Monday, 14 April 2014

We should all have a bit of Sly on a Saturday

I am not certain how I became aware of Sly and the Family Stone. Growing up in the seventies and eighties (and let's face it - I'm still trying to grow up now) their songs must have been around - all AM dials on old radios - as the family (my one) listened to Sly's one as they beamed through the airwaves as we danced to the music. Danced to his music.

Or there may have been a showing of the great Woodstock festival  - now this could have been on Two or Four. My memory is shot through with cider and getting to grip of the now - not the then. But somehow there's an image of Sly taking me higher on celluloid  - all sequins and groove that kind of blew my mind as I watched him create the ultimate funk stew - on a stage full of glamour to a crowd full of hippies.

And you know I could never trust a hippy (just saying)

And then there was a conversation with Andrew Innes - over drinks and mayhem in a Sheffield club backroom - all Ivy Ivy Ivy and Raw Power - and Andrew was telling us (that's me, Paul and Ian - of The Williams fame - okay - not fame - but you can dream can't ya?) that you should get some Sly in the collection - but not to go too deep too fast - you know lay off There's Riot Goin' On - until you've experienced the deep funk.

So as any young impressionable youth would do - you purchase the worn out tapes of heavy heavy funk that is that wonderful fug of a funk album. That muddied mix of euphoria and paranoia as screeches and slides collide in a foggy haze and daze of everything that is ultimately funky in Sly's universe. And it's great it made to tape - because There's A Riot Goin' On - is possibly one of the rawest funk excursions you'll ever here - it's flawed - yet it floors (do you get me?) You couldn't really re-master it - but I think Sly has - that ever-reclusive mutha - so hip that Prince looks up to him (and not just literally) I bought a tape version as well - so when that got heated and mistreated it only added to those takes from inside the studio Sly had created in his Bel Air mansion or The Plant studios in Sausalito, CA. Infact it turns out that Sly had had a bed installed in the studio and simply recorded his takes whilst lying down. It does have to be said - that by this time Sly was managed by gangsters and heavily addicted to the chokey and PCP.  So to even get to the stage where you've got a beautiful dark and muddied album was a miracle - Sly played most of the instruments himself - taping and retaping over and over again. 

There's even the heavy use of a drum machine - used instead of - or because of Gregg Errico's hasty departure from the paranoia fuelled existence of life with Sly and his entourage. This was band playing apart to create a unity -and it wasn't their usual way of working. For 'Family Affair' - the hit from the album - and some of the other tracks on the album, Stone had his industry peers and musicians, including contemporary soul acts Billy Preston, Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack lay down the sounds on Riot, instead of his bandmates. The album's muddy, gritty sound was due in part to this excessive use of overdubbing and erasing parts of the reel-to-reel tapes. In my mind - and I hope Sly's this made the whole thing better.

I don't play enough Family Stone in this family house - there was always something of the late night listen about Sylvester Stewart - but recently I put 'Trip to your Heart' on a CD in the car - all compilation for the kids. And as you can see I'm working backwards  -I'm in and out of that collection - ducking and a weaving - pilthering and pillaging - 'cause Sly started that riot with A Riot (do you get me?)

Which brings me to the inherent psychedelic substance of that song.  It begins like the past incarnation of Gravediggaz - all screams and yelps  - like the beginning of Diary of a Madman - but committed to tape some twenty-five years before.

And here comes the opening - all ayes and yeahs - which LL Cool J would lift as he got his Mama to knock us out. Add Sly to mix and all hell breaks loose and falls apart in this trip to your heart. As it shuffles towards that minor key and Sly's trip to our heart - you can already picture the capes, the jump cuts and mirror images of a video designed to represent the (sign of the) times.
There's always been this madcap - playful think about the Family Stone - up for a bit and ready to take you there. I remember reading somewhere back before the world of Britpop exploded and the Verve were just - you know The Verve - and Richard Ashcroft claiming that 'I want to take Higher' was his song of choice before a night on the town at the weekend.

We should all have a bit of Sly on a Saturday.

So here's some Sly for you too. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

We’re on a very special mission with Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab

It’s been too long – way too long baby – it’s been too long. But hey I’m back – it’s good to be back (do we reference that these days – probably not) There’s a whole heap to write- half finished posts and notes – they’ll surface over the coming months.

So where to begin (again)

This is about Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab – oh and what a laboratory this is – and their forthcoming long player – Beyond the Silver Sea. All shimmers and strums – harmonies and hums.  A tale of finding the future and living there – I guess. I had received a random message from Mr Stuart Kidd – yes he of The Wellgreen fame (well they are in my house – i mean famous in my house – not that they live in my house) about new projects – new sounds and a possible  place to start a review.

So through cables and code I ended up in my soundcloud (hey, hey, you, you get off of my (sound)cloud) listening to the experiments of two wonderful musicians and their attempts to create an almighty concept album on 4-tracks of tape. The Beatles had four tracks – these guys too. See what you can do with your imagination. And as I always point out – this isn’t retro – this isn’t looking back – it’s just trusting the tape to do its job - to record the experience. Before we begin - I just need to say - they haven't put a date on its release- they're hoping to get a vinyl release soon - so here's to that. So let's talk about the 'Beyond the Silver Sea'. 

And what an experience it is – a mini rock opera –in between The Wellgreen,  running a record label The Barne Society and thumping the skins in the Roogie Boogie band – Stuart had found time to write a (a quick one) musical opus of sixities psychedelia and analogue science fiction.

So let me make sense of this positive sixties psyche and take you ‘Beyond the Silver Sea. Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab are Joe Kane and Stu Kidd with narration and additional material by Adam Smith (because there’s a story in all of this). Now I should be wary of a concept album for the 2000s – it might all go Kanye West or Sasha Fierce (remember that) or Beady Eye (there are a concept band aren’t they?)

So this album starts with a story – a narrated tale of ‘Max’s’ endeavour to escape his restrictive life in a world where no sense reigns and escape to a place ‘beyond the silver sea’.  Instantly recalling Brian Wilson’s attempts to tell us his tale of a magic transitor radio on a side of seven inch vinyl inserted as an afterthought in the Holland album – there was a worry coursing through my veins – what with the Stanley Unwin forced surrealness of ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ and I tried not to recall that ‘War of the Worlds’ record – you know it was in all the Woolworths’ as a child (all the Woolworths)

But I’m here to listen But luckily for you ane me – this turned out to be a Tommy – a concept you can listen to – through and through.

And if I’m honest the story took a slight back seat at first – but slowly it began to fit – it started adding sense to the whole heap of sounds coming my way – this mish-mash of The Small Faces, Brian Wilson blended with a heavy dose of The Who and some Teenage Fanclub tuneage.  It’s an album full of twinkles and strings, harmonies and things (In Lieu of Something Better) where reverb and open chords tell of confusion and discord as Max’s attempts to ‘get out of this place’ get more confused and affected by time.

Through these backroom bedroom recordings come some wonderfully crafted tunes – recalling the Dukes of Stratosphear’s attempts to confuse and dazzle in equal measure. This could be a lost classic (an odessy and oracle we never knew about) or a confident pricking of the past and then presented as a new future.

There’s an analogue elegance between the layers of sounds and each and every play lends itself to references and nods of the knowing. I can hear the work of the mighty Ray Davies seeping into the albums seams creating psychotic reactions  in this Glasgow city – an alternative Detroit -  squelches and soothing sounds. There’s a hint of The Seeds in here too. Oh you can tell what I’m saying it references and remixes that era – those tunes through country, rock and bossa nova. Simple love songs – simple pleasures – garage psychedelia  - there’s a wonderful song called ‘Painted Birds’ – now it’s part of the narrative – a narrative of smoke filled cafes and new wave jump cuts as we hot foot it through Camden 1966 – all heavy fringes and dark eyes – tight trousers and getting high ,high, high.

So do I believe in the silver sea – do I want to escape?  There’s experimentation in this four track heaven – the sounds spring out of nowhere – a translated and transformed – there’s a moment where Chas and Dave meets Back to the Future uptown as a cockney knees up descends into Lee Perry’s spacedub in the form of ‘Pie,mash and liquor’. It’s an album torn out of time and rooted in the past yet knowingly moving on.  It has humour at its heart.  Serious songs from smiling faces – or smiling songs from serious faces?  Whichever way you want it – it works.

As Max’s journey takes us to The Storehouse of Fools in a quest to get away from it all with Trixie at his side (except she isn’t) this place of ramalamma boogie woogie – all denim (the band and fabric) with lasers and lights then head into the Townsend fury and Foxy Lady honky tonk of ‘Dr Chester’s Pleasures’ as we are taken to the stars. You see anything is possible when you can commit it to tape – when you can experiment – reshape – chop and mix – sprinkle this and turn out that.

So we journey ever onwards – beyond the silver sea to ‘The Stars My Destination’ all Lennon squawk and shimmer a lonely ‘other’ planet boy cry. Dr Cosmos’ Tape Lab have produced radiophonic workshop organic indie music for 2014 and beyond – it’s conceptual – it’s bombastic – it’s fantastic. A kind of subtle fairy animals (you get me?)

Finally we reach our destination. Way beyond and further. Ready for ‘The Long Sleep’ – it’s got this early baggy feel to it – sort of (World of) Twist otherness. There’s a hint of Gary Numan  cutting a duet with The Zombies rolling over and over (it may have been the time of day I listened – but that’s what I’m hearing in the chorus) All Barberella backbeat – squelches and reverses – slipping down to simple chords and harmonies falling into air and space.
Dreams falling into line on tape. 

Yes the whole thing is ambitious and at 44 minutes you’ve got to put the effort in – otherwise you might lose the story thread. But once that’s all seeped into the unconscious you just listen – and let the lab carry out its experiments on you.  All put down on four tracks of tape – as I said – if it works for The Beatles – then it’s going to work for anyone. And it works for this talented twosome.

You know we can find the things we want to be - beyond the silver sea.

So who wants to join me – beyond the silver sea?

As this long player is yet to be released - you can do no harm in checking out their rather fabulous soundcloud site. There's lots of songs and snippets from the album. It should be out very soon - so you can buy it then.

Go to it here

Here’s some information too:

Stu does- vocals, drums, glockenspiel, percussion, monotron, casiotone, acoustic guitar, lead guitar
Joe does- Vocals, tack piano, bass, lead guitar, acoustic guitar, electric harpsichord, Moog synthesiser, organ, melodica
Recorded July to November 2013 on a Tascam 424 Mk. III four-track recorder

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

You can change things when you sing

Pete Seeger has died.

You have to have some feeling of loss – another one being shuffled off this mortal coil.  I’m currently living in very difficult times. In times when class action is no reaction to the plights and slights we’re struggling with.  I was listening to report on the radio (on the radio) about The Queen not being able to repair all her houses and that. And it was suggested that the review could have suggested a reduction in the number castles and palaces that she owns. But the interviewee – some Dame or other -  nearly choked at the suggestion – and it was only a question – that that sort of thing had never crossed the review team’s mind.

Typical really. I’m living in Boris’ London and Cameron’s Britain. Both of those are fucked.  But these conditions are unlikely to produce a Pete.  That man’s from another century.  I can’t see anyone making that sort of fuss these days – well not with an acoustic guitar or a banjo.

But Pete had a point.

If he’d had a hammer and not a guitar who knows what wreckage would have commenced – but his guitar did a fair amount of damage. As you know I’ve never trusted a hippy and folk music don’t always get me – but as I get older my tastes there are a changin’.  Yet there’s something in recognising what Pete Seeger stood for.  It’s about struggle in our times. 

So this got me thinking about the ‘protest song’ (you can sing along if you like). If you stop and think about it – there’s been a whole heap of protest in our lives and lots of times we could sing about it. My earliest memory of protest numbers is most likely Dylan being played somewhere and at some time on the radio. But I guess that wasn’t my protest – I was just a child – not yet my own maaaan. So to pinpoint the protest is much harder – I mean what was I rebelling against as a misguided youth – well what you got? But surely over the course of those teenage years – those formative times – with teachers and mates – parents and jobs – I amassed a whole compilation tapes worth. Not that I made a tape though.

So what to focus on? The Crass seven-inch of ‘Big A Little A’ lent by a friend across the road and played on heavy rotation on the Kingston Road soundsystem. You know the system might have got you – but it won’t get me. Or The Pistols – God Save the Queen – anger as energy writ large with guitar riffs. Through the ghost town of The Specials and all incarnations to free Mandela – to tell you the truth I always liked the anti Sun City track by Steve Van Zandt. I used to rail against all those eighties arses who jetted of to eat granny smith apples in the sun – Queen anyone? Didn’t they do Live Aid though? Aren’t they worthy – not in my house and hopefully not in yours.

Then there was the dreadlock rasta of Marley and associated reggae injustice. All around was war as we made our way through the eighties of Reaganomics and Thatcher’s tub thumping – and what has war ever been good for? So Buffalo Springfield crept in with helicopter montages and napalm bombs – for what it was worth. Brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying Gaye told us as we learnt about that commie threat from the east – in history books and war films. It seems like that decade was one long awakening to horrors of humans and their political will. I’m not forgetting Nena – I’m just ignoring it.

And hip hop reminded us of the police and their unjust ways when you rocked a look that incorporated a gold chain and a kangol hat.  That’s not forgetting Public Enemy and I attempting to fight the power – because – you know most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp – me and Chuck D have a lot in common.  Whilst closer to home LKJ skanked through the streets where the skinhead mentality still lingered and any dissent manifested itself in police brutality and prejudice.  Then lectures at Goldsmiths’ with Paul Robeson as the soundtrack to discontent.

But to get right back to Pete – to find that line of humility and anger – softly spoken words with bite and resistance – then Curtis Mayfield is my protest singer. There’s something in that falsetto matched with the incessant groove of positive vibes. Positive change – you know positive energy activates constant elevation. I’ll write about Curtis properly someday – but today I’m focussing on that message encapsulated in this neo-gospel grower. You can dance and change things – brother. You can change things by just moving your feet – people need to get ready for that.

Now I know our politics differ from the US – we’re built on different struggles. I always felt the left in America represented our liberal party – but Pete was a red. Enough said. And Pete’s dead. 

The class struggle will grind on and on.

We shall overcome. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Here's a couple of Likely Lads - Grin and hear it (see what I did there?)

Grin and bear it. A smile to fend off the ills of the world.  You get those feelings sometimes as you work through the final days of a long old haul at work – roll on the break. Chin up old man – we’ll see it through.

So here come The Wellgreen to spread their ever changing scene to the masses. It’s a new album see – another long player from the best players. Song number one – Grin and Bear It – sets the tone - like an updated Bay City Rollers with swagger (and there’s nothing wrong with that)  – you can feel yourself transported back to housing estates and blurred photographs of the family – with that boogie woogie backing – a sudden transmission from 1974 – similar to The Beach Boys rocking rocking chugging chugging roll of LA (Light Album) messed with a Wild Honey moment.  I think one the Rollers came from Prestonpans  - the other side of the Scottish tracks from these lads – and I get that sense of concrete and glam(our) melded in this stomping sure fire starter.

Like the opening to a sit-com scheduled just after The Likely Lads – there’s a flutter and smile in it all – I guess the album mines some of those Macca moments that run through With the Beatles right up to his last album – but as always - I can hear those Beach Boys chords and changes playing with my expectations – with fluid bass lines and familiar patterns - this long player feels like I already owned it – and that’s a good thing. The familiar (feel) flows through the nine songs on this lovingly crafted second album. I know my references will be obvious and not the ones that are clearly playing a part in the development of this set of super songs. (But tolerate them if you can) What I love about this album is that I can’t put my finger on the sound. As I said before – it’s the familiar. And that’s comforting.

There’s a whole heap of style – delivered with wit and honesty across this second album. Less sprawling than the final parts of their first. The songs sit well together – it’s a player – you know those days when you’d put a record on – play side one – turn it over and play side two. It has that feel – even down to the CD print (it looks like a record – you see’ll that when you buy it – and you will buy it – come on its Christmas for fuck’s sake – treat a friend – they’ll be your friend for life)

And the second song’s a smasher too – still with the feeling of flares and scuffed  shoes comes Sunday – not quite Monday – but I don’t like Mondays – shall I tell you why – it’s because I like Sunday – here’s the simple soundtrack written in glam high notes and pauses. Saying that, it has a feel of The Who’s  A Quick One – observational and sing-a-long . Quickly followed by gig staple Ants – hemmed into a Merseybeat sound – with sudden stops and descends – Ants scurries around the mind and sticks there – like the wee bastards in the houses. I don’t mean the The Wellgreen are wee bastards - just in case you mis-read me – I also picture them as red ants in the song ( another throwback to my seventies youth) And so to further the journey comes Train Song like a Simon and Garfunkel (with a hint of Freddie of the Dreamers – it’s the simplicity of that Casio beat) coupled with arpeggios courtesy of the MT100. With Marco and Stu lamenting that they just weren’t  born at the right time. Well they were. Because it means we have this music now and not in the past as nostalgia – it sits right here in 2013 as a testament to the fact that they can just write songs that aren’t affected and processed in a bombastic manner to knock the feeling right out of them.

I’ve said it before  - the fragility of The Wellgreen is there in the space and harmony. Which leads aptly into Counting  all these moments - one for the road – in the middle of the album - this isn’t looking back - this is the result of writing beautiful songs in homes late at night and into early mornings – it’s dancing with your partner through the days. It’s looking into eyes and falling in love – its casual glances and shared looks - it’s heartfelt and honest.

Then up pops Remember opening with a Zombies flourish and Hal Blaine snare rolls – coupled with those simple – yet always effective harmonies from Stu and Marco. Oh and how we wish for a harmony in the modern world. I was talking with a friend sometime ago and we were discussing how every boy band of the modern age ( you can define that) has failed to recognise that harmonies are what made the Beatles great – and now they just belt their parts in the same key and inflect everything in the same old fucking  manner (Ladies and gentlemen I give you Take That – I mean come on Gary – have a listen to The Wellgreen) Now with The Wellgreen there’s a measure to the mix  - sound complimenting sound – this is music made to be  played on the radio – you know -  the big radio – all over the country – harmonies like this sound wonderful through small speakers.

As you can see – I’m going track by track – I don’t usually but I wanted to put something down about each one. Because I said before without the writing how would we know – so next up is Impossible Love – mining those country roots all Gene Clark going solo  with The Fanclub for his backing band. It’s melting harmonies time and somewhere in there is a touch of Mike Nesmith going it alone.  I guess the whole album has this emerging seventies sound – a nod to what the sixties produced but taking it somewhere else and of course updating for the now.  Saying that, Summer Rain with its Bacharach moments and the return of the Everly Brothers should be sound tracking an eighties teen coming of age flick. Sublime. There’s music for every decade.

Leading to the finale of On Our Own, this heartfelt tribute to just being in love – you know the feeling – we’ll take the world on – together – just you and me. It has a Wings feel to it – now I’m no Wings fan – I couldn’t name another song other than the hits – but it’s the structure and the tone – lovely. Soaring stuff. 

So The Barne Society have done it again – this ever growing collection of beautiful tunes, wordsmithery and risk all packaged in their unique way. I’m glad The Wellgreen have a new album out. And it is an album. All killer – no filler. So to put it in a most simple way – it’s good that Stu and Marco find time to sing – to write – to record - to release it -  because it pleases other people.

It makes me grin. It will you too. 

This is Summer Rain 'off the new album' in Glasgow - with added guitar

There's also a stream of the whole Barne Society Christmas shindig - but I can't find the link again - so google The Wellgreen, The Barne Society or go to soundcloud and find The Wellgreen, or Marco Rea or Stuart Kidd - basically click stuff and listen - you know it's worth it. (I'll sort the links soon)