tail toddle and other crap…

All hail you beer swilling hellions and buffoons, welcome to the world of 70’s folk rock.

There is something truly awe inspiring in the audacity to take ancient tunes, electric them up and then go hell for leather in the dancing and leaping department. Legendary dancing moments and liver damaging excesses galore as the man who started it all probably, Ashely Hutchings, looked on in his fringed suede jacket and smiled, or smirked.

Those psychedelic chaps had there lysergic insanities and the metal heads had their speed, it was less risky for a working class lad to put his elbow in his ear and become sensory deranged by Owd Roger and Old Peculier and dance the night away to the jiggery and reelery of Fairport Convention the Albion Bands and Steeleye Span and their like, there was also the sensitive side with Harper and McTell and Stewart, the brilliance that burned too bright of Jackson C. Frank and you could also get it together in the country with John Barleycorn and Traffic or just be bemused by how great John Martyn could and would be.

All you had to do was avoid Ewan MacColl and his cod working class elitism about the purity of folk like some authenticity supremacist while he wrote about the gasworks.

The big plus side was that girls enjoyed this stuff too. So if the beer and barley wine was flowing you may get to dance with a young woman without begging although you may get walloped for saying the wrong thing, not that that ever happened to a silver tongued devil like me.

So here on the Electric Muse you have four albums romping through the late sixties and early seventies folk-rock boom. Most of the important bands are here and it’s a pretty good collection, although as with any compilation like this there are omissions, although this was probably more to do with licensing than choice. There’s nothing too challenging although it does remind me why I need more Bob and Carole Pegg or Mr Fox in my life and I should go find a Davey Graham album one day.

This type of music was pushed aside by punk much more than any prog rock band, or was it just driven back to the clubs and pubs that it came from where it flourished grew and erupted late as the Mumford phenomena.

There have been whole books written about the folk revival and the rocking up of it, there are also a plethora of collections, this however may have been the first.

honesty’s all out of fashion…

Two weeks until the next plane ride to the hometown, thats almost 36,000 miles this year on jets. I have no idea what the carbon footprint of that is, although I did discover that with KLM you can off-set the carbon cost which goes some way to making me feel better. Three airlines and one has gone out of business already, farewell Thomas Cook it was always interesting flying with you, Bachelorettes and drunken Mancunians heading home after the week in Vegas, the frustrated 20 year olds realizing they could not drink in the US and other assorted passengers. The searches and the delays, the bad food and the long waits for the next plane, the strange orange soda in Iceland and the lure of beer at 7a.m. Shuttle busses and car rental lines, all in a days travel.

I realized this week that planes are somewhat my future for awhile and bought a pair of noise cancelling bluetooth headphones. They will also double for use on the tractor though so the expense is justified. (This is just  a sad excuse to buy something I wanted, pretending that it has some other use that will excuse the expense.)

IMG_5190E9461AAD-1In a truly strange experience I am sat here in the living room listening on headphones to the streaming version of a record that I have just listened to on the record player. I have admit that to my poor ears it sounds as good as it did on the stereo, lets face it I do not have the greatest stereo in the world, my turntable may be a bit better than the Bose system it plays through. Music has not really ever been about the equipment for me, yes it is important not to have something that will damage the records and sounds good, it is not however not necessary to break the bank. I will fix it one day when the system I have needs replacing.

So here I am in my mid-price bluetooth noise cancelling headphones, enjoying Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings new album for the first time today streaming but the third time total. It is a fine folk record without the bellicose grandiosity of Bellowhead. The cover version of Hounds of Love is haunting and reverential in it’s own way and the songs off Songs from the Floodplain definitely add something to the mix, it’s intense with the requisite amount of rock to the folk making it something unusual a real folk rock record, their are electric guitars, squalling fiddles and a cacophony of squeezebox sounds along with real drums.

So a final picture of the record to prove that I really have not abandoned all sense or commitment to the world of records, LP’s or vinyl if you must.

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But we will tear down the shameful walls…

How many can you say can rock the harp? Well Alan Stivell can rock it and roll it all day long.

IMG_2319I have been collecting these records every time they turn up in the local thrift store, somewhere in Oregon City there is a cache of 70’s folk-rock albums that are being released into the wild occasionally. They look so enticing sitting alongside the Chicago Marty Robbins, Andy Williams and the scratched and warped classic rock. I have now snatched up three Stivell albums along with a couple of Bert Jansch and other euro-centric ( I know this is a phrase out of favor right now) albums.

So in 1974 amidst the folk-rock whirlwind came along this album, all flares and patchouli smelling hippies jigging and jiving in Dublin to some insurgent Breton folksters and their lefty politics. At times Stivell and the boys are damn funky which for a band that has the harp as it’s major solo vehicle is saying something. It’s danceable as shown by my cutting a rug throughout the house to the Breton pipes and harps until the wild fiddles and the hand clapping starts and the flutes and guitars crash in. At which point it all gets a little too much for my knackered legs. Then all of a sudden we are on Prog-folk territory all Hammond organs and odd time signatures, just as you get comfy the pipes are back and we are at it again with the crazy dancing.

It’s infectious and not a bit prissy or precious. And the poster came with it, which is somewhat amazing for an album released in 1975.

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As Mr Stivell says in the song Deliverance, straight to you from Google Translate:

” From peasants and fishermen to all peoples
From the planet Earth
And we will offer our eyes to the world.
Is it pretentious to believe we are equal?
Is it too much to ask to live?”

’cause all they’ve got to give you is poverty…

Day 15 and zero records bought.

5 records arrived in the mail though, apparently I bought them a long time ago, like in January.. I am not sure how I feel about this with the current project, maybe project is too grand a word, thing is probably better. Either way I am not too sure how I feel about the impact on the thing.

It is Friday and I usually stroll downtown, past the vintage jean store and the courthouse and the old bridge and stop in at the newly minted used record store. Not today though I am going to climb in the car and drive home without the usual stack of vinyl to be cleaned up and played eventually. Of course sometimes that can take months to actually get to the point of playing them.

I Like fiddles and acoustic guitars and concertinas and songs that make you smile and songs that make you dance and laugh and cry and think and forget and wonder what the fuck is going on. I like electric guitars as well. If you add all that up and shake it real hard and throw it on the floor with a good singer you sometimes end up with something really good if not brilliant. Then you find out one person played all the instruments and you just wonder how there is any justice in the world.

Painted Lady is Jon Boden’s first solo album. It’s a pretty good one. If you like well written songs and the occasional overdriven guitar then it’s a good one. If you want your folk-rock with a finger in the ear and no sense of drama or humour you may not like it. In the words of Dave Swarbrick one evening over a bottle of Port and a fiddle tune, ” the music will get rid of the riff-raff or the deaf.”

Let’s just be honest, folk music fans like jazz fans can have a tendency to get a little precious. It’s all dance music after all.

And you might see what a state we’re in…

The thanksgiving feast is put away. The leftovers are in bags in the fridge and naps have been taken and games played. Everyone has either gone to bed or gone to do what they want to do now the obligation of family has subsided.

It’s at this point my mind turns to the old country and sometimes the past. I remember struggling through the latter half of the 80’s in Thatcher’s England and the early 90’s before having had enough and setting out to find some space in the colonies as my Dad puts it. I was going to reach for some quiet gentle sounds from the past, Jansch and Renbourn, Pentangle, maybe Fairport Convention or the Albion Band or Steeleye Span. The thought of protest was in my mind after watching the news though so I thought I would reach for that most polite, beautiful and scathing of political folk-rock records. Alright Jack by the Home Service.

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Along with Billy Bragg, John Tams and the Home Service led the charge against Thatcher in the late 80’s. The music was beautiful, haunting and angry all at once. Bragg and his cohorts were one dimensional in comparison to the horn arrangements and scathing lyrics of the Home Service that was born out of the ashes of Ashley Hutching’s Albion Band. There is no greater protest song than Sorrow/Babylon, it’s a hymn to protest, decrying war, the rise of the corporations and the inhumanity of politicians. It is still relevant today which may be the shame, however when you realize that the section Babylon is a traditional song you understand the struggle seems to be endless.

So now we are heading further out into the Cascade foothills looking for that peace and quiet that age seems to call for, an acre of land maybe. My Dad has started to refer to this move as the old homestead.Of course at the moment that acre looks more like a scene from the Somme as we try and get ready to build.

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Sometimes I don’t know where this dirty road is taking me Sometimes I can’t even see the reason why…

There are some albums that hit you hard, they make you think, they make you cry, sometimes with their beauty or their perfection but more rarely some are just so honest. Townes Van Zandt Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas is one of those rare honest albums.

A man, a guitar and an audience. That rare thing a performance captivating and magical. Van Zandt sounds strong and honest when singing and insecure and shy when telling his awkward jokes or faltering introductions. A unique and flawed talent that burned brightly despite the self destructive elements and mental illness.

townesThere is  more rock’n’roll on this four sides of acoustic songs than on many a rock album of testosterone fueled peacockery. You get the feeling Townes had lived every one of these songs and his liver and lungs and emaciated body bore the scars. Standing in the sunlight through the window  on the cover like a cowboy version of Iggy Pop, there is a fragility to the image of Townes that truly speaks to the power of the songs. Townes doesn’t sacrifice his body to the power of the song like Iggy but bares his soul and comes out bloody and bruised just the same.

I met Townes once after a gig in Southport. It was a good gig and I hope I did not embarrass myself too much. I was drunk and so was he. We sat and drank from a whiskey bottle on the steps of the Southport Arts Center for an hour. I have no idea what we talked about but his gentle spirit and generosity is what I remember and the sight of that tall lanky Texan taking off into the dark with a guitar case in hand. I hope he made it to wherever he was going that night.

His songs have carried me through some dark times and happy times. He has managed so often to capture the thought or idea that was eluding me and sitting and listening to him is always an experience.

I’m starting’ to see a bigger picture…

roamAfter all that Hawkwind it has really been time to calm down a little. So I took a breath and reached for Room To Roam by the Waterboys just to get my head straight.

It’s the younger brother of Fishermans Blues and sometimes to my mind may actually be slightly better and more relaxed. Traffic may have got it together in the country in the 60’s and early 70’s, The Waterboys managed to cause it all to fall apart in the Irish countryside in the 80’s.

It’s a shambolic affair and at times doesn’t quite work out completely but I have always enjoyed Mike Scott’s idea of navel gazing.

Don’t be afraid to give yourself away…

Some records take on a life through memory. Camel’s Rain Dances is one of those records for me. I have a distinct memory of borrowing the album from the library, taking it out of the sleeve and placing it on the turntable.

After that I have nothing, no memory at all.

I just paid $2 for a copy, brought it home took it out of the sleeve and played it and have no memory at all of the music even though it stopped playing about 5 minutes ago. It was pleasant while it played, there was no reaction beyond that is nice. I cannot remember a melody or even any strong reaction to the music positive or negative. It is very curious.

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My memory is that I liked the album. The sleeve has been fixed in my mind since that 14 yr old sat in his room staring at the cover and inner sleeve. My memory says this is an important album in my musical journey. My memory was so strong that when I saw a copy for sale I bought it almost immediately. I was expecting to be transported, to be reminded why this record seems to be stuck in my mind and is apparently so important. It has been on my mind recently and I was excited to see it in the rack but I still have no idea why.

I like other Camel albums, I have memories of I Can See Your House From Here, Nude and MoonMadness and I know I don’t want the Snowgoose.

I like prog. It has Mel Collins on it, Eno makes a guest appearance, Andy Latimer plays a tuneful guitar and it has a great cover. Everything is there to make for a great musical journey except it has had no effect whatsoever on me. I will try again but my fear is there is little substance to this memory or album despite the great lineup and the vague impression from years past that it is important to me..

In desperation I turned to the Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues to regulate my fevered thoughts and allowed their take on folk-rock to settle over me like a warm blanket on cold day. I have memories of this album, stopping the car at the side of the road the first time my friend played Montezuma to me. Mainly because he kept shaking my arm as I tried to drive on a muddy gravel road in the dark.

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When I get to the border…

Tuesday night in Seattle and its Steeleye Span and a series of tragedies. 

Bass player held at the Canadian border for undisclosed reasons. Why is it always the bass player? Lemmy was ejected from Hawkwind going the other way. Hopefully this all works out for the rest of the tour and hopefully they don’t take Tuesday nights stand in. He did his best but was not up to the task. Occasionally this was distracting but overall he was a hindrance Maddy and the rest of the band could have done without. 

The band soldiered on dragging older material out of the past and playing wonderfully. Maddy was in excellent voice and Jessie May Smart performed a blinder on fiddle filling Peter Knights shoes more than adequately. It was a good night despite the bass and the Triple Door in Seattle is officially the worst place to see any band unless it is a Rat Pack tribute. It is set up with booths and creates an awful distance between performer and audience. 

   
 

Poor second cousin… or Come fill up your glasses and be merry…

Steeleye Span have always been the poor second cousin to Fairport Convention in my mind, they often seem to need to be more serious to be considered relevant and even their jokes are a little too studious to be funny. Like those in-jokes the smart kids at school used to make that were designed to make you feel just a little dumber but actually made no sense.

They are like a half formed idea that Ashley Hutchings had, tried out and discarded. Like Fairport it all got experimental once Hutchings left.

Two of the English folk traditions finest singers in Maddy Prior and Tim Hart, the occasional Carthy and Kirkpatrick to add legitimacy , a bassist in Rick Kemp who turned down King Crimson, a drummer who could play flute and stand on his hands, not at the same time I might add, one of the finest fiddlers in Peter Knight and Bob Johnston who was not afraid to enter heavy metal territory in his playing. Collectively they managed to create a sound that is simultaneously vilified and loved, the dialectic in action as my friend Greg would say.

For years I would get dragged by my friend to Steeleye gigs in my mind knowing I was going to something lesser than Fairport. They were too eager to be liked it seemed, too friendly, not out there enough or whatever half wit idea I had that year. Of course once the music started I got lost in the fun of those Status Quo riffs with traditional lyrics added on.

For a similar number of years I mocked All Around My Hat, the song and album. hatI have to admit I had never heard the album my entire opinion was based on the song. Last week rooting around I found a copy of the album. A piece of me wanted to leave it were it was. The embarrassment of buying such a piece of kitsch folk rock history might be unbearable, how easy our teen biases resurface were music is concerned.

I reminded myself of the Steeleye tickets waiting for me in Seattle and also I was 6,000 miles at least away from anyone who may care about All Around My Hat. I did find myself shrinking a little as i paid my $4 though.

Getting home I decided to play the thing, scratches pops and a low rumble met my ears. So I cleaned the thing up and tried again and wow. I love it. Thirty years of mocking something so fun and good. It still has some of the reverence of the Hutchings years but it is a straight up folk-rock masterpiece.

Yes it is produced by Mike Batt which adds a certain pop sensibility and an affection for small furry creatures on Wimbledon Common.

Black Jack Davy rocks along and yet still manages to be threatening because of the bass and fiddle and the ethereal quality of Maddy Prior’s vocals during the verses. Hard Times of Old England follows with social commentary. The whole album is filled with tunes and songs played with sensitivity and an edginess that I had not considered were Steeleye Span are concerned mainly because the comfortableness of that song was holding me back. When All Around My Hat appears on the album it is not my favorite moment which may be reserved for the Cadgwith Anthem and the tune set Sum Waves which follows it that seems to prepare the way for much of what the Albion Band, Home Service and Brass Monkey would do.

For me however it is an example of how my own snobbery got in the way of something really rather good and all because of that song All Around My Hat and the thinking that a band that can be on Crackerjack must somehow be less or have sold out.

So finally after almost thirty years I have overcome a little musical prejudice in my life, and it’s not like I didn’t like the band.