So many things I would have done But clouds got in my way…

Maybe it’s time for one of those round up posts, or not.

Christmas is behind us and all that brought. I am anticipating a fun filled couple of days with the family and then maybe off to the high desert for New Years. I really need to get some hiking boots though to thoroughly enjoy that experience.

It’s been a pretty strange year. A year of reflection and consideration, that began with a rush back to the UK to deal with illness, then a return over the Summer to continue with that as well as having a vacation of sorts. In two weeks I head back to see my parents and hopefully keep getting things organized for them.

I’ve bought a lot of music this year, mostly used albums from various sources, mainly thrift stores, then every now and then I think of something I really need and suddenly I am online looking for bargains, they can still be found occasionally. I also realized that I had a real affection for the music I seemed to despise when I was a teenager as well as a continued love for some of the old favorites. I realized how many records I had discarded over the years and had to find again and also how many records had been lost because of generosity or the end of a relationship.

15698257_10209936042751580_8384825806606636043_n-2This last year I rambled through my sonic memories, blasting out Hawkwind and Pentangle on the same day, relaxing with Leo Kotke and getting angry with Harper. I failed to enjoy a Steve Hackett show too many phone calls not the music,  and never went to the Field Music gig I had so looked forward to because I had to get on a plane all in the same two days. Maybe this trip I’ll get to find some records especially those Julian Cope records that have been on my mind this week. I may also get the chance to catch up with some people other than my parents in Liverpool this time.  I did however find my favorite Cope album with World Shut Your Mouth, a record that saved me from an interminable week of Bruce Springsteen and Queen one summer.

To round the year off me and my son just bought Cropredy tickets. This has been my 15726798_10209909453526866_5475464668825045969_nchildren’s graduation gift for many years and this is the last one to graduate, the bands 50th anniversary and also my friends 50th birthday. This will all be celebrated if it all works out in a field In Oxfordshire this August. Then I get all sentimental about my relationship to Fairport Convention and the fact I have been attending Cropredy since 1982 and I believe this may very well be the last, it looks the right one to end on as well.

I think that next year may well be overshadowed musically by that strange anomaly that is Fairport Convention for me in many ways. Over the last few weeks I have been drawn to their music, that may very well be because I just bought tickets for Cropredy and a nostalgia that is definitely rose tinted. I have also pretty much decided this will be my last visit to that field. Of course I made the same statement in 1992 when I staggered back to my tent knowing I was leaving for the USA pretty soon, then I found myself back in ’97 and occasionally throughout the years, money and time allowing. I found a copy of Moat on The Ledge from the ’81 show when it was still considered a reunion stuffed in the back of a wardrobe. This record caused me much grief when I bought it in Probe records all those years ago, not hip enough probably.

Well who really knows what will happen next, I know I have found it hard to sit and write recently, not much to really say. I had to force myself to sit down for this. For my own sanity more than anything. I get back to the USA right before the inauguration so we will see what they brings. It is exciting concerning times indeed.

 

I’ve been awake too long and I’m wondering why…

My friend Andy when I wanted to go all Prog copewould make me listen to this and World Shut Your Mouth.

It’s maybe not the best Julian Cope album ever but it is a whole lot of fun. The tour featured Cope swinging from a mic stand he could climb up on and swing around on like some crazed rock’n’roll monkey.

Soon after this and My Nation Underground Cope stopped even pretending to want to have hit’s and in true rock maverick sense headed for the gutter coming out the other side the arch-drude and with some of his greatest albums ahead of him as well as academic success.

If you want to hear a great power punk/pop record with a sense of humor this is the one, especially Eve’s Volcano and Spacehopper. It is not Cope’s favorite but it does have some great moments and it was always good to bounce around to on a Saturday night and may have saved me from some serious Prog Rock excesses.

131Right now I am reading his novel One Three One, subtitled “A Time-Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel”, which is requiring way more attention than I really thought it would keeping all the various time streams in place never mind understanding what is going on.

It is an entertaining read though and strangely draws you in with the thought how much of this is really based on reality?

I ridicule myself for all the things those symbols stood for…

I waited a long time to get the energy up to listen to this. Some of it was the legend of how overwhelming and pretentious it was even though  I am not afraid of pretentious. oceanIt also may have been a badge of pride that I had never heard it all the way through in all my years of listening to Yes.

Sucking it up I placed the first disc on the deck and went with it. It is not that bad but it is not that good, an opportunity missed I think and that may conform to Rick Wakeman’s opinion as well and let’s face it he never ran screaming from the thought of overblown. Maybe his problem was there was no plan for the ballet, of course I bet Jon Anderson has had that thought.

There are some truly stunning moments that at times overcome the legend of the album but let’s face it there was probably a great single album here that was aching to get out.

In a real effort to overcome the 90 minutes or so of Tales From Topographic Oceans I took the well judged decision to immerse myself in the Icicle Works second best album The Small Price of a Bicycle, it does contain their best song with Rapids though.

horseJingle Jangle guitar rock to put their then peers to shame, their major problem commercially was probably that they never managed a consistent sound. Guitars and drums to die for was the signature noise the Icicle Works made but each song often stands alone. They rocked like gods live and sounded like a cross between Crazy Horse and the Byrds on record.

The Small Price of a Bicycle may be their most cohesive effort but not their best, that we save for another day if I find a copy of Blind. It does contain some of their best songs with Hollow Horse, Rapids and Conscience of Kings and Windfall sounds like Ian McNabb was channeling Hank Marvin on speed in the guitar playing.

Never as big as their contemporaries they don’t sound as dated now mostly I think because of that restless nature of their sound even though this was considered a setback at the time it has become a strength. Of course the biggest asset they had was Ian McNabb’s songwriting guitar which was based on a fans idea of what a rock band should sound like.

 

It’s an illusion…

Wallowing in a prog fog for the last couple of weeks as my mind reeled.

Three Sides Live by Genesis has been playing, not the prog overload from other days but still a little overblown. Of the Genesis Live albums this for me has the best opening sequence.3 live Turn It On Again into Dodo/Lurker and then Abacab with Mike Rutherford’s best guitar solo over the pounding Thompson and Collins drums. It may in fact be my favorite Genesis live album. After this it was not necessarily downhill but it was a different Genesis.

I was thinking I had gotten into a prog rut recently before I realized this is probably just the go to genre for me. It is the genre I grew up with funnily enough at the same time as I was listening to punk and pop with my friends. The common ground there was Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and Here and Now.

I think my cousin Tony is responsible for much of my musical palette as he would watch me and bring over his Bowie, T-Rex, Tull and Supertramp. I think his watching me whatever that meant was just an excuse to pay my parents stereo really loud. This led to a love of the short aggressive pop/rock song as well as overblown and overwrought epic.

There was not much space for the long form song in the late 70’s and early 80’s. King Crimson reforming in their new age persona allowed a little relief but they were refusing to play any of those epics live and the flared trousered prog gods were getting confused in a swathe of mulleted and be-suited attempts at relevance by writing pop songs, some of them very well.

It was funnily enough the time when progressive rock having something of a resurgence with Pallas, Marillion and Twelfth Night appearing in my friends record collections. That is why I cried out in excitment when I found this in a record store the other day.pallas I had spent a lot of time looking at that Pallas album in my friend Andy’s record collection but he spent more time making me listen to World Shut Your Mouth by Julian Cope than letting me listen to that enticing purple record. After finally thirty years or so later listening to it I think he made the right choice, although there is a very satisfying dramatic talk over on the track Rise and Fall about Atlantis and lost civilizations and malevolent computers which may save the whole album.

There were also really a lot of prog rock references in the music of the day, Magazine had some symphonic moments and other bands were taking time to stretch out, but the anti-intellectual feel of the times made it difficult to out yourself as a fan of the likes of Caravan or Camel, never mind Genesis or Yes. You also may never get a girlfriend that way or at least sit at the cool table in the sixth form common room.

In the end all of this has become almost irrelevant. People today are happy to dig into any genre to see what it is about. Metal has gone all prog and Tool have made the more obtuse elements of King Crimson almost popular. There is so much availability of music that it is a strange rich tapestry. Many of those musical anti-heroes are also turning up on any number of those tribute albums to their at that time bloated enemies.

The other week I was insanely excited to hear Gong, Jackson C. Frank, Steve Hackett and Lindisfarne coming over the P.A. at a Decemberists gig. There was much bemusement at my excitement as I sat among the hipsters. They seemed to enjoy the band as much for the references Colin Melloy talks about in interviews as for the music of the band. For many of them that is how they hear about Fairport Convention or Gong, never mind Caravan or Soft Machine. Musicians more so than ever are citing their influences instead or railing against the  stars. This may not necessarily be a good thing as the revolution may be too cozy.

So now I can admit it, I enjoy progressive rock openly. I write this as I am now listening to Spectral Mornings by Steve Hackett.spectral This has always been one of my favorite albums, Hackett was also the first gig I ever went to on my own. It was a strange experience sitting in the Liverpool Empire  listening to Hackett surrounded by other very serious young men in glasses concentrating so intently.

I also remember the excitement when he performed Horizons and Blood on the Tracks sat on a stool in the center of the stage. On the way out I bumped into two of my friends from school, normally they were seen carting around a Damned album or Joy Division. They looked a little embarrassed at being caught at such an un-hip gig. This moment led to a series of strange happenings at school when convoluted epics would turn up on the common room record player causing the tussle haired Cure fans to run in horror from the room and some pimply young men not know which way to turn at the time.

Maybe at the end of the day we have a more functional way of appreciating music but sometimes it all seems a bit too polite and a little disagreement may be a good thing.

The past ain’t no friend of mine…

It’s a week of Welsh music it seems.

Today I found these laying in a Goodwill store, so far from home it seemed wrong not to take them home, at least they could nestle up to the Man album and compare tales of home the mountains and valleys of North Wales.

Then you take a close look and those are some real 80’s rock’n’roll haircuts going on. alarmingIt is almost enough to make you put that record away and hide it at the back of the to be played pile. However if you suck it up and brave the fashion statements then you are rewarded with a real gem of the 80’s. The Alarm seem to have avoided some of the excesses of 80’s production and have interesting anthems sung with spirit. To my ears they don’t sound anything like U2 which is the usual comparison.

They managed to tour with U2 and support Dylan and then faded into relative obscurity.

Every song seems bigger than the next as if Springsteen grew a mullet declared himself for Welsh freedom and howled into the wind. Until today my only memory of the band was 68 Guns which may be enough but taking the time to listen is fun and rewarding and reminds you that the 80’s was not all Madonna, Whitney Houston and Dire Straits with a sprinkling of Sting and Collins.

All I need now is to find a Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci  album to complete the Welsh Connection or at least buy that Tom Jones in Vegas album.

Riding high on a wanderlust…

It’s been a week of anxiety and concern in the household as children made big decisions and parents looked on with concern and fear at times.

Suddenly everything seems OK. Admittedly the decision is only dodged and not finally settled but it is still preferable and we have a year to look at wrapping good thoughts around him.

When things are going well it is time to pull out a joyous album from the dim and distant 80’s in the shape of The Icicle Works eponymous first album.icicle Pop psychedelia at it’s best and there is Chris Sharrock’s drumming to rock your world, seldom has one drummer sounded like three having a good time.

Of course there is the necessary hits with (Birds Fly) Whisper to a Scream and Love Is A Wonderful Colour but the other tracks like the Floydian psychedelia of Nirvana and the drama of Lover’s Day as well as Factory In The Desert and Chop the Tree is were the true glory of the album is. Yes they went on to better and bigger sounding albums ending the original lineup with the monster of Blind and it’s eclectic mix of styles but the first album is the one I constantly go back to when like today things are good.

The copy I have is a US version that misses out my favourite Reap the Rich Harvest but it is still a classic moment of how not everything in 80’s music sucked and it makes me smile. The three of them look about 12 years old on the cover as well.

Real life becomes a rumor…

What does Imperial Bedroom by Elvis Costello and In Search of Space by Hawkwind have in common? The answer is Barney Bubbles who designed the covers of both. spce

The Hawkwind folded out into a hawk shaped example of the excesses that make Hawkwind so fascinating.ballroom

The Costello is a modern art snake charmer and a reclining nude an example of the pretensions and braggadocio that Costello manages to fill the room with even on vinyl.

The other thing they have in common is they are the first records I ever bought by either artist. Well I have bought the Hawkwind album at least three times and the Costello once.

Anyway as I attempt to come to terms with the separation anxiety that goes along with having adult children I have played both these albums tonight. The fact that both these albums sit fairly close to each other on the shelf may be responsible for the choices my son seems intent on making right now. I have obviously confused my children with a taste in music that include Messiaen and Davis by way of Costello, Bowie, Hawkwind and all points in between and adjacent to at times.

Anyway Imperial Ballroom is a monster of a record. Perfect for that end of the night when you need a little bit of everything to calm the soul.

Live in fear…

Richard Thompson is definitely a unique talent. I came to him by way of Fairport Convention at Cropredy banging out Fire In The Engine Room one hazy memoried evening in the 84.

I immediately ran out and purchased Across A Crowded Room and was not disappointed.  There then followed a series of gigs in Southport and Manchester and other places. That blood spattered guitar strap and the searing solos are still stuck in my mind.

In those days the purchase of a record was a serious matter, as a poor student who was more interested in beer and curry, buying a record dug into much needed finances. Usually an album would be borrowed from the library and recorded to one of countless C90 cassettes that ended up littering the floor.fly However in 86 Hannibal records re-released a record that looked so intriguing in a bizarre way, entitled Richard Thompson starring as Henry The Human Fly.

It was the oddest looking thing I had ever seen and inside was a strange mix of sounds ranging from lovely folk melodies to brass arrangements that are ever so slightly discordant.

The refrain however from the first track Roll Over Vaughn Williams of “Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear.” has always stuck with me. Fairport had been folk-rock but this was folk rock’n’roll. Yes there were folk songs like the Poor Ditching Boy and The Old Changing Way, there were however strange rock songs like Roll Over Vaughn Williams and the Angels Took My Racehorse Away. This was literally music made by a unique individual who saw the world through a lens that the rest of us could only guess at.

It is however the last song on the album Twisted that made me a fan and to this day I can’t really say why but every time I hear it I stop what I am doing and listen.

Over the years I learned all sorts of things about Thompson. I also learned that inexplicably to me this album was the worst selling record Warner Bro’s ever released. It is hard to reconcile the brilliance of the record, the strange confluence of harps, brass music, concertinas and electric and acoustic guitars and the failure of the record to sell.henry I have carried this record around for almost thirty years now, at some point it lost it’s sleeve so I had to borrow the picture from Amazon and now all I have left is the vinyl and a nice new inner sleeve to keep it in.

Tonight when my middle son called me up with some bothersome news I sat down and grabbed the old friend from the stack and listened to that strange comforting album. While it didn’t change things for me it did make me think that somewhere out there Thompson may empathise with the feeling of being  a little uncomfortable in the skin we wear and living in fear.

You don’t need the papers to tell you all the news…

Having progged out for awhile, although as I type A Trick of the Tail is playing. I thought I would hit the fok-rock extravaganza, especially as Rise Up Like the Sun by the Albion Band had just arrived. Then I spotted it, one of the most important folk-rock albums ever recorded and related to Rise Up Like the Sun in that many of the same players are on it.homeservicefolk-alrightjack-lprecord-543220

Alright Jack by the Home Service was one of the more intelligent albums I was listening to in the second half of the eighties and the depression of Thatcher’s Britain. It really as an album made me think and confront my very comfortable existence.

It was a polarizing album in many ways for me and my friends. Deeply political but not apart from in my memory fixed to a time. Their concerts were as much political rallies at the time as musical celebrations. It was however a time when it was almost impossible not to take sides especially as you watched friends arrested in the beanfield at Stonehenge. Tam’s lyric of “there’s a darkness on the land” really seemed true.

The album is a true folk-rock album, passionate fiery and beautiful all at that same time. My friends preferred the Pogues and their punk sensibility that caused at times lines to be drawn. My raucous friends balked at the brass arrangements of English dance tunes but sang along to John Tam’s scathing lyrics.

As I listened tonight to an album that so defined a time for me I was struck at how true the lyrics were still resonating with me. It is also one of the few albums recorded in the 80’s that managed to avoid some of the more intrusive production techniques. It is really difficult to fathom that it was recorded almost 30 years ago.

Set the controls…

So the week is over and there always seems to be 20 minutes in the day that is unaccounted for that requires me to visit the Goodwill store to see what vinyl is lying around. This week saw a particularly intriguing haul.this week

It seems like someone was cleaning out their teenage memories. The rack was a plethora of eighties heavy metal from Accept to Saxon and Molly Hatchet. It was really difficult to not take them all as i browsed but the available cash was a limitation as well as the sight of a 49 year old man strolling out of the store with a Saxon album under his arm.

I did however succumb to the Rainbow albums. I have always had a soft spot for Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie Blackmore, they were constants on the tour circuit during my formative years. I also snapped up the Rush album, it was considerably cheaper than the Ticket I bought for the show the other week.

I have always enjoyed Jean Michele Jarre and they sound superb,

Then I saw it Joe Jackson’s Body and Soul. When I was a young adult and should have known better this was the album that sophisticated young ladies used to calm down those of us who had spent too long in the bar bellowing Pogues lyrics. It was the epitome of cool and not something that would find it’s way onto my turntable. I always felt I should own it, it looked so cool on other peoples shelves. It almost preached to you that the person who’s room you were in new what good music was, they had actually listened to Coltrane and Miles and were on a casual acquaintance with the works of Nina Simone. I snatched it up and now I am afraid to play it in case my memory of the meaning of that album will spoil the music.

The two real gems are Floyd’s Ummagumma and the Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle album. Ummagumma because for years it was the only live Floyd album and I like Grantchester Meadows and The Narrow Way, the rest I have refused to ever listen to again but it’s a Floyd album and had to be saved. The vinyl by the way on this is absolutely silent although the sleeve looks like it was used as a doorstop.

Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle are just wonderful and it is a perfect album helped by Joe Boyd;s production which I am convinced consists of drinking coffee and letting musicians do the work.

So there you have it my week of wading through the thrift store grime. From metal to folk via psychedelia the blues and pop music. I have become more aware of the state of the vinyl and less concerned about the state of the cover it seems.