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Monday, 25 April 2011

Bizarre One Hit Wonder: "Neanderthal Man" by Hotlegs (1970)

Seeing as I mentioned this strange single release in the Ramases review which I unearthed recently, I thought it deserved a post of it's own.
Actually, thinking about the unexpected success of the 'song', I often think about how that success led to other events.
Manchester songwriters and musicians- Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Eric Stewart had been experimenting in their combined lair known as Strawberry Studios, so named and inspired by The Beatles' chart hit, "Strawberry Fields Forever". Graham Gouldman was also a member of the in-house recording team, but was not part of this particular session.
They had been trying different ideas and techniques whilst recording drums, so they had chosen a rhythm and Lol Creme began to sing/chant some words to provide something for drummer Kevin Godley to keep in time to, seeing as this wasn't so much a track they were recording, but more to do with learning different recording techniques.

Seeing as they had quite a few people passing through their studio to either record or rehearse material, there were often people asking these young session musicians how things were shaping up and also asking what they themselves had been up to recently. One such man was the Phillips label boss Dick Leahy, who had previous contact with some of the lads from the mid 1960s, where they had all been involved in either performing or songwriting with different groups. After enquiring as to what exactly they'd been up to, they had told Leahy- "oh nothing really", but still played this drum and recording experiment. Leahy was absolutely blown away on the spot and pronounced what he heard almost straight away saying "It's a hit....I'd buy it!". Quite a strange reaction from a label boss especially on hearing something that wasn't exactly a 'pop song'!
The name Hotlegs was chosen after the nickname the studio owners had for their studio secretary Kathy Redfern, she also used to turn heads especially when she would wear short skirts or that eras fashion statement for young females- hot pants.

It would seem that Kathy was quite influential to the four musicians, as when they later found fame as 10CC, she would often provide a view to some of their later recordings and experiments. She was the one who asked them not to throw away a song called "I'm Not In Love", one of the best love songs she had ever heard, which was almost certainly heading for the bin until a more positive light was thrown it's way.  This dreamy song was penned by Eric Stewart, who when asked about what led to it's inspiration, said that although he loved his wife, to keep saying the phrase "I love you" seemed to lose it's meaning when heard so often.
After the song was refined and reshaped, Kathy was asked to add the "big boys don't cry" spoken vocal which appears in the middle of that song, a song which in hindsight, was also a big slice of technical innovation long before the advent of digital sampling and recording.
Also, strange things abound when you think how by pure chance, different events and decisions, lead on to greater things.
Strawberry Studios hosted some big names who recorded there like the Syd Lawrence Orchestra,  Neil Sedaka and Paul McCartney and it was also the place where, in April 1979, Joy Division recorded their stunning debut album.

Kathy Redfern: Inspirational secretary

The site of Strawberry Studios in Stockport, Cheshire, North-East England.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It's in the trees #2

Prompted by my mate who does the Spent Time Blog, who said it was high time I did another 'trees post', here is the second installment, showcasing some mighty fine trees. The first photo is the one he sent me to include in the post.
It's a very bizarre looking specimen that could be some sort of petrified Kraken or even Lovecraft's Cthulu incarnate(!). It's location is in Hawkstone Park golf course in Shropshire, England.

The second selection are from the grounds of the great Soughton Hall (Plas Sychdyn) in the village of Sychdyn, Flintshire, North Wales. The actual hall looks like something that could have been used either in an old Hammer Horror classic, or maybe an episode of Man In A Suitcase.

The last batch shows what was named 'The Ugly Tree' from sometime in my childhood. Far from ugly of course, it is located at Bryn Eithin, which is on the road up to Moel Fammau, which is on the road out of Mold towards Rhuthun in Flintshire, North Wales. There were a few spring lambs about and as you see in the last photo, some black and white ones which look like miniature frisian cows!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Scary 1970s very afraid....

...not so much a case of 'lock up your daughters, sisters or mothers', more like 'lock up anything with a backbone and a pulse'! These chaps knew what they wanted and knew how to get it!  arrrrrrgh!   

(click images to enlarge and to also read the sales pitch!)

Review: Kato Mori Frith - Death Ambient (Released 1995 on Tzadik)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2004

Kato Hideki - Bass Guitar

Ikue Mori - Drum Machines

Fred Frith - Guitar

A brief look at the people involved.
Ikue Mori played drums as part of DNA in the late 1970s, a group which was part of New York's 'No Wave' scene which raised more than a few eyebrows as they pushed the boundaries of Punk/Avant/Freeform and crossed over into each territory, much to the alarm and/or delight of all who witnessed them.
She has since become one of the shining lights in the 'improv' world with her manipulation of the drum machine amongst many other pursuits.

Kato Hideki was an original member of Japan's powerhouse collective- Ground Zero in the early 1990s.
He recorded with Bass Army- a Japanese trio of bass players (!), he has also performed live with the likes of John Zorn (the man behind the Tzadik label), Turntable magician Otomo Yoshide and ex-Scorn/Napalm Death/Painkiller player- Mick Harris.

Fred Frith was a member of the leftfield 1970s British outfit Henry Cow, he was also in their later 'incarnation'- The Art Bears and has since gone on to release a string of solo recordings and has had just 'one or two' collaborations under his creative belt as well as being called for his services to a wide range of music makers including The Residents and Robert Wyatt.

As with most of the releases on Zorn's Tzadik imprint, you can never predict just what you are going to hear- but there will be one thing for sure- it's going to be an album of incredible sound composition and experimentation.

When you see the line-up of guitar, bass guitar and drum machine, you would probably expect an updated version of the late Metal Urbain!
To expect this array of instruments to be limiting, would be to say that a pen and paper is limiting, but equip these ultra talented individuals with them (, bass and drum machine that is!) and a grand tapestry of sound soon enfolds.

Hideki's bass tones are an overall wash in themselves, whilst the doctored and midi- driven drum machines in Mori's hands produce sounds which have you scratching your head and finding it hard to believe the origin of their source.

Fred Frith is an incredible guitarist, one of the few people who can just have a basic guitar to amp set up- with almost no effects (apart from his trusty volume pedal) and coax tones and colours in a kaleidoscope of scrapes, plucks, brushes and strums.
He's not afraid to use something more than a plectrum either- shoe polishers have been known to be part of his many accessories.
This music does have to have time to grow on you though, especially with those unfamiliar with any of the names here.

Tracks like "Imperial Thorn" have an almost Ennio Morricone feel, all rubber band bass dumps with Frith flicking trebled phrases into the air which gauge the landscape with Mori's reverbarating and spiked percussives.
"Alchemy" is a very fitting title for the groups manouveres with Mori providing some glass droplets from her machines as Frith and Hideki provide a 'quiet happening'.

"Broken Blue" is a sonic conversation with some wonderfully odd guitar sounds, some heavy drummachineing (ha!) and sparse bass notes.
Sparse is the operative word with these tracks and to carve these odd but magnificent snapshots, relies on the seasoned ears of the people involved.

"Flash" is one of the longer pieces at just over 5 minutes.
But it unfolds into a mini-barrage of low rumbling bass figures, feedback enriched guitar while a swarm of god-knows-what rises out of Mori's pandoras box of tricks.

The final track-"Ways Out" has a Frith playing a delicate succession of chords to a slow thump rhythm.

I suppose 'Death Ambient' is a good description for this odd but 'rewarding' CD and is far from what some might think of as being 'arty noodling'.

The trio took on board the name Death Ambient, releasing another album of their sonic photos entitled "Synaesthesia", a word which, when looked up in the dictionary, gives the telling description, which you could apply to this collection of works from these musical explorers:

"A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a colour".

Made by explorers....for explorers.

Written by Tim Jones march 2004