Where Are All The Oddballs Now?

A sort of open letter to Steve Lawson (who I greatly admire as a musician, a businessman, a thinker and a character). He has expressed some highly interesting thoughts on his Twitter feed about how Bandcamp is the best thing that ever happened to the working musician. But Yours Mintilly, on the other hand, is NOT a working musician...

I just don't know what to do with that Bandcamp of mine.

Bandcamp is fantastic. It allows musicians to reach out to an existing fanbase (eg; a following you might have built up by going out and playing live) and allow them the opportunity to buy your music. 

It works as a business model and as the basis for one of your own devising. It allows the working musician to control their own distribution and to reach the fans directly, without signing away their livelihood to a middleman 'record company' or 'media provider', who will gobble up most of the proceeds and leave you with the crumbs. I have nothing but respect for those who have supported the Bandcamp Way Of Doing Things. Mr Lawson is one of them. Markus Reuter is another. As a fan, I appreciate the efforts they have put into making Bandcamp work for them and their audience. Especially if you consider that the only 'other' way that musicians can directly sell their music online these days is by opening an account with iTunes. All kudos to Bandcamp for allowing the musicians themselves to take control.

But Bandcamp isn't working for me. It's clearly not meant for a hobbyist musician who just wants folks to hear his (mostly virtual) music and to take it away for free if they happen to like it.

I don't make a living from my music. I've never deluded myself that such a scenario could ever be possible. Yes, I did the 'wanna be a rock star' bit when I was a teenager like everyone else, but I don't think I ever had the chops on any conventional instrument to pull it off. My own musical tastes in the late-seventies meant that I wouldn't happily settle for one or two rudimentary chords like those punkrockers of the time. I never found that satisfying as music.

I gradually discovered ways to make music that did satisfy me. I experimented with tape, I juxtaposed things, I collaged sounds. I bought cheap synthesizers. I made a noise. Only much later did I teach myself about such things as scales and chords, things that the 'real' musicians understood.

But I also realised that when I do make music, it should be heard. By someone else. Otherwise what is the point of making it.

I loved the halcyon days of MySpace, before it was co-opted by big business and turned into something entirely different to that which had made it popular in the first place. Back in the noughties, it was a place where mavericks and weirdos could meet other mavericks and weirdos. Musicians who didn't occupy the pop mainstream (already well catered for elsewhere) could be find a surprisingly ready audience of like-minded individuals.

Avant-garde composers, jazz freeformers, electronic experimentalists, ukelele-wielding folkies, just plain 'outsiders', the kind of 'musicians' churning out stuff of which normal folks might ask "But is it actually MUSIC?"... you could pretty much guarantee that if you did it, there'd be someone out there who liked it. It takes all sorts. The MySpace microcosmos, as it was around 2006-07, brought these people together in one place. Don't ask me how, it just worked. It constantly amazed me that, as a rank-amateur who questioned his own abilities as a musician, I could reach people who (shudder) actually liked what I was doing.  What is more, actual 'proper' musicians used MySpace too, so if you 'friended' a band you admired (again, usually those outside the pop mainstream), there was often the chance that you'd have a much-respected "hero" commenting on your music. It gave one hope (probably too much, in hindsight) and it was a big boost to ones self-confidence. MySpace worked as a social web for a thriving artistic community. I found myself collaborating with a number of far-off and far-out artists (other musical dabblers, poets, video experimentalists), long distance relationships with people I've (still) never met, but which proved creatively fruitful. MySpace acted as a central 'hub' for all my online activities, much as I would imagine people use Facebook today.

But big business killed that dream... and those of us who weren't eager to sign up with Justin Timberlake's record label or to appear on the next 'talent' extravaganza were left with nowhere to go.

For a while, Soundcloud filled that void to a certain extent. A lot of the oddballs I 'knew' on MySpace popped up again Soundcloud. Some of those fruitful collaborative relationships continued in a new home. The site also had a much more 'European' flavour to it, in contrast to the Silicon Valley-centric nature of the bigger social media sites. But Soundcloud has also been bought and sold several times now, and it is showing signs that it too is moving into the shouty "Monetize your music now!" market. The wanna-get-rich-yo! crowd are moving in. I realise that social websites have to pay for themselves somehow, but it is a shame that they all end up pandering to the same mainstream demographic, so that commercial pop and rap end up being the only flavours of music available, whether you like it or not.

But what this means to weirdies like me is... On all of these music sites, we play second fiddle to the business-minded musician. All of the FUN has been sucked out of it. Everyone's an accountant now. Time to get serious about your music. You can go on making music for your own enjoyment, but don't be too surprised if nobody else ever hears it.

A few short months ago, after years of dogged resistance, I joined Twitter. I had been asked to help set up an account for a business client and I found myself thinking "Mmm, this is fun, I'm going to have a go at this myself..." On an earlier occasion, I'd "had a go" at Facebook for similar reasons. I absolutely loathed the experience and I deactivated the account within about twelve hours of starting it! I'd previously thought that Twitter would be just as horrible, but now I'm rather smitten! Twitter is now my central 'hub' of activity in much the same way as MySpace was in a previous decade.

As far as I can tell, in order for Bandcamp to work in the way it is supposed to work, you need to have an established fanbase in place, and it should preferably be one which is already linked with you in some way via the TwitFace social network. If you are not a gigging musician, then you can't reach out to those 'like-minded individuals' without said two-way communication network being in place. You have to get people to like you before they make their way your Bandcamp "shop". There is no longer the opportunity for folks to find your music by happy accident. Therefore...

Stumbling Block Number One:- I don't have enough followers on Twitter. I'm never going back to Facebook. My Google Plus community is full of computer nerds only. There is not a readymade audience for my music anymore. Where are all the oddballs now?

To get the populace to even listen to my music on Bandcamp, I have to keep badgering them about it. Post a link on your Twitter page and your handful of followers might, just might follow the link and see what it's about. This will generate some activity in your Bandcamp stats, but it won't necessarily result in plays or downloads.

Stumbling Block Number Two:- No one seems to play my tracks all the way through.

My Bandcamp stats tell me that, on the rare occasion when people do play a track (either on-site or via embedded links on other social pages), they hardly ever listen to it from start to finish. Sometimes there will be a momentary flurry of activity indicated on my stats graphs, where someone had played the beginning few seconds of several different tracks on an album. But rarely do they ever stick around for more. I can only conclude from this that they haven't liked what they did hear.

To sustain interest in your music, you have to keep reminding your followers on Twitter that you and your music exists and you have to repeat this process daily. The Internet has a short attention span.

Stumbling Block Number Three:- No one wants my downloads.

Bandcamp are currently making a big thing about their creating a subscription service for fans. In other words, instead of buying your download albums one at a time, they can pay you a monthly fee and get all your stuff as it arrives, with lots of bonuses and freebies as you, the artist, see fit. Again, this is all fine and dandy for The Professional Working Musician. But in my case, no one is downloading my albums at all. Even when I give them away for nothing. With extra 'secret' tracks and spiffy artwork and everything. The music hasn't cost me anything to make (apart from time, of which, apparently, I have plenty). It's a labour of love. I would probably do it anyway. But the point of the exercise is to get it out there for other people to hear. As I say, I'm not expecting to get paid, so they can have it for nowt. Meanwhile, Bandcamp suggest that one should give the punters the opportunity to pay for an album, even if they can have it for free. To do this, one has to set up a payment system via PayPal. I looked into doing this earlier... But... the 'sales and download' stats on my site have flatlined for months. It's tumbleweed central. So for me to go through the rigmarole of setting up a business account with PayPal, so that punters can pay me money 'if they want', would be an exercise in futility. They don't 'want' it at all.

Bandcamp also offer a number of Pro options. You pay them a monthly fee and get all sorts of extra features, as well as additional stats about your 'audience', so that you can target your market. Again, it looks well thought out and would be a boon for the The Professional Working Musician. It would be safe to say that when I originally joined Bandcamp (in 2010), I went for the free option to start with, with the idea that I might 'upgrade' to a Pro package if my audience numbers suggested that it might be a good investment (of money and time) to interact with them in a more professional manner. But it never happened. They're not there.

I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that no sane person wants to own my music, let alone listen to it. Either I'm reaching out to the wrong people in the wrong places, or my music really is crap. I'd like to believe that the latter is not the case, but all 'market' evidence is to the contrary. Bandcamp is obviously not the place to store my music. If I could find another place for all this collaborative music to go (five albums-worth in all), I would happily close my account. Apparently, no one would notice.

My music hasn't changed that much over the years, but the internet has. Once Upon A Time On MySpace, people liked my music. Now nobody listens to it. It only merits an occasional comment on Soundcloud, usually from a dwindling coterie of people I actually know. But I don't know where all the 'outsider' artists have gone now. I wish I did. They're probably gridling outside of railway stations somewhere, because there isn't a website on which they can gather anymore. All social websites these days have an ulterior motive, the encouragement of capitalism. Everyone is selling something, if only themselves. Which is fine, if that's what you're participating in.

But where's the FUN in that...?

Follow me on Twitter. Oh, go on, please! I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about me...


Gryphon Reunion Revisited

GRYPHON - 2015 tour poster
This week, I learned that the eclectic band of progfolk medievalists GRYPHON are finally going to tour again this year (next month, in fact! Hoorah!). I thought it worth recalling the last time they got together, for a fantastic one-off reunion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on the 6th June 2009. They really should have taken the opportunity to put out a live album of the event (Maybe this time around, eh guys?)

Still, at least along with the obligatory souvenir programme and t-shirt, we do have these tantalisingly brief snippets of video to remember it by (including a couple of new ones that weren't there before!), shot by a single camera mounted next to the mixing desk and subsequently posted on That YouTube They Have Now. I'm sure there must be a lot more of this footage in existence... and I apologise for the aspect ratio on the last clip being completely wrong... and they're not necessarily in the right order... but ENJOY!

When I was at school, GRYPHON were My Top Fave Band, equal in stature only to the Dutch yodelrockers Focus.
I Was An Odd Boy (Who Doesn't Like Sport).
None of my peers 'got' what Gryphon were about, so they were somehow something that was exclusively mine! Bear in mind that the average fifteen-year-old secondary modern schoolboy in 1973 would have favoured the stomping stylings of Slade or T-Rex. The more adventurously 'progressive' amongst the fifth form went for Cream or Hendrix, Free or Zep, Uriah Heep or Hawkwind, or (gawdelpus!) Ten Years bloody After. I was only just discovering Yes and Genesis for the first time.
But along came a band that ditched the loud guitars in favour of wheezing harmoniums, recorders and bassoons, not to mention those funny looking instruments that resembled upturned walking sticks. They had a lot of hair and wore colourful renaissance frock-coats. This particular spotty teenager was smitten. However, my compadrés stared in befuddlement.
Over a three-year period in the seventies, I travelled to see Gryphon play in various venues, some as small as folk clubs and some as large as stadia (with Guildhalls and Cathedrals in between). I bought all the albums on vinyl (still have them!) and then, much later, again on CD. Some of them twice. I was there at their 2009 reunion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and I haven't shut up about it since...







It's that time of year - "Thud bash! Manically on high..." - when we give thanks for the shiny silver things that have brought us pleasure over the last twelvemonth...

New Releases

ROBERT PLANT - "Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar" (Nonesuch)
I really admire Robert Plant for sticking to his own guns, releasing albums which wave two fingers in the direction of the tedious "When's the next Led Zeppelin reunion then?" brigade. "No, that was then... this is what I do now..." he seems to be saying, and all power to him. I suspect that he needs Led Zeppelin a lot less than they would need him, preferring to act his age, cast off the 'rock god' trappings altogether and indulge in whatever musical journey takes his fancy. With the latest line-up of Sensational Space Shifters being to all intents and purposes a virtual WOMAD house band, this album carries on where "Mighty ReArranger" left off, before Percy took a detour to do his lucrative country-crossover projects. That means mixing the rockist power chords with African instrumentation (lots of hand-percussion; various plunky lutes and fiddles with strange-sounding names; Justin Adams' grungy 'desert blues' stylings; his "JuJu" mucker Juldeh Camara), then layering some of that good old Bristol trippy-hoppy electronica on top of the whole shebang. And the occasional banjo. And some more guest vocalists. Sensational indeed!
A few words about the sleeve:- It's one of those miniature masterpieces that are intricately and expertly conceived, probably full of deep and hidden 'meaning'. Like a paragraph of "Finnegans Wake", a painting by Miro or an episode of "Twin Peaks", you can stare at it for ages, wallow in its beauty, be mightily impressed and enjoy it for what it is, but be absolutely none the wiser at the end of it... Likewise the title.

PINK FLOYD - "The Endless River" (Parlophone)
Twenty years on and a 'new' Pink Floyd album... and would you believe it!? It sounds just like Pink Floyd! Providing, of course, your idea of a good Pink Floyd record is one full of impressionistic soundtracks for lazing around in Mediterranean beach bars ("More"; "Obscured By Clouds"; "Echoes"; Richard's "Wet Dream" album; David's "On An Island"), rather than one in which Roger Waters works out his mental issues in the form of an angst-in-your-face concept album (you know the ones I mean)... I certainly know which sort I prefer! Personally, I'd have thought that this (mostly instrumental) record would be strictly "One For The Fans". There are no real surprises here and nothing to win new converts. As I said, "it sounds just like Pink Floyd". It is generally regarded as the companion piece to "The Division Bell" of '94, but there's nothing here that couldn't have just as easily appeared on the "Wish You Were Here" album of forty years ago! But what would I know about public tastes? It's zoomed straight to the top of the charts (yes, they still have those, apparently), which means you can buy your copy at any local supermarket or garage. File it under "Suitable for Sailing". I wouldn't recommend it for car journeys though - far too somniferous for that!

ENGINEERS - "Always Returning" (K-Scope)
I'll admit up front that the only way I became aware of the existence of this 'band' is because they share a record label with that Steven Wilson fellow. Given my usual saturated listening habits, 'current' bands wouldn't usually get a look in. Frankly I don't have a clue (or care) what passing fad the kids are listening to these days. But in this case, the entire thing was 'previewed' on the K-Scope Soundcloud page, giving me ample opportunity to fall in love with it before I bought a proper tangible copy of it. I'd be hard pushed to describe these chaps' music to the uninitiated - the best I could come up with is "a meeting between Pink Floyd and Scritti Pollitti"... It sounds curiously 'seventies' and 'eighties' both at the same time. One thing I can say for certain is that, as a delightfully wistful piece of  prog-lite pop fusion, it pisses all over the recent Yes album!

TIM BOWNESS - "Abandoned Dancehall Dreams" (Inside Out)
MATT BERRY - "Music For Insomniacs" (Acid Jazz)
PAT MASTELOTTO & TOBIAS RALPH - "ToPaRaMa" (Unsung/Bandcamp)
TRAVIS & FRIPP - "Discretion" (DGM/Panegyric)
REGAL WORM - "Neither Use Nor Ornament: A Small Collection Of Big Suites" (Quatermass/Bandcamp)

Reissues & Back Catalogue

Of course, the big news this year in the wonderful world of nostalgia was a couple of bloody enormous KING CRIMSON box sets, "The Road To Red" and "Starless", each of which finds you mortgaging everything you own in the name of completism... should you feel, as I do, that you simply must own everything recorded by the band during those heady months between Autumn 1972 and Summer 1974. Some of it you'll want several times in multiple formats. "The Road To Red" carries a release date of 2013, so under the strict rules of "PICK'O'THE YEAR" it doesn't really count as 'this year'. I know, I know, I'm being Pedantic! What is more, I probably won't get to hear much of "Starless" until next year, because I've bought myself that for Xmas. I'm sure it's very good though ;-) So instead, what else is new in Old...?

EMMYLOU HARRIS - "Wrecking Ball" (Nonesuch)
A near-perfect album just got even better with this expanded edition... Sometime in the mid-nineties, this record changed how I felt about so-called country music for ever.  Being the English suburbanite that I am, I would naturally have dismissed all C&W as being either redneck hokum or some sort of AOR-with-stetsons-on. Disgraced world music guru Andy Kershaw would enthuse on the radio about Hank Williams, I just didn't get it. Then Daniel Lanois came along, bringing the same cavernous production techniques he'd used on U2 and Peter Gabriel albums, and applying them to an album featuring one of country's most enduring 'First Ladies'... and nothing would ever be the same again. It was 'roots' music, Jim, but filtered through the rock experimentalism of Hendrix and his psychedelic contemporaries. Once I'd witnessed first hand Daniel Lanois and his power trio frighten away an entire WOMAD audience, that clinched it for me! Musical 'purists' should not apply. Twenty years on... you only have to listen to any of T-Bone Burnett or Buddy Miller's production work ("Raising Sand"; the "Nashville" soundtracks) to hear how the influence of this record has rubbed off on country music in general... and now I get it!

STEVEN WILSON - "Cover Version" (K-Scope)
No 'new' Steven Wilson album this year (We can probably expect one of those this coming Spring!), but it was nice to re-visit these tracks on a 'proper' CD at long last. SW originally issued these songs on a series of seven-inch singles, at the dawn of this century. Eventually they also became available as downloads via his website, which is where I first got to hear them. Each single consisted of a cover version (not named on the original labels) and a song from the Wilson pen. The cover versions range from Alannis Morrissette's "Thank You", which also featured in the Blackfield setlist from time to time, to The Cure's "A Forest", here given a very skeletal electronic treatment. Along the way, he covers Abba, Prince, Donovan and Momus (and a trad folk song!) in all sorts of interesting ways. Some of them are faithful to the originals, some of them... not quite so much! His own songs aren't bad either!

MILES DAVIS - "Bootleg Series Vol.3: At The Fillmore 1970" (Sony Legacy)
MAN - "All's Well That Ends Well" (Esoteric)
STICK MEN - "Power Play" (Unsung/Bandcamp)
STICK MEN - "Unleashed: Live Improvs 2013" (Unsung/Bandcamp)
JOHN WETTON & RICHARD PALMER-JAMES - "Monkey Business 1972-1997" (Primary Purpose)
FRIPP & ENO - "Live In Paris" (DGM/Panegyric)

Live Events

As I went to only one gig this year, there's really not a lot of competition in this category, is there?
THE CRIMSON PROJEkcT - Shepherd's Bush Empire, 12th March 2014


PPvXT revisited

"PPvXT" stood for "PEDANTIC PEDESTRIAN versus the XMAS TREES"...

Throughout the last few decades, I've collaborated on (or, at least, appeared on) a lot of music. Much of it was recorded. Not necessarily by me.

In 2008 I played with a 'band' called the CHRISTMAS TREES, recording an album called "Sniper @ the Gates Of Dave". I've forgotten what it sounded like, but I'm sure I've got a copy somewhere. The gentlemen with whom I collaborated have long maintained a sort of contrived Residents-like anonymity, opting to use a different 'band' name on nearly every project and appearing in public dressed as tigers or wearing comical masks. A counter-commercial policy, I think you'll agree, but what do I know? For video purposes, the Christmas Trees 'band' was deputised by various stuffed toys.

When we'd finished recording this little opus, I got to take away all the 'tapes' (i.e. digital sound files) so that I could mix my own version and/or reconstruct something else from the sessions. Thus began the "CHTHONIC BOOM" album.

In its original form, the soundfiles from the Xmas Trees sessions formed the basis of "Side 1", while "Side 2" was constructed from samples and clips taken from old tapes of the legendary Johnson's Gridling Band. But somewhere along the way, I decided to mix things up a little. I made the whole thing into one continuous fifty-minute sound collage. 'Merzklang', if you will. Or not.

At the time, I thought this 'album' was a neat summation of my entire 'musical' career. Listening back to it now, for the first time in yonks, I actually don't remember playing some of the instrumental parts and I've long forgotten how I achieved some of the sound treatments involved... but I certainly recognise 'me' when I hear 'me'. For better or worse, I do have a 'style' of my own! I also recognise everybody I've ever played with, popping up at various points in the proceedings.

Here's what the Zimpoon webpage had to say about it: "18 untitled tracks of complete cut-up spazmo remixes based on the "Sniper @ The Gates of Dave" CD-R, as demolished by Mr The Pedantic Pedestrian. In fact, there has been some (albeit limited) debate as to whether this anthology should be billed as 'PEDANTIC PEDESTRIAN vs THE CHRISTMAS TREES'. But you can argue until you're blue in the face that one of half of this odd coupling would not exist if the other wasn't invented. So there... and if you disagree then tuff titty, go sign up for a philosophy class! It's not only based on those prowling rascals T'Trees but also nearly four decades of interwoven fart splurge nonsense courtesy of Gosport's third most popular hair pie art folk nutters JOHNSON'S GRIDLING BAND. So if you like this kind of thing check it out!" And who am I to argue? But, as I say, I prefer to think of it not so much as a 'remix' as a 'collage'. It should be listened to as one continuous piece of music. Originally, for my convenience and yours, it was sub-divided into eighteen numerically-titled parts, but now you can stream it uninterrupted as nature intended.

The album was released as a lovingly-crafted CD-R by the Zimpoon concern and was streamed in its entirety on my Bandcamp site, where it resided unnoticed since July of 2008. I've now put it on 'That YouTube They Have Now' instead.

FROM THE "SLEEVENOTES" - I've been requested not to refer to the members of ThE ChRiStMaS TrEeS by name, in this or any other blogjournal, as B***Y wants to perpetuate the myth that the TrEeS' music has been performed by a rockin' beat combo consisting entirely of plastic or knitted toy animals (as a rule, I don't use 'real' names within these pages anyway). Which is apparently why, when being photographed pretending to play the saxophone, I have to wear an ape mask and there is an elephant at the keyboards. Nearly all of the music has been constructed from samples of ThE ChRiStMaS TrEeS playing their hit album "Sniper At The Gates Of Dave". Except for the bits that feature THE GRIDLERS OF YORE (Minty, Snilt, Shelfy, Janet, Rathbone, Mervyn, Rabbithole, Ken Dead, Gold Lamé, Dunx and probably lots of others that I failed to recognise). There are also some samples of an Arabian gentleman singing, taken from a library record, as well as some dialogue from a film which I don't recognise either... Just one more "CYRIL'S TROUSERS YELLOW THEY MAY BE BUT THEY ARE HIS" production, this time on behalf of the Zimpoon Discs concern.

A couple of years later, another Christmas Trees album was on the cards. I'm not entirely sure what that one was called, or if it ever came out. The anonymous cuddly toys got seriously into making videos instead and I lost interest. But in April 2010 I released another "PPvXT" project on my Bandcamp site, probably preempting the official album proper. The second release was less of a freeform collage, but it featured many of the same production anti-techniques that I'd employed on the previous album, plus a few new ones that I'd picked up along the way. This one had things on it that could almost be called 'songs', with words and titles and everything! There's a lot more guitars on this one too. I had an interesting time raiding the archives for duff poetry recitals and cutting the music to fit the speech patterns (Thank you Steve Reich!) and, as a special treat, there's a 'proper' remix of some old Trojan Lawyer jams tucked away at the end...

This album has also been 'retired' from my Bandcamp site (maybe to make room for a new CC:PP album? Teaser alert!) and I'm streaming it on YouTube instead, where (hopefully) it will more likely get heard. I happen to think that this one also works as one continuous piece of music... although in this case it's not hard to hear where one track ended and another began, if your mind still prefers to work that way.

FROM THE "SLEEVENOTES" - Titles: Audio Verité - Frightful Beastliness - Where Are You Tonight And Where Have I Known You Before? - Orange - The Many Voices Of Dub - Enrico's Residency - My Name Is Not Pooter - The Basement Tapirs - Polka Dot Scherzo I - Ampoules of Lawrencini - Polka Dot Scherzo II - Unirunt In Snowcem - Blinje Slegl - Haiku Without Words I - Does It Matter? - Haiku Without Words III - Rachel's Frocks - The Bob Event - Cutting The Heads Off Kingkongs - Alpine - Terrifying Drummer Babies - Frenchpolish - Onion Moon - Haiku Without Words II - Pale [Yet Somehow Definitive] Experiments - Brancasamba - Lucid Day - Mud Soup - Packdrill - Cadillac - Hootndong - Quartet For The End of Lunchtime - Static In Stasis (Edited Version) - TVUS '09 (The Return of the Vibrating Underpants Salesman)... The music on this album is almost entirely constructed from samples taken from the recording sessions for the most recent Christmas Trees album. Except the bits that aren't. In many cases however, the samples have been so thoroughly manipulated, using fiendish electronic processes (discovered by the Aztecs and believed lost since the dawn of time etc etc), that it is doubtful that their own mothers would even recognise them anymore. This is not really a "REMIX" in the usual sense. It's more like a "COLLAGE", in the true spirit of Kurt Schwitters, or like the "XENOCHRONY" of Frank Zappa. The 'art', if there is any, lies in the selection process - the juxtaposition of [musical] elements that probably didn't belong together but, somehow, 'work'. During the course of these pieces, you will hear 'performances' by the mysterious collection of stuffed toy animals that ARE The Xmas Trees, as well as featured guest appearances by Minty, Binky, Gregsy, Shelfy, Bunny, Mervy, Snilty, Soxy and Rabbitty Holey. Special Thanks to the Pathetic Entries Poetry Collective.

While I was poking around in the archives, preparing the material for upload, I came across the original unedited version of "Static In Stasis". It was over thirty minutes in duration and probably went absolutely nowhere very slowly, but I found it quite interesting to hear after all this time. I might do something else with it at some stage. The version here might be a slightly different edit to the one that appeared on the Bandcamp album, but I'm probably the only one who'd notice!

More about "XENOCHRONY", if you were wondering...


Crimson ProjeKCt at Shepherds Bush Empire

The Crimson ProjeKCt (featuring the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Stick Men)
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 12th March 2014

Stick Men
Tony Levin - Stick, Bass Guitar, Funk Fingers, Vocals
Markus Reuter - U8 Touch Guitar, Laptop
Pat Mastelotto - Drums, Electronic Percussion

Adrian Belew Power Trio
Adrian Belew - Guitars, Vocals
Julie Slick - Bass Guitar
Tobias Ralph - Drums

Notes from the Dress Circle

My own main reason for buying a ticket for this show (crikey! all those months ago now!) was for the rare opportunity of seeing the two groups individually - mainly the STICK MEN, but also the ADRIAN BELEW POWER TRIO. But the added bonus of hearing some KING CRIMSON repertoire thrakked out by the whole collective was an enticing prospect (and no mistake!). Earlier tours (in North America and the Orient) had seen the two bands playing their individual sets before joining up at the end of the evening for an 'extended crim-centric encore'. But this time around they've mixed it up a little more, bravely starting the show with the fullblown b'boomthrak experience and then fra[K]ctalizing into their component parts again... I thought it made for a fresh approach.

INTRODUCTORY SOUNDSCAPE... Nice! Markus is never afraid to take risks within the 'soundscape' format. We've heard him do some astonishing things with eight strings and a laptop over the years. There were indeed a couple of 'hairs on the back of the neck' moments during the course of his allotted time slot tonight. But for the most part, his job here is to keep it reined in and give us a little 'Fripp-Lite' before the drummers come on.

B'BOOM... Wow! Now that's a sharp drum sound. Good job, sound guys! A compelling bit of percussive interplay (and I speak as one who usually loathes drum solos with a vengeance).

THRAK... and the 'double trio' kicks off in fine polyrhythmic style. I thought that the improv section was a little uninspired tonight though, quite a lot of aimless scratching o'strings.

DINOSAUR... This is not my favourite Crim number by any stretch of the imagination, but it always sounds mighty powerful when six people go at it. Markus is starting to take liberties with the solo, which is a good thing.

FRAME BY FRAME... Yawn! After thirty odd years, this hoary old chestnut from the eighties has really nothing left to offer me. Best get it out of the way early in the set and finally put it to rest.

SLEEPLESS... This song just didn't work for me either, sorry. Rhythmically 'busy' as it is anyway, it just sounds messy when given a full 'double trio' arrangement. Some parts are simply 'surplus to requirement'.

'B'... Ah! but this was tremendous, edge of the seat stuff! The Power Trio sound at their best tonight when playing their own material (when doing some of the CrimTunes, they don't sound like their hearts are really in it).

NEUROTICA... actually, I'll take that back, this one sounds pretty good as a Power Trio performance! There's a few gaps in the vocal arrangement, but it still works as a semi-instrumental ("Manhattan"?)

CRACK IN THE SKY... Bring on the Stick Men! to play a most lovely thing indeed. That guitar melody gets me every time!

CUSP... The other side of the Stick Men coin, an up-beat, mathematically intricate bit of interplay that finds you trying to merrily tap along but failing miserably.

LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC PART TWO... I was very surprised to hear this so early in the set(s), but what the hey! It started as played by the Stick Men trio (powerful enough as it is!), but then Adrian Belew joined in for the final "violin" solo and closing section and it really took off!

THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR... Winding things down a notch, the 'third' trio of Belew, Levin and Mastelotto treat us to a rendition of another of those 'hoary old chestnuts from the eighties' that really do not have much to offer this particular listener anymore.

MATTE KUDASAI... at least this one was brave! Belew had been playing this song in a folksy solo arrangement earlier in the tour, but now Levin has joined him for a rather interesting duet.

'E'... The Adrian Belew Power Trio back to doing what they alone can do. I think I detected a few tuning problems during the course of this piece, but it didn't seem to matter, deviantly polytonal as it is anyway. I never realised before just how much Julie Slick contributes to this little ditty.

STICK MEN IMPROV... Be still my fluttering heart, I'm in ProjeKCt heaven! Bloody marvellous, a beautifully conceived improv in the classic KCrimStyle, with some absolutely delicious Markus soloing.

VROOOM... the set list says 'Vrooom', but was it 'Vrooom' or was it 'Vrooom Vrooom'? I forget. Whatever!?! This 'double trio' classic still sounds pretty powerful when played by only three Stick Men.

FIREBIRD SUITE... Well, now I've actually watched it for myself and I still don't know how only three people can make all that orchestral noise! Clever sods. Gawd, it's good! This is pretty much what I came to hear tonight (so it's all downhill from here on?!? Kidding!)

ONE TIME... The full sextet reconvene. Again, it sounds too 'busy' to me, I think there is far more going on than the song warrants.

RED... I suppose you'd call this one the 'anthem', then? Still quite limber for something celebrating its fortieth birthday. The two drummers made it for me.

INDISCIPLINE... Despite its looser structure, there's no element of surprise left in this song. Or maybe they're just bored with it too. The drummers did a fine job of trying to wrench something interesting out of it rhythmically (or were they deliberately attempting to throw Tony Levin off his stride? It seemed that way at one point.)... but I'm afraid I have to make my excuses and leave now, I have public transport to connect with.

Just for the record, the encores (which I couldn't stay to hear) were a further couple of 'hits' from the "Discipline" album, ELEPHANT TALK and THELA HUN GINJEET. So I didn't miss anything I hadn't heard before. Father Time dictated that the Adrian Belew Power Trio omitted YOUNG LIONS from their set, the Stick Men didn't play OPEN PART 3 (they played a magnificent improv anyway, so that's okay) and Adrian didn't get to do his solo version of IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING. I would have liked to have heard how that worked out. (It's also a shame they couldn't find room for "Breathless". Ah well... you can't have everything.) 

All in all it was a fine evening of music. Some of it didn't quite come off as planned, but Hey! that's Crimson! King Crimson were never (and should never be) a 'greatest hits' band. You don't go and see a Crimson-related entity to hear things "exactly as they sound on the records". That's what 'other' vintage bands do - get lazy, play it safe, pander to the crowds... that misses the point entirely. Some of tonight's music had me gripping the seat in excitement. At other times in the show, I don't mind admitting, I did get bored (a case of "I've heard that before, play me something new!"). Let's be honest, Crim fans don't buy ruddy great box sets so that they can hear twenty identical versions of the same song (okay, they buy ruddy great box sets so that they can hear twenty different versions of the same song!).

I see this tour as drawing a line under KING CRIMSON: THE ADRIAN BELEW YEARS. After thirty-odd years, much of this repertoire has seen better days, quite frankly. During tonight's show, we caught occasional 'glimpses of possibilities' (mainly from the component groups rather than the full ensemble), but to these ears, the "Discipline" material especially does not lend itself to further musical exploration. Its already tight structure leaves nowhere else for it to go. Markus Reuter has said that he's definitely not interested in a long term career playing in a 'covers' band, he'd only continue if they could explore new material as well. The Stick Men are already doing a splendid job of providing that role. The Adrian Belew Power Trio as a group have performed some wonderful music over the years, culminating in the fabulous "E" album, but now Belew is all wrapped up in a new project of his own, as are the other individual members... TIME TO MOVE ON!

>>> Here's another review of the show, over on the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages

>>> Here's tonight's show on Tony Levin's tour pages


ROVO and SYSTEM 7 - "Phoenix Rising"

In which Steve and Miquette lose the METRONOME and go back to something a little more RADIO GNOME again! 

System 7 were always a frustrating band, if a 'band' is ever what they were. You always found yourself wishing that they'd escape the restrictions of the relentless "doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof" mechanical beats and for once do something a little more Planet Gong now and again. You knew from old how musically capable Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy were, but you couldn't lose the feeling that they were somehow going for some easy money by catering primarily for the "Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box" brigade. They tend to make functional music. Goa Trance by numbers. It's okay for stirring up a tentful of midnight ravers and it's pretty useful as a soundtrack to long car journeys. But when could you ever sit down and listen to it?

For me, the best bits of System 7 were always when they lost the beats altogether and got a lot more ambient and Rainbow Dome-ified, such as on the "Water" version of "Point 3" or some of the spacey stuff on side two of "777". But when they crank up the drum machines for forty-five minutes at a stretch? They're just not interesting enough, not rhythmically involved or involving. Maybe I don't take the right kind of drugs, but I just don't get it.

Well, this is the System 7 album that those of us who don't dance have been waiting for... The album where Steve Hillage straps on a guitar and takes off into the stratosphere like you always knew he still could... The album where the mechanical beats are finally given more substance and texture by the inclusion of not one but two real drummers... The album with a much-needed injection of human interaction, courtesy of the Japanese progressive/jam band ROVO (who, deservedly, get top billing, just in case if you were wondering where to find the CD racked in HMV).

On first listening, you notice that this album... DOESN'T ALL SOUND THE SAME! Each track has a distinctive character and style. It's almost a potted summation of all the different kinds of music that Hillage has been involved in over the years.

I can't tell from listening whether the musicians were actually in the same room at the same time of recording or whether the two bands gave each other tracks to work on separately (as is the norm these days)... but the impression is definitely one of musicians jamming together.

The first track "Hinotori" is a System 7 track given the Rovo treatment. It thus becomes a huge twin guitar anthem, with the tumbling drummers to the fore and all those swirling synthesisers whizzing around your head, filling any unoccupied space.

"Love For The Phoenix" is a little more like System 7 as you know them - they even recycle the "Ya Habibi" sample from the first album as a point of reference! But the Japanese musicians offer a much richer pallet of synthesiser colours.

The audacity of it all! Just to prove that these are real musicians and not the result of laptop jiggerypokery, they follow that with a faithful version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Meeting Of The Spirits" (or is it "Meetings Of The Spirit"? Even Johnny Mac himself could never make up his mind about that one!). The drums here are a little more 'anchored' than you would expect from a Billy Cobham, but the instrumental interplay (fast guitars! electric violins! bendy-note moogs!) is exactly what you'd love to hear!

The centrepiece of the album is the quarter-of-an-hour-or-so epic "Cisco", which touches several bases during the course of its allotted time. It starts off in a 'motorik' krautrock vibe, which gradually reaches a point in space situated somewhere between Hawkwind and the Boredoms (during their "Vision Creation NewSun" period. Rovo's guitarist used to be a Boredom himself). It builds to a frenzied climax during which the drummers are seemingly playing two completely different songs, before arriving somewhere off the coast of the Isle Of You with Zero the Hero and a Master Builder or five. It's impossible not to be swept along by it... which I guess is the whole point.

After all that, "Unbroken" seems like the weakest track on the album, but it too has its own appeal. If it wasn't for the contemporary hoppy-skippy dubstep rhythm, you'd swear you were listening to something from the early seventies heyday of 'jazz fusion'. It's almost like Colosseum Two were rehearsing in the studio next door, while Miquette and Steve were getting ready for the evening's rave!

If track two was a System 7 track passed on for the Rovo treatment, then "Sino Dub" must therefore be a Rovo track that has been given to the System twins to have a go at. The beats certainly have that 'doof-doof-doof' feel throughout. But at various points during its twelve minutes, there's some fabulous instrumental - oh, let's call 'em SOLOS, shall we? - moments that lift it above the dancefloor.

"Unseen Onsen" gets a solitary 'M.Giraudy' writing credit on the sleeve, so you kinda guess that they're going to end the album in a more 'ambient' mood. Sure enough, it's time to leave the drumboxes switched off - bring on the hurdy-gurdy glissandos and those bubbling sequencers and we're back in the rainbow dome once more for some serious blissing out... you wish it could have gone on longer really...

Bring on the live DVD!!!



Pick O' The Year (2013)

In previous years, I've divided the list into two categories; "New CDs" (that would be anything with a 2013 publishing date) and "Back Catalogue & Reissues" (which may or may not include compilations). This year, I've decided not to do that. It's becoming increasingly difficult to think that way, considering the kind of music I tend to buy and the way it is delivered now. Can I still say "New CDs" when I've purchased quite a few of them in digital download form? Previously unreleased archive recordings get issued as new releases. Some may finally be released as 'new' albums but have been the result of years, even decades of on/off work. Do newly released 'official bootleg' recordings count as 'new' albums? Anthologies? Film soundtracks which include old songs? It's a right old pickle, I can tell you. But here's the top three, without a shadow of a doubt...

Steven Wilson - "The Raven That Refused To Sing and Other Stories" (KScope)
Sorry, sorry, deepest apologies to everyone else out there in Musicland, I know it's not fair... but it's almost inevitable now. If Steven Wilson brings out a new record, then it heads straight for my own "Album of the Year" slot, no questions asked. I wouldn't actually say he can do no wrong, but his records (under whatever band name) always ooze pure class. He's disbanded all his other combos for now, and is going out under his own name... but this is still very much a band album. Having assembled a stellar cast to do his bidding, the material they have been given to learn is almost entirely played live in the studio. And played bloody well. Steven Wilson possesses the best ears in the business. His own demos are better than many people's proper records and he's still the go-to guy for remastering classic seventies prog for the audiophile market - this year he's also done Yes' "Close To The Edge" and Hawkwind's "Warrior On The Edge Of Time" and had another crack at King Crimson's "Red" for both vinyl and an expensive box set. So you just know that anything that comes out of that studio is at least going to sound lovely at the end of the day. Especially when the legendary Alan Parsons is there at his side as engineer and the original Crimson Mellotron makes a guest appearance. And if that's not enough he also gets my "Best Gig Of The Year" (at the Royal Festival Hall) and "Best Multimedia Package" (the "Drive On" CD/DVD EP or whatever you call it) awards.

The Vicar - "The Vicar Songbook #1" (DGM Panegyric)
Now this is exactly what I was talking about. Here is a 'new' album with a 2013 publishing date... but those of us who have been following the progress of the mysterious Vicar will be aware that many of these songs are a decade or more in the making, some having already emerged as demos and free "Hot Tickle" downloads from the DGM website. So I already knew that the album would be full of cracking tunes and exquisite arrangements, with echoes of "Odessey & Oracle", the studio work of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, early 10cc, a touch of Sufjan Stevens and, of course, lashings and lashings of very English prog. But nothing prepared me for what tickled my ears the first time I put on the LPCM Stereo 2.0 DVD. The long wait has certainly been worth it, because they've clearly put a lot of work into getting it right this time! I don't have a clue what all the comic book stuff and Punk Sanderson's video blogs are supposed to be about, but I know I like the music in its own right. Who is The Vicar? Well, everyone has their theories. Many of them are wrong. Suffice it to say, he makes exquisite pastoral pop music which will particularly appeal to people who hate drums and cymbals.

Matt Berry - "Kill The Wolf" (Acid Jazz)
This is the follow-up to the wonderful "Witchazel", my Album of The Year in these very pages for 2011. If you took any notice of my raving and bought that album on the back of it, then you won't be disappointed with the sequel. This is a similar blend of sunshine pop, prog-rock and psychedelic folk, mostly played and multitracked Oldfield-style by the man himself. It's all very organic and analogue-sounding, performed almost entirely on real vintage instruments and is quite quite delightful. Fans of the Isle of Wight's own "The Bees" will also find much to enjoy here. You might recognise some of the tunes if you've watched Matt's quirky sitcom "Toast Of London", although there he substitutes different words to suit the episodes.

The Rest
As is customary, there has been an endless stream of King Crimson-related material purchased as downloads this year. Best of the bunch have been the latest from Stick Men, "Deep" and the series of "Official Bootlegs" documenting The Crimson ProjeKCt's three-night stint at Tokyo's Club Citta'... Hugh Laurie's "Didn't It Rain" carries on where the award-bestrewn "Let Them Talk" left off, featuring a further selection of New Orleans jazz and blues oldies given a respectful airing by the sickeningly talented Mr Laurie and his band of fellow enthusiasts... Topping the Guilty Pleasures list this year are the (so-far) two volumes of original soundtrack material from the compellingly bitchy TV saga "Nashville" (a sort of Dallas with Telecasters, or a Twang Dynasty, if you prefer). The music rises above the rest of the run-of-the-mill soundtrack compilation fodder by virtue of having the great T-Bone Burnett as executive producer. Therefore 'It's Country, Slim, But Not As We Know It', an entirely different kind of 'fusion' from the one I've been listening to for the last forty years! While still having one foot in the puddle of 'tradition', this music shares the same reverb-drenched spooky atmosphere of Robert Plant's recent countrified (country fried?) collaborations or the best of Daniel Lanois' work with the likes of Emmylou Harris.


It is most telling that my three favourite albums of the last twelvemonth all sound like they could have been released some time before 1976.

It is probably true to say that my musical tastes were fully established, if not carved in stone, way before punk's so-called "Year Zero" rolled around. 'Progressive' rock and all its funny little sub-genres; 'modern' jazz with the emphasis on the improvised; 20th century 'classical' composition. These were the things that rocked my world, then and now. Admittedly, some of the 'clever' music I listened to during The Golden Age of Prog did indeed turn out to be self-indulgent bollocks. I won't name names, although several spring to mind immediately. Some of them I would even have counted as 'favourites' at some time or another. But even the least listenable of them had an element of "At least they're having a go!" or "How the hell do they remember it all?".You could at least be impressed by what you heard, even if you didn't always actually like it. It was real music.

Now and again I might come into contact with the 'mainstream' (i.e. the kind of music that everyone else listens to), but rarely do I hear anything built to last. Pop is fickle. It's surely not intended to last past next Thursday. Trends may have come and movements may have gone, but how much of it has stood the test of time as MUSIC?

Let's be honest.

In the late seventies, I was a student in my late teens. I gained some considerable enjoyment from a lot of the 'punk' 'music' of the day. But it was just a laugh. A bit of rumbustious, good time, rock & roll nonsense for the purpose of leaping about the room at parties. Surely it wasn't for listening to?

'Round 'bout this time there was also some pretty fine dance music about. This was the height of my 'clubbing' days. I would bop the nights away to some top hole jazz-funk and dancehall reggae (remember this was several years before all 'dance' music became mechanized and purely functional). But sit down and listen to it? Are you serious?

When 'post-whatever' rock did get all serious again in the early eighties, it rarely succeeded. I've occasionally paid a return visit to the kind of post-punk experimentalism I was 'REALLY INTO, MAN' at the turn of the eighties. Little of it has dated well. Much of it is unmusical, amateurish rubbish. What was I thinking?

For me, the music that still has LASTING VALUE over the decades tends to be the stuff that I wouldn't personally be able to create, not in a million years, no siree bob. Excuse my flimsy attempts at self-deprecation, but anything that triggers a reaction of "hmm, I could easily have done that myself" can't possibly be any good, can it? Surely your musical heroes are supposed to be better at it than you are?

Invariably then, when I sit down and think about what I've purchased and listened to over the previous year, I will usually consider whether I think I will still be listening to it in another year or more*. This music defies trends and contemporary hype, stands on its own terms, without pandering to the mainstream. But with some cracking tunes thrown in...

(*One of these days, I will see if I can find any of my "Pick O' The Year" lists from the eighties and nineties. I'm sure they're in a box somewhere. Then I'll probably find that my premise has been completely blown out of the water! Ho hum...)

STOP PRESS... Late entry alert! The Burning Shed fairies have just been, and left on my doormat both KScope CDs by the progtastic, 'somewhere-west-of-Canterbury'-styled jazz-rock collective HENRY FOOL (one is the latest album from 2013, "Men Singing", and the other is the freshly reissued debut album from 2001). It's another feather in the cap of TIM BOWNESS, he of No-Man and Judy Dyble fame. That STEVEN WILSON makes an appearance in the credits too, along with a cast of several. Both albums would certainly fit my stated remit, sounding like they could have been made 'back in moy day': more vintage keyboards than a Rick Wakeman garage sale, including mellifluous Mellotrons and Fender Rhodes (tremolo and vibrato and a-flanging-oh, alive alive oh!); pastoral flute and sax cadenzas, straight out of the Book of Jimmy Hastings; filthy-sounding guitars, some of which are provided by the very wonderful PHIL MANZANERA himself, channeling the spirit of Quiet Suns past. Bloody marvellous!