Monday, 30 December 2013

The Fierce And The Dead - Spooky Action

Anyone who goes to rock gigs in London will be aware of Matt Stevens. He's that genial bear of a man handing out flyers to us queuing punters.

A man who deserves some return for his ceaseless hard work battling against the never ending onrushing tsunami of bands in this age of instant communication, Matt is no mean guitarist as his solo work attests.

That solo work is built around looping an acoustic guitar, and to be honest, it has have never grabbed me, what I need to hear is the impolite math-prog-beast that is his band, The Fierce And The Dead.

Spooky Action is the band's 2nd full length album, and there have also been three EPs, commencing with the debut, the sensibly titled Part 1 in January 2010.

A compact and tightly knit four piece, the band pummel the listener with unrelenting and intense heavy math-rock, the instruments locked together like the strands that make up a sturdy rope, one that cannot be unravelled. Like that rope the sum is greater than the parts, although each player demonstrates intuitive understanding of their instrument.

Beginning with the archly named Part 4, the pattern is set with math-guitar patterns leading to insistent loud chord sequences. This album has the feel of being meticulously planned as if plotted on a graph, while at the same time pulling off the admirable feat of being a loosely visceral slab of post-everything rock'n'roll. This is achieved to its best effect on Let's Start A Cult, a heady three and half minutes of formulaic perfection.

Prior to the album, Ark was floated as the lead off video, and it neatly sums up the math-prog-riffage on offer.

Brutal bass pounds out the intro to I Like It, I'm Into It as if its life depends on it. The tune crushes in the manner of a coming together of 80s Crimson and early Black Sabbath before the drugs stopped working, before changing tack to become briefly more restrained, ending in an ascending righteous guitar figure.

Parked logically in the middle of the album is the eerie ambience of Intermission 3, allowing the listener to draw breath for a while. However, the album is not all about hammering it to the ground; And The Bandit goes for a more laid back groove, coming over like a math-metal Wire in the process.

The Frippian interlocking cyclical guitar figure of Part 5 is wrapped round what sounds like a bass saxophone parping off the beat, albeit probably synthesised, and this leads into the final track Chief, a more melodic piece than what has gone before, although it doesn't take long before more angular math-riffs gatecrash the party.

The melody returns, but is bludgeoned to the floor by more pile driving riffage and dissonance, and if I have one criticism of this album it is that the sonics do become a bit wearying on the old lugholes after a while, purely because of the dominance of the harsh, nay Fierce (!) choppy riffing. A bit more variety in the way of more melody would not go amiss. I'll bet they're bloody loud live, too, but that ain't a criticism!

1. Part 4 (3:32)
2. Ark (4:03)
3. Let's Start A Cult (3:35)
4. Pyramid Hat (3:10)
5. I Like It, I'm Into It (4:06)
6. Intermission 3 (2:39)
7. Spooky Action (3:16)
8. And The Bandit (4:42)
9. Entropy (2:56)
10. Part 5 (1:50)
11. Chief (6:03) 

Line up:
Matt Stevens - Guitar
Stewart Marshall - Drums
Kev Feazey - Bass guitar
Steve Cleaton - Guitar

Get Spooky Action and all the earlier releases at Bandcamp 

Bulbs - On

Hailing from Liverpool, Bulbs released their debut album On roughly six months ago. I'm only writing about it now as it slipped through the net at the time, and I have become captivated by its individualistic stance. Yes, it is most certainly progressive, melding sci-fi prog, baggy electronic dance moves, classical acoustic wizardry, sound samples, math rock, and much more to produce a refreshing instrumental tour de force.

Neil Campbell is a highly talented classical guitarist, who, with the aid of loops, delay, and other knobs and switches weaves together layers of entrancing sound, the track Lantra being a fine example. Neil also plays the good ol' electric guitar with aplomb, have no fear.

Neil's other projects and his band The Neil Campbell Collective provide Bulbs with bassist Andy Maslivec. Drummer Joey Zeb has his roots in what is described in the blurb as "prog dub" and also plays with prog band Gorp and "dub hop" group The Corinthians. The electronics are brought to the table by Marty Snape, who should be the Mad Professor of the band with a name like that!

This esoteric combination of singular talents produce a fairly unique sound that sits somewhere between spacerock, rock-dance crossover, and angular prog. That latter description suits the fierce charge through the cosmos that is Future Cities, whereas the spacerock is to the fore on Frankincensed, which has hints of Magazine and very early Porcupine Tree chucked into the groove blender for good measure.

Always powered along by Andy's melodic bass runs and Joey dextrous drumming, if these songs don't get you tapping your feet, they've fallen off.

USA does a funky shimmy around an odd time signature, nailed again by the rhythm section, slower funky moves emerge on A Very Good Friday, and Neil's layered classical guitar gets another outing on the understated but marvellous album closer 3572 Off.

Unfortunately this album is not high profile enough in the sometimes insular world of Brit-prog to make many End of Year lists, which is a shame as it is musically accomplished, accessible, and, most importantly, cliché free. No lesser personage than Jon Anderson gives On the Accrington thumbs-up on the Burning Shed site; "wild and wonderful music" he calls it, and he ain't wrong.

1. Lament (1:55)
2. Frankincensed (4:47)
3. Majestic (5:56)
4. Injusa (4:03)
5. Illuminate (6:25)
6. USA (2:04)
7. Lantra (3:57)
8. They Control The Weather (5:29)
9. Switch (2:49)
10. Future Cities (4:49)
11. A Very Good Friday (4:38)
12. 3572 Off (5:52)

Line up:
Joey Zeb - drums
Andy Maslivec - bass
Neil Campbell - guitar
Marty Snape - electronics

Buy this at Burning Shed

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Quiet Sun - Mainstream

On downtime from working with Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera took the opportunity of the 26 days afforded him over a period spanning late December 1975 and early January 1976 to finally record an album with his pre-Roxy group Quiet Sun. Possibly because Mainstream was recorded without his label's knowledge, for as far as they knew he was working only on Diamond Head, it received little promotion, and maybe for this reason it went under my then youthful radar, these being decades before the instant info access era of today.

It was not until some ten years later that I bought this LP, and since then it has remained a firm favourite. When you consider the dozens of carbon copy unimaginative rock bands in the UK at the beginning of the 70s who were given contracts, even if only for one album, it is frankly astonishing that Quiet Sun were never snapped up.

The band evolved in 1970 out of Manzanera's college group Pooh and the Ostrich Feather - a wise choice of name change, methinks. They consisted of Charles Hayward, later a founder member of experimental post-punk combo This Heat on drums, keyboard player Dave Jarrett who later became a maths teacher, and bassist Bill MacCormick. After Quiet Sun, MacCormick joined his friend Robert Wyatt in Matching Mole, the latter fresh from leaving Soft Machine.

The influence of MacCormick's mate's seminal band can be heard in the music of Quiet Sun, especially in the tone of Jarrett's keyboards, and in their general jazz-based chops. What makes the difference is Manzanera's guitar, sometimes blazing a coruscating trail through the sky on tracks like Bargain Classics.

With tongues planted firmly in cheek, the album is called Mainstream, for it is a defiantly noncommercial beast. A mixture of jazz-rock, psychedelics and the unquantifiable otherness that any great album needs in order to stand the test time, the record kicks off with Sol Caliente, and the burning over-driven guitar figure is every bit as hot as the title suggests. MacCormick's Hopper-like fuzz bass launches the main theme and we're off! Through the quieter middle section Jarrett's keyboards paint a pastel picture behind which Manzanera's agitated guitar buzzes about looking for escape, which of course it eventually finds, bringing the song to a climax. A more than promising start.

Trumpets With Motherhood is a short keyboard based interlude with treated guitar. With Eno in the building it would have been daft not to use his talents on this record, but his input, while major on Diamond Head, is relatively unobtrusive here.

Structure arises out of the toy shop chaos of the initial percussion sequence of Bargain Classics, with another of those hypnotic keyboard figures Jarrett rolled out with aplomb. Dave Jarret turns in a really good performance on this album and in other circumstances could easily have ended up in playful rivalry to Dave Stewart and Alan Gowan. Bargain Classics is on a par with National Health or The Hatfields, it's that good. Making use of the three keyboard players the melody and counter melody weaves in and out of itself, with Manzanera's guitar also providing counterpoint. The rhythm section is intuitive with a lightness of touch that is just what is needed to compliment the front line.

R.F.D. slows things down and an electric piano via a Leslie speaker effect with synth flourishes provides a nice calming interlude. I've absolutely no idea what "R.F.D." stands for, by the way! Then comes the spectacular tune with possibly the best ever title in popular music, Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil. An aggressive and spiky little number where the guitar powers us along, we are left hanging on to that asteroid by the tips of our broken-nailed fingers. Definitely Phil's starring vehicle, the playing on this is about us un-Roxy as you can imagine, sounding like a learned older cousin of Khan-era Steve Hillage. Marvellous it is, makes you want to hit repeat as soon as it's over.

After the sudden ending of Mummy..., Trot slows the dynamic. An involving and confident keyboard led meander down a jazzy path, Jarrett again shows he was no slouch. Must be something in that surname! Waking us up from our reverie, the song ends with more stabbing guitar from an on fire Manzanera.

Another sudden ending and we're off into Soft Machine territory with album closer Rongwrong, but the band soon put their own stamp on that classic Canterbury sound. Written by drummer Hayward, who here sings the only vocal of the album where oddly enough he comes over like a cracked Robert Wyatt in the delivery. The clever lyric is possibly a tale of intellectual peer pressure and the ultimate need for companionship, and halfway through MacCormick delivers a fine accompanied bass solo that adds to the slightly introspective nature of the song. Sitting slightly apart from the rest of the album, Rongwrong shows where the band may have gone, given the chance.

For once the bonus tracks have some purpose as this is the only fully formed release by the band, but the purpose of this review is the main album, and it seems the CD version with the bonus tracks is increasingly hard to obtain. Suffice to say, if you can track it down it's definitely worth it.

Mainstream by Quiet Sun is thankfully no longer a "lost gem" as many still refer to it, and Quiet Sun were a missed opportunity for the music industry at the time and by 1972 they were no more. Thanks to Phil Manzanera's fame with Roxy Music, we have this fitting tribute to a highly talented bunch of musicians, and I for one will keep on going back to play it once more.


1. Sol Caliente (7:34)
2. Trumpets With Motherhood (1:47)
3. Bargain Classics (5:48)
4. R.F.D. (3:23)
5. Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil (6:00)
6. Trot (5:18)
7. Rongwrong (9:34)

Bonus tracks:
8. Years Of Quiet Sun (10:33)
9. Trot (original demo) (10:25)
10. R.F.D. (Warner Bros demo) (6:13)
11. R.F.D. Part 1 (Mainstream session) (2:24)
12. Talking History (interviews) (8:01)

Total running time - 76:57

Line up:

Charles Hayward - drums, percussion, keyboards & voices
Dave Jarrett - keyboards
Phil Manzanera -guitars, keyboards
Bill MacCormick - bass guitars & voices

Brian Eno - synthesizers, treatments and oblique strategies
Ian MacCormick - Back up voices

Phil Manzanera - Diamond Head

This is one of those records that has been with me in one form or another since its release in 1975. My first copy of this was on pre-recorded cassette, then came the LP, both of which I wore out.

When my disposable income allowed me to indulge in record collecting in a big way, I tracked down a pristine vinyl copy, the sound of which is simply gorgeous, better than the first CD version from the turn of the century. The last CD remaster that came out on Expression Records in 2011 however has done the sound the justice it deserves.

That this seamless beauty was recorded and mixed in a 26-day gap in Roxy Music's schedule at the tail end of 1975 through the beginning of 1976 before beginning a North American tour is quite astonishing, especially in an era when the rock heavyweights took a week to lay down a two note guitar fill, maan. Even more remarkable is that within this time frame he also recorded an album with his pre-Roxy Band Quiet Sun, unbeknownst to his record label! More on that later.

Manzanera penned all the music, and called in the kind of supporting cast most could only dream of; Robert Wyatt, Eno, John Wetton and Bill MacCormick contribute lyrics and vocals to five of the nine songs here. Manzanera's ex-Roxy colleague gets two, MacCormick, Wyatt and Wetton one apiece. The other four tracks of the original album are instrumentals where a marked Canterbury style gets shown how to flamenco by Phil's spicy electric Iberian guitar stylings, via South and Latin America, a result of his widely travelled upbringing. Joining Phil we have, amongst others, Wetton's bass, Roxy colleagues, all of Quiet Sun, and on bonus track Carhumba a trio of Nigerian musicians and South African trumpet legend Mongezi Feza star on an early foray into what would become known as world music. Oh, and not forgetting one Ian McDonald on bagpipes on East Of Echo.

I make no excuses for this review going down the dreaded "track-by-track" route, as a classic album like this deserves no less. And so, to the backing of a tune coming straight down a dusty track from a high sierra somewhere in an alternate universe, lacking only imagined castanets clicking away, Robert Wyatt gets to wrap his ever distinctive tonsils around a Spanish tale of derring-do and subterfuge from the Frontera. This is followed by the contemplative instrumental title track that unfolds like a waking flower in the desert, reaching full bloom under the sympathetic cultivation of Eddie Jobson's multi-tracked strings. Phil contributes a marvellous understated guitar solo, one of the few on the album.

Unusually for a solo album, the main man's instrument is largely used in an impressionistic manner, leaving the strength of the songwriting and arrangements to do the work. This highlights the lack of ego and pretence at large, something most solo albums of the era suffered greatly from.

Big Day, the first Eno song, sees the protagonist longing for home, in this case Peru, and for once Eno keeps it relatively literal, to an accompanying simple descending chord sequence. It is of course, quite sublime. "Oo-poo-Peru", indeed! The Flex is a dirty funk workout, starring Jobson's Stevie Wonder-esque clavinet and Andy McKay's sax, topped off with a dirty funk-fuzz guitar break from Phil.

Next up is Same Time Next Week, where John Wetton and Doreen Chanter duet on John's laissez-faire hymn to liberated 70s sexual mores, something of a follow up to the devil-may-care attitudes expressed in his lyric to Easy Money, penned only a couple of years before this. The music is a skittering jazz sand lizard chasing the tail of the much heavier Crim tune, topped off with a nice'n'sleazy guitar break from Mr M.

This is followed by the sublime Miss Shapiro, an immediately obvious Eno vocal and lyric. This and Big Day match anything on the "vocal" four of Eno's first five solo albums, before he stopped writing and singing those odd and oblique words, and ran with the ambient themes first expressed on Discreet Music, the odd one out of those first five, all much to our loss.

A typically surreal example of Eno word association, Miss Shapiro is one of those seemingly effortless left-field pop lyrics that he was so good at, and includes a doo-wop pastiche in the chorus that I swear goes "Chop suey, chop chop suey". If it doesn't, it should! Hidden away in the song there is even a reference to the world's longest running soap opera, BBC Radio 4's The Archers. Marvellous! Manzanera's handclap festooned tune to this is suitably throwaway, but timeless all the same. A veritable pop classic.

Lurking around in the studio were the rest of Quiet Sun, waiting to start the nightshift, so why not use them all together for once? This our hero does and adds Wetton's bass, Thompson's drums, Ian MacDonald's bagpipes and Eno's guitar treatments to the instrumental highlight of the album, the wonderful East Of Echo. A space rock opera from The Latino Space Agency, Cuban heels click to Phil's spidery guitar and Wetton's unusually funky bass as we head off into the cosmic dust to be greeted at the apex of our orbit by MacDonald's bagpipes fed through a synth patch, shards of otherworldly echoing guitar leading into the fade-in of Lagrima.

After the full-on epic treatments of its predecessor, Lagrima is a simple flamenco introduction on Phil's Spanish guitar, accompanied only by Andy McKay's oboe. In this dream home the heartache is over, the weary soul has accepted its fate. Without warning the initially upfront Alma crashes in, soon to establish its melancholy urban dislocation with Bill MacCormick's lyric and Phil's wistful tune. The redemptive and defiant outro ups the ante and rides out on another rare spotlight-grabbing moment from Phil; bloody glorious it is, too.

After Alma I usually stop the CD, as this is the proper end to the album. The bonus tracks are interesting, nothing more. Carhumba features some stellar guitar from Phil and great trumpet playing from Mongezi Feza, while Corazon Y Alma is a low-fi demo of snatches of tunes that would end up on Diamond Head, recorded by Quiet Sun as far back as 1971. This goes a little way to explain how Manzanera managed to record this album in such a short space of time and seemingly with little rehearsal, as it appears these are old tunes that Phil already had at least partly worked out in his head.

Diamond Head was Phil Manzanera's first solo album and it is the sound of a musician riding the crest of a wave of unfettered imagination. In my opinion it remains his best work outside of Roxy Music. Diamond Head is a joyous affirmation, and even all these years later it still sounds as fresh as a daisy. That's the wonder of the tundra!


1. Frontera (4:02)
2. Diamond Head (4:30)
3. Big Day (3:44)
4. The Flex (3:32)
5. Same Time Next Week (4:45)
6. Miss Shapiro (6:29)
7. East Of Echo (5:45)
8. Lagrima (2:35)
9. Alma (6:48)

Bonus tracks
10. Carhumba (4:48)
11. Corazon Y Alma (10:24)

Total running time - 57:35

Line up:
Phil Manzanera - guitars, keyboards, bass, fuzz bass, string synthesizer,
Robert Wyatt - lead vocals, timbals, cabasa, backing vocals
Brian Eno - backing vocals, guitar treatment, rhythm guitar, piano
John Wetton - bass, lead vocals, mellotron
Brian Turrington -bass
Paul Thompson - drums
Eddie Jobson - strings, fender piano, electric clavinet, synthesizer
Andy MacKay - soprano sax, alto sax, oboe
Bill MacCormick - fuzz bass themes, vocals
Charles Hayward - percussion
Dave Jarrett - keyboards
Ian McDonald - bagpipes
Sonny Akpan - congas
Doreen Chanter - lead vocals
Chyke Hainu - drums
Danny Heibs - bass
Mongezi Feza - trumpet 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

2013 - A year in review - Part Two

...and so, on to Part Two.

Djam Karet - The Trip
A 47 minute voyage into the cosmos. Catch it as it flies past on a meteor near you!

Not A Good Sign - Not A Good Sign
Heavy prog, but not at all clichéd. Bloody marvellous record!

Earthling Society - ZodiaK
Stoogian nightmares from a chemically foul northern estuary. Righteously ancient rock'n'roll!

The Stargazer's Assistant - Mirrors & Tides, Shivers & Voids 
Album artwork of the year encases this double 10" album from Guapo co-founder David J Smith. The sound of a slowly decaying ancient pine forest.

Leafblade - The Kiss Of Spirit And Flesh
You wont find better poetry as lyrics in 2013 than that contained within this beautiful piece of pastoral prog.

Juxtavoices - Juxtanother antichoir from Sheffield
An "antichoir"? "What's that?", you may well ask, and all I can say is that this album is unlike anything else that landed on my doormat in 2013. Avant-choral music, if you like. I do.

Mike Keneally - You Must Be This Tall
Highly accomplished quirky songwriting combined with brilliant but never flash musicianship make this a must.

Homunculus Res - Limiti all'eguaglianza della Partecon il Tutto
Clever and playful debut from Italian Cantabrians.

Ligeia Mare - Songs We Never Thought Of
Strange improvised oddity from way up in The Rockies somewhere. Quite compelling.

Thieves' Kitchen - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy
"Thieves' Kitchen is a place where classic English pastoral folk and prog influences meet with a modernistic sensibility" sez me. I'm not wrong.

Miriodor - Cobra Fakir 
I've only had the opportunity to give this a cursory listen so far, but from what I've heard it is shaping up to be another class release from these French/Canadian exponents of RIO/avant prog that is not at all scary, and hence accessible to all types of prog fans, as Raff says in her inimitable style.

Kayo Dot - Hubardo
Fearsome. That is all.

Ulver - Messe I.X - IV.X
The latter part of the year chucked a whole load of awesome platters at us, this marvellous album being no exception. Ulver have over the years progressed way beyond categorisation, and here they confound us yet again. This album is a 45 minute distillation of melancholy and sadness in musical form. Darkly beautiful.

I Know You Well Miss Clara - Chapter One
Another Indonesian jewel unearthed by Moonjune Records. Were it not for fierce competition from Soft Machine Legacy and The Wrong Object, this new twist on fusion would win the biscuit. Beguiling.

simakDialog - The 6th Story
Definitely a corking year for fusion, here's another, this time from a more established Indonesian act on Moonjune.

miRthkon - Snack(s)
Crazy mixed up music, with more tunings and time signatures than you can shake a fist at, including a cover of Fairies Wear Boots. what's not to like?!

Goldfrapp - Tales Of Us
Alison and Will reinvent themselves yet again with this lovely collection of tunes.

Empty Days - Empty Days (DPRP review soon come)
Highly musical in the most restrained fashion, and highly intelligent, Francesco Zago's imagination shows no signs of slowing down. Marvellous album.

Hejira - Prayer Before Birth
Only got this sent to me a few days ago, and it's playing as I type. Initially very impressive I must say, like a more agitated Tuung with pop sensibilities, or North Sea Radio Orchestra rocking out. I can thank Sid Smith's Best of 2013 lists for this one.

2013 was a year which saw the reissue industry aimed at those of us of a certain age, some of whom have more money than shelf space reach ridiculous proportions. This wallet extraction exercise was epitomised by the gargantuan Road To Red by King Crimson, a band, or should I say cottage industry, who in recent times have trawled their back catalogue like no other, chucking out tens and tens of live CDs, 5:1 remixes, kitchen sinks and plunger. There comes a point when even the most hardened Crim obsessive (me) says "enough is enough".  Luckily for Mr Fripp's bank balance there are still plenty out there who will continue to buy whatever is next off the production line. Ho-hum.

Definitely not ho-hum is Steven Wilson's sublime 5:1 knob twiddling on Yes's Close to the Edge, which wins my reissue banana, hypocrite that I am!

Archaeological find
Undoubtedly coup of the year goes to Cuneiform Records who released Robert Wyatt's '68, which for the first time collected all the demo tapes made by Wyatt after Soft Machine's 1968 US tour with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This is essential listening for anyone with a love of musical history in general and the Canterbury/Soft Machine scene in particular.

A vintage year that included the Family reunion show, the Steven Wilson Raven tour at The Royal Festival Hall, Van der Graaf Generator playing A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers, the Tim Smith benefit; but the best for me was the Five Years Of Kscope celebration at The Garage in London on 24th July. Pete would agree it was worth the back pain!

So, to sum up, despite family setbacks and loss, and a Springtime unsettling run in with rabid fandom and fragile egos, the unending stream of music, good bad and indifferent helped keep me sane through what has been a personal annus crappus. Roll on 2014!

Finally, thanks to all you folk out there who read my nonsense, without whom I'd probably still do it anyway. Merry Solstice & A Happy New Year!

Part One of this Festive beano can be found HERE.

2013 - A year in review - Part One

Music was one of the few things to keep me sane in a bloody awful year from a personal point of view, and these spinning discs were the good 'uns that got caught in the net. Of course, there's bound to be some really good stuff that flew right on by, but this is my bag.

Really, it's just an excuse for me to make another list, in very rough chronological order, with links to reviews. What I consider the ten jewels in the crown are in bold, and it was damned hard trying to decide what would make the cut.

This year I will split this thing into two parts, otherwise it could take too long for the page to load!

Guapo - History Of The Visitation
Kicking off the year with this fearsome racket, the post-Xmas Holiday blues were blown away by this hypnotically sinister slab of noise.

Farmers Market - Slav To The Rhythm
A fun and different take on jazz-fusion with mucho exotic instrumentation aplenty. A joyous little record.

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing
After following his career for over twenty years, it's great to see that "the boy done good", and here he delivers a highly polished and brilliantly played take on classic prog moves, aided by a great band, that was even better live. Surprisingly, I've not played it nearly as much as I thought I was going to, and his next move will hopefully take a new turn. Can a record be too perfect?

Herd Of Instinct - Conjure
Their sound beefed up by the addition of Djam Karet's Gayle Ellet on keyboards, the Herd magic up a fine slab of modern instrumental prog.

Amplifier - Echo Street
Rock Monsta! Album Of The Year contender.

Rock song of the Year

Taylor's Universe - Worn Out
Anything but, this is individualistic jazz-fusion tinged progressive music of the highest order.

David Bowie - The Next Day
A major surprise, and not just in the stealth bomber release tactics. Another contender. March was a bloody good month, it has to be said.

Henry Fool - Men Singing
Everything the Eno/Canterbury fan could want and much more besides. Lovely.

Baron - Columns
Post-rock and Ashra ambience only begin to describe it. Another product of the Brighton hive-mind.

uKanDanZ - Yetchalal
Ethiopian/Belgian jazz rock, anyone? If your feet don't at least twitch to this, you're probably dead.

Move! C'mon!

Soft Machine Legacy - Burden Of Proof
Jazz-fusion album of the year...possibly. Buy it!
We were there at the up to that point fabulous gig that was ended with John Marshall's collapse, and the last I heard he is recovering well. Take it easy, John.

Necromonkey - Necroplex
Not what you'd maybe expect from a combination of two members of Änglagård and Gösta Berlings Saga, and all the better for it. File next to Gavin Harrison & O5ric.

Jumble Hole Clough - Two Days In April
Lovely minimalist ambience lost in space and time...or North Yorkshire. 'Appen.

Half Past Four - Good Things
Rocky "pizzazz and wonderful energy". Jez said it all.

Humble Grumble - Guzzle It Up
Zappa meets Gong and the Hatfields in Budapest. Mad good fun.

Bulbs - On
Proof that you can be "prog" and come up with a different recipe. 

The Wrong Object - After The Exhibition
The other contender for jazz-fusion album of the year. It's a dead heat! Utterly brilliant and inventive from start to end. Buy it!

Sanguine Hum - The Weight Of The World
One of the torchbearers for the new Canterbury sound. Great songs, lovely instrumentation. They are damn good live too.

...still reading? Part Two can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Magic Band - The Musician, Leicester, 6th December 2013

My entry point into the alternate and wilfully singular universe once inhabited by Captain Beefheart was witnessing him and his post-Magic band playing a heavy space swamp blues take of Upon The My-O-My on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1974. A suitably mainstream entry point, I think you'd agree, it left me entirely unprepared for the more cacophonous records in his discography. Emboldened by hearing strange blasts of alien blues on John Peel's shows, and later when the punk revolution saw his name mentioned occasionally, I bought the albums from the Virgin years, and eventually Trout Mask Replica.

Although I certainly have a taste for the more avant end of the rock spectrum, or "chimps playing kazoos" as my mate would have it, I will freely admit that I have never got on with that most divisive of records, and to this day I struggle to understand it. Luckily I didn't let it put me off, and I've grown to love most of the back catalogue, apart from the dreadfully limp Unconditionally Guaranteed, ironically enough! So, when I saw this gig come through on my Farcebook newsfeed it was a must see.

The fourth of six UK dates sees the Magic Band appearing in the intimate surroundings of The Musician, Leicester, on a damp and cold December night. A capacity crowd of probably around 150 mostly male, mostly middle-aged blokes assembled to frug to the good Captain's strange tunes. Leicester, even jokingly referred to by us almost locals as "Lie-cester" gets the same treatment from John “Drumbo” French who also questions in a bemused fashion why a food compliment is spelled "Wor-ces-ter-shire Sauce", but pronounced "Wusster". Well, if anyone should be used to expecting the unobvious, surely it's a member of this particular musical grouping, methinks!

Anyone who has read of Beefheart's dreadful treatment of his band during the prolonged rehearsals/imprisonment/torture (delete as your conscience dictates) for Trout Mask Replica will find it quite remarkable that John French and Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston ever wanted to hear a Beefheart tune again, let alone play the stuff live. But play it they do, and then some, and with a palpable sense of enjoyment, too. Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley joined the band later and only stayed for a couple of years, probably getting out while he still could, and he completed the trio of original members of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band.

As soon as Drumbo opens his mouth to declaim My Human Gets Me Blues it is as if the Captain was among us. His voice, right down to the nuances of the snarls, the whoops and hollers, IS the Captain. It is an uncanny resemblance.

While Drumbo is unquestionably the leader, the ensemble playing is as tight as a nut, especially so on the seemingly completely illogical moves some of these tunes make. When let loose, lead guitarist Eric Klerks shows himself to be a fine player, as are they all, weaving in and out of the complex mathematical structure of the more avant songs in the setlist. Playing this anti-music with a nonchalance of a bar band playing Johnny B Goode for the 7015th time, the band make it look easy when it patently is not. Credit must be given to drummer Andrew Nive, who somehow manages to keep it all from flying apart.

On a more conventionally structured tune like Hot Head the band emit a powerful stomp, possibly in a floppy boot. When not declaiming or conducting the group, arms pulling forth crescendos and endings from the band, Drumbo is honking away on the sax in a free jazz stylee with more than a touch of the Ornette Colemans. The man also blows a mean harp, boy.

After the first set the band mixed with the audience near the merch stall, and they were all very approachable, Mark Boston being the most genial, posing for photos with fans and autographing CDs, like everyone's favourite uncle. It was an eye-opener seeing Drumbo, a few minutes ago the larger than life shamanic channeller of the good Captain, transform into the straight ahead John French as soon as he stepped away from the magic dust on the stage.

The second set commences with Drumbo doing what he started out doing all those years ago, with a fine charge or three round the drum kit serving as an introduction to On Tomorrow from Spotlight Kid. One of the highlights was the nearest thing in the set to a ballad, in spirit if not in sound, a sublime version of Steal Softly Through Snow, which is an example of Beefheart at his most poetic.

You can't play dem blooze without talking about a train, and Click Clack more than fulfills that particular obligation, chooglin' along at an insistent pace. All too soon the set is over, ending with a fine rendition of the classic declamatory lurch that is Big Eyed Beans From Venus.

The encore delivers a blistering take of Electricity, Drumbo stretching the syllables to almost snapping point in that remarkable Beefheartian drawl. Bonkers and brilliant. Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do saw Drumbo struggling with and eventually being defeated by the microphone set up for the mouth harp, while the band played manfully on. It was the only technical mishap of the evening, but it did nothing to spoil what was a thoroughly enjoyable night.

Finally...just why is Bat Chain Puller so darned expensive?

The Magic Band are:

Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley - guitar, slide guitar
Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston - bass guitar
John “Drumbo” French - uncanny vocals, saxophone, harmonica, drums, guitar
Eric Klerks - lead guitar
Andrew Nive - drums

Setlist: (approximate - a combination of memory and older setlists. Feel free to put me right!)
My Human Gets Me Blues TMR
Low Yo Yo Stuff cs
Diddy Wah Diddy
Hair Pie (Bass Solo)
Golden Birdies cs
When It Blows Its Stacks TSK
Hot Head DATRS
Doctor Dark LMDOB
Circumstances CS


On Tomorrow SP
(Opened with John French drum solo)
Alice in Blunderland TSK
Suction Prints SB(BCP)
Hair Pie Bake I TMR
Steal Softly Through Snow TMR
Owed T'Alex SB(BCP)
Click Clack TSK
Floppy Boot Stomp SB(BCP)
Moonlight on Vermont TMR
Big Eyed Beans From Venus CS

Electricity SAM
Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do SAM

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