Saturday 28 June 2014

My Elusive Derams

Here’s a correspondence I had, or, present tense, I’m having (it’s so fresh) with a fellow hopeless vinyl addict: – 

Morgan to me, ten hours ago. 

Completely out of the blue and amongst a box of proper charity shop dross I picked up a mint hum dono today. Went up to counter hoping that it was part of a larger collection and asked if they had any more. The woman said yes and said she'd only just put the harriott one out. Proudly she took me to the cabinet and showed me the Charlie kunz Lps she'd priced up at £20 each!

So that's one found in 18 years since I last saw you walking out of the withy grove junk shop that time.  Btw the price it sells for is shocking, if I'd known that I might not of put it in my bike bag for the 20 mile journey back home. 

Sent from my iPhone

wildchild to Morgan, ten hours ago. 

Joe Harriott? Which one? You don't say in your excitement. Yes, it hasn't happened to me in the 18 years since bumping into you outside the Withy Grove junk shop, or Paramount by name. What was I clutching? Nucleus, I think. I'd picked up a Mike Westbrook a couple of days earlier. They had a priceless cache of Brit jazz and were only putting them out in dribs and drabs. 

Well done!   

Morgan to me, nine hours ago  

Oh, it was Hum dono joe harriott quartet. Your right, I dont think you had that one, henry lowther and Michael Garrick were the other 2 I remember. 
What was unusual was the quantity they had in paramount. Now you just get the one in a pile of average stuff. On Tuesday I got an Lp by accolade on the same label as joe harriott, and music was ok but it had Christian lyrics. Again all the other records in the box were average to bad. 

Sent from my iPhone

And my reply: – 

Hum Duno, eh? (A quick check of popsike.) That's a cool grand, then. Well done! That beats any individual item I picked up at Paramount, though collectively, as you say, it was a once-in-a-lifetime find. 

I was there when this mouth-watering collection of Brit jazz appeared, scattered in odd piles about the counter (Tubby Hayes' Mexican Green, I remember, was sitting on top). Naturally, the man was surly and unhelpful when I asked, and clammed up: he hadn't bought the collection yet: go away. This put me in a dilemma. I didn't want to alert him to the pricelessness of the haul (in retrospect it was more priceless than we knew), and I didn't have the means to strike any deals. So instead, I just haunted Paramount for the next few weeks, and I was ready to give up, when, like the first swallow of spring, I spotted Mike Westbrook's Marching Song Vol.2 in the Classical section for £2, and I knew my vigil had been rewarded. 

Sporadic raids on Paramount in the next few weeks netted Child Song by Henry Lowther, Belladonna by Nucleus, ah, Labyrinth by Nucleus, Love Songs by Mike Westbrook. Yes, and Once Upon A Time by Alan Skidmore, Flare Up by Harry Beckett and Will Power by Neil Ardley, Stan Tracey, etc. Alice in Jazzland by Stan Tracey was another. Then there was Michael Garrick's Mr Smith's Apocalypse and Troppo by the same. Anything else? I think John Surman by John Surman. Oh, and let’s not forget Integration by Amancio D’Silva (or Etudes by John Mayer or Synthesis by Laurie Johnson).  

Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott (he almost certainly would have been there) eluded me, alas. 

Yes, it makes one sigh for the golden age of record collecting, and the splendour of holy vinyl we've lost, found, and mislaid again along the way. 

Give not that which is Holy unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet... 

Matt. 7:6 (talking about Christian lyrics, Jonathan) 

Thursday 26 June 2014

Spaceheads: Trip to the Moon EP


Trip to the Moon EP 
Electric Brass Records EBR003  

The terrain explored here is electro-acoustic, with each of the Spacehead pair resolutely on either side of the hyphen. Andy Diagram is an electro Tweedle-dee, armed with a mobile phone attached to a trumpet with a fish slice (the mobile controls the technology that modifies the trumpet sound). Whilst Dick Harrison is an acoustic Tweedle-dum, complementing and setting off Diagram’s kinetic grandiosity with organic wood-and-skin rumbles. 

With Trip to the Moon, an EP with a sidereal theme, the future emerges from the past, and vice versa, which makes for lots of delightful anachronism and playful anarchy.

For example, the vehicle for the lunar trip is not a rocket but a steam locomotive. The opening ‘Cosmic Freight Train’ gathers momentum  in the time-honoured tradition of musical trains like ‘Pacific 231’ or ‘Chatanooga Choo-Choo’, but something unexpected happens at cruising speed: the beats become trippier than anything Honegger or Glenn Miller could have imagined, and the glide is underpinned by a deep roots reggae bass (courtesy of guest artiste Paddy Steer).   

And so it continues: cosmic klaxon, tinkling bells and diamond hard beats characterise ‘Trip to the Moon’ until Diagram drops in a quote from ‘Theme From A Summer Place’, sounding for all the world like a lounge lizard in the cocktail bar at the end of the universe.   

‘Dirty Planet’ is scuzzy, honking and clamourous,  and explains why Spaceheads will always be renegades on the experimental music scene. They’re much too fun to be serious! ’Spooky Action’ starts like a theme from a fifties sci-fi b-movie, complete with a part for faux-theramin before gaining quite alarmingly in intensity.       

It’s undeniable that Diagram has a genius for constellated anthems, which he executes like a bugler leading the charge of a celestial Light Brigade, or an unruly cherub from some heavenly choir (angels playing trumpets is a recurring visual motif on Spaceheads sleeves, and reappear here). Whereas Harrison is the rooted one, always anchoring the music in solid terra firma, and grinding, grinding, grinding behind Diagram's skittish euphoria. Spaceheads are a truly cosmic odd couple, and the Trip to the Moon EP is a deep, solar joy. 

Friday 6 June 2014

Wizz Jones & John Renbourn

Band on the Wall, Manchester, June 5

Wizz Jones is something of a hero in this household, chiefly because of a 54 year-old television clip unearthed on youtube: - 

Woody Guthrie lives! If Wizz Jones’ guitar doesn’t actively kill fascists, it’s certainly seen off a few Torquay councillors! 

“I’m only interested in playing the guitar and travelling,” Jones told Alan Whicker on Tonight in 1960. Faithful to the beat philosophy, Jones busked his way around Europe and Africa, before returning to the UK. The best of his generation were all travellers and free spirits. Think of Clive Palmer, Andy Irvine, Allan Taylor, Anne Briggs. Whereas the adoption of a beatnik lifestyle in the States led to jazz, UK beatniks tended to gravitate towards folk. Or, more accurately, folk and blues. In all these cases, records were incidental, or positively accidental, by-products of the lifestyle. Good beatniks are determined anti-careerists. 

Wizz’s clear vitality, not to mention his shock of unruly grey hair, testify to the efficacy of a life spent doing just what you love best. He plays ‘Song to Woody’, ‘Black Dog’ and ‘The Glory of Love’ and his own ‘Lucky the Man’, and roars them like a busker competing with the trains in the Paris Metro or the attractions of a bustling Marrakesh marketplace. He strikes every string very hard and sometimes shakes the guitar for added resonance. What Wizz lacks in finesse he gains in force. 

Which makes him the ideal partner for John Renbourn, who is exactly the opposite. 

The first song they share is Archie Fisher’s ‘The Mountain Rain’. This little beauty about vengeance killing demonstrates that Archie Fisher is a songwriter of the first rank. And its treatment - oddly lyrical given its grim nature - finds a perfect counterpart in Renbourn’s accompaniment, which is deft and light of touch. ‘Strollin’ Down the Highway’ closes the first set with a nod to the late, great Bert Jansch. 

During the break, I get Wizz to sign my copy of The Legendary Me

A vintage shot of John and Wizz 

The show is designed along symmetrical lines, so John Renbourn heads the second half with a short solo set. He opens with ‘Sweet Potato’, a tune by Booker T & The MGs he first essayed on Sir John Alot. The version tonight is less Gabor Szabo and more Tal Farlow, dare I say, as he treats Booker T’s groovy riff to a veritable chromatic blitz. 

‘The Snow That Melts the Soonest’ is his first vocal contribution and contains another shock. The distinctive wispy burr of old has been replaced by something deeper and more uncertain of pitch, prepared to settle for recitation if the melody presents too great a challenge. Or it may be that folk singing is not what he wants to do. Tonight he would rather be the hipster philosopher Mose Allison (who gets two songs, ‘Getting There’ and ‘You Can Count On Me To Do My Part’) or the fingerpicker Merle Travis (‘The Cannonball Rag’), whose exuberant virtuosity is in no way dimmed by the gentleness and delicacy of Renbourn’s delivery. ‘Great Dreams From Heaven’ channels both Ry Cooder and Joseph Spence. The voice is coming into focus now. It’s like meeting someone you may not have seen in years at an unexpected moment. The middle-aged, if not positively elderly, features of a stranger are, within moments, overlaid by the familiar, timeless outline of an old friend. By ‘Lord Franklin’, perhaps the best-loved Renbourn song of them all - here adorned with a blues paraphrase and some sumptuous extemporising - the contours are fully in place again. 

Dylan gets a second appearance with ‘Buckets of Rain’, featuring a relaxed vocal from Renbourn and a friendly exchange of fire between the guitarists. And Bert Jansch makes a return with ‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’. Wizz takes lead vocals on the Jansch tunes, and Renbourn takes lead guitar, with the pair emulating the old relationship between Bert and John quite instinctively. 

With ‘Bad Influence’, the Robert Cray song, the pair are in danger of slipping into blues default mode. Actually, although I miss the baroque side of Renbourn’s genius, it’s none the worse for the casual nature of the music-making. It’s a pleasure to see two old-timers enjoy themselves so much, so the pleasure just multiplies. “Anyone would think we planned this,” Jones says at one point. “No,” replies Renbourn simply.  

‘Cocaine Blues’, complete with beatnik-inspired Tangiers reference, provides the encore.

John Renbourn and Bill Leader reunion, BOTW, June 5, 2014 (with the author looking on) 

Afterword, 9.4.15

The news about John Renbourn’s death (26 March, 2015), so close on the heels of the concert reviewed above, came as a shock indeed. Perhaps it counts as a good death, indeed: at the height of your powers and doing the thing you love best. I took the opportunity to request an interview, and subsequently found him charming, illuminating and high-spirited. I wonder, with hindsight, if it was what Dennis Potter, in his last interview, called “the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom” – that is the great joy of life vouchsafed to someone soon about to leave it – that tipped the interview, in places, into unreliability. But no, not unreliability. Subjectivity, I think. He might always have been like that. 

Anyway, you’ll have to wait until the book comes out, although some of the interview, or the aftermath of the interview, appeared in a later blog, Brought to Book II …  

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