Sunday, 29 October 2017

MIND DE-CODER 73

MIND DE-CODER 73

To listen to the show scroll to the bottom of the page

“Toy soldiers put funny little knick-knacks in your brain”
                                                           Drusilla (Buffy the Vampire slayer)


HERMAN’S HERMITS     MUSEUM


As you might expect, Herman’s Hermits were never able to make the leap from the loveable popsters of the Something-Tells-Me-I’m-Into-Something-Good/No-Milk-Today-variety to compete with the likes of Cream, Hendrix or The Beatles, and in truth, I don’t think they even tried. Their focus was on the North American market, and their 1967 release, BLAZE, wasn’t even released in England, as if their record company were too embarrassed about it, but it’s actually not that bad. At the very least there's a discernible whiff of marijuana-inspired pop about it - the opener, a cover of Donovan’s Museum comes with sitar and conjures up multi-coloured clothes, Indian drones and London when the swinging stopped and the stoning got going, and the rest of the album, produced by Mickie Most, is full of trippy, catchy little songs and is something of an underappreciated psych-pop gem.

RADIOPHONIC TUCKSHOP     KENSINGTON GARDEN PIE


The Radiophonic Tuckshop (great name, by the way) are a Glasgow based band who do a fine line in melodic, psychedelic fancies that unashamedly channel the spirit of 1967, leaving no trope unexplored. This is not a bad thing. Kensington Garden Pie is a glorious pastiche (one hopes) of the tripped-out psychedelic underground of the Summer of Love and is all the better for it. The brain-child of Joe Kane, of Dr Cosmos Tape Lab fame, as a sort of side-project, Radiophonic Tuckshop are at home to lysergic pop, wonky tunes and merry melodies, and they have an album out next year. You can find this track, however, on the most welcome release from the Active Listener blogsite, which went on a sort of self-imposed sabbatical earlier this year, but which nevertheless seems to have returned with the rather fine THE NEW AND IMPROVED ACTIVE LISTENER SAMPLER, which you can download from here.

THE APPLES IN STEREO     STRAWBERRY FIRE


The Apples In Stereo are a band very much at home to psychedelic experimentation, usually drawing something or other from the REVOLVER/MADCAP LAUGHS songbook for inspiration. For their 1999 release, HER WALLPAPER REVERIE, they filled their album with so many lysergic interludes that they ended up with more interludes than actual songs, although the playfully kaleidoscopic Strawberry Fire shows that they know how to craft a tune full of sugary, head-spinning goodness when they put their minds to it.

NATHAN HALL AND THE SINISTER LOCALS     STAINED GLASS GIRL


The debut album, ELEGIES, by Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals, pretty much sounds like the cover looks. I was thinking of new ways to include the words bucolic, affectionate and Barrett-esque into a sentence to underline just how much I enjoy this album, when I realised that the cover perfectly captures its essence– a gorgeous palette of sound that playfully ravishes the senses with synaesthetic washes of shimmering colour and dazzling light. Have a good look at the cover – that is what the album sounds like. Did I mention how much I enjoy it? Available now from bandcamp.

BALDUIN     MADRIGAL


For his second album, BOHEMIAN GARDEN, Swiss multi-instrumentalist Balduin has gone all harpsichord-tastic, or at the very least has found a button on his new-fangled synthesiser with the word harpsichord writ large upon it. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, and on it he creates a soundscape that sits very nicely between shimmering 60s pop and kaleidoscopically arranged psychedelia. If you buy only one baroque psych-pop-analogue -synth album this year make sure it’s this one.

THE FOCUS GROUP     NEW TOYTOWN WALK


Julian House’s stop starts melodies and woozy fragments of eccentric aged audio memorabilia mine British psychedelia, Italian horror movies and eastern European animation for inspiration, creating an exotic collage of sound that lingers in the past. His new album STOP-MOTION HAPPENING WITH THE FOCUS GROOP gives a sly nod to Stereolab in the title but otherwise takes their loops and grooves and places them in the blender with a variety of Summerisle sounds that range from natural landscape folk passages to fizzing electronic blips and bloops through sampled jazz echoes to create a dreamlike web of ghostly echoes. Marvellous.

THE SEEDS     FLOWER LADY AND HER ASSISTANT


Up until 1967 The Seeds were known for pioneering a raw proto-punk garage rock sound that produced a couple of classic hit singles, but for their third album they added orchestrations and classical instrumentation to the mix, resulting in the trashy psychedelia of FUTURE. Critics at the time dismissed it as an attempt to surf the wave of baroque/psychedelic/orchestral magic that followed in the wake of the Beatles’ SGT. PEPPER’S, but, in fact, that album wasn’t released until after The Seeds had finished recording the presciently entitled FUTURE. If anything, Sky Saxon’s sneering howls owed more to Mick Jagger, and the album’s sound to a particularly messed-up Rolling Stones. Flower Lady and her Assistant is as fine a piece of flower power music you’ll ever hear, but it still manages to sound menacing; sneering garage-rock disguised as psychedelic whimsy.

JEFF WOOTTON     THE WAY THE LIGHT BENDS AROUND YOU


There’s a gentle psychedelic wooziness to the title track of Wootton’s debut album. Better known for his collaborations, his solo release showcases Wootton’s ability to create his own sound utilizing dense atmospheric soundscapes and sonic experimentation. He also has a deft way with melody - The Way The Light Bends Around You combines acid folk loveliness with an ambient Eno-esque soundscape to produce something quite tender and exquisite.

SPROATLY SMITH      MOONS (PART 1)


Moons (Part 1) is Sproatly Smith’s contribution to the latest A YEAR IN THE COUNTRY release, ALL THE MERRY YEAR ROUND, an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore now transmitted and passed down via television, film and technology rather than through local history and the ritual celebrations of the more longstanding folkloric calendar, giving the stories new layers of meaning and myth. Sproatly Smith go quite dark with this one, eschewing ethereal vocals for darkened synths which throb with unexpected menace.

THE CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND     GOSSAMER WINGS


The Chocolate Watch Band’s debut album, NO WAY OUT, released in 1967, had a difficult gestation which saw many of the lead vocals replaced with those of a session musician, producers tinkering with overdubs, and on two tracks, session musicians replacing the band entirely. Despite this, the album is now lauded as something of an essential garage band classic, featuring a raw urgent heaviness combined with distorted guitar instrumentals that were early examples of protopunk. Gossamer Wings is, in fact, something of an anomaly on the album, a psychedelic digression that used the band's basic track from the 1966 single b-side Loose Lip Sync Ship as its jumping-off point, but it’s a pleasant digression, nonetheless.

THE SÉANCE      CHETWYND HAZE


This is the second track taken from the album ALL THE MERRY YEAR ROUND, and finds The Séance steeped in the same eerie hauntological territory that’s not very far removed from the sort of sonic wormholes explored by The Children of Alice. This, of course, is a good thing and moreover, the Byzantine structures and sparse melodies they create perfectly match the A YEAR IN THE COUNTRY aesthetic, which finds the label wanderings down the same interwoven pathways of phantom musings and oddball electronic finery, travelling alongside straw bear and cathode ray summonings alike.

LIAM GALLAGHER     CHINATOWN


I can’t quite bring myself to like the album AS YOU WERE, as it sounds pretty much like everything else he’s put his voice to this last 20 years or so, but that being said, producer Andrew Wyatt brings a stark swirl to the second single, Chinatown, which, despite boasting lyrics so bad they just have to be parody, has some gorgeous, gently finger-picked guitar to it, buttressed with slight rhythmic loops and digital manipulations which combine to make it one of the absolute stand-out tracks of his career.

DANTALIAN’S CHARIOT     THIS ISLAND


Dantalian’s Chariot never got to release the album they recorded in 1967, because their record company couldn’t be doing with band’s new psychedelic direction. Previously known for his legendary Big Roll Band, a band known on the live circuit for playing an electrifying mixture of soul, jazz, and R&B, band leader Zoot Money caught the psychedelic bug and renamed the band Dantalian’s Chariot and, by all accounts, they rocked the London psychedelic scene with a spectacular light show that made them the envy of Pink Floyd -  to heighten the effect of the spectacular light show being projected onto them, the band would all dress in white robes, with their instruments and equipment also painted white. Despite releasing A Madman Running Through The Fields, now regarded as a psychedelic classic, the record company rejected their album and released instead an album of previously recorded tracks, which they released in 1968 as TRANSITION, crediting the album to Zoot Money as a solo artist, rather than Dantalian's Chariot.  In 1995 David Wells' Tenth Planet label pieced together an album of ten tracks recorded in 1967 and released them as a facsimile of what that rejected album may have sounded like and called it CHARIOT RISING. The instrumental This Island resembles a Morricone spaghetti-western outtake lugubriously decorated with Somers’s electric sitar show a band embracing the Summer of Love in all its hempen glory.

THE WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND     WILL YOU WALK WITH ME


The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band also come with a story. Originally The Laughing Wind, the band were ‘acquired’ by aspiring musician and wealthy, thirty-something attorney Bob Markley who promised to finance and secure a recording contract for the band in exchange for his inclusion into the group. Markley envisioned the group as a West Coast counterpart to the Velvet Underground, edgy and experimental, and accordingly renamed the band – as well as securing rights to the band’s name and publishing, a move that caused something of a fracture within the band, what with Markley not being much of a musician or lyricist and all. Will You Walk With Me is taken from their third, and more or less final album (and thereby hangs another tale) A CHILD’S GUIDE TO GOOD AND EVIL in 1967. This album is considered their most overtly psychedelic work but it’s a bizarre fusion of innocence and malice heavily affected by the spirit of the Summer of Love being swept away on a tide of bad drugs, paranoia, and protest.

ROB GOULD     GRANNY’S LONGEST TRIP


A rather fine cover of The Purple Gang’s Granny Take’s A Trip, originally released, as you might expect, in 1967. As the title suggests, Gould takes his version off into an extended detour through time and space that imbues the track with a lysergic ambiance that the original, in truth, didn’t have (despite getting itself banned by the BBC for intending to corrupt the nation’s youth). You can find this on his soundcloud page. 

TEMPLES     UNCERTAINTY (GRUMBLING FUR MASCHINE REMIX)


Temples’ second album, VOLCANO, saw them expand their sonic palette to include pulsing, prog, motorik beats and baroque chamber-psych. In 2016 they gave the lead single, the squelchy, synth-driven Certainty up for a good remix and psychedelic experimentalists Grumbling Fur took that, stripped it down, and gave it a pastoral, hallucinatory make-over reminiscent of Brian Eno’s post-glam, cinematic albums from the mid-’70s. It sounds great.

DELIA DERBYSHIRE     FUTURE GHOSTS


Earlier this year the Radiophonic Workshop unveiled an unreleased highlight from their most famous member, the late Delia Derbyshire. Titled Future Ghosts, the piece was made of various elements from Derbyshire’s seemingly lost tape archive. The collection, containing over 300 tape reels, was found in the artist’s attic after her death and used to construct the new piece. The dark, atmospheric piece has been composed from original elements of music by Derbyshire that the Radiophonic Workshop have worked together into a new piece. The elements are from tapes that Derbyshire made beyond the BBC on some of her later film and theatre projects - the exact details of which are lost to time. Check out this clip below, worked into a promo for a recent panel discussion in which members of the Radiophonic Workshop discussed their extraordinary history and working methods. Delia, bless her, passed away in 2001.





CORNELIUS     SURFING ON MIND WAVE PT. 2


It’s been 11 years since the last release by Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada, to his mother) and 20 years since the release of the brilliant FANTASMA. His latest release finds him eschewing the neon-psychedelia of that album for something entirely more meditative. As the title suggests, MELLOW WAVES is a different affair entirely which finds Cornelius in a meditative state, the music representing a world that constantly changes, with no structure, where various things just occur and continue endlessly - it’s a soft and lovely collection of songs. Surfing on Mind Wave Pt. 2, something of a minimalist interlude, was suggested by a piece he wrote for the soundtrack to GHOST IN THE SHELL: ARISE (the original Anime movie, not the recent ravishing but largely pointless remake), and owes much to the work of Terry Riley: a buzzing and sun-drenched drone that surfs on ecstatic ambient waves.

BRIAN ENO     MATTA


…and speaking of ambient, Brian Eno’s APOLLO: ATMOSPHERE’S AND SOUNDTRACKS, is a near perfect example of the genre (at least the bits that don’t feature slide guitar). There’s two versions of the album to choose from, and dark and mysterious Matta, appears on the first version originally recorded in 1983 for a feature-length documentary movie called ‘Apollo’ later retitled ‘For All Mankind’, directed by Al Reinert. The original version of the film had no narration, and simply featured 35mm footage of the Apollo moon missions set to Eno's music as it appears on the album – there’s a second version to accompany the 1989 re-release of the film with a largely different soundtrack. Matta has a dark, complicated texture, appropriately spacey and slow moving but empty and disconnected – and surely that’s whale song? This could well be the piece of music that invented The Orb.

ASTROBAL     TROIS BEAUX OISEAUX DU PARADIS


This gorgeous track can be found on the album AUSTRALASIE, a lucky find from last year and currently one of my favourite albums. Astrobal is a project by Emmanuel Mario, who I came across because of his work as producer and drummer with Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, who guests on this album. The thing I like about it most is that it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before – Mario has created an aqueous universe of his own to swim around in, with each track an ethereal ambient wash married to a wave of buzzing synths and symphonic strings that build to a crescendo of sound and crashing drums. The hymnal warmth of Trois Beaux Oiseaux du Paradis, sung by French actress Nina Savary, is actually a cover, if that’s the right word in this instance, of a rare foray into choral writing by Ravel, written in 1915 whilst waiting to be enlisted in the army.


THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP     SOME HOPE OF LAND (excerpt)


This ambient soundscape is just the first 12 minutes of an otherwise 25 minute piece called Some Hope Of Land taken from the album BURIALS IN SEVERAL EARTHS, a brand new work by the legendary Radiophonic Workshop. Nearly two decades after the Workshop was decommissioned by the BBC (who don’t do weird stuff anymore), original members Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Dr Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland and long-time associate composer Mark Ayres returned to the studio to create evocative and improvised bouts of musique concrete loosely based upon Francis Bacon’s incomplete 1627 literary work New Atlantis, which was used by the Radiophonic Workshop founder, Daphne Oram, as a manifesto for the original sound sorcery they famously produced in room 13 of the BBC Maida Vale studio complex in London. Some Hope of Land is a set of experimental sounds that take the listener on bizarre and unsettling adventures. The effects ebb and flow with the playful analog sounds and the devastating electronica. Just beautifully weird, but you wouldn’t want 25 minutes of it.


VANILLA FUDGE     ELEANOR RIGBY


Vanilla Fudge were the covers band for the counter culture in the late 60s. Their eponymous debut release in 1967 featured no less than seven Hammond-heavy covers, each one a stoned-out, slowed-down version of such then-recent classics as The Beatles’ Ticket To Ride, The Zombies’ She’s Not There and The Supremes’ classic You Keep Me Hanging On, blown up to epic proportions and bathed in a trippy, distorted haze. The band has been cited as one of the few American links between psychedelia and what soon became heavy metal, and they certainly seem to have invented Deep Purple, but each song still works as a time capsule of American psychedelia. I particularly like their take on Eleanor Rigby, which is verily a trip unto itself.



Monday, 25 September 2017

MIND DE-CODER 72


MIND DE-CODER 72

To listen to the show just scroll to the bottom of the page

Naked she danced in the warm morning sun. Her hips swayed suggestively to the beat of the music. On her back was scrawled in ballpoint: “Got any Acid?”
                                                                       The Western Telegraph, 31st July, 1975
                               

MORGAN DELT     ANOTHER PERSON


For his second album, 2016’s PHASE ZERO, West Coast psych-rock explorer Morgan Delt has produced an album of polished lysergic weirdness and sonic invention. Most of all it sounds baked, like tripping in the desert sun – colours and sound radiate within, creating a palette of textures that invite the mind to stay a while and lose itself in a landscape of dazed wonder.


BLUR     FAR OUT


A seemingly throw-away ditty from the band’s zeitgeist defining third album PARK LIFE, released in 1994, of course, but one I’ve always had a soft spot for. The Barrett-esque Far Out, that lasts less than two minutes, features bassist and fromager extraordinaire Alex James’ first ever vocal for the band and, for some reason, is disliked by the sort of people who create lists about songs which ruined otherwise perfect albums. Ironic, then, that the one song I never need to particularly hear ever again is the title track itself, which I find more irritating each time hear it.


TIME ATTENDANT     THE DREAMING GREEN (excerpt)/ADRIFT


Two tracks from exploratory musician and visual artist Paul Snowden who releases music under the name Time Attendant. I only use the first minute or two from The Dreaming Green, which you can find on the album THE FURTHEST SIGNALS, released by A Year In The Country earlier this year, on which they explore the idea that films, television and radio shows from the past may live on in space, possibly in a degraded form and otherwise mixed amongst other stellar noises and signals. For their most recent release, THE QUIETENED COSMOLOGIST, from which the track Adrift is taken, they continue to reflect on space, this time focusing on space exploration projects that have either been abandoned or were never realised in the first place, and the intrigue, and sometimes melancholia, of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten about the country. 

The album takes as its initial starting point the shape of the future’s past via the discarded British space program of the 1950s to 1970s; the sometimes statuesque and startling derelict artefacts and infrastructure from the Soviet Union's once far reaching space projects, and the way in which manned spaceflight beyond Earth's orbit to the moon and the associated sense of a coming space age came to be largely put to aside after NASA’S initial Apollo flights ended in 1972.



ROB GOULD     A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS


The cinematic soundscapes of Rob Gould provide moments of haunting beauty, serenity, light, drama and unease, all of which can be found in this atmospheric cover of Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful Of Secrets, recorded for the Fruits De Mer album A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF VINYL, released in 2014. In actual fact, he does a very fine line in covers of psychedelic classics – you can find a lot more of them over at Soundcloud. I was particularly taken with his interpretation of The Purple Gang’s Granny Takes A Trip, which will undoubtedly appear in the next show.


YES     I SEE YOU 


Long before the ambitious excesses of TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS (shall we say), the 1969 version of Yes were an entirely different concern, pretty much featuring the entire line-up of the largely un-heard of Auntie Mabel’s Toyshop, just another band surfing the primordial prog-rock soup in the late 1960s. Their first album, the rather positively entitled YES, brings a cheerfully primitive jazz-prog-rock feel to the mix, featuring exploratory improvisations and jazz breakouts to a just-getting-used-to-the-studio-what-does-this-button-do sort of vibe. I played the blistering original recording of this track by The Byrds last week; this week I felt drawn to this surprisingly swinging version which, in its own way, runs circles around the original by Roger McGuinn and Co.


JEFF WOOTTON     SONIK DRIPS


Jeff Wootton’s debut album, THE WAY THE LIGHT, released last year, sounds like (and I don’t mean this in a bad way) the sort of thing Paul Weller or Noel Gallagher might knock off in one of their more experimental moments, by which I (hope I) mean, it has a maturity about it that belies his youthful years – he’s 30 years old, whereas as Gallagher and Weller are 109 between them. That being said, he’s packed a lot into his life, having so far performed with Brian Eno, Massive Attack, both Gallagher’s, Nick Zinner, Mark Ronson, Damo Suzuki and as guitarist with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz. His debut album is a joyous barrage of dense atmospheric soundscapes, big-beat grooves and fuzzy experimental psychedelicness (made up word). Sonik Drips is a pleasing mix of all three.


ALICE COLTRANE TURIYASANGITANANDA     OM RAMA


Alice Coltrane’s 1990 release, INFINITE CHANTS, is an album of ecstatic, transcendental celebration. She says herself of it:

"In this Mandir, you are hearing chanting like no other chanting in the universe. I can say that with all clarity and verification by God that nobody chants like this...I see what is occurring on the inner-plane, and it is beyond ordinary, human experience."

Amen to that. Recorded on her ashram in California, this is music of the highest, devotional order featuring Vedic chants repeating the names of deities, cosmic, swirling mantras sometimes sung solo with serene fragility, at other times rising in magnificent, gospel-like form courtesy of the Ashram Singers. THE ECSTATIC MUSIC OF TURIYASANGITANANDA, released earlier this year on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label is a collection of her four ashram releases, previously available on cassette-only for the faithful, and is pretty much my album of the year.


THE BEATLES     RAIN


The Beatles’ first acid-influenced track, Rain is a pop-art explosion of dense guitars, pulsating bass and sound that emulates the distorting effects LSD can bring to the listening experience. Lennon’s sneering vocals draw a line between those who have been switched on to the drug and the straight society who go about their lives unaware that whether it rains and shines it's just a state of mind, and that heightened consciousness can be found within the self (albeit, with the aid of some of Sandoz finest). Released as the flipside to Paperback Writer, in 1966, this is probably their finest B-side, and also the track where backwards vocals are used for the first time, a psychedelic trope that the band appear to have invented. I thought it would be ‘kinda neat’ (as our American cousins might have it) to play that last bit backwards, thus revealing that it is the song’s first line that has been reversed. Lennon wouldn’t mind. He was so excited by the initial effect he wanted the whole song recorded that way.


 NATHAN HALL AND THE SINISTER LOCALS     SPIDER SKIN


Cheerful, yet slightly sinister, psych-pop from Nathan Hall, he of the Soft Hearted Scientists, and the lead single from the soon to be released debut album EFFIGIES. It’s the sort of song that puts one in mind of SKYLARKING-period XTC, possibly channelling the spirit of a lost Victorian sea shanty. It wears its psychedelic embellishments lightly, with swirling organs, some heavily accentuated buzzing and some vaguely unsettling electronics that all bodes well for the forthcoming album.


THE FOCUS GROUP     CINETONEONE/ ROTATY VISION/ LOCAL COMPUTER


A new album from Julian House’s Focus Group is always cause for cheer here at MD Mansions and STOP-MOTION HAPPENING WITH THE FOCUS GROOP, released earlier this year, ticks all sort of hauntological boxes of the lysergic whimsical variety. With tracks lasting between 15 seconds at their shortest to nearly 7 minutes at longest, this owes more to the hazily fragmented recollections of an ageing ’60s dreamer whose memory disintegrated somewhat in the throes of the psychedelic age than a cohesive album in and of itself and, of course, is all the better for it.


GENTEEL DECAY     A CRUMPET OR TWO (excerpt)


…and what to make of this? A Curious, experimental long-form, voice-only, ultra-looping echo-delay piece that takes textual fragments and reduces them to distorted speech. Just another day at the office for the Moon Wiring Club’s Ian Hodgson, then, and a little something he prepared for the cassette-only label Illuminated Paths . It goes on like this for 20 minutes or so, but I give just the first ten. As Hodgson himself puts it… "the end result sounds somewhere between a female HAL9000 having her memory chips removed and the thought processes of an Edwardian UK Stepford Wives" which tells you everything you need to know about it.


MOLES     WE ARE THE MOLES (PART 1)


Simon Dupree and the Big Sound were scuppered by their only hit, Kites.  They were never able to repeat that magic formula, and, in truth, didn’t want to. Kites was something of an embarrassment to them, a psychedelic ballad when, in fact, the band were more into sweaty Motown covers and rock and roll. In an attempt to escape the artistic cul-de-sac they found themselves in as Simon Dupree et al., they released a single We Are The Moles (Parts 1 and 2) under the moniker The Moles in an effort to invoke the psychedelia they couldn’t be doing with whilst at the same time parodying it. Released in late 1968, the single did not give any hint towards the identity of the artists, claiming that both songs were written, performed and produced by The Moles. Rumours began to spread that it was an obscure output by The Beatles with Ringo Starr on lead vocals. When interest began to rise concerning the release, Syd Barrett, of all people, stated that Simon Dupree & The Big Sound were the faces behind The Moles. Confronted with this, the band admitted it and everyone lost interest in the band and their single.


EROC     KLEINE EVA


This sublimely gorgeous track by Joachim Heinz Ehrig (Eroc to his mates) can be found on his debut solo album, simply called EROC, released in 1975. More commonly known as the drummer and band leader with prog-rock outfit Grobschnitt, a band known for their ‘quirky’ (think German) sense of humour, fantastical themes and epic concept albums, Eroc’s solo work, by contrast, is an altogether different affair, influenced by the innovative electronic krautrock vibe of groups such as Cluster, Harmonia, Tangerine Dream and, of course, Kraftwerk, featuring slowly-evolving and carefully-layered electronic compositions and avant-garde experimentation. I’m a big fan.

  
OFFA REX     THE FIRST TIME I EVER SAW YOUR FACE


Offa Rex is a collaboration between English folk singer Olivia Chaney and Oregon alt-rockers The Decemberists, who offered to be the Albion Dance Band to her Shirley Collins. The resulting album, THE QUEEN OF HEARTS, released earlier this year, is nothing less than luminescent, an interpolation of vintage folk music filtered through electric guitars and a sinewy rock backbeat, with Chaney’s voice channelling the spirit of Maddy Pryor and Anne Briggs. Their cover of Ewan MacColl’s The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, written for Peggy Seeger in 1957, is lifted by a shimmering, echoing ambience and harmonium drone which places the focus on Chaney's forlorn, pristine vocal. Even MacColl, who famously hated every cover of the song he ever heard (there was a special place reserved in Hell for Elvis’ version) would have been hard-put to find fault in such a flawless interpretation, that sends shivers up the spine each time I hear it.


JOHN AND YOKO      AMSTERDAM (excerpt)


A very short excerpt from side two of THE WEDDING ALBUM, released in 1969, and recorded, largely, in a hotel room at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam, Holland, in March 1969. The piece consists of interviews explaining their campaign for peace, conversations and captured sounds during the couple's ‘Bed-In’ honeymoon, but I focus on the piece where John is pointing out that the best way to deal with violence is with humour, because the authorities don’t know how to deal with humour, an observation that I feel has more resonance now than it had even then.


THE FUGS     LIFE IS STRANGE


I’ve never had much time for The Fugs on account of my preferring the English take on psychedelia over the American version, which, broadly speaking, I’ve always found a bit too strident for me, but despite looking like the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers personified, The Fugs were the real deal – a heavily politicized, avant-rock band formed by poets and anti-war protesters. The lovely Life is Strange is taken from their fifth album, 1968’s IT CRAWLED INTO MY HAND, HONEST, an album otherwise noted for its surreal humour, avant-garde weirdness and disorientating eclecticism.



JIMI HENDRIX     DRIFTING


This poignant track is made all the more affecting by its inclusion on the album THE CRY OF LOVE, an album of unreleased tracks Hendrix was working on at the time of his death. Compiled by Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell, and released in 1971, this would have been the first studio release since the breakup of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Drifting is something of an unfinished masterpiece, a ghostly song, a fitting a tribute to a performer who went too far out and never came back. ‘Driftin’ on a sea of forgotten teardrops’ indeed.


HOLGER CZUKAY     MELLOW OUT/BOAT WOMAN SONG (excerpt)


While I was putting this show together Can’s Holger Czukay died, so here is some music from a solo album he recorded in 1969 called CANAXIS. Recorded with producer Rolf Dammers Boat Woman Song, which features the traditional singing of two Vietnamese peasants, lasts some twenty-odd minutes and is hybrid of ambient soundspaces, musicological sampling, and a sort of goings on that could only have come out of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Electronic Music Studios at the time and which demonstrates just how far ahead of the game Czukay was. It’s either quite beautiful, or not, dependent upon how taken you are with your avant-garde experimentalism. Mellow Out is an old recording from 1960 that's actually the first Holger captured on acetate, playing a little jazzy thing along with a few other players. Title says it all, and it's a nice little curiosity that's actually musically satisfying to boot.


SHIRLEY COLLINS     WASHED ASHORE


Shirley Collins last released an album in 1978, which, in its own way, is as foreign and distant a place as when she released her first album in 1959. Shirley Collins is now 82 but you wouldn’t know that from listening to LODESTAR, released earlier this year. The one sop to her age is that the album was recorded in the front room of her cottage in Lewes in rural Sussex – you can hear the birds sing through the open back window into her garden. Other than that, Collins doesn’t seem interested in making it easy for new listeners, or old fans who might have imagined that age would have mellowed her. In many ways, Collins is the embodiment of the rural England of which she sings; her voice, like the English countryside before dawn, is stark and austere and captures something of the grit otherwise lost to acid-folk whimsy. Instead, she paints a picture of a brutal, bleak world, where forgiveness is thin on the ground, but violence and death are ever-present. Washed Ashore tells the story of a drowned sailor, found by a lost love who, heartbroken, dies by his side. Despite extensive liner notes, and the fact that Shirley herself tells that it was her sister Dolly that created the melody for this tale, I appear to be the only one who has noticed it’s similarity to the ballad Rosemary Lane, and how this song could actually be the epilogue to the sad story of the maid seduced by a sailor some time during the Napoleonic wars (probably – there’s loads of folk songs set during the Napoleonic era, I don’t see any reason why this one shouldn’t be one of them). Or maybe it’s so obvious it doesn’t bear re-stating. I wouldn’t want you to think I was an authority or anything, but I think I’m right in this instance.


THE MOODY BLUES     NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN



It all makes a bit more sense when you realise that they’re singing about nights in white satin, and not knights, which, in my ignorance, I always assumed was the case. This version, of course, is the original version that appears on their album DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, released in 1968, featuring The London Festival Orchestra and Late Lament, the poem included in the closing moments of the song. I think that they were initially asked to record an adaptation of Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 for Decca's newly formed Deram Records division in order to demonstrate their latest recording techniques, which were named ‘Deramic Sound’, but they recorded this instead. There was a lot of that sort of thing going on in the late 60s (I imagine).

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