Of words and music……..

Six weeks since the last post on here. Not good!

To be fair to myself we have been rather busy with a number of gigs and three albums released in one day last Friday. Plus I’ve been catching up on my reading, which is a discipline that has been neglected, what with one thing and another. It is important, I think, to keep the mind stimulated with both the written word, as well as listening to music.

The content this time around includes a rainy night in Bury and covers in the main the latest release from Dave Graney and Clare Moore, in between several books, a lot of music and the first glimmers of Spring amongst biblical rain events.

This is in no particular order in terms of time, more a series of thoughts which may, or may not, be related.

So i’ll be hopping around the time line.

The latest offering from Dave Graney and Clare Moore struck a chord, a mental note if you would. This time last year when I was stood in the corridor outside the gig room at the Eagle trying to convince a passing punter to watch the visiting aforementioned Antipodeans, I was struggling to codify what the “Graney” sound was all about within the narrow strictures of genre. “Err sort of blues, rock, country and jazz all rolled into one” was my miserable attempt to describe what Dave & Co are about. The revelation on listening to Dave and Clare’s latest “single” release ‘How Long Does The Raunch?” was more of a literary than a musical one. But you need to listen to it first to appreciate what I am about to expand upon.

Dave calls is “jazz pop” or more mysteriously “Bolan Jazz” in the Cockaigne Records blog. On the surface it’s an amalgamation of jazzy chords and circular Reich leaning marimba and vibes, with an off kilter bass line, the trademark Graney unconventional song structure and words that hang between street jive and the complex text of say Samuel Beckett, or Thomas Pynchon, or perhaps more closely John Cowper Powys, or Paul Auster. And there was the revelation, and synchronicity, and serendipity for me, that listening to Graney/Moore is the aural equivalent of reading any of those aforementioned writers.

Mark E.Smith once used the phrase “Scientists and their bloody childish reading habits”  (ten points to the reader who can get the song that line comes from) and to some extent that sums me up, at least for half the time. I’m Just as happy these days reading Auster or Pynchon as I am reading Martin Scott’s Thraxas books, or Malcolm Pryce’s Louis Knight books.  Being trained as a scientist, before I realised it wasn’t for me, I recall that there was above average chance that the sort of books, or more often than not the comics (Marvel, DC etc) , that myself and my  contemporaries were reading back then, would be pulp crime or SF or fantasy works, rather than deeper and more complex prose. So for a good chunk of my adolescence I was reading “easy” stuff of a non-literary nature, there was not  the academic discipline in the school/university curriculum  to train a growing mind in both the scientific world and its  literary equivalent, unless you count the very odd “German for Scientists” course I was shoe horned into t Uni!  No wonder this fledging scientist reverted to the latest Michael Moorcock for some light relief after ploughing through some dense prose on the Tricarboxylic Acid cycle or the structure of DNA.  A change in career was the damascene journey from the pulp of my youth to later years when the artistic side of my brain was allowed to flourish

As an aside, one of the key way stops on the way to the literary  Road to Damascus thing for me  was a book from the Bloomsbury press called “M.H. Zools Good Reading Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy” (1989) and specifically within that tome a series of very good and informative  reading recommendations, most notably the entry on Phillip K. Dick who I had been focusing on around the time it was released. The structure of the guide is quite helpful in that it gives a brief biography of an author, lists their key works and then extrapolates further reading from other authors that has some congruity with the subjects work. In the PKD list was a book by Paul Auster called ‘The New York Trilogy’,  alongside ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ by Hunter S. Thompson, and ‘The Naked Lunch” by William Burroughs. All three of those authors would be key actors in the developing shift from the simple to the complex in my home library. A short listing on page 56 of Zool entitled “The Edge of SF”  included ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ by Thomas Pynchon, alongside Borges, Marquez, and Wolfe. Pynchon also appears in a list entitled “Theatre of the Absurd”, and also in the Kurt Vonnegut list of alternative reading. In one respect the Zool could be seen as a clever marketing ploy to get the reader to go out and spend all their money on books. It worked on me, and there was a sustained period in my mid to late 20s when the book collection grew exponentially, Picador press being one of the main benefactors from my hard earned wages.

But I digress. So, the revelation after listening to  “How Long Does The Raunch?” was that Graney & Moore were the musical avatar that took me on the same journey as Beckett, Pynchon, Powys and Auster et al. did from a literary perspective. It started to some degree with ‘Dandies Are Never Unbuttoned’  from “The Soft ‘n’ Sexy Sound” by The Coral Snakes, continued in “Heroic Blues”, and “The Brother Who Lived”, and reached a critical peak with “Fearful Wiggings”. It also emerges amongst the thirteen songs that have been  released over the last year and will be brought together in a CD collection called “Let’s Get Tight” soon. Graney & Moore as a whole requires concentration, attention and commitment because they step outside of  the conventions of structure and language of “rock and roll” in the same way that Auster, at his best, defies the structural norm, and that Beckett uses language in a completely different way. As an aside and a coincidence I am currently reading Auster’s novella “Travels In The Scriptorium” which has a bit of good Old Sam about it.

Speaking of “rock and roll” leads me to a trip to Bury several weeks back to catch Adventures of Salvador. Some months back an over zealous sound man ruined my first live exposure to this band so I was pleased to accept SDs offer to see the four piece again, this time in their home town. As is usual at this time of the year the level of precipitation, coupled with an “incident” on the Metrolink network , mitigated against a stress free journey into Manchester. We met in an overcrowded Moon Under Water, grabbed a quick meal, and then hopped on the Bury tram at Victoria station. A quick pint on arrival amongst the distracting gaggle of some sort of hen do and then into the compact basement venue of the Blind Tiger  to catch AOS. The revelation is Ollie Nicholson’s drumming which is exceptional and which adds to a musically very competent band with great songs and a style that teeters between power pop, post-punk and mutant country blues. They are highly recommended and very entertaining.

I may have mentioned before I try to stay away from rock biographies as they tend to end up depressing me, and more importantly, breaking the fourth wall between the rock and roll world and reality, bringing all that glorious hope and vision back to the mundanity of day to day existence. I could not, however with all conscience, duck out of reading Robert Forster’s semi-autobiographical book “Grant and I”, given the importance of that band in my own personal musical history. It arrived via the Book Depository from the other side of the planet at the end of last week and I devoured it within three days. The speed of reading is in no small part down to the Forster writing style which is measured and clear. He takes you back to his youth, the formation of the band, the relationship with Grant and Lindy and through the trials and tribulations of one the key Australian bands of the late 20th Century. In comparison with the scattered fanzine like structure of David Nicholls book on the band there is a more coherent narrative, although there are giant leaps in the  time frame in some parts. What is missing for me is perhaps a better understanding of how songs were crafted. What is clear is the propensity of the wider music business to completely miss out on the opportunity to promote good quality material, and the importance of the more grass roots elements of the business in helping bands like The Go-Betweens to survive. It struck a chord with our work with German Shepherd records. The sad part of the tale comes towards the end where the impact of a rock and roll life style way heavily on the two main protagonists and their health, and like David McComb, how alcohol eventually snuffs out the genius of Grant McLennan far too early.  It made me want to go back and listen to the music again, which is perhaps the more important legacy, especially the suite of solo albums that the two produced between the two main phases of the band.

The three aforementioned releases from last Friday are worth a mention, if only as part of a heavy handed form of marketing. The first thing to mention is the compilation called Cambridge Calling Volume One. A more detailed piece on the background of the album and the bands involved can be found here. Suffice to say it is an eclectic mix of the bands that make up the music scene in the city and more volumes will follow in due course. All proceeds for the this first release will go towards the Arthur Rank Hospice in Cambridge. Many thanks go towards Dave Hammond for his hard work in pulling this together and allowing us to participate in the project.

Out of the above and again with thanks to Dave Hammond for providing an introduction we also had the pleasure of releasing the latest album by Keltrix, who appear on the album above. Dave provides an excellent review of the album in Sounds On-Line so I won’t event try and emulate that. What I will say is that this album fits perfectly within the German Shepherd ethos. The ability of Sharon and Keri to take a traditional musical form and merge it with modern electronica, dance and techno, and their capacity to bring in guest producers to transform their sound is notable and remarkable. Keri’s voice is unique and Sharon’s lead instrument, the violin, fits well with an entirely modern musical framework. There are some exceptional songs here and it is an early candidate for album of the year for me. This band deserves to be heard by more people.

So, and to conclude, last Friday. It’s raining again. I meet SD in a Waterhouse pub again, we go for  a bite to eat again, some excellent Asian Street Food on this occasion, and then wander around the back streets of Piccadilly to the bohemian darkness of The Castle. I was wondering for future gigs if we should use The Castle rather than the Eagle but I am more comfortable with the layout of the latter, and it’s general sound and friendliness of the staff. However it is just about right for the musical endeavours of the evening which include Ian Moss, Moff Skellington, and Loop-Aznavour. We get a reasonable sized crowd, better than the last collaboration in Leeds in 2016 in any event. The one person responsible for my introduction to the world of Moff is also in attendance, the smiling Julia Adamson. Ian does a new piece about dogs, Moff performs his new album, and then collaborates with Ian on a new piece called “Predator Fascinates Imbecile”,  Loop does his usual excellent set, and then Loop and Ian perform a couple of pieces including a new version of the excellent “The Wilsons”. It is both challenging and funny, fascinating and thought provoking, and above all entertaining. There will be another in June sometime. Takings on the door allow a small stipend to paid to each of the three performers a rarity for our little cottage industry.

The Best of 2016 #3 – Singles and EPs

This one is going to be a little different due to the nature of releases this year. All will become apparent as I meander through things. The nature of what I do on an almost daily basis i.e. putting together radio shows/podcasts and running a record label means that a serious amount of individual tracks come in for potential airplay or indeed for release on the label. So trying to do a definitive list of the “best” is nigh on impossible – if they made it onto the podcast or got released by the record label they are, because they got through that gateway, “better than the rest” so i’ll generalise…..and this is in no sort of order of importance as I love them all with equal fervour……with the stuff at the bottom of the page being the “top of the pops” as it were

The Moss Brothers – various releases by Ian and Neil under various aliases – the work rate of Ian Moss is legendary, add his sibling into the mix and you have a an even faster production line of fascinating music – whether it be Ian & Neil, Sebastien the Tortoise, A Magpie and a Goldfish, or 2 Big Brothers it’s all great.

Taser Puppets : Fossil – their latest EP and first with German Shepherd proved to be their best yet. A health scare for front man Shaun put things on hold for a while but a barn storming set at the Salford Music Festival but them back on the North West musical map.

Alana Bondi : Alana Bondi EP – another artist who battled through health problems in 2015/6 to deliver a remarkable debut EP and stunning video to the opener “Four Walls” plus a run of shows including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Sideshow : How It Goes – a remarkable single, pure pop for now people as Nick Lowe once said. Should have broken through this one and still a mystery as to why it didn’t.

The Screaming Love Collective : Three Singles – proof that repetition in music is still potent as a way of delivering ideas that are fresh.

The Mind Sweepers : The Mating Game – Vicky Middles asked if we could help out with this one and we were pleased to get involved. They call themselves genre defying and they certainly deliver on that score.

Bouquet of Dead Crows : Epicentre – a great collection of alternative versions, live cuts and a remix crowned a great year for the “Crows”  – a new album is in the pipeline and an album of radio sessions is promised for the new year.

The Madding Crowd – a good year, a great EP, an epic EP launch and a sense of renewed promise and hope for this north Manchester band.

Stalagmites : Between City and Cellar Door – back with a bang with a great EP, Brad Lynch is one of the best songwriters Salford has delivered with fantastic lyrics and epic tunes.

The Parish Church Fire : Locamente – another one where I sit here with a puzzled expression wondering why it wasn’t huge.

Staggs : Adult Loonies and A Rum Do – when I am fed up I turn to Staggs to cheer myself up – the diversity across these two releases is a testament to the skill and inventiveness of Ridley and Scott – punk, electronica and krautrock,  there’s something for everyone.

The Get : The Private Men EP – The Get are remarkable, their lo-fi approach to what they do, their relentless charm and enthusiasm is infectious. A great collection of songs.

Moff and Moss – aside from a remarkable debut album an epic single which dwelt on Mr Crowley and other strangeness. Expect new stuff in the New Year which is development at the moment – it will all become clear at the gig at the Castle in March!

Rose and the Diamond Hand : Universe Is Woman – should be huge, a remarkable voice, an amazing band, and a great live show, add a fantastic debut EP and you have a great year for Rose and co.

and the top three

3. KIT B – Weird Water – impressive song-writing from a great live band who broke into the festival circuit this year and garnered some impressive live reviews

2. m.t. scott – The Broken EP and 13 Queer Street – Michael left the wonderful world of Staggs for a while  to create two collections of aural wonderment. Cinematic in their scope and impressive in their musical depth he is clearly a creative force that requires/demands/deserves  a wider audience. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to these collections develop from ideas into fully formed pieces of aural magic.

1. The Graney and Moore Singles Releases – throughout the year Dave and Clare have released a digital single a month (more or less there will be one in January) in an effort, I believe, to escape the usual routines in the music industry. I can’t decide which is the best amongst any of them, so I’m bringing all ten into a collective number one, but if you were to push me the latest one “I Ain’t Hi Vis” is probably my favourite. The variety across this set of releases is impressive, the trademark Graney wit is in full effect, and musically, as is always the case, they are top notch. Notably there is more than a bit of a jazz tinge than is usual which of course ticks a lot of boxes for me. You can grab them all at the DG bandcamp page.  For the record the releases were:

I’m a Good Hater
This Is the Deadest Place I’ve Ever Died In
I Been Trendy
Drifting Donna Reed
Are You Out Of Your Mind? (Get Back In)
You Need a Kleek, Klook
Rupert’s Pet’s Grave
Matey, From On High
Let’s Kick this Mob Out
I Ain’t Hi Vis

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The Best of 2016 # 2 – Gigs

Having spent quite a lot of the year in and out of medical facilities for one reason or another the number of gigs attended has been somewhat constrained but having said that much improved on 2015 when I spent a good deal of the time in a plaster cast. In the most part the gigs I did attend were all great. There were a couple of bad evenings caused in the first case by an idiotic club owner and in the second case by a less than perfect sound engineering job, it is not my habit to name names, so I won’t, all I would say is that bands deserve more.

Ones I sadly missed due to ill health and diary clashes

  • Robert Forster
  • The Triffids
  • Kim Salmon

Here are the highlights in no particular order, apart from the top four gigs.

  • Manchester Jazz Festival – just a general message to say it was much improved this year with some fascinating bands seen especially in the performance space in Manchester Central Library – the price of the beer in the Festival Village is obscene though!
  • Soft Machine at The Band on the Wall – OK so we sat in the bar for most of the second set drinking and chewing the fat about music but the first set was pretty memorable and I realised a long held ambition to see this band.
  • The Junta at Night and Day – kabuki, mime and beats with El Generallisimo cooking up a techno storm.
  • Aidan Cross & Johann Kloos, Poppycock, Taser Puppets and West Coast Sick Line at Dulcimer, Chorlton. A fun packed night with a storming set from the Westies and a slight hiatus while Mr Maxwell found his guitar.
  • Moff Skellington, Mr Mouse, Loop-aznavour at The Fenton Leeds – a remarkable evening with a sparse audience but excellent performances from all three protagonists only somewhat ruined by the inability to get out of Leeds via the motorway necessitating a circuitous journey home via Harrogate
  • The Eagle, again, for the debut of the much anticipated new band lead by Ian Moss Four Candles , Cambridge rockers, stripped down to acoustic duo  for the night, Bouquet of Dead Crows, all the way from Modena Italy Saint Lawrence Verge, and to close the night the ever excellent Poppycock. A rather special evening.
  • Sam SmithGenevieve L Walsh and The Madding Crowd at The Moston Miners Club – a great set from Sam, memorable poetry from Genevieve,  and an epic set from The Madding Crowd.
  • The Junta, Bouquet of Dead Crows, The Scissors and Kit B at the Eagle as part of Salford Music Festival. Barnstorming sets from all four bands – we need to do this again.
  • Taser Puppets, Poppycock, JD Meatyard and West Coast Sick Line as part of Salford Musical Festival also at The Eagle – one of our most successful nights with a good crowd, fine performances, and a stellar set from Mr Meatyard.
  • Blaney album launch at Pacifica Cantonese. A great album and a memorable album launch with the added bonus of it being five minutes from where I live. It’s been a good year for Ed and he deserves the support he is getting at the moment

and the top four, who all happen to be Australian for some strange reason……

4.

The Necks live at the Band on the Wall – a special performance from an amazing trio of musicians. Unique and breath-taking music bereft of ego and full of invention.

3.

Harry Howard and the NDE with Poppycock at The Eagle – exploding keyboards and horrendous traffic conspired against us but Poppycock were the best I have seen them all year and Harry and co were exceptional given they had a stand in rhythm section with only a couple of days rehearsal.

2.

Dave Graney and Poppycock & Franco Bandini at the Eagle – a long held desire to catch Dave and Clare live was at long last realised. Most of the band were full of germs but still managed to deliver a set packed with classic tunes from across the Graney songbook. The added bonus of seeing Malcolm Ross play the guitar as well.

and my gig of the year….

1.

Dave Graney at the Betsey Trotwood, London – a memorable journey to the capital despite a dodgy knee. A pleasant afternoon drinking with Bob and Jeff in some fine ale houses. A fantastic set from Dave, Clare, Stu and Malcolm covering even more of the Graney songbook topped off by a great tribute to Prince.

DG 2 BT

A case of Vertigo

“Masters of their own musical language of long-form improvisation, each night they step onto the stage with no pre-conceived ideas of what they will play – they and the audience will go on a sonic journey that is created in the moment and in that room.”

This year is The Necks 30th anniversary. They have ploughed a unique musical furrow over that period, releasing fourteen studio albums, one soundtrack, and four live albums. A recent box set from ReR Megacorp collects eight of those releases into a useful history, and for those with enough money, and time, it is a perfect summary of work to date.

Wikipedia describes the trio as “experimental jazz” which is accurate to a point.  Some times they can be as far removed from jazz as chalk is from cheese. I guess the confusion might be that the composition of the band, Chris Abrahams on piano , Tony Buck on drums, and percussion , and Lloyd Swanton on double bass, is the traditional jazz trio line-up. But this is not the Bill Evans Trio, and to be clear, it’s not E.S.T. either. They are far more than jazz, in the same way an improvising collective like AMM or Supersilent are distant from the traditional confines of the genre, but are labelled as “jazz”. Bands like this tend to be shoved into that corner of your local record emporium where the “difficult” music is put. Jazz roots are there, but the trio, over that thirty year time period, have invented a new kind of music. That the classical music writer from The Daily Telegraph reviewed their sold out three day residency at Café Oto in Dalston perhaps says more about the genre defying nature of this band than I can.

A November gig from the trio in Manchester is therefore not to be missed.

This is my second time of seeing them. They tend to make it a habit of playing the Band on the Wall when they are in Manchester. The last time was three or four years back, and the memories are strong of an exceptional performance. So it is with some anticipation I venture down to Manchester’s premier live music venue for their latest gig in the city.

The insistent rain and cold air attempt to dampen my spirits, and the dark, puddle strewn, corners of Oldham Street are not the most inviting of prospects on an autumnal Tuesday night. Despite the inclement weather the place is full. The Necks always pull a large crowd, there’s a couple of seats on the right side of the room with a reasonable view, albeit obstructed by one of the BOTW’s ornate pillars. The Necks performance routine is well established. They will play two sets, both generally between 40 and 50 minutes in length. Very much in the same way that their album releases are generally one uninterrupted track of improvised music the live sets are complete pieces. This requires a lot of concentration and focused listening and my only gripe of the evening is the latecomers who spill into the room after the gig has started which allows the sound of the bar to filter into the room and disturb the delicate opening melodies that Chris Abrahams is developing. There’s also a hipster type, with several layers of clothing, and a back-pack, who decides to float around the room in an annoying fashion. But to counter that aberrant behaviour you close your eyes and lose yourself in the music. If I were the Band on the Wall I’d curfew the room at the set start time to stop the distractions when a band of this type is playing.

So, as I say, as it begins,  Abrahams, picks out a delicate melody, and I begin to wonder if there has been as shift to a more traditional musical form than hitherto experienced. These thoughts are misplaced of course, and soon dissipate  as Swanton uses his bow to create sonorous notes. Buck is not engaged for the first five minutes but slowly comes into the fray with light brush work. What follows is fifty minutes of repetition, with hypnotic surges of organically developing sound. At any one time I am recalling something akin to mid-70s Tangerine Dream, a particularly complex part of a Van Der Graaf Generator opus, a free jazz trio, or industrial music from the early 80s. You have to stop yourself and remember that this wonderful collection of sound is being created by a traditional acoustic piano, double bass and drum kit, albeit that the drummer has any number of little percussion tools at his disposal.  The structure of a Necks set is both familiar and different at the same time, a quiet reflective start, a build up to a complex, dense, and often cacophonous, middle, and then the fall away to a quieter coda.

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You have to remind yourself it is all improvised.

The remarkable thing is the complete lack of ego between the three musicians. They are separate but together. Each individual addresses their own contribution from their part of the stage, but the years of working together have clearly forged a collective endeavour which is equal and complete in its delivery.

The second set is perhaps a little more adventurous than the first. Swanton starts things off with an off kilter, almost Beefheartian riff, indeed Mark Boston had been stood just to the right of where he is several years ago when I saw The Magic Band at the same venue. Possibly some sort of ghostly Van Vliet dust is floating in the air?  Buck is creating alien pings with some brass cymbals which recall the opening of Echoes by Pink Floyd. He soon moves into a different area, and his contribution to this set is more overt. The lead role in the sound swaps between the three musicians. Abrahams uses the piano as a percussion instrument, as Buck creates melody with his battery of percussion, and Swanton floats between them creating sounds that I did not think were possible from a double bass. Time becomes an irrelevance as you lose yourself in this music. The rhythm is more hypnotic in the second set,  almost trance like, the music evokes memories, there’s a waking dream quality to the whole experience. At one point the music builds into a maelstrom of sound that is indescribable.

The Necks latest release is called Vertigo which after this nights experience appears to be an apposite title. They are completely unique, they are always different, but the process and the invention is familiar, so there is a backbone to the music which allows focus on and absorb what they do. You are caught in stream of musical ideas which takes you to a point of transcendence and then gently brings you back down to earth.

http://www.thenecks.com

http://www.bandonthewall.org

A previous gig demonstrates ably the band in full flow

Fascinating Things : Issue 74

Time is escaping me at a rapid rate due to lots of other workloads,  with no time for considered prose. So this time it’s  just a series of videos and soundclouds  of things that I reckon you should wrap your ears around. They are  out now or due soon. Plus there’s  a list of current favourite listens at the end of the post showing what’s on rotation on the I-Pod at the moment….and a bit of shameless self-publication at the bottom. Enjoy!

MESMER DISCIPLES – REAL LOUD (Leeds,UK)

CHORE – THE HITCHHIKER (Ontario, Canada)

THE FRANKLYS – CASTAWAY (London, UK)

PAPA M – BLOOM (Louisville, USA)

FLIES ON YOU – DARKENING MY DOOR (Leeds, UK)

BOWERY ELECTRIC – FEAR OF FLYING (New York City, USA)

WE ARE BANDICOOT – TEMPER (Kent, UK)

THE STRESS OF LEISURE – GIRL ON A LILO (Brisbane, Australia)

 

CURRENTLY ON THE I-POD

  • Fistula – The Shape Of Doom To Cumm )))
  • Loser Life – …And I Am Going To Live This Way , Things Will Never Change, I Want The World, My Hell, Life Number Two, Burning Fields/Hard To Please (complete back catalogue being released)
  • Chore – The Coastaline Fire
  • Papa M -Highway Songs
  • Donny McCaslin – Beyond Now
  • Chads Tree – Crossing Off The Miles
  • Harry Howard and the NDE – Sleepless Girls
  • The Stress of Leisure – Achievement
  • Kristin Hersh – Wyatt at the Coyote Palace
  • Moss Skellington- The Lump
  • The Get – The Private Men EP
  • Miles Davis – Freedom Jazz Dance
  • The Triffids – Born Sandy Devotional

AND SOME GIGS COMING UP (which is why I have been otherwise engaged)

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1976 and all that…..Punks in the Basement

I was listening recently to a recording of Dave Graney talking about how he conceived the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll is where I hide”  and it struck me that his vision of an East German Rock Band working it’s way covertly around the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or indeed his own career in the context of the extant Australian music scene, was also a metaphor for the current music scene here in the UK. At a time when talented, and I mean really talented, artists struggle to fill the “dusty pub back rooms” that try to present themselves as concert venues, whereas at the same time industry funded “stars” fill arenas, or vast swathes of tribute bands infest local festivals and pull huge crowds.

Where is the spirit of ’76 40 years on I ask myself?

Has Rock ‘n’ Roll itself had to take on its own shadowy persona in order to survive? How can it survive where nostalgia and tribute is more successful than innovation and art? Is Rock and Roll hiding?

All this got me thinking about where was I at in 1976.

The recent summer outpouring of nostalgia around the “Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall” is symptomatic of the internet age and its relationship to music. People want to relive those days vicariously through the memories of others. Men and women of a certain age are wheeled out by national broadcasters to recollect (or in some cases mis-remember, it was upstairs Hooky not in the basement!) what happened on June 4th 1976.

I remember it was a very hot summer. I had a holiday job in a venetian blind factory on an industrial estate on the north western outskirts of Northampton (yes you poke his eyes out was the common waggish comment at the time).  The weather was so warm that the Factory was opening at 5 a.m. so we could clock-off around 1 p.m. so as not have to work in excessive heat in the afternoon sun. There was plenty of time to laze around in the afternoon and listen to music.  University was over and I was pondering on the next “career move”, I knew I was going to be heading back to Salford, I was not sure when and where. I spent long afternoons listening to the sort of stuff I had been listening to for the last six years – Floyd, Genesis, and a particular obsession at the time Manfred Mann’s Earthband. Steely Dan had caught my attention via Katy Lied, and Springsteen had begun to worm his way into my psyche. Led Zeppelin moved sideways with Houses of the Holy. The Floyd had gone off somewhere I didn’t like. The problem was that generally it was all getting a bit stale. My university education had concluded but my musical education needed a serious kick up the backside. In any event I permanently headed back North away from the provincial East Midlands into what was a crucible of change, something I was completely unaware of.

There had been the glimmerings of change with the release of Hammill’s “Nadir’s Big Chance” in the February of the previous year. I’d been to see Van Der Graaf at UMIST and had been struck by how more extreme the music had become. I had been reasonably close to the local music scene in Northampton, having briefly flirted with it, but Manchester’s “local” scene was a mystery to me, other than the obvious success stories of 10cc and Barclay James Harvest for example. .June and the Pistols gig  had long gone when I eventually headed north in the late summer.

Moving north was a gamble, no job, no money, no obvious career path but I needed to get back there to be with the future wife. So cash was tight in the autumn of 1976, there wasn’t much spare change to buy a lot of new music, I couldn’t really afford to both go to gigs,  or build the record collection that much, but albums were more important than gigs so they took precedence.

The closest I got the emerging scene was that one of the guys who had made The Pistols gig happen lived below the flat I had moved into on Lower Broughton Road. The other guy lived a couple of doors down. I was there at the crucible of change and  indeed that change was coming but it would be a stuttering start to my new music education. I did eventually manage to get some gigs. Specifically the following January a saw a memorable Todd Rundgren show at Salford University. But the new “underground” music scene was not obvious or indeed on the radar. it was all going on I was missing it.

My friend Ian Moss, who was at the Free Trade Hall, recently described the Pistols gig as a  “phart in a cathedral”.  The impact was palpable, it just hadn’t made it out into the wider ether as yet. Slowly however things began to change. I got a job at the Town Hall, a chap called Rob Gretton was on my team for a while and gave me a badge for a band called “Slaughter & The Dogs” and told me about a new band he was managing called “Warsaw” and about gigs at the The Oaks. A husband and wife couple on the team told me about a place called The Electric Circus. However I was still pretty removed from it all.

I remained steadfastly aligned to the music of my teens for a while longer but there was a slight glimmer of change. The Damned seemed interesting, The Clash I didn’t really understand, The Stranglers sounded alright. The Pistols? I wasn’t sure, I knew it was exciting, but did I like it? The NME and Sounds were interesting reading in those days. Friends decried it as a gimmick, “they can’t play their instruments”, in hindsight the mutterings of provincial middle class music snobs who couldn’t discern the difference between technique, attitude, and art.

A band I had been a big follower of, welsh rockers Man, had sort of drifted after the excellent Whinos, Rhinos and Lunatics of a couple of years earlier. The band had appeared at the Free Trade Hall in the March of 1975 with John Cippolina in tow. It was all a little dull and the 1976 album featuring that line-up ,”The Welsh Connection”, hadn’t struck a chord.

The true overlord of the obtuse, Captain Beefheart, had disappeared after a couple of what you might call MOR albums, he wouldn’t be back in full effect for a couple of years. Zappa released an album which clumsily merged too many genres and dabbled in cock-rock humour.  I hadn’t found the Velvets or The Stooges by this stage and  in any event,  Jazz, and Coltrane specifically, were dragging me off in another direction, there was a huge back catalogue of Davis, Monk, Coleman, Mingus and Parker to wade through. I also flirted with funk via George Clinton and Bootsy Collins

Some of the albums acquired that year despite the impecunity….

  • Be-bop Deluxe – Sunburst Finish : prompted by a good gig at Salford University where I met the future wife, so a good place to start
  • Heart – Dreamboat Annie : still holds up reasonably well after all these years, although probably the last knockings of my dalliance with mainstream rock
  • Genesis – A Trick of the Tail : never quite the same after Gabriel left and the beginning of a slow demise into mediocrity
  • Van Der Graaf Generator – Still Life : remarkable then, equally remarkable now
  • Gentle Giant – Interview : I loved it at the time but it seems overly complex and too muso in hindsight. I saw them at the Free Trade Hall on the tour supporting this album. A good indication of the disparity between the mainstream and what the nascent punk scene was delivering
  • Steely Dan – The Royal Scam : I was beginning to lose interest by this time, they seemed to have gone a bit too AOR.
  • Brand X – Unorthodox Behaviour : an example of not how to merge jazz and rock
  • Spirit – Farther Along : It wasn’t 12 dreams but it was still a cut above the rest. More of a John Locke album than a Randy California influenced release.
  • Parliament – The Clones of Dr Funkenstien : barking mad and a great deal of fun
  • Manfred Manns Earthband – The Roaring Silence : seems a little weak in hindsight but the cover of Springsteens “Blinded By The Light” (see above) still holds out.
  • Van Der Graaf Generator – World Record : perhaps the weakest of the second phase albums but still head and shoulders above the rest. The band would split and then reform with a new line-up next year.
  • The Eagles – Hotel California : it all seemed to make sense at the time, bright Californian sunshine to brighten grey Salford days, now, not so much
  • Genesis – WInd and Wuthering : the last Genesis album I actually bought, it all went downhill after this, and this was pretty poor
  • City Boy – City Boy : I still have fond recollections of this pop-rock from Birmingham.
  • Steve Hillage – L : A huge disappointment after the cosmic highs of “Fish Rising”,  a rare occasion where Todd Rundgren’s hand did not have a positive effect.
  • Man – The Welsh Connection : dull and uninteresting in the context of previous releases.

Released that year but not acquired until much later:

  • The Residents – Third Reich & Roll
  • Soft Machine – Softs
  • The Stooges – Metallic KO
  • Miles Davis – Pangaea
  • Fela Kuti – Zombie
  • Jaco Pastorius – Jaco Pastorius
  • Herbie Hancock – Secrets
  • Tom Waits – Small Change
  • Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures
  • Can – Flow Motion
  • Miles Davis – Water Babies

So 1976 wasn’t a Damascene year for me despite Mr Shelley and Mr Devoto practising in the flat below.

But it all started to change when I walked into Virgin Records and asked for a copy of Spiral Scratch, and a couple of miles up the road Mark, Una, Martin and Tony would be getting together to discuss forming a band, and that’s when the fun really started.

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Fascinating Things : Issue 49

As you will be well aware,  if you read this nonsense on a regular basis, there is a lot of new music out there which barely gets the recognition it deserves. It is a sad indictment of the increasingly polarised music mainstream that a handful of artists dominate the media when arguably more talented folk don’t get a look in. The so called arbiters of taste peddle the promo gubbins that pluggers and labels zap their way. When I listen to some of the dross that gets peddled on so called hip radio or red buttons I get a tad grumpy.

I’m also acutely aware of the passage of time and the regular repackaging of formats so that material from across the long history of my music listening regularly reappears in what is the latest “hip” format. Following the deification of vinyl over the last year or so the CD lovers (of which I am one) have started the inevitable fight back against what must be the biggest con job the music industry have foisted on the public since 8-track cartridges. There will be several friends and acquaintances that will vilify me for calling out the great god Vinyl but I remain convinced that the great listening public have been tricked into purchasing music in a format that has inherent built in obsolescence and is horribly overpriced as well as being bad for the environment and taking up far to much space. Whatever, it’s all about opinion, if you want to  collect vinyl because it fills you with misty eyed nostalgia of a time, in the vast majority of cases when you were not  even born,  and where music was more legitimate because it was played on a  dansette, that’s fine with me. I don’t recall it being much fun picking up a copy of “Selling England By The Pound” at the shop on Piccadilly Station approach and having to take it back several times because of the skips, jumps and crackles. As things stand I couldn’t possibly afford a home that could house all the vinyl versions of the music I have collected over the years, CDs are pushing it a bit space wise but I can just about accommodate them, MP3s on external hard discs are the most convenient option as the moment.

I must reference the sad death of Keith Emerson. ELP have got a bad press over the years, and I would be the first to admit that after “Brain Salad Surgery” my interest in them waned, not helped by that completely over the top BBC feature on them and their touring excesses. Notwithstanding that Emerson’s early work with The Nice still stands up well and the first four ELP releases had some fine moments. I saw the band twice. The first time was at the Oval in 1972 when “Tarkus” had just been released; on the day they stole a march on Genesis with Peter Gabriel in his red dress and foxes head (Foxtrot had just come out), with two giant Tarkuses appearing on stage. The second gig was in 1974 -ish I think  at a cavernous Wembley Arena where the band were reduced to mere cyphers and which more or less put me off stadium gigs for life. Emerson, for all the faults of ELP at their worst, was a fine showman and his marriage of classical music, jazz and rock was innovative.

Enough of my ramblings what can I share with you this week which you may not have heard elsewhere, or isn’t getting the wider attention it deserves? :

  • Southern Lord will be bringing back the early work of Wolfbrigade (then Wolfpack) in a trilogy of reissues encompassing the Swedish d-beat hard core goups first three LPs (A New Dawn Fades, Lycanthro Punk and Allday Hell), which will be available from April 15th, as well as a boxset including the remaining two EPs released before their name change. This marks 20 years since the release of their first two records Bloodstained Dreams and A New Dawn Fades. Expect a new album from the band later in 2016.
  • Formed in Liverpool in 2014, Indie Pop/Rock band Seprona practice in an abandoned pub on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre where they have locked themselves away, writing profically. Each band member brings their own influences to Seprona’s sound, but the band agree that the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Interpol and Radiohead are their common denominators. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/seprona
  • I got sent the below with absolutely no information other than the soundcloud link, which would normally put me off, but I was impressed by the sounds so I thought I would share it and let you have the fun of finding out more. It reminded me of early Phillip Glass in places, which is no bad thing.
  • Lauren from the ever excellent Rarely Unable says “The collaboration between Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Bitchin Bajas shares a passion for arresting the moment in the process of now. Their ability to stretch time, coupled with their ability to explore and meditate on words, make them the most pertinent of partners. On Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, they combine forces to travel down a celestial path that knows no bounds – won’t you follow?” You can watch a video at another site as I have nothing I can embed for you. It’s Will Oldham cast in a new light, which is no bad thing, and there are echoes of Neil Young in some of it, but the Bajas influence is strong and good. It’s out on March 18th and you can pre-order it here.
  • After a bit of a hiatus the eclecticians at Superstar Detroyer as back with their unique brand of math and madness. They have just released I.I.A.H.S.W.E.S EP by BRITNEY which is a riotous melange of chunky red zone bass and heavy percussion in a Beastie Boys punk soup with a sprinkling of post punk overkill and the occasional dip into manic piano distress. Fascinating and slightly disturbing. Also new on the label, on April 11th, but with nowt to embed from it, is  the excellent Polymath with an album entitled “Melencholia”..
  • The refreshingly heavy duo Rusty G’s are back with a full length album and a new single. Having got quite excited about them last year I can confirm that the band have continued their fine run of form with some blistering rock noise. A hell of a bg sound for a pair of people and well worth some of your time. They have a small tour coming up and are well worth checking out.
  • Ghold return  with a new album PYR (Ritual Productions, 7th May), which also marks the band’s first recording as a trio with multi-instrumentalist/guitarist Oliver Martin. They play Islington Mill, Salford on May 11th as part of a run of dates. More info to follow on the release but its out 7th May on LP, DIGI and CD formats, the latter comes with a bonus track.
  • I have been featuring the new Rangda release (as well as working my way though their back catalogue) over the last few podcast. I was pleased to get an interesting video of The Sin Eaters from the new one “The Heretics Bargain”.  I’ve seen a couple of bad reviews of the album which I thought were a tad mealy mouthed, this is good stuff and continues the work of some fine exponents of multi guitar rock.
  • As previously mentioned Moulettes are a Brighton based British band of Björk, Frank Zappa and Gentle Giant loving multi-instrumentalists that weave in and out of several genres with 3 part harmony female vocals, amplified Cello, distorted Bassoon, Auto-Harp, Guitar, Drums, Bass and Synths into an incomparable alt.pop/rock/folk universe. Since the success of ‘Constellations’ (No.7 Indie Charts, Spiral Earth Best Album 2014), Bajian Irish Londoner Raevennan Husbandes has joined the band on Vocals and Electric Guitar. With this new line-up the band have made their fourth Album ‘Preternatural.’ Sadly they have failed to send anything through to share but you can pre-order it in several formats over at their website.
  • Seven years on from 2009’s Afterlife EP, Amenra are to release a new collection of songs, titled “Alive”, a counterpoint to the band’s Mass series, featuring brand new compositions and cover songs, as well as appearances from special guests and additional musicians. This marks their second acoustic release, and first live release.It was recorded at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels by Hein Devos, and mastered by Frederic Alstadt. You can hear a track in advance of its release below. More details regarding tracklisting and release dates will be shared in the near future. Alive is set for release at Roadburn Festival, with all pre-orders scheduled to ship in the week following the festival. Pre-orders will be available via Consouling Sounds. Hypnotic stuff.
  • Almost three years in the making, ‘Soundtrack Doom’ band Merrin have  released their follow up to 2013’s “Doom Cinema”. “Midnight Movies! is a 6 track collection of songs inspired by late night movies. Everything from horror, to kung fu, to post apocalyptic action movies and the plain bizarre, the band have broadened their scope beyond simply rehashing Goblin scores  to deliver something more unique, unpredictable, cinematic and very much in the spirit of the films they take inspiration from. It is also the first release to be recorded with a full band present for the entire session. The result is an album that sounds heavier and more driven than before, featuring Chris Purdie on all guitars, Arturs Reirs on Drums and Misha Hering on Synth, the band sounds bigger and more epic.
  • Joy abounds with news of a new Melvins album and it sounds like a cracker. The band, who have a history of imaginative line-up changes, feature not one, but six different bass players on their appropriately titled new album, “Basses Loaded” (June 3, Ipecac Recordings).  The collection features Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover joined by Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Redd Kross’ Steve McDonald, Butthole Surfers’ J.D. Pinkus, Big Business’ Jared Warren, Mr. Bungle/Fantomas’ Trevor Dunn (aka Melvins Lite) and Crover swapping the drum kit for bass in the Melvins 1983 iteration. Here is a taster via Rolling Stone. They will be back in Europe in the summer, the only date pencilled in so far is in Bristol but hopefully more will follow.
  • The duo of Stuart Dahlquist and Edgy59, under the banner of The Poisoned Glass, have released the video for ‘Toil And Trouble’ ahead of the launch of their debut album 10 SWORDS on April 22nd via Ritual Productions. The video uses footage of a performance of the work of Bauhaus artist and choreographer Oskar Schlemmer – the surreal costume design and faceless dancers mesh with The Poisoned Glass’ aesthetic, which echoes Peter Hammill at his most cinematic and intense. I’m looking forward to the album based on this teaser.
  • ……..and to close Richard Citroen & Stephanie B, aka Lola Dutronic are back with a new video from the excellent “Lost In Translation” album – a marvellous band.