Pick O' The Year 2012

Here's what has been tickling my lugholes throughout this year...

Best New Releases of 2012

Focus - "Focus X" (4Worlds CD)
If like me you've enjoyed the music of Focus for the last forty years(!) then you'll be delighted to know that this new album sounds exactly like they did in 1973. All the elements are there: the Hammond organ, the eccentric vocals (yodelling and all), the flute, the neo-classical piano... there are the riffy rocky numbers that sound like "Hocus Pocus", the jazzy bits that sound like "Anonymus", the slightly cheesy-listening pieces a la "Focus 2", the medieval-sounding bits... Only the guitarist has been changed occasionally, but even then, they always manage to find a new one who sounds spookily like Jan Akkerman! Quite a nice package too, although it has to be said, the much-lauded Roger Dean sleeve turns out to be not his best work by a long chalk.

also worth mentioning
Travis & Fripp - "Follow" (Panegyric DVD/CD) Read my take here
Steven Wilson - "Get All You Deserve" (KScope DVD)
Stick Men - "Open" (Bandcamp download) 
Robert Fripp, Andrew Keeling, a.o. - "The Wine Of Silence" (DGM/Panegyric CD) 
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson - "Thick As A Brick II" (Chrysalis CD/DVD) Read my take here
Steve Hackett - "Genesis Revisited II" (Inside Out 2CD) Read my take here

Reissues & Back Catalogue 

Can - "The Lost Tapes" (Spoon 3CD)
In a year when we finally got the "definitive" wide-screen master of "Larks' Tongues In Aspic", who would have thunk that anything else would top the BLASTS FROM THE PAST section of this little list? But this delightful box set storms out in front from nowhere. If you are new to the wonderful world of The Can, then this wouldn't be the best place to start... but if you are already intimately familiar with all of their previous catalogue, then you are probably screaming for more anyway! These three discs gather together some beefy live performances (not strictly speaking "Lost", as some of them have appeared previously on less reputable releases) along with some 'missing' parts from film soundtracks and other studio sessions. It all benefits from some tasteful sequencing and editing, making for a very enjoyable listening experience.

also worth mentioning
King Crimson - "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" (DGM/Panegyric DVD/CD)
Led Zeppelin - "Celebration Day" (Atlantic 2DVD/2CD)
King Crimson - "Live In Argentina 1994" (DGM/KCCC/Panegyric 2DVD)
King Crimson - "Live At The Marquee 1971" (DGM/KCCC 2CD)

It's been a very good year for the 'multimedia' experience - lavish box sets containing old favourites presented in multiple formats and a mixture of top-notch audio and video content. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I "review" the first two items on this 'also worth mentioning' list in their own right, sometime after the hols, once I've lived with them for a while!


Genesis Revisited Revisited

Steve Hackett, keeper of the flame of the 'real' Genesis music (as opposed to to the stadium-filling successful sort), has released the second volume of his "GENESIS REVISITED" project. Two albums, sixteen-or-so years apart. The first embodies all that is risk-taking and exciting about this music we call 'progressive'. The second demonstrates how CONSERVATIVE rock music can appear if you're not careful. 

PLAY SOMETHING WE KNOW! - On exiting the Guildhall after a Genesis concert back in the '70s, one would often hear someone say "Wow! That was fantastic, it sounded just like the records!". This was regarded as A GOOD THING. This was what fans expected then. Unlike their contemporaries - Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer or other bands with which they were conveniently and erroneously bracketed - there wasn't an awful lot of room for IMPROVISATION at a Genesis concert. But that's not the kind of musical experience that I look for these days, the regurgitation of past glories. Where's the adventure? Where's the progress? Hackett says in his sleeve notes that he prefers the term "permissive" rather than "progressive" to describe this sort of music, meaning that it was music where anything was possible and anything was allowed.

The first "Genesis Revisited" album took a lot of liberties with the material and it was all the better for it. It took a sidelong glance at the Genesis songs and treated them as the starting point for music that is, if not always successful in its aims, at least fresh and interesting. But it wouldn't have pleased everyone. Perhaps a poll was taken among Genesis fans, all of whom agreed "We didn't like the first 'Revisited' album much, it didn't always sound like Genesis". The second album therefore goes out its way to sound JUST like Genesis to appease those very conservatives.

'Tribute' projects of this sort are bound to have their hits and misses, especially when they feature a revolving cast of players and guest artists. The first "Revisited" had a high 'hit' count. The second, sadly, has more than its share of misses (perhaps a double CD is stretching it too thin?). Neither of them pass the "You Can Comfortably Listen To It All The Way Through" test.


"Genesis Revisited II" is, it has to be said, a splendid looking package. The discs come encased in a 'hardback book', with photo-art illustrating the songs, copious sleevenotes and the discs nestling in non-scratchy paper envelopes at the back. A lot of time and care has been lavished on the presentation and it is a beautiful thing indeed.

As for the music, I'd probably go along with the reviewer who said that, at times, the "Revisited II" album sounds like 'GENESIS KARAOKE'. This time around they play it a little safe. Some of the arrangements stick TOO close to the original recordings to be heard as anything other than carbon copies. There's nothing here as adventurous as the first "Genesis Revisited"s Brazilian percussion-laden take on "Los Endos" or the frankly bonkers version of "Dance On A Volcano" for example. Hackett's regular live band are wont to throw a little bit of 'JAZZ' into the mix from time to time. The first album had that in abundance, but there are very few glimpses of that on the second.

Throughout his 'solo' career, THE VOCALS have always been Hackett's weak point - he so often resorts to novelty effects to disguise his own shortcomings (See "Revisited I" for several examples). Whereas on "GR1" the singers were allowed to bring their own interpretations to the songs, on "GR2" some of the guest vocalists appear to be falling over themselves to see who can do the best Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins impersonations.

It works best when the singer brings some individuality to the 'role'. Top marks to STEVEN WILSON for making "Can Utility & The Coastliners" his own and to JAKKO JAKSZYK for a lovely "Entangled". JOHN WETTON previously did a bang-up job of tackling "Watcher of the Skies" and "Firth of Fifth" on the first album, so it is slightly disappointing that he sounds out of his depth here on "Afterglow".

I'm not sure if I could ever warm to NAD SYLVAN's voice, which has been described as "Cat Stevens on steroids", or that of AMANDA LEHRMANN - try imagining "Ripples" as sung by Marianne Faithfull. Yikes! get the idea?

On the plus side though, this album SOUNDS glorious, with all the diamond-fingered guitar work and lashings of mellotron that you'd hope for. "Genesis Revisited" still stands up to repeated listening (once you learn to live with its more bizarre musical ideas). But as for "Genesis Revisited II", I'll probably prefer listening to the original versions when all's said and done. 


"GENESIS REVISITED" (single CD, originally released 1996)

WATCHER OF THE SKIES ***** Fantastic! John Wetton makes the song his own; Bill Bruford drums and Tony Levin basses (what's not to like?); The orchestra adds a whole other dimension to the grandiosity. Whoooomph!

DANCE ON A VOLCANO *** This works because of the quirkiness of the arrangement rather than despite it! It sounds frankly bonkers and more than a little irritating (those silly voices again) on first hearing, but after a few years you'll grow to like it, or at least tolerate it, believe me.

VALLEY OF THE KINGS **** I'm still not sure what this is doing here, but it's Damn Good Hackett nevertheless. It used to make a cracking set-opener a few years ago.

DÉJÀ VU ** This was an unused Peter Gabriel song from the "Selling England" days, but here, with Paul Carrack to the fore, it sounds more like a Mike & The Mechanics outtake. Not a bad effort all round, with some beautiful flourishes... but it's not really that strong a song and you can see why it remained unfinished in the first place.

FIRTH OF FIFTH ***** This works so well, as if the original song has been taken apart and reassembled: Very distinctive orchestration; notice how the famous piano part is reassigned to acoustic guitar; the instrumental passage breaks down into a jazzy interlude; Bill Bruford is allowed to shine on percussive sundries and John Wetton sounds so RIGHT for the song. Most agreeable!

FOR ABSENT FRIENDS ** Still can't make my mind up about this one. "For Absent Friends" was a fairly forgettable little interlude on "Nursery Cryme". Here it is reworked as a feature for Colin Blunstone and orchestra, with nary a trace of Genesis to be heard. Brave!

YOUR OWN SPECIAL WAY **** The surprise hit! This so shouldn't work but it does! With Paul Carrack at the microphone, this is really another in the "File Under Mike & The Mechanics" category, but it's a soulfully sweet reinterpretation of an already sweet song.

FOUNTAIN OF SALMACIS ***(*) I so wanted to like this unreservedly, because "Fountain of Salmacis" is at the top of my 'All Time Favourite Genesis Songs' list. The opening acoustic guitar flurry promises much. But then I have to dock it a star for the idiotically misplaced Darth Vader impersonation in the opening verse. It gets a lot better after that, though, really benefiting from the widescreen orchestration...

WAITING ROOM ONLY ** This is really just an excuse for the then-current band to have a bit of a jam and play around with the sound effects library. Considering how 'out of character' the original piece was, this was an missed opportunity. Apart from a brief segment near the beginning, I don't see what it has to do with the original "Waiting Room", either musically or texturally, but it has its moments.

I KNOW WHAT I LIKE * Oh dear. As the original hit was a bit of a 'novelty', I shouldn't be too surprised at what goes on here... but really! After all these years, don't you think someone would have taken Hackett aside and quietly explained that he doesn't actually do 'funny' all that well!?! The Viv Stanshall ripoff is highly embarrassing. I can't listen to this, where's the remote?

LOS ENDOS ***** This is a musical highpoint of the album, but one which seemed to annoy the purists at the time. The band play up the 'Latin' flavours previously only hinted at on earlier versions, with lashings of additional Brazilian percussion thrown in for good measure. So it sounds like "Genesis Meets Olodum" then? Excellent! That'll do for me!


 "GENESIS REVISITED II" (double CD, released 2012)

THE CHAMBER OF 32 DOORS *** I'm never sure if these excerpts from "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" will ever stand up in their own right, but this one pretty much has the requisite amount of mellotron-tastic grandiosity to cut it as an opening number. Nad Sylvan would not have been my first choice as singer though.

HORIZONS *** "Here's the one I do on all my albums..." (I don't have a complete set of Steve Hackett albums by any means, but I just counted ten near-identical recordings of "Horizons" in my CD collection. I mean it's nice, but do we need another one?)

SUPPER'S READY ** Really don't see the point of this at all! Remember that shot-for-shot Gus Van Sant remake of the movie "Psycho"? Well, this is exactly the same sort of thing. If you know and love the original "Supper's Ready" in all its glory, then you will be dazzled by the technical skill involved in producing a precise remake in technicolor, at the same time wondering why they bothered.

THE LAMIA *** Another bit of "The Lamb" left to stand alone. Nik Kershaw is a brave choice as singer, but it kind of works. Otherwise, sonically it sticks pretty closely to the original (as elsewhere on this album, the orchestral instruments blend rather too well with the keyboard textures, so you'd be mistaken in thinking they are synthetic after all. A lost opportunity...). The final guitar solo is the one glorious "Hairs On The Back Of The Neck" moment which sets this version apart.

DANCING WITH THE MOONLIT KNIGHT **** It Bites man Francis Dunnery takes first prize in the Peter Gabriel Impersonators Competition. This song also sticks rigidly to the original arrangement, but it really benefits from being re-released in Cinerama.

FLY ON A WINDSHIELD / BROADWAY MELODY OF 1974 *** This sequence from "The Lamb" has been regularly played by the touring band over the last few years. This version documents the live arrangement fairly closely, featuring 'The New Singing Drummer', Gary O'Toole.

THE MUSICAL BOX ** Full marks for the big vintage-sounding production, but minus several for the vocals, which are uniformly horrible.

CAN-UTILITY & THE COASTLINERS ***** Gorgeous! If this disc has a five-star hit then it is this one. An overlooked track from "Foxtrot" is brushed off and given a much-needed shot of Steven Wilson. Great performance! This is one of the few tracks on the album where the orchestra is allowed to sound like a real orchestra and not an even bigger mellotron.

PLEASE DON'T TOUCH *** This piece was the title track to Hackett's second solo album, but apparently it was written as a coda to "Wot Gorilla", which excuses its inclusion here. There's not much to distinguish this from the versions you will have heard at any Steve Hackett Band concert in the last thirty years. Which means it's very good, but so what?

BLOOD ON THE ROOFTOPS **** This too has been performed live in this form for some time. 'The New Singing Drummer' has made it his own by now. The little introductory acoustic guitar piece here is delightful, a strong feature throughout the album. You can also hear the saxophone sounding like a saxophone instead of hiding amongst the keyboard washes as elsewhere.

THE RETURN OF THE GIANT HOGWEED ** Same comments as "The Musical Box" apply here. Great big fat 1972 sound, some nice surprises... but Nad Sylvan's vocals are horrible.

ENTANGLED ***** Disc Two's stand-out track... and again, it's all down to the vocalist of choice. This song really suits Jakko. I breathe a sigh of relief, as this is another contender for my 'All Time Favourite Genesis Songs' list and I would hate to hear it ruined!

ELEVENTH EARL OF MAR *** Nad Sylvan is the featured vocalist here as well, but this time around it's marginally less cringesome. Perhaps his voice is better suited to 'Collins' songs rather than 'Gabriel' ones? Apart from that, the song sounds exactly the same as it did on "Wind And Wuthering".

RIPPLES * They really should have got Jakko to sing this one as well, because Amanda Lehmann is completely wrong for it. As I said further up the page, she sounds to these ears like Marianne Faithfull. I'm sure that I would actually like her voice in the context of a suitable song. But this is not it, not by a long chalk, no siree bob. Apart from that, the song sounds exactly the same as it did on "Trick Of The Tail".

UNQUIET SLUMBERS FOR THE SLEEPERS / IN THAT QUIET EARTH / AFTERGLOW ****(*) This is terrific, for the most part. It actually improves sonically on the "Wind And Wuthering" sequence (and this was the best part of that album). Minus a point though (and I never thought I'd ever find myself typing this!) for John Wetton's vocals on "Afterglow". He managed to do a terrific job of two 'Gabriel' songs on the first "Revisited", but this 'Collins' song just doesn't suit him. A disappointing finish!

A TOWER STRUCK DOWN **** These last three Hackett 'solo' tracks seem a bit like fillers after that... The only connection this song seems to have with Genesis is that Collins and Rutherford played on the original version. There are some fresh orchestral textures here to set it apart.

CAMINO ROYALE ** This also suffers from the "It's Very Good... But So What?" syndrome. For the most part it is played here by a Hungarian band called Djabe, but you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish it from any SHB version of the last thirty years. The Genesis connection? You tell me!

SHADOW OF THE HIEROPHANT **** We end with a strong 'solo' piece, although it's another performance that pretty much 'clones' the original recording. Amanda Lehmann sings Sally Oldfield and her voice is much more pleasing to the ear in this higher register. This song was co-written with Mike Rutherford, if you're wondering what it's doing here on a Genesis tribute.


Listed altogether, that's quite a lot of music! But some of it doesn't bear repeated listening, it has to be said. Hmm... I'll probably find myself 'separating the wheat from the chaff' and compile my own CD of all the best bits before very long!


Travis & Fripp - Follow

The latest album by the Churchscape Brothers has just landed on my doormat... and it's their strongest work yet!

Robert Fripp's trademark guitar soundscapes have always produced the best 'hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck' moments when he is playing with other musicians in the room. That is the true nature of collaborative improvisation. It's all about listening to what the other guys are doing and responding (or not) as the music demands. Left to his own devices (ha!) he increasingly has a tendency to repeat himself.

No disrespect meant to all the 'rock' musicians he's played with over the years, but to these ears, it always seems to give his music a shot in the arm when he plays with 'jazz' musicians, people with improvisation in their blood.

Whether it's Keith Tippett et al bringing their collective sound to King Crimson's fabulous, underrated "Lizard" album, or Mel Collins' highly-amplified tenor skronks in the "Islands"-era touring band, or that very same musician's mellifluous alto and soprano sax on last year's "A Scarcity Of Miracles", 'jazz' musicians seem to bring out the best in Fripp.

Fripp's lifelong quest always seemed to me to be about finding ways to bring new technology to improvisation, without losing sight of the humanity at its soul.

His collaborative partnership with Theo Travis is now three-and-a-bit studio albums down the line. In addition, whenever the muse takes them, they have performed together in a number of different kinds of venue, most notably Coventry Cathedral and several West Country village churches. The unadorned live recordings are available through DGMLive and Burning Shed. Although this new album is very much a studio 'construcKtion', taking recordings from these various meetings and then adding new parts or combining them in unusual ways, it nevertheless has the unmistakable sound of two musicians bouncing ideas off each other and enjoying each other's company. Theo's flute work is particularly delightful on this album, often reminding you that he spent some time in the highly-psychedelic company of Daevid Allen's Gong.

I've a strong feeling already that this CD/DVD-A set will be my "Pick O' The Year" when I tot things up after Christmas! Ah! enough of my yakkin' - watch this preview video from the DGM channel of BlipTV and see (and hear) for yourself!

Purchase album from Burning Shed



Twelve months on from the first CC:PP release... a gathering-together of material recorded since that legendary first album  (it says here)...

...featuring, for the first time in one place, the complete five-part trilogy of bogus horror movie soundtracks, tastefully interspersed with the poetry of Lori "CC" Gomez, set to some kind of music. There's probably some sort of conceptual or thematic continuity afoot here, I'm just not sure what it is yet.

Ranging from the ambient tapelooping fakesaxmoods of "Matrices" to the zany off-kilter junglescratching of the "Judge Mental Mix", via the 'Don't Go Down In The Basement!' vibe of the "Horripilation" series itself, there's sure to be something to please everyone (or maybe no one. There's no accounting for taste. If I understood 'taste', I'd probably be - shudder! - successful...)

Most of this material has, at some time or another, appeared on our MySpace site[s], but not necessarily in this form. Further tweakery has been undertook (editing and selection; replacing entire sections with new better ones; a touch of the old graphic equalizer here and there; close attention paid to the sequencing of tracks, for that optimum listening experience) to give our Bandcamp 'customers' the best possible audio quality for their buck  - No wait! Did I mention that the whole darn thing is absolutely FREE for you to download, FREE, gratis, for nothing? That's right! An entire year of my musical life FREE to download in whatever format you choose. FREE for you to put on your iPod (Other MP3 players are available) or to burn onto a proper CD, so that you play it on a real grown-up's hi-fi. FREE, I tells ya!

LISTEN TO IT HERE - Still not convinced? Think you've heard it all before? Been taken in by too many talking dog-based TV commercials? Then listen to the whole album, via that streaming technology they have now, before you decide. You'll thank yourself for it. And I'll thank you for it too, as that'll be more 'plays' showing up on my Bandcamp 'stats'! All comments ('pos' or 'neg') always welcome, let us know what you think.

Comments from OVER THERE...

HTML ANARCHIST - "I like reading your notes! I have heard a lot of this (been on my player) but not all, so I will look forward to making a permanent record of it. Thank you, PP & CC!!!! PS - I couldn't sign this on the blog as I can't remember my user names/passwords. I've got the CRS syndrome (Can't Remember Shit)!"
PP - "You've heard quite a lot of this, but not necessarily in the same order!"
CC - "Check it! Our latest greatest collab. Minty, you amaze me. I was about to defenestrate my computer & go all Luddite... How DO you time these things so perfectly as to prevent me from doing so? Haha <3333"
PP - "So I ensnared you with my evil Antidefenestrationist ploy, wuh-ha-ha-ha! <3<3<3"
LG - "The Latest Greatest Album. The Minted One is a genius! <3"

MK - "You BOTH are geniuses...or is that genies??? Ah-HA, That's it!!! Genius Genies."


CC:PP - We're not worthy!

Let's have another crack at that experimental video lark then...

he is not worthy
CC originally recited this one a couple of years ago, but I just rediscovered it while browsing through her "Madeline Bassett" YouTube channel, in search of a good subject for a new CC:PP remix and an opportunity to give Serif MoviePlus a good working over. I figured it cried out for a minimalistic oriental treatment (don't ask me why, it just did, okay?). I found the inspiring background image on one of those Hi-Def Wallpaper sites they have now. Soundtrack-wise, I sprinkled some fairydust on it with some virtual Mellotron flutes and plinky-plonky things (to use a technical term), plus a big fat G-major drone 'played' on one of my favourite VST synths.

twenty questions
Day Two; I thought I'd push the envelope on MoviePlus's Pan & Zoom feature and see what can be achieved if you overdo it! Again, I've used one of CC's videoblogs as my raw material, going completely mad with the sepia-ed out 'scratchy old film' effects and slotting in a few library stills that relate to the title in a rather obvious way. The video came out a wee bit pixilated due to the process of 'zooming in' on the original footage... and I got the aspect ratio completely wrong (everything has been squashed into a 16:9 format)! But I did say that this was just an experiment, didn't I? I kept the 'musical' content simple and unobtrusive(?), finally finding a use for a crazy bit of drum programming that I'd had lying around for a while - a mad rhythmic idea that alternates between 7:8 and 9:8, with a few other offbeats thrown in for good measure (ha!), thus extending the numerical theme further...

Ah well, that's enough play for now... "proper" work is tapping its metaphorical wrist at me...


Thick As A Brick 2

"...moving up to number ten, the one and only Mr Jethro Tull, and here he is right now... yeah!"
Jimmy Savile introducing "The Witch's Promise" on 'Top Of The Pops' in 1970

Cringe... Has IAN ANDERSON finally got sick of having to explain that JETHRO TULL was the name of the band? Even today, one still reads comments on YouTube clips along the line of  "I used to love Jethro Tull... what a great character!"

After forty-odd years of people thinking that he is a man called Jethro Tull, he's going out under his own name, possibly for contractual reasons. 'A bloke at the record fair' was heard to say that he's had a 'major falling out' with long-time oppo Martin Barre, that they couldn't agree who gets the name in the divorce and that the band that was Jethro Tull is no more. ALLEGEDLY.

"THICK AS A BRICK 2" really is a Jethro Tull album, even though it's credited to JETHRO TULL's IAN ANDERSON, as is the tour to support it, of which more later. The only ones who might appear confused by this are the people who rack the CD in HMV shops. It's there under "A" for Anderson, not "J" for Jethro (by the way, if it ever does get racked under "T" for Tull, then those responsible are not fit to work in a music store anyway!)

"THICK AS A BRICK 2" really is a Jethro Tull album because it sounds like one.

It doesn't matter if the band that plays on it are all relatively new young whippersnappers. Anderson and co-producer STEVEN WILSON (yes, him again!) have done a bang-up job of making the album sound suitably 'vintage'. It's as if it could have been started the very next week after they finished recording the first “TAAB” album. Despite the presence of all manner of modern digitalia listed in the sleevenotes (Tascam X-48 and Yamaha Digital Mixer; iMacs running Sibelius and Logic software; all those other toys that make the modern musician less concerned about watching the clock), the album carries on where the last one left off, sonically as well as musically. Real Hammond organ. Real drums. Real flute, of course. A real band shifting real dust particles around a real room. That occasional vocal treatment that sounds like a megaphone, you know the one! All the trademark 1970s Tull elements are present and correct.

Musically, it's as gloriously, fiddly-twiddly complex as ever. You wouldn't want it any other way. You'll have hours of fun playing 'Spot The Quotation', as there are dozens of references to earlier Tull albums (and not just "Thick As A Brick 1" either). Anderson has always maintained that the first "Thick As A Brick" was a parody of a 'concept' album rather than the real thing (discuss!). So this could be seen as more of the same?

After all... chortle chortle... who would release a real progressive rock concept album in 2012?

There can't be that many people who have liked everything that Anderson and Tull have produced over the years. Like any band well into their fifth decade(!), they've had their highs and lows. But if you enjoyed Jethro Tull during their 'seventies prog heyday, then you will not be disappointed with "Thick As A Brick 2". It's the album that you always wished they would make, while all the time they were giving you the Christmas albums, the horribly-dated 'eighties output or that time during the 'nineties when they seemed to be trying so hard to sound like Dire Straits.

The 'story' of the album revolves around what might have become, forty years on, of the GERALD BOSTOCK character credited with the poetry on the original album. The piece is subdivided into several movements, each of which explore possible outcomes for the adult Gerald (a banker, a homeless person, a soldier, a 'most ordinary man' and so on). I must confess, I haven't yet 'studied' the lyrical content as much as I should, but if you play the music via the DVD, you get to read the lyrics on your telly as you listen, which goes some way to helping you unravel the 'concept'. You can also print out the words in a choice of languages via the magic of the Postscript Distribution File format. I hope that hearing (and seeing) the music performed live will aid my understanding, but then again, I'm still not entirely sure, forty years later, what the first "Thick As A Brick" was actually about. Who cares when it's full of such cracking tunes?

A QUICK WORD ABOUT THE PACKAGING... The idea of bringing the Pythonesque "St Cleve Chronicle" newspaper cover up to date, by doing it in the form of a parish 'website', is a good'n. It doesn't quite come off as a sleeve though. There's that thorny old issue that a little CD digipack is a bit feeble compared to a 'proper' twelve-inch LP jacket when it comes to 'impact'. In recognition of this fact, they have included a whole bunch of dummy web pages in PDF format on the DVD, so you can chuckle over them on your computer instead. Better still, there's now a 'real' interactive website online at www.stcleve.com

Sunday 6th May 2012 ...and so to the Southampton Guildhall. It's the final date on the UK leg of the tour, celebrating forty whole years since the first "Thick As A Brick" came out. A rare chance to hear and watch the entire flummoxing saga in the flesh, so to speak.

An easy set list to remember then: First half -"Thick As A Brick"; second half - "Thick As A Brick 2"!

If you find the 'concept', such as it is, confusing when you listen to the records, then the stage show probably won't clarify much. This is definitely theatre for "The Python Generation", full of in-jokes, surreal non-sequiturs and autobiographical red-herrings. Silliness for its own sake. So perhaps it is a 'parody' after all.

While the audience are still settling and the house lights still blazing, the road crew (and certain disguised band members), enter from the auditorium, dressed in brown work coats and flat caps and start busying themselves with brooms and feather dusters, or pretend to make adjustments. Occasionally, we see slides of factory interiors projected on the screen.

Lights dim and we see a PoV film clip of "Gerald Bostock" visiting a psychiatrist's office. The psychiatrist is played by Ian Anderson. We launch musically into the first 'movement', spotlight stage left on the lone figure of (the real) Anderson...

Can I just say here that I still think "I really don't mind if you sit this one out" is the greatest, most understated way ever of starting a forty-minute concept album, let alone a two-hour stage show!?!

The band are superb. Any nagging doubts that this was going to be a 'fake' Tull were immediately dashed. Particular kudos to FLORIAN OPAHLE for some glorious guitar work. He sounds just like Martin Lancelot Barre where it matters, but he has a youthful vigour all of his own. Keyboard and accordion whizz JOHN O'HARA seemed to be doing the work of several John Evanses all at the same time. The Hammond organ is a magnificent beast and he is its master. The rhythm section of bassist DAVID GOODIER and drummer SCOTT HAMMOND took every complex time signature in their stride. Tight as a gnat's chuff.

As if to emphasise the fact that this is a 'theatrical' piece, Ian Anderson has enlisted a real actor to handle some of the vocal parts (extremely well too!) and to strut about in a manner eerily reminiscent of the younger Anderson of forty years ago. His name is RYAN O'DONNELL – you might remember him from the stage version of "Quadrophenia" or from an RSC production or several? He also gets to sweep the stage ("Stage Brooms by Garners of Cirencester" says the programme notes) and attend to something behind the keyboard riser, I couldn't tell what.

There is another peculiar moment during 'Side 1' of "TAAB1" when the music is supposedly 'interrupted' by a call from a lady violinist. Moments later, she is seen projected onto the screen, literally 'phoning in' her orchestral part via the magic of Skype. Occasionally a man in a diving suit is seen walking across the room behind her. Apropos of nothing, "the man in a diving suit" subsequently becomes a recurring motif in the back-projected film show. He is seen wandering across fields and through car parks in a seaside town – I did say this was 'Pythonesque', didn't I? It was some time before I twigged - "Aha! AQUALUNG!"

During the interval, Anderson took the opportunity to promote his favourite Prostate Cancer charity with another piece of theatre of the absurd. Two unsuspecting 'volunteers' from the audience have to play doctor and patient...

There is a short film featuring Anderson as the village squire showing us around his gardens. Again, fitting in with the parish website theme, it is in the form of a fake YouTube clip. How did I know it was fake? Because the buffer/progress bar doesn't move throughout.

"Part Two" continues, but now he really piles on the in-jokes and red herrings. Slides include the covers of old Boy's Own Annuals and Biggles books (Was there really one called "Biggles Takes It Rough"?), a number of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, school photos and lots of film of the Blackpool Amusements. I can reveal to you now that "the man in the diving suit" eventually finds water.

There are some real musical highlights in the second half of the show. The Clannad-like celtic/folky section during "A Change Of Horses" (if I'm following this correctly) really comes together in a live setting. This is where the accordion is allowed out. Musically, it's not quite 'unplugged' but it's as near as it gets tonight.

It is the unison rhythmic passages that really show off this band's chops. They handle with ease all those choppy riffs that alternate rapidly between 7:8 and... oh, I lost count again...

Having Ryan O'Donnell there as an additional 'stunt vocalist' allows Uncle Ian to switch instruments easier and to be able to reproduce the studio arrangements where there are flute parts behind the vocals. By the way, there was also a real megaphone employed by young Ryan.

And so the whole saga ends as it began, with just Anderson and his little guitar and a reprise of the "and your wise men don't know how it feels..." bit.

The on-screen 'village squire' introduces all of the band as they take their bows. The hard working road crew also get to wave at the camera as their names are flashed on the screen. Is it just me or are we really giving a standing ovation to a Powerpoint presentation (I churl, of course!)? The final slide says "THE END... NO, REALLY...", just in case you were holding on for an encore...

www.iananderson.com    www.jethrotull.com   www.stcleve.com

There are already, you will not be too surprised to learn, audience clips of the tour appearing on that YouTube they have now. This one's of a production quality I don't mind sharing. Some of the others, it has to be said, are not quite as watchable, but there they are:-



From the heart of the industrial Rhineland...
a long forgotten footnote in the story of KOSMISCHE MUSIK.

STRUMPFEN officially came into being on the first day of April 1969, founded by Anton Halle and Dirk Parsifal, former members of the Wuppertal-based rhythm and blues group The Apricots. Like so many bands in Germany at that time, they had paid their dues on the US airbase circuit, sometimes supporting visiting international artists such as Les Chats Sauvages and The Bristol Eagles.

Towards the end of the decade, social upheavals in Europe (the student riots in 1968; the continuing Cold War) and the influence of other forms of experimental self-expression (including the drugs!) saw the band shake off its pop-dance roots and get... HEAVIER.

Gone were the “yeah yeah” vocals, jangly Rickenbacker guitars and cheesy organs of their earlier sound. In came the home-made voltage controlled sequencers and ring modulators, the garishly painted speaker cabinets and zealous use of fuzzbox, space reverb and echoplex. Obvious influences were the Pink Floyd, AMM, improvisational 'West Coast' bands such as the Grateful Dead and Germany's own avant-garde music experimentalists (Stockhausen, Zimmermann).

The Apricots had enjoyed a minor local hit with “Dance of the Helium Molecules”. As the band evolved into Strumpfen, in a live context this simple surf-instrumental number would form the basis for jam sessions of anything up to an hour long. The thirty-minute“Helium Tanz” from their third album (simply called “Drei”) is taken from one such session in 1971.

The band had an ever-changing membership, reflecting their free collective lifestyle. Founder member Dirk Parsifal left to join a monastery shortly after their debut album “Aprikoser Liebestrumpfen” was released. Only Anton Halle was a constant presence. Other members of the collective included Ralf Schlimmerkind, Walther Schott, Lothar Pfilter, Otto “Zenti” Mieter and a mysterious former nun known only as Sister Bleeg. They each played an eclectic range of musical instruments, many of them home-made.

The band released five complete albums during their brief lifespan - the first was “Aprikoser Liebestrumpfen” (originally a suggested name for the band itself), swiftly followed by “Strumpfen Zwei” (featuring four untitled sidelong pieces), “Drei” (with its distinctive see-through paper sleeve), “The Elaborate Roos” (an improvised soundtrack for a nature documentary about the macropods of New South Wales) and finally “Strumpfen Funf”.

Most of their recorded output resulted from lengthy, late-night, candlelit jam sessions at the Studio Gebäude, owned by producer Bruno Neuschloß.

I truly believe that, in hindsight, much of their music stands up well against that of the 'greats' of KRAUTROCK (there! I said the 'K' word!) such as Faust, Can or Ash Ra Tempel. But sadly, all of their albums are now long deleted and pretty hard to find, even the compilation CD “6beste” that I was allowed to release on my own label some years ago. You can however still hear a newly re-mastered “6beste” via my YouTube channel.

(Album sleeve pictures from the author's own collection.)


Endless Universes of Stars and Mountains

A brand new piece of space music from the Pedantic Pedestrian concern...

This is one of those pieces that was several months in the making. Or maybe it just seems that way!

You know the sort of thing. You record an idea, then forget about it. Then go back weeks later to see if you still like it. Then subject it to a bit of the old 'digital razorblade', if something seems to drag on too long. Then add another new bit. And so on.

So it is fairly EPISODIC. There are groovy bits, 'classical' bits, mad tabla rhythms and a couple of those huge noisy 'folded' collage sections full of everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink...

It's an imaginary soundtrack to something or other. Perhaps you can tell me what.

The voice is that of *Lori "CC" Gomez, quoting a piece by Jack Kerouac (plus there's some of her own poetry buried in the "collage" sections). There are also samples of JOXFIELD PROJEX's "Computer #2" from their "Numbers & Letters" album. I wonder if they'll still recognise themselves?

I'm SURE there were some nice comments on the Soundcloud player last night... They seemed to have gone again this morning...

*By the way, I thought long and hard about whether this should qualify as a CC:PP track. In the end, as it's mostly instrumental, I decided that it's a Pedantic Pedestrian number (with SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCES by the aforementioned artistes). I trust that's okay with you...?

UPDATE - I've taken this track down from my SOUNDCLOUD now (have to make room for other things!), but not to worry! it's still there on the BANDCAMP site as part of the fabulous second album from the CC:PP duo. Aha! So it IS a CC:PP track then! Download it f'FREE!


JoXfield ProjeX - "VoxLuxRabax"

It's taken me a while to get around to this one (Sorry guys... so many things sitting on the iTunes, waiting to be listened to... so little time!).

Joxfield ProjeX - "VoxLuxRabax" (Tin Can Music VLR 2011)
Joxfield ProjeX, Sweden's leading purveyors of total-immersion freeform-psychedelic-kraut-space-rock-call-it-what-you-will music are back with another helping of... oh, let's not beat around the bush, it's good old honest-to-goodness NOISE! Which Is A Good Thing. If you've heard any of Oax' and Jan's previous works, you kind of probably know what to expect by now (and, presumably, have already made up your mind whether you like it or not!). Guaranteed to shake the cobwebs out of your belfry or make your coffee morning go with a swing. As they themselves say "This music should be played with full attention at any volume you like...".

Enjoy it here via the newfangled ARCHIVE.ORG embedded player...

Like it? What's not to like!? Then proceed immediately to ARCHIVE.ORG to download it for free, courtesy of the Tin Can Music concern.

"It's psychedelic music, it's kraut and space. There's even some brutal ambient. It's created through free form minds, sometimes within frames of steady beats, sometimes not. It's very electric..."


The Road is Wider than Long

One can so easily become indifferent to Surrealism. It has lost its power to shock.

Perhaps I've grown up looking at too many poor imitations on 1970s prog-rock album sleeves, but even Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte look like 'commercial' artists to me now!

But I do like me some MAX ERNST or MAN RAY. I think those artists were closer in spirit to the dADa//mErZ of the sainted Kurt Schwitters. You can't beat a good collage (or photomontage) for creating a REAL surREAL image. Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984) worked closely with these artists.

Looking at this show, much of his own work left me fairly cold, for the above reasons. Sorry, but all I saw were album sleeves! I did enjoy his collage pieces, but only because they were so clearly 'influenced' by Ernst and Schwitters. I think it is as an art CATALYST he deserves to be remembered. As coordinator of the First International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936, he was responsible for bringing surrealism to this country for the first time. He studied with and befriended many of the greats (Picasso, Man Ray, Miró, Eluard, Ernst) and brought their influence to the "English" school. He wrote the "Home Guard Manual of Camouflage". He founded the ICA (Institute for the Comtemporary Arts, in London). He curated the Tate's Picasso exhibit in 1960. The Sussex farmhouse he shared with LEE MILLER (an influential figure in her own right), became a meeting place for some of the key protagonists in 20th century art. He wrote the definitive biographies of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. It is for these reasons that he is IMPORTANT, rather for the quality of his own work.

In fact the most fascinating part of the show were the PHOTOGRAPHS: some of them recording the artist himself at work; some delightful 'snaps' of the visiting artists letting their hair down; some pictures that would later inspire larger works; some photographs that were ART in their own right. Penrose and Miller were both very good photographers indeed (aah! black and white!) and had picked up a few tips from Man Ray along the way. Lee Miller had been a fashion model before turning to photography herself, eventually becoming Man Ray's pupil and lover in Paris. (I would like to cover this page with examples, but there are copyright restrictions. Many of the photographs in the show can be seen on the websites linked here.)

Other artists represented in the show included Eileen Agar, Cecil Collins, Merlyn Evans, Ceri Richards, John Tunnard and Paul Nash. Of the paintings in the exhibition that I thought still stand the test of time, I liked the organic looking pieces by Edith Rimmington, including her "Prophylactic Sea-Mouth", Conroy Maddox' Dali-inspired works (these still look like they belong on Italian record sleeves, mind you) and the cute little Miró-esque "biomorph" creatures depicted by Dr Desmond Morris. I especially liked the big blue triptych "The Gathering", in which a variety of little critters do exactly that.

In this country, 'those of a certain age' will best remember Morris as the zoologist who presented teatime telly's "Zoo Time" in the early 60s. But he was an important figure in British art, having been director of the ICA. He was responsible for showing the collection of Max Ernst sketches and drawings in 1976(?), a show that I well remember visiting when I was at art college. He is also famous for his work with the chimpanzee artist Congo, whose paintings were shown at the ICA and even found their way into Picasso's own collection. A video of Congo at work, and several of his pieces, occupied a small room at this gallery.



All veeerrrry interesting of course... but no visit to Southampton would be complete without spending a while immersed in the Pre-Raphaelite collection for which the City Gallery is so rightly acclaimed. Currently they are showing some BIG pictures by Edward Burne-Jones - his series depicting The Story of Perseus, (click that link for a website-full of nice reproductions) suitably exhibited in the Baring Room, a sombrous, oak-panelled Victorian gallery. Yummy.



Whoops-a-daisy! Here's an oldie-but-goody I missed out when I was compiling my 1972 LIST a while back...

The Swedish collective ÄLGARNAS TRÄDGÅRD (meaning Garden of the Elks. Oh yes.) released their only* album in 1972. Its title was (and let me make sure I get all the right Swedish accent characters here:) "Framtiden är ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat i Forntiden" (and that means "The future is a hovering ship, anchored in the past").

IT IS WONDERFULLY, DELICIOUSLY MAD.  If you have any interest at all in psychedelia, krautrock, psych-folk, progressive rock, space rock, RiO, or any other sub-genre of EARLY-70s LISTENING MUSIC, then you should endeavour to hear this semi-forgotten classic at least once in your lifetime. "A veritable testimony to the halcyon days of hippiedom...", wrote one reviewer when the album finally got a digital beef-up. Except that suggests that it might be all "Hello Flowers Hello Trees". This sure ain't.

Comparisons might be made to ASH RA TEMPEL, POPOL VUH, PINK FLOYD's soundtrack work, pre-"Phaedra" TANGERINE DREAM (with whom they share a knack for long contrived titles), early GONG, or "Future Days" period CAN. Ticks all the right boxes for me! But they also inject a goodly dose of folk music from Scandinavia and Elsewhere: a particularly spacy passage might suddenly stop and be interrupted by something that sounds like a maypole dance - very "WICKER MAN" indeed!

They also use unusual 'folk' instruments alongside the standard 'rock' pallette - at various times you will hear rebecs, zithers and cellos and all manner of other WOODY things lurking amidst the electric mayhem, VCS3 bleeps and atmospheric sound effects. The vocal arrangements also have a 'medieval' air about them - sometimes a pretty 'folk song', sometimes a Gregorian chant, always kinda spooky!

The album main meat course is the magnificent sidelong sequence that is "TWO HOURS OVER TWO BLUE MOUNTAINS WITH A CUCKOO ON EACH SIDE OF THE HOURS" > "THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING" - there! I warned you about the titles, didn't I? - during which you will hear church bells, acoustic guitar melodies, long S-L-O-W  D-R-A-W-N  O-U-T krautrock dirges, fuzzy guitar freakouts, a wee jig or two, dark and gothic choral passages, squeaky doors and horses' hooves, all in quick succession.

I have to confess, I've never caught a glimpse of a REAL LIVE copy of this album. I knew it via a third generation tape given to me by a chum. Later it appeared on a naughty diskload of MP3s given to me by another chum. I eventually bought it as a download from iTUNES. It HAS had a CD release on Silence Records [Silence SRSCD3611], but I haven't stumbled over a copy at a record fair as yet... Which brings me to that asterisk in the first paragraph, when I mentioned that this was their 'only' album. After Silence released this on CD (and vinyl) in the late nineties, they followed it with the 'lost' second album "DELAYED" [Silence SRSCD3626], an anthology of other recordings made by the band circa 1973-74.


Oooh, they were using LANGUAGE!

I've posted this before on one of my blogsites or another, but I thought it worth sharing again here.


STOP PRESS - This just in, link courtesy of CC!
A complete website full of neologisms and etymological throwbacks!



I recently treated myself to the download version of SERIF MOVIE-PLUS (well, I'm already a keen fan of all their OTHER products, so it was only a matter of time before I completed the set!).

The only way to explore the possibilities of a "NEW TOY" is to PLAY! PLAY! PLAY! It's what Saturday afternoons are for, for flip's sake...

I have to say, I'm already impressed, if not a little smitten. I've never really seriously caught the video bug for a number of reasons. Previous experience showed me that video editing eats up an awful lot of computer memory. I just never had the "brain power" to do anything useful or interesting before the pooter ground to a standstill. Secondly, one needed so many different pieces of software to deal with and convert between all the different video formats. Not to mention all those codecs to think about. It's a headache. One gets so swamped by the process involved that you forget to have any actual IDEAS. Nah... I leave all that kind of thing to our chums at the ODD POP concern. They seem to know what they're doing...

Until now... I immediately found Serif's little baby to be a doddle to use and it's easy on the hardware. It handles all the different formats with ease and does all the converting for you. When something is that user-friendly, you can start to have FUN with it, instead of getting bogged down in the technicalities. This is true of all of Serif's products (if this doesn't get me some freebies, I don't know what will!)

So I've been enjoying the process of turning CC's webcam recitals into full-blown arty videos, laying the results over the CC:PP versions of the tracks. The two videos here feature the "secret bonus" tracks on the first CC:PP "album", available as a digital download from my BANDCAMP site.

"SHADOWS OF PARADISE" - Whadya reckon? Have I been watching too much "Twin Peaks" lately?

"STRAIGHT NO CHASER" - Film Noir with maybe a touch of Man Ray...?


When We Wuz Fab...

A BIT OF NOSTALGIA FOR THE OLD FOLKS... All of this running a website lark is nothing new to me, no sirree bob... Why! WE were doing this sort of thing back in the days when we all thought that M****soft Internet Explorer 5 and a dial-up modem made for a cutting-edge browsing experience.

Sometime around the turn of the century, twenty years on from what most would consider to be the 'heyday' of JOHNSON'S GRIDLING BAND activity, and several years before NewsKorps decided that the best way to read The Times would be to pay to squint at it on a telly, we decided to do our regularly ongoing, photocopied-to-order fanzine-cum-art-publication "THE GRIDLER" as a proper grown up website instead. THE FUTURE OF ROCK & ROLL, we decided, was now going to be CYBERNETIC!

There could now be colour! There could now be sound and movement! There were countless reviews of WOMAD festivals! And pictures of Land Rovers! Whooooo!

In the words of Marty DiBergi, "Don't look for it, it's not there anymore...". Luckily, I just happened to have preserved all the old pages on a CD-ROM, so I can at least share with you these screenshots. This is what home-made websites looked like in the days before MySpace existed and EVERYBODY got in on the act! Though I do say so myself, they look rather nicely designed, considering all I had to work with in the beginning was Front Page Xpress and Corel Draw (Who would have thought we'd be thinking of the early-Noughties as 'the old days'?)

Come on, own up... how many of you tried to use the scroll bars or click on the links in those screenshots?


Haisai Ojisan!

This is based on a piece that first appeared on "The Gridler" website, way back at the turn of the century...

"Okinawa! where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain..." So how is it that a group of little islands south of Japan has produced some of the finest shit-kickin', country-soundin' music this side of Mumblin' Jack Unitroba? Probably because the local instrument of choice is the sanshin (similar to the Japanese samishen) which aurally bears an uncanny resemblance to the banjo, there is a definite "down-home" quality to the music which has caught the ears of such ornery pluckers as Bob Brozman and Ry Cooder.

Ry himself described the scene at a typical bar where

"you might hear a small shamisen (sic) and percussion combo working in a ka-chunk ka-chunk feel, while the old folks do a dance that looks like cattle egrets walking through mud. The women sing the ballads and they get a high lonesome Appalachian sound, like Mother Maybelle Carter in great pain – very soulful and pitiful…"

Hmm, I wonder what Mother Maybelle Carter walking through mud would sound like? Now I'm no expert, ah jes' know what ah lahk... so here are some names to look out for on the katcharsee scene...

We had the pleasure of catching NENES at WOMAD a few years ago - "High lonesome sound" indeed! Backed by a band that combined sanshins and pedal steels for that definitive "Nashville East of Java" sound, these four lovelies serenaded us with beautiful harmonies for a hot Sunday afternoon in Berkshire, dressed in traditional dress and swaying in unison like the Ikettes at a tea house. I've since learned that the national costume bit is strictly for the Tokyo and western audiences who seem to go for that sort of thing – back home at their own bar in Okinawa City, they are more likely to be seen waiting tables in denims and trainies. I also learned that they were 'manufactured', Spice Girls-style, by svengali-esque producer Sadao China (pronounced 'cheena') who wanted to gather together the cream of Okinawa's trad singers to form the ultimate girl group. Don't let that put you off though... I've only ever seen their CDs available at festivals, living, as I do, out in the burbs where record shops have problems with this sort of thing - Globestyle released an album ("Akemodoro Unai" which is fabulous... and fairly representative of their anthemic sound), otherwise their back catalogue is sold at inflated Japanese import-type prices... Their disembodied voices can be heard, in a very different context, on Talvin Singh's award-winning "OK" album of a few years back.

I simply must recommend SHOUKICHI KINA… Look for his "Best Of…" CD on Luaka Bop (Yes! Them again!), the best tenner I've spent at a record fair in many a year. Subtitled "Peppermint Tea House", it features most of his hits with his band Champloose, some dating back to the sixties, the infuriatingly catchy "Jing Jing", as well as some of his collaborations with Ry Cooder and various Paris musos. "Them's that's heard it" also recommend his "Celebration Live" album from 1983. "Kina's unique reggae-garage-surf-boogie has made him an Okinawan revolutionary folk hero over the last twenty years"… all set to a gridloid floppy boot stomp! So-called 'traditional' music never sounded so joyous... Richard Thompson, John French, Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser had a crack at their anthem "Haisai Ojisan" on one of their strange CDs.

Talking of "Jing Jing" (or "Jin Jin" meaning 'Firefly'), seek out the (back to basics) version on the first CD featuring Kina sidekick TAKASHI HIRAYASU with the aforementioned Bob Brozman... they were another rockin' teenage combo who thrilled us over a WOMAD weekend… earthy, spontaneous acoustic music at its best, but with a sense of FUN! The second CD features Takashi's own (even more Western-sounding) songs... the accordion player from Los Lobos appears on a couple of tunes, giving the disc more of a "San Antonio East of Java" sound!

Rinken Teruya, leader of RINKENBAND, is a close compatriot of Shoukichi Kina – their fathers had played together too, a mixture of Okinawan sounds and Perez Prado hits to appeal to the locally based US servicemen*. Rinkenband recorded an EP of sorts with our old chums 3 Mustaphas 3 - the circle closes!.

(*Did I ever mention the tape of "Ilocano Songs" I once found in the charity shop bargain bin? Thinking I might have stumbled across the latest World Music sensation, I found, upon first hearing, that it featured sub-Jim Reeves country-esque ballads, rendered in the indigenous dialect of the Philippines and accompanied by the cheesiest of club organs with inbuilt drum box! They probably think they have invented the perfect music to appeal to US servicemen – they are probably right!).

SHANG SHANG TYPHOON led by Yokohama's Kohryu, are not strictly speaking an Okinawan band at all, but a Japanese band who perform in the popular 'Okinawan' style. Fronted by The Sunflower Sisters, theirs is a more poppy blend of styles – the rhythm section is clearly at home in jazz and rock styles – but the "roots" are still there. Kohryu says the real sanshin was too difficult to play so, instead, he put sanshin strings on a banjo, to achieve the same effect! Truly thou art a gridler, Kohryu! I dig your style!

AN CHANG PROJECT are not really an Okinawan operation either, hailing as they do from Kyoto, but their "Monkey Harmonising Songs" features much repertoire from Okinawa (as well as Kiribati, Yonaguni and numerous other Pacific locales), so I mention it here simply because it is sort of appropriate... and gorgeous. Okinawa's vocal groups usually sing in unison, but An Chang have introduced harmonic intervals which suggest they have been influenced by Bulgarian choral music and West African Griots... Very plaintive, with sanshins plunking well to the fore... and if the hairs on the back of your neck are not fully erect by track 17, then there's some Fripp-soundalike electric guitar just to make sure! They played in London at the Barbican's 'Urban Beats' festival... anyone out there see 'em?

I'm sure there are loads of others I haven't mentioned, but that's mainly 'cause I haven't heard 'em yet!

STOP PRESS... Since I started writing this page, those good people at World Music Network released their own "ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF OKINAWA" on budget priced seedy disc... if you're only thinking of buying ONE Okinawan CD (an unlikely scenario), then this would be a good start! It's compiled by, and has copious sleevenotes by Paul Fisher, to whom we should all give praises, as he almost single-handedly made so much of this product accessible in the west - he runs the Jap-import company Far Side, as well as writing about all manner of Oriental sounds for The Rough Guides and Folk Roots (I believe we have to call it Froots these days.. Ed), demonstrating considerably more knowledge and depth than the flippant, ill-informed shallow style that I can usually muster!

The CD is so jam-packed with goodies, that to single out any individual tunes would be futile... so I will.

I can highly recommend the track by SHISARS (not just because there is a connection with An-Chang Project and because it features clarinet by Watura Ohkuma of CICALA MVTA, the wacky and fantastic Tokyo-based street band - imagine the 3 Mustaphas 3 jamming with "Hot Rats"-period Zappa!), the Okinawan Trance Music of SARABANDGE, the dub fusion of RYUKYU UNDERGROUND (even though it is mainly the work of a couple of English ex-pats) and the surf-bop stylings of THE SURF CHAMPLERS (yet another pseudonym for Kenji Yano of Sarabandge), of whom I would like to hear LOTS more!

It is not the place of this web-thingy to provide free advertising space to the world's CD manufacturing industry, but I guarantee that, if you purchase this volume (plus maybe its companion disc, "THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF JAPAN") you will derive hours of enjoyment from the oriental nutty boys (and gals) therein.


It Was Forty Years Ago Today...

Just Another Gratuitous List Thing

It cannot have escaped your notice that, this year, a lot of (surviving) 1970s artists are celebrating FORTY YEARS since their greatest achievements - for example, I'll be seeing JETHRO TULL (well, some of them) recreate the whole of "THICK AS A BRICK" onstage in May...

1972... hmm, I would have been a spotty be-greatcoated fourteen year old, just starting to discover that there WAS music beyond the weekly singles charts and 'Family Favourites'.

Most of the inmates of my Secondary Modern Boys School were, in the parlance of the day, 'INTO' either Slade or T. Rex (but very rarely both). I was slowly becoming aware of the likes of Genesis, Yes and ELP and - for better or worse - there was no turning back for myself and a small band of like-minded individuals!

I'd be lying if I was to claim that I had any knowledge of most of these albums at the time, but many of them have found their way into my collection since. An equal number of them I STILL wouldn't give the time of day! But it's hard to take in that all the albums on this list (and many more besides) were all originally released within a single twelvemonth period. In conclusion then, 1972 was a cracking year for the pop music. There must have been something in the water.

(NB, this list omits to mention The Osmonds or David Cassidy for some reason)

Agitation Free 'Malesch'
Älgarnas Trädgård 'Framtiden är ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat i Forntiden'
Alice Cooper 'School's Out'
Allman Brothers Band 'Eat a Peach'
Amazing Blondel 'England'
Arthur Lee 'Vindicator'
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso 'Banco del Mutuo Soccorso'
The Band 'Rock of Ages'
Big Star '#1 Record'
Bo Hansson 'The Magician's Hat'
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band 'Let's Make Up and Be Friendly'
Budgie 'Squawk'
Can 'Ege Bamyasi'
Captain Beefheart 'Clear Spot'
Caravan 'Waterloo Lily'
Cluster 'Cluster II'
CSNY 'Four Way Street'
Curtis Mayfield 'Superfly'
Curved Air 'Phantasmagoria'
David Bowie 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars'
Deep Purple 'Machine Head'
Elton John 'Honky Chateau'
Emerson Lake & Palmer 'Trilogy'
The Faces 'A Nod's As Good As A Wink...'
Family 'Bandstand'
Faust 'So Far'
Flash 'Flash'
Focus 'Focus 3'
Frank Zappa 'Grand Wazoo'/'Waka-Jawaka'/'Just Another Band From LA'
Genesis 'Foxtrot'
Gentle Giant 'Three Friends'
Grateful Dead 'Europe'72'
Groundhogs 'Who Will Save The World?'
Hawkwind 'Doremi Fasol Latido'
Herbie Hancock 'Crossings'
Jackson Browne '[Saturate Before Using]'
Jan Akkerman 'Profile'
Jerry Garcia 'Garcia'
Jethro Tull 'Thick as a Brick'
Kevin Ayers 'Whatershebringwesing'
King Crimson 'Earthbound'
Klaus Schulze 'Irrlicht'
Kraftwerk 'Kraftwerk 2'
Little Feat 'Sailin Shoes'
Lou Reed 'Transformer'
Mike Westbrook 'Solid Gold Cadillac'
Miles Davis 'On the Corner'
Mott the Hoople 'All the Young Dudes'
Neil Young 'Harvest'
Neu! 'Neu!'
Nick Drake 'Pink Moon'
Paul Simon 'Paul Simon'
Pink Floyd 'Obscured By Clouds'
Popol Vuh 'Hosianna Mantra'
Premiata Forneria Marconi 'Storia di un minuto'
Randy Newman 'Sail Away'
Renaissance 'Prologue'
Richard Thompson 'Henry The Human Fly'
Rod Stewart 'Never a Dull Moment'
Rolling Stones 'Exile on Main Street'
Roxy Music 'Roxy Music'
Santana 'Caravanserai'
Slade 'Slade Alive'
Soft Machine 'Fifth'
Steely Dan 'Can't Buy a Thrill'
Stevie Wonder 'Talking Book'
Sun Ra 'Space Is The Place'
T. Rex 'The Slider'
Thijs van Leer 'Introspection'
Todd Rundgren 'Something/Anything?'
Uriah Heep 'Demons & Wizards'
Van Morrison 'Saint Dominic's Preview'
Various Artists 'The Harder They Come'
Weather Report 'I Sing The Body Electric'
Wishbone Ash 'Argus'
Yes 'Close to the Edge'
etc... etc... etc... etc...

Pick O' The Year 2011

First published on MySpace and LiveJournal blogs - 04/12/11

Best new albums of the last twelvemonth...
In any other year, that "King Crimson ProjeKCt" by JAKKO, FRIPP & COLLINS (AND Levin AND Harrison...) would surely have zoomed straight to the top of the list. That's probably as close as we're EVER going to get to a NEW KING CRIMSON ALBUM from hereon. Indeed, any one of those 'also rans' listed below might have been contenders. But not this time around. This has been a jamboree year for surprising new discoveries and the return of some old favourites... so in no particular order 'THE FOUR TOPS' are:-

Matt Berry - "Witchazel" - (Acid Jazz)

I have Stuart Maconie's BBC 6Music show "THE FREAK ZONE" for drawing my attention to THIS little gem (as well as much else). It transpires that not only is MATT BERRY a fine comedy actor, he just also happens to be a multi-talented musician of excellent taste. Makes yer sick, don't it?

Like THE BEES' albums of previous years, I instantly loved this album PRECISELY because it contains all the music of my misspelt youth rolled into one delicious package! This is a gentleman who has STUDIED and ABSORBED the nineteen-seventies. There is a goodly dollop of PASTORAL PROG - I particularly hear shades of CARAVAN, SUPERSISTER and a couple of Italian bands of note, plus the kind of orchestral arrangements to be found on some of KEVIN AYERS' early work. He surely has a working knowledge of the music of STACKRIDGE and PETER SINFIELD's "Still" album. Add a dash of "Psychedelic Folk" (Mr Berry has himself name-checked the band FOREST, although I'm not personally familiar with their particular oeuvre). Stir in a lot of TODD RUNDGREN-inspired one-man-band multi-track wizardry and... you end up with an album that has elements of ALL THE ABOVE and yet, strangely, sounds like NONE OF THEM (or indeed much like anything else really!). Oh, and there's also a PAUL McCARTNEY impersonation thrown in for good measure.

Someone else called him an English SUFJAN STEVENS...?

I'm not sure how an album like this ended up on ACID JAZZ records though. That's probably the biggest mystery of all. JTQ or SNOWBOY it ain't!

Listen to tracks here

Minus Points: While I can't fault this album in any way MUSICALLY, my one gripe must be with the lamentable state of MUSIC RETAIL in this country, or at least in this part of it. I would like to be able to say that I've been enjoying this in the super-hi-fi quality edition it so richly deserves... but, no... until that chance encounter in a far flung record emporium somewhere, I had to buy this as a download from iTunes. Nearby branches of HMV, the nearest thing we now have to a proper "music" shop on any High Street, don't stock it. Not Good Enough. The fact that this album makes the top of my list DESPITE these audio shortcomings probably speaks volumes about just what a quality piece of work it is. I still have one eye open for a PROPER shiny round copy. I'll happily pay money for it a second time...

Addendum: Now that I've found my very own shiny shiny copy of this little gem (Hoorah!), with proper sleeve notes and everything, I've now found out that it is in fact the REAL Paul McCartney and not an impersonation! The CD packaging is hilarious, by the way.

Steven Wilson - "Grace For Drowning" - (K-Scope)

...now THIS is an object lesson in how to produce (and present) MUSIC FOR HI-FI... Porcupine Tree's albums are always such LOVELY THINGS, with Lasse Hoile's artwork carried through the whole package like a corporate identity. A reminder of things as they once were, when buying a 'record' meant you looked forward to lovingly fondling an actual TACTILE OBJECT in your hands. And that's BEFORE you get to the music inside... Downloads might be convenient, but they make you feel cheap!

Steven's first 'solo' release "INSURGENTES" (which I also bought recently in a deluxe box) still to these ears had 'the Porcupine Tree sound'. In between then and now, Mr Wilson has spent an awful lot of his time delving DEEP into seventies prog, having overseen the superdooper surround sound remastering of all the earlier KING CRIMSON albums.

It sounds like he picked up a trick or two. There was always that 'influence' in his work, but this is a "SOUNDS OF THE SEVENTIES" album. From the very opening bars - which are sonically reminiscent of "Lizard" or "Islands" or maybe something off a PFM album - we are plunged headlong into a sort of PROG FUN PARK; those little filigrees of real (rather than synthetic) orchestral instruments; the use of SPACE in the mix (here's a man who hears everything in 3D!); the incredible DYNAMIC range (the loud bits are really loud, the quiet bits are really quiet); vintage instruments (or at least REALLY good digital facsimiles thereof) and the touches of JAZZ (that sounds like a real Fender Rhodes... ooh, there goes THEO TRAVIS)... and BIG BIG ANTHEMIC THEMES.

Some thanks for this must be due to the involvement of DAVE STEWART (the Canterbury one, not the Eurythmic) who helped out with some of the arrangements. REAL choirs, REAL strings... Only the Floyd themselves lavished this kind of sonic care and attention on their work. It just SOUNDS so good.

Lovers of Porcupine Tree will lap this up, but this album shows signs that his "solo" work deserves to be heard by others. At least K-Scope have done a good job of getting their stuff into the High Street HMVs, so this is readily available! With a Blackberry full of stellar names he can call on, and with three or more side projects always on the go, you never know what he'll come up with next.

Minus Points: It seems to be over FAR too quickly! Ah well, I suppose I can always put it back on again!

Yes - "Fly From Here" - (Frontier)

Hoorah! The return of the YEGGLES! I would like to think I've stuck with YES through thick and thin, but they HAVE tried my patience once or twice in the last forty years! I mean, have you EVER listened all the way through "Union" or "Open Your Eyes" in one sitting? Do you ever listen to "Talk" AT ALL?

All those years of glossy West-Coast AOR and embarrassingly substandard and twee Andersongs, until they were finally left coasting along in the role of THEIR OWN TRIBUTE BAND, left me convinced that they would never again make a LISTENABLE album, let alone a good one.

But now they have reunited with the best studio boffin they ever had (sorry, Eddy Offord) and the best keyboard player they ever had (sorry, Rick Wakeman) and it's 1980 all over again!

One could question whether this is a "new" album, since so much of it was written thirty-odd years ago ("We Can Fly From Here" was performed live on the "Drama" tour; other themes appeared on The Buggles' "Adventures In Modern Recording" album of similar vintage) - but that is A GOOD THING in this Mintiverse. Who wants to hear MODERN music on a Yes album anyway?

And I am going to stick my neck out and alienate an entire population of Yes fans by saying that BENOÎT DAVID's voice is much easier on the ear than JON ANDERSON's ever was (in fact, he sounds a lot like TREVOR HORN ...hmm, funny that...).

The Horn magic is still there; the lyrics - and who ever listens to THOSE on a Yes album? - make some sort of sense for once; Geoff Downes comes up with some of his best work since before Asia; old hands Alan White and Chris Squire actually sound like they're enjoying it all; Steve Howe sounds astonishingly like his youthful self, even if he doesn't look it. In short, the first EMBARRASSMENT-FREE Yes album for over thirty years!

Listen to tracks here

Minus Points: The VIDEO for "We Can Fly From Here" itself is absolute pants. But who's ever going to watch that? Judging by the band photos in the booklet, their dress sense hasn't improved much over the years either. Remember, these are men for whom corduroy slacks, kaftans with furry boots or the dreaded socks 'n' sandals combination are considered acceptable stage-wear, so they are probably beyond redemption :-)

Anoushka Shankar - "Traveller" - (Deutsche Grammophon)

In which the divine Ms Shankar explores the musical connections between the classical tradition of the Indian subcontinent and the Flamenco stylings of the Iberian peninsular.

You'd think, on paper, that it shouldn't work, until you actually hear the flamenco dancers trade intricate patterns with the ghatam, and the vocal-like sitar melodies soaring over the Spanish guitars... and then it seems THE MOST NATURAL THING and you wonder why nobody had thought of it before (apart from maybe John McLaughlin...). Above all, it has lots of toe-tapping riddims and heart-wrenching melodies to win you over!

It's a truly delightful piece of 'World Music' 'fusion' that doesn't sound at all CONTRIVED, as these things so VERY often do. I speak as one who has endured years of hearing Swedish fiddle players trying to blend with Senegalese koras, while the Chinese flute plays an Irish jig over the sampled tabla coming out of the laptop. With rapping. 'CONTRIVED', I tells ya!

But Anoushka has her father's innate GOOD TASTE and she never fails to surprise. When she signed for the classical label Deutsche Grammophon, who'd have thought she'd come up with something like this? It's as far from her 'classical' repertoire as it is from her 'pop' album with Karsh Kale or the Shakti-like jazz fusion of her album "Rise" (each, in their own way, full of EQUALLY wonderful moments, it goes without saying!)

Listen to tracks here

Minus Points: None that I can think of... Gorgeous!

Also worth mentioning:
Jakko, Fripp & Collins - "A Scarcity of Miracles" - (DGM)
Michael Bernier - "Leviathan" - (Bandcamp download)
Syntony - "White Fly" - (Bandcamp download)

Reissues & Back-catalogue

King Crimson - "Starless & Bible Black" - (DGM)

This year's release in the increasingly inaccurately entitled "40th ANNIVERSARY SERIES" is this classic from 1974, another personal favourite (let's see now... how many times have I bought this one?).

There was speculation about how good a job STEVEN WILSON would be ABLE to do with the masters, given that a large portion of this album was originally gleaned from live tapes, but I for one was not disappointed. Even in PCM Stereo (I don't have the magical 5.1 surround sound) it's as if they are there in the room with you - a pretty scary prospect, if you've ever heard the 1973 KCrims in full-on live thrak'n'werrrn action! Best appreciated with the lights off. Bill Bruford's crisp drums (he was always the best SOUNDING drummer on record) and John Wetton's seismic Fender bass especially sound awesome in this edition.

I would once again single out "THE NIGHT WATCH" as a personal favourite - Robert Fripp's small but perfectly formed solo never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck do handstands. But I also find myself listening to the improv-derived pieces (the real meat of the album) with fresh ears. The extra sensory perception at play when these guys stood on stage (or rather, in certain cases, sat on a stool!) and MADE IT ALL UP ON THE SPOT was never less than astounding. No wonder audiences hearing them for the first time thought they were playing COMPOSED music.

Only HENRY COW came close to doing anything like this in ROCK (as opposed to 'jazz' or 'jazz-rock' or 'fusion' or what have you). A bit of CONTEXT: this was a time when "improvisation" in rock usually meant jamming on a twelve-bar blues riff for fifteen minutes. There's certainly none of THAT here.

What David Cross does on mellotron or electric piano (when he's not playing that gorgeous violin) is always so RIGHT for the moment. I am reminded of Fripp's suggestion that the sound he was after in King Crimson was "Bela Bartok Played By Jimi Hendrix". This is ELECTRIC CHAMBER MUSIC.

Minus Points: A tiny quibbelette, but none of the 'bonus' material is previously unheard - it has all appeared on earlier DGM Club releases (CD and/or download) or in "The Great Deceiver" box set and retains a b***leg audio quality even in this edition. Nice to have a decent copy of that Central Park video though!