Saturday 3 April 2010

The Dyverse Idea: The Seven Ages of Dyverse

This blog celebrates music of all kinds, and finds the right stuff everywhere. Hence, Dyverse Music. But is it possible to like so much different music, and appreciate them all equally, like PG Wodehouse's male codfish, 'which suddenly finding itself a parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, resolves to love them all'?[1] Yes, because all music is a manifestation of the human spirit, and the emotions music expresses - joy, love, infatuation, angst, serenity - are universal.
Although it might truly be said that different emotions dominate at different times of life, just as music means different things at different times in life. Consider Seven Ages of Dyverse, to correlate with the seven ages of man.
Rock 'n' roll, or rock, is the first age, the first music to speak directly to adolescent hopes and fears and longings. Rock uses excess and melodrama to protect a fragile sense of identity, and works best when it rages with angst and petulance. My teen years coincided with that cheerfully shabby and optimistic decade, the seventies, and neatly straddled prog-rock and punk. The seventies were absolutely the best decade for music after the sixties.
The Second Age is folk. That is, roots music from one's native soil, which also dovetails with rock if, like me, you were touched by the folk-rock movement. The Third Age, with strong connections to the Second Age, is USA music. This covers blues - no great leap from rock, thanks to Robert Johnson - and soul and country music, which are inextricably linked culturally and emotionally, and are both similarly earthy and direct. Both have a central place for the broken heart.
The Fourth Age is jazz. The Fourth Ager is curious about the formal aspects, the nuts and bolts of music, and naturally turns to jazz, the chosen medium of the finest composers and performers of the last and present centuries. Which isn't to say that jazz isn't also rich in emotion and expression.
Africa and world music (incorporating reggae) constitute the Fifth Age. The love of USA soul encourages a move to trace the sound of blackness to source. The music of the Americas corresponds to the Sixth Age. NB AMERICA AND USA ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS TERMS! The variety and richness of the music of North (i.e. Mexico), Central and South America is phenomenal. Consider the contrasting charms of cumbia from Colombia, or tango from Argentina, or son from Cuba, or huapango from Mexico, or bossa nova from Brazil!
The Seventh Age is Classical. It would be too conventional and un-Dyverse to consider Classical as the pinnacle of human achievement in musical terms. No, Classical crept up stealthily, partly as a result of my radio listening habits: I discovered that no piece of Classical music is so bad that listening to The Archers is preferable. The string quartets of Beethoven hold more appeal than his symphonies, just as chamber jazz is more palatable than big band jazz (intimacy is definitely a Dyverse quality). The writer was still holding out against opera into his fifth decade, but then Puccini came along, and the last barrier came tumbling down.
In short, Dyverse Music celebrates the inexhaustibility of good music. The blog is home to The Dyverse Record Collection, a companion to great albums, with particular attention to forgotten and overlooked classics omitted from every other survey. TDRC stands in opposition to those canonical lists headed with predictability by Sgt Pepper, What's Going On and Pet Sounds (great albums that they are). Other strands include Dyrections, alternative music lists; 'I Was There', which gathers eyewitness accounts of significant concerts from the past, and 'I Am Here', covering reviews of present-day gigs. There are interviews from the archives (from the writer's time as a full-time music journalist), and essays (Dyverse Dyatribes), and Dyverse Values, an authoritative guide to vinyl prices, gleaned by first-hand research into what the same albums can fetch on eBay. And every month a selected artist is singled out for rigorous scrutiny in Obsessions With… The Hero Worship section is devoted to friends, comrades and inspirations (sometimes all three at once) Abner Burnett, Peter Bocking and Bill Leader. Welcome to Dyverse Music. May it bring you joy.
[1] PG Wodehouse, The Custody of the Pumpkin, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere.

Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Tuesday 30 March 

The stage looks like the set of Blade-Runner Meets The Mummy. The lights atop the keyboards change colour, presumably to signal to passing aliens, as in Close Encounters. Electronic noises reverberate and a man in a sun mask intones, "It's after the end of the world…" It made a very arresting opening for Spatial AKA Orchestra, Jerry Dammers'  Sun Ra tribute band, even if the acoustics came from planet Saturn. 

What do the Specials mainman and space-age visionary have in common? For Sun Ra, showmanship and science fiction sweetened his inherent radicalism. Similarly, Dammers is out there, yet entertaining. His crack team of UK jazz musicians, dressed in masks and costumes, proceed to raise consciousness with a big, bouncy ska version of Gnossiene by Eric Satie. 

Even so, Tubular Bells comes as a surprise (The Exorcist associations suit the sf/horror ambience, I suppose). Roger Beaujolais carries the theme on vibes and Zoe Rahman contributes a piano solo at warp-speed. The Batman Theme is grafted onto I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman (fabulous baritone solo by Terry Edwards), whilst Man at C&A and Nuclear War, linked by subject-matter, are fused, fission-style. Exotica rears its head during Jungle Madness, with Francine Luce impersonating jungle beasts with avant-garde singing techniques.  

Ghost Town becomes Ghost Planet. The recession is cosmic: now the entire planet is redundant! A rap about the African origin of UFOs nicely combines Sun Ra's twin obsessions. Far from being Dammers' folly, Spatial AKA is probably the summation of the Two-Tone aesthetic. ("It's bad enough with another race…" - John Cooper Clarke.) 

During Space Is The Place, the musicians parade off-stage and reconvene in the auditorium, still honking and chanting. Magic! The evening compared favourably to Sun Ra's  visitation to Hackney Empire in 1990. 

The Complete Chris Ackroyd vs Vladimir Putin 1-61

Chris Ackroyd, who manages to lead a fulfilled life without a computer, asked if I could send a message to the world. Well, I sometimes have...