Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Way Of The Weird post 6

A collection of posts about the strange, the unusual, the experimental and the odd in a variety of musical genres.

Alexander Spence- “Oar”
(Columbia 1969)

I came to Moby Grape quite late in the scheme of things, certainly way after their most active period (1966-69). I was initially drawn to them via a couple of ways. Firstly their slight geographical and cultural association with Love, whom I'd already admired by the early 1990s. Secondly, like Love's leader Arthur Lee, I'd been reading about Alexander 'Skip' Spence as a psychologically/psychedelically damaged artist, spoken about in the same kind of articles that also mention Syd Barrett, Peter Green and Roky Erickson in similar light.

Admittedly I was drawn to investigate these artists having a naively romantic notion about the 'mad genius'. As my own knowledge about and empathy towards mental illness evolved I appreciated these musician more than just 'crazy' people that made music, but people that made music who happened to have a mental illness. Their illnesses somewhat informed or 'filtered' their music making it quite unique and that in itself is what made it appealing ultimately. There is a 'realness' to this music. There is no real pretence here, a lot of the constructed facade is dropped due to the need to work hard to be at least somewhat coherent, coherent in the context of popular musics' norms and conventions.

Skip Spence was one of five very talented musicians and writers in Moby Grape, a group that were associated with the burgeoning 'psychedelic' scene on the West Coast of the USA.
Generally speaking though, I found them a little too “sunshine pop” for my tastes. It's very well constructed pop, with a bit of an edge. But within the context of the psychedelic scene, with groups like Love and with Texans 13th Floor Elevators and The Red Krayola, they were quite light.
That is, with the exception of Spence's material. His music had a somewhat whimsical, bawdy and occasionally darker feel to it. The track 'Seeing', particularly in it's early demo form as 'Skip's Song' (available on the “Vintage: The Very Best Of Moby Grape” compilation from 1993 was my gateway to Skip's more transcendent musical moments.

As the story goes
Spence began doing acid and hanging out with a woman supposedly steeped in black magic. Whilst working on their second album in New York, Spence attempted to attack his Grape band mates with a fire axe. He was apprehended and spent 6 months incarcerated in a mental health facility.
He emerged and drove immediately to Nashville to record is solo album 'Oar'. And it was truly a solo album, he played, drums (having been an early drummer for Jefferson Airplane), bass, guitar and performed vocals himself. Spence's fragile state, combined with the slightly disjointed feel that doing all the instruments oneself, created a somewhat queazy, slow moving, delirious and singular vision. There is a country twang to a lot of the record, perhaps due to the location it was recorded in. You'll also hear some electric folk, early blues and the more psychedelic end of rock. But it's really none and all of those things at once. These are evocations of a troubled soul with a broken voice, attempting to enjoy life, love, sex and freedom, yet displaying evidence of having been denied of all these things.
Key songs; the poppy opener 'Little Hands', the radio-play theatrics of 'Book Of Moses', the ribald 'Dixie Peach Pomade (Yin For Yang)' – supposedly the masturbatory lubricant of choice for inmates of Bellevue Hospital and the closing 9 minute epic free droney piece 'Grey/Afro'.

And following the sessions for this album (which did garner some other available outtakes) that was pretty much it for Skip as a solo artist. He contributed a couple of tracks to later Grape albums. He also released the fantastic 1999 single 'All My Life (I Love You)'/'Land Of The Sun', the latter track originally recorded in 1996 for the X-Files spinoff compilation 'Songs In The Key Of X', but ultimately rejected. That same year he passed away after many years of mental health issues, drug abuse and homelessness, just shy of 53 years. I'd recommend checking out the Sundazed Records reissue with the outtakes tacked onto the end and some excellent liner notes and informative essay material that delves further into creation of this fascinating record.
Despite the above 'Oar' tracks being personal standouts for me, it really is a body of work, created in just 6 days, almost like his life, or at least his sanity depended on it.

1. Little Hands
2. Cripple Creek
3. Diana
4. Margaret/Tiger Rug
5. Weighted Down (The Prison Song)
6. War in Peace
7. Broken Heart
8. All Come to Meet Her
9. Books of Moses
10. Dixie Peach Promenade (Yin for Yang)
11. Lawrence of Euphoria
12. Grey/Afro

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Way Of The Weird post 5

A collection of posts about the strange, the unusual, the experimental and the odd in a variety of musical genres.

Scott Walker - “Tilt”
(Fontana 1995)

It was 1995 and I was working on sound design as a freelance designer for another media artists' video installation. At one time during the process we got to talking about music and what we were both currently listening to and decided to make a tape trade. Although released in 1989 and I purchased it in early 1990, Godflesh's “Streetcleaner” was still a key album for me, very influential and something I had begun listening to again around that time. I dubbed it to cassette and gave him a copy. With no real explanation or context, in return he gave a me a cassette with the words ' Scott Walker – “Tilt” ' written on the label in ballpoint pen.

That cassette changed my music listening life and “Tilt” soon became one of my favourite albums of all time and Walker one of my favourite artists. With the opening track 'Farmer In The City', I was initially struck by the dark droning strings, but then came the sonorous tone of a voice singing 'Do I hear 21' and the repeating of '21, 21, 21'.
What was this? Why had he given me this? This was an odd voice, I couldn't tell if I disliked it or adored it for it's utter originality, especially within my range of listening at the time. I hadn't heard this voice before. Except that I had.

Eventually I made the connection that this was the person who had sung 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' and later 'No Regrets' as the lead vocalist in the Walker Brothers. But this album was a different kettle of fish altogether. This record had a profound effect on me and made me backtrack and discover earlier works after I secured my own proper CD copy. I believe the next thing I got was 1984's “Climate Of Hunter”, which was indeed the previous release (Scott has since become a tad more prolific with lesser gaps between releases) and then the final Walker Brothers release “Nite Flights” from 1978, which contained 4 Scott originals that showed the path he would travel subsequently. I have pretty much everything Walker has done now!

Interestingly from the point of “Tilt” onwards, Scott's albums have become more abstract, stranger, more challenging, including his recent collaboration with Sunn O))) “Soused”. Maybe it is because it was 'my first', but “Tilt” remains the pinnacle for me. And not in the least to slight what came after, but with “Tilt” the balance was just right. It is a wonderful combination of symphonic pop, industrial, neo-classical and electro-acoustic experimentation, with a wholly original voice vocalising some impressively abstract but still emotive poetry. Beginning with the orchestral drama of 'Farmer In The City' and ending with the sparse voice and single guitar of 'Rosary', this album is a journey.

Rather than go through it song by song, it really is something you should experience yourself. I know it's not for everyone, but it's for me. Not sure how he felt about “Streetcleaner”, but I want to sincerely thank David for giving me “Tilt”, it's hard to believe its been 21 years. I guess that is quite apt. And thank you Scott for travel your distinctive path.

1. Farmer In The City
2. The Cockfighter
3. Bouncer See Bouncer
4. Manhattan
5. Face On Breast
6. Bolivia '95
7. Patriot (a single)
8. Tilt
9. Rosary

For more info, I highly recommend the excellent 2006 documentary “30 Century Man” by Stephen Kijak. Although there has been a number of releases since that time, it still gives a great historical overview of how he came to be at the musical place he is situated at now.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Way Of The Weird post 4

A collection of posts about the strange, the unusual, the experimental and the odd in a variety of musical genres.

Celtic Frost - “Into The Pandemonium”
(Noise International 1987)

Having evolved into an appreciator of certain factions of extreme metal and then taking some plunges into stranger and more experimental realms, this record was a natural and held an appeal to me from the get go. I'd already become a tried and true Voivod fan and had become aware of their label mates Celtic Frost via the earlier “Morbid Tales” and the penultimate release “To Mega Therion”. I was impressed with their sludgy take on doom and thrash metal. But then I started reading Xavier Russell's glowing reports in Kerrang of the new weird direction they were taking with the new record. A friend of mine got hold of the record about 3 months after it was released and gave me a cassette dub. It had all the ingredients that made the earlier raw stuff great, but with a new layer of experimentation that the early records only hinted at. And it worked, it really did.

Gothic atmosphere without it being a 'goth' album, doom and thrash infused metal without it being either of those things, orchestral without being overly proggy and the best production to date from them, without being overly slick or polished. The combinations of all these elements gelled really well. Pretentious? Moi? Nah, I think this band always had this in them, it was just the first time they were afforded the opportunity to do it right. Choice cuts; “Sorrows Of The Moon”, the single “I Won't Dance” and the epic “Rex Irae (Requiem)”. We are also treated to the sample/drum machine piece “One In Their Pride” and the superb Wall Of Voodoo cover “Mexican Radio” along the way.
What came before and what came after all had their moments, (even one or two tracks on the misguided glammy follow up “Cold Lake”), but “Into The Pandemonium” stands as their masterpiece.

(Please note: the above post contains “Tristesses de la Lune” replacing “Sorrows Of The Moon”, the former being the strings and voice only version of the latter and did not appear on the initial release of the album)

Original vinyl release:
Side A
1. Mexican Radio
2. Mesmerized
3. Inner Sanctum
4. Sorrows of the Moon
5. Babylon Fell

Side B
1. Caress into Oblivion
2. One in Their Pride
3. I Won't Dance
4. Rex Irae (Requiem)
5. Oriental Masquerade

For more info:

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Way Of The Weird post 3

A collection of posts about the strange, the unusual, the experimental and the odd in a variety of musical genres.

Cromagnon - “Orgasm”
(ESP-Disk 1969)

This is a record I only came across (pun intended) about 5 years ago. It is the only known release from this obscure experimental US project Cromagnon. They were essentially a duo of Austin Grasmere and Brian Elliot with a large 'tribe' of guests performing on the record as well. I once read an interview with one of these guys and there was some explanation of the process of recording this record, the 'band' as it were and the possibility of more records. Can't track it down right now, but in many ways it doesn't matter. This record is what it is without explanation and stands up on its own. It also sounds pretty unique for it's time and contains proto-versions of different 1980s genres such as Black Metal and Industrial, predating them by a couple of decades. When I heard this album, I was already pretty versed in experimental music and some of the more abstract example of psychedelic music and this record still stood out. There is a wide variety of styles on here and yet there is a wonderful “crazy basement” kind of unifying atmosphere to it. So as a body of work, it is a coherent listening experience. Dare I say “Orgasm” is quite an experience.

Side A
1. Caledonia
2. Ritual Feast Of The Libido
3. Organic Sundown
4. Fantasy
Side B
1. Crow Of The Back Tree
2. Genitalia
3. Toth, Scribe I
4. First World Of Bronze

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Way Of The Weird - post 2

A collection of posts about the strange, the unusual, the experimental and the odd in a variety of musical genres.

Voivod - “Dimension Hatröss”
(Noise International 1988)

French Canadians Voivod were a bit of a gateway band for me. Initially considered part of the thrash metal movement, with their first two records borrowing some sonic and compositional traits from Venom, Motorhead and the harder elements that emerged from the NWOBHM, they soon showed that they were much more. Their third album “Killing Technology” (1987) showed a tremendous progression, showing psychedelic and progressive elements, industrial textures and a punky sneer whilst retaining and enhancing their metal roots. That album is my personal favourite as it was a transitional album and as a consequence is a fascinating listening experience. It was also the first full Voivod album I'd heard, having only experienced a couple of earlier compilation tracks, so the impact of the full body of work stayed with me.

And as I say hearing the divergent influences and reading interviews with the members about who they listened to led me to bands I might not have discovered on my own, especially considering I was fully entrenched in the quite conservative Heavy Metal genre at the time. At age 15/16 when this album was released, my tastes were heading towards more extreme and slightly more experimental or crossover records, but a lot of it was still quite safely playing in it's own realm. Chrome, Van der Graaf Generator, Die Kruezen were but three bands that were name checked in interviews with drummer and cover artist Away and who I checked into as a result. Founding (and now former) bassist Jean-Yves 'Blacky' Theriault along with industrial acts such as Einsturzende Neubauten was into the more experimental end of contemporary classical composers such as Ligeti and Penderecki and that allowed and encouraged me to listen further afield. This collision of punk, metal, psych, prog, classical and industrial is what made Voivod special and nowhere is this aural collaboration more apparent than on their 4th album “Dimension Hatröss”. It is a full concept album about the sci-fi exploits of fictional character Korgull (a figure who appeared on their records from the get go) and is split into 2 movements.

So while it's not actually my favourite album of theirs, “Dimension Hatröss” is the one I've been returning to the most of late . It is the one where their sound is fully formed for the first time. It is further refined with the next album, their most commercially successful - “Nothingface” and then given a Power Pop edge with following album “Angel Rat”. In fact, although things started to get a little inconsistent musically and there were various lineup changes (including a few years as a power trio, a period featuring former Metallica bassist Jason Newstead and the unfortunate passing of founding member guitarist and key musical architect Denis 'Piggy' D'amour), there is much to recommend across their entire output. But this album, you could safely say, defines them.

1. Experiment
2. Tribal Convictions
3. Chaosmöngers
4. Technocratic Manipulators

5. Macrosolutions to Megaproblems
6. Brain Scan
7. Psychic Vacuum
8. Cosmic Drama

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Way Of The Weird

A collection of posts about the strange, the unusual, the experimental and the odd in a variety of musical genres.

I've been a music obsessive from a young age, from as early as I can remember in fact. I traveled seemingly endless journeys inward via my Dad's copy of The Beatles' 'Abbey Road' on headphones. I knew every little pop and crackle of the surface and every little beat, rim hit, note strike, string scrape, vocal break, wayward voice instruction inadvertently captured on tape, the aesthetic structure and composition of the record, the gaps between the songs. I knew it all, I still do. As a avid listener (as opposed to a hearer) and a musician and composer myself, music, even very basic pop music can be much more than just ephemeral entertainment, it can be a journey, a trip. My tastes emerged around age 7 and 8 and tended towards hard rock and heavy metal and stuck around there until my mid-teens. There it started to evolve via extreme metal (a key band were Voivod) which lead to industrial, which lead back in time to psychedelia and space rock. That lead to 'krautrock' and 'kosmische', the less mainstream areas of prog rock and a healthy dose of the freer jazz in the world, noise/power electronics and some of the more 'outsider' and psych folk out there.

As much as I love and impassioned by well crafted pop and rock, I equally and thoroughly enjoy the 'weird' in music, it takes me to strange and unusual places that I may not be able to visit any other way. I'm what some may call 'straight edge', in so much as, I'm a non-consumer of alcohol or recreational drugs and it's safe to say that there are a number of these genres associated with such substances. These substances are not part of my life. Regardless, this music touches a very definite corner of my psych and for that I'm grateful.

These posts focus on some of my favourite 'weird' records of a variety of styles. 'Weird' of course is kind of subjective, but certainly most of this stuff would not be considered mainstream, popular material in the greater scheme of things. It's not something I can really define here, but something that can be written about within each individual post. And when listened to, something you may appreciate.These are things to listen to in the small hours, no matter what time it is.

WOTW – Post 1:

Syd Barrett - “Opel”
(EMI/Harvest - recorded 1968-1970, released 1988)

July 7, 2016 was the 10 year anniversary of the passing of this iconic psychedelic music figure, so I thought this might be the album to start this series with. This was the first 'solo-Syd' album I heard, in early 1990. I was already vaguely aware of Pink Floyd's early history being somewhat enamoured by 'Ummagumma' and the 'More' soundtrack and having heard some of the first incarnation of Floyd with Syd via the 'Relics' compilation. But a friend of mine, who at the time was a much bigger and more knowledgable Pink Floyd fan than me, purchased this record on a shared trip to Melbourne and played it for me at my Uncle's house where we were staying. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at the time, but it has certainly stuck with me and I soon become a bit of a Barrett obsessive, collecting all that I could. This is a compilation of outtakes from the sessions for his first two solo records; 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett' (both released 1970, though the bulk of the former was recorded late 1968 and throughout 1969) that despite the incompleteness of much of it, the quality of the songs really shine through. It is the sound of a man clearly damaged and yet the visionary nature of much of the work is quite apparent. The title track in particular is a stunning piece, clearly ready for some further instrumentation and arrangement.
So while one could say Floyd's 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' is the best example of his recorded output overall and 'Barrett' may be the easiest solo release to get into if you are just starting out, perhaps it's true what they say about your first time being your most memorable. It's the one (official) solo release that I return to the most even though it's not a proper album per se.

About a month after Roger 'Syd' Barrett passed, my partner and I happened to be in Europe on a collaborative art project and we stopped in the UK on our way home. One day we went to Cambridge on a bit of a self directed Barrett/early Floyd sightseeing tour, taking in his place of birth, his former school, Grantchester Meadows, the Cambridge Corn Exchange and ultimately the house where he lived a somewhat reclusive life for approximately 20 years and died in at age 60.
The simple semi-detached house had a few bunches of flowers and a number of cards of dedication placed respectfully at the front gate. We too wanted to be respectful and not be too intrusive and gawker-like in the pretty little Cambridge suburban cul de sac. Two little girls, 7 of 8 years of age, were riding their bikes, doing laps of the street. We overheard their conversation;
“Do you see that house there?”
“That used to be Syd's house, he was some kind of rock star”.

Some kind of rock star indeed.

1. Opel
2. Clowns and Jugglers
3. Rats
4. Golden Hair
5. Dolly Rocker
6. Word Song
7. Wined and Dined
8. Swan Lee (Silas Lang)
9. Birdie Hop
10. Let's Split
11. Lanky (Part One)
12. Wouldn't You Miss Me? (Dark Globe)
13. Milky Way
14. Golden Hair (Instrumental)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Kenny Everett (25 December 1944 - 4 April 1995)

As is obvious, by the sporadic posts on this blog, my postings are fairly irregular.
However I've had this topic in mind for a while and now seems like no better time to post.
April 4 saw the 20th anniversary of the passing of Kenny Everett.

For those who don't know who he was, click the Wikipedia link, that covers much of it. Suffice to say, Maurice Cole was a Liverpudlian born on Christmas day 1944 who became a Pirate DJ and who basically out of legal necessity became Kenny Everett. Inspired (in equal measures) by the Goons, Joe Meek and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop created some of the funniest, silliest and innovative radio and later television to come out of the UK in the 20th century. He was rather more complex than his outward appearance would lead one to believe, but I won't really go into that here…you can find out about much of his personal life online or in the biographies that have emerged throughout the years. This post is about his work and why I'm an admirer of it.

I have been a fan and admirer of the work of Kenny Everett for a very long time. I would say the first time I was aware of him was in 1979 seeing a few episodes, maybe 3, that had been recorded on a Beta VCR by my older cousin from an ABC TV broadcast upon visiting them during a school holiday. I was probably 8 years old, possibly 7.

A slightly long caveat, because very often I question everything including myself and what I'm a fan of:
I'm aware that a number of my friends based in the UK are kind of dismissive of Everett, particularly those of a more alternative, leftist persuasion, which I basically share. And I suppose objectively I can see why. He was part of what became commercial radio and his TV show on Thames television often featured the pop music of the time. His comedy of that time also could be said to have some somewhat questionable sexist and racist overtones. There was also the unfortunate rally that he was part of for Thatcher's conservative party in 1983.

I actually can't and won't argue against any of that and admittedly I may feel less 'forgiving' if I lived in the UK at the time. From these shores, perhaps with rose-tinted glasses (though I'm pretty good at remaining objective), I will say this:

In regards to his involvement in commercial and mainstream culture, it was basically harmless fun, he often took the piss out of much of what he was playing in a good natured way. It was an ephemeral culture and he realised that, still enjoying it, but referring to his beloved classical music and The Beatles (whom he was quite chummy with - even going so far as producing a couple of their Christmas Fan club records) as 'real music'.

People often excuse dodgy things in regards of the 'times'. "We didn't know any better". Doesn't make it right though, but certainly many didn't consider some of the more offensive elements in comedy 'back then'. I must say, I feel that most of the more questionable content in Everett's output was more often than not, not presented in a mean spirited way, but with a sense of fun and a loveable wink. Was it right? No. Did he mean genuine harm? No, I don't believe so. Interesting to consider what he would do today.

The Conservative rally is a tough one, as I believe you should speak what you believe and believe what you speak. But others close to him say he was generally apolitical.
When being political in his comedy, he would just as often take the piss out of the right as much as the left. In regards to the rally he later regretted it and only did it because because the Tories "asked me first". Hmmm, that's a shame. Anyway... It's sometimes good to look at the flaws in your heroes.

Generational, an acquired or particular taste? I'm not sure.
There are of course locals and members of my circle who probably don't understand the appeal. There are a number of things I can point to that appeals to me about the man and his craft. He was a technical wizard, particularly with radio, sound effects and multi-tracked voices. This was not 'art', it was wacky silliness and a bit of fun, but it was approached with tremendous finesse and expertise on par with and rivaling much of the more artier crew he was inspired by. Although not so much working with the visuals, his audio style on radio was very much the impetus for what emerged visually on his Thames television shows (The Kenny Everett Video Show and The Kenny Everett Video Cassette) between 1978 and 1981. His comedy is interesting, much of the best stuff co-written with Barry Cryer and Ray Cameron. In many ways it could be seen to be crass and kind of basic. But when it worked best it was often a case of playing with the visual gag inherent on the screen. He was a creature of technology and the material reflected that. As a consequence it wasn't always particularly witty or sophisticated. But, at least to me and others I've spoken to about him, his charm and likability was his main asset. Plus any performer willing to leave in his goofs as part of the show (I'm talking the Thames shows mainly here, but some of it is also heard on the Radio stuff he did too) and in fact become the main part of the "finished" sketch, earns my respect. I love a good corpse or blooper!!!!

For the boffins.
Over the years I've managed to locate a lot of audio documenting his radio shows from the Pirates through to Capital Radio and thanks to another collector and the internet most of the Thames TV series and the first 3 BBC TV series (nowhere near as good, but it has it's moments). But other than a number of compilation tapes available originally as video shop rentals and later editions with removed musical acts (due to a lot of copyright red tape), most of the complete episodes have not been official released. But in terms of official merch - here is what I've collected over the years. There are a few holes in the collection of official items, but I'm getting there.

Collection of video media, VHS tapes mainly and the Kremmen movie on DVD. Not pictured 'Best Of Kenny Everett's Naughty Bits' as it was out on loan!

Vinyl and cassette copies of the 'The Greatest Adventure of Captain Kremmen' and the 'Remembering Kenny Everett - Audio Portrait' on CD.

7" vinyl of the Kenny Everett/Mike Vickers theme to 'Kremmen The Movie'
Various publications from the 70s and early 80s including a nonsensical autobiography. Also included is a 1997 biography by David Lister and the Captain Kremmen Viewmaster Reels!

Probably my prized Everett-related item, a character test cel from the Cosgrove/Hall Kremmen series.

This was an outwardly naive spirit for a more naive time (as I saw it at least).
Tapping into that time and spirit, particularly during times of stress or uncertainty, is like an emotional security blanket. The wit is not sophisticated, but it tickles a deep part of my sense of humour where I feel that everything will be alright.

The last time I saw 'contemporary' footage of Kenny was on TV, I think about 1993, maybe 1994. Myself and my partner Sally were watching the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras broadcast on TV. Without announcement we saw Kenny bounce and dance by on one of the floats. He had been out for a number of years by then and seems he was joining in on the festivities. There was no announcement that it was him…I suspect it was unscheduled and the announcers just didn't recognise him or notice him in the throng of activities. But both of us being fans both believe we spotted him.

So here's to Mr Cole, his creation that was Kenny Everett and all those characters that emerged from his delightful head. May he make you laugh.