Sunday, 14 October 2018

Festivalized Extract: Conspiracies & Consequences

Here's a chapter extract from Festivalized: Music, Politics and Alternative Culture (Ian Abrahams, Bridget Wishart, Gonzo Publishing) where our contributors discuss the decline of the free festival scene at the end of the 1980s, early 1990s, and ruminate on its myriad causes. Commentators for this piece include Bridget herself, Jerry Richards (Hawkwind/Hawklords/Tubilah Dog), Jez Cunningham (The Levellers), Club Dog co-instigator Michael Dog, Simon Williams (Mandragora), Dick Lucas (Sub-humans, Culture Shock), singer-songwriter Nigel Mazlyn Jones, scene photographer Oz Hardwick, and the late Gary Bamford (2000DS - in probably the most extensive interview he'd ever given).

Conspiracies & Consequences

For every commentator who sees conspiracies lurking at the heart of the festival movement’s decline and collapse, there’s another who views the troubled second half of the 1980s as being at least in part due to the problems being experienced internally, even if those problems where then further exploited by the authorities in its own very publicly avowed intent to break the festivals, The Convoy, and those who furthered the free festival ethos.

Simon Williams: The scene was always under attack. There was always a feeling of, ‘We’re going to do this despite the fact people in suits or in uniforms don’t want these things to happen.’ People didn’t want it on their doorstep; they didn’t understand it, as far as they could see it was a bunch of troublemakers, hippies. People these days would find it difficult to believe you could get a great line-up of bands together and it would be completely free. Now there’s only one festival that I know of, that’s the Burning Man, which costs a lot to get in but there’s no trading once you’re there and even the performers pay to get in.

Oz Hardwick: Somewhere on the outskirts of Oxford in 1987. Hardly anyone got through all the roadblocks, we were camping on tree roots, constantly aware of the police threat, and finally awoken by a helmeted head thrust into the tent about two hours after we’d got to sleep, telling us to clear off within the hour. Helicopters and full riot kit – they meant it. Just felt tired, beaten and very sad.

Jeremy Cunningham: I was living on buses until I moved off the travelling scene when the Criminal Justice Act came in and it got so hard… I’d done it to live a ‘free’ lifestyle but at the end you became less free living on the road than if you lived in a flat. You got so much grief, everywhere you went. The Levellers had got a lot bigger than we ever thought we would, and made that crossover, and I was getting just a bit too well-known on that scene. I didn’t like that, I liked to be quite anonymous, so I left [the scene] in the end and just moved into a flat, though I still kept in touch with a lot of people. I still know people who are living in buses today, but not many. But I was living on the road from the mid-80s to the early 1990s. 

Oz Hardwick: In the later years, say 1985 – 1989, there was always the dodging about to get to sites. Generally at small gatherings there wasn’t much hassle once you were there, though after Stonehenge ‘85, which I’ve mixed feelings about having missed, there was always the threat of violence. At Oxford, for example, things looked like they might turn nasty, with the [police] shield wall and so on, but… I think most people had a sense that if it came to violence, the government-trained thugs were going to have the upper hand. A sense that face-to-face confrontation wasn’t going to further any cause. 

Dick Lucas: One night during the post-Henge time of high police paranoia, June ‘87 or ‘88, the local Warminster / Culture Shock crew, about fifteen of us, crammed into a large van at 5am and set off to find a gathering place that Tim Sebastian had located on a map showing the edge of the army territory that extends across Salisbury Plain. This was a hillside a few miles away. A helicopter buzzed over the van on the way there, and by the time the sun came up a dozen cops had come to join in. They let us stay there, tolerated our argument that this was common land and we had the right to assemble, and positioned themselves by the barbed wire at the top of the slope that marked the start of army territory. Behind them were some curious cows wondering what all the fuss was about, which made a great picture! A Channel 4 camera team didn’t turn up, but Tim said they were interested in having someone talk about all this over the phone, and suggested I do it; later I called them, but as they were after a ‘serious sun worshipper’, it was all over before it began. Tim was older than us, full of intense passion about the Stones, a leading Druid by the time he died, and inspired a lot of people into action. RIP.

Chopper over Stonehenge 1987
(Boris Atha)

Jerry Richards: You really did have to look out for the authorities because they were coming for people and infiltrating. Some of the stories of MI5 being part of the instigators are true. There was a guy from MI5 who tried to sell guns to ‘The Convoy.’ Now, who was the ‘The Convoy’, well, everybody and nobody, right? But he’d wormed his way in there, looked the part. Walked the walk and talked the talk, and tried to sell guns thinking we’d be paranoid and bloodthirsty enough to want to take his weapons to defend ourselves against the police. Absolute madness and he was chucked off site and exposed for what he was - an MI5 mole. 

Michael Dog: There was a train of thought that suggested the Stonehenge Campaign itself had been infiltrated by agents-provocateurs, people who were associated with the government. It’s not impossible, though you’ve got to beware of going on a paranoia trip with this sort of thing. In my view the post-1985 festival scene destroyed itself. I don’t see that it was brought down by outside influence. I don’t see that it died because the police made it hard to run festivals in certain parts of the country, because in other parts of the country, like Hampshire, they didn’t give a hoot. That last Torpedo Town, the police didn’t stop people going to the festival; the people themselves wrecked the festival. But it’s hard not to wonder whether elements of straight-society, or people in Government, had decided the way to break this scene once and for all was from the inside. You can go one way and say, ‘Oh that’s just paranoid nonsense and it was actually just a bunch of irresponsible people who let this thing slip through their fingers.’ Or you can see the other point of view, that there were people who were put into this situation and had pressure put on them, or maybe incentives were offered to them to wreck the movement from inside. The fact was that heroin use and dealing became a bigger and bigger aspect of the festival and traveller scene, seemingly unregulated and unstoppable… and unstopped by the authorities. The establishment seemed happy to allow an element of the scene, basically travelling junkies, to just carry on what they were doing. On the Stonehenge Campaign there seemed to be individuals hell-bent on wrecking that movement on the inside, prominent individuals who spent more time creating dissent within than actually doing something useful. 

Jerry Richards: I think there were a lot of political diversions. There’d just been the Falklands War and [the authorities] were looking for people to divert attention on to. The police that came at us were the ones that had been on the miners’ strikes, at Orgreave, and they were tough people, I mean really tough. So the authorities used these people on the hippies, on the travellers. If you think about it, this could have been one of the reasons why Thatcher was deposed, because things had to change. The police were under a spotlight where they had to answer to things in the press, people asking difficult questions. But they also had to look at themselves and decide whether they were going to be used by whichever political party to be their political assault force and do the party’s bidding. Now, the police may be whatever the police are, and I’m not anti-police, but they don’t want to find themselves used as political pawns, because they’re going to get a bad rep. The police are there to stop people ripping you off or attacking you, that’s what they’re there for, not to protect property but to protect us. But they find themselves at the end of some politician’s tryst up in London, who wants to make office again next time the election comes and who’ll use any diversion available. They’d use the miners’ strike, Falklands War… Thatcher had been elected three times, John Major after her, and we were a happy distraction whilst they did whatever they did – like selling off the nation’s assets. So the Americans own the Royal Train – how do you figure that one out? The French, the Spanish and Germans own our gas… then there’s the telecommunications, so they’d flogged off the silverware. And this was the legacy from the Second World War, that sense of social conscience that tackled Beveridge’s ‘Five Giants’ [want, disease, squalor, ignorance, idleness] which is where we got the National Health Service from. The people who’d fought the war had rebuilt the country’s infrastructure. In some sense, all of us festival crew were children of that sensibility, we’d grown up with all of that. We might have rejected part of it in wanting to live the alternative lifestyle but the values were there, that you helped your fellow people. Now it’s all about ‘me’ and ‘I want it now and I want it faster’ and if you make your own stuff it’s kind of looked down on, seen as a bit naff. Now, for me growing up, if you wanted embroidered jeans, you embroidered them yourself, you didn’t go to GAP or Prada! You did it yourself and that was what was cool about it. People would say, ‘Bloody hell, man, where did you get that?’ Well you went down the shops and got some needle and thread. Stitch one, purl one! That sort of sensibility where you made your own stuff has a thrill to it. So, if you were a fashionista at the festivals, hey, get real! You’d see all of these wonderful, colourful shirts all dyed, and special fatigues, and be aware of the amount of creative energy in these art students, or former art students, potters (as I was) – all these talents.

Michael Dog: My personal conspiracy theory is that if you accept that there were elements within the Thatcher government that set out to change the face of society, then they got what they set out to achieve. If you study the history of society, then the key to effecting a transition to any kind of totalitarian regime is to create a generational break. Suddenly there’s a huge gap between an older generation that knows how it used to be and a younger generation that have no idea how it used to be. That’s what we’ve come to now. For the people who came of age between 1990 and 2000, and even really to the present day, there isn’t an alternative culture any more. There’s nothing for them to slot into. I feel very fortunate; I came of age at a time when that culture still existed and I just fell into it. There were lots of festivals, underground publications, bands and all the political movements were there. I just found them and went, ‘that’s me’ and I joined the club. For people coming of age in the 90s, that club wasn’t there any more for them to find some sense of purpose or belonging. And now, that whole culture is a thing of the past. It shouldn’t be, but for young people now, there’s nothing for them to slot into. 

Taking a break during the walk to Stonehenge, 1987
(Dave Fawcett)

Nigel Mazlyn Jones: I’ve been travelling around Britain and Europe since 1975 and I’ve been in a good position to compare things and I’m completely outraged about the way the country is and its [lack] of rights and freedoms. The counterculture movement, complementary medicine, alternative thinking, has always been there, it’s never gone away. A lot of what it espoused has now become both mainstream and very corporate: Body Shop, Centre for Alternative Technology as advisors to ICI, ethical investments, the huge graphic industry that is employed by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, the massive administration structure right the way up through the qualified people who are on immense salaries for Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. It’s a huge corporate structure turning over millions, or billions, of pounds. A constantly moving volcano that’s being fed from underneath and lots of elements of it are bubbling and difficult and not accepted by society. But out of the top of it eventually comes the heat and steam that creates your Greenpeace or your Friends of the Earth that has an impact to the viewer. You can’t see what’s going on in the volcano but you can see the point at the top. I think that’s how the counterculture does feed how we move forward as a society, that’s how we are still vaguely a democracy; people are forced to debate issues because everybody’s got so much knowledge on-board. I go back to Harry Hart, who started Green Deserts, and I was twenty-eight years of age and I came across all this information. I saw all the slides he’d taken, and I’d made a point of going to find the core people and listen to them sitting around the campfires, what was being debated, what they were going to do, and I was deeply inspired by the core issue. Yes it was an entertaining cross-cultural event with tepees over there and Romany caravans over there – but for that melting pot of humanity, think of all the youngsters who learned stuff. Move forward to the rave culture and you will have pockets… the early Whirl-Y-Gig raves were set up by humanists. Those humanists booked me to do the Parachute Chill-out Tent in the 1990s; I first met them at Rougham Tree Fayre in the 70s, sitting playing under the trees. Those humanists became very impressive social workers, dealing with drug addiction in the heavy parts of London. They didn’t start Whirl-Y-Gig to make money; they started as a like-minded group of adults, and all from that counterculture, who’d got older and recognised there was a huge youth problem. They thought, ‘Let’s not have thump, thump, thump, mechanical auto-robot music, let’s use world roots music. It’s wonderfully educational, it’s a lovely vibe, it’s great to dance to, and you can get the same rhythms as the thumping auto-music.’ So, wonderfully successful Whirl-Y-Gig raves, running at Hammersmith Town Hall, all the festivals, all the mainstream things like Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD, mainstream acceptance. They got through their doors at their raves over a million people, I’d have thought. Now, I remember being at events with Whirl-Y-Gig and being there before my gig, which wasn’t going to be until three o’clock in the morning because I was doing the chill-out, and listening to youngsters of all backgrounds and they’d be chilling-out drinking flavoured mineral water, because there was no alcohol. They’d be in the cafĂ© or in the chill-out rooms and they’d be discussing stuff and it would be absolutely mind-blowing to hear their intelligent terms, talking about different issues that they were active on, like green activities or raising money for some socially-aware event that wasn’t being funded. 

Michael Dog: [Unemployment] galvanised people into either feeling pissed-off about the situation they were in or wanting to react against the yuppie ideal, whereas now the yuppie ideal has become the norm. The Thatcherites forced the bulk of British society to go and get a job because they had to pay rent and it became almost impossible to claim benefit and to lead that alternative lifestyle, which requires you not to be doing a nine-to-five job. I debate this with my son, who grew up very much involved in the things I was involved in. He went to festivals from when he was two and, for his peer-group, has a fairly privileged upbringing in that he just about remembers what it was like and is very frustrated with the apathy of his own generation. But he understands that as they left school and went into life they were immediately obliged to get jobs and settle into a nine-to-five. It takes up so much of their time and brain-space that they don’t have the time or energy to do very much else. He figures it’s completely down to that. He’s forever ranting and railing that anybody he knows who is involved in art of any sort be it music, video or fine art feels so obliged to produce art that will sell that they see it as pointless to produce art for art’s sake. That if it isn’t going to sell, there’s no point in producing it at all. So the Thatcherites got want they wanted. 

Jeremy Cunningham: I got a lot of hassle [on the road], everybody did, but I learned early on to play the game with the police. The police were quite happy, as long as you’d go along with them. When I first started getting pulled over on the roadside, which used to happen all the time, the immediate reaction was to lean out the window and start shouting obscenities but I remember doing that once and this copper started to look around the front of the vehicle and he said, ‘If you carry on shouting at me like that, I can think of a hundred and twenty violations for this vehicle’ and pulled out this long sheet of paper. I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t the right way of going about it’ so after that, when I got stopped, I’d be going ‘Oh, how are you, officer? Everything alright?’ We called it ‘playing the game’, as long as you showed that they had some kind of authority and were nice to them, they usually moved on to the next guy, who was pissed and wanted to fight with them! They used to let us go, most of the time. We did have trouble but it was usually only when you’d get a lot of vehicles all together, before the days of mobile phones when we were all trying to find a festival site or a rave. You’d have fifty buses going up the road one way, then coming down the other and you’d see the ones coming down the road, ‘Oh, they must know the way.’ Eventually pagers came in and we could find the sites straight away! I’d usually travel with a group of about six or seven vehicles, not a big group. When we’d go to a festival it might end up as a big group, the Peace Convoy and all that, but I didn’t live with a big group. 

Bridget Wishart: I think there was the thing of people taking over the Convoy and moving in and the Brew Crew becoming an ever-bigger element. Other people who had been part of the scene and had put up with a certain amount of anarchy and drug-dealing just moved away, moved to Spain… ‘This isn’t why I moved onto the road or moved into a vehicle.’

Martin: I went to the last Elephant Fayre, in ’85 or ’86 and the reason [the organiser] never had another one was that the Peace Convoy turned up there. It definitely wasn’t a hippie, ‘Save the Earth’ kind of thing. My memory of it was a very kind of punk, ‘I’m in it for what I can get, fuck the lot of you.’ But then, if you take a group of people who are very alienated in the first place, and then herd them around with a heavy police presence then you may well push them in that direction. Now, that was definitely my experience, having said that, and I visited quite a few sites that my brother was at, and there were family people there. I’d say the common factor that linked everybody was drugs, was a lifestyle, but there were family people there, I wouldn’t say nobody there was looking after their kids. There was a mix of people, but most of the places I visited were places that had been found for people to park up. I think at the time, the strategy was to try and break up this huge entity and try and make life difficult for them. In Longwell Green, in Bristol, a piece of wasteland that’s now a big industrial estate, there were a lot of vehicles there for a very long period of time and it was just Smack Central, it was a really bad place. So it went from that Haight-Ashbury idyll of ‘If you’re going to San Francisco / Be sure to wear flowers in your hair’ to just a really degraded, everybody washed out, drugged out sort of place, really.  

Hippie Van Man: Winter ‘91-‘92, I bought and converted a Bedford Vega 31 Coach and moved in full-time, with the intention of spending 1992 on the road. I got the job of taking a load of jugglers down to Glastonbury. We had the vehicle pass and were told to pick up the people passes when we got there. When we got there we had to wait in line outside, oddly enough the TK behind me in the queue was owned and lived in by a girl who lived opposite me when I was a kid. Neither of us knew about each other living on the road! After fourteen hours of queuing we were eventually let in, just to be booted out again after three hours for selling cider… I never really wanted to be there anyway.  On the upside, we found our way to the free alternative, which was at the old airfield near Smeathorpe.  There were loads of folk there and a few very loud raves. I moved the bus after a few hours because the sound system near us was so loud and always seemed to be turned up to number 11 even when there was nobody dancing; it seemed the owners or folk who ran these systems didn’t give a toss about other festival-goers. We went into the village for some bits and bobs and in the grocer’s shop we got talking to a few locals. They were disgusted at how much money must have been spent on policing the site; the police helicopter was causing a greater disturbance to them than the noise from the festival. I’d become disillusioned with the whole thing. Raves seemed to have taken over and I was sick of the sight of police helicopters. In early ’93 we were staying in a lay-by on the A34 and a mate turned up in his Hedingham bus on his way down to the Avon Free Festival; this ended in fiasco in a service station on the M5. We were eventually forced onto the motorway and pushed north, the police kept overtaking the convoy and blocked off the exits, again and again. When folk ran out of fuel they were arrested… what a load of bollocks. This marked the end of the festivals for me, I sold the bus and moved into a Commer Walkthru [Van], then in late ’94 I moved onto the canal and finally in 2004 we moved to Orkney. I thought I’d happened upon a way of living in the UK that was kind of Utopian, and sometimes it was, but I’d discovered it too late. For me, the raves killed off the real free festivals. I’m just glad I saw a few old style festivals before they disappeared. To quote [Radical Dance Faction] ‘I caught a glimpse.’ The whole experience of the festivals and living on the road has had a lasting effect on me. I still keep a living van and I’m proud to say have never stayed on a campsite. After nearly twenty years I still have dreams where I’m at free festivals… maybe subconsciously I’m still longing for those days… I’ve absolutely no regrets.

Smiley coppers, White Horse Hill, 1985
(Adrian Bell)

Simon Williams: A lot of us all went out to Europe after Thatcher started attacking our scene, went to festivals in Italy and Germany and Holland. They were fun and comparatively new and it was a good scene to be a part of. But it was different in that it wasn’t so linked to the Pagan calendar and the hippie vibe that was prevalent in Britain. In Italy, because they have such a right-wing government at times, to have parties or festivals, the organisers will actually identify themselves as being very left-wing. The reason for that is because if it’s seen as hippies with no specific agenda it’s easy to shut it down. If they say, ‘You are suppressing our human rights because we’re left-wing people,’ then that’s a political card they can play. They’d have two-thousand-capacity venues with their own radio station and their own printing press and do everything themselves. It was comparable from that point of view, but probably better organised! The British way was to say, date, place and everything else would just happen, provided everyone turned up. 

Gary Bamford: After the clampdown in 1990 we ended up living in Berlin for a few years. It was as close as you could get to that free festival thing. Berlin was something else. We’d gone there about a month before the Wall came down, with something like ten vehicles, and did one show in the East one night, and then one show in the West. We ended up moving onto a site on no-man’s-land in an area of Berlin called Kreitzberg which was like a white Brixton. If you went to West Berlin, you didn’t have to join the German army, so all the freaks and people who wanted to drop out went there. There were lots of squats, lots of bombed-out streets, and a massive punk scene.  It was like a free festival just being in that city, hundreds of vehicles parked on no-man’s-land. Lots of squatted streets in the East, the place was in chaos. Six months later they were demolishing streets with people in them. There’d be helicopters overhead, and you’d hear sirens going off all the time. There weren’t many bands, no site bands, but people were living in bowvans, big trailers that get pulled into construction areas for workmen to have their breaks in. You’d find a couple of fields and there’d be twenty, thirty bowvans all quite tidy and organised; we’d turn up with that British mentality of madness, and people falling out of vans and heaving beer cans around. So we’d look out of place, not up-to-date or tidy enough, because we were still used to being evicted once a week whereas they’d stayed still for a while and got quite organised. 

Jeremy Cunningham: We all lived in Amsterdam for a while, on a big travellers’ site there. When it started to get bad in the late 80s we thought, ‘Just fuck it, we’ll go abroad’, because we’d heard there was this site in Amsterdam and the laws there were a lot more liberal than they were in Britain, so we lived over there for six months until it got bulldozed. When you went to a squat in Amsterdam, it was nicer than most people’s flats… I couldn’t believe it. Whereas squats in the UK were pretty rough and ready affairs, people over there, because they had been living in them for ten or fifteen years, they were much more together about everything. There was a big free festival there, called the Last Bus Shelter which was the name of the travellers’ site in the East Docks and was the last stop on the bus route; now it’s a big housing estate. 2000DS were over there with us as well, I knew Gary [Bamford] very well. They had this huge old Greenpeace coach that they lived in, a massive great thing, towing a trailer on the back of it with a recording studio in it. When they turned up it was always guaranteed chaos! When we were in Amsterdam, Gary and the DS of the day, because they frequently changed line-ups, went off to live in Berlin… probably because they found living in Amsterdam too easy, not confrontational enough, so they went to live in Berlin! Everyone else was just looking for a peaceful life!

Oz Hardwick: I was affected on a very deep, personal level. I felt a profound despair. For a long time, I lost the belief that one could make a difference. It took a very long time to regain a sense of purpose.

Michael Dog: I think the scene imploded on itself by becoming too cocky. I don’t think becoming too big was the problem. I don’t believe it attracted lots and lots of nasty people. My memories are that on the whole, people were there for all the right reasons and very respectful. It’s only the later festivals, post 1985, that slowly but surely attracted people who weren’t there for any of the right reasons. But people had taken it for granted that you could do these things and cock a snoot at the authorities and in retrospect I saw that that had brought about the demise. People didn’t realise how brutal the Thatcher regime was, until it was. We were blessed in the 60s and 70s with relatively benign governments and nobody was prepared for how brutal and how hard-line the Thatcherite regime would be. I’ve always wondered whether there was some Tory think-tank at the time that realised there was this quite large and relatively influential alternative scene based around squatting, the underground press and free festivals and other aspects of that scene, that wasn’t exactly a threat to them but couldn’t be allowed. The mid-80s were really the darkest days of Thatcherism and I guess it pulled people to either being a part of that or not being a part of it at all. Stonehenge being a victim of its own success, with more people hearing about it and wanting to go, and the hardening of the political atmosphere, probably forced people to decide which camp they were in. Of course, after 1984 fewer and fewer people went to the festivals. I personally feel the government set out to fragment that movement and they were very successful at doing so. It was no accident that they made squatting illegal – it wasn’t really about protecting the rights of property owners, that wasn’t their prime motivation, they realised that squatting was a key element of the alternative scene. When I was a kid, or a teenager, when you finished school you could leave home and go and live in a squat and live on very little money and pursue the lifestyle that you wanted to pursue. If you wanted to do music, or arts, or politics, or whatever, on a cheap budget, you could squat. By taking away squatting, it falls to people to have to earn a living and get a job. And by forcing people into having to get a job, they couldn’t devote time to these other things unless they had money from other sources. It was a quite deliberate policy. Of course, what happened after 1985 was that they used more and more Draconian powers to break up the festival movement. But sadly, from my own point of view, I think the festival movement destroyed itself.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Hanterhir - The Saving of Cadan (Interview)

Receiving much admiration at moment, and with justice, is Cornish psych-folk rockers Hanterhir and their 5-sided 3-LP The Saving of Cadan on Cornwall-based label Easy Action run by industry veteran Carlton Sandercock. I've reviewed its overwhelming mass of sound - unlike anything else you'll hear this year for sure - in the current issue of Record Collector in its vinyl format, and will be writing on its 2-CD release and profiling the band elsewhere shortly, but a few weeks ago it was a particularly great pleasure to be in my local pub talking to their bass player, and old friend of mine, Grant Kellow, to catch up on past-times (we reckoned we'd not seen each other since the mid-80s), chat over how he came to be part of Hanterhir, how the record had come to fruition, and its remarkable link to Cornish language and heritage.

We started by thinking back to the old days on a Sunday night at Redruth's Penventon Hotel nightspot - then called Trumpets - with its eclectic mix of music styles; indie was downstairs on a cramped dance area filled with alternative types and the sounds of Iggy Pop, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy et al, while the disco and soul brigade hung out on the first floor with its much bigger spaces. You could find your own identity... or wander up and down and swing both ways...

Ian Abrahams: What were you listening to back then? I guess it's a step away from what you play these days as part of Hanterhir?

Grant Kellow: I guess you’d say it was post-punk, wouldn’t you? So it was Siouxsie and the Banshees, Theatre of Hate, Southern Death Cult, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Model Army…

The downstairs at Penventon stuff...

Yes! Definitely not the upstairs stuff! God no! But then, there’s also only so many times you can hear ‘Rock Lobster’. I guess it is completely different from that, but it’s kind of the same as well. We’ve all got some common ground on stuff we like… some common ground… Peasy [guitarist of singular name] and Ben [Harris, vocals and guitar] would have common ground with Sonic Youth, with Jason  [Brown, drummer] and Ben it would be 60s music, even though Ben would say that he doesn’t like The Who and Jason is mad on them. With Mike [Hewitt, saxophonist] and myself it’s probably Bauhaus, though Mike is also a big Nik Turner fan, and Hawkwind, I think he saw them at Stonehenge in 1984. Ben and myself, it’s probably Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and The Cure, and New Model Army. Then for Lou [Louise Macchi, flute and vocals], she’s quite eclectic in what she likes and I’m not sure there is so much common ground. I’m quite narrow in what I like and don’t mind admitting it. 

You can hear the whole melting pot of sounds in the record though. And for me, and I guess this might come from the Hawkwind thing that I like, I'm writing in Record Collector asking if there has been a greater cacophony of music since Space Ritual? I'm hearing that in its density of sound, with the saxophone wailing across the top, that makes it have a bit of the feel of Hawkwind circa late '71, into '72, the relentlessly concentrated sound...

I’ve not heard Space Ritual, so from that point of view all I can say is that when I heard ‘Silver Machine’ it was because a guy up the road from me, a few years older, was playing it, and also Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’, so I always tend to think of them together, that period of time, 1972, but other than that I couldn’t tell you anything about them. We did have a guy that came up to us at a recent gig, really gravelly voice, saying “I liked that… I can hear the Hawkwind influence in there.” We’d look at each other and go, “What?” because we really don’t get that, but people say it. 

How did you come to join the band? I'd seen them support Hawklords at the Ritz in Penzance a few years back, but that was before you'd got involved with them...

I’d seen them quite a times. I was in a band called Weazledust and they supported us a couple of times, but we all of us go back quite a way. Their first bass player went travelling, I offered my services but they’d already got somebody, but he couldn’t make a gig, was in London seeing Bruce Springsteen when he should have been in Penzance, or something [laughs]. I was in another band, then that fizzled out and I was available. They were doing the surf and music festival Boardmasters in Newquay and a couple of the guys didn’t want to do that, so “can you do Boardmasters?” but I was in France doing the Lorient festival for a week because I was in a Cornish folk dance band. So I was at Lorient while they were doing Boardmasters, but came back and that was it, I was in the band. This was May 2014, turned up one night and it was, “Shall we start the rock opera now?” and I’m thinking, I’m not going to fall for this… because we take the music seriously but we are not serious people, we’re not good on self-promotion, we make everything a joke and nothing’s out of bounds. But this time it was, “No, we’re being serious.” They’d gone through a period of coming up with lots of ideas but without having someone to translate what they were coming up with. But I’d got into my favourite band, I’d just played the long game. I mean, sometimes it’s more like a dysfunctional family than a band, but it’s my favourite band.

So that review that came out on-line somewhere recently, where the reviewer was talking about the band, their followers, their hangers-on... that was something like it, really?

Yes, it was! Ben’s always had a bit of an open house policy about it all, “Why don’t you just come up and play?” so it was like with Lou, getting Lou to come in and put a few flute bits on the album and then Lou’s in the band and there’s six of us… or it could be three of us. The idea was that there would always be people around who were able to gig, if someone couldn’t make it, doesn’t matter. So that’s become the policy. When it comes to the album, if Peasy’s not around there’s probably four or five songs we can’t play without him, other than that, we can compensate, change things around, give it a different feel. It’s quite a fluid [live] band. It’s always fun, it’s never a chore, and people never quite know what they’re going to get. 

Hanterhir: 'Hello Sunshine' from The Saving of Cadan

Easy Action is a label I've long been a great fan of... how did the band get involved with them?

The first Cornwall Calling [Easy Action's compilation album of Cornish bands] had come out and they were getting ready to do the second one. There was a benefit gig in Falmouth, at Mono, and they were a band short, and [influential local journalist] Lee Trewhela suggested us, so we were the wild card for the night really. We were on before Lost Dawn, and Lee’s review of the night was something like, “What do you do you when you see a man who has been in the record business for thirty years have his jaw drop to the floor?” I think that was the first time that Carlton had heard of us. I didn’t think we did anything special that night, tiny little stage, couldn’t really hear what we were doing, but he saw something. At that point we were already halfway through doing the album… but now I’m not breaking my back carrying around to every gig a box of CDs that we might have had burnt a hundred at a time, he’s given us the ability to get it heard in the outside world. We owe him big time. There’s no game plan, so when Carlton came along it was, “Oh, wow.” 

The album's had a long gestation period...

We’d had three-quarters of the album done, then lost it, the whole lot. We practiced at the local cricket club, Peasy lived in a chapel so we’d do stuff there, but generally we'd record at the cricket club and have it set up so that their showers were a room for the guitars, the main bar would be where we had everything set-up, and we just used a proper studio for the drums. Then the laptop we used went wrong, took it in for repair and they lost everything, so we had to start again. So the bit where we say it’s taken four years, it probably took two years but then we had to do it all again. 

Hanterhir (Grant Kellow second from left)
Photo: Maddie Dickinson

That nod about Space Ritual aside, I've never really heard anything like it, that sense of Cornish identity mixed into the psych-folk thing, that huge wall of sound... it's like nothing else.

It’s like, what a crazy idea, but why not do it? Originally it was going to be ten tracks on a 10-inch, with ten people playing on it and given away to ten people. Then ‘Hello Sunshine’ grew to seven minutes long, so that idea went out the window, then it became a double vinyl, until Carlton came back and said that actually there was too much for that… but there was nothing we felt we could take off and now it’s a triple because it didn’t deserve to be cut down. Two tracks didn’t make it in the end! We had a song called ‘Mark’s Ferry Dance’ which was a guy playing a melodeon over a riff we’d come up with, an instrumental, and then also ‘Disco Funk Shit’, which was just as it sounds, us playing a very bad disco funk shit record, but it was to do with the story, Morwenna coming into Redruth for the first time in 2,000 years and going to the pub and hearing this terrible music. 

Ha! They can be on the future expanded edition! What's the story to the opera?

Morwenna fell in love with a boy, they then fell out, the boy killed himself and his mother was a witch who cursed Morwenna to the lake on Carn Marth [near Redruth, in Cornwall]. So she was the evil spirit and anyone who stepped in to the water, she’d pull them underneath. Cadan went to the lake to throw himself in, to kill himself, but because he gave himself to the lake, she then saved him. So there was this thing where she was the spirit and he was mortal, then they discovered that on a certain night there would be a lovers’ moon and things could be reversed. Cadan becomes the spirit of the lake, Morwenna is set free to go out and experience life. That’s the gist of it, a doomed love affair. The Cornish language used on the record, that's Morwenna speaking; we tried to put as much in as we could, though I don't know if we'd ever do a proper Cornish album.

It seems to me as though you belong in that contemporary psych scene, the one that stretches across Sendelica, bands at Kozfest, the Fruits Der Mer and Mega Dodo bands, Litmus... it's a scene that needs to come and find you. Not because you're like these bands, but because its a disparate scene where no two good bands are alike.

We just do what we do; we don't really have a comprehension of what's going on anywhere else. It's a constant struggle to get gigs down here if you're doing original stuff. Times are hard, and owners want to book bands into pubs if they're covers bands. You can carry on, thinking that we'll just make music and if nobody wants to hear it, that's fine. But every now and then you'll make some magic and you'll go find someone out of Cornwall wanting to hear it, or we'll do the odd trip up to London and it's interesting. But we'll literally play anywhere! Twice a year we play locally in the woods, a sort of bartering thing - you do this for free and we'll do this for free - so we play in Tehidy Woods and Treslothan Woods ... Tehidy is all solar-powered. It's just a little scene, it has to be. But we enjoy playing live, just really enjoy what we do.

Hanterhir Website 

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