Thursday, December 8, 2016


Buy  (Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements)

With a title like this, you’d expect doodling and experimentation, a sonic interpretation of a dude named Barry in his attic, hunched over with all the contents of a mail order Acme kit spread over a table: Barry is trying to tune into alien messages.

On 1993's TRNBWA, outer-body contact is communicated through swirling, colorful epic songs. On their 3rd and most conceptual album, Stereolab crosses the Velvet Underground and shoe gaze with the nod to Krautrock.  They flaunt their influences and yet come up with something so original. Almost all songs are long journeys characterized by simple, repetitive chords and a drenching flood of Moog and droning vocals, which are often distorted or suddenly cut off at the end.

On subsequent and weaker albums, Stereolab continued to develop a sound that has been dubbed “Space Age Bachelor Pad Music”. On Dots and Loops, which has a couple excellent summer singles and Mars Audiac Quintet with its sing along gem “Ping Pong” and on the more complex Cobra and Phases which features some dazzling bass lines, vocals are cleaner and chic. They are the center of the songs much more than on TRNBWA, where vocals are more like an instrument. They can be grotesque, or they can ride the crest of a sonic wave, playing beauty to the instrumentation’s beast.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

leftovers: another STE*

purchase [ I'm Losing You]

JDavid's latest post got me thinking: the STE* posts were mostly (Steve***) based. So... what about the  *** STE variation. As in Rod STE****.

Being of a certain age, I confess that I wore out the (vinyl) grooves on my legally-purchased copy (there really weren't (m)any other options back then) of  the "Every Picture Tells A Story" album - Stewart's best ever?  Methinks that '70, '71 and '72 were likely  Rod's best years. Every Picture (in the very middle of these years) is likely the best: it includes the songs you know: Maggie May,  Reason to Believe and Mandolin Wind.

Stewart's eclectic/convoluted past includes stints in The Jeff Beck Group, followed by the Small Faces, followed by the Faces. In fact, at the time of Every Picture, Stewart was still maintaining a connection to The Faces, and they appear on <I'm Losing You> - one of the better of several solid tracks on the album. It's not the tightest production - pieces of the timing are slightly off, but what matters much, much more is the feeling put into the work: one of their best IMHO: Ronnie Lane & Ronnie Wood! And there's Kenny Jones (later of Who fame) on the drums here as well. Whew! if you make it to the end of the clip - out of breath!


There was a time when it mattered what label a band was actually on. I guess this was because you actually knew, there was the inescapable logo on the centre of the large spinning disc, seen whenever you placed the needle onto the outside groove. CDs never seemed to have that vibe and, hell, downloads? How would you know? Plus, record companies each seemed to have separate entities, rather than just merely being sub-divisions of the same corporate monster. Even if they were. Different genres seemed to fit better with some labels than others, a fact duly noted by the MDs of same. A nobody on a hip label could often sell more than a somebody on more of a loser label.
In the 60s the 2 labels that kicked my record buying pleasure off were Island and Harvest, both nominally still in existence, but, sold off and passed on so many times between majors as to have no relevance to the times I write of. And, given the theme of this piece, Island will have to wait another day.

Astonishingly, Harvest were named, or so it goes, around the UK mellotron heavy "poor mans Moody Blues", Barclay James Harvest, the label being formed, within E.M.I. as a competitor with, amongst others, the aforementioned Island. (The verity of these seems actually a little stretched, as the label opened for business  in 1969, the debut from BJH not arriving until the following year, but, hey!) With the lava lamp design in greens, this was aimed directly as the "Underground" scene of the day, the first release being Deep Purple's Book of Taliesyn, with other debutants being Edgar Broughton, Michael Chapman, Kevin Ayers and Pink Floyd, so a pretty heavy roster.

                                                             Edgar Broughton Band

                                                                       Kevin Ayers
Into the 70s and the focus shifted into a post-punk ethos with Wire and, for the U.S. imprint, Duran Duran. They lost Floyd and Deep Purple during this time, but, much to their undoubted delight, after the release of Dark Side of the Moon, gifting them one of the biggest ever returns ever, 3rd largest sales ever, after Thriller (Michael Jackson) and, astonishingly, Back in Black (AC/DC), even if some of these sales included later transfer of rights to other labels.

For the next 20 odd years it appears to have been a bit of  mess, as the imprint was passed from hand to hand, even having a brief re-launch as Harvest Heritage, for reissues of both the original artists and, bizarrely, others never included.

In 2013 it seems to have had another relaunch, primarily for a number of U.S.bands I am unfamiliar with, bar TV on the Radio, and this chap, who seems to have later fallen out spectacularly with them.

I miss the days when the label had a brand. As a child of the 50s, I grew up in the heyday of both vinyl and of record companies able to throw big bucks at all, hoping some would eventually deliver some return on the investment. I still have a stack of Harvest titles on my shelves, playing them still.

But, as a final thought, who remembers the guy in the clip below?

 Norman "Hurricane" Smith was one of the original founders of the label in 1969. Studio engineer for all the Beatles' early releases, up until Rubber Soul, he then hooked up with Pink Floyd, producing several of their early releases, thus unsurprising that they came to join his fledgling label. He also produced the aforementioned Barclay James Harvest and the 1st rock concept album, S.F. Sorrow, by the Pretty Things, the psychedelicised R'n'B contemporaries of the early Rolling Stones. Astonishingly, in 1971, he began an unlikely solo career, despite, at best, a voice shorn of most of the usual expectations in popular music, a public warming to him, largely totally unaware of his legacy of earlier involvements. Well done, that man!

Here is the entire catalogue of original Harvest releases.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Leftovers: Ste*--Prog Rock Guitarists Steve Howe, Steve Hackett and Steve Hillage

Yes: Mood For A Day  
[purchase Fragile by Yes]

Steve Hackett: Ace Of Wands
[purchase Voyage of the Acolyte by Steve Hackett]

Steve Hillage: Castle In The Clouds/Hurdy Gurdy Man (Live)
[purchase Live Herald by Steve Hillage]

Ste* was one of the odder themes we had in 2016, and in response, I wrote about brilliant guitarist Steve Tibbetts, a relatively obscure musician whose music, as I said, “exists somewhere in the never particularly commercial intersection of jazz fusion, world music and ambient music.” Thinking about our Leftovers theme, I realized that I was aware of three more guitar virtuosi whose first name is Steve. So, I figured, why not write a little about each of them, in reverse order of their fame.

Despite the fact that all three of them are remarkable guitarists, and have continued to make music for years, I pretty much stopped following their careers years ago. Whether it was a change in their music, or changes in my tastes, or, more likely, a combination of both, I’m really not knowledgeable about their work from after the 1980s, which may well be very good. I do still enjoy the music that they made back in the day.

Steve Howe (who was already the subject of a Ste* post), of course, is best known for his work with Yes. Born in 1947 in North London, he made his first recording, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” in 1964 with the Syndicats, and played in a number of other bands, including Tomorrow and Bodast. Check out this Bodast tune, “Nether Street,” part of which was later used in Yes’ “Starship Trooper.” After passing on the chance to join the Nice and Jethro Tull, once it was clear that Bodast was not going to get a deal, he agreed to join Yes, replacing Peter Banks. Howe’s eclectic influences, including classical, jazz, and rock helped to create the distinctive Yes sound during their best and most iconic period.

He left Yes when it broke up in 1981, wasn’t asked back for the reformation of the band (so, he didn’t play on “Owner of a Lonely Heart”), and reunited with most of the “classic” Yes lineup in Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe. He has participated in some, but not all, of the various Yes lineups over the years. I really stopped listening to Howe after he left Yes the first time. I never really paid much attention to his solo albums (including the ones he made while still in the band), or any of the later Yes efforts that he appeared on. There were a few good songs on the first Asia album, but I felt that the band was less than the sum of its parts, and his project with Steve Hackett, GTR, also failed to interest me. Howe continues to record with Yes and in a jazz trio featuring his son on drums, and to perform.

Steve Hackett, Howe’s GTR bandmate, is best known for his work with Genesis. Born in 1950 in central London, he was a self-taught guitarist. After gigging with a few bands, in 1970, he joined Quiet World with his brother John, a flutist, and appeared on their only album, before leaving the band. Hackett put an ad in Melody Maker magazine for musicians "determined to strive beyond existing stagnant music forms." Peter Gabriel answered the ad because his band, Genesis, had lost their original guitarist, Anthony Phillips. Like Howe, Hackett wasn’t the first guitarist in the band which made him famous, but was part of the band’s best, and best known, lineup.

Over time, Hackett began to feel marginalized by Genesis which gradually put less of his music on its albums. After the tour supporting the Wind And Wuthering album in 1977, Hackett left the band. I followed Hackett’s solo work for a while. His first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte, recorded while he was still in Genesis, featured the band's drummer Phil Collins, who also sang on one song (before he was the lead singer of Genesis), and bassist Mike Rutherford, along with John Hackett, and is probably a minor prog rock classic. I was also a big fan of 1979’s Spectral Mornings, and continued to listen to, and enjoy Hackett’s solo work, to a somewhat diminishing degree, through the mid-1980s.

One of Hackett’s big problems is that he is a great guitarist and a bad singer. So, when he writes songs with lyrics, he either has to bring in outside vocalists with varying success, or sings himself, usually with the assistance of significant processing, and mostly unsuccessfully. After that, I again pretty much lost track of Hackett’s career—occasionally listening to some of his studio and live Genesis “revisited” work, but ignoring most of his varied output, which has ranged from classical, to world music, to blues, to prog and rock. Hackett also continues to record, as a solo artist and with others, and to tour as a solo act, and with a mostly Genesis-based show.

Steve Hillage, the youngest and least well-known of the trio of Steves, was born in 1951 in northeast London. Hillage played in a number of bands as a teenager, a couple of which even recorded and released albums. While attending university in the Canterbury area starting in 1969, Hillage began to play with other musicians and bands in the Canterbury scene. In 1971, he formed Khan, which released one album of psychedelic prog, before breaking up. Hillage then joined Kevin Ayers’ band before becoming a member of Gong in 1973, as the band was starting work in its “Radio Gnome” trilogy. But when Gong inevitably disintegrated, Hillage began a solo career.

I was introduced to Hillage while at WPRB, almost certainly from hearing his great live, spacy cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” from the 1979 album Live Herald, which led me to the rest of his solo work. I will admit that my immersion into the Gong world focused mostly on the later, Pierre Moerlen-led albums which were almost entirely Hillage-free, and it was only much later that I spent any time listening to the bizarre Daevid Allen era band’s eclectic psychedelia that featured Hillage.

Just as I was getting into Hillage’s music, he began to move away from the prog rock guitar heroics that I liked, and into ambient dance music, which I didn’t, so I basically stopped paying attention to his career after the late 70’s. Over the years, Hillage produced albums for a variety of acts, including Simple Minds (pre-Breakfast Club fame) and continues to focus on performing and recording dance music under the name System 7 and Mirror System with his long time musical and personal partner, Miquette Giraudy. He also occasionally participates in Gong reunions. And, for some reason, he appeared on this Elton John cover “sung” by William Shatner.

I’d love to be able to tie this up with some clever ending, but like a post-Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry and stuffing sandwich, it is sometimes better just to be happy that things work together, without overthinking why.

Monday, December 5, 2016


purchase Edwyn Collins (Gorgeous George)

The older I get, the less frequently I feel cool. I imagine this is pretty normal. Cool is walking with rhythm after a good haircut. Cool is feeling wet on a dry day. Cool is feeling like you are separate from your environment and still glowing. Cool is fluid. Cool is the buzz and insight that comes after a couple beers at darkness. Cool is the walk to the meeting point where you’ll meet the girl who sees limitless potential in you. Cool is seeing and hearing all and getting it.

Edwyn Collins “Girl Like You” glistens with coolness and nudges you to have a smoke and take a long walk. Drums that recall Noir nights in Morrocco, a xylophone part as neat as a Martini and a big fat guitar lick that simply erects. The song is chill within its own danceability. It is the soundtrack for a ferocious pool party in a David Lynch film.

Edwyn’s story for the last 10 years has been touching more than cool. In 2005 he suffered two strokes in two days, rendering his right arm numb. I didn’t know this prior to his show four years ago in Istanbul. For all songs, he sat down on an amplifier, sometimes tapping his cane to the music. His son, James, sang on one new song and did two neat spins during the chorus. Then Edwyn stood for “Girl Like You”, as if there was no option. He hammered his cane to the lyrics “too many protest singers/not enough protest songs”, eventually limping away to let the band finish for three more minutes. You could sense his band revered him. The guitarist revered that solo. And the audience-merely 75 people-were struck by the sincerity of the evening: no excuses made. The energy was dumbfounding intense.

If you’re feeling tepid and flakey, listen to “Girl Like You” now and head out for a walk with your favorite shirt and pants on. See if any cool overcomes you.