I first heard of Laurie Anderson when Noel Edmunds introduced 'O Superman' to the UK. I learnt more after I was lucky enough to win the box set of LPs of 'United States I-IV' in a Radio Brighton competition back in the 80s. I bought the excellent 'Big Science' LP which was a mini-version of US 1-4, and about 4 following Albums which never quite matched Big science and it's massive predecessor.
The first time I saw her perform, it was 'Moby Dick' ay tjhe Barbican about 2000 I think. It was a creditable performance but somehow quite unexciting....I admit I was somewhat disappointed.
Last summer I saw her a second time when she appeared in Brighton Festival 2015 - again I found her story-telling disappointing, feeling it was lightweight,terribly disjointed, unentertaining and,frankly, lazy. I put this down to having not properly recovered from her quite recent loss of husband Lou Reed.
Last night I went to this year's Brighton Festival very excellent presentation 'Song Conversation' in which Laurie led a small band which also included Nik Bartsch on prepared keyboards and piano and Eivind Aarset on guitars and electronics. Besides playing numbers of their own [individual and collective compositions] they also played pieces by a number of other artists and composers including Lou Reed, Arvo Part and Leonard Cohen. The show hung together brilliantly, one tune blending into the next seamlessly, despite being of completely different mood or instrumental combination.... As far as I was concerned Laurie Anderson had reclaimed her rightful position in my pantheon of superstars.
The, this evening. I attended a solo show entitled 'Slideshow' and on arrival the stage set-up including a screen and an armchair reminded me of last year's second-rate exhibition.
After an opening piece on her ever present violin [ now used in conjunction with a variety of sound modification devices, rather than her former practice of building separate instruments for each different effect she wished to create [harking back to US1-4 days] she launched into story-telling mode by telling us how she'd thought of doing stand-up comedy rather than musical work because she'd have to carry much less equipment around from venue to venue, but she only knew 2 jokes - and she told us both during the first half-hour of the show.
However I soon found my misgivings were unfounded as her tales of working with NASA, prisoners around the world and many other encounters in her fascinating life and exploits trying to bring some of her utterly mad concepts to fruition. her delivery was smooth and punchy and although there was one small technological glitch, she dealt with it both professionally and without fuss of any kind.
Oh... and by the way she was very funny indeed - there's a second career in stand-up waiting for her any time she likes!
This evening my good
friend DJ Paul Wilson of the ‘Ears Wide Open’ programme on Radio
Reverb called me and asked if I'd like to take up a spare ticket to see
Matthew E White at the Audio bar down on the sea-front. My immediate reaction
was [roughly translated] "Who He?" Paul informed me Matthew was a
singer-songwriter - really not the best label to throw at me. I looked
outside and saw that it was still snowing but something told me to go anyway -
little anticipating having to walk there and back [well I guess the 2 to 3 mile
walk worked off a few of the thousand or so calories gained from a coupla pints
of Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer!] due to the he lack of buses.
Happily we arrived just as the support band 'Interlocutor' were
warming up. They had a line-up not unlike that of bands of the ilk of Groove
Armada - a 9-piece consisting
of keyboards, guitarists, bass, drums, keyboards, sax and trombone. They
started off with a couple of numbers which demonstrated that they could certainly
play their instruments developing very acceptable[if somewhat similar and repetitive]
grooves - the most noteworthy features however were that they lacked anything
that was an obvious lead instrument and the [as far as I could
tell] unremarkable vocals were pretty well lost in the mix. If I heard him
correctly the frontman/vocalist did say however he'd got the band together in a
hurry and wrote a few songs expressly to wheedle his way into offering himself
as the support act for this gig - if this was in fact true I think my otherwise
harsh critique here becomes invalidated and he deserves a medal for bare-faced
cheek and blind faith! As far as the Groove Armada comparison goes I think it
might have been the edition sunk by Drake in the Channel - they never really
reached those dizzy heights, but again if the the band was as unpractised as we
were led to believe this is probably too critical. They were certainly pleasant
enough but at this stage of their career the 5 or so numbers they played were
probably just enough to stop them becoming boring. The last song was probably
the best - they at last become somewhat animated and indicated where they might
be heading in terms of musical direction - and that seemed to be a sort of
sub-[there's another nautical reference] Neil Young blockbuster before he develops the
appropriate guitar riff.
Moving on.... Matthew E White and his band took the stage to find
themselves facing a huge audience. Now, Brighton is the home of so many really good
bands and so many good venues that it's not uncommon to find even quite
well-known names performing for nothing in front of a couple of dozen people -
so quite where all these folk who seemed so well-informed about this band came
from on such a dreadful night I'm sure I don't know. It was after the first
song - a typical taking-the-stage, testing-out-the-sound-balance sort of
number, that I at last found out something about them. They hail from Richmond,
Virginia and this is their first gig outside the USA. Although I couldn't see
too well the line-up seemed to consist of Matthew on lead guitar and vocals,
drums, bass, [pedal-?] steel guitar and keyboards all of which were all
competently played, gelling together very well indeed. The obvious points of
reference for comparison would seem to me to be country-rock-blues bands from
the 60s- 70s era such as The Band, The Byrds, a little nod to the Grateful Dead
- maybe even Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Once again the first couple of songs left one unsure why one had
bothered trudging through tempest, earthquake and tsunami on a Tuesday evening
but suddenly what had been pedestrian black-and-white burst into glorious
Wide-Screen Technicolor and all was well with the world once again. This, I
believe, occurred when the musicians had started relaxing, maybe letting go of
some of their jet-lag or whatever and stopped merely repeating the
well-rehearsed tunes by rote and bending their playing to suit the situation
and the crowd they were encountering. Next, they took the brave step of
inviting the horns section from Interlocutor, who they'd never encountered
before this evening to come and join in one number ... and hey! presto - it
I finally found out where the singer-songwriter reference
originated from. Apparently it's been quite widely trailed in the press the
Matthew had a strong connection with Randy Newman to the extent that he'd
actually stalked him at one stage - a story which doesn't quite hold much more
water than a sieve - but I'll leave you to find out about that elsewhere.
Matthew did admit to having a lifelong admiration to the famed
ditty-merchant and had tried to get in touch - not totally successfully. Anyway
in the brief 2-song encore, the band did play one of Randy's tunes in his
So an evening which started off with a deal of uncertainty about
whether or not to go turned out to be a pretty-well unqualified success - very
entertaining, quite unexpectedly so and well worth the walk out in the
cold wet winter night.
Thank you Paul, Thank you Matthew and Thank you Brighton!
Way back in the late 1960s – a lifetime
ago – changes in pop/rock music were coming at us faster than the speed of
sound. I guess this was somewhat commercially driven, but it’s also true that the
proliferation of new technologies and philosophies and revised social, sexual,
political and psychological norms were the main factors involved. There was an
almost overwhelming to categorise music [as well as everything else] into
genres and other forms of stereotype.
One such emerging musical
category was the awkwardly named Soft Rock. I guess this was spawned by a
movement towards purity and living free of artificial aids and dependence on
technology. Hence the use of huge stacks of Marshall Amps was seen as reliant
on industrial process and a never-ending supply of electricity – anathema to
the Back To The Earth cult current among some [mainly] Hippie Tribes. You get
Be that as it may… some of the
music included [by whom I’m not sure – music journalism’s social commentators,
I guess -] in this category would have been the likes of Crosby, Stills and
Nash, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers [in the ‘Turning Point’ phase] and America to
name but three – so quite a wide variety of musical styles had some of its
product forced into this particular round hole. I think Soft Rock’s usefulness
was short-lived and the habit of its use, thankfully, soon died out – luckily some
of the best music associated with the appellation didn’t.
Anyway, the point of all the
foregoing is that the subject of this review, namely The Island Jacks’ Fly By
Wire EP would be an excellent candidate for categorisation into the Soft Rock
genre. I mean this in a totally positive way. Each track on the CD is so
different from any other that any more usual label – blues, folk, prog etc – is
quite impossible. The common factor of them is – quite apart from their
excellence and tendency to be about self-pity – is that they are all produced in such an unflashy – almost completely,
but never detrimentally , understated – way that Soft Rock is the obvious pigeon hole
to deposit it in!
Perhaps if I take the album track-by-track,
you’ll see what I mean….
Track 1 ‘Rattlesnake,’ almost to
prove a point, sort of fades in to reveal a Sting-like voice and lyric – an ode
to a betraying lover I think. The Classic Blues/Rock 3-piece line-up of guitar,
bass and drums is augmented by beautifully inserted trumpet producing a mournful
atmosphere a la mode de Miles Davis.
Track 2 ‘By The River’ is more a
bluesy CS&N type thang. Introduced by a squashed bottle-neck guitar theme
which is repeated on-and-off throughout. I’d put this into the Stephen Stills
bag of composition! – which is quite hard to replicate.
Track 3 ‘Waiting’ is a different
type of blues/folk troubadour number with an overriding rhythm suggesting
moving on – the wide open spaces hitch-hiker/train-riding liberation associated
with a certain style of Country Music.
Track 4 ‘Losing Friends’ does
exactly what it says on the tin… A slow ballad very much in the Soft Rock bag.
Beautifully produced – an excellent candidate for a shot at the singles chart –
not that others aren’t!
Track 5 ‘How It Ends,’ sadly the
final cut, is more of a dirge – not quite a talking-blues – more an insight
into the singer’s head, sharing his sadness and descent into psychosis… Very
emotional – totally effective….
The most disappointing thing
about ‘Fly By Wire’ is that there isn’t a lot more of it. Perhaps The Island Jacks
can incorporate it into a Concept Album on the theme of desertion and despair –
the stuff of all the best art! I wouldn’t even mind if they chose some much heavier tracks featuringthe extensive guitar range of axe-man Nelson Day [on which I’ve reported before – see http://www.myspace.com/abirhodeszigzagwanderings/blog/540802755
Anyway, you will have no doubt
gathered from the above that I thoroughly approve of this record by this band and cannot recommend
it highly enough.
Well... I've had the honour of knowing this lady for what?...five or more years now. I first came across her on her myspace page lurking under the name Saravian. As she was inhabiting Brighton at the time and I'd had this idea of turning the Blaker's Park Community Picnic into Woodstock, I was contacting likely looking local artists and inviting them to give their services completely free of charge and totally at their own expense! Lo!... and Behold! - Sara was not only able and willing to meet these exacting requirements, she also hung around after her set talking to everyone and she actually lent her guitar to a total stranger to do an ad hoc performance during the proceedings which in the event turned out to totally random - haphazard, even - in the true Woodstock tradition. Sara sang a few songs of her own composition which everyone present showed much appreciation for, but I believe it was her quiet and quirky rendition of Donovan's Season of the Witch which [which witch?] convinced the cogniscenti amongst us that here was a talent worth watching.
'Twas not long ere, sadly for Brighton, Sara upped sticks and moved to our Sister City, Bath and eventually settled in Frome [ pronounced Frooooooooooom, for those who don't know]. Her career has blossomed and fruited into a pretty good all-round musician, event organiser, radio presenter, spiritual guru and what-have-you. Luckily, for moi, we have stayed in touch - thank you Sara for putting up with my sniping at your various webpages from the sidelines - and at long last she has sent me a record for review!
Let me get my little quibble out the way to start with - and then no more need be said on the subject - the packaging is not exactly exciting and attractive - it has a rather ordinary layout and track listing with little further information and a very old-fashioned [rather than 'retro'] picture of Sara and her guitar [a drab colour version of the above]. A quick visit to any of her sites [I'd pick Facebook] will reveal any number of much more attractive shots.
It's an EP - entitled.. well not actually entitled anything, which I think is sad. The first track is called 'Wild, Free and Beautiful' - a song which Sara has been singing and developing for quite a long time now and I suspect she, Dylan-like, sings quite differently from performance to performance as she's that kind of girl. She's more than the obvious folk singer/songwriter which the record sleeve portays her as - she's actually quite the jazzer as the second track 'Love Be with Us!' illustrates.
This brings me on to the spiritual aspect of Sara Coffield. She never really quite defines what this is but frequently hints in her public utterances that this is a very important aspect of her being. But not in an intrusive way, which old cynics such as I would not handle particularly benignly. She is more the type of person who seems to want to just share her joy in living.. and I have to say it's catching and rather beautiful.
Track three, 'Bless My World' reinforces this message and compliments the listener with plaintive offerings such as "You're a crazy genius......I really, really like you.." - who can possibly resist responding positively to that?
The EP winds up with 'Trickster' - a medium paced moody enquiry into our motives vis-a-vis what?I'm not sure but the enigmatic question is posed just the same.
Despite, or more probably because of, the rather strange abrupt ending to that last track in particular and hence the EP, one is left wanting more.. a lot more.
I'm really, really pleased to be able to give the thumbs up to a record release from Sara after such a long friendship. She deserves wider recognition and certainly stands head and shoulders above a number of currently adulated female [male too] so-called folk singers.
Had a fabulous night yesterday at The Real Music Club's Psychedelic Evening staged at The Green Door Store underground at Brighton Station.
Two bands were on show and they displayed 2 distinct styles in the development of space music.
First we witnessed The Plastic Sturgeons who presented a set of improvised space rock in the true psychedelic style of, say Hawkwind or Pink Floyd.
In fact, a number of members of the group have connections with Hawkwind and the various bands it's spawned over the years. Notably the captain of tonight's crew was Steve Swindells previously of Hawkwind and The Hawklords.
The music was exciting and swang comfortably through traditional space-rock, electronica and funk-based tunes with ease. With the exception of one song which used vocals in a beat poetry type stylee, the music was all purely instrumental - always a plus in my estimation and something we don't get often enough.
Sadly the audience for The Plastic Sturgeons was minimal - probably not many more than about 30 bods and all of these were of the generation that lived through the original Space Rock Era. This was sad because the second act - The Space Agency - drew a much larger crowd as it took to the stage. These were largely of a much younger generation - probably the current student scene. It would have been nice for them to have witnessed their elders getting down and dirty.
That was quiet ironic because the music that The Space Agency plays is firmly rooted in an even earlier era than the space rock of The Plastic Sturgeons. The Space Agency clearly draws its influence from the "Space and Surf " styles of bands such as The Ventures, The Shadows, The Spotniks, The Tornados and The Wakikis.
It was truly inspiring to find a young band mining such a neglected musical vein from nearly fifty years ago and taking it, applying new technology and producing a music that sounds so fresh, exciting and appropriate to a new age.
In fact, the music was so inspirational that quite a number of the audients chose to strut their stuff on the dance floor - and not all of these were members of the younger generation. A few elderly gents took to the floor and hopefully did not find themselves in traction by the time dawn broke.
The Space Agency are a high quality band which is tight and thrilling to watch. I hope very much that they will be around for a long time and are able to find lines of progression that will enable them to develop some totally new fields of musical exploration so they might be remembered as one of the interstellar ground breakers of the future.
A word must be said abouta third star of the evening's show - that is Cliff Dowding's Lighting Extravaganza which added an updated version of the old coloured oil on projector slides as a visual backdrop to the superb night of psychedelia.
Having seen an amusing item about the Ukes on Brighton Beach on BBC South Today local TV News,I believe that the UOGB was the very first band I ever approached requesting an album for review. that was a big step for me - I wasn't sure if I could be so cheeky. Luckily for me they responded positively and I was able to provide one of my earliest efforts to the sadly missed defunct CCNewz.
I've just done it again - sent an email requesting this, their latest offering and am pleased to say they've responded in exactly the same way. In fact I'm over the moon, because this album is an absolute corker!
The thing about the Ukes is that they're not just a comedy act doing funny versions of popular tunes on the ukelele - what a jolly good wheeze.
No! They are consummate musicians with an amazingly catholic taste in music, paying homage to the best work by world's top artists in every imaginable genre, and proving that the ukelele is a valid musical instrument into the bargain.
This latest collection covers a multitude of Western musical styles as diverse as rock'n'roll, space rock, trad jazz, stage musical, film soundtrack and punk.
My particular favourites are the incredible reproduction of the opening sultry desertscape of 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' and that icon of Blaxploitation the 'Theme from Shaft'. But this is purely subjective - being an indicator of my particular musical tastes. Every single track is a masterpiece - from a rendition of Hawkwind's 'Silver Machine' through Leonard Bernstein's 'America' from 'West Side Story' to Splodgeness Abounds' 'Two Pints of Lager.'
In case anyone has never been to a UOGB gig [which I urge you to do], this recording proves they are masters of their instruments in the live setting - not just in the studio.
The album is so good, in fact, that I want to recommend it as this year's Christmas present to all your music loving friends. Even a few Philistines might be turned onto our favourite pastime by this one!
Well Eurovision has come and gone again. It was a good competition this year – although I thought the winning Russian entry wasn’t all that wonderful. I would have preferred Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Greece in that order. But I think the general quality has greatly improved since the Eastern countries have become independent and more liberated in their approach to music. I love the hybrid musics resulting from the combination of modern rock and dance rhythms etc with their various ethnic traditions.
There does seem to be a problem with countries voting for their near neighbours and political allies, but wasn’t it ever so? The resulting hoo-ha about whether Western European countries should continue entering is a bit of a red herring. The truth is these countries just do not take the competition seriously enough. The only way to overcome the tribalism inherent in the voting structure is to produce some better songs.
Andy Abrahams’ song was probably the best we’ve entered for some years now but it really was pretty conventional and totally lacking in innovation or drama. It wasn’t even modern R’n’B, but more a standard second-rate 70s sould song. If it hadn’t been our entry to the Contest it wouldn’t have stood a chance in our charts let alone anywhere else.
You’ve only got to analyse the pop charts in the UK to pick out dozens of better songs than his tawdry effort. Our entry should be the best song available from a much wider spectrum than those that get into the ‘Song for Europe’ handicap each spring. Why aren’t the likes of Lily Allen, The Streets or Girls Aloud entering the fray. I’ll tell you why – it’s because the whole British establishment thinks that Eurovision is a joke – much in the way the Irish entry by Dustin the Turkey portrayed it to be [and sadly but justifiably got knocked out in the semi-final].
A joky song is one thing but as long as the competition is looked down upon in such a way then it will be a self fulfilling prophesy that we won’t stand a chance. Terry Wogan has always been a most amusing compere for the UK, but maybe his likely retirement from the annual bash will offer a chance for a new start in the attitude department. We don’t want to be so serious that to lose will lead to hara-kiri in the streets by performers and fans. But if we could build a team of presenters who treated the whole thing with a little more respect and exhibited a little less cynicism especially towards the Eastern block, then perhaps some of our more accomplished and creative songwriters and performers would put themselves forward as entrants.
I love Eurovision. I think it’s one of the most entertaining evening’s TV of the year. It would be a great shame if we opted out for little more reason than sour grapes – for that’s what it would be. Let’s press the powers that be to treat the contest with the seriousness and respect we exhibit in some of the finest sporting events where we struggle to compete. Cricket and cycling, for example – we know we’re unlikely to be top dog but we respect the other entrants and go all out to do the best we can under the circumstances. Let’s show some of the Eddie the Eagle spirit and be heroic losers rather than pick up our ball and stomp off home in disgust.
Playlist for Monday 4th February 2008
I went totally solo presenting the retro Show on Brighton's Coastway Hospital radio for the first time last night - it was fun but rather nerve-racking. Hope to do it again sometime soon
Patti Smith – Are You Experienced
Lou Rone – Transistor
Lou Rone – Bangalore
Turning Green – Bleeding Anthem
Jonzun Crew – Pack Jam (Look Out for the OVC)
The Young Rascals - Groovin'
They Might Be Giants – Twisting
Harry Manx & Kevin Breit – Diving Duck Blues
Karl Jenkins – Sanctus
Neil Young – No Wonder
Gram Parsons – Love Hurts
Little Feat – Down on the Farm
Karl Jenkins – The Call to Prayer
Jimmy Page & Robert Plant – Yallah
John Mayall – Sandy
Jonny Trunk – Zeus
Mike Sammes – Timex
John Cameron – Kes
Harmonia Ensemble – Peaches in Regalia
Can – Dizzy, Dizzy
Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi
Neil Young – Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)
Van der Graaf Generator – Theme 1
The Muel – Matty Groves
Beach Boys – Fun, Fun, Fun
Shotgun Eddie - One Track Mind
Last evening’s Playlist
Last evening I went along to Coastway Hospital Radio thinking I'd be playing a few tunes on James Burnthal's show and then spending some time putting together a demo of my presentation 'skills' to convince the powers that be I'm ready to take on my own timeslot.
In the event, there were difficulties with technical stuff that meant I couldn't do the recording so james suggested I take over most of his show and just practice the presenting. Luckily I'd brought a couple of dozen albums and was able to wing it for about an hour and a half.
I don't think I made too many cock ups and was able to supply a little background and some personal notes about my involvement with each record, so hopefully the show turned out to be quite interesting and entertaining for our listeners. James is away next week and he seems happy for me to do the whole show if I find myself on my own – although his regular co-presenter Ian Stenning may be there to take the helm in which case I can assist and maybe try to get my demo together.
Here's a list [in no particular order] of the stuff I played last night as far as I can remember….
Saravian – Season of the Witch
Van der Graaf Generator – Refugees
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Swingin' Willie
Sergio Mendes [feat. Black Thought, Chali 2Na, Deri Nova & Will.i.am] – Yes, Yes, Y'All
Turning Green – City Song, Flavour, Everybody's Just a Little Bit
Chandra Moon – When It Ends
Nick & Dick (Nick Pynn & Richard Durrant) – Growling at the badger, Bob Wills' Stomp/Katy Did/The Arkansas Traveller
Monkey Sons – Down & Out
Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain – Wonderful Land
Richard Zeier – Z-Factor
Josiah Wordsworth – Witch Hunt
Oscar Peterson Trio – When My Sugar Walks Down the Street
Dubrovnik – City Rockers
Camille – Money Note
$olal – Psycho Girls & Psycow Boys
Sly & Robbie [feat. Simple Minds] – Night Nurse
I'm looking forward to next Monday. Don't forget to send me your demos etc and I'll squeeze in as many as I can.