Saturday, 23 February 2013

inFictions - Maps Of Revenge And Forgiveness

Sheffield collective inFictions are one of those bands that unfortunately are likely to rise and fall with barely anyone noticing, which is a real shame.

With their debut album Maps Of Revenge And Forgiveness they have left us with a hugely satisfying 51 minutes of very tasty art rock, and sadly, although the album came out less than a year ago the band is already on hiatus.

The three core members are all in other bands and they are currently without a drummer, and given that according to the blurb on the Bandcamp page they got through 8 skin bashers during the 3 year gestation of this record, it would seem to be an ongoing problem of Spinal Tap proportions!

Veering between epic art rock balladary of a Jeff Buckley-like scale and Mars Volta spikiness, the lush arrangements and soaring vocals put me very much in mind of American band The Tea Club. InFictions main man Ed Cartledge (vocals, guitars) told me he'd never heard of The Tea Club, and given the small waves made by bands of this size that is undoubtedly true, but they definitely seem to share the same muse.

Joining Ed on this musical journey through a wistful but nonetheless modernistic landscape are Gareth Hughes (bass, double bass, synth and mandolin) and Tom Chaffer (guitar), as well as piano, and various string and brass arrangements.

Fusing post-rock idioms with classical flourishes and gorgeous acoustic guitar on Orchards shows that this band are not easily pigeonholed, and nor should they be. Ed has described the band as "post progressive rock" at the same time eschewing "70s pre-punk progressive rock nonsense". And although a debt to modern post-rockers like God Speed You Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky is obvious, inFictions' highly developed epic scales and sense of melody owe more than a little to their dads' record collections methinks, as much as they might to Radiohead, whether they like it or nay! However there is nothing copyist about this album, it stands out there on its own, shining out like a lighthouse beacon through a dense fog of mediocrity.

On the rare occasion solos are used they very short and to the point as on The Silence Of The Sea where they are used simply as a counterpoint to the surging melody that all but jumps out of the speakers at you. This thing builds and builds and crashes, perfectly encapsulating the title and subject matter.

The amount of care that has been put into the accompanying artwork indicates that an awful lot of hard work and effort has gone into this project. We have a booklet with ten individually commissioned pieces to go with each track, and a button badge, all contained within an individually stickered cardboard box. The artwork is recreated on their classy website, where you will also find the thoughtful lyrics.

It would be a shame if the current band hiatus* becomes permanent as I consider that inFictions are a bit of a find amongst all the tame and predictable fare one has to wade through in the musical backwater that is modern prog rock. Hopefully we will hear more of the band in the future.

* Checking the Facebook page below reveals that there is a track being recorded as we speak, so good news, then!

inFictions website


Facebook page

This Road Leads to a Village of Informers (3:48)
Frozen River (4:49)
1st Intersection (5:49)
Line Drawings (5:06)
Laughter Track (4:02)
Orchards (3:35)
The Silence of the Sea (6:10)
The Cell (4:42)
2nd Intersection (1:34)
The Ghost of Some Old Sin (4:57)
Figurines (6:42)

Total running time 51:23

Line up:
As above...oh no, the drummer exploded! 

Friday, 22 February 2013

“You can’t shine if you don’t burn"

The inexorable passage of time means that the old guard of popular (and not so popular) music are and will be leaving us with increasing regularity. My normal reaction to hearing of the loss of yet another musical friend is a long sigh, followed by a search for an appropriate tune by the recently departed.

Having said that, hearing the news of Kevin Ayers' passing a couple of days ago was a genuine shock, and left me feeling almost as bereft as I did when John Peel went to that great gig in the sky. Thanks to Peely, I was introduced to Kevin's wine soaked off-kilter pop songs at an early age, and he has always held a special place in my musical universe. His passing left me genuinely sad.

Kevin has a long musical history, going right back to that almost mythological band The Wilde Flowers, out of which came The Soft Machine and Caravan, and from which of course the whole Canterbury scene blossomed.

Encouraged into songwriting by his friend Jimi Hendrix, Kevin's music was always infused with a laid back summery groove, due in no small part to his childhood being mostly spent in Malaysia, his step-father being a British diplomat out there.

Leaving Soft Machine (now minus the indefinite article) and retreating to Spain after a gruelling tour of the USA in support of Jimi Hendrix in 1968, Kevin took up his role as left-field maverick pop singer-songwriter, never looking back. He was lucky enough to work with a stellar supporting cast over the years, Mike Oldfield, David Bedford, Steve Hillage, Andy Summers being just a few. Probably his longest serving musical partner was the also now sadly departed Ollie Halsall, a truly marvellous guitar player.

Unfortunately I never got to see Kevin play live, but over the years I have bought most of his records. If you've not got any of his solo work, you owe it to yourself get a "Best Of" at the very least, or if you're feeling a bit more adventurous try any one of his first seven studio albums, all of which are gems.

It is quite fitting that his last studio album, the short but very sweet The Unfairground showed a marked return to form for the exiled oenophile. So, let's all raise a glass of full-bodied red to Kevin Ayers, who showed us all that human warmth and a decent tune are at least as important as cerebral musical flexing, something all us pseudo-intellectual scribblers should remember once in a while.

Kevin Ayers died at home in his sleep on 18 February 2013 in Montolieu, France, aged 68. A note bearing the legend used as the title of this piece was found there. It is not thought to be related to his death, but seems kind of appropriate.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Jastreb - Yggdrasil

Way way back in the mists of time, or 1972 as we knew it, my best mate Stephen Underwood and moi decided that we would borrow his older cousin's cheap Strat copy and make our very own twenty minute space-rock extravaganza.

The one big problem was that apart from my then residency in a church choir (I kid you not) neither of us had a smidgeon of musical ability between us, nor had either of us ever so much as picked up a guitar before, nor could we read music.

These were but minor drawbacks in our quest for world dominance, so, we invented our own way of "playing". The strings were numbered 1 to 6, low E being No.1, and the frets were numbered from the head stock to the high notes. Then we set about composing, mathematical style. For instance if we wanted to play the first three notes of Smoke On The Water on the low E it would have been written 1/0, 1/3, 1/5...and so on.

Having no knowledge of musical scales was overcome by experimentation, and eventually we came up with a repetitive 3 or 4 note dirge, played at various speeds. After, ooh, minutes of rehearsal we were ready for the studio. Showing the technical ability of proto-Joe Meeks, one of us would record the basic track on the low E and the A onto a portable Philips cassette recorder. The cassette was then popped into Stephen's dad's hi-fi, and then the other one (I forget who did what!) would "play" along to the basic track, the two-geetar grungathon being recorded again on the portable recorder. This was done until a) the batteries ran out, or b) the tape disintegrated.

The resulting simplistic and murky cacophony had a strange harmonic dissonance as being unable to tune the thing, we had relied on Stephen's cousin pre-tuning it for us and inevitably it slipped from the true note over time. Not to mention that keeping time and hitting the right note was somewhat hit and miss. After all these years it amazes me to learn that the tape survived and that someone has recorded a cover version, under the name Jastreb!!

Jastreb, named after a cold war Yugoslav fighter-bomber, feature members drawn from, amongst others, the mighty Seven That Spells, a band whose righteous The Death And Resurrection Of Krautrock: AUM showed what can be done with a right bloody racket. Jastreb however, are simply awful. Their one track drone rock riff, all thirty six minutes and forty two seconds of the bleedin' thing, probably thinks it is hypnotic but in actuality is far too grating for that. It starts off with a three note descending pattern repeating itself ad infinitum until half way through, when it steps down the ladder of complexity, if that were possible,  to hang endlessly on one repeated chord forfeckinever. To paraphrase Scott Walker, if shit were music, this would be something where you would advise those following to "leave it a while if I were you".

This album could be useful if your crow scarer runs out of cartridges, or if you have someone in your house you are itching to introduce to the delights of migraine headaches. Nope, I don't understand!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Family - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, 2nd February 2013

"Rollin' and tumblin' ain't done me no harm"

A fine day out in the capital for Phil W and me accompanied by our better halves was topped off by a blinding performance from Family, reformed to celebrate 40 years since their original demise. While the girls went off to Leicester Square to watch Russell Crowe et al in the film version of Les Miserables, we moseyed on down the Central Line to Shepherd's Bush and into the rather fading glamour of The Empire. Once past the over-zealous goons on the door whose anti-Jihadist training is wasted on a rock'n'roll venue, we climbed up to the top tier and the church pews that pass for seats up there, offering ample leg room for anyone under about 5 foot 2 inches tall.

This gig ties in with the release of the career-spanning box set referred to in detail in the YouTube interview below, which was shamelessly promoted downstairs in the foyer, and before and after the support act from the stage. One punter informed us when asked if he was going to buy it that "it would be bad form not to", and fair enough, if you can afford the £125 asking price it is a very well put together archival release. For once, it is hard to glean which came first; the idea to reform for these one-off shows, or the idea for the box. A chicken and egg situation if ever there was one

The support act was one Papa George, out of Barnes, SW London via Clarksdale, Mississippi. Banging out John Lee Hookerisms to the max on his National Steel, he was entertaining enough, and certainly knew his place, more than once telling us how good the headliners had been the previous night. As PW said, "he passed the time".

After a short break, the first surprise of the evening was given by the appearance of Frank Worthington, who along with the likes of Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles and Tony Currie formed a quartet of "rock star" maverick footballers in the early 70s, taking their cue from the guy who made the template, and to this day by far the best footballer I have ever seen, one George Best.

Anyway, I digress...strolling onstage with the bearing of an aged outlaw, 70s rock'n'roll footballer and fellow Leicester legend Frank Worthington introduced the band in the manner of the true fan he is, telling us twice in well lubricated tones what a great time he was having. There was obviously a good ol' party going down back stage.

The band saunter on to a rousing cheer and launch into the intro to Top Of The Hill, and not long after on shambles Roger Chapman to an even bigger greeting from the packed crowd.

Family were a strange band, and admitted as much in a song of the same name released as a single waay back in 1970. Neither prog nor folk, nor hard rock nor R&B (original and true definition), but an odd hybrid of all that and more. About the only band of the era who shared a similarly booze rather than drug-fuelled audience were The Faces, but Family had more strings to their bow than the ex-mods.

Although Family amassed a moderately large and loyal following they never made the step up to the major league their talents deserved, and disbanded in 1973, ironically enough a year that would turn out to be the peak year for the underground scene they came from. Maybe had they hit top form not in 69-72 but in 1973, who knows?

Of course, 99% of Family's songs were Chapman/Whitney compositions and guitarist Charlie Whitney was not here, and Chappo's almost first words to the audience after the first song ended were a good-humoured "Whitney, where the fuck are ya? Playin' yer bouzouki and eating kebabs in Greece?" As the interview below explains (from about 6:55 onwards), he wasn't up for it and all the work needed in preparation, and given his settled lifestyle in sunnier climes, who can blame him?

Showcasing songs that ranged from folksy to hard rock to barroom belters to almost prog constructs and all points in between, the ensemble were so obviously having such a great time the infectious joie-de-vivre of both band and audience instantly fed off one another.

The 2 permanent members, Chappo and drummer Rob Townsend, who go right back to pre-Family 60s R&B combo The Farinas (a name that to me sounds like a failed prototype for the Ford Cortina!); and slightly later entrant Poli Palmer on astonishingly good vibes and brief member Jim Cregan on rhythm and occasional lead guitar were joined by those Chappo referred to as "the In-Laws", starring Nick Payn (of Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings) on sax, clarinet, flute and harmonica, whose cool blowing lent the band an almost Canterbury air at times, and who for me was the musical icing on the cake.

Joining Nick were Geoff Whitehorn on lead guitar and Gary Twigg on bass, both from Roger Chapman's Shortlist, John Lingwood on drums & percussion ex of Manfred Mann's Earthband, and multi-talented session man, composer and arranger Paul Hirsh on keyboards; all seasoned pros to a man who collectively belted out the tunes with panache.

Roger Chapman is possessed of a unique and fearsomely powerful larynx, which even after all this time is still well capable of hitting the spot, apart from once jokingly saying "Thank fuck for that!" when the crowd took over a high note he was straining for.

Chappo stalks the stage like a garrulous drunk uncle, good humorously effin' and blinding. Understandably the manic idiot dancing of yesteryear is reduced to playing air-keyboards and air-guitar now and again while prowling the stage, but I only hope that should I make it to my eighth decade on the planet that I have even half his energy.  "Have you all come a long way?" he asks. "Yeah!" shout a good proportion of the crowd. "I hope yer miss yer fuckin' train" replies our glorious ringmaster, to much hilarity. "It's been fuckin' 'ard work, we've been abstaining for 2 weeks, but we're going to have a fuckin' party after, join us in the bar."

The hard work paid off, with only one missed cue that I could spot, at the end of the rather tricky Hung Up Down, not that it mattered. During instrumental Crinkly Grin, Chappo went off for a breather, returning at the end to josh "Instrumentalists - 'oo fuckin' needs 'em?" Perhaps not family entertainment, but definitely Family Entertainment!

We all shouted ourselves hoarse, belting out the lyrics to the band's one big hit, the white-boy funk extravaganza Burlesque. In my opinion only the mighty Zep topped that in the whitey-on-the-one stakes back in the day with Trampled Underfoot, but Family did it 3 years earlier. Other shoutalongs included In My Own Time and encore Sweet Desirée, all delivered with gusto by both band and audience.

A yearning Between Blue And Me is wistfully dedicated to Whitney and his Grecian blue skies, and beyond Chappo's earlier barbed references to his mate, the love and respect he holds for his songwriting partner is obvious for all to see.

Chappo concluded the gig with a heartfelt tribute to absent past members, some no longer with us, who made up the Family, naming James King, John Wetton, Rick Grech, Tony Ashton, John Weider, and not forgetting Whitney (always referred to by surname), whom he asked to come back and suffer the English cold.

A powerful and joyous evening, Chappo leaves with a final "Goodbye", and Family is put to rest.

Setlist: (e&oe!)
Top of the Hill
Drowned in Wine
Holding the Compass
Part Of The Load
Ready To Go
Crinkly Grin
Burning Bridges
No Mule's Fool
Sat'dy Barfly
Between Blue And Me
Hung Up Down
In My Own Time
Encore 1: Weaver's Answer
Encore 2: My Friend The Sun, Sweet Desirée

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