21 June 2007

Blog Is Not One Year Old

Boomtime, Confusion 26, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3173

Has it been one revolution around the sun already? Dang! This here blog "is" one year old--and I've been blogging for seven years now. Seems like only yesterday...

The original objective was for this to be a group blog, sorta like Triptych Cryptic, where I cut my blogging teeth. I miss those guys - but I'd like to work with them on something new. Anyway, that's how I envisioned "Blog Is Not.." when I started it up last year. It seems to have dwindled down to Singing Bear and I--with Pixie preferring to stay in the comments section and Aloicious ramblin' and playing the Game Of Life (in the Leary sense, not the Hasbro board variety). I hope he'll eventually come round and post something, even if it's just to say "Hello - gotta run". It's alright, though, the Bear and I make a pretty good team, in my estimation (now if only we can score that radio show deal...). Sometimes it's felt a bit like a solo blog again, especially when Bear's been on sabbatical--which isn't so bad in itself--I just like it more when it's not only my voice echoing in the aether.

Thanks to those who've stopped by and read any of the posts--we appreciate it. I apologise for the comments being set to 'those with accounts-only can post'. We had a bit of trouble with spammers at the last blog ("Pond Of Tunes") and decided not to take any chances this time. Cheers to those of you who did leave a comment - even if it was to plug your book or whatever...oh well, onward and upward.

Today is also the summer solstice and the longest day of the (Gregorian) year. The usual gathering was held at Stonehenge, though I think the weather muted the celebration somewhat. Today was a fairly nice day around here. The forecast promised "sunny spells" and "rain showers", but once again showing meteorology appearing to be a less-than-exact science--the weather stayed pleasant with a few dark clouds passing overhead. I hope your solstice was just as pleasant.

I've been busy with the "Angel Tech" course, so I haven't had much time for posting, but I plan to pick up the pace a bit in a few weeks, when the course has finished. Hope to see you here!

Currently reading: "The Function Of The Orgasm" - Wilhelm Reich, "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson" - G.I. Gurdjieff, "Principia Discordia" - Malaclypse The Younger (Greg Hill)
Currently listening to: "There's A Riot Goin' On" - Sly & The Family Stone (2007 re-issue), "Sweet Warrior" - Richard Thompson, E.L.O. - "ELO 2" (re-issue)

09 June 2007

Happy Birthday Pixie!

....hope it's a great one!!



07 June 2007

I'm not old, I'm 37...

Just like Dennis and it just happened today. It's strange--I remember watching that when I was 18 and thinking how "old" being 37 seemed to me at the time. Now it's here and well, it ain't that bad..

02 June 2007

Richard Thompson: Sweet Warrior

Another year, another album from RT and how can we possibly complain? New tunes from the world's most underrated songwriter who just happens to be the world's finest guitarist (says me) will be forever welcome. Having said that, I have to admit to finding 2005's all acoustic affair, Front Parlour Ballads, a little disappointing. Many of Richard's fans will have been hyper-keen to hear the man alone with his guitar again but the songwriting, whilst good by most standards, struck me as being too 'Thompson-By-Numbers' and much of the album was too downbeat for even this most die-hard of RT fanatics. Does his new one, Sweet Warrior, provide sweet relief? I'm much relieved to report that, largely, it does.

The battleground of personal relationships has always provided Richard Thompson with plenty of food for thought and on Sweet Warrior we encounter dysfunctional marriages, dying love, regret and pain in torrents but there is also an enterwoven theme of those even bigger and even more dangerous battles that go on in the world of war and terrorism. RT has rarely been as overtly political as he is on the album's centre-piece, 'Dad's Gonna Kill Me'. For 'Dad' read US army slang for Baghdad and you get the picture. Written from the perspective of an ordinary soldier doing his duty in Iraq, 'DGKM' is a broodingly angry attack on those who send young people to war and happily see them home again in body bags. The song conveys great sympathy for the poor blokes on the frontline and none for the twats who send them there. Spot on, as usual, Mr.T. The other 'big song' on the album is called 'Guns Are The Tongues' and, whilst I can't be sure I'm reading it right, it seems to be about a woman who runs a cell of 'freedom fighters/terrorists/criminals' (take your pick) who recruits some poor sod called Little Joe to do her dirty work and take vengeance for the deaths of her father and brother. Needless to say, she uses her womanly wiles to pull Little Joe into her bloody world. Sorry for the over-literal interpretation here. At the end of the day what's really important is the wonderful tune and fine playing by RT and chums (he's joined by regular sidemen Danny Thompson and Michael Jerome for most of the album plus Michael Hays on second guitar).

Over the remainder of the album we get high quality songs and musicianship with Thompson letting loose with some wild electric passages that should be amazing in unedited form when he plays them live. The inclusion of sax and fiddle on songs such as 'Bad Monkey' , the reggae-tinged 'Francesca' and the wonderful shanty-like 'Johnny's Far Away' give the album the same kind of joie de vivre as his 80s classics Hand of Kindness and Daring Adventures. My only reservation about the album at the moment is that the slower, more acoustic-based numbers have yet to grab my attention and I may still be suffering from the ease with which RT appears to be able knock out such things. It's been a long time since 'Beeswing' and 'King of Bohemia' and perhaps I'm expecting too much to even hope that just one acoustic song as great as those could appear on the same album again. Still, RT is back on form and Sweet Warrior is a fine record that'll rock your socks off.

01 June 2007

Way Back In The 1960s

1 Pepper - 40 p.r.S.P.

This week will see hundreds, if not thousands of words spilled over...well, I don't even need to name the record, do I? Unless you've been living a hermetic existence in a cave for the past forty years (in which case, you probably aren't reading this anyway), you know what I'm talking about. It probably has an almost equal number of praisers as it does detractors and seems to have nearly become a cultural phenomenon all on it's own, beyond that even of it's creators. Whatever you may think about it, the fact that it's being discussed fairly fervently 40 years after it's release seems to show it's inherent staying power. I like it so much, that as an exercise in breaking out of the Gregorian "time prison"--I created a calendar based around it.

Thing is, or seems to be--that it has over-shadowed a lot of other great albums from the same year, American and British. One that I really like, and admittedly has been getting a bit more press in the past decade or so, is The Incredible String Band's The 5,000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion. Created by two Scottish bohemian folkies, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron, plus guest spots by John "Hoppy" Hopkins, a figurehead in the London psychedelic/underground scene--as well as stand-up bass by Danny Thompson, later of Pentangle and his many collabs with John Martyn and Richard Thompson, "5,000 Spirits..." seems to capture that moment in 1967 when the positivity and spirituality (not religiousness) of the nascent counter-culture was going to waft everywhere and change the world. Naive? Yeah, probably--but I suppose it's the thought that counts.

Right from the opening track, Chinese White, you get the feeling you're in for something delightfully weird. While Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing At Baxter's and even Pink Floyd's The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn brought out the big guns of acid-fuelled studio trickery--Heron and Williamson manage to create an other-worldly playground with just a finger-picked acoustic guitar and "bowed gimbri", a sort-of African lute that Williamson had brought back with him from a journey to Morocco (he had left the UK with Clive Palmer, the I.S.B.'s founder, but had returned due to money problems--ain't it always the way..). With Williamson sawing away on the gimbri and Heron singing lyrics like "Climbing up these figures/the sun is tugging at my shoulder/and ev'ry step I take/I think my feet are getting older..", they're heralding in something, but what? I don't know--but it sounds ancient and yet contemporary (at least for 1967--hell, to me, it sounds contemporary in '07).

The rest of the record charts a "trip" (pun intended a bit) through their styles and lyrical matter which would crop up on subsequent records--Robin gets mystical on The Mad Hatter's Song, The Eyes OF Fate and My Name Is Death--while Mike ruminates on romance won and lost with The Hedgehog's Song, Gently Tender and Painting Box. They tip their caps to Mr. Bob Dylan, both musically (Blues For The Muse--all wheezing blues harp and ol' timey chorus) and lyrically--he gets a shout-out in Way Back In The 1960s, the album's humourous and deft closer. No Sleep Blues seems to be one of the funniest and spot-on accounts of the effects of insomnia (possibly through ingesting "Dr. Hoffman's Head Medicine"), while You Know What You Could Be definitely appears to be "of it's time" with lyrics about "crimson shapes and purple sounds" and "quartertones of lightning"--still, it hasn't aged that badly and could be considered a blue-print for 'psychedelic folk' (if you consider that a genre). There's a smattering of sitar on some of the tracks, but it fits in well and would become a staple on their next few albums. The drones compliment the songs and this is well before sitar would become an acid-rock/folk cliche.

Then there's that cover art. To me, it's still one of the most striking cover images I've seen. Some might call it "gaudy", but I think the use of colour enhances the whole. I like the hermaphroditic winged being with the Earth inside of it...rising out of the eye (the "I"?), as well. I used to think that the roots of the plants spelled out something in a nearly unreadable calligraphy and actually spent about an hour one day trying to decipher some 'secret message' possibly contained in it--to no avail. It is that kind of cover, though, that I end up studying for hours. The cover was designed and illustrated by Simon Posthuma and Marijke Kroger of the Dutch art group The Fool. They were responsible for "far-out" designs like the one on Eric Clapton's psychedelic SG guitar and The Beatles' Apple boutique mural. They themselves recorded a one-off album in 1968 and while it's definitely not a classic, it's lysergic whimsy (probably sounding a bit dated even in '68) makes for a nice curio. I'm not sure where the rest are now, but it appears that Marijke emigrated to the U.S. and she has a website with some of her more recent work displayed.

I'm aware of the charges against "5,000 Spirits.." as well. Yes, some of it does seem a bit too twee, as in bits of "The Hedgehog's Song" and especially Little Cloud, a Heron tune about a "little chick cloud" who visits him and promises to take him to "distant lands wondrous and fair", until the "chief cloud" makes her float away back up to the upper regions of the sky. I know - it probably belongs more on a children's record than on a "serious" album, but I think it's tunes like "Little Cloud" that give "5,000 Spirits.." it's unabashed child-like enthusiasm. It certainly doesn't happen on later, band (and world) weary records like Earthspan or Hard Rope & Silken Twine. The vocal "freak out" section near the end of "Gently Tender" does sound a bit forced, to my ears anyway. It doesn't really fit with the rest of the tune and seems almost an after-thought, tacked on in the studio. There's also the "music doesn't match the album cover" stigma - I must admit that the cover does (at first) make you think that this record will be as completely out-there as "Piper..." or "Baxter's", only to seem understated on first listen. To me, it's not really the music that matches the cover--but the lyrics--and those seem to be the most mind-blowing element of all.

So there you go - one of my picks for "overlooked" (not so much anymore - but still not afforded the praise it should have) "Summer Of Love" classics. While the I.S.B. would go from "5,000 Spirits..." to create their 'meisterwerk', The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (released in April 1968), expanding their sound and the group itself--I don't think they ever captured such a moment again as they did with this one.

Next week: Eric Burdon & The New Animals' Winds Of Change and Tyrannosaurus Rex's My People Were Fair, They Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows....jes' kiddin'