29 August 2006

Cinema Corner - Literary Edition

Gutenberg 18 - Year 218 (Positivist)

The weekend after Cropredy, Pixie and I anticipated a Saturday night in--so we hoofed it to the video shop for a rental. We chose Capote, as we've both been wanting to see it for some time.

The story centers around writer Truman Capote (played to near perfection by the impeccable Philip Seymour Hoffmann), who is looking to follow up Breakfast At Tiffany's. The opening scenes of the film concern the brutal murder of a family in rural Kansas in 1959 and the manhunt which follows. Capote is shown at a swank New York writers' party, the toast of his circle of fellow scribblers. This contrast will be returned to often in the film. Nothing is shown of Capote's actual plans for his next book, but I think it was almost expected that he would crank out another sorta light-hearted affair like "..Tiffany's". This all changes as he spots a small article in the paper and clips it out. He phones his agent and tells him he's going to Kansas to write about the murders for a magazine piece.

Capote travels with his friend, writer Harper Lee (played by the also reliable Catherine Keener)--the time-frame of the film takes place before and then after her breakthrough novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, is published. They arrive in Kansas and try to get the inside story, but are treated with polite distance. A press conference is held and overseen by local lawman Alvin Dewey (played with downhome panache by Chris Cooper), who is confident that the killers will be found. Within days of the press conference, the killers are apprehended and brought to Kansas to face trial. By this time, Capote has ingratiated himself with the locals, regaling them with tales of Hollywood and his New-Yawk-via-Loosianna wit. He visits the sheriff's house one day and finds one of them, Perry Smith, locked in a cell within the house. The two eye each other warily, but there is a connection made which impacts the outcome of both Capote's life and his work.

Eventually, Smith and Hickock go to trial and are given the death penalty. Capote, realising that he hasn't found out exactly what happened on the night of the murders, tells them that he will find a lawyer to help with their appeal. Clutching his notebooks and early drafts, he heads back to his New York life of parties and notoriety. Some time later, he decides to visit them in Leavenworth prison, partly to be true to his budding friendship with Smith and partly to get more background story for his book (which he's decided to call "In Cold Blood"). These scenes seem to be some of the best in the film to me, as both use their symbiotic relationship to try and gain what each wants the most--Smith his freedom and Capote his story. Smith's attempts are, of course, doomed from the outset, making his cloying pleas to Truman to "find us another lawyer" all the more tragic. There also seems to be an erotic element, as Capote clearly fancies Smith's rugged good looks and "uncouth ways". They also bond over shared stories of rough, disappointing childhoods.

A few years go by and Capote is no closer to finishing his book. There's a nice contrast with Smith's imprisonment in Leavenworth and Capote's imprisonment to the creative process and missed deadlines. He stops answering Smith's letters and retreats to Spain for a time. Just as he fears he is going completely mad, Capote hears that Smith and Hickock's final appeal was turned down and they are to be executed. He makes a few last visits to the prison and on one of these, Smith finally tells him what happened on the night of the murders--which makes for a greusome, violent flashback. It turns out that Smith had caused the carnage--though he hinted throughout the film that it was Hickock who cracked and ordered the family killed. Truman promises to Smith that he will attend the execution--and he does so, in a teary and sober moment--watching Smith's body hang from the gallows in a dreary, warehouse-like building.

Of course, "In Cold Blood", published in 1965, went on to become a literary smash and Capote was feted even more than he had been for "Breakfast At Tiffany's". All this came with a price, though, and he never really recovered from the whole experience. In fact, he never published another full-length novel until his untimely death in 1984. His slow decline in the late 60s and 1970s must have been painful to watch, for his close friends.

I really enjoyed "Capote"--as I didn't know a lot about the man (I confess to never reading anything by him--though I've seen the film of "Breakfast.."--though that doesn't count). He's just one of those famous writers that are canonised, but don't seem to be widely read anymore. Philip Seymour Hoffmann's performance makes the film, as do most of the supporting cast, otherwise it could've well been just a documentary. There's been a slew of "biopics" out of Hollow-wood over the past five to ten years--but I would heartily recommend "Capote", it definitely seems to be one of the better ones to me. I may actually read some of Capote's work as a result of watching this film.

27 August 2006

Brief Lessons In Ancient Welsh History

There was a time, my children, when druids and sprites, sea-goddesses and bards of the old tongue, walked the mountains and shores of Wales. There was also a time when there were musicians, older than the oldest oaks and yews and they were NOT called Super Furry Animals, Manic Street Preachers or Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Among these ancients there were two of which I shall speak today and they were called Man and John Cale.

A new compilation has just been released called Keep On Crinting: The Liberty/UA Anthology. It features choice tracks by the awesome Man, who I consider to be the greatest band to ever come out of Wales, bar none. Covering the ground from their self-titled third album to their final UA recording, the live Maximum Darkness, this double disc set shows Man at the peak of their powers. Heavy on live, extended tracks, we are reminded that Man were incredible improvisers, with such extended work-outs as 'C'mon'(with male voice choir!) and 'Many Are Called But Few Get Up'. The inter-play between the guitars of the various members (there were a few line-up changes) is truly thrilling but the star of the show for me is Mickey Jones who was an ever-present until illness made him go into semi-retirement just a few years ago. Mickey is the Welsh Jerry Garcia, only better! There often seems to be a creative tension between the band's 'space-rock' tendencies and their commercial sense which gave birth to the finest achievement, the Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics album in 1974. The whole of the second side of this album is featured here, along with Malcolm Morley's lovely 'California Silks & Satins' (they really should have come from SF). Man brought the West Coast to Wales and gave much back of their own take on psych-tinged rock. Buy this (or get someone to give it to you!)

John Cale is another Welsh giant. Even if he is connected far more with the Velvet Underground and the avant-garde NY scene, he never lost his sense of Welshness even if this Welsh in a wider Euro context. His classic 1973 album, Paris 1919 has recently been reissued with bonus tracks and proves that this is one of THE great records of the 70's. In the studio with a handful of Little Feat players, Cale still manages to create an utterly European album that seems to fill the air with a sense of fading glory. The arrangements on every track are impeccable, my particular favourites being 'Andalucia' and 'Paris 1919'. The bonus tracks are well worth having too as the different arrangements and simpler mixes really bring something new to the record. Celtic genius.

23 August 2006

A Beacon From Mars

Setting Orange, Bureaucracy 16 - Year Of Our Lady Of Discord 3172

Pixie had an e-mail sent to her a few weeks ago, which she forwarded on to me. The text reads:

"Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. Itwill look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultimate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of Earth.

Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like TheEarth has 2 Moons. Don't Miss it.....

The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Share this with ur friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it .................. again."

I dunno--it seems like a hoax to me. Still, I may be watching out for it. Of course, with the way the weather's been--it'll probably be raining that night.

14 August 2006

Cropredy Capers 2006

17 Rajab - Year 1427

We're back from the festival and it was generally a good time, but marred by a few unexpected events--that and some of the music just didn't seem to me to be as quality as last year. I won't post a diary like I did last year, in the interest of not boring the reader. I'll post highlights (and lowlights) of each day.

Thursday (10th August): After setting up camp, our crew headed down to the main stage area. We missed the wRants, so I can't tell you how they were. PJ Wright came out and played a set of trad. folk stuff--not bad, but not spectacular, either. I'd have thought he'd throw in a Bob Dylan cover, as he's the singer in The Dylan Project--a Fairport off-shoot, but no..not a sausage. Feast Of Fiddles provided the best set of Thursday, with six or seven fiddlers on-stage (including Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders of Fairport) sawing away. They coaxed some wonderful textures from their instruments and they even had Pixie dancing at one point (I kid you not). Their closing tune was a credible version of Fairport's Battle Of The Somme (found on the Live At The L.A. Troubadour album) and I was impressed at their arrangement (though I still missed Richard Thompson's sliding, gliding guitar notes). The musical low point hit with Chris Newman and Maire Ni Chathasaigh (pronounced 'Ha-Ha-Sig, if you're interested), an Anglo-Irish duo whose music would fit better in a small tea room than an outdoor festival. While they gamely tried to engage the crowd, Newman's guitar plucking and Chathasaigh's harp couldn't provide much spark. Then Chathasaigh sang in a strange ululating fashion that sounded a bit off-key and that sealed it for the audience. They were given some polite applause to send them on their way. Steeleye Span closed the night, not exactly in a triumphal manner--but at least it made up for the previous act. Maddy Prior's pipes still can hit most of the notes and Peter Knight's fiddle-playing is up to scratch. They've recruited Ken Nicol from the Albion Band on guitar and Liam Genockey on drums, for this line-up. The set seemed to go on a bit too long for my liking--but then suddenly they finished with a lively version of All Around My Hat. The nadir of the festival also happened during Steeleye's set when some thoughtful individuals (who had actually purchased tickets) decided to rummage through tents in the various camping fields and relieve people of some of their valuables. Security were able to thwart the thieves after a time, but quite a few festival-goers were robbed before then. That kind of thing puts a damper on the good-natured vibe of a place like Cropredy.

Friday (11th August): Shameless Quo opened the day at noon--we missed them, but we heard a bit walking into the arena. They played all of the Quo's "boooogie" stuff, no Pictures Of Matchstick Men or anything from Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon..meh. Bodega were next--another Irish/Scots combo. They won the Radio 2 Young Folk Award for this year. Competent musicians and some nice reels, but again, a feeling of deja vu crept in after a few tunes. I was disappointed with Then Came The Wheel, despite their pedigree (members of Maddy Prior's band, Albion Band and so on)--they played sub-Dire Straits blues-rock and I took to calling them "Reinventing The Wheel". Ashley Hutchings, original bassist with Fairport, was up next with his new-ish group, Rainbow Chasers. While it was cool to see 'The Guv'nor' still up there, jammin' away--he sorta resembled a creepy older uncle, as the other band members are probably half his age. The lyrics of some of the tunes left a lot to be desired also. They played a tribute song to Nick Drake--and it was pretty much Hutchings' anecdote about meeting Drake, set to music...I'm not joking. Speaking of pedigree, Deborah Bonham was on-stage after Rainbow Chasers, and yes, she's related to that John Bonham. Almost needless to say, her set was heavy on the blooze-rock and they were easily the loudest act of the fest. She's got a good rock-n-raunch voice, but really, does the world need another Janis Joplin or Suzi Quatro? They did perform a decent version of Zep's The Battle Of Evermore, with Deborah taking both Robert Plant's and Sandy Denny's part--and their encore was (natch) Zep's Rock And Roll. When Deb's band cleared off, Frank Skinner (yes, the comedian) walked onstage to do announce that the 1969 line-up of Fairport were receiving gold records from Island Records for their ground-breaking Liege & Lief album. Skinner did a bit of stand-up first--with the best line being that the crowd's attire was "Wicker Man chic". They managed to round up almost the complete '69 line-up--with Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol ambling out to accept their awards. Chris While accepted Sandy Denny's and Ric Sanders accepted Dave Swarbrick's. Flook, another trad. Irish group, bookended Bodega with some sprightly bodhran playing and flute work..and then it was time for "Johnny Too Bad", John Martyn. I do admit to being slightly disappointed with his set. It's not entirely his fault, as he is confined to a wheelchair now, much like Robert Wyatt--and it's tough to give a charismatic performance in that state. When he dug into the Solid Air songbook, he showed he's still got some spark--with brilliant versions of May You Never, I Don't Want To Know and the title track. The rest of the set was made up of newer tunes and a couple of re-arranged One World selections. He was having problems with the effects gear for his guitar--so there were a few delays. He finished with a cover of an old jazz song--possibly originally recorded by Billie Holiday--it was a class touch and well done. We skipped Graham Gouldman & Friends, billed as 10cc (which Pixie changed to "1cc")--but from what I could hear, they performed credible versions of 10cc's tunes, like The Things We Do For Love, as well as Gouldman-penned hits from the 60s, such as The Hollies' Bus Stop. No robberies reported in our field for Friday night, thankfully.

Saturday (12th August): We cheated a bit on the festival experience and set out for Pixie's brother's house (about 20 minutes away from the site) for hot showers and bacon sarnies for breakfast (not Pixie, as she's vegetarian). We decided to miss out on Richard Digance's "Family Folk Hour" or whatever he's calling it now--it just seems really bland and really trad. to me. We also missed Sam Holmes & Her Band--I don't know who she is and the programme doesn't give her much of a description, so she's an enigma at this point. Returning back to the festival site--Pixie and I helped her brother and his family disassemble their tent, as they were going to leave a bit later in the afternoon. While we were doing that, Dave Swarbrick's latest venture, Lazarus (a joke on Swarb's medical conditions the past few years), took it to the stage. A trio, with Swarb on fiddle, Kevin Dempsey and Maartin Allcock on guitars, they played for an hour and we caught the final tune while walking toward the stage area. I regretted missing Swarb in action--but I figured he would join in on Fairport's set later in the evening. He didn't. King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys were up after that. They're a six-piece 50s rock-n-roll/jump blues retro band--straight down to the matching blue zoot suits and names like Shark Van Shtoop and Crab-Claw Tromans. I was thinking "Oh no--it's Sha Na Na time" but they got the crowd dancing and clapping and I had to give in to the sheer exuberance of their performance..and Cropredy this year desparately needed a pick-me-up of any sort. Dervish took the stage after King Pleasure and various Biscuit Boys vacated--and while they are deft musicians, the Irish reel overload was kicking in at this point. Singer Cathy Jordan put in an energetic act and the band followed behind, but it was all too much jigging and bodhran-ing for one weekend. Glen Tilbrook, formerly of Squeeze, was the penultimate act. He's the subject of an indie film documentary, which followed him around as he toured the U.S. last year. He played some mannered folk-style pop tunes and his stage presence was amiable enough, with his long in-between song banter. He would say "Cheers, luvs" every time he took a sip from his beer. As seems to be the way..his own songs were met with mild enthusiasm and the old Squeeze tunes drew the roars from the crowd. Finally, Fairport Convention hit the stage sometime after 9 p.m. They played a good mixture of old and newer tunes--including a surprise The Journeyman's Grace, from Angel Delight. I also heard Sir Patrick Spens, Tam Lin and The Deserter. Chris While joined the Fairports to sing Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and back-up on "The Deserter". I admit to losing some of my enthusiasm when they played some of the newer stuff--but it doesn't seem to have the quality of the "classic" years. That being said, they can still rip it up when they want to--as when they performed The Lark In The Morning medley. Glen Tilbrook also joined them for a mini-set of his tunes--the highlight being Squeeze's Tempted (covered by Richard Thompson--which was mentioned by Simon Nicol). Everything wound up at midnight, with the obligatory Meet On The Ledge, but we were already back at the tent by then. The next morning, in the rain, we packed up our gear and headed home. The end of another Cropredy.

12 August 2006

Damaged : Lambchop (City Slang)

'Here's a little story 'bout regret
Doesn't have an ending, it's not finished yet
But from what I know this far, it's just a peep at who we are
And an incomplete sentence that you said'

(Kurt Wagner, 2006)

It's been a two year wait since Awcmon/Noyoucmon but now we have the fruits of Lambchop's labour in the form of their new album, Damaged. I was fortunate to be able to get my copy a couple of days ahead of the release date, thanks to those brilliant fellows down at Diverse Records in Newport. Having listened to it a few times already today, here are my initial observations.

Damaged is 10 songs long with 'interludes'. These linking, rather airy and brief pieces, give the album an organic feel as one track bleeds into the next. That's not say we are dealing with a prog-style concept-monster here but there does seem to be common threads between many of the songs. There is the problem of true communication between people:

'Turning to her husband she so carefully said
My dear what put that idea in your head?'

And there are the ludicrous demands that relationships inevitably put on individuals:

'And I promise that I won't live without you
And I promise that I won't be that mean
These stupid promises are accumulating
In a grossly unwholesome scene'

As usual, Kurt Wagner places all these human problems in the context of the smallest parts of everyday living, which makes the tragedy all the greater. In 'I Would Have Waited Here All Day', a song that was originally written for a Candi Staton album, we see the detritus of our lives in the coffee cups and dirty dishes left in the sink. The female protagonist's lover walks 'dripping wet from a midday shower' and dries off his 'dick'. Makes you understand why Candi turned this one down. The song is marvellous and is soaked through with the pain of our unfulfilled expectations.

Wagner's eye for the wonder of the mundane is beautifully realised in the opening track, 'Paperback Bible', where he seems to be compiling an inventory of 'stuff' to acquire and other 'stuff' to get rid of, along with things that other people have to offer. Is this a weird market of the lost? It's all accomplished in a near-conversational style that wraps the song in a loving, demotic tongue:

'Yeah I'd like to find
A twenty seven inch color TV
Has to be non working
An RCA cause I need the parts'

Musically, the album is something of a step back to the minimalism of Is A Woman but the sound is enriched by the predominance of strings (of guitar and 'quartet' variety) over piano. This tends to sweeten the bitter pill in the lyrics but to good effect. Where Lambchop's musical landscape lies these days is less easy to define than in the purer 'country-soul' influences on What Another Man Spills or Nixon but this is not a criticism. Lambchop are confident in their ability to take the volume and the emotions 'down' without losing any feeling in the process. In fact, the quieter they get, the more effective they are. The secrets of Lambchop music often rest in the smallest of detail. You are meant to listen hard.

Damaged is a more than worthy addition to the superb catalogue of idiosyncratic music that Lambchop have developed since the early '90s. Long may they carry on whispering in our ears.

09 August 2006

A Cropredying We Shall Go

4 Lucy - 39 p.r.S.P.

Pixie and I are off to the annual Fairport Convention gathering near a village outside of Banbury, Oxfordshire. Yes, it's Cropredy time again.

The line-up doesn't seem quite as spectacular as last year's, but there's plenty of folk-rock goodness to keep us entertained for the three days. Steeleye Span are playing tomorrow night and "Johnny Too Bad" himself, John Martyn, is on Friday night. Unfortunately, no Richard Thompson this year (unless he makes an ultra-surprise appearance). For the 70s rockist contingent that's bound to show up--there's Graham Gouldman & Friends, billed as 10cc (I was excited when I first heard they were playing, as I thought it was a full-on reunion..but alas..) and a Status Quo tribute band (!) called, what else, 'Shameless Quo'.

I'm expecting some of the "smaller" acts to surprise--as last year we were treated with The Muffin Men, playing funkified versions of Frank Zappa tunes (with star support from Jimmy Carl Black, an original Mother Of Invention). The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britain also dazzled with their set of originals and covers, of which the best seemed to me to be Hawkwind's Silver Machine and Fairport's own Matty Groves--though their covers of Talking Heads' Psycho Killer and Chic's Le Freak were pretty ace, too.

We've just about got all of our gear together and we're ready to roll! A report will be issued when we're back. Singing Bear and Aloicious P. McGinnis are running this here blog in the meantime--so give 'em your undivided!! Peace and Music!

Reasons To Be Cheerful...one, two three and more!

It has to be said that the mood has been pretty heavy lately. Just as we have been picking ourselves up following the death of Syd, we are knocked down again by the sad news of Arthur Lee's passing. For people like us, for whom music is a central part of life, this can be hard to deal with but the best we can do is shed a tear and turn back to the songs. Following Syd's passing I couldn't even bring myself to listen to him. Thinking about his life and the fact that he is now gone just made me too sad. Recently, however, I've been playing 'Piper At The Gates of Dawn' once more and spinning the solo albums and Syd is making me smile again. Thanks, Roger. I'm anticipating putting Love on the stereo any day now and cracking it up high and flying with Arthur and chums once more.

We always have the music. Two other musical reasons to be very cheerful are coming our way soon. Firstly, mid-August sees the release of the new Lambchop album, Damaged. I've only read one review so far but things are looking good. Of course, as far as The 'Chop are concerned, I wouldn't care what any reviewer says anyway, they are always worth listening to. It's rumoured that the album was recorded in the aftermath of Kurt's marriage breaking up and follows a period of ill-health for Mr. Wagner. I don't really know how true any of this but I'm just hoping Kurt is feeling good about the future. I can't wait to hear the album.

The end of August sees the release of the very long awaited new recording by Bob Dylan. Five years after the awesome Love & Theft, Bob has finally dragged himself off the road and into the studio long enough to allow us to hear some new songs. Dylan has admitted that he finds the writing doesn't come easily anymore but, having heard clips of all the songs on Modern Times, I'd have to say that things are looking good in Bobworld. Rave reviews have already been posted by MOJO and Uncut, magazines that normally know at least a little about good music and BBC Newsnight Review largely gave it the 'thumbs-up' as well. The overall feel of the album isn't a million miles from Love & Theft, with Bob as the Old Testament prophet, looking on the state of the world with a wild smile, mad eyes but some love in his heart as well.

Full reviews of both Damaged and Modern Times to follow. In the meantime it's time to enjoy the rest of the summer. Peace and Love.

04 August 2006

All You Need Is Love..or R.I.P. Arthur Lee

14 Mordad - Year 1385

"This is the time and life that I am living
and I'll face each day with a smile
For the time that I've been given's such a little while
and the things that I must do consist
of more than style..."

--Love, "You Set The Scene" 1967

It was announced earlier today that Arthur Lee, mastermind and founder of legendary L.A. psychedelic band Love, passed away yesterday following a long battle with leukemia. He died in his native Memphis, Tennessee after being nearly a life-long resident of L.A.

Lee was born in 1945, just as World War II was ending. His family found that there were more opportunities out West, so the family (including Lee's cousin, Johnny Echols, who would become an essential part of Love) moved to California from Memphis when Arthur was 12.

He and Echols attended the same high school and started playing together, Johnny on guitar and Lee on congas--which gave them a bit of attention in their neighborhood. Lee also took organ lessons and he and Echols formed their first band--playing covers of standard R&B tunes, like Booker T. & The MG's Green Onions. They then gigged around as various out-fits, Arthur Lee & The L.A.G., American Four and ALJE. In 1965, Lee and Echols saw The Byrds at Ciro's and decided that's where they were headed. They chamged their name to The Grass Roots and adopted more of a "folk-rock" sound. An altercation with producer Lou Adler after their set one night, led to Adler forming a studio group quickly and poaching the "Grass Roots" moniker. Lee & Co. didn't have enough money to sue for rights--so they had their audience pick their new name, and Love it was.

The band continued on--through a few more line-up changes and many club gigs. Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, spotted the band in late 1965--and offered them a deal. They accepted and entered the studio to record their debut album. The line-up now included Bryan MacLean, a former Byrds roadie and guitar player (and relative of Shirley MacLaine, the actress), Alban 'Snoopy' Pfisterer on drums and Ken Forssi on bass. The album was released in September 1966, and boosted Elektra's rock credibility--but didn't make much of an impact, aside from their re-working of Burt Bacharach's My Little Red Book--which infuriated it's composer. It was issued as a single and actually dented the lower regions of the chart, while becoming the first "classic" Love track. There were other gems on the first one, though, like Can't Explain, Maclean's Softly To Me..and the haunting, cautionary Signed D.C., about former Love drummer Don Conka.

After constantly gigging throughout 1966--the band returned to the studio the same month that their debut was released. This time around they made a huge jump ahead with quality of material and studio production. Two new members were added to the group as well. Michael Stuart-Ware became the drummer (while 'Snoopy' was moved to keyboards) and Tjay Cantrelli brought his jazz sax-playing to the mix. The result of the sessions was Da Capo, released in February 1967. Every track was a minor masterpiece--but the standouts are Seven & Seven Is, a psychedelic proto-punk force of nature that inspired hundreds of garage bands. Que Vida, one of my all-time favourite Love tracks, with it's trippy Lee lyrics and descending guitar riff and sleigh bells in the coda. She Comes In Colors, which would crop up in the lyrics to The Rolling Stones' She's A Rainbow (on their psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request), sung by Lee in his best Mick Jagger impression--adding to the brilliance, a black man singing like a white man who sings like a black man. MacLean's Orange Skies is a nice contrast to "7 & 7 Is", again sung by Lee, but this time in a Johnny Mathis affectation. Side 2 (of the LP) saved the biggest innovation for last--an entire side of a record for one track, called Revelation. Lee decided to one-up the Stones, after they released Going Home, and 11-minute blues tune, as the final song on Aftermath. It starts with a harpsichord solo--then the band come in with a blues jam, each member gets a solo spot--and then back to the harpsichord, in 18 minutes! Quite a bold move for a rock band, though it was the norm in jazz. The best was yet to come.

Unfortunately, first, Cantrelli and Pfisterer were let go, as Lee was told by the record label that the line-up was beyond their budget for touring and recording. The rest of the band (or Lee) didn't gig much and barely played together in the beginning of 1967. Lee became convinced (possibly through drug use) that he would die very soon and it coloured his lyrics. By the time the remaining five reconvened in the studio in June 1967, they were in poor shape and Elektra actually brought in studio musicians to back Lee, instead of the rest of the group. Frightened that they would be replaced completely, the others practised for two months and in August 1967--they performed as a unit again and produced their best album, Forever Changes. So much has been printed about this record that I won't go into detail about it--except to say that it presents, along with "Satanic Majesties" and The Deviants' Ptoof!, an alternative to the love-n-flowers aspect of '67 that balances out the psychedelic dream and nightmare of the decade.

In 1968, the band began to fall apart, due to Lee's often dictatorial control of the band--and, of course, the harder drug use that was becoming prevalent, especially by Ken Forssi. A disastrous short residency for the band in New York City exacerbated the tensions--with Lee's decision to pull the group from the Miami Pop Festival of that year spelling the end of the "classic" line-up of the band. Before the disintegration, they released one final single, Your Mind And We Belong Together b/w Laughing Stock. Lee convened a new version of Love, to MacLean's anger, in early 1969. This line-up recorded three albums, Four Sail, False Start and Out There between 1969 and 1971--of which "Four Sail" is the best, with a hint of the '67 Love sound remaining. The other two moved in a harder rock direction--and Lee did get to record with his old friend Jimi Hendrix, when Hendrix guested on The Everlasting First, a track on "Out There"--though the pairing wasn't as astounding as it should have been, the tune being a bit tepid. Lee recorded a solo album, Vindicator, in 1972--then put together yet another Love line-up in 1974, but the record they issued, Reel To Real, sank without a trace--longtime fans disappointed with Lee's overtly commercial attempt and trendy shift. After one more self-titled solo album, released in 1981--he disappeared for almost a decade.

Lee reappeared in 1991, recruiting a band (including original Love drummer Don Conka) and playing the old material--realising the impact that Love's material had on some bands in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, Bryan MacLean turned down an offer to re-join, as Lee's behaviour at a few joint shows in the early 80s caused a rift between them. He also played in the UK in 1992, with Liverpool band Shack acting as his backing band. Back in California, Lee's often erratic behaviour also got him into trouble with the law--and he was jailed in 1996 for illegally possessing a firearm. He was released in 2001, and re-joined his backing band, Baby Lemonade--who had played as Love from 1992 through '96, for some new shows. Their triumphal moment came early in 2003, when Lee and Co. played the entire "Forever Changes" record straight through--along with some Love classics, on a UK tour. A CD and DVD were released to commemorate the tour. All seemed to be well with Arthur--until a scheduled UK tour in summer 2005. Arthur split from the group on the eve of the tour, staying back in L.A. The band, now with Johnny Echols back in the fold, continued on with the tour--issuing a statement about what had happened. Pixie and I caught the show at the Zodiac, in Oxford, in July--and while the band performed the tunes brilliantly and note-for-note, even including a surprise "Revelation"--I couldn't help feeling that something was missing--now I really wish Arthur had been there.

Arthur Lee was an amazing songwriter and musician and while he could possibly never be described as a completely gentle person, he seemed to remain true to his own vision. Stories abound about his behaviour over the years--infighting with band mates, attacking photographers at Love's early shows, drug troubles and yes, the prison sentence. Through it all, though, his undeniable talent showed and he always seemed to get back to the music. It appears that the Love story has officially ended--as Bryan MacLean passed away in 1998. He will be remembered for that triptych of Love albums from 1966 and '67, culminating in the daring and beautiful "Forever Changes"--which seems to me to be one of the best albums yet released. First Syd Barrett and now Arthur Lee--all of the psychedelic 60s eccentrics are leaving the planet. Only Brian Wilson and Roky Erickson are left.

--if you want a decent account of life inside Love from 1966 to 1968, check out Michael Stuart-Ware's book, Behind The Scenes: On The Pegasus Carousel With Love--available on Helter Skelter Press. Obviously, it's from Sturat-Ware's view and Lee sometimes doesn't come across as a very sympathetic character, but the band practices, studio sessions and gig accounts are fascinating stuff.

03 August 2006

Back In The Loop...

Setting Orange - Confusion 69 - Year Of Our Lady Of Discord 3172

Whilst being off work last week (one of those 'in-between jobs' unofficial holiday thingys), I grabbed a couple of Loop Guru discs out of the CD rack to listen to as I was idling the day away. As they were spinning, I was thinking that it's been three years since their last record was released (Bathtime With Loop Guru). It seemed a shame, and I was thinking that another band I really like had split.

I checked their official website, but that info is 3 years old as well--it didn't look good. I found a page by Elsewhen Records, checked it out and found that the label was founded by Sam Dodson (a.k.a. "Sam Gita") of the Guru. Not only that--but Loop Guru have a brand-new record coming out in October. It's called Elderberry Shiftglass--and, according to them, it's a "psychedelic homage to 1966 in 2006"--O.K. by me. You can listen to two new tracks at their My Space page--Strawberry Girl and Rubble Bubble Coil. There's less of the "ethno-techno" sound they're famous for and a lot more 60s keyboard (at least in "Strawberry Girl")--but I like the new (yeah...the overused "retro" tag) sound. Welcome back, boys--see you in October!!