Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Fierce And The Dead - Magnet EP

The armour-plated muscle-ripped superhero NoisyProgBastard crashes though the door of the sleazy North London music venue, and announces its collective presence. "I'm a cult, gotta get out of it, out of it" the riff seems to be hammering into our skulls as the bulging beast transforms before us into a tightly wound rock quartet of serious intent. Thrashing his guitar around like a mountain bear on cheap speed, Matt Stevens, whom it is rumoured comes from a place where they practice the Olde Religion, is a man possessed, and his musical cohorts are right there in the melee with him.

Opening track Magnet In Your Face is just that; any closer and you'd be swapping eyeballs and iron filings. At only one minute and forty one seconds long, it has the effect of a rabbit punch to the solar plexus. Based on a fantastically taut riff in the manner of Five Horse Johnson, Matt and fellow plank destroyer Steve Cleaton push their instruments to the limits of endurance in a fashion that will rock your socks off, oh yes! Yep, they got my attention...

“I think this EP represents a different sound for us, it’s important to keep moving forward. It is more joyous and intense with bigger riffs and more of an electronic feel" says Matt in the PR blurb, who is described therein as a "Dead guitarist". On this evidence I'd describe this genial giant of a man as more of a Fierce guitarist.

The EP features the band's first new material in two years, and after that riotous opener it hints at a more measured and electronic sound than was found on their last album, Spooky Action . You could say this is a progression if you like playing around with the preconceptions that that contentious word in all its forms and abbreviations carries before it. However, "prog" this most definitely ain't, for The Fierce And The Dead are an important cog in the current burgeoning British alt-rock scene, along with the likes of Guapo, Schnauser, and Knifeworld and others. All those bands are different but they share an electric current of restless energy that leaves behind any notion that "prog rock" has to be in any way associated with or in thrall to its glorious past.

Produced as ever by bassist and mixing desk wiz Kevin Feazey, the sound is wonderfully clear and crisp, every nuance of this fearsome racket is laid before one's shell-likes in all its splendid sonic malevolence. The second new number Palm Trees sways in the breeze and soothes after that cataclysmic opener, but the slow math-rock melody is intermittently cajoled by blocks of post-rock chording that remind you that this band don't let the intensity slider fall for long. And so it is that the two guitars charge for the climax of this song on a tsunami of MBV noise that will leave your ears ringing. Bloody marvellous!

Flint is a re-recording of a tune from the band's first album, and Kevin's production has opened up the spaces in this song and added some electronic effects for good measure. The drum pattern by Stuart Marshall makes the tune skip along with joy in its heart. This is a nice exercise in "less is more", and not something you'd expect from these otherwise full-on chaps.

The enigmatically titled Part 6 (The 8th Circuit) commences with some sci-fi keyboards and motorik rhythms as the mothership lands in a fog of smoke. NoisyProgBastard has reformed and feeling sated and fully justified, having demolished the cavernous sleazepit it leaves behind, ascends the ramp, which closes behind it as the spaceship disappears in a cloud of dust.

The EP ends with two old songs recorded live in rehearsal, giving you a taste of what to expect from the live assault this band are said to deliver. Yes, I've yet to experience that, but I know it will happen at some point soon!

This EP is out on 14th August, and you can preorder it via the links below. The band are appearing at the Arctangent Festival a week later with, amongst others, Deerhoof, 65daysofstatic and the superbly monikered Dillinger Escape Plan.

Pre-order the EP HERE

...or here...Bandcamp

Magnet In Your Face (1:41)
Palm Trees (4:00)
Flint (4:24)
Part 6 (The 8th Circuit) (3:59)
Let's Start A Cult (rehearsal recording) (3:19)
Spooky Action (rehearsal recording) (3:12)

Total running time - 18:53

Line up:
Kevin Feazey - Bass, keyboards
Matt Stevens - Guitars, loops, keyboards
Steve Cleaton - Guitars, effects
Stuart Marshall – Drums

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Van der Graaf Generator – After The Flood - At The BBC 1968-1977

There is one album that encapsulates the original era of what came to be known as progressive rock better than any other, and that album is Close to The Edge by Yes. The record is a flawless masterpiece, and transcends its genre to stand as one of the best albums of “popular” music made by anyone, ever. However, when it comes to true progression and a fearless desire to consistently push the envelope, there are really only two contenders from the top table of that golden age. One is King Crimson, and the other is Van der Graaf Generator, the latter here delighting us all with a definitive collection of sessions originally recorded for the BBC.

Mark Powell’s comprehensive essay in the sumptuous 24-page booklet tells you all you need to know about this unique band, right from their chaotically naïve beginnings, later becoming the reason for the formation of Charisma Records, as amazingly manager Tony Stratton-Smith couldn’t get any other label interested! The essay follows the group through various triumphs, trials and tribulations, splits and reformations, and ends right up to date. This double CD, as the title indicates, concentrates on the classic era, ending with the string-driven late 70s incarnation of this wilfully singular group.

Passing through the early years on CD1 I am struck by the youthful purity of Peter Hammill’s voice, a device that developed into an instrument in its own right by the time of the band’s early magnum opus Pawn Hearts in 1971. As the years passed, ravaged by years of a forty-plus-a-day cigarette habit, the pure tones of Afterwards became the enthralling declamatory beast that marauds through Scorched Earth, Still Life, La Rossa, and beyond. As far as I am aware there was no Faustian pact involved, unless Old Nick was the major stakeholder in British American Tobacco.

Hammill contends, quite rightly, that Van der Graaf Generator only properly got underway with their second album, 1970’s The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other. Prior to that there was no David Jackson, aka Jaxon, who was a vital cog in the VdGG machine, a cog that to my mind is missed greatly in the current incarnation of the band. The pre-Jaxon VdGG is represented by the first three tracks: People You Were Going To, a jaunty off-kilter psych-pop single, an angelic version of Afterwards, and the menacing future-indicator Necromancer, all recorded for John Peel’s Top Gear show in 1968. Peely, an early champion of the band, as ever knew a good thing when he found it.

After a brief split, the band reformed, now with David Jackson on board. The compositional leap forward to The Least We Can Do… is practically tangible, as the band’s second Top Gear session, recorded in 1970 attests. Hammill’s deeply intoxicating lyricism is now developing apace, and Jaxon spurs Hugh Banton along into ever more dark corners of home-made Hammond distortions and swells. The version of After The Flood included here will have your neck hairs standing to attention – marvellous stuff!

The first of five previously unreleased tracks on this set is Vision from a 1971 Sounds Of The Seventies session. This is a plaintive piano and vocal song from Hammill’s first solo album Fool’s Mate, hence its non-appearance on the now superseded Maida Vale single CD album of BBC sessions. That same session also includes the first of two versions of ManErg, a live staple almost from the day it was written right up to the present. That it is one of only two songs included here twice is rather fitting. Magnificent and otherworldly, this beast of a song captures VdGG at their two extremes, veering from deep introspective romanticism to musical and lyrical paranoid declamation - “Am I really me, am I someone else?” The Thin Man screams over Jaxon and Banton’s taut stridency, all held together by Guy Evans’ powerhouse economic rhythms.  Another triumph, and proof to me, if any were needed that choosing a favourite VdGG song is an impossible task.

The other song included twice is Darkness, the second version of which, again from the Sounds Of The Seventies session includes some incendiary blowing from Jaxon, highlighting why he was such an important constituent of VdGG’s sonic template. By this time, the band had no bass player, Banton playing the bass parts with foot pedals, which added a different, more sonorous timbre to VdGG’s by now instantly recognisable sound.

CD1 ends with one of VdGG’s more accessible songs, and the version of Killer, the final of three from a BBC radio concert from 1971 lurches along in theatrically menacing fashion, Hammill getting well into the mindset of the solitary predator.

CD2 commences with a fitting song to end the second era of the band, Refugees being a melancholic paen to time and people moving on. Burned out by the relentless cycle of gigging, writing, recording, and touring again, the band stopped for around two years sometime during the late summer of 1972 after a particularly crazy tour of Italy where they were bona fide counter-culture stars. During his time away from VdGG, Hammill threw himself into his solo career, and was often joined in the studio by his erstwhile bandmates. Perhaps inevitably the four eventually regrouped and the astonishing result was 1975’s Godbluff, the first of three albums in quick succession that saw the band reach a plateau of perfection where the rollercoaster thrilling visceral excitement of before is channelled into controlled bursts of intense energy fuelling life-soaked matured lyrical and musical romanticism.

Just as the first CD witnessed a giant leap forward with the first version of Darkness, so the process is repeated with the seismic shift from Refugees, taken from a December 1971 Peel session to second track Scorched Earth, recorded just over three and half years later, again for Peel. The Godbluff tune shines with a new confidence in both arrangement and execution. This is a band that knows what it wants and how to get it. By now, Van der Graaf Generator have invented their own musical language, where incorporating the cha-cha-cha into a song’s structure as if it was the most natural thing to do makes Sleepwalkers yet another timeless classic. Incidentally, you are probably well aware of John Lydon’s love of VdGG, but one look at the stark black/white/red cover of The Fall’s Fall Heads Roll album and its similarity to Godbluff will tell you that Mark E. Smith is a fan, too.

Arguably, Still Life was even better than Godbluff, the band now reaching a peak of savage beauty unlike anything else extant at a time when the music scene was stagnating all around them. If there was a reason prog had to die, it certainly wasn’t Van der Graaf Generator. By April 1976 VdGG were out on their own in the world of mainstream eclectic rock music, as King Crimson had come to a halt well over a year previously, and the sonic and social upheavals of punk were still some nine months away. This was cutting edge rock music in spring 1976, and were it not for John Peel I would have had little idea it existed, such was VdGG’s low profile. A truly great version of La Rossa shows a band at the top of their game. A mere six more months passed before the final album from this incarnation of VdGG saw the light of day. World Record is sometimes overlooked when classic VdGG albums are discussed, but it continued to mine the same rich vein of inspiration, and the consummate versions of When She Comes and Masks bear this out.

Hammill says that VdGG’s music has stood the test of time because they never paid any heed to what was commercially popular at the time, much to their continual impoverishment, and he’s right. Also, his lyrics spoke of real human concerns, you will not find any cod-philosophising or songs about faeries on VdGG albums, making the songs as relevant now as they ever were. For these same reasons the group withstood the fury of punk, Hammill having foreseen its coming with his character Ricky Nadir back in February 1975. The late 70s version of Van der Graaf , with its prescient punchier name was a furious proposition live, with Graham Smith’s violin and Hammill’s spikily primitive guitar replacing the now departed Banton and Jackson’s contributions, and because of this they fitted in with the zeitgeist rather well. 

This stellar compilation ends with a couple of tracks from that band’s only album, 1977’s  The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, including the marvellously punky Cat’s Eye/Yellow Fever. While still recognisably Van der Graaf (Generator), it was somewhat atypical in sound, and oddly it was also the first VdGG album I bought, making my later learning curve a somewhat weird experience! Perhaps it was a case of “I prophecy disaster, and then I count the cost” – speaking of which the strings-driven excerpt from A Plague… closing the second CD is far better than it had any right to be.

As you can see, I came to Van der Graaf Generator relatively late in the day, and it took me many years to get beneath the thick skin of their wilfully dense music, but once inside the belly of the beast there is no escape, and actually, I’m quite happy here, thanks all the same. Perhaps more than any of the other original progressive rock bands, Van der Graaf Generator were and indeed are something of a “Marmite” group. As Hammill says of the band’s early days “…in our live show we usually alienated fifty percent of the audience who used to walk out. The fifty percent who stayed would always come back to the next gig and became very loyal.” All I can say is, the fifty percent who walked out never to return and their modern equivalent who run screaming for the hills whenever VdGG is mentioned really did and do not know what they are missing – oh well, it was and is their loss. The rest of you need to buy this, if you haven’t already!

  1. People You Were Going To (3:29)
  2. Afterwards (4:41)
  3. Necromancer (4:08)
  4. Darkness (6:49)
  5. After The Flood (10:56)
  6. ManErg (11:08)
  7. Theme One (2:56)
  8. Vision (3:13)
  9. Darkness (7:15)
  10. ManErg (10:37)
  11. W (5:08)
  12. Killer (8:09)

Total running time – 78:58

  1. Refugees (6:17)
  2. Scorched Earth (9:40)
  3. Sleepwalkers (9:59)
  4. Still Life (7:19)
  5. La Rossa (9:56)
  6. When She Comes (8:09)
  7. Masks (7:23)
  8. Cat’s Eye/Yellow Fever (4:44)
  9. The Sphinx In The Face (5:32)
  10. (Fragments Of) A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers (9:28)

Total running time – 78:51

Line up:
Peter Hammill – Vocals, Acoustic guitar, Guitar, Piano, Electric piano
Hugh Banton – Organ, Piano, Bass Pedals, Bass guitar
Guy Evans – Drums
Keith Ellis – Bass guitar
David Jackson – Saxophones, Flute
Nic Potter – Bass guitar
Graham Smith – Violin
Charles Dickie - Cello


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Light Coorproration - Chapter IV - Before The Murmur Of Silence

Polish band Light Coorporation (pronounced "corporation") formed in 2011 to experiment with progressive jazz-rock. Unsurprisingly given the title, this is the band's fourth album, released in 2014.

Recorded live in the studio, these eight instrumental compositions were all written by guitarist Mariusz Sobański. The focus is often on the trumpet and saxophone that between them often sound like a full brass and reeds section, which serves to give the feel of an avant big band a la Centipede. Opener New States Of Mind (Repetitive) introduces itself in typically strident fashion, and is soon underpinned by a low rumbling bass line marking the rhythm with serious intent, another feature of the record. The tune is a tight jam with an open and spacious atmosphere in the manner of a very heavy take on 80s Miles Davis.

An intriguing feature is that the rather tasteful cover booklet, designed by Tom Lietzau includes lyric poems for each of the eight tracks on the record, all unsung! There is some nice prose here, too, and it is a shame none of it is used.

An obvious but effective trope is following a rousing number with something more laid back, as is often the case here, and the beginning of In A Tangle follows that tried and tested formula. Almost ambient, this is a quiet exploration of inner space that slowly rises from slumber accompanied by acoustic dub bass, muted trumpets and quiet sax, and the occasional spidery guitar interjections.

If the brass and reeds are the collective star on Chapter IV, never far behind are the dual bass talents of Piotr Oses and Krzysztof Waśkiewicz, who mark the rhythms with a thunderous purpose, often leaving drummer Milos Krauz to skitter around the edges in an effective manner.

With A Chance Of Cloudy commences as an atramentous thunderstorm, but clears to reveal a sunny day, but the threat is never far away. Three Headed Monster Sight Unseen was never going to be a sonic balm, and a very strange walking bass line, perhaps for someone with one leg shorter than the other deconstructs to one repeated arhythmic note and squalling guitar. The guitar often lends a psychedelic edge to proceedings when it appears, and that is certainly the case on the title track Before The Murmur Of Silence, where Mariusz gets to play at his most ferocious, albeit all too briefly. The unsung lyrics to this one cleverly illustrates the feeling of the protagonist's isolation within a crowd,  I would like to hear writer Mariusz Sobański turn these poems into proper songs.

The album ends with the seventeen minute Space Travel in an Old Painting, which takes a different tack to what has gone before. Neatly illustrating the "space" of the title, both literal and metaphorical, the piece is a long open road of eerie jazz ambience with the low-key trumpet lending inevitable comparisons to Miles. However, it is what is going on, or indeed not going on around the brass instrument that takes the tune somewhere else. Symphonic in construct, Space... takes its time to make a stately progress through the ether with a deftness of touch highlighted by the caresses of the ebow (?) guitar, as the bass begins to plot a path through the mist. Rhythms are are established only to disappear into entropy, The quietest of percussion is almost the only sound in a short sequence some ten minutes in, and the piece has become a supreme exercise of control. Eventually, silence...there is nothing out there. After around two minutes we are rudely awakened from drifting by the sudden entry of an atonal ensemble arrangement that brings us back into orbit.

This has not been the easiest of albums to get into, but it rewards perseverance, and fits neatly into the small but growing number of jazz-rock big band albums that seem to be around this year. I leave you with this extract from Mariusz's criminally unheard poetry... 

In a moment like this
even fear itself retreats
marking the stones 
with its blood

1. New States of Mind (Repetitive) (9:44)
2. In a Tangle (7:34)
3. With a Chance of Cloudy (7:15)
4. Three Headed Monster Sight Unseen (6:39)
5. Basements of Heaven (4:47)
6. Sealing Wind into Bottles (6:21)
7. Before the Murmur of Silence (Based on a True Story) (5:25)
8. Space Travel in an Old Painting (17:21)

Total running time - 65:12

Line up:
Mariusz Sobański - guitars, baritone cello
Paweł Rogoża - tenor saxophone
Kuba Jankowiak - trumpet
Witold Oleszak - acoustic grand piano
Piotr Oses - double bass
Krzysztof Waśkiewicz - bass
Miłosz Krauz - drums, percussion

Band website

Buy from ReR Megacorp

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Chris Squire RIP

We were thirteeen, my mate Steve and I were making the most of his parents being out by playing our records on his dad's state-of-the-art stereo system. It was 42 years ago, possibly almost to the date, and I remember Steve's cousin Mick, who was five or so years older than us and the source of our musical education in all matters underground, coming over straight from work clutching a carrier bag from Ireson's Records. Striding over to the stereo, he removed whatever we were playing, pulled this humungous weighty album out of the bag, opened its triple gatefold brown cover adorned with strange otherworldy designs and pulled out one of the three records it contained at random.

You could tell Mick was excited, and we had worked out that this package was the much anticipated triple live album by his favourite band Yes, a band then unheard by me. Placing the hastily plucked record on the Garrard record deck, the stylus slowly descending to hit the run in groove, the low-key piano and guitar hoedown beginning of Yours Is No Disgrace is quickly pummeled into shape by what would become familiar to me over the following years; the highly distinctive percussive bass playing of Chris Squire.

Although the studio version from The Yes Album highlights Squire's playing to better effect, that Yessongs Side 6, Track 1 was my introduction to Yes, a band that would figure in my playlists from that day right up to the here and now, and a band that made not only the best prog rock album, but one of the best albums regardless of genre in Close To The Edge.

Larger than life both physically and musically, Chris Squire's unique bass sound, courtesy of his boundless energy channelled through his trusty Rickenbacker, his writing and arrangement skills and his way with a vocal harmony marked him out as a truly individual talent and one that will be sorely missed by anyone who has been touched by his music. A part of our youth has died...

Chris Squire - 4th March 1948 to 28th June 2015

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Kevin Ayers - Original Album Series

Having a pop at major labels and their transparent remake-remodel stratagems in relation to their legacy artists, releasing mammoth box sets that will in all probability be played in their entirety no more than twice, a ruse aimed squarely at milking the wallets of those of us of a certain age is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, as the saying goes.

Nope, for once - and it is once, I can't recall it happening before - I am giving praise where praise is due to one of the big players. A major label, in this case Universal, and they do not come any more major than that, has found a neat way to repackage the catalogues of artists from the golden age of rock'n'roll, this time aimed at those of us with more sense than money. This series of releases takes five or so albums from the discographies of artists who for the most part did not quite make the major league in terms of sales, and comes under the banner "Original Album Series". They make ideal replacements for worn out vinyl or as collection gap-fillers. I will now witter on about one of the more essential of these boxes...

As I write, for a mere £10.10 chucked in the direction of the corporate tax dodgers who shall remain nameless you can have the first five, and frankly the best solo albums of the reluctant pop star genius known as Kevin Ayers. The CDs are all the last remastered versions, and the package is a no-frills no-bonus tracks slimline box, and forms a perfect introduction to one of England's finest songwriters.


Joy Of A Toy

A worrisome trait throughout Kevin's career was his dodging, consciously or otherwise, of potential success every time it beckoned. The first instance of this came in 1968 when Kevin sold his bass guitar to Noel Redding and fled to Ibiza after the rigours of a seemingly endless Soft Machine tour of the States supporting Jimi Hendrix, who had given him an acoustic Gibson on the promise that he would not, as threatened, retire from the music biz completely. Obviously inspired by Hendrix's faith in him Kevin came up with the songs that would form his first solo album. Backed by his by now former Soft Machine colleagues, including Daevid Allen, and his mate David Bedford, a consummate arranger and musical polymath, Joy Of A Toy sets the scene for Kevin's highly individualistic and accessible songwriting style.

Hints of Kevin's darker side come through in some of the lyrics, but this is mostly a highly enjoyable collection of charmingly naive sun-kissed ditties and daft larking about, its playful nature no doubt in part a reaction to the more earnest direction his former band were headed in.

Highlights - Song For Insane Times, Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her), The Lady Rachel

Shooting At The Moon

By 1970's Shooting At The Moon, Kevin had assembled a proper working band around him, formed earlier in the year to tour Joy Of A Toy. Naming them The Whole World, our glorious leader retained David Bedford on various keyboards and occasional guitar, and he was joined by saxophonist Lol Coxhill, whom Kevin discovered busking in the street. Then there was drummer Mick Fincher, and an extremely young Mike Oldfield on bass. Mike's melodious style is evident from the off, taking a lead line in one of Kevin's timeless classics, the wistfully romantic May I?, which works even better in French as Puis Je?, sadly but understandably not available on this "no frills" box set.

Oldfield also gets to play his instantly recognisable lead guitar on Lunatics Lament, and with the benefit of youthful fire in his belly, contributes a full-on psych wigout halfway in. The song, with Kevin on bass and featuring his semi-buried treated vocal is structured like one of the Velvet Underground's rockier ventures as it lurches along in fine acidic fashion.

Contrasting his now trademark and seemingly effortless songs with a fast developing experimental side, Shooting At The Moon shows no little ambition and encapsulates the "anything goes" mantra of the era. In the mad professor's sound laboratory, strange effects and edits punctuate second track Rheinhardt & Geraldine/Colores Para Dolores, and Pisser Dans Un Violin, which luckily for the instrument in question has no violin in earshot. Pisser... features Lol Coxhill in characteristic avant-garde mood on electric sax. This eight minute ending to side one of the original album is an intriguing sound collage that the less adventurous would describe as filler. It isn't, but I will admit it is probably twice as long as it needed to be; semi-filler then, the sort that falls out of that hole in the wall after six months.

Highlights - May I?, Lunatics Lament, Red Green And You Blue


After the inevitable break up of The Whole World came the recording of Kevin's most commercially successful album. Whatevershebrinswesing was released in November 1971 and most of his old road band play on the record, along with cameos from Robert Wyatt and Didier Malherbe. This album saw the fusing of experimentation and straight songwriting that was pioneered on Shooting At The Moon work to its best effect.

This has always been my favourite album of Kevin's and it is a treat from start to finish. From David Bedford's orchestral introduction to the seven minute song suite There is Loving/Among Us/There is Loving to the closing babbling brook of Lullaby there is no surplus fat or throwaway nonsense on this record. Includes perhaps his most well-known tune, the rock'n'roll smoking song Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes, which features some dazzling piano work, again from David Bedford. There are some great contributions throughout from the other players, once more including Mike Oldfield on both bass and lead, and combined with Ayers' growing lyrical confidence, the record is a category-defying masterpiece, with everything from waltzes to dark experimentation at the bottom of a well.

Highlights - put it this way, there aren't any lowlights. If you only buy one Kevin Ayers album, buy this one!


May 1973 would see the release of Kevin's last album for Harvest Records for three years, and probably his most accessible to date for the iconic label. Another new band was assembled under the name Decadence, and there are guest appearances from Wyatt again, and Mike Ratledge. Also appearing is Steve Hillage, who was to be only a temporary member of the band, soon to return to France and Gong. Steve contributes some highly melodic runs to another of Ayers' more well-known tunes, Shouting In A Bucket Blues. That song and album opener, the faux-soul-shouter Don't Let It Get You Down hint at Kevin's battle with demons unspecified, but he was a glass half-full guy, as the lyric "I say to everyone who thinks there's no way out...Baby if you all shout, someone will hear you" attests.

The experimental and psychedelic edges are well represented by Interview and Decadence respectively, the latter with some highly acerbic lyrics aimed at Nico. The album also features Kevin's tribute to Syd Barrrett, with Oh! Wot A Dream being done "in the style of" through a Kevin Ayers filter, with some very touching lyrics.

Around this time Kevin somehow avoided having a hit with the very catchy and very kitsch-calypso single Caribbean Moon, a song that in any other hands would be cringeworthy, but Kevin turns it into a joyous muckabout - you may recall the supremely silly video! Not on this budget version of the album, unfortunately.

While Bananamour does not hit the dizzy heights of its predecessor, it is still a great listen.

Highlights - Shouting In A Bucket Blues, Oh! Wot A Dream, Hymn

The Confessions of Dr Dream and Other Stories

A year has passed, and Kevin has decamped to Island Records. May 1974 sees the world mostly ignore The Confessions of Dr Dream and Other Stories, the last CD in this rather scrumptious box but the first to feature guitarist Ollie Halsall. Kevin's reaction on first hearing him play was "love at first solo", quite understandably. Ollie, previously with the marvellously tight-but-loose jazzrockers Patto was a much underrated player who could turn his talented hands to any style required, and was easily as gifted as Clapton or Beck. Halsall and Ayers from this point on formed a long working relationship and friendship that lasted until the guitarist's untimely substance-aided demise in 1992.

This time round the idea of "a band plus guests" is abandoned for a long list of illustrious aiders and abetters, including Rupert Hine, Steve Nye, Mike Oldfield, Michael Giles, Nico (they must have kissed and made up!), Geoffrey Richardson, and Lol Coxhill, to name but a few.

It doesn't take Ollie long to introduce himself, and on Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You he unleashes some furiously acidic runs that take the otherwise langrous groove off into space. Wonderful stuff! It Begins With A Blessing reprises Ayers' riff from the old Soft Machine song Why Are We Sleeping?, now reimagined as the theme of a smoky psychedelic blues song cycle.

The focal point of the album is the sprawling title track that occupied all bar the final one and half minutes of side two of the original vinyl release. A dark entry with a typical mantra-like vocal from a disembodied Nico warns of Irreversible Neural Damage from too many drugs, maaan, presaging Dr Dream's tuneful presrcriptions and a long surreal trip ending with the Dr Dream Theme, a relentless and slowly building funeral march, the stuff of nightmares. Kevin was never going to leave us dangling in the dark, and the last track Two Goes Into Four is as charmingly winsome as it gets.

This album is far more focused and densely packed than the earlier works and the title track takes a bit of getting into, but once you dig below the surface it is an absorbing piece of work.

Highlights - Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You, Everybody's Sometime And Some People's All The Time Blues, It Begins With A Blessing/Once I Awakened/But It Ends With A Curse

When it came to the crunch, Kevin Ayers was always more comfortable in the company of a bottle of decent vino and a good woman than he ever was under the spotlight, and he never took himself or the music business too seriously. Kevin was a consummate story teller and bon viveur whose love of life shone through, despite the sense of melancholy that permeates a goodly part of his work, thus illuminating another side of his character. These quirky and infectious tunes will live long in the memory of those of us who love the old-fashioned English eccentric's take on life.

Had he had more ambition, who knows where he may have ended up, but wherever that might have been, the man at the end of that trip would not have been the Kevin Ayers we recognise. As it is Kevin has left us with a good number of timeless songs that do not require their creator to have had fame and success in order to justify their rightful place in rock's rich tapestry.

"Let’s drink some wine/And have a good time/But if you really want to come through/Let the good times have you…"

Kevin Ayers - 16/8/1944-18/2/2013 - RIP - ...and thank you very much...

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Mollmaskin - Heartbreak In ((Stereo))

Sometimes, the good ones almost get away...

I gave this album to a colleague at TPA a while back as I had too much on at the time. It was only on reading his review that I thought I had better give it a closer listen, and I am so glad I did.

If Beck were from the land of the long nights Morning Phase may well have sounded like this. Dreamy, psychedelic and dripping with the kind of melancholy that could only come from Scandinavia, Heartbreak In ((Stereo)) is a masterful work.

Fusing dreamily woozy folk-psych with indie, dream pop, and jazz stylings, all with a Nordic experimental edge, Norwegian troubadour Anders Bjermeland as Mollmaskin has made the ultimate "one man band" album. As his producer Rhys Marsh has it, "Last year, I had the great pleasure of recording of the debut Mollmaskin album. I made coffee, positioned microphones, sat back and pressed the record button as Anders spent two weeks flying around the studio, playing everything in sight. He completely blew my mind. I'm so happy I got to witness that, let alone be a part of it. To me, the album is this generation's 'Innervisions'".

Well, I wouldn't go that far, but boy, this is rather good!  Anders is the main man behind folk-psychers Flashback Caruso, and it brings a smile to my timeworn fizzog to see that he has continued the Faust connection with a wonky fogbound cover of that iconic German band's already off-kilter love song Jennifer, but the real meat around the bones of this record are Anders' own highly individualistic compositions, which constitute the rest of the album.

The Same Ash drips with swirly psychedelic guitar, while Never Able marches bold with brass to a wonky rhythm. Lyrically an impressionistic fatalism runs through the core of the "Left Side" songs, Anders musing that ultimately we are in an ever-repeating treadmill of war, life, love, and labour: "in a loop, in queue until last breath repeats the phrase, then silence" as Two Moods has it. Although the subjects differ, the songs retain a Nordic melancholy throughout, and the "Right Side", which seems more concerned with matters of the heart continues that air.

The Norwegian lyrics to Halvtom Sjel (half-empty soul) are rendered probably even more abstract by the vagaries of Google Translate, but seem concerned with a recently broken romance, and Dirty Linen is a simple tale of unrequited love. The album's longest track Nightmare City Suite is a gently swinging affair of regret and revenge that has the protagonists dancing a sinister waltz of "heartbreak in stereo, jogging on alcohol through you". The downbeat theme is complemented by the jazz-symphonic weariness of the tune, and is the kind of thing that would not sound out of place on a Tim Bowness album. A tragic but lovely and careworn melody for those introspective moments.

The romantic theme briefly over, we return to matters more abstract. A part of our soul dies when a hero passes on, and The Death Of Lennon is a winsome combination of electric piano, Beck-like harmonies and dream-pop moves that make for a sublime trip musing on the passage of time, and it may well turn out to be my favourite song of the year, containing as it does some of the best poetry on the record:

i'm spending my hours 
reflecting my physics 
seeing only heroes 
die in front of me 
not by my hand 
but as a reflection of my being 

The album signs off with the bitter taste of love gone sour as Anders sees the only way out as being to "find the common ground and go to war". One hopes his private life is not as bleak as this album paints it! The musical climax is built on atonal chords and melodic piano lines, and brings to an end an album that is both a musical and lyrical triumph.

If you appreciate great songwriting that arrives with a hardened heart after many miles travelling through life and the musical left-field, then you owe it to yourself to buy this fabulous record!


Left Side
1. The Same Ash (3:25)
2. Never Able (4:45)
3. The Long Shadow (4:25)
4. How Many Ants (4:28)
5. Jennifer (6:07)
6. Two Moods (2:28)
Right Side
1. Halvtom Sjel (4:44)
2. Dirty Linen (3:14)
3. Nightmare City Suite (8:07)
4. The Death Of Lennon (4:16)
5. Before We Go To War (4:54)

Total running time - 51:00

Line up:
Anders Bjermeland - everything, apart from:
Magnus Nygard Muldal - accordion & Rhys Marsh - pedal steel guitar, both on Halvtom Sjel & Jennifer.

Autumnsongs Records



Monday, 8 June 2015

Progoctopus - Transcendence EP

Right, let's get the band name out of the way...there's something quite cringeworthy about it...moving on...

Progoctopus are a new quartet from Birmingham, and Transcendence is their first venture into the world of recorded music. They have produced an infectious combination of upbeat rock moves mixed with unusual time signatures, all topped with Jane Gillard's distinctive vocals that serve to infuse the EP with an infectious joie de vivre at odds with the heavy subject matter of her lyrics. These tell a tale through all four songs of breaking free from societal and one's own mental shackles, finding one's way, the eventual passing of life and ending by musing on the circular nature of existence in a manner free of pseudo-intellectual pretence.

Opening track Transcendence Pt 1, with Jane's confident but never strident tones to the fore puts me in mind of American band Moe Tar, which in my book is praise indeed. Beneath Jane the guitar of Alistair Bell twists and turns through its chord changes, evading 4/4 by sleight of hand and a knowing wink, the rhythm section of Tim Wilson and Samuel C. Roberts keeping the thing from jumping the points.

Transcendence Pt 2 ups the heaviosity factor and includes a rollicking instrumental section of thunderous rhythmic intent that fades away too soon. The band slow things right down on the jazzy ballad Like Stone, which shows that Jane can do the heartstring-tuggers with aplomb. Her story of stoicism in the face of the imminent loss of a loved one - easily the best lyric on the EP by the way - is backed by a sinuous tune, and is the highpoint of the EP for me. Love the bass guitar sound on this one.

We conclude with the nine-minute Carousel, which takes its time to wend a way through intricate guitar knots and clattering rhythmic counterpoints, while Jane's story finds redemption. Not as immediate as either of the parts of Transcendence, the track suffers slightly from a lack of light and shade, and is possibly a tad too long.

All in all a promising if flawed debut from a new band, and I can picture a sax or maybe a dedicated electric piano player adding more colour to the sound in future. A band to keep an eye on, for sure, and this EP is available for a "pay what you want" price at Bandcamp, so what have you got to lose?

Transcendence Pt 1 (6:34)
Transcendence Pt 2 (6:19)
Like Stone (3:56)
Carousel (9:02)

Total running time - 25:52

Line up:
Jane Gillard - Lead Vocals
Alistair Bell - Guitar, piano and vocals
Samuel C. Roberts - Bass
Tim Wilson - Drums, pads and vocals