Archive | Classic Albums

Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Joe

Fairport’s trailblazing days were far behind them by this release and so were all their founding members. Like the Sugababes the band name continued long beyond the departure of all the original members. The Rock Family Tree for Fairport Convention extends to almost infinite dimensions.

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For this line-up Sandy Denny was back in the fold, raising high hopes for a return to form after a series of increasingly lacklustre albums.

In part the resulting album, released in 1975 and given the deluxe reissue treatment this year,  was a return to form, but as a Sandy Denny album in all but name. There are few traces of the folk-rock sound that Fairport Convention pioneered. Denny had already made a move away from that sound with her previous solo album Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. Many of the same lyrical themes are carried over between albums on the Denny penned songs, with a polished AOR production carrying touches of country rock in slide guitar lines.

At times the Denny led tracks sound very similar to the Christine McVie tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. If you dig mid-70’s AOR you’ll like this album a lot.

Sandy Denny’s husband Trevor Lucas was in Fairport at this point and he sings a couple of country rockers which are pleasant enough but mostly founded on train metaphors with little to distinguish them from each other.

Dave Swarbrick, violinist with Fairport since their third album, takes lead vocals on a couple of tracks which cleave closest to the folk-rock template, but his voice is something of an acquired taste and unlikely to win over any new fans.

It’s with the final track of the original album, One More Chance, that the band take flight with something which hearkens back to their glory days, everyone taking turns to solo and spin out in epic style. A final hurrah for this line-up which promised much but ultimately failed to deliver.

The deluxe reissue adds a further five tracks, a live TV performance of White Dress, studio demos of Dawn and What is True, home demos of After Halloween and The King and Queen of England. Stripped of their studio polish all these tracks come across more powerfully and are superior to the album versions.

Completing this deluxe issue is a whole set of this line-up of the band live at the L.A. Troubador. With a set list drawn from Denny, Dylan, Holly and Fairport’s own back catalogue the band spend a blistering hour demonstrating what an excellent live act they were. Often live albums are a ropey cash in but this one more than justifies the reissue. It’s often said that some bands struggle to translate their live ability to the studio and this was certainly the case with this line up had Rising for the Moon managed to capture more of this passion and energy it would certainly have been a more successful album, rather than a footnote to their tangled history.

by Garry Todd

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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Joe

These days bedroom recording artists have Logic X  and a raft of other gadgets to play around with. Back in 2001  The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle relied on his Panosonic RX-FT500 boombox and its tiny, tinny condenser mic. Turns out this ancient piece of technology, which was bought by Darnielle in 1989, died for a while in the 90s but revived itself  for this recording, was perfect for taking the listener into the heart of his story telling lyrics.

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The technology was just one part of the perfect storm of amateur equipment and mundane events that make All Hail West Texas, which has been reissued this month with seven extra tracks, such a special album. Recorded truly alone, at his new home in a new town during a week while his wife was away playing hockey, gives him a sense of isolation and really understanding the characters he’s writing about here.

Be it Cyrus and Jeff, Darnielle’s two teenage heroes whose dreams are shattered by an adult world that doesn’t understand them in Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, or the life spiraling out of control in Fall of the Star High School Running Back, Darnielle’s alone time brings them to life. Color in Your Cheeks, about making friends and an idealised view of US immigration, is another that clearly benefits from Darnielle’s lonely situation and his sense of longing for  friendship.

Another factor in its recording was he’d just started a new healthcare job, working with children in a residential facility, and was undergoing a period of  ‘orientation’ training, leaving him plenty of time to scribble down lyrics and flesh out the likes of Jeff and Cyrus.

Mostly recorded as they were being written using this old machine also gives the album a unique feel as if Darnielle had to get the song committed to cassette before it broke down again or the tape ran out.

Thankfully the remastering involved here is more a lick of paint than a full scale renovation. To spruce it up too much which destroy its splendour. The seven extra tracks are also welcome, recorded around the same time and also showing the same keen sense of melody and interesting lyrics of those that made the final cut. Waco would ordinarily have become one of his most well known songs, but the tape cut out as he was recording and further attempts to sing it never quite matched this take for Darnielle. Indonesia, which he confesses would not have sounded out of place on his first album for 4AD Tallahassee, is another highpoint of these extra tracks.

So over a decade on what else is there, apart from some great lyrics and intimate, amateurish recording, that makes this album special? The music itself has to be good to make a great album, and here, Darnielle’s acoustic guitar and vocal delivery are full of wonderful melody and passion. Pink and Blue, for example, is so simple, so effective and so darn catchy. Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton even has a crowd pleasing singalong ‘Hail Satan’ that delights Mountain Goats audiences to this day.

For those new to Mountain Goats this is a pretty good starting point, but far from typical of their current sound. It was the end of an era, with The Mountain Goats moving to the large indie label 4AD shortly after and more intricate, clever use of studio production. Now on Merge they are firmly a full band centred around Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster. There are die hard fans that regret Darnielle’s progression and prefer him to continue to slave away at the boombox. I for one welcome his musical education and feel equally uplifted by the rising horn sections that light up The Mountain Goats’ 2012 album Transcendental Youth as I do when I hear Darnielle strumming away on his own in front of his old Panasonic boombox.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Scott Walker  – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

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Scott Walker – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

Posted on 01 August 2013 by Joe

Scott Walker is the last man standing from the sixties to still be making anything approaching fresh music, with  his current work overshadowing his former persona as a bona fide pop idol teen heart throb. Imagine if Gary Barlow were suddenly to start making oblique art songs referencing the philosophy of Jacques Derrida all to a post-industrial sound collage; tricky isn’t it, but that’s what Scott Walker did, boy band to avant garde artist in five easy pieces.

Within the Walker Brothers Scott had been the only one seeking to move into writing, to get away from solely being an interpreter of other peoples words. On their second album he already has two writing credits and there are three on their last album. These songs stand out immediately from those surrounding them due to their idiosyncratic construction, they scan like short stories rather than conventional lyrics. Working with top arrangers Scott was learning his craft ready to break out into a solo career which has been stranger and more genuinely productive than most.

scott1

With Scott 1 he establishes himself as a mature adult singer, trying to move out of the lovelorn teen market. A threeway split in writing credits between standards, Walker penned material and songs of Jacques Brel. The Brel material is most immediately arresting due to the scabrous lyrics and cabaret arrangements, My Death and Amsterdam in particular signalling a bold move from popular lyrical themes. Whilst Scott is fully in control of all the material and the arrangements and his phrasing on all the standards make his the version you want to hear, it is on his own material that he takes flight.

An unusual lyricist even then, Walker uses the song form as a vehicle for storytelling or mood setting. In Montague Terrace (In Blue) he sings of bedsits, the inescapable crowd and the curious loneliness of the city, “The scent of secrets everywhere”. Only the protagonists relationship seems to steel him against it, but there is a realisation that this is temporary, almost certain to end – “But we know don’t we, And we’ll dream won’t we, Of Montague Terrace in blue”.

The arrangements for Walker’s own lyrics also strike out for fresh territory. Decentred strings, drone forms, brass arrangements punch through for crescendo and there’s an unusual sense of time as the soundstage follows Scott’s own phrasing.

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Scott 2 comes galloping out of the traps with perhaps the most rollicking opening number of any album ever. Jackie had been a single released in 1967, banned by the BBC due to Brel’s lyrics concerning opium dens, brothels and “authentic queers and phony virgins.”  Later in the album Scott sings Next, another Brel song, this time about mobile army whorehouses and the psychic scars resulting, had anyone else ever sung about “gonorrhea” on a number one album before, or for that matter since?

After setting the bar so high at the outset Scott continues to vary the pace with a pair of excellent covers,   Best of Both Worlds and Black Sheep Boy, before the first of his own compositions on the album, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. In the vein of Montague Terrace in Blue Scott sings a kitchen sink drama in first person, Humphrey Plugg, caught in suburban domesticity, seeking escape –  “Leave it all behind me, Screaming kids on my knee, And the telly swallowing me, And the neighbour shouting next door, And the subway trembling the roller-skate floor.”

His next original composition “The Girls From the Street” glows with poetic wordplay in waltz time, “ Snap! The waiters animate, Luxuriate like planets whirling ’round the sun, Collapsing next to me, Shouts don’t look sad, Things aren’t so bad, They’re just more wrong than right.”

Plastic Palace People takes a surreal bent with a floating protagonist Billy observing the streets from above, Don’t pull the string, Don’t bring me down, Don’t make me land”. Over floating chords with a rising and falling string motif we float along with Billy. Billy’s suspension above the ground a metaphor for adolescence caught between childhood and maturity, dreams and concrete reality. An hallucinatory soundworld is brought into play throughout with sharp discontinuities between sections, use of extreme reverb and leslie speaker on Scott’s voice when the main theme drops out.

There are further delights across the remainder of the album, a further Brel song, a couple of strong ballads, another Walker original The Bridge (a sorrowful song of lost love), and perhaps the best cover ever of a Bacharah/ David song,Windows of the World.

Scott 2 was the commercial highpoint of Scott’s solo career, reaching number 1 in the UK charts in April 1968, however, Scott was not satisfied describing it as the work of a “lazy, self indulgent man”.

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Following this success Scott was granted further creative control and for Scott 3, released in March 1969, he had written ten of the thirteen tracks, the remaining three being Brel covers.

The previous two albums had opened with furious stampeding Brel covers, Scott 3 shimmers into being with It’s Raining Today, a string section play a hovering drone, a bass modulates, a guitar strums a few chords – Scott enters looking out at the rain and reflecting on a love, now gone, almost forgotten. Almost the epitome of melancholic, but there’s a steel within the observation, which stops it being mere self-pity, “You out of me me out of you, We go like lovers, To replace the empty space, Repeat our dreams to someone new”.

The album proceeds at this stately pace, a quiet sadness permeating the first four songs.  Big Louise opens imperious, gong sounding, french horn playing a beautiful refrain, strings swelling as Scott sings about the broken hearted Louise, evoked with great economy across just a few lines, with the killer chorus “Didn’t time sound sweet yesterday, in a world filled with friends, you lose your way.”

We Came Through ups the tempo in the style of Mathilde and Jackie but this time the lyrics are less knowing, there is less distance than in those of Brel. The lyrics come from the perspective of the strong, those willing to inflict violence on the weak to wield power over and over through time. There is cruel despair in the final lines made all the more bitter for the upbeat delivery, “and as Luther King’s predictions fade from view, we came through.”

More exceptional songs follow, Winter Night, in particular a luminous miniature only eight or so lines but couched in a beautiful string arrangement, opening on a severe descending chord.

The album ends with three Brel covers, Sons of , Funeral Tango, and If You Go Away, the last of which is perhaps his purest lovelorn outpouring on record (and with the Walker Brothers he had mastered that market already).

Scott 3 had reached a respectable No.3 in the charts, and Scott had his own BBC TV show, a vehicle for his performances and for other guest singers. To capitalise on this he cut another album Scott Sings Songs from his TV Series in July 1969, containing only standards this reached No.7.

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By November 1969 Scott had released Scott 4, an album of only Walker penned music. Although now widely considered one of the best albums of the sixties, it was a notorious commercial failure at the time. Scott’s decision to issue it under his birthname Noel Scott Engel undoubtedly hindered it’s marketing, but the fact that it was his third album release in under eight months probably had a greater effect, albums in the sixties were luxury items costing approximately a tenth of the average weekly wage, few fans could have afforded to buy all three albums in such a short space of time.

Across Scott 4 Walker widens his lyrical ambit away from his previous themes, there are still love lost ballads, but he now takes in socio-political themes, oblique protest songs, and a song offering a plot summary of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

There is also a wider variety of songs styles across Scott 4, from Morricone spaghetti western score on The Seventh Seal, to pedal steel Country on Duchess and Rhymes of Goodbye and lounge funk on The Old Man’s Back Again.

As with Scott 3 the standout tracks are those with the most idiosyncratic arrangements, Angels of Ashes and Boychild. Angels of Ashes has a classical guitar line, punctuated by a harpsichord following Scott’s vocal, light snare brushing, bass line moving the song along, with sweeping strings wrapping it all together.  Boychild uses zither, acoustic guitar and hovering strings to shadow Scott’s vocal lines, a floating world of unsettled yearning – “Extensions through dimensions, Leave you feeling cold and lame, Boychild mustn’t tremble, cause he came without a name.”

Scott 4’s relative commercial failure undermined Scott’s ability to retain creative control.

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His last album on Philips, 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In makes this conflict apparent in the straight split between Scott’s songs on the A side and the covers he returns to on the B side.

A return to covers can only be a crushing disappointment to anyone following Scott’s development as a songwriter through the preceding albums. A great interpreter of standards by any measure, but by this point you only want to hear him sing his own songs because no-one else writes like he does.

The A side, however, is as strong as anything on Scott 4.  A loose suite of songs themed upon the residents of a block of flats, there is a return to character studies, mixed with topical satire/ social protest. Prologue opens the album with sound effects, tap dripping, keys in locks, children playing while a string section swells sorrowfully before fading into Little Things, a headlong brass stomp similar to Mathilde or Jackie.

Arrangements and song forms are straighter across ‘Til The Band Comes In with more defined verse/ chorus patterns and less oblique lyrics, but the subject matter is as off-beat as ever, Joe is about a lonely old dying man, Thanks for Chicago Mr James is about the end of young hustlers relationship with a gay older man, Time Operator is sung by a man so lonely and isolated he calls the speaking clock for company, he’s fantasised for so long about the voice at the other end of the line he really thinks he’s in with a chance – “I wouldn’t care if you’re ugly, cause here with the lights out I couldn’t see, you just picture Paul Newman and girl he looks a lot like me”.

Towards the end of the A side the title track rises to a crescendo, with brass section flourishes and a soul singer backing, Scott sings about taking his leave with perhaps the promise of return – “If you need me to move through, you know where I’m found, still alive, with my sub-human sound to the ground.”

Side A ends with The War Is Over (Sleepers), a promise of peace following the overall chaos which reigned previously. However, war is as much a metaphor for life in this song and the peace that is found is the peace of the tomb – Everything Still, Everything Silent, As after the rain, Still we are after the rain.

‘Til the Band Comes In was not well received at the time and didn’t chart confirming Scott’s fall from grace. For the next few years his career limped along with a series of albums of covers in a strictly middle of the road rut, seemingly a burnt out case at 27. As with the B side of ‘Til the Band Comes In these are all good for what they are, but not satisfying for the same reasons, Scott Walker is too good a writer to sing other peoples songs.

A Walker Brothers reunion rescued Scott from a lifetime of cabaret and Working Mens Club engagements. Although there was no original material to begin with, by their final album Scott was ready to write again. His four songs on Nite Flights are where Scott Walker reappears and strikes out for terra incognita, a road he still travels getting further and further out.    

by Garry Todd

 

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The Woodentops -Before During After

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The Woodentops -Before During After

Posted on 08 May 2013 by Joe

Back in the 1980s it was tough to find a better live act than The Woodentops. Have a listen to the album Live Hypno Beat, from 1987 and recorded in Los Angeles a year earlier, with its energy, infectious pop and frantic drumming. It was indie music you could dance to; something almost every band from James, That Petrol Emotion to The Soup Dragons and Primal Scream were having a go at with mixed results as the decade came to a close. But while The Woodentops should have been at the vanguard of this indie dance cross over they gradually faded away in a familiar tale of unfulfilled potential.

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Did they peak too soon? Arguably listening back to the difference in quality between their early singles and Live Hypno Beat tracks with their weaker later releases this is a plausible argument. Quite simply by the time Inspiral Carpets and James were headlining Reading Festival in the early 1990s The Woodentops best tracks were behind them and they were focusing more and more on whether someone could dance to their music rather than the quality of the songwriting.

First up this collection, with the strapline ‘remasters, remixes and rarities 1982 -1992’, is big, arguably a little too big, with its 52 tracks surely too much for any band in one go. But given that it is retailing for the price of  standard double album there’s no hint of being ripped off.

If there’s a genuine gripe though it’s the lack of live tracks on the album, especially those from Live Hypno Beat. It could be there were licensing issues, but with just two live tracks on the album, neither from Live Hypno Beat, it limits this collection’s ability to properly showcase the breadth of their talent.

What the collection does include though are the key tracks from their two albums 1986’s excellent Giant and 1988’s less interesting Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway,  their singles and a bucket load of remixes by the likes of Adrian Sherwood.

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Of these it is Giant tracks and their early singles on CD 1 and CD 3 that really stand out and survive the decades that have passed since their initial releases on Rough Trade in the 1980s. The folky Good Thing, wistful Give It Time and the rockabilly Love Train are all as superb now as they were then. They also show that in singer Roly McGinty they had one of the great lead vocalists of the early 1980s indie music scene.

The rarities and other recorded version of Live Hypno Beat such as Move Me and the frantic Well,Well, Well are particular highpoints showing the band at their artistic peak.  CD3 also features a welcome Glastonbury 1987 recording of Get It On, offering a hint of the sort of live tracks that should have featured on this collection.

However, CD2 is the saddest of the collection,  as it focuses on The Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway tracks. I remember the disappointment of hearing this far more polished album at the time. The songs just weren’t as strong and the drum machine focus on production made it seemingly lacking in passion compared to Giant. Tracks such as Maybe It Won’t Last, They Can Say What They Want and Wheels Turning feel as empty now as they did then when compared to the live and Giant era The Woodentops.

The rest of the CD is littered with a variety of remixes that feel very dated. Adrian Sherwood’s version of Why Why Why just seems so tame by top quality dance music standards and the band’s live delivery of the track (see clip). The Baleric remix of the same track, on CD3, also does little for this song as the sands of time pass through the fingers of the ever aging club goers from 1991.

By the time they ceased altogether in the early 1990s they’d lost sight of what made them great. Tracks from their final release, the horribly dated 1992’s Woodentops v Bang the Party’s – Tainted World, show just how far they’d slipped from potential stadium headliners to sanguine dance act.

Reading back on this review it sounds like I’m being a little harsh on The Woodentops. That would be wrong I assure you. As a live act and for a chunk of the 1980s they were a superb band, but with their move further into dance culture they drifted further from their original identity and arguably lost their passion and fans along the way. Since 2006 they have reformed and played a series of live shows, which shows there is still unfinished business for McGinty and the band.

If you like tracks such as Love Train and Love Affair with Everyday Living then I urge you to invest in Live Hypno Beat, still their best ever release and a far better collection of one of the UK’s best acts from the 1980s.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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Gong – Flying Teapot

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Gong – Flying Teapot

Posted on 12 March 2013 by Joe

The next time you’re stuck outside Stoke-on-Trent in a train going nowhere – but nominally to Manchester – you can thank Flying Teapot. Yes Flying Teapot. For this is one of those seminal early 70s prog rock albums that made a name for Virgin Records, and eventually countless millions for Richard Branson.

Gong

Strange as it may seem, there was once a ‘Canterbury Scene’ and Gong were fundamental to it.  Even more bizarrely, Gong saxophonist Didier Malherbe was first encountered by band members in a cave in Mallorca (although his website is lamentably quiet on the subject).

If you’re thinking Flying Teapot is a silly name for a record, you’d be right. It’s a play on words of ‘flying saucer’. It’s not Shakespeare. But then it doesn’t pretend to be.

Gong’s raison d’etre appears to be surrealist nonsense. Indeed, if it is silliness you want then this LP delivers. As part one of the concept trilogy Radio Gnome Invisible it comprises a barely intelligible meandering narrative. Track one, helpfully also called Radio Gnome Invisible, starts with a whistly wibble and continues with a deliberate Franglais pronounciation of the hook line. Don’t be put off.

This is music that feels freshly silly even today. Although it’s a concept album of sorts, it’s a real antidote to the serious, poutingly sexual musicians of our era (and of their era too). This is funked-up, wigged-out shit replete with dirty basslines. This is from the dawn of prog rock. It is prog rock before it got wanky and self-indulgent (as all great musical genres do – yes, even dubstep). It is truly progressive in the way you might have once believed of the Lib Dems before they got any real power. This is the territory of Zappa or Beefheart.

Gong

Gong

At times, it feels as if it’s Jeff Wayne, inspired not by H.G. Wells, but by the Brothers Grimm. This is particularly true on the track Zero the Hero and the Witch’s Spell. As proto-blogger Piero Scaruffi off-puttingly put it in 1999, Flying Teapot is, ‘a demented collage of nursery-rhyme melodies, circus horns, jazz rhythms, galactic keyboards, sensual/celestial wails, sardonic mantras, mock-heroic electronics, caricatural anthems’.

Track two (of a mere six) – the titular Flying Teapot – is an eleven minute genre-voyage of a song. The length allows an exploration of themes, sounds, influences and musical juxtapositions to keep you on your mental toes. Zero the Hero and the Witch’s Spell is another nine-minute epic that fuses sounds into an essentially jazz drone rock triumph. Malherbe’s sax and flute really come to the fore against Hillage and Allen’s guitar riffs.

Witch’s Song, I Am Your Pussy is essentially The Wicker Man set to music. Vocalist Gilli Smyth gives a witchy shriek of laughter that starts girlish and turns ghoulish. Like a Hammer House Horror version of the chattering cackle of the fly in the Happiness Stan interludes from The Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.

It’s important to recognise the ongoing psychadelia of the age that this music came from. And the socio-political statement that this music was making (or perhaps deliberately not making). This is more than simply drop-out/drop-some music. This is an apolitical rejection of anything serious by a descent into fantasy. This is an album to read a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic to. This is a band that appeared at the second Glastonbury in ’71. It is a rejection of the staid and of right-and-proper thinking.

This is not a comedy record though . It will make you laugh. In it, you can spot influences of The Goon Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Derek & Clive. The image of the Flying Teapot is a druggy subversion of a peculiarly British icon in the same vein as these

Of course, the jazz-swing fusion track Pot Head Pixies is the closest thing to a 3-minute pop song that Gong produced. Its lyrics may appear blinkeredly unnuanced today. But it’s not far from the storyland theme and wibbliness of the much-lauded Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Just a bit more flakey that’s all. I like to think that A.S. Byatt was listening to Gong when she penned her fairytale-infused Victorian gothic novel The Children’s Book.

Kevin Ayres

Kevin Ayres

Flying Teapot came hot on the heels of Virginia Plain, which Roxy Music had debuted less than 12 months before. Virgina Plain is a song so sublime and ridiculous that it’s almost impossible to listen to without thinking of the Big Train pastiche. Again, 1973 was the year that The Wicker Man appeared in cinemas. Culture still had the ability to shake people to their cores if they cared to look and listen.

Why you should add Flying Teapot to your collection? It is now 40 years since Flying Teapot was first issued. The Gong generation are now in their 60s and 70s. Yet, the influences of Gong are far-reaching, if rarely acknowledged. Several tracks from the Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy EP feel ripped from Flying Teapot only with the BPM turned up to the max.

Gong’s sound can be felt down the years to the ambient sound of the early 90s, through to the more experimental line of indie music such as Of Montreal. More overt coverage comes from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, whose 1994 track, Kevin Ayres, celebrates the sometime Gong collaborator and Canterbury scene stalwart of the same name, who died earlier this year.

New listeners to Gong’s Flying Teapot may wish for a consistent melody or a consistent feel or a sensible lyric. There are plenty of other artists that can give you less acid-fuelled phonics (although, with Gong, the comedown is mellow and you can always move onto harder stuff later on).

This record will make you rethink psychadelia, jazz, prog rock and space rock. It might make you rethink drug laws. Or it might just make you switch it off and go and listen to Mumford & Sons on your iPhone.

For more weirdness about Gong visit here.

by Rob Finch

 

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National Wake  – National Wake

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National Wake – National Wake

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Joe

When the likes of Joe Strummer and Paul Weller sung about police brutality and racism in their late 1970s and early 1980s heyday thousands took notice.

But when National Wake, a multi-racial punk band in Apartheid era South Africa, sung about these themes there is an extra resonance. Here was a band that was often banned from playing live, had first hand experience of police oppression and lived in one of the most brutal and unjust societies of the modern era.  Those that managed to see them were enthralled, but the wider world never even knew they existed.

National Wake were formed in 1978, two years after the Soweto uprising,  and at it’s core were Ivan Kadey, an architecture student with a protest singing and folk music background and brothers Gary and Punka Khoza, who played bass and drums respectively on the township soul and funk circuit.

Taking those protest folk and soul influences, combining them with rock and punk as well as reggae they created something that was wholly unique. At times its Bob Marley, at others Talking Heads with elements of The Clash and Funkadelic entering the mix. It was a superb combination that begs the question were they influenced by the music around them or were the likes of Talking Heads influenced by them?

Joined by additional members at various times: including percussionist ‘One Eyed’ Mike Lebisi; lead guitarist Paul Giraud; saxophonist Kelly Petland and slide guitarist Steve Moni, they were highly accomplished musicians and that shines through just as strongly as the protest lyrics on their only album, 1981’s National Wake.

I’ve only discovered them this year, through talk on the internet about the recent Punk in Africa documentary. This wonderful mixtape of the era was also enough convince me to buy the 2011 reissue of National Wake. It’s an album that has taken me by surprise. Not only is it surprising to someone brought up on UK and US punk bands to find out that South Africa had a punk scene at all during Apartheid, but its also a surprise at just how good this remastered version of this once forgotten album is.

Musically its as good if not better than many of UK and US new wave and punk bands we’ve already mentioned, opening with Wake Of The Nation, with prog rock guitar solo merging effortlessly into a soul funk rhythm that Weller would have welcomed with open arms to The Jam’s Gift album. The Saxophone and guitar solos are particularly effective but the lyrics shine brightest, “this is the wake of the nation as we smash it away.”

International News is another punk influenced track, combining the innovative world music view of Talking Heads with the social commentary of Strummer perfectly with its superb opening riff jerking among the percussion on a track about government censorship and the struggle of South Africans to tell the world and each other about their plight. The heavy South African accent on the “International News” chorus adds to the weight of this song. Even the fast pace of the song conveys the threat of government oppression.  In this Afro-pop interview with Kadey, he explains “there’s a sense of urgency to get this out before it gets shut down.”

The “Keep on moving, keep on fighting chorus” on Supaman, one of many Bob Marley influenced tracks, is the most emotional moment on the album. No matter what is being thrown at them the fight is worth it. There’s an added dignity to this song as Gary and Punka’s brother had been the victim of a brutal police attack. This track should have been played as Nelson Mendela took office when Apartheid was eventually dismantled.

The final track, a live version of Black Punk Rockers, is added to the reissue, and is the most overtly punk song on the album. But around half way through the band’s individualism comes through with one of the best drum and percussion solos in rock  brilliantly placed between the fierce major bar chords.

National Wake was originally released by WEA in South Africa. But following pressure from the South African government due to its overtly political lyrics it was effectively shelved.

Touring was also difficult for the band. Their Riot Rock tour with other South African new wave bands such as Safari Suits in 1979 was marred by venues refusing to allow a multi-racial band to play. They instead retreated out of the cities into township discos and small rural venues to find an audience. In the end they dissolved shortly after their album was shelved.

As for the band members they stayed within the South African music scene where they continued to influence other artists.  Kadey co-founded the record label Shifty Music and helped build its mobile studio using some of the National Wake’s sound equipment. Among those to use it was Warrick Sony of Kalahari Surfers. The Khoza brothers stayed within Johannesburg’s Rockey Street alternative scene, which featured a number of multi-racial bands, given confidence to play together by the trailblazing National Wake.

Apartheid may have ended but their lyrics of struggle and yearning for freedom are still pertinent globally and across South Africa. This is what makes the album far more than an historical artefact and we believe an essential item in any music collection.

National Wake is available direct from South African label  Fresh Music here  or to download from iTtunes or Amazon.

by Joe Lepper

 

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Julian Cope – Saint Julian (deluxe edition)

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Julian Cope – Saint Julian (deluxe edition)

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Joe

I’m not going to lie to you. I have to admit to Julian Cope largely passing by off my musical radar. Forgive me, I appear to have been ignoring one of the holiest figures of indie music. Unfortunately, this lost religion seemingly manifests through a self-proclaiming David Icke character.

The Saint Julian collection feels bloated. The original material, and Cope’s vocal delivery, is insufferably bland to my ear. These tracks merge into one and I have trouble telling them apart. Even the more electronic flavoured pieces aren’t distinguishable enough from each other, or from music by other more familiar artists. There’s no denying that World Shut Your Mouth remains a great track. But to my mind this alone that isn’t enough to keep this collection of songs together.

The original material on this repackaged and expanded version is supplemented with a couple of note-perfect live versions, and that’s fair enough (but not why I go to gigs). The B-sides are actually quite good, but it’s the remixes I have a problem with. I can’t see what the “Trouble Funk Mix” adds to World Shut Your Mouth. Trampoline is certainly bouncy, with fragrances of A-ha, Bruce Springsteen and a hint even of New Order (admittedly these are the kinds of music I’ve always shied away from). My main problem is with “The Long Mix” of this track – nearly six minutes of my life I won’t get back. It’s just silly. On the plus side, the original version of Eve’s Volcano has a wonderfully Wonderstuffy organ wave and its remix is actually the freshest and most listenable of the lot.

Despite the remixes, CD 2 is better – pleasurable even. It at least shows diversity and I think that it really does go someway to making this release deserve the “deluxe” soubriquet. My favourite track here has to be the hymnal, Disaster, which is an uplifting escape-from-chaos. Maybe it’s the mandolin feel: I do love a bit of electric mandolin. Warwick the Kingmaker is also unique in that it’s spikily ego-rap dirge that hits you square between the eyes largely because it eschews the pop-rock feel of much of the rest of the album. I like its quirkiness. It’s what, say, Jamie T might have been doing if he’d been born 20 years earlier. Finally, the clanging and wailing sound of Non-Alignment Pact (how 80s is that name?), is poppy and punky and sufficiently stand-out to make it a quality tune.

At 24 tracks, there is something in this new version of Saint Julian for a zealous completist Copeite, and perhaps it’s a value-for-money starting place for impressionable initiates in the Copecult. But I am still no convert. It’s certainly rock n’ roll, but I’m not sure I like it. And I’m not alone. According to Wikipedia, Cope has described Saint Julian as ‘not being one of his favourite albums, although he acknowledges that “it has its moments”.’

5/10

by Rob Finch

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Dennis Wilson  – Pacific Ocean Blue

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Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue

Posted on 29 January 2013 by Joe

When a rock star dies young, in sad and mysterious circumstances, their works often become mythologised. That’s particularly true of Dennis Wilson and the once-rare Pacific Ocean Blue. Yet, despite the bullshit surrounding it, this remains a fine album.

Even for those non-Beach Boys fans out there, it’s worth plunging into these azure shallows of 70s mellow rock. But the fans should be warned: this is no early classic rock n’ roll era Surfin’ Safari, nor is it anything like the awesome experimental Pet Sounds era. It really doesn’t sound like any Beach Boys album you’ll have heard (even the later ones).

Indeed, the purity of the Beach boys harmonies are a million miles from the haggard soulfulness of the boozefucked mid-70s Dennis Wilson. The middle Wilson brother’s inner struggle eventually outstripped the more famous Brian’s own mental and cognitive implosion – and his tale was sensitively portrayed in the recent BBC 4 documentary, Dennis Wilson: the real Beach Boy (available episodically on Youtube).

The ocean really is at the heart of this record. But unlike the overt faux surfy themes that created so many great earlier Wilson/Jardine/Love tunes, in Pacific Ocean Blue the sea appears as a meditiative theme of the record – not a concept or cheap gimmick. It’s actually cocktail of an album of love, loss and soul that is infused with warm salty liquid lushness. On paper it shouldn’t work. This is a washed-up 60s band drummer going solo in the glam rock/pop era at the dawn of punk. Now-unfashionable blues, gospel, synth and a host of other influences place this album squarely in the 1970s. Yet Pacific Ocean Blue has somehow achieved a timeless quality. And I think what makes it work so well is the over-riding feel of the record being made by a repentant bad boy with time to think. Dennis Wilson may have been the George Best of rock n’ roll, but his aimlessness, his rootlessness, his anchorlessness, actually meshes this album’s material.

Dennis – the surfer, the slacker, the boozer, the shagger – spent more than five years putting this together. Maybe it matured in whisky, but that time was well worth it. Nothing demonstrates this fact that two of the best tracks never made it to the original 12-track LP and remain as instrumentals on the reissued 16-track CD version. I have to admit to being deeply moved by the instrumental Holy Man. The opening piano chords make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. There’s a deja vu in it. I feel like I heard these synths on one of my dad’s old LPs (I almost certainly didn’t as it was never released). The only comparison I can find is a defunked sound of The Commodores classic instrumental, Machine Gun. The other fine instrumental, Mexico, is a simple hispanic piano/acoustic/trumpet combo. It updates flavours of Rodrigo’s Concerto D’Aranjeuz, that could easily – but never does – stray into Herb Alpert territory.

Although I initially had my reservations, Pacific Ocean Blue is one of those rare albums that grows incrementally more beautiful with each listen. The originally released tracks meld Wilson’s influences and suffuse them in balmy Californian currents. Tug of Love (Feel the Pull) is beautifully sad and is the most Beach Boys-like in it’s harmonics. As the track progresses it becomes a synthy spiritual that could just as easily have been among the late 90s efforts of J. Spaceman.  At other times – the start of the blues-y Friday Night for instance – there are hints of maybe The Doors, or perhaps even a foretelling of Dire Straits (shock! Horror!), while at the same time it evokes a thunderous oceanic tempest, as well as inner turmoil. Clever.

Sadness is truly available in bucketloads here, especially with Thoughts of You, a song that pulls the heartstrings. Ending with the line, “Silently you touch my face”, it could be a love poetry, a break-up line, but which just makes me want to burst into tears in the context of his subsequent untimely death.

The title track is definitely the most upbeat-sounding of the album. Yet, while the name superficially suggests a vivid seascape, the theme is heavily borrowed from the more overt Beach Boys track Don’t Go Near The Water. In fact, the line “It’s no wonder, the Pacific Ocean is blue” is one of the weakest on the album. Perhaps the upbeat feel was a sop to the record company to give them a  single from what is, very much, a selection of tracks designed to be an album.

That album feel is firmly established by the Side A opening track, River Song, an intensely soaring glam rock-spiritual. It’s another flaw of the album that there’s too little of this epic spiritual influence and too much mid-70s glam boogie-woogie zeitgeist-surfing influence at play. Conversely, Dreamer with its funkhorn, Isaac Hayes like interludes could have been recorded in no other decade than the 1970s. And that’s a very good thing.

While Pacific Ocean Blue is a child of its time, all the songs remain fresh and there’s something that’ll appeal to almost any music lover. The album comes complete with, not a wall of sound, but maybe a warming, embracing sonic air curtain. It’s many-layered quality has stylistic echoes down the decades to later artists. Time has an almost Radiohead-like clanging changeability, yet is still an orchestrated lovesong. The Flaming Lips may owe Dennis Wilson a good deal, while Playground Love, the first track of Air’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack is a near facsimile of the minor key intro of End of the Show.

On it’s 1977 release, Pacific Ocean Blue only flirted with the US Billboard Hot 100 for a few months and then disappeared into obscurity and deletion. This inevitably contributed to some of the hipsterish have-you-heard-ism. Ultimately, so did the fact that six years after Pacific Ocean Blue was released Dennis Wilson was found drowned – allegedly in the foetal position – in that self-same blue water at Marina del Ray, behind Venice Beach in Los Angeles. He was just 39.

Please don’t glibly believe the hype about this record. Just listen to it. Immerse yourself in the warm ocean and let yourself drift.

By Rob Finch

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Pink Fairies – Never Never Land

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Pink Fairies – Never Never Land

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Joe

The thing is, define psychedelia. Ok, I think we we can all agree Hendrix is the master psychsman. Our recent top ten albums from the golden age of psychedelia came to the same conclusion. After Jimi though all bets are off, one man’s bongo and bass marathon in Marrakesh is another man’s annoying fey folk whimsy recorded on bad acid under a conker tree in Hyde Park in 1967.

 

In my definition, certain criteria have to be met, the resulting work should take your brain to the  planet  Hargapaphon in the Greater Mushroom Spiral arm, (turn left at San Francisco, go straight on for 867 light years, when you see God, you’ve arrived ) blatant recreational drug use is highly desirable, being darlings of the late Sixties, early Seventies counter culture is a good thing, the use of backwards guitar is a sure fire winner, a far out sleeve can work wonders, oh , and it must be met with critical bemusement, hostility or indifference. Ladbroke Grove based Pink Fairies and their debut 1971 album Never Never Land fulfills most of those criteria …with knobs on.

Theirs was a convoluted gestation (see Rich Deakins highly readable ‘Keep it together’ for further enlightenment) with their previous incarnation the Social Deviants with Mick Farren at the helm,  but by the time of Never Never Land the band was Paul Rudolph lead guitar, John Alder (also known as Twink) drums, Duncan Sanderson , bass, and Russell Hunter, more drums.

Polydor signed them up in 1970 and they recorded a non-album single, ‘The snake’ in January  71. The label was impressed enough to offer them a deal for a debut album which duly arrived a few months later, housed in an iconic sleeve portraying the band cartoon-like as fairies and pixies  sitting on a planet looking out into the universe, once seen never forgotten. Never Never Land  was raw, it was rock but not overtly so, it had  light and shade, it had elements of rebellion, nihilism and pure escapism, needless to say the band weren’t too happy with it. They felt they had failed to capture the wild freakoutness of their legendary live shows, but I disagree totally it’s an album that lights my fire every time I play it.

Let’s try and convey some of that magic to you dear reader. The album starts with Do It ( the b-side of The Snake single and features on this excellent compilation by Kris Needs), which  introduces itself with  a misleading  acoustic strum, then  suddenly erupts in your face  with a rush of freaked out rock n roll, inciting us all to ‘do it, don’t talk about it maaaaaaaaan if you ain’t gonna do it, do it, do it’ ….

‘Heavenly man’ on the other hand is a  gloriously sublime slice of slippery psych with Paul pulling out a repeated guitar effect that takes your breath away, is it about God ?, is about a gay relationship ?… who cares ?!…when the lovely lyric hits ‘ smiling down on me’ it is beyond brilliant.

‘Say that you love me’ is like a powered up mad Indian pow wow dance; crazy riff, crazy guys. Towards the end Paul pulls off effortless spiraling notes, Twink hits those skins hard as hell and lyrics seem secondary. ‘War girl’ is the most beautiful tune, a delightful rolling thread of bass and drums over Paul’s sustain laden guitar, and what a solo; restrained, yet disgorging emotion like you wouldn’t  believe. It is blues through the haze of a Hendrix soundtrack inspired acid vision.

The title track is a slowly building bonfire of  amazingly dexterous drum rolls and crashes. Paul then comes in with guitar, weaving and phasing,  and those drums, they jump out and take you to never never land, cue wah wah build up, higher and higher as it reaches a plateau, then blisses out with backward guitar overdubs and gentle  feedback.

‘Track 1 side 2’ Is actually track 1 track side 2 (who said hippies had no sense of humour ?). It has a mournful piano, drum and  vocal intro, most untypical of The Pinks, that is until the two minute mark when as if from nowhere the boogie arrives, the band mesh perfectly and hit meta psych riffola, my favourite solo of Paul’s ever, if it don’t move ya, you’re dead ….or a Tory. It’s mad, it’s far out, it’s  too bloody short.

‘Thor’ is a moments guitar FX respite before the onslaught recommences. ‘Teenage rebel’ is a playful rockin’ romp complete with a biting solo from Paul, at one point it tries to leave earth’s orbit before Twink throws in a solo for no apparent reason, then it’s banquet time , the centrepiece of the album rears its trippy head ‘Uncle Harry’s last freakout’,  an ode to rolling joints and ‘doing it’ for the people. It is ragged, it is lengthy and it is only rock ‘n’ roll but I love it as  Paul pulls out all the rabbits, lead, rhythm, riffs oh ! he’s all over it. Twink  and Russell keep  superhuman time, it is a planet sized monster of indulgence, but guess what? It works, with its closing  lament of  ‘you and me can be so very free’, it eases down only to build for the big crescendo, ‘scuse me while i  die. It is better than sex, it is the best drug ever, it is….the finale to Uncle Harry’s last freakout and it’s delirious !…..peace reigns. The closing track ‘The  dream is just beginning’ leaves us on an optimistic vision of the future, ‘we’re winning, we’re winning’.

So, all that’s left is for you to do is buy a copy.

by John Haylock

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Can  – The Lost Tapes

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Can – The Lost Tapes

Posted on 04 January 2013 by Joe

Vectoring in from Quadrant Nine, somewhere near Betelgeuse, there’s an echo, then banging over a bouncing rhythm made seemingly of skittering mice like creatures as Michael Karoli, Can’s multi-instrumentalist, goes surfbound. The mice like creatures run faster and a flute tries to take flight, before silence breaks out. What at first sounds like the bizarre soundtrack to a German sci fi film, filmed in Honolulu on a budget of mad drugs and squonkophone, turns out  to be a track  called ‘Millionenspiel’ which opens this magnificently confusing three CD box of madness by the influential krautrockers.

It’s the late sixties and Can are more madder than Stockhausen meets Gerry and the Pacemakers, they’ve only been together ten minutes and already they’ve changed the world. These studio, and occasional live recordings  have been extricated from the cobweb covered Can vaults and coated with love by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt. They are utterly astounding in their brutality, sense of exploration and magical musical experimentation.

Second track on disc two ‘Are you waiting for the streetcar’ is a jam in a cul de sac of temporal repetition, repeat ad infinitum, and a bit longer. You can go with it or skip with a migraine, I go with it and come out after ten minutes with new found understanding of mental illness. Third track ‘Evening all day’ is arsing about in the studio, as a horse breaks its tether, the band are looking at each other waiting for something to happen, clippety-clop clippety-clop follows, and nothing happens, apart that is from them inventing jazz reggae.

Next up is ‘Deadly Doris’, who turns out to be deadly for 3.09 minutes of  audio rocket fuel that attains orbit via vocalist Malcolm Mooney’s mantra and Jaki Liebezeit’s superhuman drumming. Doris is sexy, she’s also deadly, and the result? Can invent punk rock in 1968.

A more structured rock ‘n’ dirty roll, fuzzed up manna from Deutschland is a sixteen minute freak out called ‘Graublau’. It’s 1969 and men are on the moon, Can are well, not anywhere, in the world we know. In your head, perhaps? A figment of Sgt Pepper ? Who knows ? They seem to exist outside of time, Graublau’ begins to disintegrate at four minutes, then comes back as Dinosaur Jnr, 20 years before Dinosaur Jnr are born. Someone turns on a sonic splatter machine and we’re covered in love vibrations and Dalek guitar ago-go. There’s a tune in there Jim, but we’re not gonna let it out, as  the disembodied voices, all machine warped and crazy, interlude, shout, off into that dark night, again, but this time with added Aphex Twinisms and short wave radio flutter from an orbiting alien spacecraft offering sixteen minutes of pure Can. I can’t take any more.

This reviewer takes a drink, surfaces, into ‘When darkness comes’ (1969),  featuring mild feedback and conjuring images of when dinosaurs walk the earth. You can almost hear them in the background as Mooney free associates and frightens my cat.  I don’t know what is happening, I’m frightened, quick get me Gerry and the Pacemakers to calm me down. ‘Blind mirror surf’ and ‘Oscura Primavera’ date from 68, like soundtracks to Hungarian cartoons about demented woodcutters, all drone and WTF was that?

Shoot into 1972 with ‘Bubble rap’, proto grunge guitar riff and Damo Suziki taking the mic along with some seismic cosmic funk as Karolis’s guitar probes the wasted body of Sly Stone. Damo sounds like he’s surfing on a lava flow of great acid as he dissolves into the universal enfolding light of God.

The chemistry of Can has been written about, conjectured upon and dissected for years, I can’t possibly add anything to what has been said, (but  i’ll try anyway), even though all you need to know is all there in the music. Take ‘Your friendly local neighbourhood whore’, the shifting rhythmic structure is so ethereal with  Holgars Czukays bass meshing perfectly with Jakis’s busy drumming to form this seamless, cohesive pattern which is so hypnotic and is the sound that makes Can’s fourth studio album Ege Bamyasi so revered.

Ok, back to disc two, seat belts on and to ‘Midnight sky’ from 68, which is like The Doors but without the leather trousers. You’ll know ‘Spoon’ , but here is a 17 minute live version of very, very large proportions that grows and grows into a mushroom the size of Manhattan.

Two other pieces take pride of place here, ‘Dead pigeon suite’ and ‘Abra cada braxas’, both clocking in at the ten minute mark, the former contains very few dead pigeons, but plenty of strangely percussive serenity; no jarring of the senses on this one, just a gentle ride on a horse made of morphine and bass strings. ‘Braxas’ is a  swooping eagle about to die on the slopes of Mount Doom. It’s incredible, and it’s only 1973. ‘A swan is born’ is a mere snippet of what later became Swansong, ‘The loop’  sounds like Status Quo playing skiffle inside an Asda bag.

Disc three goes from 1970 to 77,  it’s got a nine minute live version of ‘Mushroom’ on it, there’s a jam that gave birth to ‘Mother sky’, a stupendous instrumental  workout ‘Midnight men’, that sounds like Joe Meek  channeling  a passing comet and ‘Networks of foam’ is the sound of an anal probe accidentally going into God’s eye.

As for ‘Barnacles’ (1977) it’s just the best thing I’ve heard this year, it goes plonk plonk plonk, but  in the most  beautiful way you can imagine. You’ll not be surprised that it’s also  got some drums on it. Basically, there’s more throbbing Krautrock here than you can shake a stick at.

What’s more you’ve got extensive liner notes and photos on top of three hours of unheard Can. You won’t like all of it, but tough, I do.

9/10

by John Haylock

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