Recently I have attended 3 excellent gigs and these illustrate very well the highs and lows of the music scene in the Brighton area.
Gig 1 starred The Grandmothers of Invention.
Gig 2 featured Sumerian Kyngs and Paradise 9
Gig 3 presented Sam Walker, Dan Smith and Collectress
The first of these, as might be surmised from their moniker, the band comprises a band of ex-members of Frank Zappa’s long-lived mini-orchestra The Mothers [of Invention]. Research indicate the membership of the Grandmothers is somewhat a movable feast centred on keyboardist Don Preston. Tonight we were served up a trio of Don, Bunk Gardner and drummer [winds, mainly tenor saxophone] and Christopher Garcia, drums. [not actually a member of the original Mothers, but an internationally acclaimed drummer/music professor whose expertise stretches across the board including many forms of world music, classical and The Mothers.
The venue for the gig was The Haunt in downtown Poole Valley – renowned home of the most disgusting coach station in Europe – and the evening got off to a bad start when my companion and I found ourselves the only people in the queuing millions at the time stated for Doors Open. We got inside and thankfully the band was at least partially present – at this point, on stage, making final tune-up arrangements etc., and even more thankfully the show kicked off more or less on time…
…however we were informed that due to a mix up in the advertising of the gig, which was confusedly and variously announced as being in Brighton or Bristol, starting at 7 or 11pm, causing not a full contingent of band and techies finding their way here.
It seems the audience had been similarly confused as, at no point, grew far above the figure of 30 members. How sad when 2 of the individuals on stage were over eighty years old and played with the gusto and energy of 30-year olds.
Not only that, they played , with the exception of 1 number, well-known Zappa tunes from Freak Out, American, Pageant, We’re Only in it for the Money, Burnt Weeny Sandwich and ended up with King Kong – all very tight and jam-packed full of improvisation, clearly taking a lead from momentary incidents in the evening’s progress ....not bad for a couple of octogenarians especially considering the original recordings generally requiring the best part of 10 musicians if not more.
What a shame that a town with the name for great music such as Brighton was unable to provide a more auspicious welcome to a band of such high pedigree who actually delivered on that pedigree, not just going through the motions, living past glories to satisfy a diehard handful of fans. Anyone who attended will cherish this as one of the highlights of their gig-going years, made even more precious when they remember it was such an intimate occasion in front of what was more-or-less private party to which only the cognoscenti were invited!
Gig 2 was the latest round of the ding-dong battle between my 2 favourite local bands Sumerian Kyngs and Paradise 9 that has been simmering away for the last decade or more..
This meeting was at what's thought to be among the best and nicest venues among local musos, Hove’s The Brunswick pub. Even the foulest of evenings,which this was, could not keep even the laziest of fight fans away to see bout #283 in the series….
The question to be answered was whether the 2 bands could maintain the increasingly high quality of performance each has been delivering gig-by-gig, and which one of them would come out tops?
The 8-piece line-up of the Kyngs took the crowded room by storm – performing many old favourites, including the standard 'There's a clock tower in the middle of Blaker's Park'. They have to be one of the tightest units in the area and each musician plays his all-important best. It’s hard to believe that such a seeming bunch of men in the street could come together to deliver a set as fine as this one. It’s unfair to mark out individuals for particular commendation but I will mention Monty Oxymoron’s enthusiastic keyboard/theremin playing – how this guy manages to maintain such an energy-level when he should be taking it easy and laying back enjoying the millions membership of the Damned and his other projects attract, I don’t know. Then there is the impressive harp-playing from Stu(art) McKay, whose work is really cut out trying to keep this conglomerate of individual virtuosi in order – one is seriously put in mind of Frank Zappa – whose easy directing style Stu imitates to a tee Then there’s Tony Green whose earlier band name [The Unbelievables ] describes him perfectly. He’s literally onr of those pieces of flotsam [or should that be jetsam?] who drifts up late on a hot summer’s afternoon on the beach drinking special brew and turning slowly beetroot red. He seems more concerned that his socks might actually match and wondering if he can turn up his trousers another notch rather than maybe getting around to performing vocals as the front-man to an earth-shattering band of psychedelic swamp-rockers. After wandering aimlessly about looking as if he just walked in off the street, he suddenly steps up to the mike and instead of shouting ‘fuck’ and running away giggling, he delivers the most convincing imitation of a cross between Dr John and John Cooper Clarke imaginable.
As always, the numbers are performed immaculately, with panache and alacrity. But the most stunning thing tonight is the sound quality. It’s amazing. The last time I heard a band as clearly as this was at Bath Blues Festival 1969 [I think] while the stage was occupied by one Led Zeppelin! You could almost hear a pin drop in the momentary lulls in mayhem. So acknowledgements to Mr Roy Weard [and probably to Cliff Xanthus too!]
Paradise 9 take the stage in what seems like a pretty good approximation to chaos. …But it’s a front... probably calculated to give the impression that The Kyngs had won the bout hands down. They do however present a quite different sort of set. It’s the same songs we’ve grown to expect, drawn from their 3 excellent record releases and performed dozens of times to festival goers across the planet and wider universe, but somehow they seem a little different. Make no mistake Ship’s Captain Greggo plays guitar, clarinet and magic music box just as spunkily as usual, shoe-gazing Tyrone Thomas is discreetly inserting amazing twiddly bits in between and ‘Mr Happy’, Neil Matthers bounces about as if he’s got ants in his pants just the way they normally do. But…what’s different is the looseness and relaxed delivery of tonight’s performance. And guess what? It’s working!
So the slick virtuosity of the Sumerian Kyngs came up against the laid-back secret space cruiser weapon ridden in by Paradise 9. And what do you know?...I think it’s a draw!
Incidentally, I was approached during the evening by a mysterious gentleman in a trilby and horn-rimmed specs and asked if I was the Gonzo, which I, of course, denies suggesting he might be confusing me with someone else. But if he wasn’t…thanks for the compliment!
So finally we come to the third of my three gigs. The Spectrum monthly presentation at The Dome Studio Theatre, and featured a younger generation of upcoming talent, in this case Dan Smith, Collectress and Sam Walker.
Dan Smith opened – I have seen him a couple of times before and this time I felt much the same as on previous occasions. He’s a great young guitarist and has a reasonable voice. However, he seems more intent on presenting himself as a singer-songwriter, which I feel may not be his best way forward. I dislike being negatively critical of any aspiring young artist, so I say this with reluctance, but I think the performance bears out my opinion. Dan opened with Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’ and later included an Inkspots number, and I believe these were the highlights of the show. Out of about half a dozen self-penned songs, only one about Moby Dick delivered as far as I was concerned and Dan’s attempts at audience participation were really uncalled for. So Dan, I think you need to up your game if you are to continue along this same path or take a turn and follow the blues guitarist track you’re so obviously suited to.
Then came Collectress, a four-piece female band described as experimental. Being put a little on my guard by this epithet as it can cover a multiplicity of horrors, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the quartet presented a programme of chamber music which fell squarely into the Terry Riley-Steve Reich world of ersatz Minimalism, with occasional excursions into other radical twentieth century areas. The four between them played cellos, violas, electric guitar and keyboards in a variety of formations and threw in a radical vocal number into the mix. I was mightily impressed by this combo and want to hear more of them. Unfortunately, although they announced their CD would be available after the show, they managed to leave the building without leaving any copies of their album behind them!
Onto Sam Walker, one man music explosion, who in other space-time continua once included being one quarter of that greatest-band-in-the-world-that-never-was Turning Green, has appeared, among others, alongside Herbie Flowers and John Watts and currently regularly appears as part of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
I’ve probably seen Sam play on more occasions than any other musician alive or dead. And my, how it’s been worth it. Sam has honed his brilliant singer-songwriter show to the point where the only way to turn now was to go multi-media. So we were treated to a plethora of songs old and new with a son-et-lumier presentation at the centre of the show. I’ve written of Sam in the superlative on so many occasions now that it’d be tiresome to repeat myself one more time. Suffice to say that the audience was bristling with so many local music stars and a number of the aforementioned international ones speaks for itself on the quality of what was expected. We got it!