Thursday, 22 August 2013

Paradise 9 – Take Me To The Future


This is a record that I’ve been anticipating and waiting for over the last few years, particularly since reviewing the two EPs that Paradise 9 have released along the way of their journey to this, their second LP. It’s not been a disappointment in any shape or form.

Where Paradise 9 live is in that area where psychedelic collides with punk and the green fields of festivals coalesce with the sounds and attitudes of the city, so that they have edge and attitude in short snappy bursts of righteousness and social-political savvy but they also have a spacey, spaced-out, mind trip as well. In some ways, then, they have something of Inner City Unit to them, except that ICU often veered into cartoon punkiness (particularly on Punkadelic) whereas Paradise 9 have humour in what they are writing and signing about but that humour is bound-up in a sprightly jauntiness  that makes an accessible and crowd-pleasing counterpoint to the seriousness that oft inhabits their message.

So there are these two strands to this record – not quite defined by the way that they’ve consciously replicated vinyl conventions on their CD and digital album by designating a side one and a side two – but distinctive in their own ways. On the one hand, that engaging, vivacious jauntiness is personified on ‘Nothing For Tomorrow’ and ‘State Of The Nation’ which have a late-70s feel to them in their choppy up-tempo uncomplicatedness. On the other, their influences in the earlier 70s, the Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove of Hawkwind, In Search Of Space, and their love of Gong and of Here & Now manifests itself in the gorgeous sprawl of ‘Distant Dreams’ with its melancholic nostalgia and its gentle reverence to In Search Of Space and others. “We carry dreams that must get through / Of a better place for me and you.” Lovely mentions and nods to ‘Children Of The Sun’ and ‘Master Of The Universe’, and a play-out that seems to have a homage to ‘You Know You’re Only Dreaming’, among other moments… this is simply magical.

What makes this record special, though, is the lightness of touch that moves it effortlessly between psychedelia, punk, reggae, dub and just all those musical genres that represent facets of the counter-culture as a joined-up whole. Without overstating, or over-thinking, a record that really is about a sense of enjoyment in pulling together diverse but interconnected musical histories, I’ve found it’s heart to be in that melding of different musical faces, probably as a result of the mix of contributors that the band possesses, whether it’s Gregg McKella with his love of things 70s – he’ll touch on this below – or Tyrone Thomas bringing in that punk sensibility from being a member of Alternative TV, or Jaki Windmill – herself part of the heart of that fantastic creative, outside of mainstream, hippie Brighton culture that seems such a big thing down on the coast these days, or from long-time Paradise 9 members Carl Sampson and Neil Matthars – or indeed the influence of the much-missed Trevor Thoms who had such an impact on the band and did much to help them along their path.

Again then, we shouldn’t over-analyse, in the final reckoning it’s about musicians having a good time putting together a record that reflects how they feel about their own musical loves and passions and expressing the things that concern them, but here is one of the records of 2013 for the sort of music for which this blog is part of its fandom. In that respect, this constantly surprising and changing record is something a bit special.

Paradise 9’s Gregg McKella muses on the history of the band, their friendship with the late, great, Judge Trevor Thoms, and the tracks that go to make up Take Me To The Future.

I’d been in various projects for about five years, and I was playing at this songwriters’ night in West London, Chiswick, called Acoustic Revolution and that was where Paradise 9 came from. I hooked in with a bass player called Andy McDonald and we teamed up with a bongo player and drummer, Wayne Collier, and then Steve Teers on djembe drum. It came out of them joining in a few songs that I’d written and it built up and we took it out as a band, but it naturally evolved out of the acoustic song-writing club.

This was around ’97, and after a couple of years we released the first album, which was Showtime. That was quite varied, but it was a collection of my songs and my history of music, where I like to be, is psychedelia so there are things on the album that are very moody spacey types and then there’s stuff that is kind of folk, kind of acoustic song-writing type songs, so it’s quite a mixed bag. We put that out ourselves but the band folded; Wayne went off to Australia and the band just folded for a little while. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when we were asked to do a gig that I approached Andy and we got in Carl [Sampson] and it went so well that we decided that would be the reformed band, again a three-piece but we got in Steve Teers and we used to invite guests up on stage, which we’ve maintained to this day, like we got Nik Turner, who plays with so many people, and we were pleased to get him on the new album.

I asked Tyrone Thomas to join because I felt we needed a punkier aspect, so his history with Alternative TV and the other projects he’s been in, and his guitar, seemed a good fit, and since he joined he has added so much more in the way of subtleties and the treatment of guitar sound, and with Neil Matthars coming it, we can touch on different genres and bring them in while keeping the psychedelic feel and still leaning on the punk side. You could say ‘Any How, Any Way’, has no kind of space-rock involved, it’s an up-front rock tune, as is ‘This Is The Time’ and 'Points Of View', so it’s nice to mix that up and get the punk edge but with a psychedelic outro. It’s down to the individual qualities of the band that I feel we get a diverse, but I hope distinctive sound that is Paradise 9. Tyrone came in late 2007, Neil soon after on Carl’s suggestion, whom he had played with over several years in their band Casual Affair (that also had Credo’s Mark Colton). With Neil and Carl, it made for a very solid rhythm unit, and so by 2009, the first EP, ‘Nothing for Tomorrow’ was brought out. Steve Teers left in 2010 and later that year Jaki Windmill joined, bringing with her, her experience having played with Space Ritual and others. As well as Jaki's djembe and percussion talents, her characteristic vocals have really added to the band’s overall sound.

Growing up, it was Hawkwind, Gong and Here & Now that I used to go and see, and then punk came along so when Inner City Unit came along and Nik had left Hawkwind I’d think “What have we got here? This is a bit Punkwind… but then you get it, with the humour of Judge Trev Thoms and Nik Turner who were co-founders, they had an angle that definitely influenced me. I moved down to Brighton about seven years ago and I bumped into Trev in a pub, and he was involved with a club called The Real Music Club which he founded and asked me to come in on, and it’s kept running to this day. We became good friends and when I got Paradise 9 down to Brighton to do a show at The Real Music Club he came up and joined us on stage, which I was made up about. He guested on some recordings with us, played on ‘Distant Dreams’ which came about on a show on Brighton & Hove Community Radio, a show he co-presented, where we did a couple of acoustic numbers, one of which was ‘Distant Dreams’ and he just got up, put his guitar on, and played along and was just great. When we were recording the album we wanted him on ‘State of the Nation’, which I’d written in the early 80s, around the time of Inner City Unit and they were an influence and so that seemed appropriate, but then it was nice to have him play on something acoustically, hence ‘Distant Dreams’, because you can hear a side of him that people don’t think of when they think of Trev.

We brought the EPs out because we wanted to get the tracks out there in the lead-up to the album, but also we particularly wanted to get the State Of The Nation one out as a tribute to Trev. I was finishing mixing the album while Trev was still with us and he got to hear the final mixes. He wanted to remaster his God And Man solo album and we talked about maybe bringing them out together and doing a joint launch but unfortunately that didn’t happen. But I wanted to get our tracks out because the great work that he’d done to contribute to Paradise 9. He’d really helped us, and we’d played a lot of places that we might not have, had it not been for Trev. He opened things up for us, really.

With the artwork that Mark Reiser has done, the album really comes as a whole package, which is what you used to do… I used to buy an album on the strength of the cover looking good, the artwork being fantastic. Might have been only one good track [laughs] but in those days you took the risk. So we wanted to get that feel about it, and I think we’ve succeeded. Particularly Mark’s artwork, you put the music on and you look at the cover and investigate it. We did put the album together as two halves, come in with a bang and moves along contours from side one onto side two so that it takes you on a journey. Would have been nice to bring it out on vinyl but at just over seventy-five minutes long, it isn’t going to happen! But we were really blown away with Mark’s images, and Graham Semark from Cyclone Music who provided the delicious label design and really gave us a lot of assistance in getting the album out.

There’s a lot of bands that get me excited at the moment; we’ve done a lot of gigs with Deviant Amps, who’ve got a 70s psychedelic sound about them. Sentient, which is Steffe Sharpstrings’ new outfit, who still have that Here & Now, Gong, improvisational vibe. But then also bands that have been around… Kangaroo Moon, who I saw at Glastonbury, Pre-Med are another good band… but then there’s also Glow People, theGerman band Vibravoid, Earthling Society (who I’ve not seen), Spiral Navigators, Peoples Free Republic of Pandemonia, Aurora, Timelords, Peyote Guru and Band and Nukli.

We did Kozfest in Devon this year with a lot of those bands, and that was just after we heard that Mick Farren had passed away at The Borderline the same weekend. That news left us all a bit bambuzzled. Jaki had shared the stage with Mick at the Borderline, and was especially close to him. So when she travelled down Sunday to Kozfest in Devon after Saturday night, insisting on doing our slot, she dedicated the set to Mick and very bravely played our set to the end. Our set was dedicated by Jaki to Mick Farren. Mick was another of those counter-culture heroes, who encouraged alternative thinking, and was less hippy more punk in challenging establishment and conservative thinking. I count myself lucky to have known, and played with Mick a couple of times, and for Paradise 9 to have shared the bill with the Deviants on a couple of occasions.

Digital Signs: This is quite topical at the moment! The song came from Neil, and the band and I wrote the words, about how people should still talk. The Internet is a tool for everyone but the news at the moment is ‘should it be censored?’. Especially with Edward Snowdon and Julian Assange in the news. It’s a network for people to talk to each other in a time where liberties are being taken away.

Crystalized Moments: It’s the one romantic song on the album! It’s looking into the past at a relationship and remembering the good parts of a failed relationship. Questioning, but taking the good bits.

Nothing For Tomorrow: It’s about ecology and the environment; things happening in South America with the disappearance of the rain forest. Got to keep making people aware of what’s happening with the world. But it’s a good one to belt-out, we feel that when we play it!

Kozmonaut: It’s one of Tyrone’s which we thought went with the band and brought it into the set. It’s sort of a juxtaposition to ‘Take Me To The Future’, which is why they’re on two different ‘sides’ really. It’s the space programme from the Russian point of view, so also a juxtaposition of the CCCP programme to the NASA programme in Cold War times, hence the Sputnik and space transmission samples. The space race, the costs of it and the affect it has had on history. And it’s got a nice reggae, dub feel to it, which gives another dimension to the band.

Ocean Rise: Neil’s bassline was the catalyst for this one. An instrumental track… dedicated to the ocean! Let’s look after that also!

State Of The Nation: ICU always had humour in a song while delivering a message whether it be social or political comment; they delivered it with humour, which I hope we do to a certain extent. ‘This is what’s happening in the world… take notice.’ I think these are things that need to be raised. I understand bands that say they don’t want to make these comments, they just want to make nice songs, do love songs… well that’s fine, but change has always been brought about by singing about issues of the day, from forever really. There are future generations who are directly affected by everything we’ve decided to do, or not do, today.

Points Of View: It’s not really dedicated to any particular political party! They talk about everything, have their manifesto, and then renege on it all once they are in power. It’s got a punk attitude feel about it.

Is This The Time: A punchy little song, one that’s good to slot into the set. It reflects on life but there are positives in it; people lose their way but there is a way to break out. You hit a brick wall and you think that’s it, but people come along and off you go again.

Times Like These: I took a few words from a track called ‘These Days’ from the first album. This is kind of an updated version. Unqualified people making decisions on other people’s lives. That’s the way things seem to be going really.

Anyhow, Anyway: All about the city, but it’s positive, things can get bad but… some of it is about homelessness, but people do get themselves sorted. I wrote back in London, when I was a bit down. In the vast complex of city life, two people can come together, looking to get out of desperate situations.

Distant Dreams: ‘Distant Dreams’ is a nod to all those early festival bands: Hawkwind, Here & Now, Gong, The Pink Fairies… all those bands really. Let’s keep festivals going! I think it has that vibe, and it’s an optimistic song.

Take Me To The Future: It’s looking to the future, lots of references to getting out into space – whether that’s the answer or not, but it takes a positive spin. All this stuff that’s out there to be discovered… but you get to a certain age and all they’ve done is the Moon and you feel like you wish they’d get a move on! I mean, this stuff costs billions of pounds and you could equally argue that stuff needs doing here but things have been discovered from having satellites in space and its certainly helped in identifying problems that we have. We were especially pleased to have Nik Turner guest on sax and flute for the title track.

It feels really good to get the album out; we started it five years ago and we wanted to get it right. Some of the tracks are co-produced with Steve Rispin and he’s worked with some great musicians over the years: Asia, and some of the bands I listened to in my formative years, such as Uriah Heep, he’d worked with them. To have his experience on the album has been great, and that’s been borne out by what we’ve got, really.

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