Monday, 3 October 2022

Monday Long Song

German quartet КОМВУИАТ ЯОВОТЯОИ recently released a second volume of  their 'Dickfehler Studio Treffen' recordings, following on from Volume 1 which arrived in the Summer of 2020. Like the first volume, the new LP consists of four long improvised sonic explorations, or, as their record company blurb would have it '... Krautrock grooves that smoothly evolve from outer-space spheres into psychedelic and stoner-rock vibes and back to Krautrock...' Physical copies of the record are still available here, while an abundance of further aural digital delights await you on КОМВУИАТ ЯОВОТЯОИ's Bandcamp page. In the meantime take a listen to the lugubrious 'Fehn', the tune that closes 'Dickfehler Studio Treffen II'.


Monday, 26 September 2022

Monday Long Song

Albert Ayler once memorably noted that in terms of the saxophone '...John Coltrane was the father, Pharoah Sanders the son and I am the holy ghost...'  Coltrane left us at 40 in 1967, Ayler himself died in mysterious circumstances aged 34 three years later and the final link in that holy trinity, Pharoah Sanders, passed away in Los Angeles on Friday, just three weeks short of his 82nd birthday. In a 60+ year career, Sanders collaborated widely with artists such as Coltrane, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner, Don Cherry, Jah Wobble and, most recently and memorably, with Floating Points & the LSO on the fabulous 'Promises' LP. 

Today's tune goes back to 1969 and the album 'Jewels of Thought'. The hypnotic 'Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah' features the vocals of Leon Thomas (who himself worked with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Santana) and the legendary Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards.

Pharoah Sanders - Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Red Gold & Green #34 - Junior Byles

It's a long held belief among a couple of my closest friends, that I'd been unwittingly clobbered by Covid very early on - here in fact. I never saw it myself and until now I'd always put my physical and mental collapse at the very end of 2019 down to the aftershocks of the personal annus horribilis I'd just endured. Today though, as I emerge blinking and bewildered into the daylight following a 100% guaranteed, 10-day bout with the aforementioned C19, I'm forced to re-evaluate that earlier illness. My main symptoms in each case were virtually identical - a complete loss of appetite, mad, feverish dreams (to the point of doubting reality) and incredible amounts of sweating (seriously, where does all that liquid come from?) So perhaps my chums were right all along and I was indeed among the first of us to have had a brush with this dreadful virus three years ago.

Here's the great Junior Byles, produced by the legendary Lee Perry, back in the halcyon days of 1972.

Junior Byles - Fever  

Monday, 5 September 2022

Monday Long Song

Roy Orbison's 1960-64 imperial phase is the stuff of legend - 'Only the Lonely', 'Running Scared', 'Pretty Woman', 'In Dreams'...the list goes on. Roy didn't reduce his prodigious work rate as the hits became less frequent, releasing a steady stream of singles and albums during the remainder of the 1960s and right through the 1970s. There are some terrific, unjustly overlooked nuggets scattered throughout those later years, a few of which will hopefully feature in an ICA I'm currently tinkering with. 

Then there's 'Southbound Jericho Parkway'. You can search high and low in every corner of Roy's extensive catalogue and you won't find anything else remotely like it. Tucked away on the b-side of 1969 single 'My Friend' and heavily indebted to the previous year's 'MacArthur Park', the song was written by Bobby Bond, otherwise best known for penning more conventional material for the likes of George Hamilton IV, Waylon Jennings, Don Gibson and Crystal Gayle. Extraordinary.

Roy Orbison - Southbound Jericho Parkway

Monday, 29 August 2022

Monday Long Song

It strikes me that though I've shared tunes from a couple of the many Kungens Män offshoots in recent months, I've neglected to feature anything from the band themselves for some time. Their latest release, 'Kungens Ljud & Bild' (The King's Sound and Image), was released digitally in May, though the vinyl only arrived fairly recently. The opener 'När Piskan Viner' (When the Whip Wins) blasts out of the gates in spectacular style. Check out and/or purchase the whole album on their Bandcamp page here.

Kungens Män - När Piskan Viner

Friday, 26 August 2022

Friday Photo #26

My mate and I have been going to FolkEast for several years now and, creatures of habit that we are, we always pitch our tents next to each other in the same location, backed right up against a wire fence, facing out across the sea of canvas and campervans. It's a good spot to be in, on the very edge of the site a decent walk from the hustle and bustle of the arena, within reasonable staggering distance of a block of toilets and showers, but far enough away from them that we aren't affected by the inevitable occasional queues and smells. When we arrived on site last Thursday afternoon, on a whim I suggested that we pitch in the usual place, but facing the other way for a change. I don't quite know why it's taken all these years for one of us to make what in retrospect seems such a glaringly obvious suggestion, but the glorious view that greeted us as we crawled, bleary-eyed, from our respective tents on Friday morning ensured that we'll never pitch facing into the camping site again.

King Tubby - Dub With a View

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Version City #75 - Jackie Oates sings Longpigs and The Cure

You find me momentarily pausing in my attempts to chuck every permutation of clothing into a bag while simultaneously rummaging through cupboards in search of my inflatable mattress. Tomorrow morning I'm off to FolkEast, my annual brief concession to what Evan Dando memorably described as being the outdoor type. I'll be sleeping under the stars (well, under canvas under the stars to be precise, but you get my drift) for three nights and catching as many bands as possible at my one festival of the year. Somewhere near the top of my 'to see' list is a rare set by The Imagined Village, the ever-evolving, genre-bending supergroup featuring Martin & Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg, Simon Emmerson of Afro-Celt Sound System, sitar player Sheema Mujherjee, tabla percussionist Johnny Kalsi and drummer Andy Gangadeen. Also in the line-up (I hope) will be Jackie Oates, someone who I've wanted to see in concert for a very long time. True, on this occasion she'll just be part of the band, but I hope she gets to step forward for at least one or two numbers. Jackie is about to release her eighth solo album and she's made others in tandem with fellow artists such as Megan Henwood and John Spiers. They're all recommended and many of them are available to sample on her Bandcamp page (here).

For the purposes of this feature (the first new instalment since January 2021!) here are a couple of absolutely breathtaking covers by Jackie. The Cure's 'Untitled' was recorded for 'Life's What You Make It', a compilation of  various folkies tackling 1980s hits, while 'On and On' will appear on that new solo album I mentioned, 'Gracious Wings'. Steel yourself for these.

Finally, as a little light relief after those jaw-dropping beauties, here's a stripped down line-up of The Imagined Village from ten years ago with Martin and Eliza to the fore, tackling Slade's 'Cum on Feel the Noize'. 

Monday, 15 August 2022

Monday Long Song

My flying visit to London last weekend was a real treat. The way things transpired I had just one full day with the whole family, but we made the most of it in spite of absolutely sweltering conditions. By midday on Tuesday I was on the motorway heading home and back to work. My aunt loved catching up with her grandchildren for the first time in five years, even if she found their accents a little difficult to decipher with her failing hearing. They all got together several more times throughout the week before the American contingent flew back to New York on Saturday afternoon. 

Today apparently marks the end of this current heatwave, with cooler conditions due as the week progresses. I'm relieved to hear it, as from Thursday I'll be spending my annual three nights sleeping under canvas at a local folk festival.


On April 30th 1976, exactly a year to the day after my family relocated from London to Ipswich, I paid the princely sum of £1.75 to see The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in action at the local Gaumont Theatre. The band's 1974 LP 'The Impossible Dream' was a key record in my youth and they performed the whole of 'The Hot City Symphony' from it that night. After the show me and my gig-buddy hung around at the stage door and met Alex...and what a diamond geezer he was. Alex seemed quite old to us kids, though in actual fact he was only 41 at the time, but tragically had less than six years left to live.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - The Hot City Symphony Part 2: Man in the Jar

Friday, 5 August 2022

Friday Photo #25

It's April 1967, that's me on the right, sporting a pudding basin haircut and a Batman badge on my tie. In the middle is my cousin, she was three years younger than me then...and still is. On the left is her mum, the aunt I often mention on these pages. My aunt turned 93 two days ago and still lives alone in East London, as she's done since my cousin moved to New York in 1988. This weekend though, the family flies in for a belated birthday celebration and tomorrow evening I'll be driving down to reunite with my cousin, her husband and their three kids, all of whom have grown up considerably since we last saw them in 2017. In fact in the interim, the eldest two have graduated from college, while the youngest starts college herself later this month. Their trip was a relatively last minute affair and though they'll be staying in London for the whole week, I only have a couple of precious days with them all before I have to head back for work. It's going to be emotional.

Sparks - In My Family 

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #8 - Bedroom Walls

California's Bedroom Walls traded between 2001-2007, releasing an EP and two albums, only the first of which, 2003's 'I Saw You Coming Back to Me', sits in my collection. It's another of the many CDs that we acquired around that time from stacks of cardboard boxes buried at the back of grimy, dimly lit and now sadly long gone New York record shops. What fun we had, venturing forth from my cousin's apartment in the morning carrying empty backpacks and arriving home many hours later with filthy hands from scrabbling around in the dust, backpacks bursting at the seams with CDs, all purchased for a few cents each. Admittedly we picked up a fair amount of old tosh on the way that didn't even make it back across the pond after a quick listen on my cousin's stereo, but conversely there were other discoveries that ultimately became popular favourites in our house.  

Bedroom Walls described their music as 'romanticore' - it's wistful, melancholy pop, but with occasional sprinklings of humour, as evidenced in song titles like 'I've Been Thinking A Lot About The Dots On The Wall', 'Do The Buildings And Cops Make You Smile?' and 'Landlord! Watch! Coffin! Angels!'.

Bedroom Walls - Winter, That's All

Bedroom Walls - More "Real Cats"

Friday, 29 July 2022

I Really Don't Know Life At All

There are a growing number of musicians, legends if you will, who are either hurtling towards, or are currently on their respective journeys through their ninth decade on this planet and depending on the artist in question, we watch in awe, bemusement or horror as they potentially add to, besmirch or trash their respective legacies with each release or public pronouncement. Regardless of our opinions though, there's no doubt that they are trailblazers of a sort and you can be sure that there are a few artists in their 40s, 50s and 60s looking on and taking notes for future reference.

Last weekend provided two examples of fabled singer/songwriters confronting the aging thing head on, when Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon each played unannounced sets at the Newport Folk Festival, in Joni's case her first live performance of any kind in 20 years. She may be physically diminished after long periods of illness, but as the 78 year-old Mitchell hesitantly felt her way through 'Both Sides, Now', the emotional response was palpable. Similarly, when the 80 year-old Simon, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper, stepped to the microphone and sang '...hello darkness my old friend...' the couplet was clearly open to quite a different interpretation in 2022 than when he wrote 'The Sound of Silence' way back in 1964.

I've watched both of these remarkable performances a number of times over the past couple of days and still struggle to make it all the way through either of them without welling up.

Monday, 25 July 2022

Monday Long Song

I've felt a little all at sea these past couple of weeks. The small pile of records I picked up while in Edinburgh last month (including one generously gifted by our mutual chum Charity Chic) sit untouched and unplayed upstairs, awaiting my eventual attention. Half a dozen books lay scattered around the place, each with just a few pages thumbed through. It seems my powers of concentration have taken themselves off on an extended summer holiday. What do I traditionally do in these circumstances? I walk. But even this innocent activity has been curtailed somewhat in the recent blistering heat. 

The music I have been playing around the house is lengthy and largely instrumental - tunes to get lost in. Like this piece from Miles Davis, which was recorded on the final day of the 'In a Silent Way' sessions in February 1969, but bafflingly remaining unreleased until 2001. 'The Ghetto Walk' is a dense, humid, eerie meander of a thing, stifling and oppressive, much like several of my own recent local wanderings, photographic evidences of which are attached.

Miles Davis - The Ghetto Walk

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Imaginary Compilation Album Plug

I'm very grateful to our mutual friend and blogfather of this parish, JC, for publishing another of my very occasional Imaginary Compilation Albums over at his place. This one concerns the music of Micah Blue Smaldone, a fairly obscure artist it's true, but one who means an awful lot to me. Check out the ICA here.

By necessity Micah's early retro country-blues recordings were raw, stripped back affairs, though his later albums are darker in tone and fuller in sound. As I mentioned in the ICA post, I saw Micah just once in concert, on a brief 2014 European tour in support of  his fourth and still most recent LP 'The Ring of the Rise'. The album boasts the backing of a full band, but that evening it was just Micah and his 12 string guitar, together completely captivating the pin-drop silent audience. This super-intense performance of 'A Derelict', segueing into the instrumental 'New Orleans Bump', was filmed during the very same European jaunt. 

Monday, 4 July 2022

Monday Long Song

Hastings based James Blackshaw has been releasing his primarily instrumental music since 2003, initially self-distributed before landing a deal with the hugely respected Tompkins Square label. Blackshaw is best known as a guitarist, though the piano also features in his recordings. He kicked off off his career at a prolific pace, already releasing seven albums by the time I caught up with him playing an instore show in Sound Fix, a Williamsburg record store in 2008. The performance took place in a small bar/function room accessible through an anonymous door at the side of the building, where the cyclical patterns and repeated phrases of the long tunes created a hypnotic drone within the wood-walled space, gradually shushing the general hub-bub of whispered mutterings and clinking glasses.

Here's the title track from Blackshaw's 2014 album, 'Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death'. 

James Blackshaw - Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #7 - Nad Navillus

Chicago born Dan Sullivan's solo project Nad Navillus (Dan's name mirrored) released a self produced and self-titled instrumental CDr in 1999, a largely acoustic album, 'Show Your Face', in 2001 and and another with a full band, 'Iron Night', in 2002. Other than a couple of compilation tracks and a brief resurrection of the moniker for a split 7" single in 2014 (itself actually recorded ten years earlier), that's unfortunately the extent of the catalogue.

Sullivan spent some time playing with Songs:Ohia in the early noughties and at times his voice bares an uncanny similarity to that of his late friend Jason Molina. 'Your Good Side' from 'Show Your Face' was my introduction to the music of Nad Navillus, when I stumbled upon the song online, nearly 20 years ago. 

Nad Navillus - Your Good Side

Monday, 27 June 2022

Monday Long Song

Edinburgh Waverley Station, 8.45am June 17th 

The journey back from Blog-Con '22 in Edinburgh the Friday before last began comfortably enough, with temperatures hovering around the 16/17° mark as I made my way to Waverley station for the 9am southbound train. It was difficult in those moments to believe the forecast I was reading on my phone predicting highs of over 30° nearer home. Fortunately though, I did heed the warnings and packed everything possible into my case, wearing only the lightest clothes available for the trip. The first leg was relatively uneventful, save for a rowdy group necking early morning tinnies en route to York races, the views from the train across Berwick and Durham were spectacular and the air conditioning kept things manageable. By the time we rolled into Peterborough though, the aircon was starting to struggle and as I stepped from the train I discovered why - it was beginning to get very warm indeed. My expected 45 minute wait for the connection eventually extended to nearly an hour and when the Norwich bound train finally rolled in I was concerned to see that it consisted of just two carriages, which were already virtually full. The platform was pretty chock-a-block too, so you can probably imagine the chaos that ensued as we tried to board. Long story short by the time I got on it was standing room only - and when I say standing room I mean bodies squashed together standing room, for two hours, in increasingly stifling temperatures. My phone flicked between telling me that it was 32/33° outside, but who knows what it must've been on board. Oh and did I mention that the train was not blessed with aircon, nor windows that opened? 

By the time I disembarked, fell to my knees and kissed the platform at Norwich, I and everyone else in that hellhole of a train were completely soaked through with sweat and gasping for breath. I had a 15 minute uphill walk followed by a 45 minute wait for a bus, both of which were uncomfortable in the conditions, but by then I didn't care. I was just pleased to be outside, free from the combined body odours of a couple of hundred clammy sardines in a can. Our mutual chum C started her own journey south a couple of hours after me and had to travel across London on her way home. I can't begin to imagine what that must've been like. In retrospect we were incredibly lucky with our timing for the glorious bloggers meet-up though, as had it been a week later our plans may well have been scuppered altogether in light of  the RMT industrial action.

Anyway, all that whinging was just an excuse for me to dig out this beauty from the great Junior Murvin, produced by the legendary Lee' Scratch' Perry and featuring a toast from another prominent reggae name, Dillinger, who turned 68 years of age just a couple of days ago.

Junior Murvin - Roots Train

Friday, 24 June 2022

Friday Photo #24

A couple of phone shots from my Edinburgh wanderings (click on either to enlarge)

Last week's Edinburgh blogging meet-up was an overwhelming experience for someone whose life these days usually revolves around either working, walking or sitting in a room listening to records. The whole trip has already attained a mystical status in my mind and I've thought of little else since arriving home. Half a dozen bloggers of this parish and a couple of their respective partners, the very finest of company one and all, some coming face to face in the real world for the very first time, others renewing old friendships. It really was was an absolute joy from start to finish. Then there's Edinburgh itself - what a magical place. I'd only visited the city once before, very briefly, about 15 years ago and had always wanted to return, though even with this longer stay I feel I've barely scratched the surface.

The Fall - Edinburgh Man

Monday, 20 June 2022

Monday Long Song

Last week was long, busy and, well, pretty darned glorious actually. Deets, as the kids say, to follow, but right now my brain is still mush from an endless, airless train journey on the hottest day of the year thus far, so let's ease into a new week with George Faith's sublime 1977 interpretation of William Bell's 'I Forgot to be Your Lover', here retitled simply, 'To Be a Lover'. The tune, released in the UK on Island's Black Swan imprint, was produced by Lee 'Scratch' Perry who makes an unexpected vocal appearance in the final 30 seconds of the mix. 'To Be a Lover' was a popular choice of cover in reggae circles during the 1970s, not least with Scratch himself who also produced versions of the song by Chenley Duffas in 1971 and George Earl in 1974. This one's the definitive reading though.

George Faith - To Be a Lover

Friday, 10 June 2022

Friday Photo #23

Every now and then, when the whim takes me, I reach into the cupboard and retrieve an album, box or carrier bag full of old family photos to rifle through and usually manage to uncover a snapshot or two that I've either not seen in an eternity or else completely forgotten about - this week's Friday Photo falls firmly into the latter category. It's my first full class photo (up to that point we'd only ever been photographed individually) taken in the playground of my Infants School in May 1967, a couple of months before all us kids went our separate ways, scattered around the Junior schools of Waltham Forest. When I look along the faces of those fidgety children today, I find that I can put names to very few of them, in stark contrast to similar class photos I've found that were taken in Junior school over the next couple of years, where I recognise and remember virtually everyone. I suppose it was all a very long time ago. Anyway, enough of my waffle - would anyone like to hazard a guess as to which of the assembled seven-year-olds above is a young yours truly? I've shared quite a few old snaps over the years, so it shouldn't prove too difficult.

Just over a week ago, our mutual friend John Medd put a shout out for good examples of non-Beach Boys Beach Boys songs. Here's one by The Super Stocks from 1964. To be up front and honest, The Super Stocks were led by writer/producer Gary Usher who actually worked with Brian Wilson & co on a number of occasions back in the day, but that doesn't detract from the fun fun fun of 'School is a Drag'. Incidentally, Usher hedged his bets on this subject by issuing a different version of the same song, also in 1964, under the guise of The Wheel Men entitled 'School is a Gas'.

The Super Stocks - School is a Drag

Monday, 6 June 2022

Monday Long Song

My Instagram feed tells me that a few lucky souls around the world have already received the new Kungens Män LP, 'Kungens Ljud & Bild' (translates as The King's Sound & Vision). Here in the UK however, we're looking at the middle of June before the postman potentially comes-a-knocking with our copies. Fortunately for me (unfortunately for my bank account) the individual members of Kungens Män seem unable to sit still for very long, so almost inevitably there's a cracking recent release from one of their many other musical projects to enjoy while I wait.

Half of Kungens Män constitutes three quarters of Svenska Psykvänner (Swedish Psych Friends), whose debut album 'The Hägersten Sessions' was issued in the Summer of 2019. Their second release, 'Böjda Toner' (Curved Tones), arrived exactly a month ago. Highlights include the 11 minute opening salvo of bubbling motorik that is 'Ur Led' and 'Rökkpgausen', 16 minutes of  prime psychedelic dub, Svenska Psykvänner's tribute to the late great Lee 'Scratch' Perry.

Svenska Psykvänner - Rökkpgausen

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #6 - Roman Evening

I'm pretty sure that it was Mrs S who introduced me to the music of Roman Evening fairly early on in our relationship, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that I'd been left custody of their 'Tiny Ladies' CD after she departed. The 2003 album is a soundtrack to the novel of the same name, written by band leader Adam Klein. There's a distinctly melancholic feel running through it, grist to my mill, as illustrated by the Lennonesque 'Casework'. 

Roman Evening - Casework

Monday, 30 May 2022

Monday Long Song

The beard, should you be at all interested, is still hanging in there (see the rather fuzzy image of my rather fuzzy chin above). It's now been over six months since I last shaved and, barring clipping the odd solitary rogue whisker, I've not touched, trimmed or styled the facial growth in any way. Come to think of it, I've not had a haircut since the beginning of January either. Liberating or laziness? Perhaps a bit of both. One thing's for sure though, however much the beard itself may irritate me at times, I really am enjoying not shaving. 

Here's an appropriately titled chunk of classic 1974 Canterbury-scene prog from Hatfield and the North.

Hatfield and the North - Shaving is Boring 

Friday, 27 May 2022

Friday Photo #22

Wanstead Flats in North East London, is a detached slab of the ancient woodland Epping Forest - a 334 acre oasis of green in an otherwise heavily built up area. On Sundays, when we didn't go wandering the streets of Central London, Dad and I would often head over to the Flats. It was his old manor, an area he'd enjoyed walking around as a youngster himself. There we'd kick a ball about, play a few impromptu overs of cricket or just sit at the edge of  Dames Road Pond watching the older kids and their Fathers sailing their model yachts, a very popular weekend activity in that location in those days. After much pleading, Dad eventually brought me my own miniature yacht, made of wood and around 18 inches long, which we took over the Flats one Sunday. It was a thing of beauty, painted a glossy sky blue, with crisp white canvas sails. I was excited - over excited. As soon as Dad sat the yacht on the water and gave it the gentlest push I freaked out. We were at the mercy of the wind, which was the whole point of it for most people, but I was convinced that it was never coming back to shore. It did of course, eventually, but by then I'd made such a colossal fuss that I don't remember Dad ever taking it out with us again. Instead the yacht spent the remainder of my childhood on, and later in, a cupboard in my bedroom, before disappearing from my life completely, in that mysterious way that things do. 

I can't lay my hands on a photo of the yacht in question right at the moment, but here I am, all dressed up in my Sunday best, over the Flats one Sunday morning in 1967. 

Marc Bolan - Over the Flats (Home Demo)

Monday, 23 May 2022

Monday Long Song

Back in the day, Mrs S and I were very partial to the second and third Gruff Rhys solo albums, 2007's 'Candylion' and 2011's 'Hotel Shampoo. Gruff stopped off in Norwich on his tours supporting each release, playing at the small Norwich Arts Centre on March 13th 2007 and February 20th 2011 - we were there for both shows and they were fun nights to be sure. For the latter, support came from the great Welsh instrumental surf band Y Niwl, while four years earlier a young Cate Le Bon opened proceedings with her own set before later joining Gruff to provide backing vocals on a couple of his songs, including this convoluted tale concerning dramatic events at altitude, here featuring Lisa Jên from Welsh folk band 9Bach on the original studio version.

Gruff Rhys -  Skylon!

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

There Is Only This One Moment & You've Got To Make It Last

Kimberley and Robyn on stage in Cambridge last week

I've just finished a lengthy uninterrupted run of holiday cover shifts. There have been a few long stretches of late, thanks largely to Covid sweeping through the store, though it's usually a mixture of earlies and lates. This time it was all earlies, meaning 5am alarm calls every day. It's not too much of a chore getting out of bed at this time of year though to be honest, the sun is already up and the loud birdsong eases me into my first coffee of the morning. My problems start at the other end of the day. I get home by 5.30pm and after a shower and a meal am struggling to keep my eyes open by 7.30. I'm usually in the land of nod by 8. What a lightweight I've become!

You can count the number of gigs I've been to since lockdown on the fingers of one hand, but, much like buses, two rolled up together right in the middle of this intense period of work - neither of them local. First I undertook an 80 mile round trip to catch Modern Nature in Ipswich. 'Island of Noise' was one of my favourite albums of 2021 and I was thrilled to learn that the band would be venturing out East during their tour. The Smokehouse is a standing venue and Modern Nature's music can be quite subtle, not an ideal combination when it's way past your bedtime! It was a terrifically engaging performance though, the sort of show one felt privileged to be in the audience for. Highlights included the epic, Spiritulized-esque 'Build', which concluded the set in magnificent fashion and the Sea and Cake meets Neu! bliss of 'Performance'.

Modern Nature - Performance

A couple of evenings later I took my weary bones over to Cambridge for the final date of Robyn Hitchcock's UK tour. As I've mentioned many times recently, Robyn has been elevated from mere musical hero to a somewhat mythical status in my affections, thanks to the ongoing series of streamed gigs he's performed with his wife Emma since the very start of the pandemic in March 2020 - now in excess of 200 shows! Emma has often spoken about how much these weekly shows have helped them cope over the past couple of years, but I only wish I could adequately express to her just how much they've helped me (and no doubt many others) cope too. In Cambridge Robyn played solo at first, then with assorted guests, including Emma and fellow former Soft Boy legend Kimberley Rew. For the 'Brenda's Iron Sledge' / 'Queen of Eyes' finale he fronted a unique three electric guitar/two basses line-up - and what a glorious racket they made! I drove the 70 miles home still buzzing and caught just four hours sleep before my alarm roused me for another early start, but I would've quite happily done it all over again the following day given the chance.

Robyn Hitchcock - Glass Hotel

Monday, 16 May 2022

Monday Long Song

'This is a Mindfulness Drill' by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (featuring vocal turns by Sharon Van Etten, Perfume Genius and Moses Sumney) is a 2021 re-imagining of 'Sapphie', a 1998 LP by Richard Youngs. 'Sapphie', an album very close to my heart, contains three long songs, including the breathtaking 'Soon It Will Be Fire', my entry point to the great man's music. I almost went with Van Etten's version of 'The Graze of Days' today, which is pretty darned impeccable, but instead here's Sumney's beautiful reading of 'Soon It Will Be Fire', followed by the achingly raw original. I honestly can't recommend these albums highly enough.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Soon It Will Be Fire

Richard Youngs - Soon It Will Be Fire


Monday, 2 May 2022

Monday Long Song

This week's long song is a no-brainer. Legendary keyboard maestro Klaus Schulze passed away last Tuesday, just four months shy of his 75th birthday. The impact Schulze and his kosmische chums made on my young ears was considerable (here) and remains so, even if these days the sounds of bubbling modulations and subtly sweeping synths have to compete with my own constant internal soundtrack of screaming tinnitus. 

Schulze was 29 years old when 'Moondawn' was released in 1976 and, having already passed through the ranks of both Ash Ra Temple and Tangerine Dream, was five albums into a long, extremely prolific solo career. 'Floating' opened proceedings on solo LP No.6.

Klaus Schulze - Floating

Monday, 25 April 2022

Monday Long Song

The Dylan Group out of Washington DC were all done and dusted by the time I stumbled upon their music in the early noughties, leaving behind a slim body of work released between 1997 and 2000. I'm pretty sure that I bumped into the bafflingly titled 'Gazer =[(Shoe)(Star)]2 + Beat' on my virtual travels around the internet, which prompted me to hoover up their entire catalogue on my actual travels around the many second hand CD stores situated in New York in those days. Back then I would to fly out to visit my cousin and her family with a half empty suitcase and return home loaded down with so many dusty $0.50c CDs that I could barely lift it. Anyway, all these years later this sparse, persistent tune is still the one of theirs I return to the most. (The occasional dubby echo on the drums always reminds me of 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'.) Dylan Cristy and Adam Pierce, who did most of the heavy lifting with The Dylan Group, are better known for their day job as members of Mice Parade.

The Dylan Group - Gazer =[(Shoe)(Star)]2 + Beat

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #5 - Vertical Montanas

The previous instalment in this series detailed my 18 month obsession with Jonquil and this single sits neatly alongside that obsession. Vertical Montanas were a ten-piece amalgam of the aforementioned Jonquil and fellow Oxford combo Youthmovies who, after originally making plans to guest on each other's recordings, ultimately decided to form a whole new band together. These two songs, recorded in 2007 and released on a pink vinyl 7" single the following year, comprise their entire output. Both of these unconventional tunes featured heavily on my CDr compilations at the time.

Vertical Montanas - Thick Mugs

Vertical Montanas - Of Scramblers; Rotting Birds And Gullies... The Trawlers, Crabs, The Caterpillar Tracks

Friday, 15 April 2022

Friday Photo #21

Tomorrow it'll be exactly 60 years since this photo was taken. It's the second in a series of annual birthday portraits taken of me in front of the family radiogram, a series that stretched until my 21st birthday in 1981 (see more examples here and here). The relatives must have been round, as I'm dressed in my best bib and tucker (the bow-tie was something of a fixture in the early days) and keen to show off my first ever bike....or more accurately trike. Dad was one of eight children so there were no doubt Aunts and Uncles aplenty on hand to spoil me rotten on my big day. Mum, like me, was an only child, but her own Mum, my dear old Nan, was probably not too far away from the action either. If you squint you might be able to make out an Easter Egg or two nestled among the birthday cards atop the radiogram, even though my second birthday actually fell a few days before the Easter weekend of 1962.This year it's the first time that my birthday has fallen on an Easter Saturday since the day I was born in 1960, having only coincided with that particular date on three other occasions in the 20th century, in 1927, 1938 and 1949.  

I'll be at work from 7 till 5 tomorrow, as the last minute rush to buy whatever Easter Eggs we have left reaches a no doubt chaotic and panic stricken crescendo. Then home for a chilled beverage or two in the evening.

Monday, 4 April 2022

Monday Long Song

Covid re-entered my workplace three weeks ago and has spent the time since cutting a swathe through the store. The staff have been dropping like flies. Fortunately most cases have been at the milder end of the spectrum, but several have been knocked sideways by it, suffering all kinds of unpleasantness. Those of us who've mercifully remained thus far untouched by the virus have been putting in extra hours in order to try and keep the shelves filled. Approximately 200 of us work at the gaff in total, though lately there have been times when it's felt distinctly like the Mary Celeste. There just aren't enough healthy pairs of hands to get the work done. I mention all this only to explain the recent virtual radio silence from my end. A long overdue catch up with my Aunt in London this past weekend had to be postponed too, as I worked throughout. Hopefully another week or so should see staff levels returning to something approaching normal and I can reschedule a visit for later in the month. 

Although I'd obviously much rather so many of my co-workers weren't under the weather, I can't deny that the substantial overtime is financially welcome, following my own lengthy period on the sick with shingles over Christmas. Speaking of which, while I was laid up and laid low, the last thing I felt like doing was shaving - so I didn't. And I never started again. Right about now I'm in week 20 or so with yer actual beard, I've not trimmed or tidied it at all and it's beginning to get pretty wild in the chin area. I'm not exactly sure where I go next with it to be honest, in fact I'm not even 100% certain that I like having a full beard at all (I've only ever sported the occasional goatee before now), but what I've discovered I really do like (a lot) is not having to shave. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #4 - Jonquil

Sandwiched between the lo-fi sonic experimentation of  2006's 'Sunny Casinos' and the mutant disco of  2012's 'Point of Go' came 'Lions', the endearingly oddball folktronic sophomore album by Oxford combo, Jonquil. Throughout 2007/8 Mrs S and I fell hard for these guys. The cover mounted CDs issued with The Wire magazine provided all sorts of interesting avenues to pursue in those days and so it was with No.17, which featured A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Fridge, Husky Rescue and Kammerflimmer Kollektief  - all favourites at Swede Towers at the time, as well as introducing us to the music of the aforementioned Jonquil.

For 18 months Jonquil's name seemed on everyone's lips, but for some reason it never quite happened for them. During this period they recorded entertaining alfresco performances for the la Blogothèque Take Away Show series (available on YouTube in two parts here and here), plus had the distinction of becoming the band I've had to travel the least distance from my house to see, when they rolled up at the pub at the bottom of my road in July of 2007. 

As I mentioned at the top, Jonquil continued their journey in a different musical direction before apparently petering out, but lead singer Hugo Manuel eventually found acclaim under his synth-pop alias of Chad Valley, with whom he released four albums between 2011 and 2018.  

Jonquil - Sudden Sun

Jonquil - Whistle Low

Monday, 21 March 2022

Monday Long Song

I particularly enjoyed the clutch of albums released by John Dwyer and various friends throughout 2020 and 2021, especially 'Bent Arcana' and 'Gong Splat'. The strength of these solo projects has me revisiting the music Dwyer makes in his day job with Oh Sees. I'm woefully out of touch with the band's prolific output (at least 11 albums since the last one I know from 2019!), but I have enough of their tunes dotted about the place to keep me out of mischief for a Sunday afternoon. 

'Keys to the Castle' from 2017's 'Orc' is a song of two halves...or more precisely of one quarter and three quarters. A two minute punk blast, followed by a six minute blissed out lugubrious groove.

Oh Sees - Keys to the Castle

Friday, 18 March 2022

Friday Photo #20

When I was a kid growing up in Walthamstow, one of the highlights each Summer was the annual carnival parade, in which a long line of decorated flatbed lorries snaked around the town's streets, via the end of my road, raising money for local charities. Every year my folks would walk me up to the corner, give me a few coins to throw into a collection bucket and encourage me to shout my head off at the colourful passing show. It was all unspeakably exciting. In 1965 Dad took some photos of the event, including this one. 

Of course in the cold light of 2022, the visual evidence Dad managed to capture all those years ago, pricks the bubble of my hazy youthful memory. The floats and flatbeds slowly making their way through the crowds along Markhouse Road aren't the professionally reupholstered vehicles that I thought I remembered, but are actually amateurishly decorated old warhorses, crudely festooned with multicoloured crepe paper and hastily handwritten signs - no doubt held together by endless reels of sticky tape. It should be noted however, that a long forgotten hero did make a rather splendid effort when it came to creating that Dalek - credit where it's due.

My overriding memory of the carnival, sadly not captured for posterity, is that, standing at the junction of Markhouse Avenue and Markhouse Road, you could hear the whole shebang coming a mile off. Pots, buckets and old tin dustbins rattled with coins and were bashed together to ramp up the atmosphere - the shouting, crashing and honking of horns becoming louder and louder until the whole deafening parade was right in front of us. And then it was gone, gradually fading away into the distance until the following year. 

This from Niagara's third LP, 1973's 'Afire', is a somewhat more rhythmical approximation of the sounds I heard for a few minutes each year, while standing at the end of my road.

Niagara - Carnival

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Peace Will Come When All Hate Is Gone

Had he still been with us, today would've seen Fred Neil celebrating his 86th birthday. Neil was already a figurehead of the Greenwich Village folk scene by the time a young upstart by the name of Bob Dylan rolled into town in 1961, but even earlier than that he'd worked in the Brill Building and had a hand in writing songs for the likes of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. Many of Neil's compositions are best known in the hands of other artists. Harry Nilsson's version of 'Everybody's Talkin'' won a Grammy after it was featured in the 1969 film 'Midnight Cowboy' and 'Dolphins' has been covered by the likes of Billy Bragg, Beth Orton and, magnificently, Tim Buckley. Neil drifted into semi-retirement in the mid-1970s and dedicated much of the last 30 years of his life to the preservation of dolphins.

Here's Fred Neil's original 1966 recording of 'Dolphins' and, from the previous year, perhaps my favourite of all his songs, the wonderful 'Little Bit of Rain'.

Fred Neil - Dolphins

Fred Neil - Little Bit of Rain

Monday, 14 March 2022

Monday Long Song

I've had a copy of Mark Lanegan's autobiography 'Sing Backwards and Weep' sitting next to me untouched for a number of months now, waiting for the right moment to enter what will undoubtedly be a long dark ride. It was only recently joined in the to-be-read pile by 'Devil in a Coma', the hastily published account of his 2021 battle with Covid. In the days following the dreadful news of Lanegan's death three weeks ago, I read all of the obituaries and listened to little else but his music around the house. I also picked up 'Devil in a Coma'. It's an easy, but extremely harrowing read, detailing not only his months of physical suffering, but also the prolonged mental torment of being trapped in a sick and broken body.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This
 little corner of the internet did Mark Lanegan proud, with a series of well written tributes around the blogs and a terrific array of music drawn from his sprawling catalogue. Here, belatedly, is my contribution. From the 2009 Soulsavers LP 'Broken', an inspired reading of Gene Clark's masterpiece, 'Some Misunderstanding'. 

Monday, 7 March 2022

Monday Long Song(s)

Both Eliza Carthy and her legendary dad Martin are making plans to hit the road again, individually and occasionally as a duo, following the immense loss of Norma Waterson at the end of January. I've seen Martin several times in the relatively recent past, but when I catch up with Eliza in the Summer, it'll be for the first time in at least ten years.

Here's a set from Eliza's self-titled 1997 album with the King's of Calicutt and Martin with the terrific 2006 re-recording of  'Famous Flower of Serving Men', an epic murder ballad I've been privileged to see him play a few times and which originally appeared in an earlier incarnation on his 1972 LP 'Shearwater'. 

Eliza Carthy and the Kings of Calicutt - Sheffield Park / Polly Bishop's Slip Jig / Roger de Coverley

Martin Carthy - Famous Flower of Serving Men

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #3 - Brightblack Morning Light

You know those hot, clammy days that we sometimes get in the Summer? Days when it's a genuine effort to move from A to B, when sweat sticks the clothes to your skin and cool fresh air seems a distant memory? The music of Brightblack Morning Light is the aural equivalent of one of those days. It oozes and slithers from the speakers, as if weighed down by extreme humidity. It feels positively oppressive - in a good way, natch.

I was walking through Mrs S's studio one day in 2007 when I heard a Brightblack Morning Light tune coming from her laptop. They were a new name to me and I was instantly hooked by the dense, sultry, airless sound. I quickly hoovered up both the available long-players, 'Ala. Cali. Tucky' and the self-titled follow-up. The band's third and final album, 'Motion to Rejoin', arrived in 2008. 

My obsession with Brightblack Morning Light was brief, only by virtue of their catalogue being so slim. Their second and third albums in particular can be picked up relatively inexpensively and come highly recommended. Here's a track from each of them.

Brightblack Morning Light - Hologram Buffalo

Brightblack Morning Light - Everybody Daylight

Monday, 28 February 2022

Monday Long Song - Stop the War

A 1970 Whitfield/Strong written anti-Vietnam war song from Edwin Starr, here covered 12 years later by a young Neneh Cherry (along with Joe Blocker and the late On-U Sound legend George Oban) as a response to the Falklands War. 

Here we are another 40 years on.  

Raw Sex Pure Energy - Stop the War

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #2 - Dillon Fence

Dillon Fence came my way as so many bands did back then, via the new release folder of a visiting record company rep. For an hour or so each month we'd glug coffee as he or she tried to convince me that everything in that folder was the next big thing and that I really needed to have it in my racks. Actually, to be fair, most of the reps knew my limits as well as I did. A tiny shop in a quiet seaside town was never going to be responsible for breaking an act nationwide, although in one or two cases over the years we certainly did our bit to help in terms of sales - I'm looking at you Sheryl Crow. But I digress. Many of those reps became friends, growing to know the direction my own personal tastes moved in and recommending accordingly - hence Dillon Fence. Sonically hovering somewhere between Teenage Fanclub and 'Grave Dancer's Union' era Soul Asylum, 1993's 'Outside In' was and is my favourite of their three albums. Here are two cuts from it to give you a flavour.

Dillon Fence - Collapsis

Dillon Fence - Safety Net

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #1 - Lions and Tigers

The good news regarding the recent tech-trauma of my crashed hard-drive is that the local computer guy was able to salvage around 85% of the contents - photos, tunes and documents. A great result, by any standards. The 85% was his estimate by the way. Thus far I've yet to not find anything that I've gone and searched for, though no doubt that will happen at some point. Either way, I'm pretty ecstatic with what I've got, considering what the alternative could've been.

While biting my nails down to the quick as I awaited updates from the computer guy, I found myself playing even more physical product than usual. Digging particularly deep into the CD archives, I unearthed a bunch of compilation CDrs put together by myself and Mrs S during our earliest days together, nearly 20 years ago. We'd play these comps around the house continually for a week or two at a time, until moving onto the next one - like turning the page of an audio diary. Hearing some of those tunes again after so long was tantamount to reconnecting with very old friends. While playing one of the CDrs last week, I was struck by how much of my musical journey over the years could legitimately be described as a series of brief obsessions - some briefer than others. Every now and then, hearing just one track may lead to a long term commitment to an artist, or at least to picking up an album or two by them, but sometimes, for whatever reason, that one song might be all I'll ever have. 

In this occasional series I'm going to share a few of the one-offs, left-behinds and obscure forgotten favourites from my back pages. Take for example Lions and Tigers. Sometime in the mid-noughties I picked up their 5 track CD EP 'Pure & Applied'. Don't ask me where I got it, when exactly it was that I stumbled upon it, or what persuaded me to shell out for it - as my old Nan was wont to say, I can't remember, I've been asleep since then. All I can say for sure is that I liked the music I heard and still do, in particular the soundtrack-for-an-unmade-film vibe of the instrumental closer, 'Toca Su Guitarra'. According to Discogs, aside from one other track on a split single in 2006, 'Pure & Applied' was the sum total of the band's output. I can tell you no more.

Lions and Tigers - Toca Su Guitarra

Monday, 14 February 2022

Monday Long Song

Though Lee Perry's relationship with Island Records faltered in 1978, within the walls of the Black Ark, Scratch's work rate continued at a frantic pace. Whole albums worth of material were apparently cut with legendary artists such as Junior Murvin, George Faith and Augustus Pablo, but much of the resulting music remains unreleased. Old friend Bob Marley stopped off at the studio late in the year, part-way through the Kaya world tour, to record two fabulous sides with Scratch at the controls, 'Who Colt the Game' and 'I Know a Place'. These gems were also shelved, eventually gaining a belated release in 1998.

Meanwhile Perry continued to cut and voice tunes of his own. Here's the dense, intriguing, Nyabinghi-paced 'Free Up the Prisoners', released as a 33rpm 12" single on the Conquering Lion of Judah label in 1978, before reappearing on the rarities compilation 'Soundzs From the Hot Line' in 1992. 

Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Free Up the Prisoners

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