David Bowie – Stardust, Diamonds, Heroes and Ashes

DavidBowie-Is-catalogue-cover-front

The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.

While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.

And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.

Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly  both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.

In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.

That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world  of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).

It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).

From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.

After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.

With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.

I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.

One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.

David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016 

DavidBowie-Is-catalogue-SpaceOddity-lyrics

Patti Smith – M Train

PattiSmith-book-MTrain

I think that I probably heard about Patti Smith around a year before she released here debut LP – Horses. It wasn’t long after that point that I saw her in concert at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit. It inspired me to track down a copy of her limited run single which was released some time before – Hey Joe / Piss Factory (Mer Records, 1,500 copies) – which also featured Television guitarist Tom Verlaine. I also bought her poetry books like Babel.

Her last book – Just Kids – was about her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (who photographed Patti for the cover of Horses). M Train is a different animal to that tome.

In her latest book, Patti relates stories from various  moments in her life. She jumps around from event to event not taking any chronological approach. During the course of the many chapters, Mapplethorpe does not get a single mention… although Gumby does (really!).

Here, Patti talks about hanging around her favourite haunt – Cafe Ino – where she ponders life and jots down notes. During the course of the book, she travels around the globe both on her own and with others including her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith (of MC5 fame). She talks of her life with Fred in Detroit and her travels with him.

Much of the time, Patti is fascinated with the lives and deaths of numerous writers. This brings her on journeys around the world including Japan.

She also speaks of being involved with a rather secret society called the Continental Drift Club. It seems to be fine to reveal its secret nature since it is now defunct.

She talks about finding and purchasing a rather dilapidated property on Rockaway Beach. This event turns out to be rather bittersweet since it was one of the few properties in the area to survive a strike by Hurricane Sandy.

Patti relates all of her stories in a breezy manner which draws the reader into her often fascinating life adventures. Another excellent read, indeed.

PattiSmith-HeyJoe-Mer-US

 

Wrapping up 2015

Well, I guess that 2015 has turned out to be an eventful year after all. Back in April, I celebrated my 25th anniversary on the radio at CHRW-FM here in London. I took that opportunity to announce my retirement from the airwaves. I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of the folks who I’ve known at the station over all of those years. It was a lot of fun to be able to share music with my listeners over all of that time.

Before I left the radio station, I decided to continue to share my thoughts on music and create this music blog. Since I’ve had several hundreds of articles and reviews of music published over the years in various publications, it seemed like a natural progression. Since it’s introduction at the end of April, the Wired for Sound Blog has received a steady stream of hits and I’m very pleased with the positive feedback. It’s also nice to continue to receive musical contributions from a number of the musicians and record labels who had previously sent me music to feature on the radio programme. Thanks to all of the folks who have continued to visit the blog over the months.

Over the year, we’ve lost a number of important musicians and composers. I’ve written about many of them in the pages of the blog including Daevid Allen, Ornette Coleman, Dieter Moebius, Chris Squire, John Renbourn etc…

While I didn’t see a lot of concerts during the year, it was a great pleasure to attend the 50th anniversary performance of the Nihilist Spasm Band at Museum London. It’s always a special event to hear them play. Joe McPhee was a special guest at the show, too.

As a music fan, I’m always pleased to discover music by new artists. This year, two of my favourite new discoveries were Courtney Barnett and Ryley Walker. Their recent LPs have been spinning quite a bit around here during the year.

It’s also been another great year of sharing information and stories about music over at the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Many thanks to all of my friends there who enjoy spinning vinyl and relating their stories. It’s my favourite place to visit here on the webernet.

It’s also been another productive year of music making for me, as well. I’ve had many enjoyable recording sessions with my friend and music partner Richard Moule with a number of excellent pieces of Transmorphous Sound Ensemble pieces now in the archives. We also had a great time performing at Grooves for Nuit Blanche back in June, Thanks to Troy and the folks there for allowing us the opportunity to perform in their space.

The year also presented some challenges. Back in March I had a scheduled surgery but, that was accompanied by another unexpected emergency surgery two weeks before that. Thanks to Richard for his help at that time. Also, thanks to all of my other friends for their well wishes and support. It was greatly appreciated.

So, now it’s time to look towards 2016. I’m looking forward to heading to England once again. It’s always a great time staying with my friends Simon and Ann. I’m also looking forward to performing again with my musical friends Martin Archer, Nick Robinson, Mick Beck and Charlie Collins.

Wishing everybody a happy and healthy 2016!

 

Patty Waters – In Concert 2015

If you read my earlier blog post about Patty Waters (or know me in real life), you’ll be aware of my affection for her ESP label debut LP. Well, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of that album (December 19, 1965). So, it seems fitting to make another post about Patty at this time.

Last month, Patty gave a rare concert appearance at the Jazzhouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. Luckily, quite a bit of the performance was captured on video on that night of November 8th.

Here are clips from that show featuring Burton Greene (piano), Barry Altshul (drums) and Tjitze Vogel (bass). Enjoy!

 

Recent Arrivals – Leo Records

Pianist Uwe Oberg’s latest release – Twice, At Least – is a solo outing recorded at concerts in Germany in 2012 and 2015. In addition to the self-penned compositions, he also plays works from Annette Peacock, Steve Lacy, Carla Bley and Thelonious Monk.

Throughout the performances, Oberg expands the sound of the piano by often simultaneously playing the keyboard while also reaching inside to pluck the strings. This practice adds an extra layer of detail and expressiveness to the works which are already detailed and dynamic.

Hearing these live recordings makes the listener wish that there they were in the audience to see the performance first-hand. An excellent collection of works which excite the ears with their dynamic variations.

VocColours is a quartet of poetic vocalizers who have teamed up with musician Eberhard Kranemann to produce a unique blend of voices along with double bass and electronics. Throughout their CD entitled Luxatio, the ensemble bobs and weaves through a tapestry of vocalizations with sympathetic sonic accompaniment by Kranemann.

The result is a quilt of sound full of abstract sonic imagery and highly interesting blending dynamics.

The other two most recent releases in this latest batch from Leo Records share many similar sonic traits.

14 rue Paul Fort, Paris features the trio of Joelle Leandre (bass), Benoit Delbecq (piano) and Francois Houle (clarinets). Ramble is by the quintet known as SWQ and features Sandra Weiss (sax, bassoon), Jonathan Moritz (sax), Kenny Warren (trumpet), Sean Ali (double bass) and Carlo Costa (drums).

On both recordings, the ensemble players are seeking to create a flowing and abstract sound picture. The musicians listen to the sounds emanating from around them and spontaneously react to the situation at hand. It feels more like an improvisation of sound clouds than a a musical progression.

These clouds bend and blend to create a wonderful distortion of musical reality. Two sonic excursions which provide an aural palette of curious abstract imagery.

Leo Records website 

 

Recent Arrivals – Discus

If there is one thing that you can anticipate from the releases on the Discus label, it’s to expect the unexpected. This is a case in point.

frostlake is Sheffield-based singer, musician Jan Todd. On this debut release (White Moon, Black Moon), she creates layers of her voice and multiple instruments alongside contributions from other fine folks from the area including Martin Archer, Charlie Collins, Terry Todd and others.

The first thing that strikes you is the reverb-drenched near-whisper vocals. These are combined with layers of dreamy instrumentation that evokes a folky, psychedelic, progressive soundscape. It almost feels like one of those unearthed rarities of what is now termed “acid folk” recorded in the late ’60s or early ’70s.

However, the sound is brought up to date with one foot in the past and another with a hold on the present and future. The music is dreamy yet never slipping into a maudlin melancholy. There is always something going on to keep the listener engaged as the background sounds blend seamlessly with the often haunting layered vocals in the foreground. Definitely an album inviting repeated late-night listens.

Martin Archer’s latest release – Echoic Enchantment – is a collaboration with poet Bo Meson. Martin goes into some detail about the project’s genesis in the liner notes of the CD.

Inspired by a performance by Bo’s poetry group, Martin was inspired to create a work written around the text. The musical portion of the disc-length range from sparse basslines to haunting string sections evoking an atmosphere not unlike Ligeti or Pendereski. These sections are juxtaposed with others based on “directed improvisation” which have been edited and collaged featuring percussion, piano etc… which incorporate text which weaves its way into the soundscape.

The work flows and glides in several directions often creating a haunting and evocative atmosphere. A lengthy sonic journey that provides multi-layered scenery for the ears.

Discus website

 

Recent Arrivals – Drip Audio and Ambiances Magnetique

It’s always nice to receive some wonderful sounds from right here in Canada. These recent arrivals come from opposite sides of the country.

Joyful Talk is Jay Crocker. A Nova Scotian who found himself embedded in the heart of the Calgary experimental scene. His latest offering – MUUIXX  – consists of a series of self-recorded works which feature a number of his own homemade instruments. With these instruments, he creates soundscapes which range from repeating percussion lines, loops of electronic sounds and some obscured voices to haunt the mix.

Despite the percussive feel, the sounds don’t make their way into a realm of dance-ability. The rhythms are often broken or fractured evoking a picture sometimes reminding one of Autechre or Aphex Twin.

There are many twists and turns over the duration of the material and it’s always a pleasant surprise to hear where things proceed.

Guitarist Tony Wilson’s latest release features him in the context of an ensemble which is well suited to his wide range of performing. Many of the works present an atmosphere of hazy, laid-back sounds. His guitar mixes well with the violin of Jesse Zubot and trumpet of J.P. Carter. Cellist Peggy Lee, bassist Russell Sholberg and drummer Skye Brooks flesh out the picture to create a highly polished sound.

The hazy works are complimented buy other tracks which evoke the quirkiness of a Zappa-esque feel.  Even some King Crimson Lark’s Tongue in Aspic inspiration makes its way into the mix at times. A very diverse and successful recording.

With Musiques de Chambres 1992 – 2012, Jean Derome presents works different to the usual jazz-based releases that we’ve heard over the years. In this context, he presents several works in a more classical style but featuring instrumentation more associated with jazz.

Four of the compositions feature ensembles of four to eight players. Of those, one features eight flutes and another four saxophones. One work features Lori Freedman on solo bass clarinet and another is a duo with Derome on bass flute and alto saxophone along with Lori Freedman on clarinet and bass clarinet.

All of the works feature top-notch arrangements featuring stellar musicianship. While these pieces may not be what you would generally associate with Jean Derome, they should be considered an essential listen if you are a fan of his past work.

Drip Audio website

Ambiences Magnetique website

Nightmare at Bataclan, Paris

PeaceSymbol-EiffelTower

Last night as I started reading the news online, a story hit the BBC website regarding a developing situation happening in Paris. First reports sited a shooting at a restaurant. These reports were soon expanded to include bombs going off near a sports stadium and another incident unfolding at the Bataclan concert venue. I quickly went over to the site of France 24 which is a 24 hour news station which also broadcasts in English.

It had been a mild November evening in Paris and thousands of people were out enjoying a meal, watching the France vs Germany football match and listening to live music. The evening was then shattered by the eruption of gunfire and exploding bombs.

As the events unfolded, it soon seemed apparent that the site of the greatest carnage was at the Bataclan where some 1,500 people were attending a concert by the American band Eagles of Death Metal. Reports were soon focusing on the fact that it appeared that there were around 100 people trapped inside with gunmen shooting the members of the crowd.

In the end, the military stormed into the venue and it was later reported that two gunmen had blown themselves up.

A shocking story like this really hits home when I think about how many times I have been to concerts in the past. About the most aggravating incidents that were likely to occur would be a drunk getting ejected for causing a disturbance.

While I have never personally had the pleasure to visit France, I am familiar with the names of some its more famous music venues. The Bataclan Theatre would probably be the first one to spring to mind. It has been around since 1865 as, at various times, a concert hall and movie cinema. It would certainly be a place that one would feel both happy and safe to be.

I have known people that have both attended concerts there and performed there, as well. So, the news of such a horrific violent episode comes as a special shock.

At this time, I would like to offer thoughts and prayers to the people of Paris. Especially those whose love of music has brought them to a place where they would eventually lose their life in a senseless and cowardly attack.

Edit: I have discovered this amateur video footage of people trying to escape the madness at the Bataclan concert. In the clip you can clearly hear the sound of gunshots ringing out from inside the venue. Some people are seen trying to flee to safety out of windows on the second and third floors.

Gong vs Charly Records – A Warning

If there’s one thing that I can’t abide, it’s record companies screwing around artists. Apparently, Charly Records are re-issuing the classic Radio Gnome trilogy without the consent of the surviving members.

Guitarist Steve Hillage recently made a post on Facebook outlining the details and I would like to pass them along as a warning to prospective purchasers. Please support the artists and heed Steve’s advice.

From Steve Hillage:

OFFICIAL GONG BAND MEMBERS STATEMENT

We, the surviving members of Gong, do not support BYG/Charly Records upcoming reissue of the Radio Gnome trilogy.

None of the surviving members of the lineups that created those recordings were ever signed to BYG or Charly Records.

The truth is that immediately before the making of Flying Teapot in January 1973, the band learned that Daevid Allen’s once record company – BYG Records (also known as Promodisc) – had gone bust, it’s Paris office stripped bare, no phones working. The band was abandoned at the Manor Studios at the start of recording the album. Virgin – at the time just a chain of record stores and The Manor studios – was about to launch their record label.

Faced with an unpaid recording bill, they decided to cut their losses and release Flying Teapot as the second release on the new Virgin Records label. That’s the true story.

The booklet advertised as accompanying the Charly/BYG Release is full of untruths, lies and falsehoods claiming to represent Charly and BYG Records as some sort of poor victim of Virgin’s wickedness. The truth is that none of the musicians on those recordings has ever received a penny of royalty payments for the Charly/BYG releases, or even a statement. This is understandable because we NEVER signed to BYG or Charly Records as Gong.

Meanwhile, forty years later, we still receive statements from Virgin and, for those of us who cleared our advances, royalty payments, even though Virgin has since been sold to EMI and now is owned by Universal Records.

We know and can confirm as 100% corroborated fact that the Original Masters of these albums reside in the Virgin Records Archive, and that Charly has never at any time been given access to them, so Charly’s claim to have used the Original Masters is false.

Charly has been brazenly abusing our rights as artists for decades. None of us are rich or powerful enough to sue them. All we can do is to let you, our lovely Gong fans, know that we do not support this release. We will be supporting a new boxed set to be released by Universal in a few months with our full collaboration.

DO NOT BUY THIS RELEASE

Brian Eno – An Interesting Interview

Anybody who has known me for the past 40 odd years will probably recall that one of my favourite artists back in the ’70s was Roxy Music. They formed an interesting hybrid of both musical and visual styles which I found immensely unique and intriguing.

In 1973, band member Brian Eno left the group and started his own musical career. His path was even more interesting to me as it spanned rock music and electronic sounds. I was also very lucky to be able to sit in on a live radio interview that he did on CJOM-FM in Windsor, Ontario back in July 1974. It was there that I discovered a common interest in German bands of the day such as Can, Neu!, Cluster and Kraftwerk.

Eno’s experiments with sound – ambient, long-duration works etc… – eventually became an integral touchstone for the music which I would begin to create a few years down the road.

He has been interviewed many times over the years about many different subjects but, this interview is particularly interesting as it really covers his early years and influences in a very detailed way. So, I thought that I would share this video.

 

Your Questionable Questions Answered

As someone with an interest in a wide variety of musical forms, I am often asked questions about all types of musical trivia. The WfS mailbox has been overflowing with questions lately and I will attempt to address some of the queries now. Sorry if I do not get around to your question this time around.

———————————————————-

To George S. –

What you have discovered in your brother’s collection is an example of a mercifully short-lived genre of music called Strap – an abbreviation for Stuttering Rap. In the early days of rap, many folks tried to create a unique form of the genre. In this case, the concept may have been a bit too off-the-mark. With Strap, the stuttering and stammering of the vocalist over a steady percussion track created a beat that was not so much “break” as “broken”. The artists did not suffer any sort of speach impediment in real life. It was simply an affectation for their creative endevours. Luckily, the whole thing seemed to blow over rather quickly.

————————————————–

To John C. –

What you have stumbled upon is the puzzling third album by the band. After two relatively successful releases, this drastic change in artistic direction had both fans and non-fans scratching their heads. After two LPs of relatively straight-forward rock, the release of an album of 1940s standards played on kazoo and Jew’s harp came as a bit of a shock. The press had a field day and their fans ran away in droves. The record company was not very happy, either. They pressed a huge number of copies in anticipation of a real big break-through in the market. The few copies that sold quickly made their way onto the shelves of charity shops while the rest hit the dollar bins. Even today, you can still find abandoned copies littering the bins.

——————————————————————

To Fenton Q. –

What you have is a unique album which was recorded when the band were utterly obsessed with President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes scandal. It was certainly a questionable decision to record an entire LP’s worth of material using hidden microphones hidden in an office utilized as a make-shift studio. To call the results Lo-Fi is a bit of an understatement. Another nod to the Watergate tapes was the erasure of 18 minutes of the recordings. This lead to the entire second side of the LP being blank. Oddly enough, this album has gained quite a cult reputation in the ensuing years. DJs have been known to pay top dollar for a copy in order to incorporate the surface noise from the blank side into their dance club sets.

 

———————————————————–

To Peter S. –

What you have is a prime example of things going wrong. After three modestly successful releases, the band’s record company managed to convince them that it was time to refine their sound in an effort to break into a much larger market. So, they changed from a hybrid of metal and power pop to acoustic balladry focusing on sea shanties with a specific bent towards whaling songs. The band actually seemed fairly pleased during the recording process but, in the end they were not so thrilled. If fact, they had the mastering engineer etch their feelings into the text of the LP run-out grooves. The first side bore the inscription “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” and the second side said “Wake up, you bastards”.

————————————————————

 

To Sheila T. –

What you have there is the first single that the band released on their own label before signing to the majors. It was recorded when they were still a three-piece as their second guitarist would not join until six months down the road. The original single was pressed in a very limited run of 99 copies and the band assembled the picture sleeve cover themselves in the kitchen of the bass player’s mother. For an original copy, you could name your own price. However, the coloured vinyl edition that you have is one of the many illicit pirate editions. This is particularly evident from the words “fake piece of shyte” inscribed in the deadwax. People have been known to pay fans to take copies off their hands.

 

Please note: Any resemblance to truly factual events is purely coincidental. Or is it? 

Dieter Moebius (Cluster): 1944 – 2015

Dieter Moebius was one of the founding members of the avant-garde experimental trio known as Kluster who formed in Berlin in the late ’60s. Along side fellow artists Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, they produced a trio of records which were abstract sound collages.

After the departure of Schnitzler (who was also a founding member of Tangerine Dream), the remaining duo re-branded themselves as Cluster. In this incarnation, the duo produced several recordings of wonderful minimalist electronic soundscapes.

In the early 1970s, new music from German began filtering into the UK. The sounds of Cluster along with Can, Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream, Neu! and Kraftwerk began to make inroads outside of their native land.

One person whose ears were opened to these sounds was Brian Eno. He subsequently recorded albums in collaboration with the Cluster duo.

Both Moebius and Roedelius recorded many solo albums over the years. They also continued to work together as well as joining Neu! guitarist Michael Rother as a trio called Harmonia.

The sounds made by Moebius and Roedelius not only made an impact on a new generation of electronic music artists in the 1970s but, continue to be felt to this day.

In the early 1980s, I was half of an electronic music duo called M104 along with Werner Albert. The greatest compliment that we received about our music was that we were the Canadian version of Cluster. Enough said.

Obituary at The Guardian website.

 

Recent Arrivals – Leo Records

The latest quartet of releases from Leo Records contains work from two saxophonists whose work has been very well documented by the label over the years – Ivo Perelman and Carlos Actis Dato.

Three of the four new discs feature Perelman in both duo and trio settings. Tenorhood with drummer Whit Dickey, Callas with pianist Matthew Shipp and Counterpoint with violinist Matt Maneri and guitarist Joe Morris.

All three recordings show Perelman in his element. In Tenorhood, he locks in with Dickey as they bob and weave to produce a tapestry of propulsive, percussive works.

With Matthew Shipp (on Callas), he produces a series of pieces (over two CDs) which have been inspired by the late, great opera singer Maria Callas. Each of the improvised works were subsequently named after one of the famous parts which Callas played (Aida, Norma etc…). While not specifically designed to mimic the music of any of these works, the inspiration of the serves to unify the theme in the minds of the players.

On Counterpoint, the trio which includes Morris and Maneri pull out all the proverbial stops to create an air of sonic surprises. The proceedings twist, turn and melt together to produce a cohesive picture of expansive proportions.

The Actis Dato Quartet include second sax player Beppe Di Filippo, bassist Matteo Ravizza and drummer Daniele Bertone. The context on the CD Earth is the Place focuses on compositions as opposed to improvisation. The works are up-beat and joyous in their presentation. It’s an uplifting atmosphere of a quartet locked in the moment and enjoying themselves as much as the listener.

Photos: Ivo Perelman (top), Carlo Actis Dato (bottom)

Leo Records website. 

A Puzzling Puzzle of Useless Uselessness

Back in 2008, I created a multi-media alt opera entitled Communication Breakdown: A Journey Down the Misinformation Superhighway. This production featured an electroacoustic soundtrack to spoken performances by actors Penn Kemp and Jeff Culbert along with video projections by Maurice Carroll. It was presented at the McManus Theatre as part of the annual Fringe Theatre Festival.

The focus of the production was that the entire “libretto” consisted of the text taken from spam e-mails. For around two years, I collected junk e-mail via a couple of accounts that I deliberately set up as spam magnets. Over that period of time, I collected over 8,000 spams. With the assistance of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, I was able to use this source material to create an opera which was based solely on the content of these copious bits of annoying junk.

After spending months pouring over the e-mails, I whittled down the number to a usable number with appropriate content for the production. These ranged from scams to relieve your bank account of cash to offers of various sex toys and services. The amount that I was left with after the filtering process meant that I was able to provide enough raw material in order to make all three performances of the work different in their content. So, each of the three performances was unique in its own way.

Back in April of this year, I decided to start this blog in order to coincide with my retirement from the radio airwaves. That is when I revamped my website using WordPress.

I’ve found that WordPress has been a very useful tool in order to organize and diffuse my written thoughts via my blog and website. However, I have also discovered that it is just another one of those magnets from spam.

From the first day that I set up the blog/website, I started to get spam. This has come in the form of people attempting to post junk messages as comments on various blog post pages. Fortunately, the posts are moderated and I must manually go in to approve them before they get displayed on the site. In fact, the banner at the top of the page explicitly states, “Please note: Posts are moderated. This is a spam-free zone”.

This, however, does not seem to stop people from trying to bog down these page with incomprehensible gobbledygook. While most of these posts are filtered into a spam file folder, I still manage to get quite a few heading into the regular folder awaiting my consent to allow it to be posted as a legitimate comment on various blog post pages.

At this point in time, I wonder just why people can even be bothered to try to circulate this kind of garbage? What is the point? Apparently, some people have way too much time on their hands and it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy to waste their time.

Hmmmm…

I would imagine that in no time this post will soon be attracting even more useless offers to the comments section. Spammers are as welcome as a Hitler made of spiders.

Edit: Since this original posting, I decided to disable the comments function of the blog posts and web pages. The junk continued arriving. So, I disabled another function called “pinging” and the junk miraculously disappeared. I have noticed on my stats page that I still continue to get visitors coming via those scammy websites. But, they can no longer drop their dung on my lawn (so to speak). So long, f’ers.

Chris Squire 1948 – 2015

Bassist Chris Squire was a founding member of the band Yes. He passed away in Phoenix, AZ after recently being diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia.

Yes have been a part of my musical listening experiences for close to 45 years. While I likely heard some music from their first couple of albums on Detroit and Windsor FM radio stations back in the day, it was their third LP – The Yes Album – that really grabbed my attention. Of course, I was not alone.

Squire’s contributions to the sound of the band can not be overstated. His rippling, rhythmic and melodic bass work not only grounded the music but, wove a unique sonic texture throughout the songs. I could never image their music with another bassist in his place.

In addition to his work with the band, he also released the solo album Fish Out of Water at the tail end of 1975. For me, this was the finest solo album to come out of the Yes camp. It’s an LP that I still spin on a regular basis. It still sounds as fresh to me today as it did forty years ago.

Here is a link to his obituary at Ultimate Classic Rock.

Chris Squire - A Fish Out of Water (Atlantic, CAnada)

 

 

Remembering Ornette Coleman 1930 – 2015

Ornette Coleman passed away on June 11th at the age of 85. He was a jazz legend who ranks among the greats such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. While he probably sold less records than those two other artists, his influence on music certainly rivaled them.

Coleman’s 1958 debut album called Something Else!!!! in 1958 caused a stir in the jazz world that would continue to divide listeners and critics for years to come. His approach to melody, harmony and rhythm was part of his own view of what he called “harmolodics”.

His music was unique, inspired and inspiring. As with Davis and Coltrane, his sidemen over the years reads like a Who’s Who of jazz innovators. People like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins all traveled though his groups.

I first heard Coleman’s music at some point in the 1970s. It wasn’t until some years later that I started adding his music to my collection. The advent of the CD era seemed to make it easier to find his recordings. These often included extra tracks recorded at the same sessions.

I also tried to track down copies of his albums on vinyl whenever possible. In the end, I managed to amass quite a large selection of his work in both formats (sometimes with duplication).

As my friend David Lee (jazz writer and former editor of Coda magazine) has mentioned, Coleman’s death is not a time for sadness. He was around producing his own personal style of music for decades. So, it is more a time to celebrate the work that he left us over so many years.

Luckily for us, Ornette Coleman did not die at an early age like Jimi Hendrix. In the latter’s case, we can only be left to speculate on what he would have done had he lived beyond the age of 27. In Coleman’s case, we were truly blessed to have heard his world of sound evolve over many years.

Ornette Coleman’s obituary from The Guardian

Sandy Denny: Remembered Again

SandyDenny-book-IveAlwaysKeptaUnicorn

Sandy Denny was one of the richest voices to come out of the British music scene during the 1960s and ’70s. She was a person who was much admired and respected within her area of folk and folk-rock music. Unfortunately, at the time of her death in 1978 at the age of 31, the promise of her hard work seemed to never be fully realized.

Mick Houghton’s new book about the late British singer brings together impressive amounts of information which help to gain an insight into the events which shaped her path through her musical career.

Many surviving members of her inner circle of friends and fellow performers have been interviewed to provide an insight into her rise and fall. These include people like Richard and Linda Thompson, Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, John Renbourn and members of Fairport Convention. Archival interviews with many other people including her late parents are also mined for extra depth into her character.

Denny began singing in folk clubs when just barely into her mid-teens. She sang what were called floor spots. These were performances by young hopefuls whereby they could sing and play a few songs without having yet achieved the status of being a credited performer on the main stage. Eventually, she did move onto that stage where she succeeded in attracting the attention of the audience and other folk musicians.

The story traces her first recordings with other musicians such as Alex Campbell and Johnny Silvo to her move to join the Strawbs with Dave Cousins. Of course, the thing that may be of most interest to many people was her joining Fairport Convention as a replacement for singer Judy Dyble.

Her days in and out of Fairport are covered in lengthy detail and bring the experience to vivid life. This includes such events as the horrific van crash which took the life of drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson’s then girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Fortunately, Denny was travelling in another van with Trevor Lucas and his bandmates from the group Eclection. However, that did not prevent her from feeling the scars of the tragic event.

Houghton artfully weaves the story dealing with Denny’s involvement with Fairport Convention, her departure to start her group Fotheringay and her time as a solo recording artist.

Her personal life and relationships are also covered in great detail. Both that personal life and her musical life were often victims to her own emotional ups and downs. Bouts of insecurity often seemed to derail her attempts to keep things both musical and personal on a steady track. The addition of heavy drinking and cocaine use also served to keep things off a productive path.

I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn (a line from Denny’s song entitled Solo) is a well documented and well paced book which helps to put Sandy Denny’s life and career into perspective nearly forty years after her death from a fall down the stairs.

This is essential reading for any fan of British folk music from that era.

(I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn by Mick Houghton is published by Faber & Faber, London) 

Recent Arrivals – Discus

DiscusCDs-Tippetts&Archeretc...-flat

One of the best things about doing a radio programme featuring non-mainstream music for many years was receiving music from like-minded folks from around the globe. Such was the case back in the ’90s when I received a package of CDs from Martin Archer on his Discus label.

Martin continued to send me music and I continued to feature it on the airwaves. We also corresponded quite frequently and a musical relationship built up. In the ensuing years, we have played together live many times on my visits to the UK and we’ve also contributed to each other’s recordings.

When I visited Martin in Sheffield last June, he was in the midst of about a dozen different recording and performance ventures. At that time, he played me a number of recordings that he was working on. Many of these are now available on this latest trio of double-CD releases.

Vestigium is the latest collaboration between Martin and vocalist Julie Tippetts. Every release in their series of works seems to magically rise above the previous  set. This is no mean feat as each of their projects are quite wonderful affairs.

This latest set is no exception as the individual works often vary drastically in their sound but manage to create a bigger picture which holds all of them together. Sonic backdrops can be minimal and shimmering with the vocal lines drifting through the landscape. Other times, a steady bassline and percussion beat bring the funk to the fore.

Listening to these works, it seems like both Martin and Julie were destined to lock their creative energies together. Julie’s dexterous vocalizations meld perfectly with the music. Martin’s ear for detail and the ability to create subtle layers for the vocals makes for a tapestry of aural delights. The final work in the set – Stalking the Vision – is a fine example of this sonic synergy in action.

Bad Tidings from Slackwater Drag is by Martin’s ten-piece big band called Engine Room Favourites. From the introductory tune – Song for Alice Coltrane – you know that you are in for a good ride. Tracks range from dense and frenetic to minimal improvised structures.

At times, I was put in the mind of Soft Machine and also was reminded of Julius Hemphill’s Big Band. The latter thought was confirmed as the concluding number of the set is a cover version of Hemphill’s classic track The Hard Blues. And ERF do a most admirable job in their performance.

Inclusion Principle’s Third Opening shows even more diversity for Martin and his cohorts. This is a trio which also includes Herve Perez and Peter Fairclough.

On this set, the sounds range from environmental field recordings, computer-generated sounds, saxophones, piano and percussion. From minimal soundscapes to wild hyper-rhythms, the pieces blend and weave their way through two CDs of diverse sonic contexts.

Definitely three more highlights for the ever-expanding Discus catalogue.

Discus Music website

 

 

Future Days by David Stubbs

FutureDays-book

Subtitled “Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany” this book takes the reader on a journey through the heady days of the German experimental music scene from the late sixties into the seventies.

Stubbs begins with a lengthy prologue which traces the social developments of the country through the 20th century. This is done to provide a perspective on what was to come after the Second World War.

After he has established the state of the minds of the German youth through the sixties, he then relates the stories behind the major groups who began creating experimental music.

Full chapters are devoted to some of the best known bands in what was termed “Krautrock” such as Amon Duul, Can, Kraftwerk and Faust. He later explores the “scenes” happening in areas such as Berlin.

He finishes by discussing newer music as well as the influence of the German music on specific musicians (David Bowie) and musical scenes (post punk).

For those not intimately familiar with this music, it may serve as a good introduction to stir up some curiosity. For those of us who are already quite well-versed in the genre, there are still some facts that are revealed that may be new to us.

 

Bernard Stollman (1929 – 2015)

ESP-Disk'

Bernard Stollman passed away on April 20 at the age of 85. He was the founder of one of the most eclectic record labels that ever existed – ESP-disk.

The roster of artists who recorded for ESP in the 1960s reads like an encyclopedia of the avant-garde musical world. Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Patty Waters, Paul Bley, Burton Greene, Alan Silva, Don Cherry, The Fugs, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders… The list seems endless.

For me personally, if they had only released the Patty Waters album, I would have been more than happy. But, they released so many more interesting and influential records over the course of the years.

Here is a link to Bernard Stollman’s obituary in the New York Times.

ESP-disk website