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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Desert Island Albums III Jack Bruce Harmony Row

Jack Bruce
Harmony Row
1971 / 2003

Whenever you see Jack Bruce's solo career evaluated listed it's usually his 1969 debut Songs For A Tailor which gets the plaudit. While there's no doubt the punchy effectiveness of that record it's largely a clearing house of blues, soul and jazz-inflected tunes that had largely been abandoned during Cream’s burn-out. 

Though long overshadowed by its predecessor Harmony Row was Bruce at his most adventurous and confessional, embracing new ideas, modes and moods that stretched beyond the usual comfort zones of straight blues-based rock, to come up with a record that was paradoxically intimate and expansive at the same time.

Legend has it that during a momentary truce with his demons, Bruce sat at the piano one afternoon, and from his fingertips there flowed a suite of songs, one after another, in a cascade of audacious creativity. In the course of a visionary few hours of amazing lucidity, Harmony Row tumbled into place.

Recorded soon after at London’s Command Studios, Bruce laid down bass, keyboards and vocals, alongside guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall, both members of jazz-rock outfit Nucleus at the time. Its pared-back sounds allow a degree of detail and clarity which Bruce, either as a member of Cream or as a solo artist had never quite achieved before. 

Shaping the words of his regular collaborator, Pete Brown, Bruce forges a series of poetic vignettes that move from oblique preludes such as Can You Follow and There’s A Forest, into the dramatic widescreen vistas of Escape to the Royal Wood (on ice) and Morning Story.  

Victoria Sage, suffused with a dreamy melancholia and soulful Hammond organ tracery presents another stand-out moment, although this is almost eclipsed by the haunted reverie of Folk Song's with rhapsodic multi-tracked voices. It's a sublime evocation of love and remembrance that he's never quite equaled.

The spectral evocation of Glasgow bohemia bumping up against 9 to 5 suburbia, Smiles And Grins effortlessly navigates the shifting jazz-rock currents that spin and twist beneath the surface of this man's music.

With You Burned The Tables On Me being the only track jarring the contemplative mood, 
Harmony Row is not Bruce the blues bruiser but Bruce boxing clever, moving his game with the finesse and aplomb of a prime-time Mohammad Ali, knowing exactly when to float and when to sting.

Though he’ll always be best known for his time with Cream and lauded for his explosive brand of power-play bass, Bruce is an artist whose position as a sensitive and expressive songwriter has been long been overlooked and consistently undervalued.

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CLII

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Poor old Ginger Bob has been through the wars. In the last couple of days his fang has been dropping lower than usual and then we noticed it was bloody. So it was off to the vets. To say he was unimpressed about being stuffed into a catbox and bundled into a taxi.

A few minutes into the taxi ride to Tynemouth there was a smell so dreadful that I had to open the window. Yes, you guessed it - the taxi driver had farted! Ginger Bob, despite the terror he was going through had managed to maintain control of his sphincter. Mercifully, the trip from Whitley Bay to Tynemouth is very short and so I was able to escape the toxic gut-rot fug fairly quickly.

"It'll need to come out" said the vet after a quick but surprisingly uneventful examination. "The bad news is we can't do that here. You'll need to take him to our branch in Heaton tomorrow."

So, this morning I bundled the hapless feline into the box. He went ballistic!

The above snap doesn't convey the frantic scrabbling and fury which his Bobness wrought upon the portcullis-like gate. It was damaged in the first attempt to get him in the box and had to be held tight shut via a pen! Lesley kindly took me to Heaton (where I used to live in the early 80s) and we dropped off the unhappy cat. I was to check in after lunchtime as to how he was doing.

Lesley, who was on her way to meet her daughter in Gateshead, dropped me here...

and so I was able to do some catching up in my usual spot...

The morning was spent updating web sites and working on liner notes and reading this...

Then to the vets in Heaton. I had to take the metro to Byker. En route two young men were talking about the importance of training your dog from an early age: what you have to do is terrorise it when it's a puppy so when you tell it to do something it does straight away.

Yup, I'm in cretin county here folks.

Ginger Bob was awake but drooling heavily, as you would if you'd had four teeth removed. His fang had been infected for some time it appears and the infection had spread.

Poor old cat - he was probably in a lot of pain for some time. Of course he comes in to eat and then very often buggers off and so it's difficult to tell if he's out of sorts.

In the taxi going home he put up a bit of a groggy struggle...

Back home he limped about and generally looked terrified whenever he saw me approaching.

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CLI

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CL

trioVD Maze


Although its sonic palette incorporates more synth-sourced electronica than previously heard, this second album from Leeds-based three-piece trioVD possesses the same abrasive and uncompromising attitude that dominated their startling 2009 debut, Fill It Up With Ghosts.

As with its predecessor, almost every second bubbles over with a sound that’s either intriguing or downright baffling. And with its hurtling, remorselessly breakneck pace this isn’t an album you listen to as such; rather, you grapple with it.

Fashioned from the mangled debris from a high-speed and head-on collision between rock and jazz, Maze is an exotic hybrid vehicle, fearlessly veering into strange and unfamiliar neighbourhoods at a velocity that’s not for the faint-hearted.

Drummer Chris Bussey’s presence is vital to this set’s success. His scuttling beats and syncopated swipes at the barrage of rabid snarls and howls emanating Chris Sharkey and Christophe de Bézenac (guitar and sax, respectively) are a compelling constituent of trioVD’s gloriously off-kilter enterprise.

Although there’s constant arsenal of notes exploding in all kinds of directions, there’s no apparent interest in conventional soloing. Instead the focus is on intense, witty arrangements, dashed off with a savage bravado that appears to make light of their underlying complexity and knotted textures.

This is typified by tracks such as the insistent buzz of Interrupting or DBST, whose mood is both joyous and belligerent. Engaging but volatile, these two often-contradictory states perfectly summarise one of the most inventive and transgressive albums you’ll encounter this year.

This review first appeared here

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Tim was excited when he picked me up tonight. He can now sit in his car and say "play Electric Prunes" and suddenly Get Me To The World On Time leaps from the speakers. I don't know if this Open Sesame-style of in-car entertainment extends to other artists, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Tim and I were off to The Sage because I'd been commissioned to review this show...

I wasn't sure how many people would turn out for this nature but Hall No.1 was pretty much packed.

As we waited for the doors to open, Tim enthused at some length about his latest acquisition - a virtual Mellotron. "It was either that or a Harley-Davidson" Tim explained.

Then into the gig, which by and large, was good with a great sound for Hall 1.

Snapped during the interval...

A few hours later Tim dropped me off at the end of my street where we noticed there was a lovely glow on the horizon. I nabbed a snap but of course it doesn't really do it justice...

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXLVIII

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Toots Mahoots Came A-Calling...

The Food Of Love

Working on various reviews today. Some are easier than others. It's much harder to write a negative review than extolling the virtues and achievements of an artist. Harder because it's too easy to fall into being nasty and projecting one's bile. Any fool can be sneery and snarky. Trying to pin down what's wrong and why requires a bit of effort.

Something that required very little effort (at least by me) was to wander up a couple of doors in the street and join Thomas and Leonie and other neighbour pals for a bit of food of general chinwaggery...

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXLVII

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In The Post...

I got the latest edition of Prog...

I have a couple of four-page features in it. One on Talk Talk...

and another about the first Rock In Opposition concert held in 1978...

plus a few album reviews!

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXLV

Monday, May 21, 2012

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXLII

Paul Buchanan Mid Air

Paul Buchanan
Mid Air
Newsroom Records

Paul Buchanan has always known how to make a little go a long way. The emotional impact of The Blue Nile was achieved with such grace and subtlety that you never somehow never saw it coming until the tears began to prick your eyes.

Devoid of any big productions, obvious studio trickery or anything remotely resembling “expressive soloing”, what made The Blue Nile such a profoundly affective experience was the sound of Buchanan’s voice. Etched from a granite-like sadness so weighty and unshakable, his words plaintively reached uncertainly into the darkness, yearning for solace or the comfort of another human being.

Lasting barely a fretful whisper over 36 minutes, these sketches drawn from personal experience, don’t sound composed so much as accrued from the gentle trickle of raindrops on the window-pane from which he pensively stares. In describing people caught in moments of brilliant splendour and fragile vulnerability, far from being sombre, Buchanan’s offers something that’s essentially compassionate and uplifting.

Exquisitely understated, his voice and luminous pools of piano are accompanied by faraway strings, gently purring synths, or one occasion, a muted trumpet, all gathering discretely at the edge of these delicate but incredibly powerful songs. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXLI

Some Things Are Best Left Unspoken


 The view from the office circa 1968 ?

I took the above picture earlier today and gazing upon the finished result I felt a seed of nostalgia sprout somewhere deep in my brain.  Even though I grew up in Wallsend and at that time only came to Whitley Bay for occasional day trips to the coast, I experienced something like a childhood memory of looking out in the street where I now live.

As the software manipulates the photo with washed-out or saturated colours and literally frames it polaroid-style, it's also manipulating one's perception; an intuitive connection to past images in your head which share that shaky grasp of tone and rather blunt composition. 

I know I'm very late to the Instagram party - if not actually turning up as the lights go out - but I'm fascinated with the software that imbues your mobile-taken snap with an air of musty ennui.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Podcast From The Yellow Room Episode 48



The featured album in this podcast is the extraordinary and groundbreaking jazz-rock classic, The Inner Mounting Flame by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I’m joined in this podcast by special guest Matt Stevens, who you’ll hear is something of a fan of the band and John McLaughlin.

The Albion Band
Thieves Song
The Vice of the People
Read my take on the album
Find out more here

A Presença das Formigas
Find out more here

Samuel Halkvist
Swarm Robotics
Variety Of Loud
Find out more here

The Fierce And The Dead
If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecombe
Find out more here

Mahavishnu Orchestra
Meeting of the Spirits
Vital Transformation
Dance Of The Maya

from The Inner Mounting Flame
Read my take on this album here

Dead Rat Orchestra
Guga End Theme
The Guga Hunters Of Ness

Find out more here

What’s The Meaning?
Buy the album from  RareNoise Records

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXL

Friday, May 18, 2012

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXXXIX

The Book Of Knowledge I

When I was a nipper these books were the Google of the day. Want to know something? Look it up in..The Book Of Knowledge. Like many people of their generation, my parents bought this modestly priced encyclopedia as a way of bolstering what little was generally available about the world around them. It would also help you to know answers to questions like...

How is soap made?

What metal do dentists use for filling teeth?

How do ants communicate?

Who first thought of the atom?

and so on.

I recall long winter evenings spent leafing through these pages. I wasn't soaking up the knowledge but just looking at the pictures. After my mother died and we were clearing out her house I came upon the set. I was surprised she hadn't got rid of them ages ago as she was always short of shelf space.

I had a choice to throw them away or keep them. Some dim memory demanded I take the books home and save them from the skip.

Since 2006 they've languished in a bag and eventually on a shelf in the hall. I've not looked at them in all that time. Today en route to the bathroom I stopped and took the first volume off the shelf. As I began leafing through the first volume I was assailed by the same smell wafting up from the pages that I first encountered as a child. It was amazingly pungent and vivid.

That's one thing you don't get from Google.

The Book Of Knowledge II

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CXXXVIII

Alexander Tucker Third Mouth

Alexander Tucker
Third Mouth 
Thrill Jockey

It’s six albums in for this below-the-radar UK-based experimentalist, and as his recordings become increasingly sonically sophisticated, the similarities to Brian Eno’s mellifluous singing voice seem to grow. At times it’s easy to imagine this as a lost reel dating from somewhere between Taking Tiger Mountain and Another Green World, but rest assured,Tucker is no mere wannabeeno. 

Percolated with intimate and ingenious soundworlds containing looped rainfall, tangling windchimes, primitive berimbau-like drones, glitchy percussives and hallucinatory folds of multi-tracked hair-raising harmonising, these tunes are invention-rich environments. Incidents from childhood, relationships and other intimacies might provide the starting point for many of the six songs here but don’t expect the usual singer-songwriter confessional. 

Rising through waves of bustling acoustic guitar and undulating syth tones, his words trawl deep into the subconscious, pulling the listener on an undertow of surreally associative games that revel in their poetic obliqueness and abstracted imagery. Yet despite such wilful obscurity, Tucker isn’t able to keep a good melody down. Even the most terse and cryptic of pieces on the album has a habit of getting inside your head in the time-honoured tradition of all good earworms. Exquisite.*

*This review first appeared in Prog.



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