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Monday, 31 January 2011

Spangles: glistening jewels and smart as new paint

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Review: Kevin Ayers And The Whole World - Shooting At The Moon (Released 1970 on Harvest)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2005

Recorded at EMI Studios. Produced by Kevin Ayers and Peter Jenner.

Kevin Ayers: Vocals, Guitar, Bass Guitar.
David Bedford: Organ, Pianos, Accordion, Guitar, Marimbaphone.
Lol Coxhill: Acoustic & Electric Saxophones, Zoblophone.
Mike Oldfield: Bass Guitar, Guitar, Vocals.
Mick Fincher: Drums, Percussion.

Guests- Robert Wyatt & Bridget St. John: Vocals.

After releasing his great debut LP- "Joy Of A Toy"- Kevin Ayers would soon be ready to set the wheels in motion to make his next move.
He was also looking for a touring band, having now overcome his claustrophobia of the band set up that had previously led him to jump the Soft Machine ship. Besides, he was now at the helm and with a varied bunch of players, he would set out to make one damn fine exraordinary album.

'Strange' is the word. Strange in the way that as well as showing his songwriting style that many would come to know and love, it also verges into avant-garde territory and pays homage to the 'psychedelic' underground scene that Ayers helped along, but really revels in sheer musical anarchy.

There is also an odd timelessness to this album, especially with the experimental leanings that can cut a straight line through the various german 'underground' groups that were operating at the time (who in turn were originally influenced by The Soft Machine and Pink Floyd), to the more ambient moments of various post-punk explorers nearly a decade later, then on to the more bold and quieter excursions of the likes of Sonic Youth at the millenium crossing.

Of course, these are just flashes of sound here and there, but it's amazing how this album stands up, considering it's variety and within the era is was recorded.
I've always liked the way that the tracks are lumped together, so the less adventurous can't skip the 'weird bits'.

"May I / Rheinhardt And Geraldine / Colores Para Dolores"-
Opening with the breezy parisienne sun-drench of "May I", you are feet up and watching the world go by and soothed by lush instrumentation and those rich baritone vocals.
Bedford's fitting accordion, Oldfield's walking-talking bass, Coxhill's melting saxes and Fincher's maracas(!) waft you up to a summer bliss and the song is bookended by the sound of a passing motor car, ready to take you away.

'Rheinhardt and Geraldine' comes in cutting a more heady picture.

"There's nothing new around the sun,
Everything you think of - has been done,
All been done before your time,
At sometime or another by someone and his brother...yeah! yeah!"

It then goes into an insane cut-up fest of disjointed snatches of music that would make any of todays digital butchers proud AND it goes on for well over one minute, pushing the boat out for sure (although to anyone born after 1980, it just sounds like a CD on fast-forward), but then this was centred around a former member of Soft Machine (via The Wilde Flowers and Mr.Head), a man who, along with fellow soft-machinist and avant-cum-agent provocateur- Daevid Allen, once impressed a Texan millionaire who was introduced to them by artist and model Lady June. 
The money man was one Wes Brunson, a former spectacle manufacturer and philanthropist from Tulsa,  who was turning on to the underground scene of the sixties and was bowled over with their views on art, music and life circa 1966, whilst they were all lapping up the sun and substances in the balearics. 
Brunson then gave them enough money to kick start Soft Machine with brand new equipment and a rehearsal space and generally funded their early existence. Now that's what you call a nice gesture.

'Colores...' has Robert Wyatt guesting and starts with a mild-jazz jaunt before Ayers lets loose some of his mind-flicking lyrics.

"Lunatic Lament / Pisser Dans Un Violon"
Full steam ahead with this intoxication as we're on a fairground Barrett ferris wheel:

"Will you be handsome or will you be rich,'re gonna wind up in a ditch!..."

As a 17 year old Mike Oldfield let's out a great guitar solo here and the whole shebang sounds like the Velvet Underground... had they been through the Royal College of Music...

"I'm here lying on my bed just trying to hold on to my head but....
If you came in through the door you'd.....find me crawling on the floor...just....looking for the things you threw away"

Ayers and Oldfield end up screaming their heads off with the music spiralling upwards and coming to an exhausted halt.
Moving into 'Pisser...', there now follows David Bedford's spidery malfunctioning organs, which make way to Ayers hammering low spinal tones out of the bass guitar and Coxhill's goose-in-a-cement mixer sax squalls.
The bass gets detuned and the haunting reedy organ chords shimmer in the background and after you wonder around a dark enchanted garden, Oldfield comes in with some choice phrases before dissappearing behind the detuned and scraped bass strings and goose reed calls before he rejoins the fray with some short fuzzed up fireworks.

"The Oyster And The Flying Fish / Underwater / Clarence In Wonderland / Red Green And You Blue"
Bridget St. John joins Ayers on this odd little song and only for the sleeve notes telling you otherwise, you would swear that it's Nico singing.
Some nice jangle piano from Bedford too.
I'd first heard this album in 1974 via an older shoolmate, by which time Nico was working with Ayers.
Strange too that Oldfield by this time was the new rising star in alternative music, having once recorded a rough version of 'Tubular Bells' on Ayers' tape recorder a few years before.
Ayers however, always opted to duck out of the limelight.

The 'Underwater' segment is all sliding bass, fragmented guitars and the odd sax honk courtesy of just Ayers, Bedford and Coxhill.
There is no mere noodling here, it really does deliver the goods as 'alternative' music, but is simplistic and SO fresh at the same time.
This could have all been recorded yesterday in a studio near you, the sound of each and every track on this collection is pure heaven.

'Clarence...' is a crackin' madcap ditty with giddy instrumentation and a tape loop of a chirping bird thrown in for good measure which makes it all slightly verge into Bonzo Dog Doo territory, with Ayers telling the tale of an encounter with a mysterious fair maiden.....

"...then she said something that a violin.....
'Let's go to my chateau, we can have a good time drinking lot's of sky wine'...."

'Red Green...' has the group retreading the same flagstones as 'May I' but on a slightly less sunny side of the street.
It features a great solo from Coxhill, surely one of the most eclectic and passionate players there is and a real treasure to the British Isles.

"Shooting At The Moon" closes the album and is a track from the old Softs repertoire.
Here the collective are fantastic, although it does sound as though it was recorded four years earlier than the other sessions here (that was probably the intention) and there's also a spot of devilish panning to boot.
It's such a shame that this outfit didn't record one or two more albums,
although Bedford and Oldfield appear on the next 'solo' recording- "Whatevershebringswesing".
Still, I suppose we should be thankful that it happened at all, plus there is a BBC 'In Concert' session CD package around nowadays as well as the CD package of the album reviewed here complete with extra tracks...

This album really is a forgotten gem and one of the best recordings of the early 1970s that will appeal to music explorers of all ages.

Written by Tim Jones january 2005

A good little earner...

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Poster Fix

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John Barry R.I.P. (3rd november 1933- january 30th 2011)

Farewell to the composer extraordinaire and man with the 'midas touch'

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Birthday: January 31st - John Lydon

String Driven Things: Some great and varied looking Zithers and Autoharps

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Review: Richard H. Kirk - Disposable Half-Truths (Released 1981 on Industrial and then later reissued on Grey Area of Mute)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2004

This was the debut solo work from Cabaret Voltaire's most enigmatic member and was actually recorded in 1977/8.

It was also the penultimate release on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records 'cassette series', the final being C.Voltaire's "1974-1976".
These releases could be seen to be a sign of respect from the Gristle camp, as Kirk and his cohorts, Chris Watson and Stephen Mallinder, had been crafting their own brand of experimental electronic music a year or two before the formation of TG in 1975.

This is a great album in that it is all performed and recorded with a limited amount of analogue equipment that today would be tagged 'primitive'. That said, Kirk at the time, was in possession of such exquisite electronic toys such as the 'EMS synthi Hi-Fli' which he used to great effect via his electric guitar and the manipulation of other sound sources, whilst picking up the baton of Brian Eno's infamous statement from 1973 that 'the recording studio is also an instrument and should be used as such'.

The tracks on this album are of a more free-form nature than on the early Cabs albums of the same period.
In the past, when asked by an intrigued journalist to describe himself, he would reply- "I'm the world's most paranoid man"- this statement, together with his love of the atmosphere contained in the classic early 1960s TV series 'The Outer Limits', casts an underlying sheen on to these other-worldly compositions.
Of course, some tracks could be mistaken for lost Voltaire gems, but they have Kirk's personal slant sewn into them.

Opening with the startling sound of processed radio interference, you are thrown into a twilight world of echoed guitars and various synth twitches, reverberations and hums that form "Synesthesia".
Although Kirk performs and shapes all the sounds here, some voices sound like Mallinder has contributed and at the end of the first track, the phrase "things go quite wrong....sometimes" 
-sounds like P-Orridge himself may have paid a visit.

"Outburst" travels deeper into the twilight forest and contains a very spooky sounding tape of a school choir which sends a chill up the spine.
"Information Therapy" uses dirt infested drum machine and gargled dalek voice treatments while electronic trills add to the urgent and well... paranoid surge that makes it a more alarming concoction than the previous tracks.

The brilliant "Magic Words Command" uses a more cleaner drum machine sound and a fantastic use of just three legato synth notes which float above the eerie backwards mutant voice, while sped-up electronics franticly scuttle around.

"Thermal Damage" sounds like a small sub-station on a side road is about to burst as it teeters to the edge and back.
"Plate Glass Replicas" sounds very odd in that it's slightly out of tune and time, whilst Kirk whips a distorted 'dan electro sitar-guitar' type lead line out of his Hi Fli (!), before a quick bit of EMS filter closes the lid.

"Insect Friends Of Allah" has an obvious (but not crass) middle eastern theme with a nervous guitar sound and a treated keyboard sound that sounds like a distorted mellotron, but is probably a synth, but who cares, it certainly does the trick.

More twisted, gnarled vocal sounds and loping electronic percussives usher in "Scatalist", which has strange tempo changes which lead to distorted guitar/synth interweaving while whistling and shunted blocks of melted sound have a great hallucinatory feel.
"False Erotic Love" could have been twice as long as it has a strange dream-like quality, it features a sped up voice repeating "no fucking chance at all" - well, I got my answer!

"L.D.50" and "L.D.60" could have originally been one track and again uses a strange sped-up voice (that great south yorkshire accent too!), while the sounds pulses along with determination.
The closer is "Amnesic Disassociation" which actually sounds like Throbbing Gristle (or is that the other way around?) with it's wobbling half wah wah-ed bass guitar notes and slices of cut-up voices and swelling high pitched electronics. All the sounds and aural twists jostle for space until they all receed back, leaving you intrigued, enchanted and wanting more. 
The overall feel of this recording is so enchanting.

This album was released on CD in 1992 by (The Grey Area of) Mute and has new artwork, including some great collage stuff from Kirk's archive..... from somewhere deep within his Sheffield lair.

Written by Tim Jones june 2004

Videodrome(d): Time for you to laugh....or at least crack a smile...

It's always a good feeling to be confronted with a blast from the past. That said, not being a particular fan of 'Disco' in the late seventies, there again perhaps I was a latent fan without knowing it, but it was really good to see and hear this clip below, which I definately hadn't seen since it was around in 1978.
The clip is "Automaic Lover" by Dee D. Jackson, a 'one hit wonder' by all accounts.
In fact, the tune and video often seeped into my mind in the years between, but seeing it now makes me realise that it was as mind-boggling and fantastic then, as it is viewing it today-  Enjoy!

Thanks to the excellent Unmann-Wittering blog for putting this up, where I came across it.

Book Cover Brilliance: Yet More Random Shots

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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Review: Clock DVA - Thirst (Released 1981 on Fetish)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2005

Adi Newton - Voice, Clarinet, Tapes
Charlie Collins - Saxophones, Flute
Stephen "Judd" Turner - Bass Guitar
Paul Widger - Guitar
Roger Quail - Drums, Percussion

Produced by Ken Thomas and Adi Newton
Recorded at Jacobs Studio, Surrey 1980
Engineered by Ken Thomas

In 1976, Sex Pistols and The Clash played at the notorious Black Swan venue in Sheffield.
The resulting performances went down a storm with the more clued up and adventurous audience members and it somehow lit the blue-touch paper and confirmed for them, that they were not alone in their boredom and were more than ready to put their own ideas into a more positive action.
Legend has it, that the members of Cabaret Voltaire were engaged in a playful spitting competition with the Pistols during the event.

The Cabs certainly knew a thing or two about audience confrontation from their own experiences locally- circa 1975, which, as it transpired, were far from playful and even further from 'rock music' than this new breed wanted to stray... for the moment at least.
Like many cities in the UK in the following six months of being exposed to the London groups, Sheffield exploded into an underground hive of fanzine editors, groups, club promotors and fans alike.
But there was something different about Sheffield.
People seemed a bit more switched on to using their own ideas 'in relation' to what was happening, rather than just running along with a small variation on a general idea.

At the start of 1977, Adi Newton was running the fanzine- 'Gunrubber' with fellow enthusiast Paul Bower.
Newton was also involved with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh in various groups and projects, one being The Future, which Newton eventually left as he wanted to follow a more esoteric path.
Marsh and Ware from this point on, is of course another story.

Newton then teamed up with fellow explorer, the late Stephen "Judd" Turner and they decided to name their ventures in sound, Clock DVA.
The 'Clock' part would be a surrealist reference to the likes of the
melting Dali clocks and 'DVA' was taken from the Burgess novel 'A Clockwork Orange' and is the russian word meaning 'two' (although I think everyone found it easier to say the letters individually).
They brought in Dave Hammond (guitar, devices) and Simon Kemp (synthesizer, electronics) and in 1978/9 they produced a series of five private tapes of their various experiments which contained tracks with titles like- 'Coil', 'Through Latex Mirrors' and 'Synchromesh'.
In 1980, Kemp left and local Saxophone genius Charlie Collins was brought into the fray, as well as Roger Quail on Drums, they were now ready to move forward.

Through the groups alliance with Cabaret Voltaire, they presented their first 'proper' recording- "White Souls In Blacks Suits"- which was issued as a cassette release on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records (at TG's invitation).
This was a recording taken from hours of improvisations which was later edited and mixed at Cabaret Voltaire's Western Works studio and features some tape collage work from Chris Watson, whilst Kirk and Mallinder engineered and co-produced the whole affair with the group.
They (or someone close) also coined their own tongue-in-cheek genre-'Nothern Industrial Soul'.
Dave Hammond leaves and Paul Widger comes in on Guitar.
The 'post-punk' boom was well under way and word spread like wildfire in the right circles and it wasn't long before Clock DVA released their first slice of vinyl via Fetish Records- 'Thirst'.

The album cover greets you with a fantastic illustration which depicts a kind of dark sepia-tinged satanic baby (like a minimal interpretation of one of H.R.Giger's infant beasts), this artwork was done by one of the great sleeve illustators of the time, Neville Brody.
This back cover of this great album sleeve was topped with some inspired and cut-up text from Genesis P-Orridge which served as the sleevenotes, also creating increased excitement and expectation before even listening to the recording.

This starts with the breathing, echoed flashes of saxophone, clarinet and minimal tape interjections and it's this opening experimental section which suits the title so well, a great and mysterious mood is set before the Banshees like drumming comes in and shows the way.
Adi Newton's vocals are very strange. They always remind me (on this album anyway) of a kind of less-hoarse Beefheart and offset with Paul Widger's guitar playing, makes the overall sound become like a dark-Magic Band.
Dark Mirror Men maybe??
Newton's cry of- "Try!....Try!...." - is a great culmination of this fine opener.

Very upbeat and less dark with sprightly soprano sax and marvellous guitar thrashings together with Newton's neurotic visions of the city:

"Uptown apocalypse...concrete and shouts all around.......well is this where it happens...1000 bodies cramped into a tight space....
Line up the guns....."

"White Cell"-

"Active, then immobility I am myself against their laws of morality
Inturned, I turn towards the eastern block, create a new mental space
......carve out an area which is undefined...."

A sense of claustrobobia with a bubbling bassline and insistent scratching guitar and honking reeds as Newton is resigned to his condition.
As I've said, this is dark but not depressive.
Some of the journalists at the time, were all too ready to paint the sound as 'sheffield-bleak-grey', but if you stick with it, this album has a hidden charm, especially as you delve into Newton's great lyrics while your mind swims with the group sound.

"Piano Pain"
A faint tinkling tape of a piano is interrupted with a leaden stomp of the rhythm section and some of Collins' most manic sax playing, such a joy to hear up against Newton's nightmare observations...

"Underneath all this a voice describes how life is leaving him
Haunted by blue visions, distorted glass fragments....
Speak to him, females torture his hours, with words of indoctrination"

"Blue Tone"- starts with a low shimmer of tapes/electronics which leak in and out of the track.
Newtons voice is one of those that you either take to.... or don't!
If you do however, it seems to have a great sounding board in the music.
Apart from the various effects on the sax, there isn't much treatment on the other instruments throughout the album, which may account for the overall strangeness, it really does seem live and direct.
When you think that Newton was no stranger to experimentation and that he had been immersed in electronic and tape works for the previous few years, you can see he was trying a different approach here with standard sounds and just the minimal use of tapes, but all set against the inspired words and topped off with Collins' experience in free-form circles to paint a very different picture to what others were doing in his hometown.

"North Loop"- is a slower paced with crystal-echoed guitars and Newton going for reverbed declarations of the songs title and a nagging tale of inner frustration-

"To and fro here we go.......taped a voice, measured its tonal depth
played it back again....North Loop!...start again....North Loop!....
....start again...then all these would be funksters (pop up)...start again"

"4 Hours"-
This was released as a single and climbed the indie charts of the music weeklies.
It's a great song and even went so far as to be deemed an underground hit!
The rhythm comes in all boisterous and (yet again) Collins has just such a great sax sound, he's a really underrated player indeed.
It's in tune but out of tune at the same time and is set just at the right volume in the mix- so as not to derail everything else whilst Newton delivers some of his finest words-

"This mid-morning awakening...this bleak whiteness, nothingness...
the eye that stares through your mirror, a suction entanglement
On stained sheets, figures with no regrets, their doubts caste a shadow here....the time drifts...the time swells...the skies melt....."

"...this could be New York, this could be London, I don't care anymore
I'm wearing this suit, a black suit, I'm wearing this time, A black tie
I'm carrying this case, a black case, I walk down the street...
the people are staring, the taxi cab is slower....
A piano falls from above............ it smashes in front of me!...."

If Clock DVA were remembered for anything back then, it was for this fine piece of paranoid pop.

Beginning with a long, fuzzed-out note and then a slight punch of a delayed guitar chord, the drums creep in aided by the bass and here the voice is measured and slow with the odd tape insertions adding to the excitable unease, the reed sound now flitting like a moth around the flickering sodium lamps on the street corner.

"Impressions Of African Winter"
A repetative high two-note bass and slow spiralling flute lay out the scene with further odd imagery-

"Flesh tanned and red dust skies, a landscape which divides enclosed
...heat of the moment ivory and black velvet fall...I kissed her lips"

The track has a great build up with some fine guitar sounds, but fades out all too quickly....

Newton and Turner disbanded the line-up, only to reform with a set of different players.
After the tragic death of Judd Turner, Newton carried on to make a string of interesting releases rangeing from the sound being enhanced by brass instrumentation and later setting up the Anti Group Communications Project and carved out a cult following across the globe with the emphasis on a more electronic sound.
Check out the "Buried Dreams" album, a totally different kettle of fish to the early work here, but shows how Newton was striving forward on different ideas and projects.
Collins, Quail and Widger went on to produce some interesting releases going under the moniker of The Box.
In more recent years, Collins has become well respected in the Improv scene and has made some great contributions via his playing, composing and production skills, most notably around Martin Archer's Discus label.
As for the early Clock DVA legacy, "Thirst" and "White Souls In Black Suits" are REALLY crying out for the remastered/repackaged makeover, not to mention the 'private tapes' from 1978/9 being collected and packaged into something that would be an essential document of some of the front runners in Sheffield's underground music scene of the late seventies.
I'm suprised that no label re-released "Thirst" before the year 2000 (the Italian label Contempo released it on CD in 1992 which soon dissappeared)

Let's hope someone will do it before 2010!

Written by Tim Jones march 2005

Monday, 24 January 2011

Probably the strangest book in the world...

The Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini

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Once you do a search for this title, you will be amazed at the images that confront you which are contained in this book, not to mention the alien script that accompanies nearly every illustration.  
To view more fascinating drawings and access more information and insights, then make a start here