17 December 2007

The Curtain Closes On Another One

Year Of The Pig - Month 11, Day 8

The clock's running down on another Gregorian calendar year. Mine was O.K., how about yourself? The news seemed to be dominated by the usual coverage of various wars, natural disasters and of course, climate change. Some important stories were overlooked, because apparently people need to know if Britney Spears or Lindsey Lohan will be wearing underwear or if Paris Hilton will be let out of jail within three days of her next arrest. Here's a list of some of those stories (I tried to find a list that wasn't very America-centric--and that one appeared to be adequate). In the interest of fairness, or maybe just a laugh (I haven't decided) here's a list of stories that American conservatives deem important and overlooked. Read 'em and chuckle...or weep. On to other matters...


I admit to not being the heppest cat on the block. I don't consult NME or Pitchfork or even Last-fm to find out what the uber-cool kids are listening to these days. I didn't buy that many new albums this year--I mostly strayed around checking out the backwaters of progressive music--most of the artists being gleaned from Bradley Smith's BillBoard Guide To Progressive Music, first published in 1998. There seem to be some glaring flaws in the book, but still, it's inspired me to check out music that I would've overlooked otherwise--even if "progressive" as a genre may or may not exist (it does for me--but that's wholly subjective). Books on prog music and even prog-rock seem pretty thin on the ground these days, so I'll take what I can get. Here's a few sounds that I enjoyed in C.E. 2007 (in no particular order):

  • Richard Hawley - Lady's Bridge: In Hawley's soundscape it seems to be perpetually 1961. Psychedelia hasn't happened, punk hasn't happened, no prog-rock, new-wave, no-wave, heavy metal, hair-metal or electronica. The feckin' Beatles haven't even happened yet. He lives by the code of Buddy Holly and even wears a pair of horn-rimmed Holly-esque specs, in case you really miss the point. His Sheffield-tinged rockabilly is just fine by me, though. The guitars have just the right amount of reverb and his baritone voice compliments it all. This time around, he does sneak in a tiny bit of drone-rock with the gorgeous The Sea Calls, a more beautiful tune I've not heard this year--excepting the "Lady's Bridge" closer, The Sun Refused To Shine.
  • Throbbing Gristle - Part Two: The Endless Not: 25 years after they first split and formed many side projects (Coil, Chris & Cosey, Psychic TV, etc.)--the original T.G. reformed for a few gigs. Their legend and influence possibly eclipsed their actual recorded output, but that didn't stop them from reconvening in a studio (or three) and coaxing some more uneasy tunes out of their synths and guitars. The result, while not exactly on the experimental bleedin' edge--what their 70s records pointed toward, shows that these 50-somethings are still far more out-there than most of their contemporaries (hello Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols and various re-formed prog and metal bands). Rabbit Snare even ventures into jazz territory, albeit with a sly, winking context. One of the actual worthwhile reunions this year.

  • Arcade Fire - The Neon Bible: It was always going to be tough following up Funeral. They dodged the follow-up expectations somewhat by releasing an EP between the two full-lengths. I think they've fared rather well with "Neon Bible". It does seem a bit more bombastic in places--but there's no denying solid tunes like (Antichrist Television Blues), Keep The Car Running and the subdued title track. It'll be interesting to hear what they do next, now that they've cleared the sophomore slump.

  • Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet: Steven Wilson & Co. returned this year with their follow-up to the somewhat lacklustre 2005 album, Deadwing. The results this time around are a lot more satisfying. Sort-of a cross between Rush's (Alex Lifeson has a guest spot on one of the tracks) Tom Sawyer and an Opeth record--the lyrics take on the topic of media over-saturation of today's yoof. Wilson doesn't judge, but only presents the situation as he sees it, though it must be said, his view seems a bit bleak. "Fear Of.." also contains some of the most bludgeoning riffs the Tree have played to this date. I saw them live on the latest tour and the amps were cranked up to 11. A thought-provoking, well-crafted album. An EP of "Fear Of.." left-overs called Nil Recurring was released last month.

  • Super Furry Animals - Hey Venus!: Wales' finest were also back this year and also following up a 2005 release. While P. Tree improved their game, S.F.A. seemed to be running in place with "Hey Venus!". It's more of their trademark quirk-pop that they've perfected on their last two or three records. While they will always manage to create 3-4 minute wonders, this one, as a whole, just didn't have the jaw-dropping effect that Rings Around The World did when I first heard that. For the slight disappointment, though, "Hey Venus!" still seems to be better than 95% of the crap clogging up the charts, both indie and mainstream.

Best Reissues:

  • The Genesis SACD/DVD series: Atlantic, or Sony--or whomever owns the rights to Genesis's back catalogue, finally got round to re-releases in a really good format, with an extra DVD of audio and video treats. I've got the Wind & Wuthering and A Trick Of The Tail editions (I couldn't see spending the money on Duke or Abacab) and they sound pretty frickin' amazing, even on the shit stereo I've got at the moment. Inexplicably, the reissues have covered the years 1976-1982 so far, instead of starting with Trespass or Nursery Cryme from 1970/'71. The next set, 1971-1974, is due out soon. I keep checking Amazon, but nothing has appeared so far--ah well, something to look forward to.

  • The Steve Hillage re-masters: I think Virgin reissued Hillage's catalogue on disc back in the mid-90s on it's budget Caroline imprint. They sounded O.K., but the new set sound much better--plus, I'm a sucker for 'restored artwork' and bonus tracks. I particularly recommend Fish Rising, L and Rainbow Dome Musick.

  • Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (40th Anniversary edition): EMI has paid a fitting tribute to the late Syd Barrett by releasing a 3-disc version of his near-singular psychedelic triumph. Sure, the other Floyds play a crucial role--but this is Syd's baby all the way. The first disc is the long-deleted mono mix, the second is another stereo remaster (which does seem to sound better than the 1994 re-issue) and the third disc contains all of the 1967 singles, plus a couple of Interstellar Overdrive out-takes. The discs are housed in an oblong case that appears as a cloth book and there's a colour reproduction of one of Syd's art-school project books in an interior pocket. Storm Thorgerson (one of the founders of the Hipgnosis album cover-art collective) returns once again to design the package and thankfully, they've kept Vic Singh's iconic photo on the front. I know there's a lot of quibbles (even by myself) about what they could have included on the bonus disc--but overall, I think this version of "Piper" is the tops!

Musical Monstrosities--A few things I wasn't so impressed with this past year:

Irrelevant band reunions: I don't know about you, but I wasn't exactly breathlessly waiting for The Police to get back together, or for David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen to bury their years-sharpened hatchets. Genesis also trod the boards once again. I was actually a bit excited about that one--'till I found out that neither Steve Hackett nor Peter Gabriel would be involved. Then it just seemed like more Phil Collins money-grubbing (but while it's easy to target ol' Phil--Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford went along with the idea, so they could be money-grubbing just as much). I definitely wasn't going to pay to sit in an audience full of Patrick Batemans (not the serial-killing bit, just their love of 80s/90s Genesis), listening to Invisible Touch or I Can't Dance. I saw them in 1992, only because I was hoping (really really hoping) to at least hear The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or maybe Robbery Assault & Battery. Instead, the covered their progressive period in a 20-minute medley..I bet they didn't even bother this time around. Foxtrot? What's that?

The worst one of the year, though, it seems to me--was The New Cars. That's right, The New Cars....WTF??! With Todd Rundgren in the line-up...an even bigger WTF????? Seriously, was there someone out there (besides a cousin of mine, whom I bet was dead excited about this and the 80s Genesis reunion) who was clamouring for a Cars reunion? Was there someone saying to themselves, "If only I could hear Drive or You Might Think in a live setting again..I could die happy."? Also, how bad is Rundgren's cred these days, if he's involved in this? Ric Ocasek seems to have had the sense to avoid it like the plague--good on him.

The Rise Of Amy Winehouse: I remember when her first album came out a couple of years ago--she didn't make much of a splash. Her backing band played sub-par jazz and her vocals seemed really marble-mouthed. She goes away, has a Motown make-over and suddenly, she's everyone's fave "new" singer. I know, re-inventing yourself to meet with mainstream success isn't necessarily a news-flash--Madonna's been doing it for 25 years now. Yeah, O.K., Rehab is a catchy tune and that Zutons cover does sound a bit better than the original. Only, her time in the limelight now seems to be taken up by various tabloid fodder like spousal punch-ups, drugs troubles and emotional turmoil. I'd be a lot more empathetic if it were someone of the calibre of Billie Holiday, but Winehouse seems to think her own diva status has been cemented already. Erm...not quite, Amy. I certainly wouldn't want to see her die young, but that doesn't mean I want to hear about her problems every fucking day, either. Ah well, at least it meant that Pete Doherty and Lily Allen were out of the headlines a lot--so thanks for that, Amy.

The continued presence of 'music'-based contest shows: It was pretty bad with X-Factor and Pop Idol and American Idol clogging up TV time that could've been better spent showing documentaries of actual notable musicians, but then those programming geniuses decided to have contests for roles in crappy Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced musicals. They had one to find the Maria role in his ghastly revival of The Sound Of Music and another for Joseph And His Technicolour Chuck Wagon...or whatever. The worst bit was showing close-ups of Webber's dessicated mug every week and then jump-cutting to Graham Norton's clown act...and those were just the adverts. Urgh!


I didn't see any films in the cinema this past year, apart from Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited (see my mini-review in the previous post). There didn't seem to be that much that warranted heading into Oxford and blowing £10 on. I was vaguely interested in Frank Miller's 300, but I never got round to seeing it. I like the look of the film, the bleached-out colours and darkened skies--but did the Battle Of Thermopylae need a CGI update? Maybe not--and Miller's somewhat questionable attitudes about the Middle East given in an NPR interview discouraged me a bit. I may add it to the rental list sometime. I also heard good things about Knocked Up, but again, didn't catch it in the cinema--another one for the rental list. The critics seemed to jizzing themselves over Atonement--but I couldn't be bothered. The Illusionist is already on the rental list, so I'll be seeing that in the near future and I'd like to check out the film about notorious hoaxster Clifford Irving, neatly titled The Hoax--it's rumoured to be one of the best things Richard Gere has done in years, though that's not saying too much, I suppose, considering some of the dreck he's made lately. I rented Pan's Labyrinth and quite enjoyed it and I also finally watched F For Fake, Orson Welles' last great film. You can see my review in the archives of the Only Maybe blog. What didn't I like? Lame sequels, brain-dead comedy, cheesy romance flicks...about 98% of the films released this year by the major studios, I think.


I read quite a bit this past Gregorian calendar year and there's a few things I really enjoyed. I was thoroughly surprised by David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which was nominated for a Booker Prize a few years ago. I was expecting some watered-down tosh that would appeal to most of the John and Jane Q Publics out there. It turned out to be an intriguing book with a kind of accordian-type storyline. I won't go into detail in case you are planning on reading it, but I found it very entertaining. I also read Mitchell's follow-up to "Cloud Atlas", Black Swan Green, which, while not as clever, still held my attention while making me remember back to when I was on the cusp of 13. The story is set in Britain, but the themes of being on the outer edge of the 'cool kids' group, the mysteries of girls and falling into lockstep with the family political leanings seem to be universal. I also read a few Philip K Dick books--Confessions Of A Crap Artist, Martian Time-Slip and Dr. Bloodmoney. "Martian.." and "Dr. Bloodmoney" are from PKD's mid-60s period--he's got his own voice, but he still seems to be defining it. The elements are there...the elasticity of "reality", the multi-character intertwinings..but they don't gell as well as in say, Ubik or A Scanner Darkly. "Confessions..." is a bit of a rarity in PKD's bibliography--a sort-of 'realist' novel. It takes place in the very early 60s in California. The story involves a man who suffers from a kind of autism and his self-involved sister, who is married to an overly pragmatic businessman. The plot pivots through a number of episodes which strain the various relationships, some very tragic. I really enjoyed "Confessions...", mainly because I was expecting it be "be" one thing and it turned out almost completely contrary to my notions. I finally read James Joyce's A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and a book of Mark Twain short stories that I've been meaning to get to for a long time. Mike Oldfield's autobiography, Changeling, was not exactly a light-hearted read (due to Oldfield's rememberances of fighting with anxiety for most of his life)--but it does give a glimpse into his very private world. Unfortunately, if you're looking for a lot of details on his recording techniques--you'll come off a bit disappointed, as he really only talks about recording the original Tubular Bells with any verve. Donovan's biography, The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, is also a decent read, if you can forgive "The Don" his little conceits (according to him, he invented 'Celtic-rock', 'world music', 'New Age', was responsible for bringing Led Zeppelin together and a host of other huge events in music). It's a nice portrait of someone caught up in the near-epicentre of the craziness of 'the 60s', though, and for that seems worthy. There's a bunch of other titles--but that would take a post in itself. Maybe next year, I'll devote a whole one just to books.


The third series of The Mighty Boosh, the 1969 Fairport Convention line-up reunion at Cropredy, our holiday in Shropshire, joining the Maybe Logic Academy and 'meeting' all the groovy folk there, the Angel Tech course at the MLA (and reading the 'Angel Tech' book), Facebook, all the cool music I d/l'ed from Soulseek, those two weeks of nice weather in the summer, the birthday meal at the Pink Giraffe, the e-mails and cards from my fam and friends.


My recurring anxiety spells, the nightly coverage of the Iraq/Afghanistan debacle, the TSOG on the rampage once again, the summer rains, lame 'celebrity news stories', people still using the phrases "You go, girl!" and "Pimp my (insert personal possession here)", Singing Bear being very very poorly for most of the year.


Robert Anton Wilson

Ingmar Bergman

Norman Mailer

Joe Zawinul

Robert Altman

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Tony Wilson

...and any others I may have forgot. Well, that's your lot - all the best for 2008 - see you soon!

05 December 2007

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time... (Mayan Long Count)

Another Gregorian calendar year is fading fast...it's almost time for the winter solstice. I haven't been doing much the past few weeks--mainly just digging through the Soulseek treasure trove and capturing the binary coded music onto shiny plastic & foil discs, while also reading The Dalkey Archive by Flann O'Brien. Oh yeah, we've also been heading into town and facing the throngs to do a bit of dreaded X-Mas shopping.

While in town last weekend, we caught a showing of the new Wes Anderson flick, The Darjeeling Limited. I suspect that mosbunall of the reviews have the tone of this one from MSNBC, though I haven't read any--not even The Oxford Times review. I also suspect the Anderson-haters have had their knives sharpened ever since The Life Aquatic was released a couple of years ago. I'll agree that Wes seems to have lost a bit of his magical charm that made Rushmore and Bottle Rocket such treats--but I'll take his weakest efforts over most of the Hollywood action/romance crap any day.

I dunno--I kinda liked it..and yeah, the cinematography does seem to out-shine the characters and plot--but it's nice to see Anderson and Jason Schwartzmann working together again. Owen Wilson does his usual schtick, which is O.K. by me. Adrien Brody appears as the odd one out, but he holds down his end alright. Angelica Huston, another Anderson regular, shows up and even Bill Murray has a bit part. The story concerns three brothers on a train journey across India. Wilson's character, who's recovering from a horrific motorcycle accident (which may have been planned), has invited his two brothers along on a 'spiritual journey'. They are all naturally suspicious of each other and haven't seen each other since their father's funeral the previous year. Each has his own obsession or character trait to wrangle with as well. They bicker endlessly and gulp down cheap Indian medication. Schwartzmann's character takes up with one of the waitresses on the train (Amara Karan)--on the rebound from his ex-girlfriend (played by Natalie Portman--"Part 1", a short film shown before the main feature, was about their awkward reunion in a Paris hotel). They visit temples and bazaars, but the spiritual journey isn't doing them much good.

The film suddenly pivots when the brothers attempt to rescue three Indian boys who get swept into a powerful river current. One of the boys is killed and the Americans accompany the surviving boys to their village and subsequently to the funeral, which brings up memories of the day of their father's ceremony. After that, Wilson's character reveals the true reason for summoning them to India--to reunite with their estranged mother (Huston) who's living in a Christian monestary near to the Himalayas. She reluctantly meets them, but instead of the family bonding that Wilson's character had expected--she flees from them in the night. They make their way back to the airport, changed by the experience. As they are about to board the plane--they run back to the train, dropping their custom matching luggage on the way (I know, a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism there). Anderson also chucks in his usual impeccable soundtrack, though I will admit to getting a bit tired of Peter Sarstedt's Where Do You Go, My Lovely?, the third time it appeared. The Satyajit Ray soundtrack music (possibly played by Ravi Shankar) was a brilliant choice and definitely lends some authenticity to the film. If you're convinced Anderson is far too precious and fey to waste your money on, you'll find evidence to support your argument in "The Darjeeling Limited"--but for anyone else--it's probably at least worth a rental.

It's been a banner couple of weeks for tolerance in the patriarchal religions. First, news broke in the UK that the Catholic League in the U.S. are protesting the release of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass film, saying it "promotes atheism"--or rather, it's a 'stealth campaign' for Pullman's books, which they claim promote atheism. I could be wrong--but it occurs to me that the early X-tians led a 'stealth campaign' in Rome to promote their religion. I guess it's different when the Catholic Church is the big boy on the block. Not to mention that the C.L. seem to be targeting children's books and films now--it's not enough to make a scapegoat of Marilyn Manson or Monty Python or Martin Scorsese. Pullman has defended himself quite ably, calling the C.L.'s leaders 'nitwits' and saying that he was dismayed that they are 'loose in the world'. I hear you, Phil, but unfortunately, we're still on the Planet Of The Apes.

If that weren't enough evidence for you--a British teacher working in Sudan was ordered to serve 15 days in prison for naming a teddy bear 'Muhammed'. I understand that those calling for a punishment were possibly a minority of Sudan's Muslim community--but they seemed to be a very vocal minority to me. Eventually, she was pardoned by Sudan's president and was allowed to return to the UK. Still, it goes to show me that I'd rather be living in an X-tian democracy than in an Islamic theocracy. Gillian Gibbons has stated that she enjoyed working in Sudan and that mostly everyone she met was friendly and supportive..it's too bad that some religious fanatics have to overshadow that goodwill.

I finally succumbed and bought an iPod. Not one of the new slim-line jobs that cost £90-£100, mind. A bloke at work won a new Nano in a raffle. They way the results were posted, it appeared that he had won two--but it turned out that one of the "iPods" was an mp3-player, not the Apple brand. Before I knew that the second one wasn't an iPod, I had put in an offer to buy one of them, if he was going to sell it fairly cheap. He told me about the mix-up, but then offered to sell me his old Mini for £40. It sounded like a fair offer to me, so I handed over the cash. He threw in a brand new pair of headphones and a charger/USB cable as well. I've downloaded the iTunes link-up and I'm ready to rock--only I haven't actually loaded anything onto it yet. Pixie will have a "tunes-to-run-to" folder and an indie-rock one. I'll have a progressive folder (natch!) and a groovy psychedelic tunes folder. An ambient setlist for going to sleep by would be a good thing as well, as currently I've been using Pixie's portable disc player which makes quite a bit of noise in a silent room. I'm sure I'll think of more selections as I go along.

Ah well, off to figure that contraption out. I'll try and post at least once before the holly-days--possibly one of those 'year-end wrap-up' doodles. See you then.

12 November 2007

The Boosh Is Loose!

21 Azar - Year 1386

That's right - the boys return to action starting this Thursday on BBC3. Pixie and I watched the first ep. and it seems pretty much up to their usual standard. The Hitcher's in it, which is always a plus. You can check it out here. It's good to have them back. Get ready to rock, Boosh-heads!

10 November 2007

Porcupine Tree/Anathema - Carling Academy Oxford - November 8, 2007 (Greg.)...and a little bit of Stewart Lee - Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building

Setting Orange, The Aftermath 22, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3173

Porcupine Tree made their first appearance in Oxford since the early 90s a few nights ago and I made sure I was in attendance. Pixie was originally going to go with me--but then comedian Stewart Lee announced that he was playing at the Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building on the campus of St. Hilda's College the very same night. I was torn between the two, as I watched Lee's brilliant Stand-Up Comedian DVD earlier this year and really wanted to see him perfrom live. I ended up choosing P. Tree because I had never seen them in concert (though I had a couple of opportunities to see them in Connecticut).

We had arranged to meet a co-worker, who was also attending the Lee show, at the Cape Of Good Hope pub, at 7 p.m. for pre-show drinks. Pixie and I grabbed dinner at the Noodle Bar before heading to the pub. I ordered the roast duck/ho fun noodle combo, which was quiet tasty and Pixie had a mushroom/rice/cashew & pea combo that she enjoyed. We arrived at the pub for a pint--sat around and talked for a while. My mate Will, an ex-Borders comrade, showed up as well. He was heading to the Lee show--which wasn't due to start until around 9 p.m. I checked the time and it was around 7:45 p.m., so I said my good-byes and started toward the Carling Academy. By the time I was inside the downstairs room, the support band, Anathema, had finished their set. I did want to check them out, as I read somewhere that some of their tunes hit on the progressive side of metal. Ah well, another time, perhaps.

Finally, after numerous techs sound-checking the instruments--the lights dimmed and films started up on the rear stage screen, flashing with images similar to the ones in the Fear Of A Blank Planet (P. Tree's newest album, released this year) CD booklet. In fact, they started off with a blistering version of the album's title track, mainman Steven Wilson bouncing around the front of the stage, looking like a demented Geddy Lee with his glasses and T-shirt. They followed that with a tune off of their new EP, Nil Recurring, called What Happens Now? The fast pace was then slowed down a bit with a nice Lazarus, from the Deadwing album--after which it was back to rockin' with more tunes off of the EP and "Fear Of...". The highlights were a complete Anesthetize, the whole 17-minute version (with a hilarious intro recounting by S.W., about an American DJ mispronouncing the title as "Annie's Thighs") and Cheating The Polygraph, with Wilson hitting a mean solo section. A surprise Dark Matter, from the Signify album, was a treat as well.

The rest of the band were on good form, especially drummer Gavin Harrison's double-bass drum footwork and extra guitarist John Wesley's power-chording and backup vocals. Colin Edwin ("the hippie of the group"), the bass player, got a shout-out from the crowd and S.W. had another humourous moment asking the whole crowd if they loved Colin and then he said that the band themselves didn't love him. The main set wound up with Way Out Of Here and Sleep Together, backed by a video of a strange metallic creature tapping away at a keyboard-like object--it looked like something Tool might use. They returned for an encore set consisting of a lovely Waiting, followed by an old fave, Even Less (which I was hoping for) and finally Halo. I had a good time, despite the over-crowded venue. I made my way to the merch table, through the leaving throngs, and picked up a copy of the new EP (I had bought a T-shirt on my way in to the show) and then headed out.

I texted Pixie and it appeared that the Stewart Lee gig hadn't finsihed yet. I walked down the Cowley Road, followed a sign and managed to find the Jacqueline Du Pre building with the help of a porter on the St. Hilda's campus, then waited in the lobby. A bloke walked out about five minutes later and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was waiting for my wife, as she was still watching the gig. He mentioned that he was the promoter and asked if I wanted to watch the ending. I said sure, but remarked that it didn't seem fair because I hadn't bought a ticket. He told me it was fine. Just then, Dan walked out into the lobby with an extra ticket he had been given at the box office. I crept into the hall, which was a lot smaller than I had pictured in my mind--and sat down next to Pixie. Lee was in the middle of a bit about Muslims and Weight Watchers, but I had missed most of it, so I gamely laughed along when I could. He then did a hilarious bit about Richard Littlejohn, the right-wing mouthpiece who used to have a column in that rag 'The Sun' and now writes for 'The Daily Mail' (surprise surprise). I won't give the bit away, in case you're going to see Stewart, but I was nearly pissing myself. The show wrapped up with one of his 'is-he-serious-or-joking-or-maybe-both' moments and then he was out in the lobby, chatting with some of the crowd and selling and signing copies of his 90s Comedian DVD.

So there you have it--one night, two great shows (or a great show and a bit of another great show) and a nice dinner to boot. Go see either, or both in the same night, if you can!

05 November 2007

Songs of Praise: The Genius of Roy Wood

I have spent the last few days listening to what is quite probably my favourite reissue of the year. Boulders by former Move, ELO and Wizzard renaissance man Roy Wood has recently found its way back into the shops in remastered form with a rough mix of single 'Dear Elaine' as an added bonus. Anyone with ears that appreciate perfect pop with a twist of crazed genius should own this album. Boulders was actually recorded at Abbey Road studios in 1969 but was not released until 1973, on EMI's 'prog' off-shoot label, Harvest.

The first thing to note about Boulders (original title, Bollocks!) is that all but for the harmonium on opening track, 'Songs of Praise', Wood plays all the instruments and does all the vocals. This may make it sound like some sort of prog rock self-indulgent puff of wind but it really is nothing like that at all: the whole thing is enormous fun and, at times, rather lovely.

My first encounter with this solo masterpiece was via the second single taken from its grooves, 'Dear Elaine'. I bought it on release back in '73 (around the same time as Wizzard's 'Angel Fingers', I believe) and instantly fell in love with its baroque beauty. This song is truly incredible and has remained one of my all-time favourites ever since. I have literally been moved to tears listening to it. The b-side was 'Songs of Praise', which is almost as good in its up-beat glory. I eventually got hold of the whole LP on vinyl but I recently discovered it was no longer in my collection! What happened? Thank the Lord for CD reissues! Other album highlights include 'Miss Clarke and The Computer', which tells the story of a computer that falls in love with the engineer sent to mend it and is genuinly rather touching; 'Wake Up', which uses buckets of water as percussion(!) and the great 'Rock Down Low'. Although there are a few Move and Wizzard-like moments, Wood never really made music like this anywhere else and it's a shame he never seems to have come close to its brilliance since then. Highly recommended if you love real music.

31 October 2007

Super Furry Animals/Jim Noir/The Adam Hussain Show - Carling Academy Oxford - October 26, 2007 (Greg.)

2 Aban - Year 1386

The Furries were back in town last Friday night--so of course we had to go. It's been a couple of years since we caught them last. They're touring to support the Hey Venus! record and stopped at the Carling Academy.

This time we ate at the Red Star noodle bar opposite the venue. The grub was good, but unfortunately, due to the bench seating, you sometimes end up next to annoying berks. That didn't spoil the meal, however, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, (sorta) healthy, cheap-ish dinner. After that, we queued up outside the Academy to score our tickets. It was the same procedure as last time, only it took longer this time because there were two shows on and nobody knew which queue to join. The Furries show was in the downstairs bit, which has been renovated quite heavily. We hadn't seen it since the refurbishment, so it would be a surprise to see what had been done. I walked in...and my first impression was that it looks a lot like the student union at Brookes now. A cavernous space with a soundboard in the centre and the bars off to the sides. There's also a lounge area in the back of the room with another bar.

We were hoping to catch Jim Noir, as he played a solid set supporting Shack last year. The Carling site mentioned that he would be onstage at 7:30. We were there at about 7:40 and he was already playing--in fact, it appeared he was nearly done with his bit. He was, so we only watched him perform the last few tunes. Going by what we saw, the new album seems to be a bit more 'rock', with less of the Beatles-y flourishes--but retaining some of the nice harmonies. His back-up band have been cut back to just a four-piece, too--I'd swear the drummer is the guy from The Boo Radleys, but I could be wrong. I surmised that the whole show had been moved up, at least Jim Noir's slot had been. The other support act, The Adam Hussain Show, must've gone on right at 6:30 p.m., so we completely missed him. Hussain is a member of the Goldie Lookin' Chain collective and he would make an appearance following the Furries' main set.

We made our way toward the middle of the floor, a bit off to the right. The roadies broke down Jim Noir's gear and set up SFA's. Soon enough, the floor began to fill up and we were surrounded. The tallest bloke in the place (it seemed like) walked up and stood in front of us - so we moved to our left and found another pretty good spot. Finally, the lights dimmed and the sounds of Baby Ate My Eightball (from the new album, Hey Venus!) flowed out through the speakers. The boys walked out, the crowd roared and away they went. Pixie couldn't see much and began to get frustrated and a bit claustro, so we moved to the back of the crowd, near the lounge. The main set was a mixture of tunes off "Hey Venus!" and back catalogue (touching on Radiator, Guerilla, R.O.T.W., Phantom Power and Love Kraft). A fast-paced Do Or Die (from "Guerilla) early on was a surprise, as was a rocked-out Golden Retriever ("Phantom Power") and She's Got Spies (from "Radiator"). The new album got plenty of stage time midway through, with Into The Night, Show Your Hand & Battersea Odyssey all getting the live treatment. The band seemed to be in good spirits and Gruff Rhys was doing his trademark near-indecipherable between-song banter. Eventually, they cranked out Receptacle For The Respectable and announced they were taking a break. A couple of guys strolled onstage wearing Superman capes. I thought they were roadies come to check the gear, but it turned out to be Adam Hussain and an accomplice. They rapped out a tune about drinking (the chorus went something like: "I like drinking all night long/I like drinking right until the dawn..") and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

The headliners were soon back on stage and the second set started with Slow Life, followed by a couple of 'oldies' from the first full-length, Fuzzy Logic, God! Show Me Magic and If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You--it was nice to hear them digging that far back into their past. (Drawing) Rings Around The World was played soon after (it had to be, dinnit?), with a lovely Hello Sunshine up next. I nearly thought they were going to finish without The Man Don't Give A Fuck--but no, they launched into it just before the end. It wasn't the 20-minute epic version from a couple of years ago, but it was good enough for my money. The show came to a close with a sorta low-key Keep The Cosmic Trigger Happy--while Huw Bunford was holding up a board with "SFA Says Thank You Oxford" spelled out in electrical tape. A roadie walked on with another board saying "The End". The applause grew quiet only after more crew started breaking the equipment and drumkit down--then we all knew there wouldn't be any encores. We left quickly, to beat most of the crowd out of the doors and walked back into town to get the bus home. As always, a chance to see SFA live makes for a great time, despite all of the hassles. I would recommend catching them on this tour--especially as it may be some of the last times they'll be playing the "Fuzzy Logic" stuff. 'Till next time...

(I grabbed this set-list from a Last.fm member. It's from the Rock City, Nottingham gig from a few nights before the Oxford show. The line-up is probably slightly different--but it's similar enough for you to get a good idea of the Oxford sets)

Baby Ate My Eightball
Golden Retriever
Do Or Die
She's Got Spies
The Gateway Song
Northern Lights
Battersea Odyssey
Down A Different River
Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon
Ymaelodi Â'r Ymylon
The Gift That Keeps Giving
Juxtapozed With U
Show Your Hand
Receptacle For The Respectable
Slow Life
(Drawing) Rings Around the World
Neo Consumer
God! Show Me Magic
If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You
Hello Sunshine
The Man Don't Give a Fuck
Keep the Cosmic Trigger Happy

22 October 2007

Ed Harcourt/The Veils - Carling Academy Oxford - October 20, 2007 (Greg.)

23 Demeter - Year 86 p.s.U

Pixie and I weren't sure we were going to go to this show and were still undecided on Saturday morning. We finally gave in and bought on-line tickets, clobbered some bus fare together and headed into town.

We had planned to get some chow at the spankin' new Wagamama restaurant in Oxford, but the queue waiting outside and the full tables inside convinced us to move on. The wait at the Noodle Bar in Gloucester Green was 15 to 20 minutes just to be seated, so we made our way to the Cowley Road. Once more, it was the ol' standby Subway and we wolfed down our sandwiches, then we checked in at the Hobgoblin pub for a pre-show drink. The rugby crowd had descended on every available pub, so we gave up trying to get to the bar and order after about five minutes of standing in one spot.

The exterior of the Zodiac (sorry, the Carling Academy Oxford) has two marquee boards above the entrances with the evening's billings. They've certainly spiffed up the lobby--it's all new and shiny--but I kinda miss the run-down look, it seemed to have some character. After getting our tickets (I had to present my debit card, as the tickets were booked in Pixie's name, not mine), we had our hands stamped and a bloke at the top of the steps scanned our tickets with some sort of device that looked like a shop scanner. We then entered the "Zodiac Room", that's what the upper floor is called now. It's a lot smaller now, what with the old bar area walled off and a huge soundboard sat in the centre of the back of the room.

The Veils, an Anglo-Kiwi band, had the support slot this time around and they filed on-stage to the applause of the early attendees. They played a set of originals and one cover (a taut version of Bruce Springsteen's State Trooper). The core of the band is a trio, but they're joined by a drummer and a keyboardist for this tour. I quite liked their sound, but despite the new light show and sound system in the room, I still found the mix really muddy (some things don't seem to change, I suppose)--especially when they cranked up the guitars. Mr. Harcourt himself joined them for a tune and then after a couple more, the roadies were taking their gear away. I'll have to check out some of their studio stuff for the subtleties.

After everything was set up for the headliners--Ed walked onstage and played a solo piano tune, the band joining him when he had finished. He was in town to promote his recently released "best of" record, Until Tomorrow Then, so he had styled the concert to reflect that. All the hits & just the hits. He's travelling with a smaller band this time, with just a guitarist, double-bass player and drummer--no trumpet or violin (the violin courtesy of his wife Gita last time around). He's also slightly changed some of the arrangements, as on Hanging With The Wrong Crowd. They worked on some of the tunes, a bit less so on others (A Visit From The Dead Dog really missed the middle-eight trumpet solo). The highlights were an extended I've Become Misguided, where Ed used one of those loop boxes to create a mini-symphony of voices and instruments that he played, layering a banjo riff, trombone squawks, tambourine shakes, the phrase "I've become misguided" and his screams, into a foundation that the band joined in on and Beneath The Heart Of Darkness, the full album version with the heavy jam in the middle. They rocked out with spirited abandon and seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were also nice versions of Born In The 70s and Apple Of My Eye included in the set. The final tune of the night (the second number of the encore) was an all-out jam of He's Building A Swamp. A couple of The Veils' ran out onstage, dressed in Native American headgear and created a polyrhythm with Ed (pounding on a floor tom) and Harcourt's drummer. In a bit of a Flaming Lips-ish move, the girl from The Veils walked onstage dressed as a rabbit (with a slightly sinister face), whom Ed introduced as a "Ninja Bunny".

Harcourt seemed to be in a good mood for most of the night, joking about wanting to know the rugby score (he didn't) and thanking us all for being at the show. When he broke out his Jimmy Page-stylee double-neck guitar, he said "This is my favourite moment, when I get to play The Beast". The only tense moment I noticed was when a string broke on his acoustic guitar and no tech showed up for some time to change it...when the guy finally appeared, he gestured at the guitar rather gruffly. Ah well, that's show business. I couldn't score a set-list this time--others had asked the stage-hands before I did. Pixie and I left the venue and headed for the bus stop. We'll be back again in a few days for the Super Furry Animals gig this Friday.

08 October 2007

Summer Was Gone...And The Heat Died Down....

16 Asvina - Year 1929

October, already! Summers get shorter and shorter, it seems. Cheers to the Bear for pinch-hitting here while we were away. Hopefully the man will make more appearances soon.

We were in Shropshire for a week and it turned out to be a really nice break away from home. We rented a cottage in Ironbridge, one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Age in Britain. The views are pretty spectacular and the cottage, built onto a steep hillside, was quite cozy, with a nice comfy sofa for me to kick back and read on. The village gets it's name from the intricate bridge that spans the River Severn--the first of it's kind in the world, at least that's what the local museums claim. We visited several of them during the week, the most interesting to us being the working Victorian-era village at Blists Hill. There wasn't much on the day we were there, as the weather was a bit drab, but seeing the staff in costume and even using as much of the speech of the time was a hoot. There were a couple of school field-trips going on and we had a chuckle when a group were visting the cottage of a stern farmer. He informed them they they would've finished school at age 11 and would've been working in the mine at age 12, child labour laws being lax at the time. The kids looked horrified when this was relayed to them--no doubt I would have, too, at that age.

Since most of the museums are clustered around Ironbridge, we decided to check out most of them. The Museum Of Iron at Coalbrookdale and the Tile Museum at Jackfield each had their fascinating aspects, though personally I liked the Tile Museum more--some truly beautiful designs and colours are displayed. It's even more amazing to consider how much the countryside has recovered since the heyday of the various ironworks and coal pits. There are artists renditions of the industry at the time and some parts of Shropshire must have seemed like living near a small volcano at times. Add to that the dreadful cholera epidemics and there doesn't seem to have been much benefit to the working classes, except a steady pay packet.

We ventured out to Shrewsbury one day, to visit the Abbey and do a bit of shopping. On the way, we stopped at the Roman ruins at Wroxeter. It's just foundation stones and part of a wall of the town's basilica now--but it made for a nice detour and the coloured drawings on the information plaques around the site give you some perspective on the actual size of the town and buildings contained within. Pixie and I visited the Abbey, but I got a bit vertiginous inside and stepped outside for some air--then gamely stepped back inside for a quick tour around. The architecture of cathedrals does spell-bind me and I enjoy looking at the stained-glass windows. Crossing the English Bridge, we wandered through the Wyle Cop district and around the High Street. I was looking for a funky, indie record street, preferably with cheap prog-rock LPs for sale, but failed to find one. I ended up giving money to the ubiquitous HMV and Virgin shops--oh well, I picked up some good stuff (a Richard Hawley disc, the Neil Young Live At Fillmore East 1970 'performance series' disc, The Move's self-titled album (the 2-disc re-issue) and a few other gems). We couldn't decide on a cafe to eat lunch in and settled for Subway (mmmm...meatball & cheese sub). After milling around the shopping district some more, we decided to pick up some local bottles of beer for Pixie's parents (a gift for taking care of the dog for a week, you see) and headed back to the cottage for the day.

On the way home, we stopped at Ludlow Castle for couple of hours. There's a couple of cool shops along the High Street. I found a Thoth Tarot deck at a shop called Kaboodle, so I picked it up, as I've been meaning to buy one for some time. The castle itself is quite well-preserved, at least the stonework and you can climb to the top of a lot of the towers, if you want. Unfortunately, the day we visited was a bit overcast--but it did little to dampen the majestic views in the area. We returned to our humble home late Friday afternoon--collected the dog, then settled back into our usual routine.

Yep, back to work and that--still hoping to win the lottery one of these years. I've got lots of tunes to check out and I've recently finished both "Confessions Of A Crap Artist" and "The Dice Man". Those have been returned to the library and I've taken out Black Swan Green, David Mitchell's follow-up to "Cloud Atlas", which I'm reading at the moment. I also grabbed Donovan's autobiography, The Hurdy-Gurdy Man and another Philip K. Dick book, Dr. Bloodmoney.

Island/Universal have just released a special edition of The Orb's seminal U.F.Orb album (first released in 1992). It's a 2-disc'er, like the "Ultraworld" 15th anniversary edition released last year. The first CD is a re-mastered version of the original record. It's possible that because I had the sound turned up a bit more than usual when I listened to it, that the mix does sound much better with this version. A few synth lines and sound effects jumped out at me that I hadn't noticed before (and I've heard this album quite a bit in the past 8 or 9 years). The second disc features demo versions and a couple of rare mixes, including a version of Assassin, a non-album single released after "U.F.Orb" had been out for a little while. The demos for O.O.B.E. and Towers Of Dub seem quite different from the finished album takes and make for interesting listening. A nice booklet accompanies the CDs, giving a mini-history of The Orb and an overview of the creation of "U.F.Orb" and what happened following it's release (including the oft-told story of LX Paterson and Thrash playing chess on Top Of The Pops, while their 40-minute single version of Blue Room played). Needless to say that the re-issue has been on high rotation in the disc-player the past couple of weeks.

I picked up a load of cheap vinyl at Avid Records a couple of weeks ago. They're having a 'stock clearance' sale, as they're finally shutting their doors for good at the end of December. It's a 15-for-£10 sale and sure, there's a lot of tat--but I found a few good'uns..among them, a copy of Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn, Jon Anderson's Olias Of Sunhillow and Camel's The Snow Goose. I ended up with 20 altogether, for £15--not a bad haul. I plan to go back at least one more time before the doors shut for good.

25 September 2007

He Was Born To Boogie

I couldn't let the month go by without paying tribute to the great bopping elf himself, Marc Bolan. Marc died 30 years ago this month when the car driven by his partner, Gloria Jones, hit a tree after they had been on the town for the night. He was a couple of weeks away from his 30th birthday. I often wonder what Marc would have gone on to achieve if this tragedy hadn't occured and it's odd to think of him as a 60 year old. How I wish he'd made it.

Marc was my first musical hero and has remained a hero through all other twists and turns in my musical tastes. I didn't notice him when T.Rex released 'Ride A White Swan' but once the follow-up single, 'Hot Love' hit the airwaves and stayed at number one for six weeks I fell in love with the music of this amazing man. I was ten years old and the world was just beginning to open up for me and the music of T.Rex would be the soundtrack of the next few years. I bought every single as soon as they were released, saving every penny of my pocket money and rushing into the centre of Bristol with my mate, Geoff Ford, so we could get our hands on the wax at the earliest possible moment. 'Get It On', 'Jeepster', 'Metal Guru', 'Telegram Sam', 'Children of the Revolution'....on and on and on. It's almost impossible to imagine now an artist having such an impact as Bolan and T.Rex did back then. Bolan invented Glam Rock. They were the new Beatles. It took a me while to get hold of an album because they were financially beyond my reach for a while but Geoff (who was a little more affluent than me) bought Electric Warrior and we played it on his little mono record player constantly. My own first T.Rex album was one of those budget MFP label things that actually featured the weirdo folk songs of Tyrannosaurus Rex plus 'Ride A White Swan'. I didn't care, it still sounded mad and wonderful! It wasn't until my 12th birthday that I actually got an up-to-date album, The Slider, which was also a gem.

To fast forward a little, by about 1974 we started to get into prog and heavy rock and Geoff decided he didn't care so much for Bolan anymore and I ended up with his original copy of Electric Warrior, which I still have today with the original poster inside and all. I'd never part with it. I wonder if Geoff regrets his haste now? So, we were digging Deep Purple, Sabbath and Yes but I was still secretly spinning 'Teenage Dream' and 'Truck On Tyke'. Slowly, Marc started to slip from the centre of the pop scene and even though I kept up with his singles I didn't buy any more albums after Tanx. I couldn't afford Zinc Alloy and The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (Or A Cream Cage In August) AND Stormbringer! It was either/or in more ways than one.

Most of the pop press and the radio shows mainly ignored or scoffed at Marc by the mid-70's but in 1977, with punk rock taking over our lives (I went that-a-way too), he came back with a strong album, Dandy In The Underworld, and a tour with The Damned as support. Geoff and I couldn't resist the chance to see our old hero at Bristol's Colston Hall, so we got our tickets and I'm so glad we did. It was no longer the old T.Rex of Mickey Finn, Steve Curry and Bill Legend but Marc played a blinder even with his session muso pals. I believe this was in March of that year. A few months later, he was gone and we had lost a true star.

Over the years I have now collected all the albums on vinyl and CD (including the excellent pixie-folk with Steve Peregrine Took) and all the singles are stashed away safely in the attic and I'll not part with them. I still play the music of Marc Bolan and T.Rex regularly and I just want to thank him for all the pleasure he's given me and for starting a young lad off on a musical adventure that will never end. Wherever you are, Marc, thanks and keep on rockin'!

24 September 2007

Keeping The House Warm

Whilst The Purple Gooroo and Pixie are off on their hols I thought I'd pop by and make sure the place is up together, open the windows, use the toilet and steal the biscuits! I certainly want to say how much I sympathize with The Gooroo and all that he says in his post below. Mr. Gooroo... I'm not sure why you think these are demons of your own creation, though. Don't blame yourself for feeling unwell just put your energy into getting better again. It's true what you say about being unwell making you selfish. I've been there, brother. When I suffered my own mental torments I was a pain in the backside to live with (and still am, from time to time). It's important to make the most of the times when you feel better and convey to those around you how much you appreciate their loyalty and support but don't beat yourself up too much because that won't help either! You know that those who love you understand. I've found it helpful to keep my radar open for the first signs that I might be getting into one of my 'pits' and try to either act quickly enough to head it off by doing something therapeutic or, if I'm already too far gone, then remove myself from the company of others for a while so at least they don't get hurt by metaphorical flying glass. Of course, I'm not saying it works all the time or for all people. Life can be tough! I agree that medication helps too but it just gives you the platform to change things for the better from within. I'll admit I'm still chewing on the things after countless years but they have certainly helped and there's no shame in needing them, especially if it gives you the chance to start really 'changing your mind'. I know, in my own case, this has been a very slow process.

That was a long and rather rambling paragraph but I hope it was okay to say these things. One final point regarding the above, I'm seeing a counsellor at the moment (mainly due to non 'head' related stuff) but she has asked me to try and write down all my current thoughts and feelings about things I'm going through. It's odd but although I can ramble on about all sorts of nonsense I find it really very difficult to write about my own truest feelings. I've never been able to keep a diary, not because I wouldn't want anyone else to read it but because I know I'd find it hard to be honest with myself in words. I'm not sure what this means. I think seeing my own deepest, sometimes most fearful, thoughts actually on paper, in words, would make some things too real. I'm almost phobic about it, which is probably why I enjoyed art therapy so much because I could get my feelings down in symbols (usually utterly abstract); with honest words (and there is no point to dishonest wordsmithery) you have nowhere to hide. Anyway, I'm going to try but I think it'll be hard even though it could be very helpful.

I've also been spending a fair bit of time reading and listening to music but in my case it's been re-reading books and listening to OLD music, much of it from my ancient vinyl collection. Actually, I'll have to admit that all the reading has been about music as well! I read Woody Guthrie's Bound For Glory again, followed up with a fine book on the musical roots of Bob Dylan (yawn...I can hear you!) by Wilfred Mellers called A Darker Shade of Pale. His analysis of Dylan himself is a bit of a drag but the first half of the book concentrates on Dylan's folk and blues influences and is a good primer for anyone who wants to get into the old stuff but isn't sure where to start. We all know about Son House, Robert Johnson, Woody and all but for anyone who hasn't heard Dock Boggs or Roscoe Holcomb or Gaelic Psalm singing....get some now! Ah, music. The cure for so many ills. I recommend the warm, heart massaging bass that comes with most great reggae, particularly dub or the works of Jah Wobble or the Bronx based sisters ESG. In the words of the great Smith and Mighty, 'Bass Is Maternal'.

I'm glad to have been able to get around to making this brief contribution to our blog and I hope to be back again soon with something more concrete to say or maybe I'll just ramble on as usual! Hope Pixie and The Gooroo's holiday is wonderful and we all are blessed with good health and happiness soon. Peace.

14 September 2007

Escape From Chapel Perilous

2 Tishri - Year 5768

I apologise to you loyal readers (all three of you) for not posting much lately. I've been battling with the demons of my own creation, a classic case of what R.A.W. used to call Chapel Perilous. My visits only last a couple of months, thankfully, but they pack a wallop. I have been getting anxiety spells probably most of my life--but they only really made their presence known in 2001 (and no, they didn't have anything to do with the W.T.C. atrocity, as I was already in the midst of the Chapel when that happened, though that didn't help my state of mind at all, at all). It took me a few months and regular doctor visits to break out that time. I had to go on "the meds", which did help and I eventually stopped having panic attacks and insomnia. I thought I was finished with C.P...heh heh..little did I know....

I ended up on another tour two years later and again I got better and again thought I was "free" from it's doors..then again two years after that and this year I was confident I was going to break the cycle, but I wandered through the entrance yet again. I tried to go without the medication this time, but C.P. once again seemed too powerful and vast to attempt a quick exit. Ah well...so it goes. Last month was a blur of insomnia and strong emotion, but I'm feeling a bit better now.

The weird (and ironic) thing about the medication is that for the first week or two that I take it, it actually "spikes" the anxiety and I feel worse than before. That does seem to be a common side effect of an S.S.R.I. (that's a "selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor"--it's supposed to replace any depleted serotonin in the brain). It takes between 2 and 4 weeks to really start to work. I ended up being signed off of work for two weeks and was told to relax as much as possible. I mainly read quite a bit and went for walks in the fields nearby. I found that it helped, but it was still difficult during the days, due to restlessness. I read an ancient book of Mark Twain's short stories that I'd been meaning to get to for quite a while now. I also read Mike Oldfield's autobiography, Changeling, which, in a strange synchronicitous way--highlights Oldfield's own battle with anxiety throughout his life. Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye kept me occupied for a few days, as did James Joyce's A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, which I'd never read all the way through before. I'm reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (spoiler warning: the link is a review of the book) at the moment, which I borrowed from the local library. Another thing I was meaning to do was get a library card--and the time off afforded me the opportunity. I've since checked out Philip K. Dick's Confessions Of A Crap Artist and Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man, which was the subject of a Maybe Logic Academy course. I'm looking forward to reading them.

I also delved into a lot of my classical CDs--as they've been neglected for some time now. I would play some Satie or Debussy to accompany my reading. I own a few classical guitar discs, so those were given a spin. Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis sets a mellow mood, as does Oregon's Music Of Another Present Era. I ordered the new Richard Hawley album, Lady's Bridge, from Amazon. It's quite good and fits in with all of the other stuff I chose. I bought the new Super Furry Animals CD, Hey Venus!, at the local Tesco, of all places--and while it's not exactly ambient, I gave it a couple of spins just to check it out. My initial thought is that it's good, but not extraordinary--just another S.F.A. album. I don't really like the cover art, either--I miss Pete Fowler's alien landscapes and weird creatures. Ah well, a new kinda-average S.F.A. album seems better than no new album to me.

I've returned to work since then and while it hasn't been completely smooth sailing--I've adjusted back into the daily grind better than I initially thought I would. I've also been getting a bit more sleep in the past couple of weeks, but I'm still battling with the anxiety, especially in the morning. Ah well, I feel like I'm closer to the exit of C.P. than I was a few weeks ago. Then the real work starts of trying to rid myself of the anxiety, or at the very least, learn to cope with it better.

R.A.W. mentions somewhere in the Maybe Logic DVD that one of the unfortunate things about having an illness is that it makes one very self-centred. I've been trying not to let that happen either (though it's very tough at times). Watching the news each night reminds me that I'm far more fortunate than many others on the planet today. I saw the announcements that both Luciano Pavarotti and Joe Zawinul have left the planet, in the same week. Sad. Along with the wars, floods, typhoons, earthquakes & other catastrophes that many are having to face each day--I feel fortunate, indeed.

14 August 2007

Cropredy Capers 2007

Sweetmorn, Bureaucracy 7, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3173

We definitely got a vibe that this year was going to be a bit different when, not even halfway through the village of Cropredy on the way to the camping fields, we were caught in a traffic jam. That hadn't happened in the past couple of years. We weren't sure what was happening--only that we were crawling along slowly in the blazing afternoon sun. On the upside - the village looked splendid, all sun-drenched and pastoral. It turned out that since the festival was sold-out--the security and work crews were turning away the hopeful multitudes who had arrived on the day to try and score an elusive ticket. Eventually, they had to let some of them camp, because the traffic would have been even worse.

We set up our tent fairly rapidly and then scouted the field for any conveniences (Porta-Loos, coffee/food stands, etc.) . After a little while, it was time to brave the ticket/wristband swap queues. Pixie decided to go back to the tent to grab our chairs and water and snacks, so I stayed in the massive queue to hold our place. The wristband staff proved more efficient than we thought and soon I was almost at the entrance and Pixie hadn't arrived back. I asked the bloke just inside if I could wait a moment for her, so she wouldn't have to go to the back of the line--but he refused, as the punters were arriving fast. She showed up about two minutes after I had my band and then we trudged with the stuff back to the end of the queue. To make matters slightly worse (and somewhat comical), we were in front of a few grizzled rockers who could've been roadies for Spinal Tap. All we heard for 20 minutes were things like "Saxon, 1978" "Cor!..oh yeah, Iron Maiden, Donnington 1981"...and on and on. While we were in the queue - we heard a bit of Anthony John Clarke and most of Kerfuffle's sets. Clarke seemed just O.K., trad-folkie type stuff and Kerfuffle had the neo-Celtic groove covered. Wishbone Ash, who did seem a bit out of place with their guitar-driven rawk, delivered a decent set and wisely stuck to selections from their first three albums, especially their 1972 foray into prog-rock, Argus (though, having said that - the 15-minute version of Phoenix, from the debut record, did seem to drag on some). Seth Lakeman was up next. He's a rising star in the Brit-folkie world and he did bring a flash of youthfulness to the afternoon. He does appear to be a bit over-hyped, though. I did enjoy the tunes - but they sounded a bit same-y after a while. We didn't stay for the final act of the day, Jools Holland & His Super-Duper Rhythm & Classical Orchestra...er something like that. Pixie wanted to head back to the tent and I was feeling run-down from being in the sun most of the day, so I joined her. We could hear them from the tent anyway..and when they got to Lulu's version of Shout, I was hoping Otis Day & The Knights would show up instead.

The next day we walked into Cropredy village, amongst the throngs of other festival-goers. I visited the Talking Elephant tent and was tempted into buying a couple of over-priced discs yet again (I don't think I'll ever learn). At least the two I purchased seem kinda rare. Curved Air's 1972 record, Phantasmagoria and The Enid's Something Wicked This Way Comes. They had a DVD of Tangerine Dream's 1975 Coventry Cathedral performance - but I decided to hold off..I can probably get it cheaper on-line anyway. By the time we made it back to the arena (after stopping by the showers--we needed one at that point--and the tent for supplies), Hummingbird were finishing their set. The band features three women, one of whom, Edwina Hayes, we had seen as a solo act a couple of years ago. They get compared to Crosby, Stills & Nash quite a bit--but to me, they sounded like an English version of the Emmylou Harris/Dolly Parton/Linda Ronstadt "Trio" records...only not as harmonically rich. Mad Agnes, an American trio--were up next. I wasn't overly impressed with them, despite not sticking to "traditional" subject matter in their lyrics. I suppose it was a bit tough for them to connect with the crowd, talking about adopted kids growing up in New Jersey, to a field full of British folkies in the middle of Oxfordshire. The next two bands, The Demon Barbers Roadshow and Last Orders, seemed more inventive - the Demon Barbers incorporating near drum-and-bass rhythms into a couple of tunes and inviting Riverdance-esque clog-shufflers to hoof it during a few others. Last Orders are a promising young band who, while retaining the trad-folk sound, bend it a bit here and there. They didn't seem to be stunningly original, but they definitely put in a good performance. The 'classic-rock du jour' was provided by Viva Santana. You guessed it, they mimic Carlos and his ever-changing cast of cohorts. They played all the well-known ones, Oye Como Va....Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen...Evil Ways...even the annoying Smooth. They did a workmanlike job of cranking out the Santana sound and it went down well with the (mostly baby-boomer) crowd--though I bet there was some berk at the front yelling "Oi! Play summat off Moonflower!" Show Of Hands were up next and they performed a pleasant-enough set of singer-songwriter-type folk where a lot of the lyrics seemed to be about "What-happened-to-the-ways-of-rural-England?" Ummm....time, I guess? I dunno, guys. I noted that Phil Beer, who recorded the single Pass You By with Mike Oldfield, is part of Show Of Hands. Then--the magic moment everyone had waited for was happening. The fabled 1969 line-up of Fairport were going to perform Liege & Lief all the way through--minus Sandy Denny, of course. Chris While was on vocal duties and she was admirable filling in Sandy's folk-goddess shoes. The opening riff of Come All Ye pealed into the evening air and away they went. I, unfortunately, had an anxiety spell (possibly from the heat) just as they walked on-stage and we had to listen from the medical tent--the irony was not lost on me. Dave Swarbrick, who was pronounced dead some seven years ago, due to a debilitating illness--was up there sawing away on the fiddle--I think that obituary column is worth a lot to a Fairport fanatic. They sounded good, especially during the Matty Groves coda jam and Tam Lin. While did a nice vocal on Farewell Farewell--I think Sandy would've been proud. Then, 40 minutes after it started - it was over. I was advised to head back to the tent for the night--so we missed watching Richard Thompson and his band. I did hear the set, though, and he sounded great as well--performing Dad's Gonna Kill Me, from the new Sweet Warrior album and some old faves like I Want To See The Bright Lights..., Al Bowlly's In Heaven and Wall Of Death. He did play a surprise Tear-Stained Letter, which got loud cheers from the crowd. The applause died away and Friday was over.

For the final day, we headed into the village in the morning. Pixie wanted a paper to get caught up on the news--but when we got to the shop, the only papers left were tabloids. So much for the news, then. We did find out about Tony Wilson's untimely demise, fittingly at a music festival, so it wasn't a total loss. We arrived at the arena, while Richard Digance was finishing his usual trad-folk...er...'comedy' stylings. GiveWay was up next, but we were off to the showers again, so we missed most of their set--they seemed O.K., going by what we did hear. We missed most of The Bucket Boys as well--but despite their pristine classic-rock pedigree (Tim Renwick, who's guested on inummerable albums and tours--including the 80s/90s Pink Floyd--is in the band), they seemed sorta run-of-the-mill to me..good musicians with bog-standard tunes. I sifted through some more of the stalls and found one that was selling vinyl. I ended up buying Al Stewart's Past, Present & Future, Ravi Shankar's Homage To Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. John's Remedies. I've never owned any Stewart, and it was only about £5, so I took a chance...and the Dr. John LP was still shrink-wrapped, so I considered it a find. Iain Matthews, Fairport's other lead singer from 1967 and '68, took to the stage. His voice still seems pretty intact after all these years, with a slight bit of Marty Balin-twang to it. His tunes were mainly singer-songwriter fare--lost love, times gone by, etc. There was a nice surprise when Richard Thompson (near ubiquitous over the weekend) joined Matthews for the two final numbers. The set closer, Back Of The Bus, an anti-racism ditty, unfortunately didn't leave RT much to do except provide sparse, choppy chords and a half-decent solo toward the end. The re-formed Strawbs were up next and I was looking forward to seeing them. The band are mostly a trio nowadays - but the main three (Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk) have been joined by keyboardist John Hawken and drummer Rod Coombes, thereby completing the 1974 line-up of the band. That incarnation released possibly the best-known Strawbs record, Hero And Heroine. Like Wishbone Ash, they knew the crowd they were playing to and stuck to selections from the 'glory days'--like Benedictus, from Grave New World and Witchwood, from their 1971 album, From The Witchwood. "Hero..." also featured--they played the entire three-part opener, Autumn, as well as Out In The Cold, which segued neatly into Round And Round. A tune (or two, maybe) was played from the group's newest studio effort, Deja Fou--but I can't remember the track names. They sounded good--well-rehearsed and they seemed to enjoy playing to a receptive crowd. We headed back to the tent after Strawbs' set to get some rest after being in the sun for another long day. We missed Billy Mitchell & Bob Fox--but I gathered it was going to be more of the same trad-folkie stuff. I hadn't realised that Mitchell was part of Lindisfarne, during their late 80s/90s reunion--and Jack The Lad in the late 70s. Ah well..another time, maybe. Around 8 p.m. - Fairport began their 40th anniversary set. They played for nearly four hours--with R.T., Iain Matthews and original lead singer Judy Dyble all joining in. We took a bit of a stroll and watched for a little while, hearing Jewel In The Crown and a spirited Walk Awhile--then we headed back to the tent for the night. I listened as to as much as I could - but I fell asleep before the now-traditional closer, Meet On The Ledge, was played, ending another Cropredy.

We awoke the next morning, packed up our gear - and headed back to our "regular" 9-to-5 existence. Thankfully, there were no traffic jams on the way back out through the village.

03 August 2007

Idees D'Aout

16 Shraban - Year 1414 (Bengali)

Time for an update, I suppose. Well, the flood waters have receded - not fast enough for people in Gloucestershire and Hull (even some parts of Oxfordshire). Luckily, our bit of Oxford escaped unscathed.

I watched Pan's Labyrinth last week and I quite enjoyed it. It wasn't really what I was expecting--but then I'm not quite sure what I was expecting. I suppose something a bit more "aerie-faerie" and other-worldly, but in Guillermo Del Toro's vision, even the dream-world the main protagonist "escapes" to contains it's own frights and dangers. The magical creatures contrast neatly with the "monsters" of Franco's fascist stormtroopers (the film is set in 1940s Spain), but there is more gruesome and brutal violence shown in the "real" world, especially by Captain Vidal, played as a flawed, but ultimately reprehensible tyrant, by a brilliant Sergi Lopez. I won't divulge the entire plot, so no spoiler warning is needed--but it follows a familiar device from several myths, Grimm's tales and even The Silence Of The Lambs. The ending seems a bit ambiguous--"is" it happy or sad? I don't really know--I suppose both. Not really one for the young'uns, but worth a look.

The not-so-beloved Rover Metro finally got to be more hassle than it was worth. We had the garage fix the clutch and the central locking...and then the speedometer went. So instead of throwing more money at it and hoping it would last a bit longer, we decided to finally opt for a new(er) set of wheels. We chose a 2004 Ford Ka. It has fairly low mileage and seems to be in pretty good shape. So that was settled, but unfortunately, all of our spare cash was put toward the auto, making it impossible for me to join the 2007 MLA Euro-Meet-up, but it looks like the guys had a great time, which is cool.

In other MLA news, the "Angel Tech" course finished a few weeks ago. I really liked it and definitely gained some insights into the "8-circuit brain" theory and my own relation to the circuits. Antero Alli, author of the "Angel tech" book and leader of the course, will be offering it again next February. I may take it again, as I didn't complete all of the tasks this time around. There's also an Angel Tech forum at Tribe.net , if you're interested. Another groovy thing starting up is self-directed courses--there's two offered so far, The Tale Of The Tribe, a sort-of extension of the course that R.A.W. himself ran a couple of years ago. The other is Meta-Magick, which was run by Philip H. Farber. I'm definitely going to check out the T.O.T.T. course - I regret not joining up at the MLA sooner and missing out on Pope Bob's instruction, but I've got a 'second chance' to at least go through the material. You can get a bit more info here (the Deepleaf Productions site and the MLA site seem to be down at the moment)--if something like that might interest you, then give it a go!

Pixie and I both received e-mails from Singing Bear this past week and it seems he's doing alright. He's been poorly lately and we have been worried about him. Good to know he received the discs we've sent him also. Here's to the Bear's improving health--hope he'll be able to post something soon!

Mark D., over at Cheek, luckily wasn't involved in the horrific bridge collapse that happened in Minneapolis this past week. Alycia N., another Minnesotan I know, wasn't there either--so that's good news in the midst of a serious tragedy. I suspect there'll be a lot of finger-pointing in the coming days about whose "fault" it was that the collapse happened and caused four (and possibly more) deaths.

I haven't had much in the way of new music in the past few months - but it looks like a new Super Furry Animals record is about to hit the street. We've got tickets to their gig at the "new & improved" Carling Academy Oxford (formerly The Zodiac) on October 26th. The previews of the new album seem good and they haven't let me down yet..even though I really only spun Love Kraft a few times (I'll have to listen to it again). We were watching the Newsnight Review last Friday and at the very end was Richard Hawley performing an acoustic version of one of his new tunes, Tonight The Streets Are Ours. He's still got his 50s-style quiff and Buddy Holly specs--but he can still reel 'em out in his Sheffield twang, so I think his new one might be added to the collection. I've been meaning to buy the new Psychic TV as well and Mark has recommended the Von Sudenfed album. I can't think of anything else I really want at the moment (besides various re-issues).

We're off to Cropredy on Thursday for the annual Fairport Fest. This year promises to be a good'un - with the '69 line-up performing Liege & Lief all the way through (minus the late Sandy Denny, of course - Chris While will be performing in her stead). Richard Thompson will be in full-band mode--promoting the excellent Sweet Warrior album. Seth Lakeman and the re-formed Strawbs (which comprises most of the 1974 Hero And Heroine line-up) promise to be pretty decent as well. I wasn't too impressed with some of the 'unknowns' last year, so there may be a few surprises of folky greatness here and there, too. I'll post a full report when we're back. 'Till then...