Saturday, 23 June 2018

Dr Space / Oresund Space Collective

May was a busy month for long-time champion of the spacerock scene, Scott Heller, releasing LPs under his Dr Space by-line (Alien Planet Trip Vol. 2) and as part of the veteran Oresund Space Collective ensemble (Chatoyant Breath), both on the Space Rock Productions label, and gigging around Europe.

It's been quite a while since I've covered any of Scott's releases here, but he continues to be prolific in releasing new music - OSC's Bandcamp site lists no fewer than 61 records that have been available in either physical or digital format - and it's great to see the variety of work that's captured between these two very distinct albums. Alien Planet Trip isn't quite a solo record, with Daniel Lars and Stefan Krey on-board for the five tracks that comprise the vinyl edition, though a sixth digital bonus track sees Scott alone. This second volume, subtitled Gloomy Horizon, is built up from layers of synth and programmed drums, with guitars then liberally cascading across the surface.

It's well-titled in its moody atmospherics. 'The Dark Room Becomes Blue' is a oppressively dense tone piece, full of portentous keyboards, doom-laden and claustrophobic, with banshee improvised guitar lines that screech out of the ether, discordant and unsettling. 'Alien Talk' is full of sonic debris that falls in and out of the ethereally minimalist background, analog sounds that move through, swooping out of the distance and streaming off into the horizon, cluttering the soundscape with myriad noises. 'Lost In The Cave' echoes in its cavernous vacuum, Lars's guitar work right to the fore, dueling with an even greater expanse of analog flotsam and jetsam that cascades around in angular free fall. Alien Planet Trip is a vividly uncompromising and imaginative experiment.

Chatoyant Breath is equally as improvised, culled from a single day of jamming with what's now the principal live configuration of the band joined by 'Gary (Yawning Man)' and Martin from Scott's fellow OSC players' band Univerzals. It's often the more melodic counterpart to Alien Planet Trip, 'Peaceful Patterns' opening things with a mellow, chilled-out spacey vibe, still having that ribbon swoop of synth that cuts across the tunes, but now part of something that implores you to dive deep into its lulling music and drift away on its tripped-out astral plane. 

It feels like it could go on forever, never needing to find proper form but following its theme loosely, simply being in the groove, shifting and reassembling all the time, the drums getting more muscular as the musicians lock into a heavier sensibility (at least on the digital; there the day's work yields over two hours of music... the vinyl, of course, will  edit to the highlights on its four-sides). 

'Angular Ambrosia' starts out with crystalline vibrations underpinned by Jiri's rumbling bass lines, building into a more encompassing picture, the musicians becoming ever busier in adding their bits and pieces so that it's a piece that moves a long way from its origins and becomes almost a segmented collection of movements, full of changes and surprises, just as its jam-improvisation creation should be. 'Turbulent Trepidation' follows the same modus-operandi, twisting and turning from one idea to the next.

The final side of the vinyl is the title track, quite beguiling, following the patterns of its predecessors in becoming evermore urgent, busy and insistent as it makes its way from its easy-going starting point into an increasingly frenetic jam. What a day these guys had together!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

NEWS: Vive La Void - New project from Moon Duo's Sanae Yamada

(Photo: Ripley Johnson)

This spring Sanae Yamada, keyboardist for Moon Duo, will release her debut solo album as Vive la Void. The self-titled release is out May 4th on Sacred Bones and today she has shared a first track and accompanying video, “Red Rider”.

As Vive la Void, Yamada foregrounds synthesizers and her own voice, stripping away the excesses of psychedelic music to its bedrock hypnotic pulse and hazy atmosphere. Recording during the rare downtime between Moon Duo’s flurries of touring and recording, Vive la Void is dark and propulsive, and inspired by the strange and objective nature of memory and perception. 

Today Vive la Void has shared a video for “Red Rider.” The video is a collaboration between the experimental playwright and theater director Tina Satter (of Half-Straddle), filmmaker Nick Zeig-Owens, costume designer Enver Chakartash and Vive la Void’s Sanae Yamada. It was shot over two days in Riverside, CA, with a cast that features performance artist Jibz Cameron (aka Dynasty Handbag), dancer and choreographer Jennie Liu (Grand Lady Dance House) and Screenwriter/Actor Guinevere Turner (Go Fish, The L Word, American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page). The project was conceived of as an incarnation of inner life as a physical place, and plays with the the idioms of music videos, dance, fashion, and feminine identity. Its about getting pulled into an obscure geography of the psyche and wandering among the unexpressed iterations of self that hang around there - the garden of hidden reality and its denizens.

Yamada wrote and recorded the self-titled debut Vive La Void album over roughly a two-year period, during windows of downtime in Moon Duo's substantial touring and recording schedule. The dense, shape-shifting atmospheres of the seven songs grew out of late-night basement experiments in the layering of synthesizer tracks, a process that also led to meditations on the changeable nature of memory and perception. The result is an undulating blend of ethereal swirl, low end thrumming, and electric crackle, buoyed by Yamada’s understated but captivating vocal melodies and her striking lyrics.

“The lyrics were a way of reckoning with my own memories and also of trying to process my reactions to the human situation,” Yamada explains. “I wanted the voice to have a kind of ghostly quality, to emerge from and recede back into the song, or to pass over it like weather. It's one of many layers of sound, which are meant to blend together in such a way that on one listen you might hear one thing, and on another listen you might hear something else, so the music seems to change even as it stays the same.”

Yamada has spent the last decade as a working musician, moving between semi-permanent home bases whenever she isn’t living in a tour van. In some ways, then, it feels inevitable that Vive la Void became a meditation on the strange rhythms of long-term touring, constant relocation, and the accompanying stream of brief but compelling encounters. It’s a testament to her empathy and creativity that these songs feel both specific and universal, familiar yet tantalizingly unknowable.  

“I feel like the movement of life in the sphere of consciousness is this process of trace-leaving,” Yamada reflects. “Wherever we go, whomever we interact with, whatever we touch, we leave and absorb these invisible traces, this residue of memory that lingers. I wanted the sonic textures of this record to explore that state of being there and not there, of something being with you but not tangible.”

“Vive la Void” will be released on May 4th via Sacred Bones records and is available to pre-order here

Vive La Void Facebook
Vive La Void Instagram
Vive La Void Twitter

News submitted: Kate Price / Stereo Sanctity

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Moon Duo - Jukebox Babe 12"

Moon Duo were very much my spacerock band of 2017 with their Occult Architecture Volume 1 and 2 and though I've yet to see them live, having been a longtime fan of Ripley and Sanae I've been enthusiastically devouring everything they've released, writing about various releases here and in Record Collector over the past few years, and searching YouTube for gig footage - the best of which are the two studio sessions for KEXP.

What can I say about Occult Architecture that I haven't already? Volume 2 has been on repeat here for several months, the lighter contrast to its predecessor's heavy textures and is, perhaps Sparks' Hippopotamus aside, my favourite record of 2017, and most certainly the best new spacerock album I listened to during last year. In Record Collector I heard the first album as being "Dense paint rendering storms on canvas, oppressive. Forecast continues unsettled. They describe it as having elements of English occult literature: Colin Wilson, Aleister Crowley. Mary Anne Atwood, who declared just before her passing that, 'I cannot find my centre of gravity.' This album’s gravity has a strong pull, though, irresistibly dragging us downwards into the repetitive beats of its lo-fi reverberations." I summed by suggesting that "Moon Duo is always predominately about the sound. Words surface out of the swirling maelstrom, an occult ritual within the architecture, another tone adding to mood, but always subservient to the texture, which sweeps from the muscular to the persuasively melodic. Lightness is promised in due course."

When that second record materialised, it was indeed the spring and summer to the first's wild winter. Played back to back it's a brightly-lit antidote to the oppression of its sister. I talked about how "New Dawn, opening here, immediately dispels its elder sibling’s denseness like the air after a thunderstorm, all vibrant and renewed, purifying and cleansing their palate of sounds into the Balearic bliss into the following song, Mirror’s Edge." Summing up, I thought about how "it adds a fresh facet to Moon Duo. We’ve been used to their intensive yet melodic drone since the early days of their Killing Time EP, back in 2009, and while the terrific albums that they’ve released along the way have continued to describe that fuzz and keyboard driven journey, in reaching this album’s sunshine warmth ‘Ripley’ Johnson and Sanae Yamada have elevated their project to a new level."

Trusting that they'll be as prolific in 2018 as that outpouring of work saw them being last year, they're kicking-off with a 12" release that's putting them into different territory again, with a dual covers release that sees them doing Alan Vega's 'Jukebox Babe' and The Stooge's 'No Fun' (the later of which isn't yet available for review ... patience, as the record appears on 19th January from Sacred Bones and can be ordered here or in the Amazon link below). A really deft, bubbly, light touch is brought to 'Jukebox Babe', which though it feels like a sidestep to their usual tones, is deliciously infectious... and I'm guessing that having worked on such an expansive, intense, project as the previous work, they've taken the opportunity to do something different and which didn't require such intensive writing, recording, and planning. Looking forward to hearing what they do with 'No Fun'.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Paradise 9: 20th Anniversary 1997 - 2017 Live

'Feisty punk-space rock' is how I summed up Paradise 9 when I wrote here about their Nothing For Tomorrow EP ... was that really back in 2009? Unbelievable. So that was somewhere just past midway through their existence so far, as the title of this 2CD compilation of live tracks reminds me, gathered up to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Plenty have passed through the ranks since then, but, Gregg McKella and co... on the basis of this set, here's to many more anniversaries to come!

Let's not trawl the history of the band for this review; much of it is in Gregg's interview that accompanies my write-up of their Take Me To The Future album, back in 2013, anyway. But listening through these songs - some really great recordings, some needing the volume jacked-up a bit - I'm reminded of how I've heard the starting-points for their tone and style - as though the In Search Of Space Hawkwind line-up had come together and laid down that milestone of underground outlook and inventiveness just a few years later than they actually did, so that it didn't just have the sprawling spaced-out freakery of the Notting Hill scene of the early 70s, but had picked up the punk rock vibe of '76, '77 as well. With Nik Turner regularly guesting with them, including on some numbers here, its easy to then draw that line and say that they're informed by not only his contribution to early Hawkwind, but his immersion into the punk ethos with Inner City Unit, that perhaps Paradise 9 are an Inner City Unit where the balance is tilted a little more towards the spacerock and bit away from the punk. 

If you take that as a very loose starting point, it's hard, really, to think of another band that's done that crossover as well as Paradise 9 have. Of course, in the past they've had the much-missed Judge Trev working with them, a master of the art, and it's fair to also say that Turner had far more success creatively in flowing that path than he did with his rather out of place 1980s temporary return to the Hawk ranks; even while the ICU albums are best described as patchy, they feel more right as a vehicle for what he was doing back then. If ICU pretty much invented that sub-genre, Paradise 9 have nailed it. 

(Paradise 9, photo by Alison Naylor)

With its discs various entitled 'These Days' and 'Those Days', disc one, the most contemporary tracks, is the strongest in recording quality, being captured at the 2016 Blind Cat Festival and that year's Kozfest. Opening with 'Nothing For Tomorrow', perhaps their most definitive song, sharp and spiky, immediately infectious and yet provocative, the first disc plays so well as a live album, that the following collection, more of an anthology through the years, seems more like a bonus compilation that a proper double - and of course that might have been the intent. 'Nothing For Tomorrow' and 'State Of The Nation' bookend disc one, dual salvos of attitude and intent, on message, on target. That's one big part of what they do, but then there's also moody numbers, such as 'Ocean Rise' ("about our dying seas") that change the tone of the set completely, atmospherically dense and murky, and the hazy, laconic and thoughtful 'Crystalized Moments'. And then there's their opus trip-out tracks, the terrific nine minute 'Shine On' that pulls you into its staccato journey and doesn't let you out again until its good and ready, and the elongated cacophony segue of 'Points Of View' and the insistent chant of 'Take Me To The Future', proper out in the field, pound for the generator, name on the chalkboard, festival stuff.

So if 'These Days' is a disc to showcase the contemporary Paradise 9 - which it's excellent in doing - then 'Those Days' is a sort of all our yesterdays rummage through past line-ups, trawling tapes from 1998 through to 2013, featuring old friends... Nik Turner, Jaki Windmill, Miss Angel (though naturally you'll have to imagine her much-loved multi-costume dance contributions). It's a nicely varied, non-linear, collection; recordings from 1998/99 from The Acoustic Revolution ('I See You Dancing', '700 Feet - Base Jumper', 'Glow') being more angular, sparser, than later stuff, a different approach, while still showing their influences back then, with the pensive '700 Feet - Base Jumper' beyond doubt in conceptual debt to Bob Calvert's narrative on the Sonic Assassins version of 'Free Fall', and a worthy successor to that wonderful stream of consciousness. It's an anthology that shows the how and the why Paradise 9 staked out their claim to their own patch of this pliable genre.

Paradise 9 Website
Paradise 9 on Twitter
Paradise 9 on Facebook

Friday, 5 May 2017

Paul Roland - White Zombie

I've related this story before, but several years ago I was in receipt of package of releases from the Italian Black Widow label, including Re-animator by Paul Roland, who I'd not really known about previously but whose album I enjoyed immensely and wrote about, later to receive an email from Paul himself, telling me that he was a Hawkwind fan who'd read my book on the band. And so since then we've been in contact and I've had the opportunity to get so much more acquainted with his work, delving back to his original recordings, The Werewolf of London included, then getting enchanted by other classics of his canon, the charming joys of 'Walter the Occultist' and 'Wyndham Hill', the Marvel Comics influenced 'Dr Strange' and the character-driven tales of 'The Hanging Judge' or Witchfinder General', potted but enthralling sketches. I'm a huge fan.

He's been highly prolific in recent times, concept albums such as Grimm and soundtrack compositions such as Hexen. Career retrospectives have arrived, including a comprehensive 'early years' double from Cherry Red - In the Opium Den - and new work abounds. They've all variously reflected his complementary interests in the bizarre, the macabre, Victorian gaslight horror, EC comics, Lovecraft, and the likes, building new work to his already extensive back-catalogue.

White Zombie is the latest, rooted as ever in many of those preoccupations, but, as he's done with other recent albums, stretching out and expanding the styles that he works in, because each entry to his canon is distinctive, separate, with its own identity and sense of purpose. He talks about having come out of a talk, way back in 1994, that he'd enjoyed with Malcolm Rebennack, Dr John, 'The Night Tripper', "about his early life in New Orleans and his initiation into the cult of voodoo." He'd already used the theme of Voodoo, Baron Samedi, on an early song of his, 'Jumbee' and its an idea that he's revisited again, and indeed the conversation with Dr John, though it fermented ideas, didn't crystalise into music until much later, when experiments with patterns and chants led to something that at the time he considered "raw, primitive ... sung 'in tongues'."

There was a thought to make these songs into a soundtrack for the 1932 Bela Lugosi White Zombie film, itself considered to be the first full-length zombie movie, though that didn't reach fruition. But, okay, what's lost to one project becomes food for another, and with Paola Tagliaferro adding the High Priestess's vocals on chants and a host of Roland's Italian friends making up his band this time around, a finely-tuned concept album has materialised. Sixteen short and sharp tracks, with Paul's keen ear for a good tune and his honed writer's eye for character and setting

What this record has, again in keeping with Roland's other work, is an atmosphere that permeates throughout the tracks. It's a delicious confection of sticky heat, unsettling darkness and that claustrophobic sense of being trapped within a collective madness from which there is no escape; devotional chants of hysteria and feverish reverence to that darkness, underpinned by evocative drum patterns; it takes you firmly out of your surroundings and places you in its settings. In that way, it has a lot in common with my own entry point into the Roland world, via Re-animator those years back, and though its not a sequel by any means, the two albums feel so complementary to each other. 

Least we get heavy, I do hear Paul getting his inner Marc Bolan on, for the final track, 'Mambo Jo' - no bad thing... Bolan plays swampy mambo has good mojo, for sure, and there's some great Dick Dale guitar twang on 'Wanga Wanga', but, really, White Zombie is pure, undiluted, Paul Roland and is absolutely among the best of his records.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Singles Going Steady?

This was a nice little surprise today - a promo of new single from the North Carolinian turned Somerset resident Cary Grace. Her last album, a live set from the 2016 Kozfest, The Uffclume Variations, I've had here for some time and meant to include in an earlier review, but things have continued to be a bit constrained on the blogging front. I will get to it, Cary, honest! But then with this two-track release, set for 5th May on digital download, it provided the perfect starting point for an entry focusing on singles...

So this is 'Without a Trace', b/w 'Star Fire', and I think it's download only, available from Bandcamp via her website, or from iTunes and other digital retailers. Cary works her magic across multiple genres, with last year's live release being experimental and improvisational, aided and abetted by her band, and with special guest appearances from Steffi Sharpstrings and Graham Clark. This new studio record sees her back in a more traditional song structure. 'Without a Trace' is a lusciously delivered love song with a beautiful ruminative tune, 'Star Fire' an immediately delighting and uptempo piece, think of Renaissance with spacey lyrics. Lovely tracks... play them again and again - just as I have this afternoon. 

So, between the release of The Uffculme Variations and this single, I most recently heard Cary on The Honey Pot's album, Ascending Scales, where she's involved in a terrific vocal dueling with the band's Crystal Jacqueline on a cover of 'The Witch'. Ah, see what I'm doing here, making a link from one to the next... you'd almost think I know what I'm doing... Jacqui has her own new double album due in June on Mega Dodo, Await The Queen, which I'm covering for Record Collector, but it fits in to mention that while not it's a single, as far as I know, there's just been released the first associated video, for 'Akhbar', filmed in Fez, Morocco and full of, as the advert used to, eastern promise. Exotic, sensuous, and beguiling, this is a delicious appetizer for what I'm sure is going to be a wonderful LP.  

Staying with Mega Dodo then - these linking bits are running and running today - let's mention one of their latest signings, Green Seagull, and their single 'Scarlet', b/w 'They Just Don't Know'. This is a quartet formed out of a duo, when Sarah Gonputh (keyboards) and drummer Carlos Redondo hooked up with founders Paul Nelson, of New Electric Ride, and Paul Milne (Hidden Masters, Magnetic Mind) to work up some of the two Pauls' songs. The resulting busy jangles of their 60s-fused psychedelia are bound for a full album later in the year, but these two tracks are a great calling card, frantic and urgent, full of colourful life and absolutely uplifting. Listen, I tore myself away from the Cary Grace to get this one into the CD player for a few spins, so it has to be good.

You can pre-order the Crystal Jacqueline album here, while the Green Seagull single is here. Of course, where Mega Dodo is the boutique label for psych bands and their own songs, their friends, the Fruits de Mer label is the psych label of choice for cover versions. (Yes, yes, I know... these links are getting more tenuous as I go along). I'm covering their new Astralasia album, Oceania, in the latest Record Collector, actually not a cover versions thing and already sold-out on the FdM website, but here's a split 7" release that is still in their shop, which features Sendelica and Superfjord paying tribute to Frank Zappa: 'Peaches En Regalia' (Superfjord) and 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow' (Sendelica). 

OK, here comes the writings of a musical heretic. I know next to nothing about Zappa and have rarely listened to any of his work. I, then, come to these two tracks almost completely cold, not hearing them as covers but in and of their own right. Superfjord's Jussi Ristikaarto talks about wanting to preserve the 'bubbly and energetic' nature of 'Peaches En Regalia' and notes how the Zappa version has a soundtrack quality that they'd wanted to preserve in their interpretation, which sort of does my reviewer job for me, because their cut has the vibe of a funky and freaky 60s pop culture film, probably set in swinging Soho, all flowery shirts and flares, and people conversing in groovy metaphors... photographers and models, pop stars and groupies and not much plot but lots of running around London town, visiting little clubs that look like they've been set-up in someone's front room. Makes me smile! 

Superfjord are, then, doing the light touch on their side; flip it over and immediately there is a different texture, with Sendelica - and guest vocalist Karen Langley - opening 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow' with a sinister, forbidding entry into what becomes a heavy riffing, heavy saxophone, dense drumming, number, all grain and fuzz and wailing underneath a declaiming vocal, purposefully stomping one step at a time through the tune and out of the other end. Two sides, two very different takes. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Sulatron Records: Recent Releases (Part One)

Once again, it's been rather quiet on the blog of late, principally down to working on promoting the new edition of Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins and thinking about the next book project, so there's a collection of releases intended for review that I've not got to here - I'm officially in 'catch-up' mode!

Sulatron Records, from Germany, have kindly sent over their recent albums, and I wrote about Sun Dial's latest record in the pages of Record Collector fairly recently, but I'll cover it again here as part of a summary of the package of music that Sulatron have submitted for review. Firstly though, there's a CD from Sherpa, Tanzlinde, that I've listened to a few times, searching for the right mood to appreciate it, because its exactly the sort of thing that I want to hear... but I want to hear it when the right moment strikes, and I felt that the first couple of instances I played it, it wasn't right for me... or I wasn't right for it. 

Today's a better day to give it a spin! Sherpa are a Neo-Psych band from Abruzzo in Italy, and Tanzlinde is their first album, with the label making nods in the direction of Robert Wyatt, and to Popol Vuh, when describing it in their press. It has a misty, dewy feel to it, hanging in the air of the mountains they come from, calm and contemplative, that aura of something immovable, immeasurable old, mystic. The vocals on songs such as 'Loto' speak in a way that's tribal in a way, in the way that they seem to want to impart something timeless and wise, heartfelt. Perhaps that chimes with the way Sherpa talk about the meaning of the title. "Tanzlinde means the the linden tree, under which people find time to return to themselves, to connect with their innermost feelings. It is a metaphor for strength and growth." And, as you anticipate from their band name before ever starting on the music, they take the strength and sound of Eastern culture to inform their music. It can be a busy percussive sound, such as on 'Big Foot', or, elsewhere, calmer, more introspective, tunes that have a quality of equilibrium about them. So this is a record that might not catch you on first play, that you might not be ready for, or which might be waiting for you to find the right space for it, but stick with it, play it and play it again, and its haunting stillness will come to find you. 

Let's talk about the new Sun Dial album, then, because I reviewed it for Record Collector and gave it three stars under their rating system... and three stars is a solid review which means 'good', but I almost went for four before backing down, and I think there's the sense in the review that I preferred the initial entry in what is projected as a trilogy of records, Mind Control, which Sulatron also released on CD, after Gary Ramon's outfit had self-released the LP version, reviewed here back in 2013. But of course, doing the blog gives greater time to live with any particular album (see Sherpa, above!) and expound on its merits at greater length. While I'll stick with that notion in my mind, because I really liked Mind Control a lot, I've been playing its successor, Made In The Machine, quite often since writing my original review of it. 

Air-raid sirens herald its contemporary Hawkwind-like opener, 'Meltdown'. "Shockwaves filter through the spine ... only fate can save us now." It's shrilling insistence, mixed with returning sirens, mark it out as a powerful statement, energized and purposeful. That sense of urgency continues into 'Contact', bright, vibrant vibes around a repetitive theme which has a touch of the Didier Marouani about it, a thrilling opening pairing. That's often the modus operandi on this record's fairly contained tracks - there's only one truly extended piece with most coming around the four-minute mark - to create a hypnotic pattern around which the musicians play, so its immediately engaging, with a proper flow from track to track. Vocals surface only occasionally from the sequences, giving the journey a narrative nudge, but this record is predominately about its tunes, about sound and patterns. 

Sometimes, such as on 'Spacedust', it's bubbly and frenetic, what I described in RC as being motor-on motorik ideas, a quirky, weird in a good way, playful twist of the kaleidoscope. Then even if it sometimes becomes more muscular underneath, it's still with that sparkling effervescence on top. Perhaps that's what best describes the difference between Mind Control and Made In The Machine, that the younger sibling has a sense of fun rippling across the top of its tunes, bursting to come and play.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have space-rock gravity. Though there's a deftness of touch, and that enjoyable exuberance, about many of the tracks, it still has a deep space atmosphere to it, 'Regenerator' being like a probe exploring through the rings and moons of a planet, a trekking star odyssey, with robust chords and propellant drumming. There's a zippy Eastern odyssey as well, in the sitars and boings of the fourteen minute 'Autopilot', before "sonic waves are raining" in the album closing 'The Gates of Eden', heavy and moody but still possessing that energy which makes this record such a good listen.

So, that's Part One of our Sulatron write-up... Part Two will be with us shortly!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

SHARP! Flicknife Records And Other Adventures - Q&A

Following on from my review of Frenchy Gloder's Flicknife memoirs, here's a Q&A with co-author Greg Healey about this book and their collaboration...

How did this project come together?

About four years ago I received a message on LinkedIn from Frenchy to ask if I'd like to review the latest volume of Hawkwind Friends & Relations. At the time I was a staff writer for the Seattle based Redefine Magazine and, as I had been a Hawkwind fan and a Flicknife fan since my early teens, I suggested that I write a feature piece about the history of the label. I like to give context to feature pieces so, as well as covering the story of the label, I wrote about some of the political and social events that made the times what they were. Frenchy loved the piece and pretty soon after messaged me to ask if I'd be interested in writing a book about the label that would give a flavour of the times as well. As we talked it soon became clear that his life had been a fascinating roller-coaster ride and that, if I was going to write about Flicknife and the era the label came into being, I was going to have to write about the man and his story as well. 

What are the mechanics of writing a book like this with someone… how did the collaboration work?

Once we decided to tell the story of the label through the life of the man we had find a way of conducting interviews that he'd feel comfortable with. We needed to hit upon a method that would allow him to remember things lost in the haze. A lot of the material in the book is deeply personal and at times tragic, and it became clear that the narrative would be best served if it was told from his perspective.  Along the way we tried Skype, face to face meetings and emails. It was an evolving process. The main challenge in all of this was to give everything a coherent voice, Frenchy's voice, and arrange it and tell it all in a way that kept the reader hooked.

I thought Frenchy’s personal story was bravely told, how soon in the project did it become clear that he’d want to tell his life story in this way, as opposed to being a book of music industry recollections?

Initially, Frenchy was very reluctant to include his own stories. His life has been about the bands, the music and the label, and it seemed counter intuitive to him to talk about personal experiences. What helped was when I suggested the idea of making it read like a novel; Frenchy saw the potential of this approach immediately. One of the biggest successes was that we formed a good relationship based on trust: once he saw that his personal life and experiences were going to be handled in a sensitive and not a sensational way he felt more comfortable. The idea that it was important to tell the whole story in the context of the times, so that Flicknife and its releases didn't appear to exist in a vacuum, appealed to him from the beginning. 

A lot of readers will come to the book because of the Hawkwind connection. How difficult was it to strike the balance between the Hawk elements of the story and the rest of Flicknife’s eclectic catalogue?

One of the first things Frenchy said to me was "Let's not make it just about Hawkwind!" He is rightly proud of Flicknife's diverse catalogue and he felt that the label's other bands had often been overlooked. However, there are lots of good stories about Hawkwind in the book and it was good to get across Frenchy's perspective on those years in Hawkind's story too. Most importantly, for Hawkwind and all of Flicknife's acts, we wanted to give each story nuance and colour and bring them to life.

When we talked while you were writing the book, you were heading for a much larger word count but have had to trim down for publication. Do you have a favourite story that couldn’t be included because of the constraints of book size?

My favourite story is the one about the heiress, the kitchen knife and the bag of coke. 

Any plans for making unused material available on-line or in another volume?

There is talk of a second volume. He has countless more stories to tell. 

What are you most proud of in this book?

That it is a good and interesting read that tells the story of an era rapidly passing from memory. A lot of readers have said it's very evocative of the times and paints a vivid picture of the music and counter culture from the end of the 1960s through to the mid 1990s.

What was your first Flicknife record?

Motorhead EP 12" - bought when it came out 1981. 

And your favourite Flicknife record?

Hawkwind Friends & Relations Vol 1 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sonic Assassins - Print Edition

The print edition of Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins is now live for ordering! Amazon US have it immediately available... Amazon UK are taking orders but awaiting the print files from Createspace, which can take up to five days, so should be fulfilling orders by the weekending 21st January. I had a quick look at some Amazon Europe sites and they are either taking orders for imminent fulfilment, or are ready to go with orders.

Friday, 30 December 2016

SHARP! Flicknife Records And Other Adventures

Like, I suspect, most people who visit this blog, I first 'encountered' Frenchy Gloder as a customer for the records released in the 1980s on his Flicknife label, most specifically his catalogue of Hawkwind, their past and then current members, their friends and relations. What Flicknife did, of course, was to provide an outlet for the band, post their RCA contract, for archive releases and then for the new material that came along with the Earth Ritual Preview EP and The Chronicle Of The Black Sword album, a valuable bolthole when they could no longer rely on the support and finance of a major label. I'd think in that respect, Frenchy and Flicknife kept them going, sustaining them through a fallow period in 1983 and then relaunching them into the public eye as a independent label band with that classic 1985 concept LP. 

As a convert to the Hawkwind cause only a few years previous, I lapped up those releases. Not just the Hawkwind albums and singles, but Inner City Unit's Punkadelic and The Presidents Tapes, Huw Lloyd-Langton's Night Air - though not so much the bootleg quality LLG live album despite it including the brilliant 'Mark of Cain' - Bob Calvert's genius Freq of course. I even preserved with the compilation Friends & Relations sequence, despite, I'm afraid, its adherence to the laws of diminishing returns. (Sorry Frenchy! But the first of them is still terrific!). 

Later, I was privileged to write sleeve-notes for Cherry Red / Atomhenge's new edition of Freq, at the start of their Hawkwind catalogue reissue programme. And later again, I got my first chance to interview the engaging, and still highly enthusiastic for all things Hawkwind-related, Frenchy for a feature on the bands of the free festivals in Record Collector, where he recounted the trials and tribulations of his work with Dave Brock on the Travellers Aid Trust compilation, a seminal and hugely important snapshot of the free festival bands of the 1980s. If they hadn't released that album, memories of those bands would be much reduced, and our understanding of them that much poorer.

That led on to spending an afternoon in Frenchy's company over an Italian lunch in Harrow, listening to his stories of working with Hawkwind, and exploring the tales of the multitude of other musicians he worked with on the label back in the day, ones, such as Nikki Sudden, whose work I didn't follow back then, but who've become important to me more recently. Put those Hawkwind records to one side, and if the only album that Flicknife released was Sudden's wonderful The Bible Belt, he'd have still presided over a label of lasting importance. But he released Nico, Charlie Harper, Glen Matlock, The Barracudas... he did Jeremy Gluck's cult/underground supergroup classic I Knew Buffalo Bill. He put Ozric Tentacles and Dogs D'Amour on his compilation albums. None of it was easy. "You had to fight for every review, every bit of publicity. You had to go there – go to the papers, pull favours, even for a couple of lines, you had to fight for it, there’s no other word for it," he told me, for a label feature for Record Collector. "You had to be saying, ‘it’s a great single because of this, this and this…’ Even in the 80s, there wasn’t that many independent labels, even 4AD or Beggars Banquet or Cherry Red, who could say that they’d had three or four albums in the Top 50. We could."

My RC piece, published back in 2015 along with a retrospective of that stone-cold classic The Chronicle Of The Black Sword, was based on that happy afternoon's reminiscences, though the afternoon's joy in chatting with him about his great catalogue was tinged with sadness by the time I'd got back into London, because it was the day that Huw Lloyd-Langton, that wonderful guitarist, passed away, and I learned the news from a text from a very upset Frenchy, who'd continued to hold Huw in the highest regard. Of course, my piece on the label could, within the constraints of word count, only scratch the surface of his label. Thankfully then, this brilliant memoir, written with Shindig! contributor Greg Healey, does what I couldn't begin to do, which is to relate his whirlwind personal story, from his beginnings, of Romani heritage, in the little republic of San Marino, with vivid recollections of family and food, to his discovery of the lifestyle and ethos that is Hawkwind ("I was a massive Hawkwind fan and if they were playing in Switzerland or Italy or Germany, then I would go," he told me that day in Harrow), and his itinerant wanderings through Europe and onto England where he arrived, primed and positioned for the advent of punk rock. 

His life in the 70s and 80s was just a crazy sequence of scrapes, near-misses, adventures and escapades. In that respect, it's a no-holds-barred autobiography that's honest about the affect on his health and his family that his lifestyle created. You can read it for that side of his story and get vicariously caught-up in the roller-coaster of drugs that fuelled many of these stories; someone fully embracing that side of the rock 'n' roll situation. And a rollicking great read that side of it is. (You'll come out the other side of it thankful that so did this charismatic man).

But then, you can also read it as a part of the written documentation of the backstory to Hawkwind, and for Frenchy's sketching-out of the characters, such as Nikki Sudden and particularly Nico, who lived with Frenchy and his wife Gina for a few months in the early 80s, who had records released on his label. Of course, in respect of Hawkwind, he has lots to say about Dave Brock (I liked the generally affectionate way that Frenchy and Greg describe Dave in their text and recognise the way that they paint him as friendly, approachable but slightly aloof, with his encouraging "Good show" expression), but he also knew Lemmy very well, was friends with the mercurial Calvert, and generally does a good job of describing the characters in and around the band during that Flicknife era. He didn't like the way his words were used in Carol Clerk's The Saga Of Hawkwind, and says so, and indeed his book is a much more 'fan friendly' tome in the way it deals with inter-personal relationships. Though... in regards to the 'Stonehenge' live album - This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic - no amount of his insistence that this was all derived from performances at the stones will override the fact that it's largely from Lewisham Odeon on the 1980 Levitation tour! A small niggle!

At the same time, he was part of the London counterculture in the 1980s, mixing with many in that environment, from the likes of Captain Sensible, to the new-psychedelic and goth Batcave and Alice In Wonderland club scene. That all of this is committed to memoir for posterity, vividly described in page-turning prose, is a thing of importance, and between them Gloder and Healey have done a great service not just to those who come to this book as Hawkwind fans wanting to read the story of their time on Flicknife, but to those who are interested in Gloder and his wider achievements in supporting a raft of musicians who were in essence underground, outside of society and the mainstream but producing good work that needed to be heard. In turn, his memories deserve to be read.