Saturday, 16 December 2017


This Spotify playlist is guaranteed festive free. Sinister Dada punks the Cravats give us both our title and the accompanying Surrealist sightseeing tour illo. Sights along aforesaid tour include an archetypically melancholic Leonard Cohen strumming a lullaby to an avalanche, Thee Silver Mt Zion predicting Trumpageddon (and, slightly more cheerily, renewal), an unusually reflective Thurston Moore, old-time country pioneers the Carter Family blowing some chewing gum, the Magentic Fields discovering the Book of Love and finding it “long and boring”, and Patti Smith taking on the other wall which divides us. We speak of course of Wall Street. Vive L'anarchie! All culminating in what Can called a "Godzilla", a mighty piledriver riff that just won't quit. In tribute to the sad deaths this year of two Can founders, Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay.

Leonard Cohen: Avalanche
Low: Embrace
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: What We Loved Was Not Enough
Thurston Moore: Smoke Of Dreams
Martin & Eliza Carthy: The Elephant
The Carter Family: Chewing Gum
Nick Drake: Know
The Last Poets: Black Wish
The Magnetic Fields: The Book Of Love
Wire: A Mutual Friend
The Cravats: Whooping Sirens
Pink Floyd: Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk
Patti Smith: Glitter In Their Eyes
CAN: Bubble Rap

”...but when I get there the scene has been...”

Saturday, 9 December 2017


St. George’s Church, Brighton, Fri 8th Dec

After a slightly mixed response to last seeing Eliza Carthy, I was in two minds over seeing this show. Then more recently, when seeing her in a duo with her father Martin, she thrust a flyer into my hand. While saying “I do hope you can come. My father and I never miss an update of your most splendid blog.” I have, I suspect, made some of that up. But it was still enough to make me go.

It was as different to the duo as grand is to intimate. With Martin, the times the two played together you were abundantly aware the sound was doubling up. While the Wayward Band number twelve, with two … count ‘em!, two accordion players. They line up on the back photo of the CD like the amassed servants of some old country house.

They pile into reels, jigs and shanties, lurching and careering to the point you expect the stage to start tipping. But alongside folk they draw on that other pre-rock music tradition. They can sound like a big band pounding out show tunes, even sporting that most un-folk possession a horn section. Their version of ’The Fitter’s Song’ must be the most big band an Ewan McCall song’s ever sounded. Though they wring musical variety from the multi-lineup, and ’Hug You Like A Mountain’ is as plaintive as any folk song you’ve heard.

It becomes a virtuous combination. You get the oomph and pizazz of the big band, but it never evens out the unruly raggedness of folk. Perhaps partly because the big band stuff veers to the more raucous, less refined end of the spectrum. In perhaps my most lowbrow comparison of all time, I was more than once reminded of ’The Stripper’.

It doesn’t sound much like Tom Waits, but has the same ability to punch out thumping beats or serve up killer tines while still coming from left field. The Wayward Band, I suppose I am trying to say, are wayward and band-like.

Official BBC sessions! (No shonky i-phone footage)...

Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London, Wed 6th Dec

Stockhausen seems to have had something of a penchant for formal structures, with opening piece ’Zodiac’ divided into a series of mini-compositions representing each star sign. This unfortunately gave it a bittiness, and overall it became something of a B feature. The programme explained it was originally written for music boxes, back in ‘74, and only much later reworked for orchestra. (So much later that there’s only ten movements, him dying before he could complete them.) And perhaps it worked better in that original format.

Anyone foolish enough to follow my infrequent forays into contemporary music will be aware I’m a know-nothing on music theory I just jump straight to the more subjective question of how hearing it makes me feel. Happily, then, that would seem about the best approach to ’Trans’ (1971).

A central conceit is that many of the musicians are hidden. You see the amassed string players, holding a tone not much more than a drone, while the brass are invisible to you. The rock music equivalent would be spotlighting the bass player while the singer and lead guitarist still do their stuff. Like a twist on a film, ideally you wouldn’t know that in advance. But even when you do, you cannot help but keep trying to reconcile what you see with what you hear. And that, somewhere between an interchange and a mismatch, seems where the work is set. The brass would rise above the strings but never quite break away from them, as if unable to finish what it built.

In a piece inspired by a dream, the string tone is reminiscent of the high-pitched whine films often employ to signify dream states. But also, with the many players repeating the same single movement like automata, it became like one of those fairy stories where the people of a land are placed in a bewitched stupor.

To which is added the regularly repeating thud of a loom. In a neat piece of sound design, while all the music comes from the stage this seems to break in from outside. To me it became the voice of the spell they were under, not any commanding individual but the crack of the whip made animate.

Individual players would break away at intervals, like a child playing up in class. They’d be looked upon uncomprehendingly by the blank-faced others, before resignedly falling back in line. It was suggested in the programme this was in part a parody of the workaday world of professional orchestras. Indeed, one player brought sheet music suddenly burst into a flurry of expressive playing, only to stop suddenly as the music stand was snatched away from him again.

In a piece set in a world between, it seems significant and appealing there’s no way to label the piece. The visual elements and sound design are significant enough that merely listening would not give you the full picture. The programme calls it “as much a piece of theatre as… a musical composition”, which doesn’t sound quite right. Instead imagine an installation work which is fixed in duration.

...which makes four Stockhausen pieces in recent weeks, of which three were not only extremely inventive but highly distinct, almost entirely different to one another. What little Stockhausen I’ve heard has suggested to me it runs the full gamut, from sublime to unlistenable. But there’s treasures in there, it seems.

Coming soon! Something other than gig-going adventures...

Saturday, 2 December 2017


Con Club, Lewes, Fri 24th Nov

This was my third sight of Faust, legendary Krautrock outfit and (in my humble opinion) credible contender for the most important band in the history of everything, ever. 

Hans Joachim Irmler, as seen with the late great Jaki Liebezeit a couple of years ago, is unfortunately absent from the current line-up. But main men Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Herve Peron remain, with Amaury Cambuzat of Ulan Bator, who’s now played with them since 2005. Between three and five additional figures also appear, depending on the track. (One of whom turns out to be Peron’s daughter.)

A typical track – if there was such a thing – sets sail on a mind-melting, metronomic riff, which finds total intensity while still finding the space within itself to move around. Though there’s also a klanking number with… well, numbers intoned over the top in various languages, which reminds you Faust were doing industrial music before there was industrial music. Another starts with caveman chanting and develops with both guitar and bass bowed, creating an unearthly drone. Plus there’s one – though only one – trademark free-noise freakout, with power tools enlisted as instruments.

They play few classic numbers, with the ones they do pick up often radically reworked. A version of ’Mamie Is Blue’ really takes only the chorus chant. While J’ai Mal Aux Dents’, handed to keyboardist Geraldine Swayne to sing, is less agitated and more stripped-down, hyper-compressed funk. Peron claims afterwards they only decided to do it while backstage. My knowledge of post-reformation Faust is woeful, but they would seem to treat more recent numbers the same way. ’C’est… C’est… Complique’ for example is quite a different beast from the CD I bought from the merch stall.

Which seems essential to Faust, who were the arch-antagonists of the formulaic. ’J’ai Mal Au Dents’ simply has to sound stream-of-consciousness, a flurry of nonsense words, just to sound like itself. The band always insisted even the recorded versions which made it to their LPs weren’t definitive, but just snapshots of a work perpetually in progress. Try to put Faust in a box, and they’d shred the thing from inside while simultaneously making music out of it.

As the night goes on, I start to see the double act of Zappi and Peron as a two-faced coin. The upbeat Peron stands upstage, smiling, engaing with the audience, while the silent hulk of Zappi hunches over his drumkit, samples and electronics. Sometimes the elements he introduces seem to take the rest of the band by surprise as much as anyone, as if he’s a disruptive devil clown, the diabolic figure on the other shoulder. Faust were one of the most Dadaist of bands, and like the Dadists it was ever ambiguous whether they wanted to make music or destroy it. In the sleevenotes to ’C’est… C’est… Complique’ Peron writes of their method as “to make intention and hazard match”.

But tonight at least it seems to be Peron’s face flipping upwards. (I’d say the Peronist tendency, but that might be prone to misinterpretation.) It’s more creative than destructive, in fact the experience is ultimately joyous and exhilerating. In a year which took from us all but one of the founder memebrs of Can, it’s heartening to see Faust still firing on all cylinders.

Part of the legendary freak-out ’Krautrock’

The Haunt, Brighton, Sat 25th Nov

If there’s less for me to say about Metz than Faust, that’s partly because I’ve already blogged about the first time I saw them, five years ago. It may be true they also do less than Faust. But then they do what they do so effectively, repeatedly whacking nails straight on the head. Metz are good old-fashioned, no-nonsense noisy punk rock. They make noise, it’s their choice, it’s what they wanna do.

A few extra thoughts since last time…

Their sound is definitely powered by the furious drumming. It’s not in Lightning Bolt territory where they become the lead instrument. But that no-quit drumming heat things up so relentlessly the guitars can’t do much else other than dance on the hot coals.

They rarely go in for instrumental breaks, most songs are short and punchy. But when they do they work so well, with the guitars coming into their own, you wish they’d go into them more often. And this isn’t a bad example, not from Brighton (unusual though that is) but their home turf of Toronto...

Coming soon! Yes, really... more gig-going adventures...