel up to Newcastle to catch a train down south. Places to go, people to meet, yet more potential projects to negotiate.

Having arrived almost over 15 minutes early I pause to take in Newcastle's Central Station. I firmly believe that all the cold in our region is generated on this concourse, and then distributed far and wide. Outside sunshine pours down but it does not penetrate this cavernous cold storage place.

On the journey down I am in the quiet coach. "Quiet" in this case translates to "actually, really rather noisy!"

Aside from the usual oafs who blether inanely and loudly into their mobile phones, there are several toddlers of differing states of happiness and temperament. One child protests extremely loudly when its parent correctly tries to prevent it from running up and down the aisle of the train.

However, in this game of brinkmanship between child and notionally responsible adult, it's the adult who blinks first.

As a result the child is left to totter unfettered and unbound as the train hurtles round bending tracks. The parent then gets angry with the 3 year old when the inevitable bump and tumble occurs. The now profoundly unhappy child with a possible lump on its head proceeds to tell the world around it about the discomfort it's feeling (ie screaming itself hoarse). The parent adds to the clamour with an equally raised voice, loudly declaiming "I told you this would happen!"

Repeat ad nauseum until Peterborough.

The child sitting opposite is engrossed in a talking book that accompanies its story with loud music and a cast of characters going for Oscar gold. Sat beside her, reading a book about young people who are also vampires and in love with other young people who aren't vampires, is her mum.

On the two occasions, when the bored child stretched her legs, she was told firmly to get back in her seat and "read your book", which translated meant "continue to stare at the pink-coloured laptop-like device which is relentlessly telling you a tale whether you like it or not." These moments aside, the young mother and docile child barely exchanged a word during the entire journey.

It's a close call as to which of these polar opposites is sadder.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Water Tower Wednesday XXXVIII

Classic Album Sunday

I saw this piece on the BBC news yesterday about Classic Album Sundays. It’s tempting to be snarky about this piece and this idea. However, there’s an important point here; music is increasingly relegated to something that happens in the background whilst we do other things.

I’ve never lost the habit I picked up when I was a teenager of sitting down and listening to an album. Nor, I suspect, have the majority of folks who visit this blog. There’s something almost luxurious, almost decadent about kicking back and doing nothing but engage with an album, taking in the big picture but then focussing in on the finer details and points of interest.

Were I to start my own Classic Album Sundays in a local venue the first month’s selection might look like this...

Harmony Row by Jack Bruce

Fear of Music by Talking Heads

I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson

Chairs Missing by Wire

What would yours be?


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