I’ve trailed and sailed a silence which nobody knows

Lock a mystical vegetarian hippy away for the better part of a year to record his first solo album. Make him play and write everything on the album himself.

Allow him to be influenced by Tolkien an enigmatic mystic lady and the dude who paints the best album covers ever and what do you get?

oliasWell a concept album about a guy who builds a spaceship to escape the explosion of his planet. This is accompanied by the strumming of guitars the bleeping of synths and the rhythms of the world, or Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow which along with the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is one of the oddest and most compelling things committed to record and I still have no idea what the lyrics are about never mind how one man managed to compile this thing.

Apparently Mr Anderson went a little crazy making this fine piece of music and I can believe it.

After relaxing and basking in the overwhelming and soothing sounds of this the greatest solo album ever produced by a member of Yes I may be ready to tackle Topographic Oceans again.

I am also overcome with a sense of wellbeing and closeness to the planet. I may even add yoga to my health regime, although I will not become vegetarian, this much I have in common with Rick Wakeman.

 

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The passage of my life is measured out in shirts…

A musical epiphany, a moment when you finally understand/hear things in a new or different way.

For years I had been on the prog-rock bandwagon, occasionally with detours to rock or metal on those days when i felt the need for the acceptance of my peers. I had also managed along the way to pick up an unhealthy fascination in folk-rock and for some reason The Clash and The Stranglers.

The said epiphany happened sometime in the 80’s as I staggered from the library with three cassettes, I was weighed down by the weight of the music I guess. All of them products of the 70’s, and none of them having anything particularly in common, although you could probably find a connection if you wanted to or tried and probably this would involve Fairport Convention.

Wishbone Ash’s Argus, Brian Eno’s Before and After Science and Real Life by Magazine. I have no idea why I picked these three albums. I may have been just determined to play something I had never heard before. I knew the name Eno from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I had not paid attention to producers at this time outside of Genesis it seems so the connection to Bowie had not occurred, but the others were a mystery. All had been recorded in a 5 year period and showed some progression of popular music I guess. They all have ridiculous or elusive lyrics and a definite attitude in what they are, a swagger, stance that is mainstream but twisted. They all three have striking and memorable covers.

This day of sitting down on the last summer in my parents house while they were out to listen to these three albums though is a moment that has stuck with me. It was the realization that things were not going to be the same. I was leaving home and had no intention of going back, my life was changing and evolving and maybe would make less sense. I can still smell my parents house, lavender and cut grass with the ever present scent of tea.My cassette player propped in the corner as they had got rid of the radiogram and I had packed the stereo up to go to college.

threeIt was an uncomfortably hot day, they were gone for the weekend so volume was not an issue, especially as the neighbor was deaf. On they went and my ears were opened up. The Wishbone Ash was melodic prog without the keyboards, hints of folk and a whimsical fantastic lilt to the lyrics about kings and warriors. It was and remains a favorite when I am feeling a bit down, like chicken noodle soup it satisfies without filling you up.

Magazine would now be considered post-punk I suppose. Back then it was confusing to me. Hints of prog that made me feel comfortable and then the attack of punk would pop out. It had more in common with Calvert era Hawkwind though, Devoto had a sneer in his vocal that was comforting and there were keyboards and solos.

The real mess with you moment was the Eno though. I had no idea what this was supposed to be, funk, punk, pop. It was a mess, but a good mess. Side One was upbeat, rocking and loud, Side Two was more reflective and and quiet and hinted at other things to come for Eno. It was as if Lou Reed had a sense of humor, it was revelatory for me, it was a cold distanced sound but immediate. Fripp and Collins were there but this was not prog, Paul Rudolph was there but this was not Hawkwind and what the heck was that folky Dave Mattacks doing on the drums. How did one man manage to gather such a menagerie of musicians.

To this day Eno’s music that involves vocals has always caught my attention. It seems revolutionary, subversive and totally original while referencing other styles of music and subverting them to his own designs.

I guess these three album in one afternoon managed to take me from the safety of Wishbone Ash to the safely dangerous with Magazine and ending with the truly unique Eno, who after this album went on to influence rock music for decades while producing ambient music under his own name.

Rock’n’Roll and my turtle dove…

Year of the Dead, a studio moment.

I have mostly been listening to live dead albums but I found a really nice copy of Wake of the Flood the other day and decided that it was worth another shot.

Wake of the Flood was the first Dead album to appear on their own label and the first with the Godchaux’s and the change in sound that brought. Gone is Pigpen and his blues hollering and in is a funkier jazzier sound that has that halting stop start feel to it especially on Row Jimmy. There is also Stella Blue which may just be one of the more beautiful songs by the Dead and the sprawling Weather Report Suite.

flooded,jpg

It has a less than inspiring cover, not sure what the intention is, it has always appeared a little creepy to me. An old lady with sheaves of wheat near the ocean. I am sure it is supposed to inspire some sort of hippy earth mother idea. As far as I can tell the cover has nothing to do with the music and nowhere is their a picture of the band. There is also the scary crows on the back.

It’s a mournful album and that may be why it was seldom played by Dave as he tried to indoctrinate me into the Deadhead cult. It does however reward with repeated listenings and of course the live versions of some of these songs are legendary.

I think that as I am several months into this that my Dead problem is beginning to mellow a little. Maybe I am getting it, or as Dave may have said “you always did get it man, you just never knew until now.”

Am I so blind I cannot see…

For a late teen going on twenty years old in Liverpool in the eighties it was a confusing time. I was too young to really have taken advantage of the Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Mighty Wah years. There were I am sure a number of great bands out there that would entice and entertain but I had a hankering for guitar theatrics, fringed jackets, the twang of the Byrds and the out and out violent assault of Neil Young on full Blackie mode with a cool pair of boots on the fold back speakers.

All of this could be had with Ian McNabb and his Icicle Works. They obviously had a true IMG_4686appreciation of the rock god posturing of Zeppelin, the angst of Lou Reed, the theatricality of Bowie and Bolan with an occasional dash of Neil Young’s self righteous politicizing. They festooned their 12 inch singles with appropriate cover versions making all the right sounds from The Seeds to Zeppelin vi the BeeGees early psychedelia sometimes in the same medley, they were a band of fans it seems and they wanted to rock out.

They could also write a sweet melody and danceable music which helped with the young ladies at the student union and Mr McNabb had that innocent McCartney lookalike face that would get them to the gig even if they had never heard of the band. All in all the total package, sightly psychedelic, jangly pop songs with a drummer who appeared at times to be possessed.

They were also it seems destined at the time to be incredibly unhip. Too good for that punky feel, too smart for pop and too rock for some. Not gloomy enough for those serious boys with their floppy hair and too serious for those Madonnalike girls in their leg warmers and bangles. A conundrum but a fun one, those knowing grins seemed to say they were in on joke that could only be understood if you knew Moby Grape and the 13th Floor Elevators and could sing along to the entire ditch trilogy. Approachable scallywags, often as drunk as the audience and friendly if you didn’t fawn,  they always seemed to be having a good time until it was over.

From 1984, when I hit eighteen until 1990 they were often the covert soundtrack of my summers, they kept me company through the strange experience higher education was and sane in my Yorkshire years. Covert because my heavy metal friends would think them weak because they had no spandex and flying V. What they didn’t understand was that while they rocked out in their testosterone haze the Icicle Works audience was very much co-ed.

They were the last band I saw in Brighton at the Zap Club, although by that time only McNabb was left and they should have been a solo project. I still vaguely remember falling out of the club onto the pebble beach and listening to the waves break, knowing I had been to a rock gig by the smile on my face and the ringing in my ears.

Anyway all this was brought on by finding a UK version of Blind to go alongside my US version, it was just not right listening to the running order on the US version after all those years of the UK one.

Anyway here they are from the dim and distant past of 1986 on the Tube politicizing and rocking out, there may be fringed jackets leather pants and boots on view as well.

Maybe we ain’t that young anymore…

In a horrific dream I was transported back to 1985 as a young man named Russell  stood on the roof of a long boat on the Birmingham canal. He was bellowing the words to Born In The USA and throwing bad Springsteen shapes as the boat wallowed along the canal.

It was the year of Live Aid and the mega growth of Springsteen and the resurgence of Queen as a monster rock act. U2 managed to get some credibility and Jagger and Bowie gyrated, pouted and managed to unselfconsciously out embarrass the world as they danced in the streets.

All of this was brought on by my managing to find a copy of Bruce and the E-Streeters Live 13178760_10207978034362594_4119009996198978640_n1975-85 box-set of joy. I really dig Bruce, he is all machismo and sentimental sincerity. You get the idea he is probably a lot of fun to hang out with, worries about the little man and is a little embarrassed by his wealth as well as surprised at his popularity. It is a massive undertaking to listen to all five albums and I bet I have to stretch it out.

I did however find myself losing myself in the big sound of the E-Street Band and the Boss as they stroll though some of the best songs committed to record. Some of the mid song banter is a little cringeworthy, although my understanding it is this aspect of the Springsteen show that can really whip the crowd into a frenzy as he works them like a baptist preacher or snake oil salesman.

MI0003521606My biggest problem right now and then is getting the sight of that skinny white dude with the permed blonde hair in too tight, too short shorts dancing on that cheesy boat. At the time it was summer holidays and we thought it would be fun to putter up and down a canal. Russell managed to bring along hours of Live Aid he had copied from the TV. Everyone else forgot music and we had to put up with this onslaught. Until we pulled into a small town that had a WH Smith where I managed to find a copy of World Shut Your Mouth in the sale rack. Kolly Kibber’s Birthday never managed to drown out the memory or sound of Radio Ga Ga and Born In The USA though. It was however more successful than those slightly stretched live tapes at attracting the young ladies of the Midlands, it was also the first  and last time anyone ever said to me you sound just like the Beatles in the UK.

As I hit side 4 of the box set I am wishing a bit I had found the Cope album as it is a classic but my guess is almost impossible to find in the wild in Oregon.