I Had A New York Girlfriend

When music historians look back on the latter half of the 2010s two key things will become clear from their research. Firstly how the hell was Ed Sheeran/Mumford and Sons/Coldplay (delete as applicable) so successful when other bands and artists, clearly more talented, remained largely unnoticed?

Secondly, why didn’t my DJ chums (with the notable exception of Dave Hammond) pick up on the first The Seven Twenty album when I made it my album of the year in 2015.

Three years on from that first album The Seven Twenty are back with a collection of songs that were written around the time of the first release and have been languishing waiting for a record label with any degree of common sense to pick up on them. Such are the vagaries of the music biz these days the band have set up their own label to release it.

In a pub in Prestwich about a year ago I was berating Stephen Doyle about the need to find “The Grant McLennan Moment” in the outpourings of singer we were watching, who was trying hard but I was not connecting with. The “Grant” moment is that bit in a song where you get a shiver up your spine and you smile from the inside out. Very few musicians can do it. Capturing a moment in time through songwriting and making it last is an art. James Burling can do it, and he has a group of musicians around him that can deliver his vision. Their new album does the “Grant” thing on every track.

The Seven Twenty - band promo image 2018 - please credit Stag Lites Photography where used
The Seven Twenty (credit: Stag Lites Photography)

“Joy” is the second album from The Seven Twenty. It was written on a plastic guitar in New York in four days and brought back to the UK where it was polished and developed, before being finished in New York in the Summer of 2016. They have created a collection which is every bit of a triumph as the debut. I’d go as far as to say it’s better than the eponymous first release in that it is better produced and has a complete suite of songs feel about it. The thematic thread of the album is love, but a love separated by distance, lack of resources, cultural divides, and other distractions. New York, as a place, runs through the album with Paul Auster like psychogeographical abandon. Musically it is rich and memorable, with lush string arrangements, epic sweeping moments and also a  great deal of fun.

Burling can be firmly placed in the list of great songwriters like Forster & McLennan, Ray Davies et al. He captures the essence of pop/rock music and modernises it, you will recognise some of the themes, arrangements and melodies in that he has taken the ingredients that make a great song and distilled them into perfect little parcels. On one occasion the similarities to a track by a group from Birmingham are a little less tangential than they ought to be but manage to avoid being a copy/pastiche, in any event, anyone under the age of 55 wouldn’t probably get the allusion/illusion/connection that I got.

Comparisons can and should be made, in part, with The Go-Betweens. A female drummer and great songs are the pedantically obvious points.  What I mean is that this is a quality album in the adventurous spirit of Spring Hill Fair with the sentiment and accessibility of 16 Lovers Lane. And of course, Robert Forster had a solo album called “I Had A New York Girlfriend”.

 ‘Joyʼ is released on 22nd June 2018 on limited run vinyl and digital formats.

The Seven Twenty are James Burling (guitar, lead vocals), Stewart Harris (bass, backing vocals), Geoff Hinkins (keys, backing vocals) and Helen Robertson (drums, backing vocals). Stewart also plays in The Scissors and Helen & Geoff play in Goddamit Jeremiah (whose album I must get around to reviewing as well).

 “Joy “is the first release on the bandʼs Whiskey Ward Records label.  Order it here.

The promo says the album is already being described as a “cult” classic. It transcends cult status in my mind, it ought to be huge. Whether they will be able to break through the 6Music glass ceiling is in the hands of the gods, and luck, I’d guess but I already know that at least three community radio DJs will be featuring the band, I challenge my other DJ chums to ignore it at their peril.

Will it be album of the year 2018? Possibly but there are already six other contenders which are as good, and it is only June, so you’ll have to wait until December to find out.

As for Ed Sheeran and the others? Well, I don’t really care about them.

The Seven Twenty - Joy cover art

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Landscapes of Insanity

Good music can always capture and reflect on moments in history.

It can deal with politically important issues without resorting to polemic. It can anthologise without being trite.

Mr Moss has been poorly over the last few years. He has battled two major health scares. His indomitable spirit has fought through these catabatic barriers and he has emerged phoenix-like with his mojo renewed and wholly intact.

I may have said elsewhere that Four Candles is the best band that Mr Moss has ever had, this is confirmed and exemplified by “Spiritual Rapture” their new release. Said band is Phil Peak – drums, Jon Rowlinson – bass and Mark Taylor – guitar.

Back in January, at the Peer Hat in Manchester, the six songs on this album were premiered and worked through. At the time I was struck by the huge change in the band from the sturm and drang of “Killing the Image” to a more measured and, dare I say it, progressive approach to the music.

Mr Moss writes internally for his solo stuff with various collaborators. For band projects he writes externally, he observes and comments, he anthologises, he is political, and also is a biographer.

The music here is mature and considered.  Mr Moss provides a balanced attack, both bucolic and bellicose. There is saxophone from David Wilkinson to add fire and fervour to the sound, especially on “Chastity Belt” the 657th song in the canon about the dissolution of a band which we don’t talk about anymore. The rhythmic interplay on said song between Taylor, Rowlinson and Peak is breathtaking.

“Dipping A Toe In The Water” is a song about a Muddy Waters’ tour in the UK and yet another swipe at the conservative idiots who are so-called music fans. Taylor plays one of many earworm guitar figures that appear across the album. Rowlinson and Peak swing effortlessly as Taylor arpeggiates and Moss testifies. Hypnotic music with a strong message.

“C33” has appeared, lyrically at least, elsewhere as a Moss Bros concoction. Here it most resembles the music that was on “Killing The Image”. Live it is a monster, big riffs and call and response vocals. Moss emotes his huge regard for Oscar Wilde, the rhythm section attacks with motorik menace, and the guitar assaults your senses.

The absolute triumph is “You Can’t Be What You Pretend” – rhythmically starting somewhere in Psycho Killer territory, all backbeat and attitude, but carried forward with one of the best guitar figures I have heard in a long while. If you are not moving sinuously in a slinky fashion across the dance floor on hearing this then you have no soul. Moss berates and bellows moving from declamatory to intense, this is head-shakingly, hip-movingly hypnotic stuff. It’s damn sexy. It transcends to a huge climax relentlessly drawing you in.

What to do after that?  Well, the answer is to dive into a delta blues with abandonment. A mutant blues which takes no prisoners. Moss tears his vocal chords apart as the band charge headlong into the heart of darkness that is Basket Weaving.

And back to the start…..the opening track is “Strange Things Are Happening” a masterpiece of restraint musically, with delightful guitar, Wilkinson’s sax, and the interesting interjection of a guiro as a rhythmic colour. Moss evokes the current political climate perfectly, he reflects the fear and concern that government is driving us to strange places where retaining a grip on reality is increasingly impossible. It is the other triumph in the set and a brilliant way to start an album.

The album was recorded at 6dB in Salford by Simon “Ding” Archer who has captured the band at their best.

There are around five albums vying for the best of the year at this point – this is one of them.

“Spiritual Rapture” will be available from Friday 22nd at the German Shepherd bandcamp page in CD format and will be released digitally as three double-A side singles in June, July and August

You can see Four Candles at Manchester Meltdown on June 23rd at The Peer Hat, Manchester.

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There’s still some good new music out there….

I’m reconciled to the fact, that due to other commitments, there is probably only going to be one of these every month. Too many distractions prevent focused writing. However, a plethora of excellent new albums have inspired this peroration, and it’s good to share. In one way or another, the releases featured in this blog will find their way into the Aural Delights Radio Show. I offer this information in the hope you might find something interesting to listen to that you might otherwise not be aware of. It might also tempt you to listen to the show. A pleasant aural distraction while you are doing the ironing or whatever.

Such is the nature of music accessibility these days that I am swamped on a daily basis by new releases and keeping up is almost a full-time job.  But I should not complain, I recall the early days of Sounds and looking longingly at the Virgin Records advert in the rear of said august inky news-sheet and wondering how I could ever possibly afford to purchase the likes of Ars Longa Vita Brevis by The Nice,

I digress.

Let’s start with TFS or to give them their full name Tropical Fuck Storm, which is also the name of their record label. Their debut album “A Laughing Death in Meatspace” is remarkable. Emerging from the Drones (the Australian version thereof not the Manc Punkers) the line-up is  Gareth Liddiard guitar and vocals and Fiona Kitschin bass (The Drones), Lauren Hammel (High Tension) on drums and Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Harmony) on guitars, keys and other gadgets. How do you follow up from the excellent last album from The Drones? Well with this amalgam of modern rock music. Liddiard’s laconic vocal style dominates and he has great lyrics. The use of guitars is as always with Liddiard’s work a key feature but is the repetition and layering and song construction that marks this out as a ground-breaking release. The music moves through a variety of types of rock and blues but those conventions of genre don’t do justice to what emerges from this album There are strong elements of rap/urban delivery that seep into the murky corners of rock to create a singular sound. Highly recommended and a strong contender for album of the year.

I find a lot of new music by listening to community radio, there are some great DJs out there and Brad Cain and Dave Hammond are two of the best. Brad works out of Nevis FM once every couple of weeks and is also syndicated to Radio Kaos in Austin Texas. There is a lot of crossover between what Dave, Brad and I do and you’ll often find some similarities between show playlists. A recent show from Brad featured some fascinating music by a band called Ten Million Aliens. They have an album out called “Road Trip (Fall Of The Rebel Angels)”.

I may as well nick their bio from the webpage as it articulates more efficiently than I can about this album

Ten Million Aliens are the latest incarnation of the partnership of musical Übermensch John Senior with producer John Rowley, ex guitarist from John Peel favourite’s Red Guitars. While they are largely unknown outside of their local musical orbit, the pair have worked together for years on some fantastic studio projects including the legendary Lords of Zubos and recently the superb album “On The Beach” from the sadly missed Eddie Smith. Now with the addition of Rich Banks on bass and guitar they have taken it up to another level. Their collective musical credentials over the years include studio and support slots with hundreds of bands from The Smiths, Radiohead, The La’s, Cast, Pulp, Kingmaker, and the Bhundu Boys to The Voice runner up Sally Barker.

The album Road Trip (Fall of the Rebel Angels) has taken two years to complete from inception to master and all the years of studio and live experience of this trio have been pulled together and condensed into the super massive black hole that is their magnificent masterwork. Senior is a simply unstoppable tsunami of musical ideas and improvisational dexterity playing in a bewildering patchwork of styles to create a roller coaster ride into the rotten belly of a dystopian America that has just arrived with perfect timing.

They could never have imagined when they started laying down the tracks two years ago that today America would actually be re living the civil rights struggles and nuclear sabre rattling of the 60s headed up by an orange man/baby who informs his world through Fox News and Twitter.

So what you have in broad terms is the amalgamation of,   sometimes frightening, spoken word from Trumpists, with american musical styles to create an almost cinematic aural confection which both astounds and gives pause for thought. I was reminded of the work of producer Hal Wilner (especially his Mingus/Harry Partch album Weird Nightmare) in the construction and format. It is an astonishing album, both in terms of uncovering some of the dark elements of the American Dream but in its use of that countries music to deliver its message. Again another strong contender for album of the year.

Finding out about The Red Propellers has been difficult. They don’t appear to have penetrated the Google-sphere to any great extent as yet. They appear to be from Bristol or maybe Stroud in Gloucestershire.  They have an album out called “The Fragility of Love: Collected Works” which is stunning.  Vocalist James Dick appears to be channelling either Lennie Bruce or Jim Morrison in many ways but also takes it past the Lizard King ,to an evangelical preacher level indulging in MES style rants with some fervour. There’s also a bit of early VU about them. The band delivers a surging, bubbling, almost funky blues rock bed over which Dick delivers complex and impressive vocal tirades. Three of the tracks on the album come from an EP called “Images” which was released in 2016.

As can be seen from the below guitarist David McEvoy can also create some more off-kilter experimental sounds. I can’t find something from the album to embed but you can track it down on Spotify, Deezer and the like. The live track below is a good indication of what to expect. A remarkable band.

Benign Astringency

The Junta is having technical problems. The truculent sound engineer can handle guitars, bass, drums etc but can’t seem to be able to cope with/entertain techno/electronica. Soundcards are not working and the AV laptop has developed deadly embrace. Notwithstanding that The Junta powers through 30+ minutes of old, new and cover material, the latter being a very interesting version of a Rammstein tune. Some of the crowd like it but this is perhaps this is not the ideal place for The Junta to ply his trade. The track “Ron Jeremy” stands out (obligatory Carry  On joke time), and gets a least one lady up off her seat to throw some shapes (she will reappear regularly throughout the evening). In addition, at least one new fan has been made as he comes up to congratulate Monty towards the end of the set. Some thoughts on current technical limitations of The Junta live setup are discussed in the car on the way home. Can’t help feeling he would better placed playing in a sweaty techno club in Manchester or Ibiza rather than in a pub in Oldham Town Centre?  Regardless of my musings, I admire his boundless enthusiasm in the face of uncooperative gremlins.

140418 - Hunta

Stepping back slightly. I seem to have spent most of my day on the tram network. It’s given me chance to listen to the new Lancashire Hustlers album (which is excellent) and to chill to Enrico Pieranunzi playing Fellini film scores. Eccles to Oldham takes longer than I anticipated due to the long wait at Cornbrook for the Rochdale Connection. For an early Saturday evening, the carriages seem extremely full. Late shopping commuters perhaps. By the time I get to Oldham (….. she’ll be rising etc) it’s dark. Ominously a gaggle of police officers join the tram at Freehold and there are one or two worried glances around me. The much-troubled network has suffered from an “unprovoked attack” violent incident recently. There is a claustrophobic feel to the King Street tram stop. Fortunately, there is only a short walk from the tram stop to the Bank Top Tavern where The Junta. Four Candles and Drink and Drive are playing.

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Four Candles have been somewhat busy recording the important second album, I’ve heard most of it. It will confound, impress and delight many. It’s certainly different from the first one. Tonight there is a subtle change from what was seen at The Peer Hat in January in that is delivered like a sledgehammer to the head. Phil has ditched his electric drum kit which seems to add a huge punch to the overall sound. Mr Moss appears intent on ridding himself of several demons this evening. His mojo has returned with vengeance. The crowd becomes enthralled, Mr Moss becomes more animated and manic. The reciprocal exchange of energy between band and audience builds to a huge climax. The impressive new tracks – Stranger Things,  You Can’t Be What You Pretend, Chastity Belt and a massive C33 dominate the old favourites. The hypnotic guitar figure of “You Can’t Be What….” is glorious, the impressive “Angels, Not Angels” will not be on the album but is a stand-out on the night. The crowd love it. People are dancing, Mr Moss becomes even more animated his shirt becoming soaked with sweat as he drives the band on. It feels like the edge of chaos, it is intriguing. These guys need to gig more and build the audience they deserve. “Stranger Things” with its consideration of dark political arts is a track which is both apposite and demands your attention.

140418 - FCs Spysch

What can I say about Drink and Drive? A Hometown gig will clearly bring their already large fan base out. The pub fills, people dance. Starting off with “Itch-Scratch Cycle” they demonstrate their intent. Powering through 15 tunes they cover most of the latest album, they try out a new one, and they dig up some much older material. The Adult Pig Suit makes its semi-regular appearance conjuring up memories of Peter Gabriel with a foxes head at the Oval in 1972. Both humorous but also oddly worrying. The band leap between the jaunty Country and Northern of “Dakota Hotel” to the full-on punk rancour of “Recession Man” with ease. “Spring Time For Drink and Drive” and “Greg’s Fault” are most impressive. If you want to fill that huge “Fall-Shaped” hole in your gigging life you should see this band. Whilst the manifestos and content are significantly different from “das gruppe” the underlying intent is the same. Repetition plays a huge part, and the juxtaposition of that with complex and far-reaching lyrical content, a benign astrigency of complex metaphors and rhythm, creates a dark matter heavy mass of emotive music which draws the listener toward it with an irrepressible gravitational force. They remain German Shepherd Records biggest success to date and they ought to be getting national recognition for what they do.

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The night has been great. At one point during the D and D set Ben makes a remark about a lack of places to see live music in the Town Centre. Free entry tonight and a reasonably good turnout. No tribute bands. Seems like a winning formula to me. Two good gig weekends in a row for me.  One wonders why impressive new live music is suffering when the quality was as good as it was tonight. Landlords should be happy to fill a pub and sell lots of ale etc. It’s a conundrum.  The journey home is long and convoluted as for some reason the M60 is closed between junctions 6 and 12, I get home at 2pm, tired but pleased. The psychedelic carpet in the Bank Top Tavern seems to be imprinted on my retina.

BTT carpet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independents Day

When I find that the state of the music industry is causing me grief once again, I can look back to 8th April 2018 when my faith in grassroots music was yet again rekindled by John Donaldson and his band of travelling musicians.

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A short tour involving the aforementioned John (as JD Meatyard), Tamsin A (of Mr Heart, Ill and Liines), Kin, Mankes and my co-conspirator in all matters German Shepherd, Ian “Moet” Moss had already touched Blackburn, Darwen and Sheffield before descending on Manchester. The city is still buzzing from the previous days’ derby match. The train from Eccles to Piccadilly takes me through the Ordsall Chord for the first time. The number of very high tower blocks along the route gives me the strong impression that Manchester aspires to be Manhattan. I do wonder whether sufficient planning has been developed to ensure that the infrastructure can cope with so much humanity in such a small area.

The walk from Piccadilly involves a complex dance around scurrying commuters, the number of people “living” on the street feels like it is inexorably growing, and they are all so much younger. The contradiction/disconnect between the expansive high-value housing market seen from the train and destitution on the city streets is chastening. It seems ridiculous that in a country with an economy as strong as ours that such things have occurred and are not being dealt with. I raise these somewhat political points to set a context for JD Meatyards’ set later in the day which covers them more effectively than I can.

Step back several years to the first Independents Tour at the now-defunct Crescent Pub (another victim of an uncontrolled housing/commercial market) where performances from Hamsters, Tamsin, Cannonball Statman, and JD Meatyard led to the release of three albums worth of excellent live music and set in course a series of artistically perfect relationships. A year later at the Salford Music Festival, JD Meatyard plays to a packed room at The Eagle Inn and wins over a boisterous crowd.  Up to date and this time around we are at The Peer Hat for a late afternoon/early evening of memorable music.

Huge thanks need to go to Paul Forshaw for diligently capturing this for posterity.

Tamsin begins proceedings following a short introduction from Mr Moss in his spoken word persona.  Her music has moved on leaps and bounds since I saw her last. It’s a trend for the afternoon that she and former bandmate in Mr Heart, Kin, use looping devices to a stunning effect. At times she can mirror the fractured fragility of Kristin Hersh at her best, and other moments there is a full-on wall of sound with layered guitars and vocals which can keep pace with any full-on punk band you would care to mention. The songs are stronger, the arrangements more complex, and the delivery the best I have seen from her. When she isn’t fulfilling her Ill or Liines duties she should find time to get this material recorded. Words are not enough to describe it so fortunately, we have this capture.

A short break for another glass of alcohol-free lager and then it’s time for Kin. It’s seven years since I last saw her do an album launch at the Castle before jetting off to Holland for another life, and another band, which has now dissolved. Time and distance have not diluted her amazing talent. She and  Moet kick things off with an improvisation around “The Wilsons”, a song that was supposed be done by Kill Pretty, was rescued by myself and Ian (in our IM-SM period), and also memorably was also given the Loop-Azanvour treatment at the aforementioned Castle last year. It’s one of Ian’s finest lyrics and this spontaneous version is remarkable. What follows is a triumph of technology, musicianship, and vocalese which sees Kin expanding beyond her influences into her own musical territory. Her voice is stronger than ever. Her command of a battery of pedals allows her to create percussion, orchestral guitar layers, and a truly dynamic performance. Again words do not do enough justice for a memorable set of cutting-edge music,  see for yourself.

Third on the bill are the remarkable Mankes. They are from Holland and comprise Selma Peelen, Johan Visschers and Peter Kahmann. For a three-piece, they make a huge noise. Acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards are combined to create huge cinematic statements. Selma’s voice soars incandescently over droning hypnotic rhythms, the tunes are great and memorable. Sometimes it is stripped back to just acoustic guitar and percussion to offer an impressive variety of impressive content. I buy the album from the merch table, and you will be hearing it on future editions of Aural Delights. Pending that bask in the sumptuous and organic sounds of a remarkable band.

And finally the remarkable JD Meatyard, Moet kicks things off with a great reading of “The Elephant’s Graveyard” (one of my favourite pieces that we have done together) and an acerbic “Freemasons” before a rambunctious set from the trio. Tamsin joins on guitar for an excellent collection of John’s best tunes including a breathless “Ubu@Erics”, an acerbic “St Peter at The Gates”,and the call to arms of the marvellous “Jesse James”. John has the ability to mix rich polemic rants, with beautiful heartfelt ballads, he can make you joyful, angry and tearful, he tugs at your heart with his words. He plays new songs from a forthcoming album which promised for later in the year. The Teenage Propshaft makes his inevitable and customary appearance. Matters conclude with a massive reading of “Palestine Song” which is clearly current. Members of Mankes join for a huge wall of sound conclusion. An encore of “Lies, Lies and Government” is unfortunately not captured visually, but an aural version remains for posterity.

Lets do it again some time.

Bacon Degrees, Graney and Meta-fictional constructs

Blog neglect is a terrible crime, although, in my defence, this is one of my many blogs and other things of a musical nature which have captured my time of late. However, as Spring tries to break through from Winter this feels like a good time to shake the dust off the writing fingers.

Modern antipodean music continues to dominate my CD player, and as is usually the case, I am prompted to write by the arrival of new music by Dave Graney. Dave looks busy at the moment, whether it be the almost relentless gigging, or literary events around his excellent “Workshy” book, or being nominated for awards for soundtracks. However, he still finds time to produce new material, and a new single, purely solo this time, comes across all “Roy Orbison” in a blues-pop style, with slide guitar, fractured guitar string sounds, and enough atmosphere to shake you out of your tribute act fever dream.  There’s a video which links back to the Watts Towers mentioned on the track Apollo 69 which was on The Coral Snakes  The Sound ‘n’ Sexy Sound album but it’s on private setting at the moment so I cannot share it. The tune is called “You’re All Wrong” and opens next weeks Aural Delights Radio Show (Thursday at 10pm on Analogue Trash Radio). Here’s a nice picture of Dave instead:

181Dave Graney

In a “Kevin Bacon Six Degrees” way the bulk of following few subjects inevitably link back to Graney, such is the nature of synchronicity in the digital age.

On this next aural matter, the first thing to say is that there are several bands called Shifting Sands around but it’s the Brisbane based Aussie version which applies in this instance (the other two I can find are in Iowa and New Zealand, there may well be more). I chanced across the band in an article published in 2015 in The Music.com.au which intrigued me because of a Graney reference. Shifting Sands – the core of which is Geoff Corbett (of SixFtHick fame) and his long-term musical co-worker Dylan McCormack (also a member of Gentle Ben) –  which is added to by  Dan Baebler (also SixFtHick), Alex Dunlop (Keep On Dancin’s) and Anna Clifford (Family Jordan), have long been institutions on the Brisbane live scene,  but their 2015 debut long-player, Beach Coma, allows them access to a wider universe by the power of Bandcamp. It’s a remarkable recording with Corbett’s world-weary drawl dominating. My immediate thought he was a softer sounding version of Johnny Dowd, but the man himself cites Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazelwood, Neil Diamond, and early Dave Graney (there’s your Bacon 6 degrees thing) as influences. On the surface, the music evokes that “striped sunlight sound” but the dark subject matter of Corbett’s lyrics transports the music elsewhere. It’s a compelling and fascinating album which will get some serious airtime on my radio shows over the next few months. As it turns out, and proving the Cosmic Bacon Spheres are aligned Dave saw the band the other night and bought the album also. It’s a small world.

Still pursuing the Bacon like cosmic linkages Graney of course played with Loudhailer Electric Company last year in Hull. The effervescent bass player of said band is, of course, Lou Duffy Howard once of Red Guitars, which evolved into The Planet Wilson. I was listening to Dave Hammond on Cambridge 105 and he played tracks from the soon to be re-released Planet Wilson back catalogue which is available digitally from April 30th 2018. The band was formed in Hull in 1985 by two former Red Guitars, Hallam Lewis (guitar and vocals) and the aforementioned Duffy-Howard (bass), and was completed by drummer Grant Ardis. Described by Sounds’ David Cavanagh as ‘Crazy James Chance meets Holger Czukay’ they released two acclaimed albums in the late 1980s. Their 1988 album ‘In the Best of All Possible Worlds’ was produced by Steve Nye and released on Virgin Records. In 1989 their second album ‘Not Drowning but Waving’ was released on Records of Achievement. Singles White Lies, Fly by Night, Taken for a Ride and Mouth to Mouth featured both 7″ and 12″ vinyl extended mixes. Howards own DHM label,  distributed by Label Worx, will release the back catalogue which will be available from digital outlets including iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Deezer, Shazam and Amazon.  The two albums are a strong reminder to the music fan of what you missed when you were not paying attention in the latter half of the 1980s. To the apposite Cavanagh comparators above I’d add a sprinkling of ’77 Talking Heads, early 10,000 Maniacs, and a strong dose of Hi-Life. In any event, I am mightily pleased that Lou has brought them back to life as they afford me the chance to enjoy what was a unique band.

Mention of “Workshy” above leads me on to my current listening obsession, which is Peter Milton Walsh, who is mentioned in said Graney tome as the purveyor of exotic chords, well, major sevenths, that sparked some musical activity for Dave. As an aside Workshy is well worth reading for his succinct analysis of certain artists and movements, grunge gets short shrift and Jeff Buckley gets told off for “howling”. Talking of chords  I got told off by a musician for playing a “fancy chord” in a jam session once and was advised to buckle down and play majors, but I digress. Walsh is The Apartments, and The Apartments is Walsh. Bob Auster South reminded me of them in a recent e-mail, he had come across something on You-Tube, I recalled I’d been sent their most recent new album (No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal) by a promo company, played it on the steam wireless and then promptly lost it in the great hard disc meltdown of a few years back. Much is written of the band, and Walsh, on Wikipedia, and on the liner notes to the re-issue of the debut album “the evening visits….”.  Not to over-egg the plaudits Walsh has that undefinable sound which emerges out of a group of Australian bands – Chads Tree, The Triffids, Jackson Code, and yes The Go-Betweens, which Walsh dallied with briefly for a while in the eighties.

In a Steve Erickson moment, I construct a meta-fictional reality in my head where Walsh had stayed with Robert and Grant and The GBs become huge and bloated and “successful” , the new Beatles if you would with Grant and Robert as Paul and John, and Peter as George,  and their separate bodies of work, including Walsh’s time with Laughing Clowns, had been lost to history (this is mainly because I am reading Erickson’s excellent Shadowbahn at the moment). Such an alternative history is something not to dwell on………

In any event, a longer and separate piece on Walsh and the Apartments is gestating in the back of my head, pending that here is one of the You Tube’s that t’other Bob pointed me to. Also, I’ve been heavily featuring the bands’ output on the radio show recently. That’s Amanda Brown, also of The GBs in the middle. On Every Corner is from the remarkable “Drift” release.

I’ve held off on commenting on the passing of Mark E. Smith, for several reasons, but mostly because there is a serious amount of work going on behind the scenes  to reconstruct the site, which  Martin Peters and I have been working on for nigh on ten years now, and  which aims to catalogue every live performance by The Fall and also provide a complete track record. Working backwards we have completed the 2010s in terms of gig cataloguing. The aim is to be finished by October but it may take a little longer. There is a strange logic in carrying out the work in reverse order as it allows for a better understanding of how The Fall story was de-constructed over the years.

Completing the Bacon like synchronicity of this piece…… Dave Graney covered The Fall’s “New Face In Hell” in his 2009 narrative show “Live In Hell”. You know, there’s a whole book somewhere in this linkages thing, but I can’t be bothered, there’s too much good music to listen to.

I won’t leave it so long until the next one….

 

 

Consequences of Travel

Big Satan, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham – 8th February 2018

Tim Berne occupies a large section of my ever expanding collection of Compact Discs. He nestles comfortably behind The Fall, Miles Davis and Dave Douglas, just inching in front of Dave Graney in respect of shelf width. His music has been a main part of my listening since I first read of him in The Wire back when Richard Cook was the editor. Oddly though, through a combination of distance , broken ankles, kidney stones and work related distractions I had never seen him perform live until now.

His back catalogue is immense with probably the greatest variety of band names and combinations of musicians known to man. Whether it be Paraphrase, Hard Cell, Bloodcount, Buffalo Collision or the more recent Snakeoil, there has always been a mind tingling variety of music in his output. but all dominated by his unique approach to writing and playing.

This is not easy music. The “when does the tune start” mob should stop reading now as you will not be interested. The pieces are often lengthy, complex, tangential and challenging. But it is a aural journey you should take if you are interested in the capacity of music, especially jazz, to grow and influence all around it.

Tim only played two UK dates on this tour, and generally only plays London. Fortunate and pleasing therefore that his group with Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey , collectively known as Big Satan, are playing in Birmingham. Only 90 minutes on the train from Manchester Piccadilly to New Street and a short  bus ride to the Midlands Art Centre, and tickets a bargain at £10!

I meet the other Bob (travelling north from Northampton) on the main concourse at New Street and we decamp to a delightful pub called The Post Office Vaults for a couple of beers. Another pub and then a quick Italian (where the concept of El Dente was perhaps taken too far) precedes a bus journey to Edgbaston where nestles the sprawling Midlands Arts Centre, which appears to have been designed by someone on psychotropic drugs with a fondness for M.C.Escher, and where the majority of the toilets are out of commission. Another quick beer and then into the Hexagon Theatre.

A compact room in a semi-round formation the distance between the performers and the audience is small allowing for an intimate appreciation of the music.

Tim, Marc and Tom launch into a fascinating performance which contains the familiar elements of Big Satan music (from the three albums to date) but also new aspects. The three players have distinct personas within the collective sound, but the overall combination is seamless and there is a distinct lack of ego in the delivery.

Rainey is more than impressive, whether it is his effortless delivery, the use of hands, brushes, sticks, bags of sticks or even the music stand, to create a range of percussive treats, or indeed the poly-rhythmic interplay with the other two. There are few drummers I have had the pleasure of seeing who can use the kit as a genuine tonal instrument and Rainey is one of the best.

Ducret is similarly captivating, he has is back to us for most of the set due to the configuration of the room but he still manages to captivate. His body arches as he delivers either flurries of notes, impressive finger breaking chords, or slaps to the strings. I was fascinated with his continuous use of his volume knobs and pedals to create unique sounds. One of the most captivating guitarists in terms of “how the hell is he doing that?” is has been my pleasure to watch.

Berne is, of course, superb. His self-effacing air, his studied concentration, and his fluid delivery all added to the overall enjoyment of the music. There are so many notes it is no wonder that sheet music is needed to deliver this complex and impressive material. He moves between delightful melodic playing to reed bending sound creation with ease. The music is the jazz equivalent of say Trout Mask Replica or Lick My Decals Off, or Gentle Giant at their most inventive, if you want some sort of rock comparison. Not that you should need that sort of yardstick of course, this is music which stands very well on its own occupying a singular place in the world of jazz.

Much of the set is unfamiliar , but a Julius Hemphill tune, and one of Ducret’s I think I recognise from one of the earlier albums, are included.  It is mostly new material all of which is excellent and I hope gets recorded at some point. During the break Tim hawks the new 3CD set of Science Friction recordings (Big Satan + Craig Taborn = Science Friction) but I know have them all already so a purchase is not necessary.  The short interval however puts us up to the wire on getting back to New Street to catch the train back to Manchester and Northampton respectively so we have to leave half way through the final number of the second set much to my disappointment.

Fortunate that we left when we did though as the taxi driver struggles to find his way back to New Street due to road works and the monsoon like conditions do not help. However we make it in time to catch the penultimate train back to Manchester and Northampton respectively.

A long desired wish to see Tim Berne has been realised but as the train slowly makes it way back north I ponder on the need for me to make this journey and the paucity of free/avant garde jazz music in the Manchester conurbation, and, what steps need to be taken to get someone like Tim to play in the North West.  Surely there must be a big enough audience for this type of music in the so-called music capital of the North to make it all viable? With venues like The Peer Hat I suppose anything is possible but are there are enough like minded souls to venture out on a Thursday night to listen to music of this type? Can we have a Vortex or Cafe Oto in Manchester and make it work? It’s hard enough putting “rock” gigs on, times are hard and money is tight. I guess the consequence of this journey was that it has made me think about why excellent music of this nature isn’t afforded more access. Not to sound like a broken record but the domination of the majority of venues in Manchester (including sadly the Band on the Wall) by cloned tribute acts is a sad indictment of the way new music, whether it be jazz or rock, is treated these days.

Not from the gig I attended but from a few years back here is an example of what you missed