29 December 2009

The Noughties Fade Away

29 Zeus - Year 88 p.s.U.

The first decade of the Gregorian millennium is wrapping up. It seems unreal...what's that line from the Floyd?: "And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you/No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun..."

Ten years ago I was sitting in a somewhat modest apartment in Manchester, CT. It was New Year's Eve and I was hoping that 'Y2K' bug would manifest itself in some form. The girl I was kinda/sorta seeing at the time had gone home and I sat in the darkness near midnght, looking out of the living room window--waiting for something to happen. Even just the streetlights shutting down for a few minutes. Nope. Nothing. So much for the big scare. That's how 2000 started for me...I didn't even party like it was 1999.

What's happened in the last ten years, in my view? I'll try to write a short summary...

  • September 11, 2001/The War On Terror: It'll be a cultural touchstone for ages. Where were you when the planes hit the Trade Center? It also gave King George II carte-blanche to start a never-ending war...on terrorism. That's right--he actually thought he was going to 'git all them tererists'. Starting with that known Islamic fundamentalist, Saddam Hussein...leader of a secular Middle East gubberment. Now, I'm not saying Hussein was an innocent..far from it--but it seemed his ties to al-Qeada (who became the new threat--like the Russians were in the 1950s and early '60s) were fairly faint. That didn't stop ol' George and his cronies. It worked really well, too--as Iraq is now a peaceful, democratic place, full of contented citizens all praising the U.S. for their action. Soon, Afghanistan will be doing the same. That "War On Terror" was a great idea. Feel the sarcasm, George & Karl & Rummy & Dick & Condie & on and on...

  • The Rise of "Z-lebrities": I'm not sure when this all started. Maybe it had it's seeds in the 70s or 80s. All I can observe is that one day, critters like Paris Hilton and Jodie Marsh were being feted for....well, not doing much at all. They were given television shows, perfume contracts, film roles, music deals, etc. Most of them seemed to have no particular talent, even when various secret (or not-so-secret) sex-tapes surfaced. I suspect maybe Charlie Brooker or Stewart Lee has already taken this topic on with more finesse, but hey, I can have a bash as well. I'm hoping most of them go away in the next ten years...or at the very least, get off of my Tee Vee and computer screens.

  • Reality Shows: Urgh! They started out innocently enough, I suppose. Survivor...Big Brother. Then they were all over the shop--tons of 'em. I think some channels in the UK were nothing but 'reality programming'. The worst side-effect, to me anyway, were that these shows became breeding grounds for Z-lebrities, whose 'careers' were fed by magazines like Heat and Hello!. There seems to be hope, however, as the UK "Big Brother" may be cancelled, given that the last run had the lowest ratings for any of the series. I've definitely had all the 'reality-TV' I can take.
  • The X-Factorisation Of Pop Music/Talent Shows: Yes, I know - the pop charts have always been a place where a slick producer with access to studio musicians and a gullible moppet can make a quick fortune off of a hit record. The past ten years, though, have been a boon to the charlatans (no, I don't mean the 60s psych band or the Madchester outfit). Simon Cowell has made more than a fortune with Pop Idol and it's more famous off-shoot, The X-Factor. He brought it to the States as American Idol and so on and so on. I realise I come off as a snob and I also realise there is a market for slickly-produced love songs for the teenage set--but really, some of this stuff just seems like dreck to me. A treadmill of one-hit wonders and disposable singers. It shows no signs of slowing, as Willy Wonka would say. Oh dear. Some bright spark also thought it would be nifty to have an 'X-Factor'-type show, but open it up to all kinds of fame-hungry critters with various talents..and so Britian's Got Talent was splattered all over the toob. Great--thanks for that.
  • Global Warming: The bugbear that's divided critters of all stripes. Me, I don't know if it's really happening...but something seems to be happening. 'Is' it man-made, or the natural cycle of the planet? I don't know and I strongly suspect nobody else really does either. I try to ignore the zealots on either side of the debate and work out what I can from the information available. As my man Robert Anton Wilson used to say: "Don't trust your own belief-system 100% and don't trust anyone else's B.S. 100% either." I suspect more will be revealed in the next couple of years.
  • 2012 Theories: As that year now looms on the horizon--the theories are heating up. Some bleak, death-trip scenarios about the Earth snuffing out humankind are abounding. Those seem to be mostly the domain of religious types and misanthropic cranks. Terence McKenna thought it would be an immense enlightenment, a massive concresence of 'novelty' bringing about an evolved humanity. I lean more toward McKenna's view, but again, I don't know what will happen. I try to remain as agnostic as possible about what may take place in December 2012.

But hey now - it's not all war and death and famine and AIDS. It seemed to me there were some good things in the past ten years, too:

  • Music Files/Blogs: Don't ask me who it was (I can't be bothered to look it up), but some critter figured out how to turn music tracks into files. Not only could someone copy a CD (blank recordable CDs were a cool thing, too), but they could post it up on a page for others to download. Then Napster came along and headed up the whole 'peer-to-peer' network movement. The creators were forced to go legit and charge for tracks after a big court battle--but others sprung up in it's place. Another groovy development was the rise of music blogs, which showcase a lot of obscure, long out-of-print albums. Most of the albums were copied from LPs onto hard-drives, then converted to files. The only problem with that is, now there's almost too much music to listen to. I suppose some of those records are unknown precisely because they weren't good enough to make the wider muso conciousness. Still, if you want to hear some Hungarian progressive rock or Japanese art-punk, there's a blog out there for your perusal. Now, I don't condone down-loading albums that are still available or 'leaked' copies of new albums. I mainly stick to bootlegs and out-of-print stuff...support the artists when you can by actually buying the CD or files, especially directly from the artists's website.
  • The Internet: Yep. That collection of servers, computers and satellite connections that lets me type this post out and you to read it. Pretty fascinating. Just over 10 years ago, I was pretty much an internet virgin. I had sent a few e-mails through a work e-mail address and checked a few sites out. Since then, I've posted on 4 blogs, I've got two personal e-mail addresses, signed up on several sites to purchase music and other stuff, and on and on. I mean, yeah, it seems the Internet has gobbled up a lot of my spare time, but I still wouldn't trade it in. I've been able to catch up with old school friends and read about subjects that would've taken me ages to track down in a library. No, this isn't an ad for anything - it just seemed to me that the Internet definitely changed a lot of the way critters view their worlds in the past decade.
  • Humanity Gets Smarter: Er...actually, maybe I'll hold off on this one....

Heroes Who Checked Out: Robert Anton Wilson, George Harrison, Rick Wright, Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Paul Newman, George Carlin, Terence McKenna, Michael English, Alton Kelley, Joe Zawinul, Hugh Hopper, Philip Jose Farmer, Stanley Kubrick, Kirsty MacColl, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer...and to any others I may have forgotten, rest in peace!

21 December 2009

The Solstice Arrives!

Kull-i-Shay 1 - 9 Vahid - Year Vahhab

Another winter has officially started--it definitely feels like it in Britain. The weathercritters predicted snowfall..and lo!...snow fell. We didn't get much, in our little area of the country. We did get plenty of ice on the pavements and frost on the grass.

Apparently, Rage Against The Machine have 'won' the..ahem..'coveted' No. 1 X-Mas spot on the UK charts, over yet another fresh-faced, scrubbed-down X-Factor winner. This year, it's a Geordie called Joe McElderry and his single is The Climb, a syrupy cover of a syrupy original, sung by the annoying Miley Cyrus (I watched her interview on Alan Carr's Chatty Man show--she does seem to be one of the most irritating critters I've witnessed in a long time...it does make me thankful I don't have children, so I don't have to watch her programme or listen to her music). A more-or-less 'grass roots' campaign started to knock McElderry out of the top spot by buying Rage's Killing In The Name (famous for it's "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" lyric), first released in 1994. This critter has some compelling arguments about why the Rage campaign seems an ultimate failure. While it would please me to see "X-Factor" mastermind Simon Cowell upset that his latest pop-by-numbers ballad hasn't dominated the charts, I strongly suspect he's not really bothered at all. The latest run of the show was the most popular by far and I doubt ITV will let it's main cash-cow disappear, despite Cowell's intimations that he may end it for good. A lot of folks have also remarked on RATM's contract with Sony Music, one of the corporate music giants. Ah the irony, fighting the corporatising of music by buying a song released by a corporate giant. "Killing In The Name" seems dated to me now - it's only known for the "Fuck You.." bit. The tune itself seems like generic 90s skate-metal - couldn't anyone have picked a better tune? I thought maybe Pink Floyd's Welcome To The Machine, which describes McElderry's fate almost perfectly, would be a better choice - but then EMI, another corporate giant, would get the money. Oh, I don't know - I don't really give a shit about the charts, so I'm going to stop thinking about it now.

It's also nearly X-Mas...thankfully! X-Mas season seems to go on too long now, especially since some retailers insist on getting the seasonal clobber out in the third week of October! I suppose I'm becoming more of a Scrooge as I grow older. I really can't stand most of the standard tunes (Walkin' In A Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bell Rock, Let It Snow (though I have to admire it's coy 'bad weather = seduction' ploy), etc, etc, ad infinitum..). I'm even tiring of some of the tunes I still kinda enjoy - like Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day and Slade's So Here It Is (Merry Christmas). I did make my own holiday mix a couple of years ago, entitled Have Yourself A Psychedelic Christmas...And A Progressive New Year, as an alternate to all the old warhorses. I think I might give it a spin. See, I'm not a complete Grinch. Remember, war is over....if you want it.

To my regular readers - I apologise for the lack of content this past Gregorian year. I blame Facebook, eBay, Amazon.co.uk and getting out of the house for actual activity. O.K., so the last one seems good to me...otherwise my eyes would've morphed into mini-computer monitors. The others have sucked away a lot of my 'free' time--though I did get some nifty stuff and got back in touch with a lot of old friends, so it appears not to be a total loss. I will attempt to do a bit more blogging in the new year, but I can't promise anything. Thanks for your visits, even if it was just once in a while, or maybe just once.

I'll close this post with some more greatness from Cassetteboy. This time he's taking on the putrid and repulsive Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP. Cassetteboy does a killer splice-n-dice job with Griffin's appearance on Question Time a couple of months back. It's not as belly-laugh funny as the Alan Sugar Apprentice remix, but it does what it's supposed to do--lampoon a racist twat. Check out Cassetteboy's blog, too. Enjoy.

01 December 2009

The Beatles Never Broke Up!

10 Agrahayana - Year 1931

David Jay Brown posted a link to a site on Facebook a couple of days ago. The site's owner claims to have a 'lost' Beatles album in his possession. Not only that--he's claiming the cassette that the music is recorded on comes from a parallel universe, where the Fabs never broke up! Far out, you say? Too much, you say? Well, read the story...

A bloke calling himself 'James Richards' has set up a whole page relating to the story of how he acquired this tape...it seems that on September 9th, 2009 (the very day of the Beatles CD re-issues and Rock Band video game release), he tripped (hmmm...) in a 'rabbit hole' while chasing after his dog in the desert and was knocked unconcious. When he awoke, he was in a strange house and somehow could tell he was in a populated area when, before his fall, he was in an empty desert. A guy named 'Jonas' explained that he had saved James by opening a 'portal' near to where he fell...and grabbed his dog, too. They talked for a while, including about music. James noticed that Jonas had some Beatles albums..well, mostly on cassette. Jonas played him some Fabs stuff that James had never heard. James told Jonas how (in our universe) they had split in 1969. Jonas replied that they stayed together and continued to release albums in the 1970s and 80s. No word on whether they're still around in the parallel universe, however.

James asked Jonas to make him a copy of one of the albums, but Jonas adamantly refuses, stating that James cannot return to this universe with anything, including a cassette. Luckily, Jonas gets distracted by another visitor to his house, and James grabs one of the cassettes, called Everyday Chemistry. He shuffles the other tapes around, so Jonas won't cotton on that one of them is missing...for a little while, anyway. Enough time for he and his dog to be transported back by Jonas. James states that he's in fear of Jonas coming back for him, because of the blatant disregard of the warning James was given.

That's pretty much it--James goes into more detail on the site. Phew! Now, in my current mix of education and ignorance - James's story seems about 20% 'true' to me. I strongly suspect it's a really clever viral marketing campaign for one bloke's re-mixes-n-mash-ups of Fabs out-takes, band and solo. I haven't heard every Beatles out-take...hell, I've only heard maybe 10% of the 1969 Get Back sessions. I've listened to Over The Ocean so far (you can down-load individual tracks or the entire 'album' on the page) and while it does sound 'new' to me - honestly, it's a bit light on the lyrics..something that the three songwriters in the group never skimped on..at least in this universe.

I also wonder why James never bothered asking about Jimi Hendrix, or Jim Morrison, or Brian Jones or Janis Joplin...John Bonham...or Marc Bolan. Maybe they weren't fortunate in that parallel universe either.

Ah well, it seems to be akin to a UFO abduction story...guy alone in the desert has a mysterious experience which, with a lack of witnesses, no-one can fully prove or refute. I'll let you reach your own conclusions as to the veracity, or lack, of the story. James is happy to answer questions about the experience, as shown on the FAQ portion on the page--though I do notice that he kinda-sorta dodges direct queries about the tunes being re-mixes. At the very least, it shows that the Fabs' legend continues, even if their physical form disappeared, in the space-time we're accustomed to.

29 November 2009

Return Of The Pot-Head Pixies - Gong: O2 Academy, Oxford - November 28, 2009 - Haab: 0 Mac/Tzolkin: 4 lk

Having not been to a live gig (not counting the Cropredy festival) in two years, I probably couldn't have picked a better one to attend than the re-formed Gong. That's right, the Alien Australian and most of the 'classic' line-up are back spreading the P.H.P. gospel, including Gilli Smyth, now 76! Amazing. Steve Hillage and his longtime partner Miquette Giraudy have re-joined the fold, as has Mike Howlett, who played bass on the awesome Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy albums. At the moment, Didier Malherbe has decided not to tour (though he does guest on the latest studio album, 2032), and Tim Blake, Gong's early-70s keyboard-player has also declined to join the latest incarnation. It still promised to be a great concert.

Pixie, myself and my muso-mate Will arrived at the O2, after dinner at Subway and a pre-show pint at the Cape Of Good Hope, with enough time to grab a beer at the bar and for Pixie to grab a Camembert Electrique T-shirt for me , as an X-Mas gift, before The Steve Hillage Band took the stage. I was surprised that there weren't any dedicated tour T-shirts, but never mind. Hillage was assisted by Giraudy, Howlett, Chris Taylor on drums and Theo Travis on sax and flute. They ran through a selection of tunes from Steve's 70s solo albums and a few instrumentals. Hillage proved he can still act the guitar hero and work the fret magic, even when playing one of those ugly Steinberger guitars. Giraudy churned out the spacey synth drones and Howlett and Taylor make a tight rhythm section. We were a bit back in the crowd, so we were able to watch both the band and the psychedelic graphics that were shown on the video screens behind the soundboard. The highlights of the set were a nice Hurdy Gurdy Man, covered on the 1976 album L and Salmon Song, from Hillage's solo debut, Fish Rising. They wound up their slot with a funky jam and came back out for a short encore.

After about a half-hour, the Radio Gnome intro. spilled out of the speakers, and the 2009 model Gong hit the stage. Hillage and crew started up a signature Gong-type riff and then Daevid Allen walked out, dressed as a wizard, to loud cheers. The beginning instrumental finished and they tore into an energized You Can't Kill Me. Gilli Smyth took to the stage during the tune, to more applause, and joined in with her patented 'space whisper' vocals. Digital Girl, from the "2032" album, followed...leading into Dynamite/I Am Your Animal, another rave-up from the group. Yoni Poem, a Smyth 'solo spot' followed, which led into Zero The Hero & The Witch's Spell (also known as Tic-Toc). Allen surprised me with his energy - he would swoop all over the stage, raise his arms in mystic gestures and occasionally grab a guitar and play some rhythm under Hillage's psychedelic lead riffs. Malherbe was missed, but Travis ably filled his shoes on a great version of Flute Salad/Oily Way (from the classic Angel's Egg record). Other peaks for me were a very trippy and very rockin' Master Builder, toward the end of the gig, which started with a slow version of the chant on the You album. They also played Wacky Baccy Banker, off of the new album - it's a kind of update on Kevin Ayers' Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes - I couldn't really hear the lyrics because of the muddy mix for the mics.

They played for two hours, including the encore--though Allen and especially Smyth, had to take a few breaks in the set--but hey, I hope I have as much life in me when I'm in my 70s. The encore was a sort-of improvised chant of "I Am You, You Are Me", while Hillage, Giraudy, Taylor and Travis played a spacey tune. The lights came on and the space dust settled. I had a great time and despite a few..erm...'over-enthusiastic' fans (read: nutters) weaving around the crowd, doing the tai-chi hippie dance and singing lyrics in punter's faces, it seemed to be an excellent gig to me. That's the thing with a band like Gong, though, you really have to expect a few nutters in the crowd. Ah well, they looked like they were enjoying themselves, so more power to 'em. If you get the chance to see the band on this tour, I would recommend you do so. In my view, they still manage to out-psychedelic a lot of the younger bands practising the genre. If you want to see the real deal before it's gone...get yer pointy hat on and get glidding!

Setlist (as much as I can remember):

The Steve Hillage Band:

Instrumental (?)

Hurdy Gurdy Man

Instrumental (?)

Hello Dawn


Sea Nature

Salmon Song


Instrumental (?)


Radio Gnome intro.


You Can't Kill Me

Digital Girl

Dynamite/I Am Your Animal

Witch Poem/Zero The Hero & The Witch's Spell

I Never Glid Before

Flute Solo/Flute Salad/Oily Way

Yoni Poem/Dance With The Pixies

Wacky Baccy Banker

IAO Chant/Master Builder

Guitar Zero/Jam/Selene


I Am You, You Are Me chant

12 November 2009

Cinema Corner #309

25 Heshvn - Year 5770

Time for some thoughts on a couple of films:

The Boat That Rocked - I really really wanted to like this, despite it being directed by Richard Curtis, of such rom-com fare as Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill. You can see why I had some trepidations. But hey, Nick Frost is in the cast, and that won me over. Turns out it's not that great, though the film premise, based on one of the English 'pirate radio' ships in the 1960s, is an interesting one. I should say very loosely based, because there are lots of historical inaccuracies. At one point, Chris O'Dowd's character tells the main character, played by Charlie Rowe, to "think outside the box..pretend the box isn't there." Hmmm...now, I wasn't on the planet during the 60s, but I strongly suspect that counter-culture types weren't using lame late-1990s corporate-speak. In another scene, one of the DJs plays The Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash, to herald the return of another jockey who left the ship to 'find fame in the U.S.' I think the year the film was supposed to be set in was 1967 and seeing as "J.J.F." wasn't released until 1968 makes that another glaring error. The plot, such as it is, involves Rowe being invited to the boat by his godfather, played with his usual posh-ness by Bill Nighy. Apparently, Rowe's a bit of a wayward child, though he looks like a massive, soppy bookworm. Nighy's character has supposedly invited him aboard to keep him out of trouble...riiiiiiight. On a boat filled with proto-hippies with sex and drugs and rock-n-roll all over the shop. Of course, you never see any of that - well, a little bit of sex, but certainly no drugs. It transpires that Rowe has heard that his estranged father is on the boat and is looking to reunite with him. There's also a tired 'coming-of-age' story about him falling in love with Marianne, another godchild of Nighy's, but then her breaking his heart by shagging Nick Frost's character (they actually play Leonard Cohen's So Long, Marianne during the scene where he's all lovelorn - how cheesy is that?)--don't worry, true believers...they get back together at the end.

There's also "The Count", an American DJ, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (as usual, doing his best with a so-so script) and Gavin Cavanaugh, played by Rhys Ifans as a sort-of psychedelic Howard Stern, another anomaly for the 60s, who's keen to freak out the squares. Kenneth Brannagh plays a drab, humourless government official who's determined to shut down the pirates...with Jack Davenport playing "Mr. Twatt", his assistant. Yes, that gag does get old after about the fifth time Brannagh refers to him by his surname. Curtis does the good/evil thing to death - with the pirate DJs engaging in wacky antics and having colourful Hapshash posters tacked up all over the boat--while the government offices seem cold and grey and all the button-down officials dressed in black or grey all the time. I dunno, maybe London in the late 60s 'was' that polarised, but I suspect things weren't so much. Anyway, the posh kid finds his dad, gets the girl and they all live happily ever after...in the 60s created in Richard Curtis's mind. Oh yeah..the boat sinks. Oop, that's a big spoiler. Ah well, you weren't going to watch it, were you? Good.

2012 - You may have seen this in the past couple of weeks:

That's right. It's the new 'blockbuster' action/disaster film from the guy who directed Independence Day and some other CGI'd crapola. For those who have been following the 2012 meme for a while, you'll know that Terence McKenna had been talking about the 2012 phenomenon since the mid-1970s and even wrote a book about his "Timewave Zero" software and the Mayan calendar called The Invisible Landscape. He posited that 'novelty', or advancement in human critters' thinking would be so fast by December 2012 that a 'new age' would dawn. It would be the 'end of the world', but not really in a literal sense, more of a metaphysical one. James Joyce referred to it as "waking from the nightmare of history".

It seems that the meme was hijacked by various other groups, including some Christian eschatologists. They are taking the more literal translation - that there will be super-storms, floods, earthquakes and on and on. According to them, the world will end in December 2012. They use global warming and the various wars and unrest around the globe to lend credence to their theory. Enter Roland Emmerich and his film. Playing on these fears, he's concocted yet another 'the-humans-are-doomed-but-there's-a-glimmer-of-hope' scenario. He and his cronies started a viral marketing campaign with fake websites and teaser clips. One of the websites offered a lottery system, so visitors could win a place in the remainder of humanity, after the shit hit the fan. Nice way to stoke the hysteria.

I haven't seen the film, nor do I intend to. I actually sat through that Day After Tomorrow fiasco--not in the cinema, mind - just on the toob. I seriously wanted the two hours of my life back after it finished. I also sat through a rental of Deep Impact and wasn't impressed with that either. Sure, "2012" looks nice, with it's CGI depictions of Vatican domes collapsing and highways crumbling....hundred-foot high tsunamis crashing into beachfronts and skyscrapers being snapped like kindling. Mainly, it just seems like a monument to fatalistic thinking and the co-opting of yet another counter-culture meme by greed-heads. If you've seen it, I hope you had your money's worth. If you haven't - try not to give your money to these cretins. Fuck Roland Emmerich and his death-trip vision. As McKenna said: "I don't know what's going to happen..it may be that people just get a little smarter and legalise marijuana or something similar."

Edward Woodward: Sadly, the man has passed away. Aside from his brief stint on East Enders earlier this year, the last thing I saw him in is the hilarious Hot Fuzz. He was also in the decent 80s TV show The Equalizer and of course, the awesome Wicker Man....the original, not the shit re-make with Nicolas Cage. I also remember watching Breaker Morant on cable in the early 80s. I didn't understand the complexities of the Boer conflict, but I did think Woodward was brilliant. R.I.P. Edward - the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance won't be the same without you.

03 November 2009

Kaleidophonic Stroboscope 2.0

12 Aban - Year 1388

I was recently checking out another podcast site--Harold's Attic Radio, in fact - and I was impressed by their site layout. They were set up on My Podcast and maybe became tired of M.P.'s limitations. I must say that their new set-up looks much better and with a lot more options.

I liked it so much that I decided to give it a go myself. H.A.R.'s main page uses WordPress - so I headed there to find out how to set a site up. W.P. advises getting a web host, but you don't really have to - you can set up a blog on it's own. I thought it would be kinda cool to have a domain name for the podcast. I chose the web host that W.P. recommends, BlueHost. It's fairly cheap for a year's cost (well, if you break it down monthly - though you have to pay for a year in advance). You get all kinds of features - the ones I might use would be the FTP and "Web Disk" storage feature.

I set up a page using WordPress and chose a groovy template (much, much more choice than My yPodcast offers..). I hit a massive snag, though...in that I couldn't figure out how to load my shows through W.P. The memory allowance is quite small and the allowance through BlueHost isn't much better, which seems annoying to me--especially after forking over some coin of the realm for the host priviledges. I was about the ask the H.A.R. crew how they got around that...when I found Podcast Machine. You can upload your episodes there - then just copy the HTML code for their player and add that to your post in WordPress...fairly painless. You do have to do that for each episode you create, but it does only take a minute.

For all that, I give you the new (and hopefully improved) version of The Kaleidophonic Stroboscope! I'm adding the remaining epsiodes from the MyPodcast site in the next couple of weeks and then I'll work on a brand-new one. I'm going to try and tweak the template a bit, too, as well as add a few more widgets. Let me know what you think.

20 October 2009

Season Sickness/Visually Enhanced

28 Asvina - Year 1931 (Saka Era)

Urgh. My first cold of the year. I've been really good the past 10 months avoiding various flus and bugs. I suppose I had to ingest at least one airborne virus sooner or later. I ended up calling out of work for three days last week. It's one of those head colds...plugged-up sinuses, mild fever and achy muscles. I feel a bit better now, but I'm still not fully recovered. I did manage to drag myself back to work this week, like the good little wage-slave that I am. Ah well, hopefully this means that I've paid my illness dues for another year.

I was trawling eBay looking for LPs, when I thought I would check for some vintage psychedelic posters from the late 60s. I was specifically looking for art from the UK psych scene, particularly from Hapshash and The Coloured Coat and Martin Sharp. To my amazement, there are some available - though mostly cheaper reprints of the 60s originals. I tried a Google search and found a few independent art dealers with small stocks of 1st printings. I warn you, though, if you're in the market for a copy, they're not cheap. A first printing of Hapshash's Pink Floyd/CIA v UFO poster in excellent condition will cost you about £300 and a near-mint copy of Sharp's Donovan metallic poster are going for around the £400/£500 mark. The rarer Hapshash posters, like the one for the Fifth Dimension club in Leicester, or the UFO Coming poster, may go for even more dosh now. Hapshash also created a couple of posters for OZ Magazine - one called Catherine and The Wheel Of Fire (pictured above) and one called Position 69. I managed to get my hands on a copy of the "Catherine.." poster by buying (not cheaply) an original OZ issue off of eBay. It's in good shape...a bit creased here and there, but the colour is still intact. I'm going to have it archive-framed at some point.

I only just discovered now that Michael English, half of Hapshash, passed away on 25th September of cancer--a loss of a great artist. A website is dedicated to his artwork over the years - though, curiously, it doesn't mention his death. You can purchase his 1970s posters, usually mundane objects air-brushed in amazing detail, for fairly decent prices on eBay and elsewhere on the web. I've ordered used copies of both of English's books, 3-D Eye and Anatomy Of Illusion. His partner in the collective, Nigel Waymouth, is still on the planet and also has a site. Waymouth is selling reprints of the more famous Hapshash posters, but I haven't e-mailed him to ask about prices.

Besides Hapshash and Sharp - the Dutch collective The Fool were psychedelicizing art in the UK in the late 60s. They were responsible for the (in)famous mural on the exterior of The Beatles' Apple boutique in London - as well as Eric Clapton's trippy Gibson SG guitar (he played it while a member of Cream) and Procol Harum's 1967 stage clothes. They also designed part of the set of Wonderwall, Joe Massot's groovy 'Swingin' 60s' film, starring Jane Birkin and featuring a soundtrack by George Harrison--and even appeared in a party scene. The Fool weren't quite as prolific as the others in poster creation, but the few they did publish seem to be quite excellent to me. The A Is For Apple poster is probably the most well-known. You can buy a reprint from the official Beatles on-line shop for a modest price (originals fetch about £250-£300 now). I bought one and it's quite good. It's a digital scan, so the colours probably aren't quite as bright as on a vintage '67 printing. They're printed on heavier card stock, rather than thin poster paper, so they're sturdy.

When The Fool split in 1970, Barry Finch and Josje Leeger moved to Amsterdam and are still together, though I don't know if they still create artwork. Marijke Koger, one of the original members (Barry and Josje joined after the others moved to London), moved to America, got hitched and still creates paintings and prints. She too has her own website, where you can buy original paintings (pretty costly) or reprints of some of her 60s poster designs. The reprints are giclees, but the quality seems to be good. I can't give a first-hand assessment, because I haven't purchased any at the moment. Simon Posthuma, also one of the Fool founders, moved back to Holland and also has a site, but there doesn't appear to be anything for sale.

There's a few other notables from the English psychedelic art scene. Alan Aldridge, who created drawings for The Beatles and illustrations for various magazines. Mike McInnerney, the cover artist for The Who's Tommy album (see the link for the details of his "Tommy" artwork) and several Oz and International Times issues. He doesn't have a website or even a Wikipedia page, so I'm not sure what he's up to these days--keeping a low profile, certainly. John Hurford also contributed to Oz and created a few gig posters, of which originals are pretty much impossible to find now. There is a book available covering most of his late 60s and early 70s work, as well as his creations to the present.

American psychedelic posters seem to be all the rage at the moment, too. I'll cover the U.S. scene in another post. If you've got any Hapshash or Sharp art you want to sell, give me a shout.

01 October 2009

The Reign Of The Crimson King

13 Tishri - Year 5770

Along with other many other landmark albums reaching their 40th anniversaries this year (Abbey Road, Let It Bleed & Aoxomoxoa, to name just a few), is King Crimson's debut. In The Court Of The Crimson King is often called the first true expression of the genre that would subsequently be called "progressive rock" or "art-rock". Prog-rock, which started as a mainly English phenomenon, was melded together from psychedelia, European classical strains and even a bit of outre jazz. The idea was to subvert the usual three-minute constraints of a pop chart single, which had already been stretched and even broken by psychedelic music - but progressive bands continued the experimentation. Adding in virtuoso performances, themed poetic/fantasy lyrics and multi-part suites (that sometimes took up entire album sides)..prog-rockers hoped to make rock-and-roll as legitimate an art form as jazz, classical..or even folk and blues. They seemed to see Blonde On Blonde, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn as standard-bearers for a new kind of rock, only one that didn't really have a name at the time.

The band that recorded "In The Court..." consisted of a few chancers from the Bournemouth area, a woodwind player they met, and a good-looking young bass player from Poole. Most of them were barely out of their teens. Robert Fripp, the guitar player, Michael Giles, the drummer and Peter Giles, bassist - had recorded one album as Giles, Giles & Fripp, which was released to some underground acclaim in 1968. Peter was replaced by Greg Lake (out of psych outfit The Gods) and Ian McDonald joined the band, playing keyboards and wind instruments. They practised hard and gigged for six months, then entered Wessex Sound Studios for about ten days between June and August 1969. They were originally to be produced by Tony Clarke, who had guided The Moody Blues through their psychedelic excursions on In Search Of The Lost Chord and On The Threshold Of A Dream. The sessions with Clarke broke down and the boys were essentially left alone to produce themselves (rumour has it that Lake did most of the production work himself).

A friend of Fripp's, Barry Godber, painted the striking images that would become the album artwork. Sadly, he passed away some months after the album's release. The screaming face on the front is said to be "The 21st Century Schizoid Man" and the smiling face on the inside of the gatefold sleeve is either referred to as "The Wizard" or "The Crimson King". Gatefold sleeves became de rigeur after "Sgt. Pepper.." and especially for progressive rock albums after "In The Court.." was released.

The band had already previewed the material in their live sets. They had a short residency at the Marquee Club in London and they had also been one of the support acts for The Rolling Stones' free concert at Hyde Park in July 1969 (along with Third Ear Band, Family, Battered Ornaments and a few others). Their set was fairly short, but they managed to wow the crowd with their alchemic blend of styles. "In The Court.." was released by Island Records in October 1969. The band began to fragment soon after an American tour, which soured McDonald and Giles on the prospect of long-term touring. The original line-up split at the end of 1969, leaving Fripp to continue on with the K.C. name. He offered to leave, instead of Giles and McDonald, but they both agreed the group was "more his than theirs". Lake also left, to join The Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and Crazy World Of Arthur Brown/Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer to form prog 'supergroup' Emerson, Lake & Palmer, in 1970. He did agree to help out on the follow-up to "In The Court..", In The Wake Of Poseidon.

The music? If you've never heard the album..the tunes range from the near-heavy rock of 21st Century Schizoid Man to the gentle balladry of I Talk To The Wind to the kitchen-sink prog of the title track. The important thing to remember about this record, it seems to me, is that it's a true band effort--contrary to the belief that Crimso was Fripp's band from the very start. Lake's vocals, McDonald's exemplary flute and sax-playing and Giles's almost martial drumming all contribute to the tunes. Peter Sinfield, the band's lyricist and light-show operator, provided some complimentary baroque and mock-profound words for Lake to sing. Fripp himself proved a wonder, if a little unsteady, on his trusty Gibson six-string. He became a new sort of guitar-hero - the understated egghead. Contrast him with Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, Hendrix, etc. and his unwillingness to strut and act the showman is miles away from the others. His playing relies little on the blues roots of most other rock guitarists of the day and even when he attempts some jazzy noodling in the center section of Moonchild, it doesn't sound like what one would expect as 'jazz'.

In a live setting, the band were even more of a monster, with "21st Century Schizoid Man" sounding ever more sinister than the studio version..and yes, they were able to do all of the stop/start rhythms. If you haven't heard any of the shows from 1969, check out the Epitaph set, released in the late 90s. There's also a Collector's Club disc, which features one of their Marquee sets from July 1969.

After "In The Wake..", Fripp really did become Crimson's guiding force, with an ever-changing line-up helping him to release records at the vanguard of prog-rock. The 1973-1974 line-up of Fripp, Bill Bruford (ex-Yes), John Wetton (ex-Family and Mogul Thrash) and David Cross nearly matched the 1969 roster for brilliance, especially on the Larks Tongues In Aspic album. Fripp finally split Crimson for good early in 1975 and went into session work for the likes of David Bowie and Brian Eno. He reformed Crimson in the early 1980s and then again in the mid-1990s, while balancing those incarnations of the band with a solo career. The future of King Crimson is unknown, but there may be one more reformation. I don't think it will be of the 1969 vintage, though. That one's left to the recordings and the memories of the band members and the audiences who were lucky enough to be there.

Discipline Global Mobile, Fripp's label that he set up in the early 1990s, are commemerating "In The Court.."s anniversary with a 2-CD set, a CD & DVD-A set and a massive boxed set, with 5 CDs and a DVD-A. The boxed set is rumoured to be packaged in a 12"X12" case...pretty much LP-sized--like Mike Oldfield's Ultimate Tubular Bells set, released earlier this year. You can find the details of the various versions here. I think I'm going to go for the box, myself. Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree, helped R.F. with the re-mixing. There's also re-issues of Red and Lizard soon to be available..and the rest of the 70s Crimson albums should be re-issued in the coming months. Summon back the firewitch, it's time to hang out in the court of the Crimson King again!

21 September 2009

09 September 2009

Wogan Walks/Ursa Psychedelica

18 Shahrviar - Year 1388

The morning impresario of Radio 2, Sir Terry Wogan, is hanging up his mic soon. Radio 2 has reported that Chris Evans will be taking his morning-show spot. Evans does annoy me a bit - I dunno, maybe he tries too hard to be "zany". I will kinda miss hearing Wogan waffle on about TV shows and performing those horrible skits with the rest of his crew. In honour of 'Sir Terry', here's a vid of the excellent Peter Serafinowicz parodying Wogan and portraying him as a mellow stoner. If only...

I've started reading The Brotherhood Of Eternal Love, by Stewart Tendler. The Brotherhood were a cabal of psychedelics dealers whose idealistic (if somewhat naive) goal was to turn on as many critters as possible. In their view, the more folks who had been 'experienced', the more peaceful the planet would become. The book seems pretty good to me so far--it's quite a task to try and weave all of the various threads of the story together.

One of the main protagonists in the first half of the book is none other than the chief 'Acid Chemist' himself, Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Owsley's name was synonymous with good-quality LSD in the late 60s. He made a lot of money cooking up batches of psychedelics, of which a lot was spent supporting The Grateful Dead and other projects throughout California. Stanley's nickname was (is) "The Bear" and his acid-operation was called Bear Research Group. He made many recordings of The Dead, amongst other S.F. psych bands. Some were even released as legitimate albums, the most famous being Bear's Choice. I especially like the 'three-eyed bear' graphic on the back cover of the LP (er..at least that's what it looks like to me). I hadn't heard anything about ol' Owsley lately and I thought maybe he wasn't on the planet anymore. I did a search and yep, he's still around. He's even got his own website, where he sells his art pieces. The site's pretty low-tech, but he explains why on the face page. Apparently, he moved to Australia in the early 80s and pretty much stayed there. He does make occasional visits to the U.S., as shown in this 2007 article.

He's survived throat cancer and most of his 60s contemporaries...Leary, Kesey, Garcia..the list goes on. He even survived most of his 'enemies', too..Nixon, Reagan..maybe even ol' Neal Purcell, the Laguna Beach cop who busted Leary in 1968, which led to Tim's conviction and prison sentence. At 74, "Bear" is alive and fairly well and still convinced that psychedelics can benefit the human species. More power to him, I say.

Now back to the book...

02 September 2009

September un-Furls

13 Elul - Year 5769

"Summer was gone and the heat died down...and Autumn reached for her golden
" --Nick Drake

The ninth month of Gregorian calendar year 2009 has arrived. Another British summertime has passed. Ah well, it was a bit nicer than last year. We had a good camping trip in Dorset and a decent Cropredy. We had less rain this summer, or maybe it just seemed that way.

Pixie and I spent the August Bank Holiday taking walks, looking after Smudge, a silver Siberian cat who belongs to a co-worker. He was staying with us for the past couple of weeks, while she and her family were on holiday. We also visited Slimbridge, a wetlands preserve featuring many species of waterfoul and even an indoor display of amphibians. The entrance fee seems a bit pricey, but the place is quite large, so you do get your money's worth. The park is set up by areas of the world and you walk down the path and observe the birds. Photos are allowed and some of the birds are tame enough to approach the path.

I never realised how many different species of duck exist, having only seen mallards. I attempted to hand-feed some geese--I succeeded with one and was bitten by another..ah well. There are three types of flamingo at the park and they are the major attraction. It's interesting to know that their colouring derives from the food they eat, not from any natural pigmentation. That nice man Stephen Fry said so on QI and that's good enough for me.

Pixie's parents held a barbeque at their place on Bank Holiday Monday. At first it seemed like it would be an indoor affair, as dark clouds were overhead most of the day. The sun finally managed to burn through in the late afternoon, so we all basked for awhile, full of good food and lager (well, I was full of lager anyway). The neices are all growing so fast - soon they'll be taller than I am. Two of them decided it would be fun to round up the caterpillars who're munching on the brussels sprout plants. They loaded up five or six plastic cups full of the critters. Their intention of keeping the caterpillars at their house was kiboshed, so Pixie and I led an expedition to a nearby field to let the crawlies go.

We had both booked Tuesday off, for an extra long weekend. We didn't do much, other than clean the house (and vacuum up all the cat fur). I did buy an original stereo pressing of The Fab's Sgt Pepper LP off of eBay. It weren't cheap, but it does have The Fool's groovy red-and-white inner sleeve (which was short-listed for the album cover at one point) and the "Pepper" cut-outs. I seriously am turning into a bit of a vinyl snob. I'm looking for original pressings or specific labels (Island's pink "i" label, "Deramic Sound System", Vertigo "swirl", etc.) and for the record to be in fairly good condition. I did make an exception for a copy of Van Der Graaf Generator's The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other. The record isn't in great shape - but the label is the original Charisma pink scroll design, so I can live with it.

Speaking of the Fabs, the re-issues are due out next week! I've pre-ordered Revolver, "Sgt. Pepper.." & Abbey Road - my three faves. I'll order The White Album and Rubber Soul next--then get the rest eventually. I've avoided the box sets - though I might splash out for the mono set at some point.

Here we go....easing into Autumn.

18 August 2009

Cropredy Capers 2009

27 Sravana - Year 1931

It can't be the 18th of August already?? What have I been doing? Well, last weekend, Pixie and I were at the Cropredy Festival. Since we missed it last year, we thought we'd amble on down there (plus, Green Man seemed too expensive and too far of a drive - it's boasting an incredible line-up, though). Here's my breakdown, day by day:

Thursday, 13th August - We decided to leave extra early this year, as Fairport had asked festival-goers to travel via the M40, instead of driving through the village, to ease congestion. We were also hoping to be placed in a field closer to the stage. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. to find that all the fields were filled, except for the ones we've usually camped in. WTF??! It took about an hour and a half to set up the tent and move our gear from the car to inside the tent. After that, we had a quick stroll around the village. I found a bloke selling vinyl near the SPAR shop, so I had a quick look-see. Talking Elephant Records had their usual stall set up as well, though it was much smaller this year. The wristband marquee had virtually no queue (one of the advantages of arriving so early), so we exchanged our tickets for 'bands and entered the stage area. Starting off the afternoon was Harlequinn, a local girl-band - a proper one though, not a Girls Aloud/Sugababes clone. They were O.K., a bit emo for my liking. They played well and did a decent cover of Michael Jackson's Beat It (minus the Eddie Van Halen pyrotechnic git-tar solo). We missed some of 4Square's set - I thought they were alright as well...good players, but sorta kinda 'heard-it-before'. Still, they were reprazentin' da folk yoof. Ken Nicol (of Steeleye Span--no relation to Fairport's Simon Nicol) and Phil Cool (old comedian-type bloke) were up after and while Nicol is a good guitarist, his songs seemed kinda average to me. Cool does a decent job mimicking Rolf Harris, Paul McCartney and a few others - but to me, their set was the low point of the day. Buzzcocks stormed on-stage with Pete Shelley shouting "Let's get some punk rock in this fuckin' place!" and they tore through their set, no pauses, no banter, no nothin'. Shelley and Steve Diggle had more energy than Pixie and I did. Pretty good for a couple of grizzled 50-something punk-rockers. I suppose it helps having a younger rhythm section to keep them on pace. They played nearly all the "hits" (What Do I Get?, Orgasm Addict, Ever Fallen In Love..., etc.) and a few of off their newest record. Steve Winwood headlined and while it was good to see a legend still treading the boards...the pacing of his set could've used a little oomph. Winwood opened with a decent I'm A Man, but then it went sorta languid and mellow. He and the band ran through a few off of the Nine Lives album and a slowed-down Can't Find My Way Home (the Blind Faith 'hit'). Carefully avoiding his 1980s chart-fodder albums, ol' Stevie cranked out Traffic classics like Pearly Queen and Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys. The inevitable closers Dear Mr. Fantasy and Gimme Some Lovin' had the crowd going, but I was slightly disappointed by his set overall. Back to the tent and a night of rough sleep, only to find we had been invaded by these aphid-looking brown insects. Spent about a half-hour clearing out as many as possible.

Friday, 14th August - We decided to head into the village after breakfast, for a bit of shopping and supply-gathering (bug spray, etc.). I bought a couple of LPs off of the bloke by the SPAR shop (Gordon Giltrap's Visionary and Neil's Heavy Concept Album (a.k.a. Nigel Planer - who played hippie Neil on The Young Ones)). A shower was in order after clearing the tent of insects (again!) - this year, we had a shower block in the field where we pitched, which was very convenient. By the time we reached the stage area, ColvinQuarmby had finished, so I can't give you a review of their set. I did hear a couple of songs by Megan & Joe Henwood. Megan has a nice voice, but the songs I heard were just alright - maybe I wasn't listening close enough (I was wending my way through the crowd to get to the T-shirt tent). They did have an all-star backing band, though, including Barriemore Barlow (from the classic 70s line-up of Jethro Tull). 'New folkie-songwriter sensation' Scott Matthews followed. I dunno, maybe his slot wasn't the best for his sound, but I didn't really get into his tunes. Too melancholy for the afternoon in an outdoor setting, or summat. I mostly tried to doze during his set. Adrian Edmondson (speaking of "Young Ones" alumni) took the stage with his Bad Shepherds band-mates (including another old Tull-ster, Maartin Allcock). They play trad/Celtic folk versions of 70s punk & post-punk tunes. It sounds kinda naff on paper, but live it sounds pretty good. We were treated to covers of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, I Fought The Law, Kraftwerk's The Model and The Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime. They also sang an acapella cover of the English folk tune, famously recorded by Steeleye Span, All Around My Hat. They added a 'punk rock' change in the lyrics. You can see it here. I really enjoyed their set. Up next was The Dodge Brothers, featuring an American guy who looks a bit like Hunter S. Thompson and the quiffed doofus from the Culture Show, Mark Kermode. They play skiffle and sorta jump blues-y stuff. I have to hand it to Kermode--he's actually a decent upright bass-player and he's not too shabby on harmonica, either. The band are O.K., but there's only so much skiffle I can dig before it all starts sounding alike. We headed back to the tent for more lager and our camping chairs and by the time we returned, the John Jorgensen Band were into their set. Jorgensen's a flash guitarist from the ol' skool, so there was plenty of high-speed soloing (including the obligatory finger-tapping). He's a technically gifted player and he wrangled some interesting sounds out of his axe--but again, I couldn't help thinking that I'd heard it all before. His tunes seemed run-of-the-mill blooz-rockers to me and the instrumentals weren't really enough to keep my attention focused. Richard Thompson bounded out on-stage after Jorgensen..and really, what can I say. The man was up to his usual excellence. The surprises in the set were a nice Genesis Hall, which RT dedicated to Sandy Denny. He also played The Sun Never Shines On The Poor, from the Hokey Pokey album. The closers were, of course, Wall Of Death and A Heart Needs A Home, sung with female accompaniment. I didn't catch the singer's name, though - but most of the time - they'll make me miss Linda Thompson's vocals. Back to the tent again...but less insects to shoo away this time.

Saturday, 15th August - We both slept a bit better than the previous night, though the sky looked fairly ominous, with dark clouds approaching fast, when we woke up. Pixie suggested we pack up early, as she wanted to get home that night, which meant missing out on Fairport's set. I wasn't that bothered, having seen them a few other times at Cropredy. The only highlight this year was that Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) would be joining them on-stage for a mini-set...and RT would probably join up for a few tunes as well. We're cat-sitting for a co-worker this week and it would've been too hectic to get home Sunday morning, un-pack everything and tidy up the house for our guest. We ate, then got everything together fairly quickly. There was a car boot sale at the Cropredy F.C. ground and I was hoping to score some good (and hopefully cheap-ish) LPs. I wasn't disappointed (only by the lack of cash to buy more..heh heh). I found a couple of Steve Miller LPs for a couple of pounds each. Another table had some excellent stuff, though a bit pricey (between £7 and £10 per record) - I ended up buying Quintessence's first album, In Blissful Company, Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting and the Philips issue of Van Der Graaf Generator's H To He, Who Am The Only One. Nice! I also found a beat-up copy of the Hair original stage show LP, ELP's Tarkus and a near-mint copy of Tangerine Dream's Force Majeure--plus, an original In Search Of The Lost Chord by The Moody Blues. A very good haul, I'd say. Back at the stage field, Richard Digance was on--luckily, he was nearly done with his set. He seems a bit too trad and jokey-but-not-funny, to me. The Churchfitters were on after and while they were lively, the stock Irish rhythms they played got same-y toward the end of their appearance. Pixie wanted to watch Feast Of Fiddles and I quite like them myself. I was wandering around the field, looking for a T-shirt stall--where I spotted a groovy 'Green Man' tie-dye, so I wasn't paying rapt attention--but I do remember them playing a fine Battle Of The Somme. Always good to see Fairport veteran Dave Mattacks on the drum stool, too. Dreadzone were up next. I had only vaguely heard of them and had never seen them live. To me, they played one of the better sets of the entire festival. Their mixture of sampling, dub, techno & reggae got the crowd moving, even in the intense heat. The folk purists probably turned their noses up, but I really enjoyed it. I'm thinking on buying a few of their albums. We had to leave just then, but we did stay for a tiny bit of Nik Kershaw's set. Yep, the 80s-popster played a half-acoustic/half-electric show. Chris Leslie of Fairport has confessed to being a fan of Kershaw's. The stuff we heard was just O.K., but then I was never really into his music. I give him credit for showing up and not being overly embarrassed by his back catalogue. We made our way to the car, stowed our camping chairs and the rest of the things we had with us and made our way home.

Afterward: By all accounts, Fairport played a blinder and the mini-set featuring Yusuf was excellent. D'oh. Ah well, what can you do? There were reports of trouble in Fields 1 and 2 over the weekend...mostly groups of drunken teenagers. We didn't see any of that and all was relatively quiet in our field. All in all, another enjoyable Cropredy. If we don't end up trying our hands at Green Man next year, I'm sure we'll be back there.

07 August 2009

The 'Stroboscope Gets A Shout-Out!

Prickle-Prickle, Confusion 73, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3175

A few weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to Stuart Maconie, presenter of quite possibly the best show on radio (at the very least on the BBC) at the moment, the Freak Zone. For the uninitiated, 'The Zone' is a 2-1/2 hour broadcast featuring psychedelic rock, prog-rock and other left-field sounds. There's usually an interview section somewhere in the middle of the show, past luminaries have included Irmin Schmidt of Can and Peter Hammill (Van der Graaf Generator and solo). There's also a cat called Professor Justin Spear, who brings in crazy obscure stuff...Italian sound-track LPs from the 60s, Polish jazz, etc. Toward the end of each programme, there'll be a "live freaks" bit - which could be a past BBC session, or a couple of tracks from a live record.

I was listening to last Sunday's show (2nd August), after Pixie and I had returned from camping. Suddenly, Stuart starting reading some of the e-mail I had sent. He mentioned the bit where I complimented him for being brave enough to play prog-rock on a major radio show. He responded with "That's us...utterly courageous" He read my moniker out and then mentioned the 'Stroboscope! I had sent him the link to it and asked him if he would check it out sometime. So, a big cheers to Mr. Maconie for the plug!

If you want to listen to the latest "Freak Zone" show, check it out here. I'm working on a new 'Stroboscope episode and I hope to finish it in the next few days.

04 August 2009

Out In The Country, Living In A Tent

4 Hestia - Year 88 p.s.U.

Pixie and I spent last weekend camping in Dorset. Pixie had booked a pitch at a site that her parents recommended, called Wareham Forest Tourist Park. The facilities are quite nice there and the pitches allow for plenty of space. We set up the tent, packed our supplies inside and then headed off to Studland Beach. Pixie's parents joined us, as they had driven their camper-van to the Park.

By the time we were back at the site, the sky had clouded over. We stopped over in Wareham, met up with Pixie's brother, his wife and the neices and bought some food. A plan was made to meet at the camper-van for dinner. Dinner was relaxing, but cut short by the inevitable rain.

Saturday was mostly rainy, which made a lot of outdoor activity choices tough. We decided on Monkey World, a primate sanctuary near Wareham. Luckily, most of the rain had stopped, as the sanctuary is mainly outside. There are footpaths that take you around the various enclosures and you are allowed to take photos of the critters. My favourite ones were the Capuchins and the Chimpanzees. There are quite a few Capuchins at the sanctuary, in three different enclosures. They're quite lively and some of them definitely enjoy having an audience. Some were rescued from a lab in South America. The Chimps were fascinating as well. Some must have been at Monkey World for quite a while, as they didn't seem fazed by the groups of humans peering into their indoor homes.

We also saw a few Orang-utans and Gorillas. The Squirrel Monkeys may have been in hiding, because we didn't spot any as we walked by their enclosure. We did get to see a baby Yellow-Cheeked Gibbon. I think the one shown in the photo at left is of the baby we saw. I'm guessing she's slightly older now. She swung around on one of the bars for a bit before cuddling again with her mother.

The Lemurs are kept in their own gated-in area. It seemed as if the weather had got to them as well, because we only saw a couple of pairs, huddled together on a tree branch and on the roof of their shelter.

Pixie had a text message from her brother. They had gone to Chesil Beach and wanted to know if we would like to meet up in Weymouth. We arrived before they did, so we grabbed some lunch from a stand on the seaside promenade. While waiting some more, we walked around the high street. I found a charity shop, but unfortunately, no vinyl goodies to be had. Lots of easy listening LPs and what seemed to be a complete Cleo Laine catalogue (O.K., I'm exaggerating...). We finally met up with the others and strolled around the promenade. Then it was time to go to the arcade for some lightweight gambling and after, the girls went on a few of the rides. We left Weymouth and travelled to the Black Dog pub, about 10 minutes away from the town centre. The food was decent and a pint of Foster's tasted nice after all the walking. The sun finally appeared on the drive back to the campsite and Saturday night was dry--much to our relief.

We decided to head back home on Sunday, instead of staying 'till Monday, which was the original plan. The tent was packed up fairly quickly, in just under an hour (not bad for our first time using the tent 'in the field'). Pixie suggested we drive through the New Forest on our way back and I agreed, as it's a lovely route. We stopped off in Burley, a little village where Pixie and I honeymooned nearly five years ago. Lunch was at The Old Farmhouse restaurant, then Pixie bought some cider from the local wine shop. I bought a Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon mug at a shop called Face The Music and a purple velvet bag for my Celtic Tarot cards, which didn't have a proper storage container. Pixie bought a funny witch sign for her work desk and a witch mug, from the same shop I bought the tarot cards bag.

We left Burley and made the journey home. After unpacking the gear and leftover food, we settled in to a good night's sleep. Roll on, Cropredy!

28 July 2009

Cosmic Jazz

1 Kull-i-Shay, 9 Vahid - Year Vahhab

I've been listening to some of Pharoah Sanders' early 70s records lately. Sanders guested on a lot of John Coltrane's later albums and continued 'Trane's forays into Afro-centric psychedelic jazz, much like Alice Coltrane, John's widow.

Sanders recorded the seminal Karma album in 1969. It wasn't his debut, but it was a much of a style-changer as Bitches Brew was to Miles Davis. He followed "Karma" up with a string of records, released on the Impulse label, though the early to mid 70s. The tunes would be lengthy jams, featuring African percussion and Sanders' soulful vocals. At times, he would warble and ululate, almost yodelling. Sanders would fire off sheets of sax notes, much like Coltrane's playing on Om or Sun Ship. His band would compliment the melodies - all of them seeming to operate, like most exceptional groups, on a 'wavelength' of collective thought. Cecil McBee's deft double-bass playing keeping a steady groove and Roy Haynes' drumming adding detailed flourishes to the mix.

Here is a home-made vid for Astral Traveling, from the Thembi album, released in 1971. It's a sweet, mellow instrumental that kicks off the record. I like the way that the critter who made the vid left the vinyl crackles in.

Lonnie Liston Smith, who played keyboards in Pharoah's band, left in 1972 to form his own group, The Cosmic Echoes. Their debut, Astral Traveling (familiar title there), was released in 1973. Smith also recorded several mellow/cosmic jazz albums throughout the 70s.

Here is a vid for I Mani (Faith) from the "Astral Traveling" record. It's very close, style-wise, to 'Trane/Pharoah's sound:

Both Sanders and Smith are still around and still playing. I haven't heard any of their newer offerings, so I can't give an accurate description. I'd like to think that they're still creating cosmic grooves for us to enjoy.

14 July 2009

1,2,3,4 - What Are We Fighting For?

22 Tammuz - Year 5769

Have you heard the news, young critters? It's now your patriotic duty to go and fight in Afghanistan, so says Gordon Brown. The casualties have been mounting, but the U.S. and UK armed forces are 'committed' to fighting the Taliban and are in it for the 'long haul'.

According to G.B., the war in Afghanistan is blocking a chain of terror (nooooooooo! not the chain of terror...I mean, I could accept a rope of terror..) from causing havoc in the UK. I don't have all of the facts, but are a lot of hard-core Taliban-types really looking to invade Britain? You would think that it's not really their kinda scene, what with women allowed to step outside, not wearing full burkhas. There's also films and music readily available and even small Buddha statues being sold in some shops.

What was that Hermann Goering quote again? :

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

You'd think that the above has been passed around enough times that political speeches would at least try a different tack to keep support for a war alive. Nope - it seems that advances in politics take hundreds of years to happen.

Barack Obama is increasing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, with a plan to drive the Taliban back to the border of Pakistan. And all the chicken-hawks thought he was a leftie-softie. Nope, he ain't called "Bad Ass Barack" for nothin'. O.K., I made that last bit up--but it seems he's still under this "War On Terror" spell. And how long will the troops be there? No-one seems to know - there's vague rumblings about 'a long time'.

Let's see the track record for armies invading Afghanistan in the last 200 years. The British-Indian forces driven out after three wars. The Soviets invaded in 1979 and over 10 years fought a losing occupation war, eventually retreating with a battered army and thousands of casualties. Incidentally, the U.S. support for the mujahedeen fighters provided training for Osama bin Laden and other future al-Qeada leaders. The U.S.-led 2001 invasion may have suffered less military casualties, but the number of Afghan civilian losses definitely appears to be much more. Brown's speechwriters may want to proclaim that "we're winning and the sacrifices are worth it", but they seem to be struggling to hold on to Helmand province.

Don't worry, though - this 'liberation' of Afghanistan will go as well as the one in Iraq did. If you want to find out what's really going on in Iraq, check the blogs, like Last Of Iraqis. It don't seem to be too hunky-dory to me. But hey, c'mon kids, as Country Joe MacDonald said once: "Put down your books and pick up a gun, we're gonna have a whole lot of fun." Your country needs your healthy limbs to be ground up in their war machine to make hero hamburger. Don't you want your coffin draped with a flag?

01 July 2009

New podcast episode!

10 Tir - Year 1388

That's right, kids! I've finally got round to creating a new episode, after all of my previous shows were wiped by MyPodcast (accidentally, of course..of course). It took a bit of time, as we had computer troubles and then program installations to get through. After all that, though, it's finally ready...so get over there and have a listen.

The Kaleidophonic Stroboscope Switches On...Again!

...and for a little bit extra, here's a vid of the Sunroof remix of Can's Oh Yeah track. "Oh Yeah" was first released on the Tago Mago album in 1971. Sunroof were (are?) Mute label boss Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones. Their remix was released on the Sacrilege double-disc set in 1997. "Sacrilege" was a collection of Can re-workings by the likes of Brian Eno, The Orb and Sonic Youth. I suspect it's still available. If not, try and score a used copy. The Sunroof track is my favourite on the whole collection. Enjoy!

26 June 2009

L'Ete De Mort

5 Asadha - Year 1931

Summer's barely a week old and the casualties are mounting, at least from the 'sleb' world. it seems 'Mistah Death' has been busy the past 6 days. Farrah Fawcett, one of the original Charlie's Angels, succumbed to cancer a few days ago. She was pretty much a 70s icon, at least in the U.S. Everyone knew someone who had that red bathing suit poster on their wall. She dropped off the radar in the 80s, but made a few appearances in TV and films in the late 90s and early Noughties. The last thing I watched with her in was Robert Altman's not-so-great Dr. T. And The Women. Farrah turned in a decent performance as the Dr.'s wife, who suffers a nervous breakdown.

Sky Saxon, leader of the seminal California psychedelic garage band The Seeds, also passed away this week. They're probably best known for their 'hit', Pushin' Too Hard, which featured on every cheapo 60s/psychedelic compilation ever made--plus some good ones, like Nuggets. Sky continued on through the decades, long after the original Seeds split. With a garage punk revival happening lately, Sky's work has been re-examined and found to be quite worthy by the youngsters (perhaps after reading some Lester Bangs columns). He was touring again and was going to present a package tour, featuring The Seeds and other psych/garage/punk bands from the 60s.

Another 'underground' figure who left the planet in the past few days was Steven Wells, or "Swells", as he was called. He started out as a sort-of 'punk comedian' in the late 70s, then moved on to writing for the NME. To my estimation, he was a bit like an English Lester Bangs, skewering sacred cows with doses of funny profanity and dry wit. He would've hated my record collection and I strongly suspect if I had read a lot of his reviews in the 90s, I would've found him quite irritating. He emigrated to the U.S. and wrote for the Philadelphia Weekly. I've since read some of his columns for the P.W. and while I don't agree with everything he wrote, I can see the talent in his choice of words. Still, he was a scribe who wasn't in the pocket of the major labels and that's something to be commended.

Andy Hughes, sometime Orb collaborator, also died a couple of weeks ago. He appeared on The Orb's mid-90s albums - Orbus Terrarum through to Cydonia (2001). His biggest contributions were to the excellent Orblivion record, released in 1997. He left the band during the "Cydonia" sessions and some of the music was re-worked after his departure. He gave The Orb their final truly great period of creativity and while new albums have been dropped into the shops, their quality doesn't match that of the Hughes era (in my opinion, anyway).

...and, of course, the self-proclaimed "King Of Pop", Michael Jackson, passed away earlier this week (I'm writing this on 29th June). There'll be hundreds, if not thousands, of tributes and essays and eulogies. The tribute albums will flow like rivers after too much rainfall. Concerts will be staged and the tabloids will have fodder for the next months...and beyond. The man did achieve a level of fame in the 20th Century only equalled by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, this led to a constant media-circus, especially where his private life was concerned. The excesses of fame seemed to drive him into a sensationalist existence and deprived him of being 'himself' (whomever that was).

Me, I just remember in the summer of 1983, being on vacation in Maine. Wanna Be Startin' Something was still going strong and it was on heavy rotation on the radio...and I mean heavy. It was being played literally every hour. My parents had gone out for the night and my older sister and I used to sing along with it, just belt it out--that was fun. I also remember being a tiny bit creeped out by the Thriller video. When I first heard Billie Jean on the radio in my father's car in 1982, I thought it was a female singer. I liked the funkiness of the tune. It may have been one my first exposures to R&B or 'soul music' or whatever you want to label it as (though I may have heard some Motown stuff when I was very young). I lost interest in M.J.'s stuff shortly after Bad was released. The music seemed to get blander as his personal life got weirder, though I do like Smooth Criminal and even Black Or White seems pretty catchy. There'll be conspiracy theories and debates about what actually killed him, or who and why. File it under another Kennedy assassination, 9/11, Area 51 and all that. No-one will ever find out the whole truth. There's no denying that MJ was an 80s icon. It seems a shame that he slipped so far down the tabloid route.

17 June 2009

A Belated Bloomsday Greeting

17 Juno - Year 88 p.s.U.

I missed posting this yesterday - Happy Belated Bloomsday, All!

12 June 2009

R.I.P. Hugh Hopper

Hugh Hopper, bass-player with Soft Machine and many other projects after he left the Softs, passed away on my birthday (June 7th). He was an essential part of the 'Canterbury Scene' and quite an eclectic musician. Check out his work on the Soft Machine - Vol. 2 album (1969), Soft Machine's Third (1970) and (one of my personal faves) Six (1973). His first solo record, 1984, released in 1973, is also worth a listen.

09 June 2009

June's In Bloom

20 Jyaistha - Year 1931

The solstice is nearly here again - another summer beckons. As usual, the English weather fluctuates quite a bit. Last week, Pixie and I donned shorts for our Sunday walk, this week I had to break out the hoodie, as the air was cool and the sky overcast. Predictions are for a hot summertime...we'll see.

We finally were able to haul the old CDs and LPs and that to the Kassam boot sale. Inexplicably, a lot of the prog-rock stuff is what sold. The dealer bloke who bought a box of discs off me at the last sale (2 years ago), bought another box for £80. I had brought some of my Japanese mini-LPs to sell off, as I've replaced them with SACD versions. The dealer tried sneaking a few into his £80 box, but I quickly grabbed them back and he went on his way. Another guy spotted our table, got on his mobile and started making a pile of discs - Can, VdGG, Moody Blues, Genesis and on and on. He bought about 70 CDs total, for the guy he was on the phone with. I imagine they're eBay sellers - but I couldn't be bothered to check if any of my discs were on auction later in the week. I also sold a few odds and ends - some band badges that I've had since the 80s (I've still got a bunch left over), a few bootleg cassettes and my Wonderwall DVD (I've got the deluxe edition, so I didn't need the regular one anymore). Pixie sold off a few cookery books that she didn't want as well. The LPs I brought didn't sell that well - I only managed to sell a copy of Pink Floyd's Meddle that I bought in the mid-80s. I found a copy at the Record Fair with the textured cover, so I sold off the 80s re-issue. Admittedly, the rest of the vinyl I was selling was very 'Murican stuff like The Cars, Van Halen & 'Weird Al' Yankovic, so I only half-expected any real interest in it. They've now gone to the local charity shop. All told, though - a pretty tidy profit for a few hours' work. We may be there again, at least once before the summer ends - I think I can get enough CDs together to spark up some interest.

Speaking of eBay...I've been on there hunting down prog and psych LPs quite a bit lately. I'm kicking myself for not buying this stuff 8 years ago, when interest in it was fairly low. It was all about CDs then--but vinyl's making a comeback and the collectors are out in force. Copies of the first couple of Island Records pressings of King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King are going for between £40 and £50. Some of the more rare editions of albums get up into the £100 range! I nearly lucked out with a fairly good copy of Third Ear Band's Alchemy for £5 - but I was pipped at the last minute. D'oh! Ah well, I'm sure there's plenty more copies around. I did get a copy of TEB's second (self-titled) LP, released in 1970, from a record shop in Germany. It's in excellent condition, with only a small punch-hole in the top right corner of the gatefold sleeve. Nice! I've also bought copies of Klaus Schulze's Blackdance and The Grateful Dead's Anthem Of The Sun (still waiting for that to arrive from the States). I'm eyeing a copy of Gryphon's Red Queen To Gryphon Three and the Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (which I used to own, 'till I lent it to someone ages ago and never got it back). So many LPs, so little cash...

Pixie and I had our birthdays this past week - another year lost to the maw of time. Ah well, I had a quiet day. I finally got round to watching my Beatles Help! DVD that I bought last X-Mas and a copy of the Bob Dylan '66 tour film Eat The Document that my mate Singing Bear burned for me last year. The best scene (it seemed to me) was Zimmy being driven around London, with John Lennon beside him in the car. The two (then) titans of rock meet in 1966, possibly one of the best years for the genre...and is it a summit on philosophy and revolution? Nope, Zimmy natters on about mundane topics, zonked out of his head on speed, booze and wracked nerves. Lennon, who may or may not be on an acid trip, tries to provide a comic foil, but sounds increasingly deadpan--even when Dylan wretches near the end of the car journey. The concert footage is great, though, especially the full version of Ballad Of A Thin Man, which is shown toward the end of the film. Riveting stuff.

Our computer problems have been sorted and I've replaced my old Magix Audio Cleaning Lab, with the brand new version. It's installed and ready to rock. I'll (finally) start on a new podcast episode in the next few days. Stay tuned.