I saw a neon sign reflected in a pool of liquid sky…

In the late 70’s when I discovered Hawkwind at the insistence of my cousin Tony I took that journey in chronological order, enjoying the noisfest that the albums created up to Warrior. The blanga was in full flow and the Captain and crew could do no wrong.

My hopes were high as I bought Astounding Sounds and Amazing Music. Everything was in place, great Barney Bubbles cover, harking back to science fiction magazines of the 50’s and 60’s. The titles of songs, The Aubergine that Ate Rangoon, Kadu Flyer, Reefer Madness, Steppenwolf, it was all there.

Then I played it and felt a sinking feeling. There was no power here, it was kind of Floydy or maybe T-Rex or my god a little approachable. How deserted I felt by the peoples band, my Dad even looked pleased by Chronoglide Skyway and it’s soothing violin solo. Out of 7 tracks only 4 had lyrics and they almost made sense. There was a quirkiness there brought along by Bob Calvert but this had nothing to do with the all out assault on the senses that the earlier albums had been.

I promptly hid the album away and never revisited it as far as I can tell, at some point it left my collection never to be seen again. I have no recollection of selling it or giving it away. It’s a mystery.

astoundingThen last week as I rummaged through the racks at EveryDay music there it was staring at me. It is a wonderful cover after all. The front all early science fiction and the back a little fascistic and intimidating with the Hawk in it’s Germanic glory. I ended up buying on impulse and then having to gather my courage to listen. It’s a reissue from Atomhenge and they have even re-created the style of the old Charisma label. The sticker proudly claims it was cut from the original analog  masters so what the heck.

Thirty or so years later here I am once again listening to Astounding Sounds. It still seems a little distanced from other Hawkwind albums, transitional is the phrase normally associated with this type of album. Maybe it is, the follow ups all made sense in the Hawkwind story, poppy and punky leading up to the raucous joy of the 79 tour after Calvert had left the building again.

On reflection the album is an awkward move to a different sound, what makes it jarring is the fact it followed Warrior which was so masterful. It is also according to Brock the first album he mixed without tripping which may reflect in the clarity of the sound. Calvert’s lyrics are here for the first time for a whole album with the band, his sense of humor is not to the fore as much as on later releases. It is however not a lost masterpiece but it is better than that first time I listened.


Sometimes I need you wild…

Transported to a strange place by the stark compositions on Songs from A Room. Sitting in the dark with only the faint crackle of the 47 year old vinyl as the stylus creates the sounds to fill the space.

roomI have to admit this is the very first Leonard Cohen I have ever listened to in it’s entirety, I am on my third play and every listen is as fresh as the first which is really a novel experience in a jaded world of downloads and streaming. There is no brick walling of the sound and it seems that Laughing Len is in the room with me mumbling his exotic lyrics in my ear.

Truth be told it’s just a great album and the back cover captures a time and a place so well as Marianne sits in that stark otherworldly room in Greece.

It’s a truly powerful experience, go for it turn the lights down and huddle with Len as he narrates his stories into the dark.

Talkin bout the times when we was mutual friends…

The year of the Dead goes on.

In about 1984 my favorite Deadhead friend Dave invaded my sleep one afternoon with a copy of Live/Dead. He had found it in Probe records and was convinced this was likely to change our lives. It was legendary in his mind at least and we should prepare for a musical journey like no other.

Grateful_Dead_-_Live-Dead-2It was however Friday afternoon and we had to go to a class, we thought long and hard and decided the impending journey was more important at that time than our understanding of comparative religions.

It was not difficult at that time to come up with reasons to not go to class and we hastily ran to the off-off-licence for essential provisions of bourbon and Budweiser, Dave was convinced that PigPen would approve of our choice. We also probably bought too many cheese pies to fuel the fun. None of this apart from the choice of beverages and substances would replicate 1969 San Francisco but we were in Liverpool and had little access to the more exotic furnishings of the summer of love. Dave had once bought a Paisley shirt but he was 6ft 5 and this shirt was made for a much smaller person. This may well have been another ill advised post pub purchase.

On went the album and my bemusement began with the track Dark Star. Meandering and pointless was the beginning of the argument that has gone on for years and the thoughts that still stick with me to this day and simultaneously my love for the tracks St. Stephen and The Eleven. Who can figure the strange decisions of the musical adventurer.

So this week I delved into the three C.D. copy of Fillmore West 1969. Highlights form the West.jpegsame four night run that brought us Live/Dead. St. Stephen and The Eleven continue to be fun as is That’s It For The Other One and of course Alligator into Drums and out with the Jam. The Dead really stretch out on the album and are not too bothered by the idea of songs. It’s a lot of fun and brought back some great memories. At times almost sounding like an early Floyd show especially with Tom Constanten’s organ. I Know that’s a stretch but in ’69 Floyd were a jam band too, maybe a little less musically talented but they would make some great noise. This period before they solidified their folk/country/psych sound was some of the most interesting live for the Dead I think. The C.D. is also Deluxe so it has to be great.

In a strange way I feel like I have betrayed the Dick’s Picks quest but dam it was in the Goodwill for $3 and I could’t resist. Th price was more to do with the three discs than anything else I am sure. I stole the picture because y copy has no cover, sad but true.

Live/Dead did not change my life. We did rock out to it and peer meaningfully at the album cover though and argue about how bad Dark Star was. Dave had an epiphany I nodded off. The weird thing is last time I saw Dave he said he had not bought any music or gone to a gig in 10 or so years which just goes to show how time can change a person. He did still have five shoe boxes of Dead bootleg cassettes he had got through the mail form trans-atlantic DeadHeads, he had no way of playing them but would not let them go, the last bit of nostalgia he said.



Turn electrical dreams into reality…

I have been trying to buy a copy of Space Ritual for years without any success. There has been one reissue on Back to Black but it was only two thirds of the album which is a bit of  a premature moment by anybody’s standards. The original sells for outlandish amounts of money in decent condition and there are not many left in decent condition it seems.

This album may very well be one of the potentially most abused pieces of vinyl ever. It was a record designed for the out of their faces, it is the aural equivalent of a hostile take over of your brains by rampaging barbarians, it is a regime change with no potential for a rational government after. Listening to this album will and has changed your brain by the end of the experience.  As such when people played it they may have forgotten to care for the vinyl, spillage and messes follow this thing as a natural outcome of the act of listening.

I have watched many on eBay be described as Near Mint or Ex and wondered how did that really happen? I have even bid on a few over the months stopping at the $30 mark and watching the price be driven up for ridiculous amounts. Pictures show tatty and holed sleeves with stains of dubious origin. You have to wonder how that sounds at the end of the day.

ritual frontThen I saw it, Rhino records with a release of the whole album, there was very little information apart form it was a double LP and the price on Amazon was $32 so why not.

I ordered and then had a little remorse, it was going to be a disappointment. I cancelled the order once and then re-ordered. There was very little description of what to expect on-line and then I stopped looking.

Obviously a gatefold sleeve at best I thought and then today it arrived in all it’s glory. A recreation of the original album with that amazing foldout sleeve with the space nonsense on the inside six panels of silliness designed by the genius of Barney Bubbles. There was also the six color panels on the outside of cosmic silliness. They even reprinted the inner sleeves.

The label on the shrink wrap states it was cut from the original analog tapes but who can really tell it’s Space Ritual. But maybe this time I can look after it the way I should have done in the first place rather than treating it as a combination coaster, ash tray and drink catcher.

ritual open

Then I had the thought, how come every re-issue isn’t treated with this much reverence? Where is the foldout Hawk from X In Search of Space and the Eternal Champions shield from Warrior on the Edge of Time? Why oh why can’t they get it right more often. Me and my middle child spent twenty minutes this evening examining every panel in it’s early 70’s loopiness and enjoying the fact that someone finally did it right.


Da dee dum dum…

From the intimidating to the ecstatic. B.S. as my pal Greg would say, it’s just rock music. lark,Fearing the Dead this week I reveled in more Crimson with the incomparable Larks Tongue In Aspic. Which apart from being truly great has the happiest of all Crimson covers. It is a pretty cover admit it.

The first place most people go in Crimson world is the outrageous guitaring of Mr. Fripp as he plays those angular phrases and wails making very little motion. Having seen the seven headed beast of Crimson last year with the three drummers I have begun to appreciate the drums man.

On Larks Tongues the accolade for most interesting sounds must go to the craziness of Jamie Muir and then  to Bill Buford for holding the beat down with all that insanity going on. The Crimson drummers have always made a sound that would dwarf the Dead’s insistence on a creation the drummers could climb into and beat on anything that came to mind. Crimson likewise have drummers who will flail beat and pound on anything in sight but they do this in a restrained manner that befits the image of the ferocious accountant. Muir however  was before this image throwing chains above Fripp’s head and using the laughing bag as an instrument in an insanely eccentric way. Only appearing on the one album he is however all over it, his rhythmic enhancements taking the listener to obscure places in their minds.

It seems like much of my relationship with King Crimson has been just a little furtive, during the late 70’s and the 80’s they were too unhip in most circles, very few got the violence in the music preferring to criticize the progressive moniker, the dreamy mellotron and focus on the often poor or cringeworthy lyrics.The secret is however in the music that wails and swoops propelled along by a rhythm section that was fearless in tackling strange time signatures often during the same song and holding it all together during an intensity of musical expression that is both violent and ecstatic.

When inviting people back to my apartment in the dim 80’s I would at times hide the Crimson albums behind the more acceptable Pogues albums. The fear may be I would never find a friend my own age if I carried on with my obsession while others around me were entranced by Mr. Bragg and Paul Weller.I also may never have any conversation with a member of the opposite sex, at 19 this was very important. To this day my wife will hide when the Crimson albums come out, she will frown and mention the difficult music.

It is at this point that I must remind myself that it is just great music that will mess with your mind as all great music does but only if you let it.

Enough of this and back to the Dead, although those Midlake albums I just acquired look very enticing.

Note the weirdness of the elusive Mr Muir as he flails and bangs his way to musical oblivion on the first two tracks.

Possibilities aren’t always what they seem…

With a head full of Dead I wandered the wastelands. Lost in a fog of Dark Stars and Sugar Magnolia hoping to discover the truth. Baffled by the twisted country songs and blues shouting and the disco fever of bad cocaine fueled choices.

What to do other than ground yourself in something different.

Trying to regulate myself in the vinyl section of the thrift store searching for the antidote to Jerry’s noodling. Desperate for something that was not based in the ideals of the outlaw west. Fearing what may turn up and there it was.go

The ultimate super session album. Stomo Yamashta, Steve Winwood, Michael Shrieve, Klaus Schulze and Al Di Meola. A space rock, blues jazz electronic odyssey to the heart of the divisions between fantasy and reality. Percussion and electronics messing with your mind and then the bass of Rosko Gee holding it all together with Steve’s soulful vocals. It shouldn’t work but it does.

Go is a work of genius that when you read the members of the project should really have no right in working. It is also the perfect way to shake of the dead it seems.

Year of the Dead part?

Grateful_Dead_-_Dick's_Picks_Volume_3Three shows this week in the Dick’s Picks series. Numbers 1,2 and 3. All was going well until I started with number 3. 5/22/77 at the Hollywood Sportatorium, this has to be a made up word. The horrors of disco Dead comes screaming out of my car speakers with Dancing In The Streets. This was in a pre-ironic hipster world so there is nothing humorous about this. It’s just plain awful to the point I had to stop listening. I am not ready for the Dead in ’77 and Jerry’s guitar tone is all wrong.

Scarred by this I retreated to my own space, a safe space and looked at Vol 1 of the Dick’s Picks series. Tampa Florida 1973 seemed like a good choice, so here we go. Lot’s of fun a nice track list, and they managed to wrestle Nobody’s Fault But Mine back from Zeppelin. The Dead are on form for this one, the bass is melodic and Jerry doesn’t ramble too much. Stella Blue is as great as it should be and the Weather Report Suite rocks along nicely.

Flushed with success on to Vol 2 In Ohio. This one leaves you feeling a little cheated as it is only half the show. Of course that may be a good thing. Dark Star is there with 24 minutes and I made it all the way so not too bad.

So my findings so far is that fear the later years, I am assured by my Deadhead friends that it is not all so scary out there. The utilitarian album covers are a little disappointing as the best part of the Dead at times is the artwork. I also realize that I am not really adding anything apart from tracking my own journey here. It is interesting to note that between shows while songs are the same they somehow have an intangible quality that manages to make them different. The kind of folksy amateur hour approach is also a lot of fun.

On soft grey mornings widows cry…

As a teenager attending an all boys Catholic school I was often faced with that horror of rugby practice or other sporting practices. In my school you did not get the choice to not play rugby, cricket or other manly endeavors until you hit the magical age of 16. Then you got to not only trade in your royal purple blazer for a black one but you could decide not to play sports.

Those of us with less than stellar sporting ability used to attempt to drag out the changing process as long as possible. Struggling foolishly with socks and shoelaces as if they may attack you. We would then argue about what was the greatest album you had heard that week was. There was a certain cache in hearing something others had not.

It was in this rarefied air that I first saw the cover for In The Court of the Crimson King, An Observation by King Crimson, I did not learn the title that day though.It was poking out of one of my fellow stragglers bag on cassette. It was quite possibly the most terrifying thing I had ever seen to advertise an album. In my mind the music inside must be truly diabolical to merit such a cover.

teethAll I could think about was that awful mouth screaming it’s silent scream of pain, anguish and horror. I attempted to borrow the tape but was rebuffed with that knowing smirk of you are not ready for this. The truth I later learned was this was his brothers tape, young Galvin had never heard it and had brought it to school because it was the weirdest thing he could find to impress the impressionable in his brothers stack of tapes.

Later as we became friends his brothers stack became the subject of many an afternoon listening to strange albums by Gong, Curved Air, Amon Duul, Hawkwind, the Small Faces and many others. A seemingly endless selection of sounds that eventually we were banned from when the brother found a girlfriend. This would lead to early afternoon raids on the collection while the brother smoked out behind the shed.

In my fevered mind I became obsessed with that cover, desperate to hear what was inside. It had to be magical with such a terrifying cover, it had to be out there, somewhere different.

So I did what I always did I took myself off to the library. Searching the stacks of records again and again over weeks looking for that cover and not finding it. In the end I approached the bearded wizened librarian with my description of the cover, a red screaming mouth and distended nostrils, terrifying awful, horrible. The librarian smiled told me the title and said I would have to order it as it was always out.

Four weeks later the day arrived, the album was in and I could pick it up. The album also had creepythe creepiest inside cover with the strangely terrifying befanged moon freak inside. This looks like my kind of madness.

With no small amount of fear I placed the album on the turntable at home and the terrifying sound of 21st Century Schizoid Man burst into my room. Saxes, guitars, mellotrons and whatever vibes where. A cacophony fit to melt your ears. Then everything went wrong, a hippy song some ominous noodling, strange sounds on side two on something called Moonchild, then saved by the swell of the final track. For years I really struggled to get the album. I knew you were supposed to like it but really it only had two good tracks. This was made even more confusing by my next Crimson album being Discipline which sounded like Talking Heads on overdrive. Since then I have had to reconsider Epitaph and acknowledge there are really three great songs on the album but I still like Discipline better if I am honest.

Of course as a teenager who was desperately hoping to prove his musical credibility I had to tell everyone it was the best album I had heard. In fact pieces of it was some of the most challenging music I had heard and perhaps would ever hear. Although I only taped the two tracks I liked before returning the album.

So today when the 200g reissue arrived I was again taken by how striking the album cover is and how when I look at that mouth I am again struck by the maniacal evil nature of the cover. 21st Century Schizoid Man is still the most fearsome opening track ever committed to vinyl though. I also noted that this album is so heavy it is 20g heavier than the other King Crimson reissues, I have no idea if that is totally true but it should be.

Raga guitar and Olde English…

Ok in full disclosure some time too much Dead can fill your brain with some weird things. The panacea for these ills tonight was a little John Renbourn. A great lost talent and one of the better guitar pickers out there.

sir john

So with a cover and title reminiscent of Monty Python at their best/worst the classic Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte managed to exorcise the Dead from my brain this evening.

All I can say if you like guitars and have not listened to Rebourn you do not really like guitars. He is one of the most creative guitar players that graced vinyl ever. Of course that is just an opinion. He is however an expressive player who can shift between classical, folk, jazz blues and Byrds style raga in the same track without missing a beat. Go on do yourself and your brain a favor and clean it out with some John Renbourn you really will thank me for it.

Also why oh why do people feel the need to write on their record sleeves????

So I give you my eyes, and all of their lies…

So part two of the year of the Dead commences with a chance encounter with Ace by Bob Weir. I am not sure if I can really consider this as a solo album as most of the Grateful Dead are on the album and most of the songs turn up on Dead shows and are like Cassidy some of the better songs.

It’s a fun enough album that seems to owe a lot to Little Feat in the sound of things especiallyace on One More Saturday Night. Donna Jean manages to keep things together on Playing in the Band as well which may be the last time she did that. You have to wonder at the description of her role as Chick vocals though. It is missing something as an album though, maybe a little too polite at times and not teetering on the edge of collapse as the Dead often are.

This album was without doubt the nastiest looking vinyl I have ever taken a chance on. It had some strange accretions on the vinyl and looked pock marked and ever so slightly grotesque. You seldom however find any Dead in the thrift store piles and was for that reason alone worth the risk. It cleaned up well and is in actually great shape once the dirt was dealt with. I really should have taken a picture I guess.

My fascination and for most of the time disappointment with the Grateful Dead is because I had built up an image of what they should be like based on the stories and legends about them before I heard the music. In my mind they were the US version of Hawkwind and because of that thought I was always going to be disappointed. After living for years in Dead country I have finally come to terms on some level with the idea that they were America’s jukebox. I alway want them to be more when I hear them though.

I am also influenced by the long hours sitting with Dave as he pulled another cassette he had received in the mail from the USA from an old shoe box. Some of these were awful sounding and others indescribably dull. That’s what you get when you answer an ad in one of the strange famines he collected. It’s also something that has gone with the advent of the internet. The Dead have been around my listening habits for many years without really grabbing me, when I listen I find myself enjoying more than hate though, it’s just that their is a cultural piece I am not getting maybe.

Grateful_Dead_-_Dick's_Picks_Volume_8This weeks other excursion into Dead land was Dick’s Picks Vol 8. from May 2nd 1970. It starts out with an amazing acoustic set which is so far the best thing I have heard from the Dead. Of course 1970 was a good year and the classic tracks are all here in slightly different acoustic versions, some a little faster and some a little rougher with those amateur harmonies. All good and a lot of fun. All of them with that close to collapse quality as if things are about to derail.

Then we get to the electric section which for me is not as good, I think because I was enjoying acoustic things so much and never got the benefit of the break as the live audience did. It is however a strong set and St Stephen and the Other One are always good as far as I am concerned.

Of course this is streamed and may suffer from the limitations of the medium. I also tried listening to Crimson White and Indigo from 1989 but I am not sure I am ready for later Dead yet. Garcia’s guitar tone was a little difficult and I may have to work up to that.